Flight Lieutenant William Wavell Wakefield, MA – later Lord Wakefield of Kendal (1898 – 1983)

Wavell Wakefield was Captain Edward Wakefield‘s nephew (son of his younger brother Roger) who commissioned Waterbird.

He served in the Royal Naval Air Service/ Royal Air Force (1916-1921), became a rugby legend, and was an MP (1935-1963) including Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Under-Secretary of State for Air (1940-1942).

FIRSTLY BELOW is his Report of making the only landing on the after deck of HMS Vindictive, in the fleet’s last operational Sopwith Pup on 1st November 1918 at Scapa Flow.

In April 1918 HMS Vindictive was sunk in the attack on the mole at Zeebrugge. During the Summer of 1918 a new aircraft carrier was nearing completion at Harland and Wolff in Belfast. It was decided to name this aircraft carrier HMS Vindictive.

An RAF Unit composed of officers and ratings, formerly in the RNAS (the RAF had been formed on 1st April 1918 by the amalgamation of the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps) was being formed with Lt. Colonel Tomkinson as CO for service in this ship.

I was transferred to Turnhouse during the latter part of August for a few days for flying practice prior to serving in HMS Pegasus. On the 26th August I did my first deck take off in a Sopwith Pup with folding wings, from HMS Pegasus. On the 28th and 30th I did two more deck take offs, each time in a Sopwith Pup.

I was then posted to the Isle of Grain, where the HMS Vindictive RAF Unit was being assembled. I took this opportunity to do as much flying as possible in Sopwith Pups, Curtiss aircraft with the wheel instead of stick control, and a Grain Griffin. This was a two seater aircraft rather like, but larger than a Sopwith 1½ Strutter. I believe that only six were built. It was intended that this aircraft would carry one large bomb. We were told that the idea was to steam into the Kattegat when we would fly off, drop the bomb on Berlin and then return to land in the sea near a ship, and if possible outside territorial waters.

In anticipation of a sea landing I did a practice landing in the Medway, close to the shore at the Isle of Grain, in a Curtiss aircraft with air bags which leaked. In the remarks column of my log book I said that:  ‘… landing was O.K. and I did not get wet although the machine half sunk’. In the middle of September the RAF Unit joined HMS Vindictive in Belfast.

We carried out steam trials in the Clyde and then steamed up the West Coast of Scotland in October for Scapa Flow. On October 26th I took off from Smoogroo Aerodrome in a Sopwith Pup and flew around HMS Vindictive at anchor. On October 29th I did the same in a Sopwith Pup with the ship under way and accompanied by the CO in another Pup. My log book says that ‘I did experiments with Lt. Col. Tomkinson all around the ship to find out the bumps with a view to landing on the deck’.

After this flight it became very clear to me that with the hot air from the funnels, and the turbulence caused by the superstructure amidships between the take off deck forward, and the landing on deck aft, the air conditions were so disturbed that to make a successful landing on the after deck was an impossibility. It seemed to me that if the ship were to steam 15˚ out of wind so that the turbulent air was carried over the starboard quarter, then I could side slip in to land from the port quarter in calm air.

I therefore arranged with Captain Grace (a son of the great cricketer Dr W G Grace) that the ship would steam 15˚ out of wind, with a landing speed for me of not less than 20 knots nor more than 25 knots.

On the 1st November, flying a Sopwith Pup with wind direction SE and force 1 to 2 I took off from Smoogroo Aerodrome. After testing the air conditions astern of the ship, and finding adequate calm air on the port quarter, I side slipped in and on to the deck. The extract from my log book was as follows :- ‘Very calm. Landed on deck 104ft. run. Swung a bit otherwise O.K. Tail skid caught edge of a plate and broke.’

During the Summer about a dozen unsuccessful attempts were made to land on the after deck of HMS Furious where catching gear had been erected for the Sopwith Pups specially provided with skids.

I had heard about these unsuccessful attempts, but did not know the reason for this lack of success. However, immediately I had made the necessary air tests astern, the reason became obvious as I have already stated.

Although I had demonstrated that it was possible to make a successful landing on the after deck of an aircraft carrier by use of the 15˚ angle into wind and the correct head wind strength, it was very obvious that to carry out a successful landing in ideal conditions in Scapa Flow was very different from doing the same thing at sea on operations, perhaps in bad weather and with submarines around and with pilots tired out after an operational sortie.

Moreover, throughout the Spring and Summer I had been at Cranwell giving advanced flying instruction, with particular attention to forced landing techniques so that I did have special knowledge, and had acquired skills to make such a deck landing, which the average pilot aboard a ship would not normally possess.

In the event no further attempts were made to land an aeroplane on the after deck of either HMS Furious or HMS Vindictive. The future construction was a flat deck ship without funnels and superstructure amidships [HMS Argus in 1918], to be followed by the ‘Island’ amidships and the 15˚ angle deck which allowed for errors in overshooting on landing, and avoided air turbulence astern, as well as other advantages.

SECONDLY BELOW is an extract from Wakefield’s article in the Air Training Corps Gazette of April 1943, when he was Director of the Corps, on flying a glider at Windermere on 7 February 1943

On my first flight in a modified Falcon 1 glider at Windermere on 7th February 1943, there was a steady northerly wind of 12 to 15 miles an hour blowing down the lake. About 300ft of cable was let out from the speedboat. Signalling was done by the hand. Wireless or some form of loudspeaker between glider and speedboat is advisable. It is better that oral rather than visual means of inter-communication should be used. Voice transmitted by loudspeaker and compressed air booster might be a suitable method.

On the first take-off I tried to pull the glider off the water too quickly, and instead of getting it up on the step I got it right off the water, and as a result porpoised a bit. After taking the air, however, I quickly gained height, quick-released and made a satisfactory landing.

On the second take-off I got the glider up on to the step and it took off beautifully. Here again I only went up to about 200 or 300ft, and then quick-released and landed in the roughest water I could find in the wash of the speedboat. The glider behaved perfectly on alighting.

On the next occasion there was very little wind, with the result that the weight of the sagging cable tended to pull the glider underneath the water, and a series of waves came over the cockpit, giving me a good ducking. After a few seconds of this I quick-released before I was able to become airborne or, as seemed possible, being pulled to the bottom of the lake.

On the second run the cable was shortened to about 200ft. This time I got off comfortably, and climbed to about 700 or 800ft before quick-releasing over Bowness Bay, where I tried without much success to find an up-current. The glider again landed perfectly.

On the third run, again with longer cable, I got another ducking, and had to quick-release again without becoming airborne.

For the fourth run the cable was shortened once more and I got comfortably into the air. We ran down the lake, heading into what little wind there was, and the cable was let out to its full extent, so that I was soon flying at 1200ft. I was towed several miles down to the end of the lake at this height, where I quick-released. I made a hill which stuck out into the lake in another endeavour to do some soaring. But the wind was up and down the lake and was too light to provide enough up-current for me to remain long in the air. I was able to make another satisfactory landing.

Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

World War One


On 25 November 1911, from Windermere, Waterbird achieved the world's first successful flight to use a stepped float. Waterbird was an Avro Curtiss-type hydro-aeroplane. The pilot was Herbert Stanley Adams (later Lieutenant Colonel).

Waterbird was commissioned by Captain Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Company. Wakefield patented the stepped float and means of attachment, for which he entered into a contract on 14 March 1912 with the Admiralty, and also to convert a Deperdussin naval serial M.1 to a hydro-aeroplane.

'We believe that with the exception of the hydro-aeroplanes of the Unites States Navy no other machine of like nature has been so successful.' - Kendal Mercury & Times, 22 December 1911.

Deperdussin at Windermere

The dismantled Deperdussin arrived by rail at Windermere on 13 June 1912, and, having been successfully converted from a landplane, was flown during July by Adams, Lieutenant Reginald Gregory and Lieutenant (later Air Commodore) Charles Samson. On 10 January 1912 off Sheerness, Samson had achieved the first aeroplane launch from a British warship - HMS Africa, and on 2 May 1912 off Weymouth, the first take-off from a moving ship - HMS Hibernia.


In a letter to the Times, on 11 January 1912, Wakefield wrote 'I yield to no one in love for the scenery, and loyalty to the interests of my country. But many, who along with me learnt during the war in South Africa, the value of scouting, believe that scouting by hydro-aeroplane will shortly become a necessity for the safety of this island. England is far too behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both Army and Navy.'

'Edward Wakefield was convinced that the future for Naval hydro-aeroplanes lay in scouting for the fleet and relaying back information – extending the Naval battle space over the horizon. He knew that Naval aircraft could be the eyes and ears of the fleet.' – Commander Sue Eagles, Fly Navy Heritage Trust, in the Fleet Air Arm diary 2012.

'Not only did Edward Wakefield correctly predict the need for floatplanes in the Great War but also the role for the Sunderland flying boats that were to be built on the lake 30 years later.' – Wings on Windermere by Allan King.

The Importance of Private Enterprise

On 28 February 1912, the Report of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was approved, which recommended that the Naval Wing of the Flying Corps should be established and that it attached importance to the maintenance of private enterprise in the field of aeronautics. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the Standing Sub-Committee, when asked in the House of Commons about the Royal Navy and hydro-aeroplanes, referred to the experiments at Windermere and that 'the results so far attained have been promising'.

On 16 April 1912, Churchill confirmed in the Commons that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. Click here for image.

The term 'seaplane' was coined by Churchill when he answered a question in the Commons on 17 July 1913.

Seaplanes in War

Churchill wrote in a Minute of 10 February 1914 that 'The objectives of land aeroplanes can never be so definite or important as the objectives of seaplanes, which, when they carry torpedoes, may prove capable of playing a decisive part in operations against capital ships. The facilities of reconnaissance at sea, where hostile vessels can be sighted at enormous distances while the seaplane remains out of possible range, offer a far wider prospect even in the domain of information to seaplanes than to land aeroplanes',

Whilst Wakefield advocated defensive scouting, derived from his experience in the Boer War, Churchill, however, came to the view that attack was the prime tactic for defence: 'The great defence against aerial menace is to attack the enemy's aircraft as near as possible to their point of departure'. Three years and one month after Waterbird's first flight, carrier-borne seaplanes were launched against Germany. 'The Cuxhaven raid marks the first employment of the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service in an attack on the enemy's harbours from the sea, and, apart from the results achieved, is an occasion of historical moment. Not only so, but for the first time in history a naval attack has been delivered simultaneously above, on, and from below the surface of the water.' – Flight magazine, 1 January 1915.

Training for Naval Marine Aeroplanes at Windermere

A private Seaplane School was formed at Hill of Oaks on the south east shore of Windermere. For an example of the fate of Windermere students, click here.

Following the outbreak of war, Adams joined the RNAS becoming a Lieutenant Colonel with the DSC and MBE, and Wakefield joined the Cheshire Regiment becoming commander of a Labour Battalion on the Western Front. On 11 November 1914, the Cockshott Point hangar lease, together with Waterhen, Seabird and Lakes Monoplane were sold by the Lakes Flying Company to the Northern Aircraft Company Ltd.

'Large numbers of probationary Sub-Lieutenants R.N. were sent to Windermere for basic instruction, in addition to those who had already qualified on land machines.' - Britain's Seaplane Pioneers by M H Goodall, Air Pictorial January 1988.

The School was taken over on behalf of the Government, and in May 1916 training operations at Cockshott Point and Hill of Oaks became RNAS Unit Hill of Oaks. In June 1916, the headquarters of the RNAS at Windermere moved from Cockshott Point to Hill of Oaks, and, with the departure of civilian instructors, the name was changed to RNAS Windermere.

A Royal Naval Air Station was established at Hill of Oaks 1916-1917. At various times, the fleet included 4 Nieuport VI seaplanes, 9 F.B.A. flying boats, and 3 Short 827 seaplanes.

The first pupil to obtain a Hydro-aeroplane Certificate at RNAS Hill of Oaks was Paul Gadbois, on 14 June 1916. He departed Windermere on 26 June 1916, but two weeks later was seriously injured in a seaplane accident. The last pupil to obtain a Certificate at Windermere was Edward Haller, on 16 August 1916. He joined the RFC, but was killed on 3 June 1917, when shot down flying a Sopwith 1½ Strutter.

RNAS personnel involved themselves in the local community, even putting on a concert. However, parents of daughters complained that the prefix to RNAS Hill of Oaks stood for Rather Naughty After Sunset!

A Tribute to Windermere

'Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay Hill of Oaks, Windermere is that but for its existence, just a few years later Britain could quite easily have starved to death as a result of the U-boat blockade. Thankfully the deterrent aspect of seaplanes and other aerial craft forced enemy submarines to stay under the surface and therefore make them less effective.' – The Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.

On 20 May 1917, two ex-Windermere pupils, Flight Sub-Lieutenants Charles Morrish and Henry Boswell, were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a U-boat whilst flying a Curtiss H-12 flying boat.  Both of them were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 3 June 1918, ex-Windermere pupil Captain Harold Gonyon was amongst the first recipients of the Distinguished Service Cross

Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, who constructed the floats and aeroplanes of Oscar Gnosspelius (later Major), Waterbird's floats, floats for the RNAS and pinnaces for the Admiralty, were sub-contracted in 1918 to manufacture Felixstowe flying boat hulls.

On 10 May 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere was first pilot of an S.E. Saunders Ltd-built Felixstowe flying boat which shot down a Zeppelin at Heligoland Bight, for which he was among the first recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross. On 16 May 1918, whilst carrying out an anti-submarine patrol, he achieved the record for the longest duration flight during World War 1 at that time of 9 hours 45 minutes. It is claimed that Pattinson invented the spotlight altimeter in 1918, wrongly attributed to Guy Gibson in 1943 in the Dam Busters film.

Wavell Wakefield

On 1 November 1918, Flight Lieutenant Wavell Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's nephew, later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) landed a Sopwith Pup on the after deck of HMS Vindictive at Scapa Flow.

Arthur Wakefield

Doctor Arthur Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's brother) unveiled a memorial on 8 June 1924 at the summit of Great Gable to the twenty members of The Fell & Rock Climbing Club who fell in World War One.


Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes

Admiralty Deperdussin

Cuxhaven Raid