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.
Waterbird was commissioned by Captain Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Company. Wakefield patented his float and means of attachment, for which he entered into a contract on 14 March 1912 with the Admiralty and also to convert an Admiralty Deperdussin to a hydro-aeroplane, which he achieved in 4 weeks from delivery.
‘The importance of these facts in connection with harbour, estuary and coast defence and scouting need hardly be remarked upon. For the fame of Mr. Wakefield himself and Windermere it is to be hoped that the Admiralty may take this matter up so that we may not be left behind by any other European powers.’ – Kendal Mercury and Times, 22 December 1911.
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.
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 House of Commons that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. Click here for image.
The term ‘seaplane’ was coined by Churchill when he circulated a note on 26 October 1913, which recommended three types of aircraft required for duties with the Royal Navy as being: ‘…an overseas fighting seaplane to operate from a ship or base, a scouting seaplane to work with the fleet at sea, and a home service fighting aircraft to repel enemy aircraft…’.
Whilst Wakefield had advocated defensive scouting, derived from his experience in the Boer War, Churchill came to the view that attack was the best form of defence. Three years and one month after Waterbird’s first flight, on 25 December 1914 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.
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. The School was taken over on behalf of the Government, and a Royal Naval Air Station established 1916-1917.
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!
‘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 were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a German submarine and both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.
Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere, who constructed Oscar Gnosspelius‘ floats and aeroplanes, Waterbird’s float, 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. Pattinson invented the spotlight altimeter in 1918, wrongly attributed to Guy Gibson in 1943 in the Dam Busters film.
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.
Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes