World War One
Waterbird and Captain Edward Wakefield
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 Deperdussin naval serial M.1 to a hydro-aeroplane.
‘We believe that with the exception of the hydroaeroplanes of the United States Navy no other machine of like nature has been so successful.’ – Kendal Mercury and 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.
‘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 Flying Naval Marine Aeroplanes at Windermere
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 Limited.
‘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.H 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. Both of them were awarded 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 within 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 for a flying boat 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.
On 3 June 1918, ex-Windermere pupils Captains Harold Gonyon and Victor Bessette were also amongst the first recipients of the Distinguished Flying Cross.
Flight Lieutenant Wavell Wakefield
Captain 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
By Clifford Fleming Williams