Unit History: Royal Naval Air Service
The Royal Naval Air Service or RNAS was the air arm of the Royal Navy until near the end of the First World War, when it merged with the British Armys Royal Flying Corps to form a new service (the first of its kind in the world), the Royal Air Force.
When the RFC was founded on April 13, 1912, it was intended to encompass all military flying. The Navy, however, was not pleased at all forms of naval aviation being moved to an Army corps, and soon formed its own, unauthorised, flying branch with a training centre at Eastchurch. Command of this group was given over to Murray Sueter, who had been working on airship development for the navy. At the time, the Admiralty, known as the "Senior Service", had enough political clout to ensure that this act went completely unchallenged. The Royal Naval Air Service was officially recognised on July 1, 1914 by First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill. The new service was completely separate from the RFC except for the Central Flying School, which was still used, and became in effect a rival air force.
By the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, the RNAS had more aircraft under its control than the RFC. The Navy maintained twelve airship stations around the coast of Britain from Longside, Aberdeenshire in the northeast to Anglesey in the west. In addition to seaplanes, carrier borne aircraft, and other aircraft with a legitimate "naval" application the RNAS also maintained several crack fighter squadrons on the Western Front, as well as allocating scarce resources to an independent strategic bombing force at a time when such operations were highly speculative. Inter-service rivalry even affected aircraft procurement. Urgently required Sopwith 1½ Strutter two-seaters had to be transferred from the planned RNAS strategic bombing force (for which the type was in any case quite unsuitable) to RFC squadrons on the Western Front because the Navy had "cornered" Sopwith production. In fact this situation continued - although most of Sopwiths products were not specifically naval aircraft. Thus RNAS fighter squadrons obtained Sopwith Pup fighters months before the RFC - and then replaced these first with Sopwith Triplanes and then Camels while the hard-pressed RFC squadrons soldiered on with their obsolescent Pups. An account of this scandalous situation is to be found in the book No Parachute by Arthur Gould Lee.
On April 1, 1918 the RNAS was merged with the RFC to form the RAF. At the time of the merger, the Navys air service had 67,000 officers and men, 2,949 aircraft, 103 airships and 126 coastal stations.
The RNAS squadrons were absorbed into the new structure, individual squadrons receiving new squadron numbers by effectively adding 200 to the number so No. 1 Squadron RNAS (a famous fighter squadron) became No. 201 Squadron RAF.
The Royal Navy regained its own air service in 1937, when the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force (covering carrier borne aircraft, but not the seaplanes and maritime reconnaissance aircraft of Coastal Command) was returned to Admiralty control and renamed the Naval Air Branch. In 1952, the service returned to its pre-1937 name of the Fleet Air Arm.