Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cuxhaven: The World's First Carrier-Based Air Assault

Britain, in the first months of the war, realized the danger of zeppelin raids on home shores when the Germans became entrenched in Belgium. A series of air patrols in the Channel was immediately established, costing the Royal Naval Air Service a number of seaplanes and pilots in casualties.

TARGET: The Zeppelin Sheds at Cuxhaven
(Note: The Shadow of the Airship Taking the Photo)

In December 1914, the British planned a raid on zeppelin bases at Cuxhaven. This time, they tried a new tactic, launching the attack with seaplanes based aboard ships. The converted Engadine, Riviera, and Empress were pressed into service, accompanied by a screen of destroyers and submarines. The mission was not restricted to the bombing of the airship sheds, but broadened to obtain as much information as possible on the strength of the German Navy in the area.


On Christmas morning, the ships converged at a point some 12 miles north of Heligoland. An hour later, seven planes took off. En route, they were attacked ineffectively by two zeppelins, and, as they neared the enemy’s main naval base, by seaplanes. Three hours after launching, three of the seaplanes returned to their ships, the mission only partly accomplished. The remaining four were forced to ditch. The crews of three were rescued by a friendly submarine; the fourth was captured by a Dutch trawler.

The seaplanes did not succeed in finding the zeppelin sheds, thus failing that aspect of the mission. But they did bring back valuable information on harbors and the number of German ships in them. The Admiralty was not disappointed.

AIRCRAFT: The Short S.81 of the Royal Naval Air Service

If any single action gave birth to the concept of aircraft carrier operations, says one noted U.S. naval historian, this raid would qualify. Several similar raids were made in later years of the war, but attention was directed first at the development of seaplanes and then of flying boats. It was not until the last months of the war that Britain fully realized the limitations of seaplane characteristics and the superiority of land-based planes; various experiments with true aircraft carrier design then ensued.

Source: Naval Aviation News, March 1962

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