For the first time, this book tells the story of how naval air operations evolved into a vital element of the Royal Navy’s ability to fight a three-dimensional war against both the Kriegsmarine and Luftwaffe. An integral part of RN, the Fleet Air Arm was not a large organisation, with only 406 pilots and 232 front-line aircraft available for operations in September 1939. Nevertheless, its impact far outweighed its numbers – it was an RN fighter that shot down the first enemy aircraft of the war, and an RN pilot was the first British fighter ‘ace’ with 5 or more kills. The Fleet Air Arm’s rollcall of achievements in northern waters went on to include the Norwegian Campaign, the crippling of Bismarck, the gallant sortie against Scharnhorst and Gneisenau as they passed through the Channel, air attacks on enemy E-boats in the narrow seas, air cover for the Russian convoys, air attacks that disabled Tirpitz, and strikes and minelaying operations against German shipping in the Norwegian littoral that continued until May 1945. By the end of the war in Europe the FAA had grown to 3243 pilots and 1336 aircraft.
This book sets all these varied actions within their proper naval context and both technical and tactical aspects are explained with ‘thumb-nail’ descriptions of aircraft, their weapons and avionics. Cross reference with the Fleet Air Arm Roll of Honour has been made for the first time to put names to those aircrew killed in action wherever possible as a mark of respect for their determination against enemy forces on, above and below the sea surface which more often than not outnumbered them.