Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation


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HQ Unit on board HMS Ark Royal


[Apr 1920 | May 1920 | Jun 1920 | Jul 1920 | Aug 1920 | May 1923 | Jul 1923 | Apr 1939 | May 1939]

With the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, all British military and naval aircraft came under its control.  This included all aircraft operated from ships of the Royal Navy, leading to the situation whereby the air and ground crews on board these ships were members of the RAF and the crews of the ships were members of the Royal Navy.  Effectively the small RAF staffs on board the ship operated in much the same way as the staff at a shore based RAF station, the airfield being the flight deck of the carrier.   Whilst on board ship the RAF personnel were subject to Naval discipline under the jurisdiction of the ship's captain, the senior RAF officer acting as the captain's air advisor. 

Initially a number of squadrons were allocated to man the carriers these being No 3 Squadron, No 203 Squadron, No 210 Squadron and No 205 Squadron but on 1 April the RAF formed the Fleet Air Arm of The RAF and these squadrons were split up into a series of smaller Flights numbered in the 400 series.  With the transfer of the FAA to the Admiralty in July 1939, RAF HQ Units in carriers ceased to exist, with most of the posts being taken over by naval officers, although some RAF personnel continued to be seconded to the Royal Navy for some time.

Laid down as a collier in Blyth on 7 November 1913 it taken over by the Admiralty and completed as a seaplane carrier, being launched on 5 September 1914 and commissioned on 9 December 1914.  She supported 'Z' unit during the action against the Mad Mullah in British Somaliland 1920 after which she was placed in reserve.  Recommissioned in 1922, she took part in the Chanak Crisis in Turkey from October 1922 to September 1923 as a depot ship and aircraft transport.  From 1923 to 1929 it was placed on the Nore Reserve during which time it was converted for catapult trials.  It was used to carry out catapult trials from 24 July 1929 until 1934.  With the decision to use the name for a new aircraft carrier, it was renamed HMS Pegasus on 21 December 1934.

The HQ Unit was formed on 28 February 1919 at Gosport.

A new fleet carrier to be named HMS Ark Royal was laid down at the Cammell Laid yard on 16 September 1935, was launched on 13 April 1937 and commissioned on 16 November 1938.  She was sunk on 14 November 1941 after being torpedoed by the U-81 the previous day.

April 1920

Fleet Units operated
Mediterranean Fleet
  • No formed units

 

Rank Name Branch Notes
Fg Off William R Curtis A & S  
Fg Off Robert St Hill Clarke A & S AFC
Fg Off Harvey L Macro S DFC
Fg Off Percival Harris A & S  
Fg Off Edward E P Smith A & S  
Obs Off James F V Sugars O  
Obs Off Wilfred Sanderson O AFC
Fg Off Augustus A Jones T  
Medical Branch
Sqn Ldr William A S Duck Med  

Source - Air Force List April 1920

May 1920

Fleet Command/Group Units operated
Mediterranean Fleet Mediterranean Group
  • No formed units

 

 
Rank Name Branch Date Notes
Flt Lt Ronald H Kershaw A & S 27 Feb 1920  
Fg Off James W Young A 28 Feb 1920  
Fg Off William R Curtis A & S 24 Feb 1920  
Fg Off Robert St Hill Clarke A & S 21 Feb 1920 AFC
Fg Off Harvey L Macro S 24 Feb 1920 DFC
Fg Off Percival Harris A & S 21 Feb 1920  
Fg Off Ernest C B Wright A & S  2 Mar 1920  
Fg Off Edward E P Smith A & S 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off James F V Sugars O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Robert B Hunter O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Wilfred Sanderson O 21 Feb 1920 AFC
Fg Off Augustus A Jones T 24 Feb 1920  
Plt Off Robert C Higgins T 27 Feb 1920  

Source - Air Force List May 1920

June 1920

Fleet Command/Group Units operated
Mediterranean Fleet Mediterranean Group
  • No formed units

 

 
Rank Name Branch Date Notes
Flt Lt Ronald H Kershaw A & S 27 Feb 1920  
Fg Off James W Young A 28 Feb 1920  
Fg Off William R Curtis A & S 24 Feb 1920  
Fg Off Robert St Hill Clarke A & S 21 Feb 1920 AFC
Fg Off Harvey L Macro S 24 Feb 1920 DFC
Fg Off Ernest C B Wright A & S  2 Mar 1920  
Fg Off Edward E P Smith A & S 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off James F V Sugars O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Robert B Hunter O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Wilfred Sanderson O 21 Feb 1920 AFC
Fg Off William Wheatley T    
Fg Off Edward D H Davies S   later A/Cdre
Fg Off Augustus A Jones T 24 Feb 1920  
Plt Off Robert C Higgins T 27 Feb 1920  

Source - Air Force List June 1920

July 1920

Fleet Command/Group Units operated
Mediterranean Fleet Mediterranean Group
  • No formed units

 

 
Rank Name Branch Date Notes
Flt Lt Ronald H Kershaw A & S 27 Feb 1920  
Flt Lt Albert Durston S 11 Jun 1920 AFC; later AM
Fg Off James W Young A 28 Feb 1920 MBE
Fg Off William R Curtis A & S 24 Feb 1920  
Fg Off Harvey L Macro S 24 Feb 1920 DFC
Fg Off Ernest C B Wright A & S  2 Mar 1920  
Fg Off Edward E P Smith A & S 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off James F V Sugars O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Robert B Hunter O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Wilfred Sanderson O 21 Feb 1920 AFC
Fg Off Edward D H Davies S   later A/Cdre
Fg Off William Morgan T 11 Jun 1920  
Fg Off William Wheatley T    
Fg Off Augustus A Jones T 24 Feb 1920  
Fg Off George E Pyne Ad 12 Jun 1920  
Plt Off Robert C Higgins T 27 Feb 1920  

Source - Air Force List July 1920

August 1920

Fleet Command/Group Units operated
Mediterranean Fleet Mediterranean Group
  • No formed units

 

 
Rank Name Branch Date Notes
Flt Lt Albert Durston S 11 Jun 1920 AFC; later AM
Fg Off James W Young A 28 Feb 1920 MBE
Fg Off William R Curtis A & S 24 Feb 1920  
Fg Off Harvey L Macro S 24 Feb 1920 DFC
Fg Off Ernest C B Wright A & S  2 Mar 1920  
Fg Off Edward E P Smith A & S 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off James F V Sugars O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Robert B Hunter O 21 Feb 1920  
Obs Off Wilfred Sanderson O 21 Feb 1920 AFC
Fg Off Edward D H Davies S   later A/Cdre
Fg Off William Wheatley T    
Fg Off William Morgan T 11 Jun 1920  
Fg Off Augustus A Jones T 24 Feb 1920  
Fg Off George E Pyne Ad 12 Jun 1920  

Source - August 1920 Air Force List

She was recommissioned on 30 May1922.

May 1923

Source - May 1923 Air Force List

July 1923

Fleet Command/Group Units operated
Mediterranean Fleet Mediterranean Group
  • No 267 Squadron

 

Rank Name

Date

Notes
Sqn Ldr Arnold J Miley 19 Feb 1922
Flt Lt Frederick A Norton 13 Nov 1922  
Flt Lt John A Sadler 13 Nov 1922  
Fg Off Esmond S Ades 17 Nov 1922  
Obs Off James F V Sugars 17 Nov 1922  
Fg/Obs Off Isaac Hodgson 17 Nov 1922  
Obs Off Kenneth C Mackenzie 17 Nov 1922  
Obs Off Alexander F Adams 17 Nov 1922  
Fg/Obs Off Herbert J White 23 Nov 1922  
Fg/Obs Off Rene G Mollard 23 Nov 1922  
Fg/Obs Off Victor H Clift 13 Oct 1922  
Stores Branch
Fg Off Harry B Hawker 13 Nov 1922

A new fleet carrier was commissioned on 16 November 1938.

April 1939

Fleet Units operated
Home Fleet
  • No 800 Squadron

  • No 803 Squadron

  • No 810 Squadron

  • No 814 Squadron

  • No 820 Squadron

  • No 821 Squadron

 

Rank Name

Date

Notes
Wg Cdr F M R Stephenson 16 Nov 1938 Cdr, RN
Wg Cdr A P Colthurst 14 Jan 1939 Cdr, RN
Sqn Ldr J B Buckley 16 Nov 1938 Lt Cdr, RN
Sqn Ldr J C Brooke 28 Nov 1938 Engineer duties, DSC
Flt Lt G E Macdonald 21 Nov 1938 Armament duties
Flt Lt A E Cairnes 21 Nov 1938  
Equipment Branch
Sqn Ldr Bertram E Essex 21 Nov 1938 later AVM
Commissioned Signals Officer
Fg Off A Kemsley 28 Nov 1938 DSM
Warrant Officer
WO E Grotelow 16 Nov 1938

Source - Confidential Air Force List April 1939

May 1939

Fleet Units operated
Home Fleet
  • No 800 Squadron

  • No 803 Squadron

  • No 810 Squadron

  • No 814 Squadron

  • No 820 Squadron

  • No 821 Squadron

 

Rank Name

Date

Notes
Wg Cdr F M R Stephenson 16 Nov 1938 Cdr, RN
Wg Cdr A P Colthurst 14 Jan 1939 Cdr, RN
Sqn Ldr J B Buckley 16 Nov 1938 Lt Cdr, RN
Sqn Ldr J C Brooke 28 Nov 1938 Engineer duties, DSC
Sqn Ldr G E Macdonald 21 Nov 1938 Armament duties
Flt Lt A E Cairnes 21 Nov 1938  
Equipment Branch
Sqn Ldr Bertram E Essex 21 Nov 1938 later AVM
Commissioned Signals Officer
Fg Off A Kemsley 28 Nov 1938 DSM
Warrant Officer
WO E Grotelow 16 Nov 1938

Source - Confidential Air Force List May 1939

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