Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Torpedo Bombers 1917-1918

The Quest for Winged Ship Killers

Naval Power was held in high regard by many countries during the Great War. It was the introduction of the airplane which upset the perceived notion that only another ship could sink another ship. Initially Bombs were used to deliver a killing blow to ships. However the need to fly over a target bristling with guns did not make bombing quite so attractive. It was the invention of self propelled torpedoes for use on submarines which spurred development of aircraft capable of carrying torpedoes. Aircraft which could to stand off and deliver fire on a naval target were extremely cost effective.

German Torpedo Bombers

Friedrichshafen FF.41AT - 1917
Friedrichshafen FF.41AT - 1917
Estonian Friedrichshafen FF.41AT - 1917
Estonian Friedrichshafen FF.41AT - 1917

Friedrichshafen FF.41 from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

The Friedrichshafen FF.41 was a large, German-built, three-seat, twin-engine amphibious reconnaissance aircraft designed by Flugzeugbau Friedrichshafen in 1917.

The aircraft was mainly used as a reconnaissance aircraft, but also as a bomber and as a mine-laying aircraft. A torpedo-carrying version, the FF.41AT, was also developed. It had a modified fuselage and a single vertical fin (in comparison to the basic model's three). Only five FF.41AT aircraft were manufactured.

The Friedrichshafen FF.41 was based on the Friedrichshafen FF.35. The major difference between them was a change from pusher plane style propulsion to a tractor configuration

The Finnish Air Force purchased one FF.41AT aircraft from the Germans in Estonia on 26 November 1918, at the end of World War I. It was flown to Sortavala where it was repaired. In 1922, the torpedo-carrying fuselage was changed and the capability to carry torpedoes was removed. This aircraft was in use between 1918-23.

British Torpedo Bombers

Short Admiralty Type 320 - 1917
Short Admiralty Type 320 - 1917

Short Type 320 from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

The Short Type 320, also known as the Short Admiralty Type 320 was a British two-seat reconnaissance, bombing and torpedo-carrying "folder" seaplane designed by Short Brothers.

The Short Type 320 was designed to meet an official requirement for a seaplane to carry a Mark IX torpedo. Larger than the earlier Short 184 it was a typical Short folder design of the time, with two-bay uneven span wings. Two prototypes were built powered by a 310 hp Sunbeam Cossack engine, and initially known as the Short 310 Type A from the engine fitted to the prototypes. When the torpedo bomber went into production it was powered by a 320 hp (238kW) Cossack engine which was the origin of the name the Type 320.

At the same time as Shorts were designing the 310 Type A torpedo bomber, they produced a similar design for a patrol float plane, powered by the same Cossack engine and using the same fuselage, but with equal span three-bay wings instead of the uneven span wings of the torpedo bomber, known as the Short 310 Type B or North Sea Scout, with two prototypes ordered.

Priority was given to the torpedo bomber, the first being ready in July 1916 and the second in August that year, with the prototypes being rushed to the Adriatic The first prototype patrol aircraft was finished in September 1916, but proved to be little better than the Short 184 already in service, and was not ordered into production. The second prototype Type B was completed as a type A torpedo bomber.

A conventional biplane float plane the torpedo was carried between the bottom of the fuselage and the floats. Unusually the aircraft was flown from the rear cockpit although this did cause a problem for an observer in the front seat. The observer had to stand on the coaming to use the machine-gun which was level with the top wing. When a torpedo was carried the aircraft could not fly with an observer at the same time.

The first order placed with Shorts was for 30 aircraft, followed by orders for a further 24 and 20 aircraft, together with orders for a further 30 and 20 placed at Sunbeam. Together with the three prototypes, this gave a total production of 127 Short Type 320s.

Twenty-five aircraft were ordered in February 1917 and examples were delivered to the Royal Naval Air Service in Italy before the end of April 1917. Two accidents with the aircraft when the fuselage collapsed after the torpedo was released delayed the use of the aircraft on operations. The cause was later found to be the method of securing the fuselage bracing wires.

The first operational use was on 2 September 1917 when six aircraft (five with torpedoes and one with bombs) were towed towed on rafts fifty miles south of Traste Bay to enable them to attack enemy submarines lying off Cattaro. They had to be towed into position as they could not carry enough fuel and a torpedo for the mission. The operation did not go well; with a gale force wind and heavy seas two of the aircraft failed to take off so the operation was abandoned. On the return journey one aircraft was lost and the others were damaged. It appears that the Type 320 never launched a torpedo in action.

Due to the lack of operational experience in February 1918 four aircraft were operated from Calshot for experiments with launching the torpedoes. Forty drops were made and proved a valuable source of information about torpedoes entering the water when dropped at different heights and speeds. The aircraft continued to be used as a reconnaissance seaplane until the end of the war.

Sopwith Cuckoo from Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia

The Sopwith T.1 Cuckoo was a British biplane torpedo bomber used by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), and its successor organization, the Royal Air Force (RAF). The T.1 was the first land plane specifically designed for carrier operations, but it was completed too late for service in the First World War. After the Armistice, the T.1 was named the Cuckoo.

In October 1916, Commodore Murray Sueter, the Air Department's Superintendent of Aircraft Construction, solicited Sopwith for a single-seat aircraft capable of carrying a 1,000 lb torpedo and sufficient fuel to provide an endurance of four hours. The resulting aircraft, designated T.1 by Sopwith, was a large, three-bay biplane. Because the T.1 was designed to operate from carrier decks, its wings were hinged to fold backwards. The T.1 could take off from a carrier deck in four seconds, but it was not capable of making a carrier landing and no arresting gear was fitted. A split-axle undercarriage allowed the aircraft to carry a 1,000 lb Mk. IX torpedo beneath the fuselage.

The prototype T.1 first flew in June 1917, powered by a 200 hp Hispano-Suiza 8Ba engine. Official trials commenced in July 1917 and the Admiralty issued production orders for 100 aircraft in August. Contractors Fairfield Engineering and Pegler & Company had no experience as aircraft manufacturers, however, resulting in substantial production delays. Moreover, the S.E.5a had priority for the limited supplies of the Hispano-Suiza 8. Redesign of the T.1 airframe to accommodate the heavier Sunbeam Arab incurred further delays.

In February 1918, the Admiralty issued a production order to Blackburn Aircraft, an experienced aircraft manufacturer. Blackburn delivered its first T.1 in May 1918. The aircraft immediately experienced undercarriage and tail skid failures, requiring redesign of those components. The T.1 also required an enlarged rudder and offset vertical stabilizer to combat its tendency to swing to the right.

After undergoing service trials at RAF East Fortune, the T.1 was recommended for squadron service. Deliveries to the Torpedo Aeroplane School at East Fortune commenced in early August 1918. Fairfield and Pegler finally began production in August and October, respectively.

The T.1 was not used operationally before the Armistice. In service, the aircraft was generally popular with pilots because the airframe was strong and water landings were safe. The T.1 was easy to control and was fully aerobatic without a torpedo payload. The Arab engine proved unsatisfactory, however, and approximately 20 T.1s were converted to use Wolseley Viper engines. These aircraft, later designated Cuckoo Mk. II, could be distinguished by the Viper's lower thrust line. The Arab-engined variant was designated Cuckoo Mk. I.

A total of 300 T.1s were ordered, but only 90 aircraft had been delivered by the Armistice. A total of 232 aircraft had been completed by the time production ended in 1919. Blackburn Aircraft produced 162 aircraft, while Fairfield Engineering completed 50 and Pegler & Company completed another 20. After the Armistice, many T.1s were delivered directly to storage depots at Renfrew and Newcastle.

The Cuckoo's operational career ended when the last unit to use the type, No. 210 Squadron, disbanded at Gosport on 1 April 1923. The Cuckoo was replaced in service by the Blackburn Dart. Today, no complete Cuckoo airframe survives, but a set of Cuckoo Mk. I wings are preserved at the National Museum of Flight in Scotland.

Throughout 1917, Commodore Sueter proposed plans for an aerial torpedo attack on the German High Seas Fleet at its base in Germany. The carriers HMS Argus, HMS Furious, and HMS Campania, and the converted cruisers HMS Courageous and HMS Glorious, would have launched 100 Cuckoos from the North Sea. In September 1917, Admiral Sir David Beatty, commander of the Grand Fleet, proposed a similar plan involving 120 Cuckoos launched from eight converted merchant vessels. Training took place in the Firth of Forth, where Cuckoos launched practice torpedoes at targets towed by destroyers. Cuckoos of No. 185 Squadron embarked on HMS Argus in November 1918, but hostilities ended before the aircraft could conduct any combat operations.

6 comments:

The Angry Lurker said...

Great work my friend, the cost of one torpedo for one ship was a win win situation for these aircraft.

W. I. Boucher said...

The irony is before the war there was a major arms race to see who could build the most impressive naval fleets.

Britain was building a fleet of military vessels for the Turkish Navy. In a short-sighted blunder Britain appropriated the ships just before the outbreak of war. The British claimed their need for ships justified their actions, even though the ships in question had been paid for by the Turks.

In a geopolitical coup the German Empire offered Turkey ships and the crews to man them, It was an attractive offer which was quickly accepted. This chain of events lead to the Turks siding with Germany and Austria, not allied with Britain Russia or France.

kingsleypark said...

Was there any successful attacks by a Torpedo bomber during WW1?

W. I. Boucher said...

@KP, Yes there were successful attacks.

On August 12, 1915, a Short Type 184 piloted by Flight Commander Charles H. K. Edmonds from HMS Ben-my-Chree operating in the Aegean Sea sank a Turkish supply ship in the Sea of Marmara.Five days later he sank a Turkish steamship. His formation mate Flight Lieutenant G. B. Dacre sank a Turkish tugboat after being forced to land on the water with engine trouble. Dacre taxied toward the tugboat, released his torpedo and was then able to take off and return to Ben-My-Chree.

On May 1, 1917, a German seaplane sank the 2,784-long-ton (2,829 t) British steamship Gena off Suffolk. German torpedo bomber squadrons were subsequently assembled at Ostend and Zeebrugge for further action in the North Sea.
Britain had 3 torpedo bombers scheduled to come on line in early 1919. They were the Sopwith Cuckoo, the Short Shirl, and the Blackburn Blackburd, but a squadron was assembled so late in the war that it achieved no successes.

Jon said...

"Britain had 3 torpedo bombers scheduled to come on line in early 1919. They were the Sopwith Cuckoo, the Short Shirl, and the Blackburn Blackburd, but a squadron was assembled so late in the war that it achieved no successes."

I wonder if the Grand Fleet's AA defenses would have been able to handle this many aircraft. In port or at sea.

W. I. Boucher said...

Good question Jon, I am not sure, I guess it depends on number of escort fighters and the number of planes which were operational at the time. There is always an amount of scrubbed fights due to mechanical failure. It is difficult to speculate on the scenario's success.