Friday, 30 March 2018

March 1918- the final month of the RNAS and the birth of the RAF.

The  month of March 1918 was a significant time in the story of the Royal Naval Air Service and the increasing deployment of the Zero airships to the 2 stations in Wales. By the first of April 1918 the Royal Naval Air Service was combined with the Royal Flying Corpse into the newly formed Royal Air Force and the Zeros became RAF airships.

At RNAS/RAF Llangefni on Anglesey SSZ 50 and SSZ 51 where deployed on the 13th March ,their first patrols taking place on the 14th,  followed by SSZ34 arriving on March 23rd .

In the South at RNAS/RAF Milton in Pembrokeshire SSZ16 and SSZ 17 had been in operation over the Welsh coasts since August 1917. They where followed by SSZ37, SSZ52 and SSZ 53 in March 1918, with SSZ52 beginning her first patrol on March 19th 1918.

This period of change and important moment in the history of British military aviation is best described by Bill Williams in his book 'Airship Pilot No 28' ,Chapter 8. 'The Royal Air Force is Born'

Notably Bill Williams states:

 'At first it made little difference to us. We still wore our old naval monkey jackets and comfortable peaked caps, usually much battered.'

and goes on to recollect that:

 'There was a tendency for ex-naval officers to refer to the adjutants deprecatingly as "those bloody soldiers" but this soon passed when they found that the soldiers , who took some pains to establish themselves and took care not to interfere with flying operation's, were quite likeable men...although navy blue and khaki uniforms were mixed, ultimately merging into the pale Royal Air Force blue, which later became darker.''

The above photo from RAF Llangefni shows the mix of the old Naval and new Air Force uniforms still being worn in August 1918. (image credit and copyright Mr G.Owen) 

Some early teething problems existed with this new organisation ,again Bill Williams had a few issues with :

'the appointment of a khaki-clad executive officer to look after office work and maintenance...the inevitable clash came when I had to accuse him of taking men to wash windows when I needed them for a landing party.'

The commander of the airship station on Anglesey, Thomas Elmhirst , recollecting his service in 1977 for the Imperial War Museum gives a personal account of this time and the change in uniform.


Airships Over Anglesey Part Three : Thomas Elmhirst April 1918

1 comment:

  1. Interesting commentary with some great pictures I've never seen before.