Book Review – ‘Coastal Patrol: Royal Navy Airship operations during the Great War 1914–1918’ by Frank Scott
This is a niche topic, but the author, Brian J. Turpin, has a solid grounding in aviation technology, and does an excellent job in detailing the rapid wartime development of the Royal Navy’s non-rigid airship types, from the earliest Submarine Scouts, through to the Sea Scout Zeros and Coastals, and ending with the well-regarded North Sea Class. Indeed the British finished the war as the leader in that field, so much so that even the US Navy purchased some from them.
What makes this book enjoyable is his extensive use of interviews, and the mass of photographs, many from the author’s own collection. I particularly enjoyed the account of how ‘Jacky’ Fisher directly recruited mid-shipmen and sublieutenants from the fleet in 1915. However, my favourite has to be the story of how one training flight in a balloon went wrong, and ended up doing considerable damage to a country house and its garden. The lady of the house was very understanding, treating the young officers to a splendid tea, and it was only as they were leaving that she let drop that it was the residence of the local commander in chief, Admiral the Hon. Sir Hedworth Meux.
Curiously missing from this book is any real discussion of how airships (rigid or non-rigid) fitted into the navy’s overall maritime aviation plans when they were part of the RNAS, let alone in co-operation with the RAF. Indeed, when the RAF closed down the whole airship arm, very shortly after the end of the war, there is no mention of any inter-service discussion about what was a significant decision.