Who was responsible for creating the pre-war aircraft carriers?

Both Japan and the U.S. had impressive carrier fleets at the beginning of WWII.  Considering the "battleship" mentality so prevalent in both navies’ admiralties, I’ve always been curious who the people were who were primarily responsible for driving the creation of these aircraft carriers years before the start of WW2.


Sam Fleming

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Dear Mr. Fleming,  

Arguably the earliest advocates of carrier air power in its halting early states were Britain’s First Lord of the Admiralty in 1914, Winston Churchill, and Commander Charles Rumney Samson. Churchill had been behind forming the royal Naval Air Service as a separate entity and Samson experimented with a variety of means of operating aircraft from seaplane tenders as well as seaborn platforms before HMS Furious launched the first true carrier operations in the summer of 1918. Even so, during the postwar years the Royal Navy tended to regard the aircraft carrier as a supplement to the battleship, rather than as an independent offensive weapon—until the Taranto raid of November 11, 1940, demonstrated its full potential.  

Among the early American advocates of carrier air power was Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, who in 1925 declared that "Naval Aviation cannot take the offensive from shore; it must go to sea on the back of the fleet." Captain Thomas T. Craven was the chief driving force for converting the collier Jupiter into the first U.S. Navy carrier, Langley.  

Japan was the first power to conduct an offensive operation from a seaplane carrier, during the 1914 siege of Tsingtao, and in 1919 it laid down the first carrier to be built from the keel up as such, Hosho, which entered service on December 27, 1922. And yet Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, like the British, put the emphasis on battleship power, with the carrier as a supplement, for most of the interwar years. In 1945, Fleet Admiral Osami Nagano admitted "We were doing our utmost all the time to catch up with the United States." Apparently the great mold-breaker was Minoru Genda, who enlisted in 1929 with the specific ambition of becoming a fighter pilot and, after becoming an officer, urged the Japanese navy to abandon battleships, which he dismissed as "piers," in favor an emphasis on carriers and submarines, backed by cruisers and destroyers. It was also Genda who advocated the use of multiple carriers as a primary striking force, realized by the Kido Butai—a "Combined Fleet" centered around an unprecedented six carriers—at Pearl Harbor.  



Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
More Questions at Ask Mr. History 

One Response

  1. Arthur

    Great article sire,
    Sadly the first Aircraft Carrier was built by the British and called HMS Hermes & Ark Royal (Built from the keel-up). Other British carriers were either converted Courageous-Class cruisers in order to circumvent the Washington Naval Treaty (Furious, Glorious, & Courageous); The Chilean Battleship Admirante Cochrane (HMS Eagle), and an Italitan Ocean Liner Conte Rosso (HMS Argus).

    It is reported that HMS Hermes inspired the design and commission of the Japanese carrier Hosho; and that HMS Argus, although being the first ship with a dedicated deck for storage and flight operations, was relegated to the operation of “Remote Controlled aircraft” (The first was flown by the RFC in 1917 for the purpose of target practice)

    From the mid-late 1800’s, the world’s military viewed powered flight with amazement and could only dream at the potential opportunities that it offered. From c1803 Sir George Cayley demonstrated that it was possible to transport people utilising aircurrents and a fixed-wind design. But it was in 1848 that the design of the first model aircraft appeared, and again in 1883, in a small Somerset town (UK), called Chard that the first powered flight by a local industrialist called John Springfellow. This was followed in 1884 with Charles Renard and Arthur Constatin Krebs achieving the first fully controlled flight over a measured distance in an airship.

    Development continued, but the military were unwilling to invest in this new field of development, and during the later years of the 19th & early 20th Century continued to investigate the use of aerial observation balloons which could be launched from “Baloon Carriers”.

    It was in 1910 that Le Canard (a French experimental float plane – Fabre Hydravion – designed by Henri Fabre) introduced the advent of fixed-wing aircraft that prompted the next step in naval aviation, with the development of Seaplanes & seaplane Support Ships. Britain continued development, although it had produced two aircraft carriers for use just prior to the first world war, would also convert three cruisers in order to save development costs and provide test platforms whilst development was made and lessons learnt from this new venture.

    During the Second World War, these ships would enter into their own forces, and prove that an attack could be launched from carriers against ships within, what was previously considered, a safe port or anchorage, (both the British against the French & Italians & the Japanese against Pearl Harbor, Hong Kong, and Singapore).


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