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Naval Aviation in the First World War: Its Impact and Influence, by R.D. Layman, Naval Institute Press, Annapolis, Md., 1996, $36.95.

The first naval engagement involving an airplane occurred before World War I. During the Balkan War in February 1913, a Greek Farman seaplane flew over the Dardannelles, dropped a few small bombs on the Turkish fleet–which missed–dodged enemy anti-aircraft fire, and flew to safer waters to rendezvous with and be towed home by the destroyer Velos.

By the end of World War I on November 11, 1918, ship-based airplanes of various sorts had flown reconnaissance missions, hunted submarines, shot down air- ships and other aircraft, conducted bombing raids and torpedoed enemy ships. Most of the air tactics that played a major role in WWII naval operations could claim a fledgling precedent in the previous conflict.

In Naval Aviation in the First World War: Its Impact and Influence, R.D. Layman, a longtime expert on the subject, contradicts a popular misconception that admirals of that time were stodgy conservatives who were inclined to discourage the development of the airplane as a seagoing weapon. In fact, Layman points out, British First Sea Lord Winston S. Churchill and admirals like Sir Murray Sueter, Reinhard Scheer and Bradley Fiske were strong advocates of naval aviation, although some took an ill-chosen direction (such as Captain Peter Strasser’s fatally long-lived partisanship of the Zeppelin), and the strategic visions of others overreached the technological capabilities of the aircraft themselves. To the naval or aviation enthusiast who is relatively new to the subject, Naval Aviation in the First World War is a good basic text that provides a fairly comprehensive overview, as well as a proper appreciation for the first bold pioneers to apply the principles of naval aviation in wartime skies.

Jon Guttman