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Stalking the U-Boat

U.S. Naval Aviation in Europe during World War I

Geoffrey L. Rossano

Publication Year: 2010

Stalking the U-Boat is the first and only comprehensive study of U.S. naval aviation operations in Europe during WWI. The navy's experiences in this conflict laid the foundations for the later emergence of aviation as a crucial--sometimes dominant--element of fleet operations, yet those origins have been previously poorly understood and documented.

Begun as antisubmarine operations, naval aviation posed enormous logistical, administrative, personnel, and operational problems. How the USN developed this capability--on foreign soil in the midst of desperate conflict--makes a fascinating tale sure to appeal to all military and naval historians.

Published by: University Press of Florida

Title Page

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List of Illustrations

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pp. ix-x

List of Abbreviations

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pp. xi

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pp. xiii-xv

Water is unquestionably the most important natural feature on earth. By volume the world’s oceans compose 99 percent of the planet’s living space; in fact, the surface of the Pacific Ocean alone is larger than that of the total land bodies. Water is as vital to life as air. Indeed, to test whether the other...

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Preface and Acknowledgments

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pp. xvii-xviii

The seeds of this project were planted many years ago. While preparing the World War I correspondence of naval aviator Kenneth MacLeish for publication, I found myself in need of a concise, detailed study of the Navy’s aeronautic efforts in Europe in 1917–1919. Every time I requested such a...

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pp. 1-4

With twin Rolls-Royce motors roaring just above his head, Ens. Ashton “Tex” Hawkins from Carlsbad, New Mexico, wrestled his aging H-12 flying boat higher and higher through the impenetrable rain, mist, and fog, clawing his way to a patrol altitude of 10,000 feet. Hawkins, copilot...

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1. The First Aeronautic Detachment

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pp. 5-42

Naval aviation took a first tentative step toward its wartime mission in Europe in September 1908 when the Department of the Navy assigned an officer to observe acceptance trials of a Wright Brothers aircraft being purchased by the U.S. Army. In September 1910 Capt. Washington Chambers, assistant...

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2. Progress Report: September 1917–March 1918

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pp. 43-54

Hutch Cone’s arrival in Britain in September 1917 initiated a thorough overhaul of naval aviation efforts. He conferred with Sims, Whiting, Conger, and others, reviewed existing correspondence, met repeatedly with the Admiralty, and undertook a forced-draft tour of potential station sites in Ireland and...

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3. Under the Gun: NAS Dunkirk 1917–1918

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pp. 55-80

From the moment the first ratings arrived on a blustery autumn day in 1917 until equipment, aircraft, and personnel hurriedly relocated to Belgium a year later, the naval air station at Dunkirk was under the gun. Established to combat U-boat operations in the North Sea and English Channel and...

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4. The French Coastal Unit

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pp. 81-122

Between the time the tiny First Aeronautic Detachment reached Europe in June 1917 and the Armistice 17 months later, the Navy created a far-flung system of patrol stations on the French coast designed to shield American troop and supply convoys from German U-boats. In many circles this ranked...

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5. Progress Report: March–September 1918

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pp. 123-148

Between March and September 1918 naval aviation in Europe transformed itself from a concept into an operational reality. By the end of summer, final organizational adjustments had been made and command structure realigned to reflect the new combat reality. Eight stations in France conducted war...

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6. Spinning the Spider Web: Naval Aviation in England

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pp. 149-185

While naval aviation activities commenced in France immediately after the arrival of Kenneth Whiting and the First Aeronautic Detachment, similar operations in England lagged by many months. This disparity resulted from several factors. The French Ministry of Marine lobbied aggressively for...

Image Plates

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pp. 186-207

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7. The Irish Bases

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pp. 208-230

In the early years of World War I the lengthy Irish coast constituted an enormous gap in Britain’s aerial antisubmarine defenses. Shortages of aircraft and pilots and Sinn Fein agitation dissuaded the Royal Navy from establishing patrol stations, despite vast quantities of shipping passing along these...

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8. On Duty, Off Duty: The Work and Life of the Station

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pp. 231-260

The two-dozen seaplane patrol and bombing stations established along the coasts of France, Ireland, England, and Italy constituted the iron fist of naval aviation’s antisubmarine campaign. Though differing widely in terms of geography, weather, size, and equipment, they shared many features, including...

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9. Gasbags: Development of the Navy LTA Program

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pp. 261-284

When the United States entered World War I the Navy had barely taken its first steps in the realm of lighter-than-air aviation (LTA). Total inventory included one soon-to-be grounded dirigible, one floating dirigible hangar, one kite balloon, and one free balloon. During the next 19 months, however...

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10. Sunny Italy: Naval Aviation in the Mediterranean

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pp. 285-313

In November 1917 the Italian government, communicating through its naval attaché in Washington, requested the United States to furnish personnel for aerial bases to be established along the Adriatic coast, with the objective of attacking Austrian forces at Pola. The Italians offered to instruct and...

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11. The Northern Bombing Group

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pp. 314-344

The Northern Bombing Group, a unit established to destroy German submarine facilities at Bruges-Ostend-Zeebrugge through aerial assault, became the largest naval aviation initiative of World War I. Initially envisioned as employing roughly 6,000 men, it would have utilized hundreds of frontline...

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12. Till It’s Over, Over There: September 1918–April 1919

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pp. 345-370

Aviation planning in the second half of 1918 proceeded with the belief that the war would last at least into 1919 and perhaps beyond. During the process, staff revisited old decisions and advanced new priorities based on the evolving situation at the front, over the ocean, and at factories and training...

Appendix A: Station Summary

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pp. 371

Appendix B: Principal Aircraft Types Used by Naval Aviation Forces in Europe 1917–1918

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pp. 373-375


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pp. 377-408


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pp. 409-414


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pp. 415-429

E-ISBN-13: 9780813036557
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813034881
Print-ISBN-10: 0813034884

Page Count: 450
Illustrations: 35 b&w illustrations, 3 maps,
Publication Year: 2010

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Naval operations, American.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Aerial operations, American.
  • United States. Navy -- History -- World War, 1914-1918.
  • United States. Navy -- Aviation -- History -- 20th century.
  • Anti-submarine warfare -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • World War, 1914-1918 -- Campaigns -- Atlantic Ocean.
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