As WWII began, fighter and bomber development was in the process of moving from biplane to mono plane designs, the use of aircraft at sea was by no means new.
With the development of the first fixed wing aircraft in 1903 the idea of using aircraft to support seaborn operations soon hatched and in 1910 the first flight took place from a US Navy Cruiser.
HMS Ark Royal (1914) was arguably the vessel designed and built as a seaplane carrier.
In the 1920’s aircraft carriers began to resemble what we think of as aircraft carriers today. The advent of the large flat top vessel brought vessels such as the Japanese vessel Hōnchō and the British HMS Hermes.
Before the development of catapults and similar launch methods, almost all carriers utilised seaplanes with floats not traditional landing gear. To launch and recover these aircraft there was a need for suitable cranes to operate within the cramped confines of a warship and in the hostile environment of the sea.
At the declaration of war on 3rd September the @RoyalNavy operated 8 aircraft carriers – Illustrious, Victorious, Formidable, Indomitable, Implacable, Indefatigable, Unicorn and the newest of the 8 – HMS Ark Royal.
Development of the launch & recovery cycle for sea borne aircraft was critical and after sea trials J. Stone & Co. was commissioned to supply Seaplane Lifting Gear to all these vessels and 8 battleships, for battle cruiser Renown and 17 of the latest cruisers.
Each crane was supplied with 3 specially designed gears – one for hoisting (lifting), one for topping or luffing (allowing movement of load without raising the load) and one for slewing (lateral movement of a load), each driven by a separate motor.
The specialised drive gear (the H.R. Balance Drive gear) was exceptionally efficient particularly as it was very small in comparison to similar systems of the time. This was essential in wartime as was its ability to cope with movement of the vessel during lifting operations often coping with loads six times its design capacity. Despite the small size the gear boxes were also incredibly robust – being designed to withstand bomb blasts and heavy gun fire.
Such was the versatility of the lifting and gearing systems that they found use across many aspects of wartime applications: mine laying gear, search light drives and bomb winches.
Examples of this lifting capacity are shown with the magnificent HMS Victorious laden with aircraft such as Albacore torpedo bombers and Flumar Fighter.
Fighters such as these and the famous Fairey Swordfish torpedo bombers played significant roles in many wartime theatres – perhaps the best know is the role played by these aircraft in the pursuit and sinking of the German battleship Bismark all flown from HMS Victorious.