Air Department

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Air Department
Board of Admiralty Flag 20th Century.png
Department overview
Superseding department
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersAdmiralty Building
Department executive
  • Director of the Air Department
Parent departmentDepartment of Admiralty

The Air Department was an Admiralty Department was established prior to World War I in 1910 by Winston Churchill to administer the Royal Naval Air Service. In 1920 it was abolished and replaced the Air Section. [1]


In 1908, the British government had recognised that the use of aircraft for military and naval purposes should be investigated. To this end the Prime Minister, H. H. Asquith, approved the formation of an "Advisory Committee for Aeronautics" and an "Aerial Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence". Both committees were composed of politicians, army officers and Royal Navy officers.

The Air Department was established within the Admiralty in 1910 and had initial responsibility for building an airship,[2] by 1911 it expanded its activities to heavier-than-air machines. In early 1912 it also became responsible jointly with the Directorate of Military Aeronautics of the War Office for the Royal Flying Corps, which had separate military and naval wings.[3]

After prolonged discussion on the Committee of Imperial Defence, the Royal Flying Corps was constituted by Royal Warrant on 13 April 1912. It absorbed the nascent naval air detachment and also the Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers. It consisted of two wings: a Military Wing and a Naval Wing.

In the summer of 1912, in recognition of the air branch's expansion, Captain Murray Sueter was appointed Director of the newly formed Air Department at the Admiralty. Sueter's remit as outlined in September 1912 stated that he was responsible to the Admiralty for "all matters connected with the Naval Air Service.

The department's function was to foster naval aviation developments and later to oversee the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). Its first director was Captain Murray Sueter. In 1915, with the growth of the Naval Air Service, the position of Director of the Air Department was abolished and replaced by that of Director of the Air Service. This new post was a flag officer appointment and the first Director was Rear-Admiral Charles Vaughan-Lee.[4]

In July 1914 the naval wing became a separate service known as the Royal Naval Air Service, under the sole control of the Air Department. When World War I started the RNAS became responsible for co-operation with the Navy, for the bombing of all naval targets at sea and in ports.[3]

Originally, British naval aviation came under the authority of the Commander-in-Chief, Nore. In February 1915, the RNAS was placed under the command of the Director of the Air Department (Captain Murray Sueter), although disciplinary powers over RNAS personnel were not granted to the Director. In July 1915 a further reorganisation occurred when the post of Director of the Air Department was abolished and replaced with that of the Director of the Air Service (Rear-Admiral Charles Vaughan-Lee).[5] With the appointment of Rear-Admiral Charles L. Vaughan-Lee in September, 1915, as Director of Air Services with overall responsibility for naval aviation, Sueter was made Superintendent of Aircraft Construction with full responsibility for the matériel side of all naval aircraft. At the same time he was promoted Commodore, First Class.

In January 1918 control of the (RNAS), excluding airships and balloons, were the responsibility of the Director of Naval Construction as early as 1916 and which the Admiralty retained until 1919, passed to the Air Ministry in April 1918 following re-structuring it was merged with the RFC as the Royal Air Force. The Admiralty maintained control of its aircraft carriers naval operations at sea, and naval officers however its personnel transferred to the (RAF) for training and service.[3]

In 1920 the air department was renamed the Air Section of the Admiralty Naval Staff which in turn was renamed the Air Division in 1924.[1]

Aircraft design and production

The Air Department produced a few of its own designs for aircraft between 1915 and but these were built by established external aircraft manufacturers including the AD Flying Boat – built by Supermarine, the AD Navyplane – built by Supermarine, the AD Scout – built by Blackburn and by Hewlett and Blondeau and the AD Seaplane Type 1000 – built by J. Samuel White.

The Director of the Air Department (D.A.D.) was a position in the Admiralty from 1912 to 1915 succeeded by the Director of the Air Service until 1917, The Director was responsible to the Board of Admiralty on aviation issues, and administered the Admiralty Air Department.

Director of the Air Department (1912-15)

Director of Air Services (1915-17)

  • Rear-Admiral Charles Vaughan-Lee, 8 September 1915 – 19 January 1917.

Superintendent of Aircraft Construction (1915-17)


  1. 1.0 1.1 Smith, Gordon. "British Admiralty World War 1". Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  2. Archives, The National. "Admiralty and Air Ministry: Naval Aircraft Works, Later Royal Airship Works, Cardington: Correspondence and Papers". National Archives. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 "Records of Air Department, Fleet Air Arm, Royal Naval Air Service and Department of Aircraft Equipment". The National Archives. Retrieved 26 February 2020.
  4. New York, The. (9 September 1915). British Air Service/
  5. Joubert de la Ferté, (1955). The Third Service. Thames and Hudson. London . pp.37–38.
  6. Admiralty, British. (October 1915) The Navy List Quarterly. Admiralty Departments. H.M.S.O. London. p.534a.