Windermere: birthplace of British naval and civil marine aeroplanes



Admiralty Deperdussin


Cuxhaven Raid






World War I

'Edward Wakefield reasoned that the self-levelling properties of water would certainly take care of the undulations, while it seemed equally certain to him that, if an aircraft could remain over water throughout the whole of its flight, the inherent flotation capability would significantly lessen the risk of a fatal-impact crash. Unfortunately, when he advanced these radical views at a public meeting in Blackpool [in October 1909, when nobody in the world had flown from water] they were openly ridiculed and rejected. However, soon afterwards, Glenn Curtiss [in America] independently advanced similar ideas which confounded Wakefield's critics by proving that seaplanes were not only practical, but in some respects could be more useful than landplanes.' – Pioneer Aircraft: Putnam's History of Aircraft.

On 25 November 1911, from Windermere, Waterbird achieved the world's first successful flight to use a stepped float, piloted by Herbert Stanley Adams.

Waterbird was commissioned by Edward Wakefield from A. V. Roe & Co. He patented his float and method of attachment, for which he entered into a contract on 15 March 1912 with the Admiralty and also to convert an Admiralty Deperdussin to a hydro-aeroplane, which he achieved in 3 weeks.

'The importance of these facts in connection with harbour, estuary and coast defence and scouting need hardly be remarked upon. For the fame of Mr. Wakefield himself and Windermere it is to be hoped that the Admiralty may take this matter up so that we may not be left behind by any other European powers.' – Kendal Mercury and Times, 22 December 1911.

In a letter to the Times, on 11 January 1912, Wakefield wrote 'I yield to no one in love for the scenery and loyalty to the interests of my country. But many, who along with me learnt during the war in South Africa the value of scouting, believe that scouting by hydro-aeroplane will shortly become a necessity for the safety of this island. England is far too behind other powers in aircraft and in flying men for both Army and Navy.'

'Edward Wakefield was convinced that the future for Naval hydro-aeroplanes lay in scouting for the fleet and relaying back information – extending the Naval battle space over the horizon. He knew that Naval aircraft could be the eyes and ears of the fleet.' – Commander Sue Eagles, Fly Navy Heritage Trust, in the Fleet Air Arm diary 2012.

'Not only did Edward Wakefield correctly predict the need for floatplanes in the Great War but also the role for the Sunderland flying boats that were to be built on the lake 30 years later.' – Wings on Windermere by Allan King.

On 29 February 1912, the Report of the Technical Sub-Committee of the Standing Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence was issued, which recommended that the Naval Wing of the Flying Corps should be established and that it attached importance to the maintenance of private enterprise in the field of aeronautics. Winston Churchill, then First Lord of the Admiralty and a member of the Standing Sub-Committee, when asked in the House of Commons about the Royal Navy and hydro-aeroplanes, referred to the experiments at Windermere and that "the results so far attained have been promising".

On 16 April 1912, Winston Churchill confirmed in the House of Commons that private hydro-aeroplane tests would continue on Windermere. Click here for image.

Whilst Wakefield had advocated defensive scouting, derived from his experience in the Boer War,Winston Churchill came to the view that attack was the best form of defence. Three years and one month after Waterbird's first flight, on 25 December 1914 carrier-borne seaplanes were launched against Germany. 'The Cuxhaven raid marks the first employment of the seaplanes of the Royal Naval Air Service in an attack on the enemy's harbours from the sea, and, apart from the results achieved, is an occasion of historical moment. Not only so, but for the first time in history a naval attack has been delivered simultaneously above, on, and from below the surface of the water.' – Flight magazine, 1 January 1915.

A private Seaplane School was formed at Hill of Oaks on the south east shore of Windermere. For an example of the fate of Windermere students, click here.

Following the outbreak of war, Adams joined the RNAS becoming a Lieutenant Colonel with the DSC and MBE, and Wakefield joined the Cheshire Regiment becoming commander of a Labour Battalion on the western front. On 11 November 1914, the Cockshott Point hangar lease, together with Waterhen, Seabird and Lakes Monoplane were sold by the Lakes Flying Company to the Northern Aircraft Company Ltd. The School was taken over on behalf of the Government, and a Royal Naval Air Station established 1916-1917.

'Perhaps the greatest tribute we can pay Hill of Oaks, Windermere is that but for its existence, just a few years later Britain could quite easily have starved to death as a result of the U-boat blockade. Thankfully the deterrent aspect of seaplanes and other aerial craft forced enemy submarines to stay under the surface and therefore make them less effective.' – The Airfields of Britain Conservation Trust.

On 20 May 1917, two ex-Windermere pupils were officially credited with the first aerial sinking of a German submarine and both awarded the DSC.

Borwick & Sons, boat builders of Bowness-on-Windermere who constructed Waterbird's float and floats for the RNAS, were sub-contracted in 1918 to manufacture Felixstowe flying boat hulls.

On 10 May 1918, Captain Cooper Pattinson from Windermere was first pilot of an S.E. Saunders Ltd-built Felixstowe flying boat which shot down a Zeppelin at Heligoland Bight, for which he was awarded the first DFC. On 16 May 1918, whilst carrying out an anti-submarine patrol, he achieved the record for the longest duration flight of World War 1 lasting 9 hours 10 minutes.

On 1 November 1918, Captain Wavell Wakefield (Edward Wakefield's nephew, later Lord Wakefield of Kendal) landed a Sopwith Pup on the deck of HMS Vindictive at Scapa Flow.