N-1, R-6L, MT-1, PT-1
New Weapons for the Navy, 1918-1933
Aircraft bearing the Navy’s “Attack” designation have
replaced the battleship’s heavy guns as the hammer of the fleet’s fighting power. During World War II, carrier-based attack planes were attacking enemy vessels with torpedoes or dive-bombing, strafing with cannon and rockets, or striking hundreds of miles inland at surface targets, with a radius of action and striking speed never equaled by a naval weapon.
Radar and the potential of nuclear weapons since 1945 would add to the destructive capability of carrier aircraft. Attack planes have made more of a change in naval tactics and strategy than did the armored steamship when it replaced wooden sailing ships.
The weapon was not easily developed, however. It began with frail, short-range seaplanes designed to make torpedo attacks from shore bases. Then the torpedo plane was adapted to the aircraft carrier, making it a part of the fleet. Specialized scouting and dive-bombing types were also developed for the carriers, and shore-based types abandoned. After World War II substituted the carrier for the battleship as the principle arm of the fleet, scouting, bombing, and torpedo functions were successfully combined into a single attack type.
When World War I began, the Navy had no aircraft suitable for attacking either shipping or land targets, and practical weapons for aircraft use were slow in coming. As early as October 3, 1912, however, the first ground test had been made of a recoilless gun to be fired from aircraft at surface targets. Commander Cleland Davis had designed a two-inch rifle firing a six-pound shell out one end of the barrel and ejecting a counter-weight out the other. This weapon was mounted, with an attached Lewis gun for aiming, on the bow of a Curtiss flying boat and test fired August 4, 1917.
An aircraft to carry a Davis gun was designed by Jerome Hunsaker at the Naval Aircraft Factory by January 24, 1918, and two prototypes were begun. The first aircraft designed and built for the attack role, the NAF N-l was a two-seat biplane with a Liberty 12 and pusher propeller, giving the gunner a clear field of fire.
The first example was finished on May 22, 1918, but an accidental fire destroyed it before tests began. A second N-l was rolled into the Delaware River and made its first flight July 25, testing the Davis gun two days later. British Handley Pages, however, had already tried that weapon, against submarines, and they had withdrawn the Davis gun from service in February 1918. Clearly, more formidable ordinance would be needed, and the N-1 program was canceled after four examples.
Shore-based Torpedo Planes
Rear Admiral Bradley A. Fiske had received a patent in July 1912 for a method of carrying and delivering a torpedo by air, but the first nation to actually use torpedo planes in warfare was Great Britain. In 1915, the British made attacks on Turkish vessels with two-place Short seaplanes handling a small torpedo between the floats. Germany began torpedo attacks on Russian ships in September 1916.
United States Navy developments had been hampered by the lack of a lightweight torpedo. Available aircraft could carry no more than 600 pounds of ordinance, not enough for a torpedo with enough explosive to damage a large warship, said a Chief of Naval Operations report on November 24, 1917. Not until November 22, 1918, is there a successful air launching, when an F-5L flying boat dropped a 400-pound dummy torpedo.
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