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The United States Naval Air Service in Cork, Ireland

Sinking of a British Merchantman, (From German propaganda postcard by Willy Stower)

The entry of the United States into the First World War in 1917 saw the arrival of US forces in Europe to aid the Allied cause. The US Navy had bases in mainland Europe and the British Isles in an attempt to combat the U-Boat menace, including the first at Queenstown (Cobh) in Ireland.

Ground Crew manoeuvre  Curtiss H16 Flying boat to cradle after first flight in Cork

.The Naval Aviation Branch, known as the United States Naval Air Service also needed bases for the recently developed weapon of the flying boat, as well as stations for kite balloons.

In Ireland there were four flying boat bases, located at:
Queenstown (actually Aghada in Cork)
Wexford,
Lough Foyle,
Whiddy Island.
There was also a kite balloon station at Berehaven in West Cork.

This Irish unit was organised as USNAS Ireland under Commander F.McCrary, who was based at Queenstown.

The command was established in February 1918 and all bases were completed by September 1918. The largest base, and headquarters for Ireland, was in Aghada (Queenstown), on the eastern side of Cork Harbour, on a site chosen by the British Admiralty .

This land was commandeered under the ‘Defence of the Realm’ act. Aghada was not only an operational flying boat base, but also was the assembly premises for planes, and training station for pilots on the 'Ireland Station'.

There were also depot sheds at Sir John Rogersons Quay in Dublin

Plan of USNAS Airbase at Aghada, Co.Cork.

A.
Site of airbase at waters edge. This included 6 hangers, concrete apron, slipway, pier,maintenance sheds, assembly sheds, wireless installation, pigeon loft, storage sheds. Saobhran Cottage on shore also taken over. New road built inland to enlarge site. Lower Aghada British Army camp, taken over and used for administration. Aghada Hall and new hutments used as Headquaters for USNAS Ireland.

B.
‘Timber Town’, (Upper Aghada British Army camp). Taken over by USNAS. Used for living quarters for enlisted men and ancillary works. Also included YMCA building.

The Aghada station had an area of operations that covered areas from Cape Clear in the West, to the convoy channels to the east on the routes to France in the St Georges Channel.

The flying boats used in Ireland were of one type, the Curtiss Large America H16. This aircraft, which was enormous for it’s time was a twin-engined craft with a 76ft wingspan and 2 x 400hp liberty engines. It’s length was 46 feet.


The first planes arrived in Queenstown in June 1918 and operational patrols began in August 1918. The Aghada base had 28 planes and nearly 1500 personnel by the Armistice in November 1918.


These were the early stages of naval aviation, and the fact the USNAS managed to have patrols in operation was very creditable.


The lack of success in destroying German submarines was tempered with the fact that the German High Command became very wary of theses patrols, and tried to route their flotillas round them, hampering operations.


The only known fatality from operations on the Irish Coast was the crash of aircraft no A1072 in Whiddy, on the 22nd October 1918 resulting in the loss of one crew member. With the Armistice there was no need for these bases and the Queenstown base closed on the 10th of April 1919.

Quickly the fixtures and fittings were sold and auctioned off to the residents and businesses of Cork, and notices such as the ones below continued in the local press for most of the summer of 1919..

In 1919 two Royal Irish Constabulary officers, were apprehended by the US naval guard breaking into the stores at the Aghada base. both were jailed.

View of the partially completed hangers,with Curtiss H16 in foreground.Only four of the six hangers constructed.


View of the eastern end of the airbase site today - note Aghada Hall missing, this was destroyed by the IRA during the Irish Civil War.


Curtiss H-16 in flight over Cork Harbour (East Ferry in background)


By the mid-1920's, all the buildings on the base were gone, what remained was;

A solid concrete foundation for the six hangers and apron, measuring a gigantic 112,860 feet.

Two concrete floors just to the west of this, measuring 80 x 70 feet.

A quarry adjacent to the site capable of providing most building materials

The large concrete slipway, capable of launching vessels up to fifty feet in length

A stone pier to the west, which could be extended by replacing the pilings to 250 feet.

Six concrete shed foundations, near the pier, measuring 100 x 25 feet.

There was also a substantial concrete roadway joining all these remains, as well as a  seawall to protect the site.

It was envisaged that industry would be attracted to the site, but this was not to happen for some years. The only development seen was for the local Improvement Committee, to get tennis courts built on some of the gigantic concrete slabs - the club survives to this day.

In 1919 there was an ambitious plan, on behalf of the The Great Northern Aerial Syndicate, to use Aghada as a base for giant airships crossing the Atlantic, each carrying 150 passengers.

In the late 1920's and early 1930's, the site was examined as a potential seaplane base,  by companies, such as Royal Dutch Airlines, who sent a representative to visit and take photos, but to no avail.

In the 1960's there was a short-lived attempt to produce hovercraft in  a building on the western edge of the site, but this quickly failed.

The entrance pillars to the base survive. The inscriptions read “US Naval Airbase 1918”

The massive cast concrete slabs of the apron each measuring  330cm x 330cm

On the western side of the site, large areas of mass concrete are visible in the undergrowth

         The base sea-wall looking east to the slipway                      The remains of the  ‘Yankee Pier’ - attached was 80 feet of Oregon pine

USNAS Operations in Ireland, to Nov 11th 1918.


Queenstown:

Operations commenced:  Sep 30th 1918

Aircraft Nov 11th 1918:  28 Seaplanes

Number of flights   64

Number of sea miles patrolled 11,568

Number of officers   72

Numbers of men   1426


Lough Foyle:

Operations commenced:  Sep 3rd 1918

Aircraft Nov 11th 1918:  7 Seaplanes

Number of flights   6000

Number of sea miles patrolled 11,568

Number of officers   20

Numbers of men   432


Wexford:

Operations commenced:  Sep 18th 1918

Aircraft Nov 11th 1918:  5 Seaplanes

Number of flights   98

Number of sea miles patrolled 19,135

Number of officers   22

Numbers of men   405


Whiddy Island:

Operations commenced:  Sep 25th 1918

Aircraft Nov 11th 1918:  3 Seaplanes

Number of flights   25

Number of sea miles patrolled 3870

Number of officers   18

Numbers of men   400


Berehaven:

Operations commenced:  May 21st 1918

Aircraft Nov 11th 1918:  16 Kite Balloons

Number of flights   Test flights only

Number of sea miles patrolled ------

Number of officers   12

Numbers of men   91


The National Museum of the Navy, in the United States, has uploaded some wonderful photographs of USNAS Agahada base. These are available on the Flckr website. Clicking on each photo should bring you to the relevant page.

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