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The United States Naval Air Service in Whiddy Island
1918 to 1919

During late World War One, as technology advanced, flying boats were increasingly used to combat u-boats. With the entry of the United States in the war on the Allied side, it was decided to build seaplane stations around the British Isles, as well as mainland Europe.. In Ireland, four stations were built for the USNAS, at Aghada, Lough Foyle,Wexford and Whiddy Island, in Bantry Bay. There was also a depot on Sir john Rogersons Quay in Dublin.

The US flag was raised in Whiddy Island on July 4th 1918, and the base was operational by September 25th.  There was only one type of flying boat based in Ireland.  This was the Curtiss ‘Large America’

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 46ft

Curtiss Flying boat after test flight in Cork Harbour

The purpose of the Whiddy base was to operate anti - submarine patrols off the south west coast of Ireland, and to meet and escort passing convoys. There were six H16  flying boats based at Whiddy, with four aircraft hangers constructed.


Patrols and escorts were carried out with great difficulty as autumn and winter closed in. Fog and rain frequently hampered operations, but Whiddy USNAS did manage to send up 25 operational flights covering 3870 nautical miles.


Disaster struck on the 22nd of October when aircraft number A1072 crashed and was destroyed, killling Electrician Wallace A. Anderson. Lieutenant William Peterson was badly injured, while Ensign Rosenberger and Ensign George Owen were slightly injured.


By November the 11th 1918, the Armistice arrived. At this point there were three flying boats only, based at Whiddy Island . There were 18 officers and 400 men stationed there, and the future of the base was sealed. It was quickly closed, with just a skeleton staff staying on until the buildings, fixtures and fittings were sold

View of site taken from south

The winter storms are gradually reclaiming the seawall

The slipway from which the flying boats were launched

This building, the only remaining one on site, was probably a pumphouse - see Ralf Gifford Flickr site

One of two concrete footings from the large radio masts of the base

The whimsical ornamental fountain known locally as the “cup and saucer”



The massive cast concrete slabs (330cm x 330cm) of the airbase apron still lie underfoot after nearly a century.

Memo from Admiral Lewis Bayley to The Secretary of the Admiralty, reporting the hoisting of the US flag at Whiddy Island on July 4th 1918.

A remarkable set of wartime photographs of Whiddy USNAS base can be viewed online.

These were taken by a US serviceman named Ralf.I.Gifford and are in the archives of Oregon State University. The university archives have made them available on Flickr.Com . Click on any of the thumbnails below, which should bring you to these photos, which are not only of historic interest, but are of great technical quality.


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