Yes, perhaps the material will seem funny and frivolous, but believe me, the direct participants were absolutely not laughing. They, the participants, were busy with a very serious work of creation.
Today, an aircraft carrier is a very serious weapon. And the countries that have aircraft carriers in service constitute a kind of prestigious club of those who were able to acquire these weapons. Thailand does not count, the presidential aircraft-carrying yacht still does not look very serious against the general background.
But today we will plunge into history. Very deep, because history is a very serious thing. And the history of aircraft carriers began much earlier than many might imagine.
And we start with what all aircraft were originally engaged in. That is, from intelligence.
Initially, scouting was tied to the speed of movement and the height to which the scouts could climb. And the higher the observer turned out to be, the easier it was for him to work. But the trouble is, suitable heights were not always at hand. Especially during the siege of cities, as well as at sea, where the height of the masts decided everything.
Not surprisingly, as soon as a person came up with a way to rise higher, the first who began to look closely at it were precisely the military.
And as soon as such things began as “he made a furvin like a big ball, blew it with foul and smelly smoke, made a loop from it, sat in it, and the evil spirits lifted it above the birch”, the military realized that this is it.
True, the first aerial observers took off not on balloons or balloons, but on kites. It is clear that the idea that came from the Chinese was productive, although the flight was dependent on things like the wind. Well, we had to select observers according to the principle “the easier, the better.”
According to the records, the first attempts to adapt a balloon for reconnaissance were made in the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. And it seems even successful. And then a sneaky little thought arose on the topic of the fact that it would be nice to throw something explosive from a balloon on the enemy’s head.
But it didn’t work, because there wasn’t anything to throw. Contact fuses had not yet been invented, and the lift height was so-so. Not more than 400 meters, and the distance is not so far from the launch site, so it was easy to send a number of cannonballs there or (even more efficiently) a squadron of flying hussars, which would chop up the service of the balloonists in the crumb.
However, the idea is firmly settled in the military brains.
The next attempt was made by the Austrians, who in 1849 besieged Venice, where the anti-Austrian uprising began. Venice was then part of the Austrian Empire.
And it was in 1849 that the first use of combat aircraft from ships took place.
Austrian troops besieged Venice, setting up a full-fledged blockade, but this did not go any further. Venice was pretty decently fortified, and the landscape simply did not allow to bring up heavy siege artillery in order to reason with the disobedient.
There was a stalemate in which the Austrians simply could not properly shell the city, which, of course, infuriated them.
There was a clever man among the Austrians. This even happens in imperial armies. Lieutenant (!!!) of the Austrian artillery Franz von Juhatik suggested bombarding the city from balloons.
The idea was very innovative: balloons had to be launched into the wind when it blew towards Venice, and at the right time the clockwork had to drop bombs on the city.
The Austrian commander in chief, Marshal Radetzky, liked the idea, and the work began to boil.
Why the Austrians decided to use balloons from the water is difficult to say today. But the first application was from a sea-based carrier, in modern terms.
In fact, everything was simpler: the auxiliary ship Vulcano was used as a carrier of balloons. Balloons loaded with bombs clung to the sides of the ship. With a fair wind, the balloons were uncoupled and sent to the target. Above the city, after the estimated time, a mechanism was triggered, releasing the bombs, and they flew down.
Everything was very approximate, but the idea was good at that time. And very modern. It is unlikely that a real combat impact would be significant, but a moral one – quite.
Satisfied with the panic in the city, the Austrians continued to fire at the city from cannons, which did not matter to the wind.
The fact, albeit subtle, remained in history. In June 1849, for the first time, an aircraft (unmanned) with a bomb load was launched from a warship.
But whoever had to, he remembered. And already in 1862, in the waters of the Potomac River, the army of the northerners used this weapon in the Civil War. True, in a slightly different capacity.
The northerners took an old coal barge and converted it into a balloon carrier. The stable barge made it possible to accommodate all the necessary equipment, a repair, lifting, telegraph station (!) For observer reports and a supply of hydrogen for filling the shell.
Accuracy of movement was not required here, it was enough to hang the balloon higher and observe the actions of the enemy or adjust the fire of their batteries.
It turned out to be very effective. So much so that the barge, plying out of the reach of the guns of the southerners, got them so much that an amphibious detachment of several ships was sent in order to stop the reconnaissance outrage of the northerners.
However, the northerners assumed something similar, and a small battle broke out on the Potomac between the landing of the southerners and the security forces of the balloon carrier, which consisted of two gunboats, an armed tug steamer and a sloop. Southerners got in the teeth, but copied the idea and built their own ship with a reconnaissance balloon.
But the Civil War was watched from Europe, and watched closely. They even sent their representatives and observers. For acquaintance with novelties and military experience.
One of these officers was the German captain (future lieutenant general) Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Cavalry scout by profile.
Probably no one will be surprised that Major von Zeppelin during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871 very widely used balloons to collect data …
In the navy, the novelty was also mastered. Even with more interest than on land, because there are no mountains, heights and other advantages on the sea. Only the masts from which all visual observation was carried out.
But the mast cannot be made high enough to actually gain an advantage over the enemy. A few tens of meters, that’s all. But the balloon could be lifted up as much as the length and weight of the cable would allow. That is, several hundred meters. And this is already a real advantage.
But working with the balloon was not easy. Firstly, the wind, which interfered with the work, and secondly, the shape of the balloon. The tethered balloons were twisted and rotated by the wind just awfully, and often observers simply could not do their job normally.
This continued until the Germans invented the so-called kite balloon. That is, the balloon is slightly elongated and with a plumage, which played the role of a stabilizer.
And the world broke through. Everyone liked the concept of an airborne spotter at sea, who was not at all disturbed by the smoke from the shots of the huge cannons of battleships and dreadnoughts. And they were still shooting black powder, so there was enough smoke. By the very clots.
And the scouts were very inexpensive, for the needs of the fleet and carrying balloons it was possible to re-equip all kinds of commercial ships. The cheaper the better.
By the way, in terms of building and rebuilding balloons, the Russian fleet was the first. In 1904, the auxiliary cruiser Rus appeared in the ranks of the Russian fleet. It was a German commercial steamer, bought by Count Stroganov and given to the needs of the fleet.
The steamer (“Lan”) was fresh and quite fast, 17 knots was quite good. Therefore, they did not put weapons on the “Rus”, but armed the newly-made cruiser with four kite-type balloons.
In addition to them, the “ammunition” included one traditional spherical balloon and four small signal balloons. Signal balloons were intended to give signals to ships in squadron formation at a great distance.
And balloons began to appear on other Russian ships. Here, I found a photo of the cruiser “Russia” with a bubble on the stern.
Balloons have taken root on ships. The benefits were obvious. The development of aviation ruined the idea. Yes, the plane in the First World War only got up on the wing. He carried one or two machine guns and a few small bombs, while normal combat airships bristled with the barrels of not only machine guns, but cannons as well. And the bombs took hundreds of kilograms.
Alas, the balloon lost in the dispute with the plane. And the balloon carriers began to be converted into seaplane carriers, that is, carriers of seaplanes.
Russian seaplane transport “Orlitsa”
So, historically, the chain of development looks like this: balloon carrier – airship carrier – seaplane transport – aircraft carrier.
And the essence of the application, by the way, is not very different from the Austrian idea of 1849. So the idea was very, very good …