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Charles Rumney Samson

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Air Commodore Charles Rumney Samson CMG, DSO & Bar, AFC (8 July 1883 – 5 February 1931) was a British naval aviation pioneer.

Samson entered HMS Britannia as a cadet in 1896, before becoming a midshipman in the Royal Navy in 1898.

He was promoted Sub-Lieutenant in 1902 and the following year served on HMS Pomone in the Persian Gulf and Somaliland.

While serving as an officer on boys' training ships, he was promoted to Lieutenant on 30 September 1904.

In 1906 Samson was appointed Officer Commanding Torpedo Boat No. 81.

In February 1908 he was sent to HMS Commonwealth.

The following year (1909) he was appointed First Lieutenant on HMS Philomel serving in the Persian Gulf.

In the autumn of 1910 he transferred to HMS Foresight, again serving as the ship's First Lieutenant.

In 1911 he was selected as one of the first four Royal Navy officers to receive pilot training, obtaining his Royal Aero Club certificate the following year after completing only 71 minutes in the air. He completed flying training at navy's school at Eastchurch before being appointed Officer Commanding of Naval Air Station Eastchurch in October 1911.

In April 1912 he was appointed Officer Commanding the Naval Flying School, still at Eastchurch but this was a short-lived title. With the establishment of the Royal Flying Corps in May 1912, Samson became the Commandant of the RFC's Naval Wing.

Samson took part in various early naval aviation experiments, including the development of navigation lights and bomb sights. He was the first British pilot to take off from a ship, on 10 January 1912, from HMS Africa which was anchored in the River Medway. On 2 May he became the first pilot to take off from a moving ship, HMS Hibernia in Weymouth Bay.

When the Royal Flying Corps was formed in 1912, Samson took command of its Naval Wing, and led the development of aerial wireless communications, bomb and torpedo dropping, navigational techniques, and night flying.

The first man actually to fly on British sea-water in an aeroplane appears to have been Commander Oliver Schwann, R.N., and the credit for building the first successful water-flying machines apparently goes to the Short brothers at Eastchurch. British sea-flying on the Service side is closely linked with the names of Captain Murray Sueter, and the Indomitable four, Lieut. Charles Rumney Samson, Lieut. Reginald Gregory and Lieut. Arthur Longmore, all of the Royal Navy, and Lieut. Louis Gerrard, R.M.L.I. From the very first the efforts of the small band of enthusiasts who tried to establish Service sea-flying met with suspicion and even direct opposition.

In 1914 the Royal Navy separated the Naval Wing from the Royal Flying Corps, naming it the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). In July Samson was appointed Officer Commanding the Eastchurch (Mobile) Squadron which was renamed No. 3 Squadron RNAS by September 1914.

In 1914 while Samson was in command of the Royal Naval Air Station at Eastchurch, he led a flight in the Naval Review at Spithead which was the first time aircraft had appeared in the review. As an effort to increase the popularity of flying in the navy, Samson had his pilots offer rides to anyone who was interested.

When World War I broke out, Samson took the Eastchurch RNAS Squadron to France, where it supported Allied ground forces along the French and Belgian frontiers. In the late summer of 1914, with too few aircraft at his disposal, Samson instead had his men patrol the French and Belgian countryside in the privately-owned cars some of them had taken to war. The first patrol comprised two cars, nine men, and one machine gun. Inspired by the success of the Belgians' experience of armoured cars, Samson had two RNAS cars, a Mercedes and a Rolls-Royce, armoured. These vehicles had only partial protection, with a single machine gun firing backwards, and were the first British armoured vehicles to see action. Within a month most of Samson's cars had been armed and some armoured. These were joined by further cars which had been armoured in Britain with hardened steel plates at Royal Navy workshops. The force was also equipped with some trucks which had been armoured and equipped with loopholes so that the Royal Marines carried in them could fire their rifles in safety.

Aggressive patrolling by Samson's improvised force in the area between Dunkirk and Antwerp did much to prevent German cavalry divisions from carrying out effective reconnaissance, and with the help of Belgian Post Office employees who used the intact telephone system to report German movements, he was able to probe deeply into German occupied territory. Closer to Dunkirk, Samson's force assisted Allied units in contact with the Germans, and at other times made use of their mobility and machine guns to exploit open flanks, cover retreats, and race German forces to important areas.

Samson's aircraft also bombed the Zeppelin sheds at Düsseldorf and Cologne, and by the end of 1914, when mobile warfare on the Western Front ended and trench warfare took its place, his squadron had been awarded four Distinguished Service Orders, among them his own, and he was given a special promotion and the rank of Commander. He spent the next few months bombing gun positions, submarine depots, and seaplane sheds on the Belgian coast.

In March 1915 Samson's unit was posted to the Dardanelles, where it was based on the island of Tenedos, and later Imbros. His squadron patrolled the Straits, directed the fire of battleships, attacked Turkish communications including railway bridges, and covered the Allied evacuation.

Following the end of the Dardanelles campaign, Samson's unit was disbanded and he was given command of HMS Ben-my-Chree, a former Isle of Man passenger steamer which had been converted into a seaplane carrier. Based at Port Said, he patrolled the coasts of Palestine, Syria, and Arabia, sometimes bombing Turkish positions, and sometimes sending his aircraft on reconnaissance missions.

In January 1917 he sailed to Castellorizo to carry out joint operations with the French, and in the harbour there the Ben My Chree was sunk on 11 January by Turkish gunfire. His two escort ships, already equipped to carry a few seaplanes, were fitted out for independent air operations, and from Aden and later Colombo, he patrolled the Indian Ocean for enemy commerce raiders.

From November 1917 until the end of the War, Samson was in command of an aircraft group at Great Yarmouth responsible for anti-submarine and anti-Zeppelin operations over the North Sea, during which time his group shot down five Zeppelins. In order to bring fighter aircraft into action near the enemy coasts, he devised lighters which could be towed behind naval vessels and used as take-off platforms by fighter aircraft. This system later led to the destruction of a Zeppelin by one of Samson's team.

In October 1918 the group became 73 Wing of the new 4 Group based at Felixstowe, as part of the Royal Air Force. Samson became commanding officer of this group, and in August 1919 gave up his naval commission and received instead a permanent commission in the RAF with the rank of Group Captain.

During 1920 Samson served as Chief Staff Officer in the Coastal Area, and in 1921 became Air Officer Commanding of the RAF units in the Mediterranean, based at Malta.

In 1922 he was promoted to Air Commodore and given command of 6 Fighter Group at Kenley.

In June 1926 he became Chief Staff Officer of the RAF's, Middle East Command, and organized and led the first flight of an RAF bomber formation over Africa from Cairo to the Cape of Good Hope, which involved setting up and supplying bases and surveying the unknown route. The flight, which was made by four Fairey IIIF biplanes, was a success. He remained with the Middle East command until August 1927.

Samson resigned his commission in 1929 and died of heart failure at his home near Salisbury, Wiltshire, on 5 February 1931. He was buried at Putney on 10 February.

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