The Fleet Air Arm (FAA) received delivery of the Fairey Barracuda in January 1943.
The Royal Navy was also handicapped by the fact that not until 1937 did it win control of the Fleet Air Arm (FAA) from the RAF, which had little use for naval aviation and had starved the FAA of funds and attention through the years between the world wars. Although the Royal Navy's carriers were fine ships and their armored flight decks gave them a protection that the U. S. Navy envied, albeit at the cost of smaller aircraft capacity, Fleet Air Arm aircraft were so obsolete that the service had to turn to U. S. models. Even so, the FAA made history on 11 November 1940 when its obsolete Fairy Swordfish torpedo-bombers sank three Italian battleships in Taranto harbor, a feat that the Japanese observed carefully but the Americans did not. British battleships and carriers kept the vital lifeline through the Mediterranean and the Suez Canal open through the darkest days of the war, and together with the Americans and Canadians, they defeated the perilous German submarine menace in the North Atlantic. Significant surface actions of the Royal Navy included the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in May 1941 by an armada of British battleships, cruisers, carriers, and warplanes and the December 1943 destruction of the pocket battleship Scharnhorst by the modern battleship Duke of York.
Helicopters had no real impact in World War II. The German army used a small number of them for reconnaissance, supply, transport, and casualty evacuations, and the navy used them for shipboard reconnaissance and antisubmarine patrol. By the end of the war, more than 100 Sikorsky R-4 helicopters had been delivered to the U. S. Army Air Forces, Navy, and Coast Guard and to Britain's Royal Air Force and its Fleet Air Arm. These helicopters were used in experiments, primarily antisubmarine warfare, and for search-and-rescue operations. In April 1944, one of the four U. S. Army Air Forces R-4s sent to India for experimentation was used to rescue four men from an airplane crash site in Burma behind Japanese lines.
On 1 April 1924, the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Air Force was formed, encompassing those RAF units that normally embarked on aircraft carriers and fighting ships. 1924 was a significant year for British naval aviation as only weeks before the founding of the Fleet Air Arm, the Royal Navy had commissioned HMS Hermes, the world's first ship to be designed and built as an aircraft carrier. Over the following months RAF Fleet Air Arm Fairey IIID reconnaissance biplanes operated off Hermes, conducting flying trials.
On 24 May 1939 the Fleet Air Arm was returned to Admiralty control under the "Inskip Award" (named after the Minister for Co-ordination of Defence who was overseeing Britain's re-armament programme) and renamed the Air Branch of the Royal Navy. At the onset of the Second World War, the Fleet Air Arm consisted of 20 squadrons with only 232 aircraft. By the end of the war the worldwide strength of the Fleet Air Arm was 59 aircraft carriers, 3,700 aircraft, 72,000 officers and men, and 56 Naval air stations.
During the war, the FAA operated fighters, torpedo bombers and reconnaissance aircraft. Following the Dunkirk evacuation and the commencement of the Battle of Britain, the Royal Air Force soon found itself critically short of fighter pilots. In the summer of 1940, the RAF had little more than 800 fighter pilots and as the Battle progressed the RAF shortage worsened. There were simply not enough pilots, not enough ground crew, never enough sleep and too many enemy aircraft. With this desperate situation the RAF was forced to call upon the Admiralty for Fleet Air Arm assistance. As the Battle progressed, many of the unsung heroes of RAF Fighter Command were the Fleet Air Arm crews who served under Fighter Command, either loaned directly to RAF fighter squadrons or as with 804 and 808 naval units, entire squadrons were loaned to RAF Fighter Command, such as No 804 Squadron, which provided dockyard defence during the Battle of Britain with Sea Gladiators.
In the waters around the British Isles and out into the Atlantic Ocean, operations against enemy shipping and submarines in support of the RN were mounted by RAF Coastal Command with large patrol bombers and flying boats and land-based fighter-bombers. The aircraft carrier had replaced the battleship as the Fleet's capital ship and its aircraft were now strike weapons in their own right. The top scoring fighter ace with 17 victories was Commander Stanley Orr, the Royal Marine ace was Ronald Cuthbert Hay with 13 victories.