During World War 2 aircraft were carried by the larger naval vessels for use in reconnaissance to locate enemy vessels and as a spotter to observe the fall of shells. They were generally launched off the ship using a catapult. To recover the aircraft; it landed in the water and was winched aboard using a crane.
In 1940 HMS Warspite's Swordfish seaplane dive bombed and sank U64, the first U-Boat of the war to be sunk by aircraft. Swordfish played a critical part in the destruction of the Bismarck and were instrumental in the successful attack on the Italian fleet anchored at Taranto.