In 1914 on the outbreak of the First World War, the Royal Navy purchased an old ocean liner, the Campania, for conversion into a seaplane tender. Operating seaplanes in the early years necessitated winching the aircraft into and out of the water leaving the parent ship vulnerable to U-boat attack. A better way had to be found. By the middle of 1916, the now HMS Campania had been fitted with a 200ft flight deck for launching aircraft whilst on the move and the Admiralty issued the requirement for a purpose-built two-seat patrol and reconnaissance aircraft to join her.
Fairey Aviation responded with a two-seat single-engined biplane powered by a Rolls-Royce Eagle IV engine of 250 hp. The undercarriage incorporated two floatplanes for sea take-offs and landings with the addition of a jettisonable wheel dolly for take-offs from the deck. Armament comprised a single .303 in Lewis machine gun mounted on a scarf ring in the rear cockpit whilst up to 6 x 116 lb bombs could be carried under the wings and fuselage. The first of two prototypes took to the air on 17 February 1917, subsequent trials proved successful and both entered service with the RNAS operating from Scapa Flow. Shortly thereafter, a production order was placed for 170 machines powered by the Sunbeam Maori II engine of 260 hp and it was as HMS Campania took delivery of these that the aircraft assumed the name of its mother ship. HMS Pegasus and HMS Nairana also operated the Campania as did 3 RAF squadrons.
Fairey Campanias had an undistinguished career but performed useful work as spotter aircraft through to the armistice in November 1918. A number of aircraft also took part in the North Russia Campaign against the Bolsheviks from August 1918 but by 1919, it was declared obsolete and withdrawn from service. Only 62 Campanias of the 170 ordered were built and there are no survivors.