9 months in construction, the R 33 was launched on 6th March 1919,
just eight days before her sister ship the R 33 was put in to
operation, almost immediately. As soon as her test flights were
over she was delivered to Pulham Airship Station. The ship had
been designated as a long-range rigid scout ship to have operations
over the North Sea. During the period from 18th June 1919, to
14th October 1920, the R33 carried out 23 flights totalling a
flying time of over 237 hours. One of her tasks during 1919 was
to fly over London and the main cities to publicise the sale of
Victory Bonds One flight from Pulham to south Wales and back was
recorded in having taken 25 hours.
the 2nd July 1919, when the R34 began her transatlantic flight,
the R33 also left the sheds that day with the SR1 to fly over
the peace procession in London, again the ship towing a very large
banner advertising Victory Bonds. On this flight the ship carried
a band on the top gun platform, however the band members would
have been out of sight from the crowds below the ship and it is
doubtful that the music would have reached the crowds as well.
Again in July 1919, the R33 was tasked with carrying out an endurance
flight which took her over the main cities of the Midlands and
the North of England, flying over Sheffield, Bradford, Manchester,
Liverpool, North Wales, the Isle of Man, and the Irish coast.
Again on this trip a band was carried and played whilst over the
cities from the upper gun platform. The duration of this flight
was 31 hours.
In September 1919, along with the R32 that had just been completed
by Shorts Brothers at their new construction facility at Cardington,
the ships took off for a demonstration flight over the Netherlands.
As part of the "Britain's Power in the Air" campaign, the R32
and R33 were dispatched to Amsterdam, where the 1919 Aircraft
Exhibition was being held. They left on 11th September and crossed
the North Sea then dropped a message by parachute to the officer
in charge of the Exhibition, then circled Amsterdam for some time.
For this flight the ship had been "civilian-ised" as a number
of beds had been installed in the two craft and a chef carried
to provide a five course dinner, in order to demonstrate that
the airship had possibilities for civil aviation. From Amsterdam,
the ships then turned south along the coasts of Holland and Belgium,
then turned to over-fly Brussels and Antwerp, and then a detour
to take in the battlefields of Flanders. They both returned to
Pulham after a round trip of some 22 hours, in which a in-flight
newspaper was published and copies distributed to the on board
pressmen who had enjoyed the flight.
1920, following the change in responsibility at the Admiralty
to the newly formed Air Council, the RAF airships were registered
as "civilian aircraft" to carry out limited programmes in the
commercial field. The first to be civilianised was the R33, which
for this transitional period was fitted out with sleeping accommodation
within the hull and cooking facilities were also provided. The
R33 carried the civil identification registration G-FAAG on the
hull sides and the large international "G" for Great Britain was
emblazoned on her tail fins. In this new livery she arrived at
Pulham and began experimental work mainly on mooring techniques.
The National Physics Laboratory was still conducting mooring trials
on large rigid airships and R33 was asked to participate. A new
technique was being developed and that was to moor airships to
a mast. A mast had been erected at Pulham and had a revolving
docking cone at the top to enable the ship to weathervane around
in the wind.
Over several months the R33 made some 50 moorings by Captain Williams,
and involved some 171 flying hours. The results of these tests
were surprising as it was found that not only could a ship be
moored into winds of up to 35 mph, but that the craft could be
brought up to the mast in very bad weather conditions and moored.
One report stated that the ship could be moored in winds gusting
at 80mph. Many local residents in the area remembered the ship
on her mast and recall the impressive site of the ship riding
the mast at night with floodlights shinning on her silvery hull,
the lights on board gave her the impression of an ocean liner
lying in dock. On her mast the R33 proved that she could handle
all weather conditions, but dry snow caused a problem. Captain
Thomas devised a snow clearing gear which consisted of an endless
wire atop the ship between frames 7 and 34 which dragged lengths
of two and a half inch hemp rope fore and aft along the ship's
- the band on the hull of the ship
May 1920, the R33 flew north from Pulham to Howden Air Station
to carry out an unusual experiment involving the release of a
fighter aircraft from beneath the airship. The fighter was a Sopwith
Camel and the pilotless plane was launched from the ship with
its engine running, over a deserted area of the North York Moors.
After making it's powered descent it crashed, but due to a new
type of fuel tank, which was being tested, did not catch fire.
On 20th September 1920, due to the worsening post war economy
the Air Ministry ordered all work on Airships to cease, but the
run down of airship operations took a further 12 months to be
implemented. It is noted that this order did not apply to the
construction for the R38, which was under construction at Cardington
at the time. At this time the R33 badly needed an overhaul, but
the two newly surrendered Zeppelins, the L-64 and L-71 were occupying
the berths at Pulham. It was then decided that the R33 should
be flown to Howden which had space for her, and there she stayed
until 2nd February 1921.
An incident occurred during the spring of 1921, which could have
ended in tragedy, but went part of the way to earn the R33 a reputation
for being a "lucky" ship. A rigger was engaged on a task high
up in the envelope of the ship, but managed to lose his footing
and slipped and fell. In his decent he ripped open one of the
gasbags in the stern, the bottom girders of the hull arresting
his fall. The rigger was not hurt and only slightly affected by
the escaping hydrogen. The sudden loss of gas meant that the stern
began to drop, and a ton of water was dropped to bring the ship
to an even keel, and the ship returned slowly to the Pulham base.
On 17th March 1921, a few days after the rigger accident, and
repairs had been made to the ship when a rudder jammed whilst
the ship was carrying out tests over Essex. The ship was forced
to circle for over an hour above the Thames Estuary, whilst riggers
struggled to free the rudder. At this time, the economy was falling
deeper into depression, and on the 28th June, the Government declared
that all airship operations were to be run down and ceased. The
R33, R36, R37, and R80 along with the remaining German Zeppelin,
L71 were to be given for sale to any operator who could fulfil
the Governments requirements. The offers were open until 1st August
1921 and if no offer was made then the craft were not to be scrapped
but to be placed in store. During this time, further tasks were
still being allocated to the ship, for example after dark flights
over South London and Surrey to view from the air the new airport
lighting system at Croydon Airport. The ship was also involved
in helping with traffic control by assisting with the police during
the Epsom and Ascot race weeks. To avoid the ship having to return
to Pulham, the ship was moored to a wooden mast at Croydon Airport
on the nights of 14th and 15th July 1921.
Having worked almost full time, on the 21st July, the R33 made
a dramatic entrance at the Hendon Air Show, Royal Air Force Pageant.
The ship lurked out of view behind a phosphorus cloud laid by
a Hadley Page Bomber, where upon at the appropriate time, the
ship burst through the cloud to the admiration of the crowds below.
On the 30th July some full speed trials were carried out, and
a speed attained of 52 knots. After this she flew to Cardington
on 18th August and was shedded there. The R33 was then deflated
and lowered on to her cradle and stored. This would be the resting
home of the R33 for the next three years.