height / Altitude
hours full speed
of the A' Class
The original plans for the
R 38 were laid down as part of an order by the Government for
a series of ships at the latter part of the First World War. In
November 1916, the Cabinet authorised plans for two ships, based
on the crashed L33 which, on the night of 24th September 1916
when the airship crashed outside the village of Little Wigborough
in Essex but with the framework of the ship virtually intact thus
allowing the British Military to study the German technology.
These ships were to become the R33 and R34. In January of 1917,
more spending was agreed and three more ships were ordered, designated
the R35, R36 and R37.
In June of that year, another Zeppelin, the L48 was brought down
in Suffolk and analysed in detail. With this new ship details
being assessed and reviewed, it was agreed that plans for the
three ships be altered to follow the latest German designs. The
discovery that L48 was a new "height climber" which
had a more lightweight design, and thus evade the interceptor
planes, meant that the three new British airships would be altered
R 35 to have an extra cell
installed and required to have a height ceiling of 16,500 ft
R 36 to have an extra cell, to be lightened and to have a height
ceiling of 17,000 ft
R 37 to have the same modifications as the R36.
Following the downing of yet
another Zeppelin during an air raid, on the night of 6th August
1918, this time the L 70 (LZ 112), which was shot down off the
Norfolk Coast and discovered to be one of very the latest and
last "super zeppelins" which was capable of even higher
flight ceilings due to it's lightweight structure. In assessing
parts which were recovered in the wreckage of the ship, which
may have mislead some of the design considerations for the new
ship class, along with the fact that the Zeppelin Fleet Commander
of the Airship Department, Peter Strasser had been on board, but
died in the crash. With this new information, the Admiralty decided
to abandon the now nearly completed R 37, and commence on the
construction of the next designated ship, the R 38.
In June of 1918 the Admiralty
made requirements for a ship to be built which would "be
required to patrol the North Sea for six days without support,
as far as 300 miles from a home base."
It was to have a combat ceiling of 22,000ft, to make it out of
reach of most intercepting aircraft then in service, and was required
to carry enough fuel for 65 hours at full speed of 70.6 mph. It
was agreed that a further ship be ordered and the new ship, classed
as "Admiralty A Class", and the first was designated
as the R 38. The ship was also to be armed for the defense of
ships on escort duty and for attacking other aggressors:
4x 520 lb of bombs
8x 230lb of bombs
1x 1pdr gun on gun platform on the top of the ship
12 pairs of machine guns spread along the top of the ship, the
lower gun pit, and throughout the gondolas.
requirements suggested an airship with a gas capacity of some
3,000,000 cubic feet and a length of some 750ft. The
order was given in the September of 1918 to Shorts Brothers at
Cardington, however with the single shed at the Short's Cardington
facility, because of the shed limitations, a compromise of 2,724,500
was made and 699 feet arrived at, with a diameter of 85.5 ft dictated
by the roof clearance of the Cardington Shed. A much larger facility
at Flookborough in Lancashire
was intended for Vickers, had been canceled a few months earlier
that year, at the end of the war. In February 1919 work commenced
at Cardington on the R 38 which, at the time, would become the
largest airship in the world, and commenced to be assembled in
the airship shed in Cardington, next to the nearly completed R
.Even though the Armistice
had been officially signed on 11th November 1918, with the ceasing
of hostilities, it was the Treaty of Versailles signed on 28th
June 1919, that ended the state of war between German and Allied
powers. With this peace, it was was proposed that the R 38 order
should also be canceled, as Cardington had been "nationalised"
under the Defense of the Realm Act. Shorts Brothers were
paid £40,000 in compensation for the cancellation and the
loss of the Cardington premises, which later was to be renamed
and became known as the Royal Airship Works, and the R 38 ship
order. The future looked bleak for the British airships and the
workers as it seemed likely that the ships would be given away
to a commercial company so that the Air Ministry would no longer
have to be responsible for them, and any new future orders would
following the Armistice and the division of the remaining German
Zeppelins amongst the European allies in the Treaty of Versailles,
the United States still wanted a large rigid airship to gain experience
in this field. The United States had hoped to obtain two Zeppelins
as part of the war repatriations, however the German Crews were
frustrated about the idea of this, and set about deliberately
destroying the last latest "Super Zeppelins" which were
the last survivors of the German Zeppelin Fleet. In the evening
of 23rd June 1919, the German Zeppelin workers and crept in to
the airship sheds and let the uninflated Zeppelin's down from
their retraining slings, and thus destroying the frameworks. This
was a similar action as the German Navy crews had undertaken with
their warships and scuttled them in Scarpa Flow, rather than fall
in to the Allied victors hands. Of the last Zeppelins left, the
L41,L63, L65, L91 and L103 were all destroyed and thus denying
the Americans an rigid airship.
With work commencing on the
ship, the order was given for sister ships of R39,
R40 and R41 to be constructed, and design/structural work was
begun. With the end of the war in November 1918 and a sudden downturn
in the economy, Treasury expenditure was revised and all projects
would come under review. Under the strict Treasury restrictions
it was decided that:
- R29 and R23 would
be uneconomical to operate and therefore broken up,
- R34 would be retained
for air service,
- R33 would be turned
over to a commercial company which would also take the
Later it was decided that
ships in their design stage or opening stages of construction,
namely the R35, R39, R40 and R41 orders were canceled. These changes
on policy hampered the construction and life of the R 38 and the
the morale of the airship works at Cardington.
the double crossing of the R34, in July of 1919, the the American
Navy were impressed by the R34 capabilities, that they ordered
a rigid airship from Britain. The
United States Secretary of the Navy approved the purchase of a
British Airship, and with this the British Government was pleased
to be able to offered up the R 38 contract for the latest Admiralty
A class ship to them in October 1919.
For the sum of $2,500,000 the British agreed to provide the Americans
with a brand new and unique airship and also offer training for
her officers and crews. The contract was agreed, and it was also
agreed that each country would equally bear any possible loss.
In this price was included the use of the R32 and R80 for training
the crews. America also had to prepare for the delivery of the
worlds largest airship, and advised that they could not expect
to receive the ship for at least one year in order that they could
make arrangements for housing it in the United States.
design of the ship was a change to previous designs which the
Shorts Brothers design team had previously worked upon. Taking
the lessons they had learnt from previous ships, along with the
rapid design changes which often presented itself from fallen
Zeppelins, often made the previous design of airships seem a little
unsystematic. With the new R 38 Class of ship, due to information
that had been learnt from the latest German designs, this was
to be a completely new class of height climbing and fast ships.
design was taken from the experience learnt from the downed and
perceived latest Zeppelin technology, moving away from the traditional
16 cells, the R 38 was to have a hull which contained 14 hydrogen-filled
gasbags and thus a further weight saving. The larger bags also
gave a better volume to surface area ratio. The mainframes of
13 sides and were 49 ft (15 m) apart. The mainframes were made
up of diamond-shaped trusses connected by 13 main and 12 secondary
longitudinal girders and a trapezoidal keel. There were two secondary
ring frames between each pair of mainframes. With the mainframe
gap being longer than had been in past designs, it meant that
there were longer diagonal bracing wires and longer unsupported
sections of the keel. Another move away from the traditional design
was the shape of the keel, which instead of the traditional conventional
triangle shape, but was a trapezoid in section and therefore less
The forward-mounted control car and engine cars, were assembled
separately and then directly attached to the hull which followed
on the earlier Shorts Brothers design of the R 31, and give the
ship a more streamlined look. The cruciform tail surfaces were
unbraced cantilevers and carried aerodynamically balanced elevators
and rudders. The ship was to be powered by six Sunbeam Cossack
engines, each driving a two-bladed pusher propeller. The engines
were housed in individual cars arranged as three pairs: one pair
aft of the control car, one pair amidships, and the third pair
to the shape and size limitations within the Cardington shed,
of the six engines, the two midship engines were placed higher
on the hull to reduce the overall height of the ship.
The process of building was restarted at Cardington. When the
contract was originally agreed with the United States, a delivery
date of "late 1920" was agreed upon, but progress was
slow. The designation ZR II was given to the R 38 as
the registration of ZR I was allocated to the design and construction
of their own ship, the Fleet Airship Number One, or ZR 1. The
ZR I or more commonly known as the USS Shenandoah, was
designed to be built with the lifting gas of helium instead of
the more flammable hydrogen. The US Navy needed a construction
facility to assemble ships, and this was under construction at
the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey. The new American
airship shed was to be able to house 2 ZR-2 sized airships, but
had not yet been completed and so the initial rush to complete
the ZR-2 was slowed as there was no US home ready for the ship.
staff at Cardington were concerned when work on R37, which was
being built in the bay beside R 38 was halted. The workmen on
R37 were then laid off when it was decided not to progress with
the ship. Of course this worried the construction staff working
on R 38 as there were no further work orders coming through the
airship factory. As work progressed the US Navy began checking
the documentation given them by the British. Following significant
girder failures during testing when a test inflation of number
8 gasbag caused the failure of the girders atop of Frame 8, Commander
Jerome Hunsacker and Charles Burgess raised questions over the
strength of R.38. Burgess concluded that "This investigation
indicates that the transverses of the R.38 are only just strong
enough, and have no factor of safety. Another consideration and
requirement was of new bow mooring requirements for the new American
housing facility under construction, and an extra ton in mooring
and bow strengthening fittings were added to the forward nose
of the ship. To restore the balance, and extra ton of water ballast
was provided at the stern of the ship, and therefore reducing
the overall "useful" lift.
initial construction in November 1918 to the final design, the
R 38 was eventually completed on 7th June 1921, some 29 months
later. The pressure to get the ship "flying" was noted
as there was not time to change the registration of the ship from
R 38 to the designated the ZR-2 for the Americans. As the ship
was ordered in 1919, it was the second ship to be planned by the
It was agreed that the ship would fly with US insignia markings
on the outer cover but also with her "British" Registration
R 38 on her first flight and have the conversion completed to
the ZR-2 when she reached her Howden base. After the test programme,
the R 38/ZR-2 would then be accepted by the United States Navy,
and flown across the Atlantic to begin her new life.
The first members of the US
Naval Rigid Detachment arrived at the Howden airship station on
20th April 1920. It comprised of nine officers, and eighteen enlisted
men and included a Medical Officer and a Supply Officer. The role
of the Supply Officer would have been to deal with the paperwork
which no military organisation cannot function without. The officer
in charge was also the designated Captain of the ZR-2 was 36 year
old Commander Louis Henry Maxfield, who was a qualified pilot
of aeroplanes and airships, and a holder of the Navy Cross. In
July a second draft of seven officers and eighteen men "reported
aboard" and to be followed at intervals by another ten men,
and Meterological Officer Lieutenant J.B. Anderson.
The first crew commenced their
training on 21st April 1920 and had been allocated the R 32 for
basic training and handling experience. As there was a shortage
of coke for the hydrogen gas plant, and not enough to re-inflate
the 21 cells in the ship, they went about stripping and refurbishing
the ship until gas was available. As a stop gap, the large non
rigid N.S. 7 was used for flying training. Due to the economic
measures at the time it was agreed that the R 80, which had been
built by Vickers at their Walney Island shed, be brought over
to Howden, and used as a more effective training ship for the
American crews. The American Government had already considered
the purchase of the R 80, but instead decided on the R 38 or the
Admiralty A Class of ship, a better options for their two ship
plans. During their time in the UK, the US servicemen were taken
down to Cardington to watch the progress of the ship, and learn
more during completion. They were also taken over to the experimental
airship station at Pulham, to see the war repatriation ships,
the L.64 and L.71 and learn more about the Zeppelin designs. The
US crew also undertook parachute training as part of their education
at Howden as this was proven an effective way of exiting an airship
as had been undertaken by Commander Maitland, when the R. 34 arrived
in America in 1919. Over the course of the next few summers the
crews became well known in the local area and became guests of
the local people.
and First Trial Flight
23rd June 1921 she was launched from Cardington for her first
and local test flight in the calm evening air. Having been taken
out of her shed at 21:00pm that evening, after the pre flight
checks, the ship departed just after sunset in the cooler part
of the day, at 21.52pm and flew out over the local area carrying
out tests for the engines and steering controls in flight, returning
to Cardington at 04.30am, at sunrise, on Friday 24th June. During
the seven hour flight it was revealed that some problems were
noted with an overbalance on the control surfaces. Minor girder
damage had been caused in flight by various stresses and the suggestion
was made that strength had been sacrificed to achieve lightness.
Test Flight - 27th June 1921
With repairs completed and
the alteration to the balance area on the top of the rudder adjusted,
the ship was brought in to the shed on the summer evening of 27th
June in clam air. Pre flight preparations were made and and at
21:45pm the R 38 took to the skies again. The ship turned and
made her way out eastwards to undertake a series of tests at differing
altitudes and speeds, and voyaged out over North Sea. The control
balance problem remained and on return to Cardington at dawn on
28th July. J. E. M. Pritchard, the officer in charge of flight
testing, proposed to carry out 100 hours of flight testing, including
flights in rough weather, followed by 50 more flown by an American
crew before crossing the Atlantic. The commander of the Howden
Detachment Commander Maxfield disagreed and urged that the test
of R.38 be completed in one day. Air Commodore Edward Maitland
as the man most responsible for testing the R.38 was appalled
and disagreed. He protested the abbreviated test schedule. He
was told to not provide advice unless asked. The Air Ministry
ruled that 50 hours would be sufficient.
Flight - 17th July 1921
After further testing inside
the Cardington shed, the R 38 emerged from the shed and on the
evening of 17th July, a third flight was made. This time it was
decided that as the press had no been able to take photos of the
ship, due to her first two flights made at dusk, it was decided
to bring the ship out earlier, weather and conditions permitting,
and making a longer but earlier flight. Launching at 19:30 the
ship left Cardington and was flown from Cardington to Howden,
then a turn and out over the North Sea, where the speed was increased
to 58 mph (93 km/h). This caused the ship to begin hunting over
a range of around 500 ft (150 m). The highly experienced Pritchard
took over the controls from the American coxswain and reduced
the oscillation, but several girders in the vicinity of the midship
engine cars had already failed. It was concluded that the control
surfaces were still over balanced. More importantly girders of
intermediate frame 7b as well as longitudinal Girder F had failed
in one place, while frame 7a and longitudinal F' each had failed
in two locations. The ship returned to her new base of Howden,
on 18th July just after dawn at 5am. The ship was put in to the
huge double shed for inspection, and girder repair.
Work on reinforcing the buckled
girders was carried out and completed by 30 July. There were increasing
doubts being expressed about the design, including some made by
Air Commodore E. M. Maitland. Maitland urged that all future speed
trials be conducted at higher altitude as was the practice of
the Germans while testing the fragile Zeppelins upon which the
R.38 design was based. The ship remained in the shed for over
a month due to a series of summer storms caused by a number of
unusual depressions over the Atlantic and continued blustery winds,
and the ship was unable to be walked out of the shed due to high
winds. It was also deemed that a voyage over the North Atlantic
during these weather. Depressions was ill advised by the Meteorological
teams. During this time the American Government were beginning
to plan the details of the arrival of their new Naval Airship,
and suggestions of a US tour for the ship were put forward.
Final Flight - 23rd August -
24th August 1921
At last on the 18th August, the weather stabilised and on the
23rd August 1921, the R 38/ZR-2 was now ready for her fourth trial
flight. Now resplendent in her American livery, the ship was to
fly from Howden to Pulham in Norfolk and carry out height and
speed tests over the North Sea and also mast mooring trials at
Pulham. The R 38/ZR-2 had been fitted with with nose mooring capabilities
as with previous British ship design, however Howden didn't have
a mooring mast. Following completion of the trials she was to
fly over the coast to land at Pulham. The original plans were
to have at least 150 hours of intensive flight trials for all
crews on the new ship, but it was decided that once airworthiness
was agreed then the ship would be handed over to the Americans
with their agreement. This meant that the planned 150 hours were
not required and the ship was to fly to Pulham, moor on the mast
and be loaded up ready for her transatlantic delivery to Lakehurst,
The ZR-2 emerged from her
Howden shed early in the morning of 23rd August, and positioned
with her nose in to the light wind by the ground handling team.
Her six engines were brought up to speed and the engine telegraphs
were tested. Commanders Maitland and Maxwell both climbed up the
short ladder in to the control car, after Maxwell had said farewell
to his wife and daughter whom were on the airfield. After some
last minute changes, the compliment of the ZR-2 was now 27 Royal
Air Force, 17 United States Navy 3 National Physical Laboratory
and 2 Royal Airship Works personnel, a total of 49 crew and civilian
At 07:10am the command to
"let go" was called and with a unified push, the ZR-2
was sent gently upwards. The engines were opened up, and with
a solitary US Navyman waving from the open cockpit in the extreme
tail, the ship passed over the ground crews and undertook two
circuits of the Howden Airship Station and airfield in salute
to the crews and workers The ship set off eastwards for a day
of tests, again over the North Sea.
With a full day of work behind
them, Captain Wann headed turned the ship around and returned
over the Norfolk Coast towards Pulham, only to be met by a bank
of mist and very low cloud some fifteen miles from the airship
base. From the dangerous height of some 700 ft, which was just
the length of the ship, it was impossible to see the ground, and
so it was decided to turn around and return out over the North
Sea and spend the night over water. It was decided that the ZR-2
would wait off the coast until daybreak and use the time for more
speed trials. For the tired crew, it was a miserable night as
no sleeping bags had been issued, and so they just had to sleep
in their simple bunks. Also their sleep was interrupted by attempts
to restart a stubborn forward engine.
From 06:00am on Wednesday
24th August fuel consumption tests were resumed and the last of
the flight rations were eaten for breakfast, somewhere in the
vicinity of Howden. One of the crew members dropped a stamped
address letter, weighted by a bolt, at the village of South Cave,
it was retrieved and posted.
At noon, the ZR-2 reported her position as 28 miles off Felixtowe,
and after another cautious probe towards the Pulham Airship Station
again, the crew signaled that at 13:15 no landing would be attempted
until the cloud height increased and visibility improved. The
issue of 24 hour emergency rations at lunchtime was bad news for
the already tired crew who had already endured 30 hours of intermittent
With the routine work completed,
the time had come for the long-awaited and crucial full speed
run. Above the clouds the weather was perfect with clear blue
sky over dazzling white clouds below. It would first be necessary
to find the speed and direction of the wind at operational height
in order to know their ground position for the trial. Descending
to 1,000ft over the sea they were able to find the river Humber,
which they followed to Howden, where Flight Lieutenant Little,
requested by signaling with an Addis Lamp that a captive balloon
should be flown to 3,000ft, above the cloud. By taking drift readings
from this aerial marker on three courses, they could calculate
the wind. He added that they had changed their plans, and decided
to land back at Howden rather than return to the Pulham airship
station. At 16:30pm a ratio signal reported that the long awaited
full speed trials were in progress.
During all the speed and maneuvering
trials, Harry Bateman of the National Physical Laboratory had
been stationed in the open cockpit in the rear of the ship, aft
of the fins. Armed with two cameras, a notebook and a portable
airspeed indicator, his task was to record the pressures shown
on a series of water manometers (a simple device but accurate
pressure gauges) which were connected to tubes on the airships
control surfaces. For the stressful full speed run, the crew were
ordered to their stations to ensure any reports of damage back
to the officers and control car crew in case it may occur. The
other member of the National Physical Laboratory team, Duffield,
was in the keel forward of the control car, reading the airspeed
on an accurate instrument forward of all obstructions.
At 1,800 revs on all engines the airspeed passed 52 knots (59.8
mph) During this time it was reported that some of the US crew
members had returned to the crew space between frames 7a and 7b,
an unusual concentration of weight for the ship. An order was
given to the crew to return to their landing stations but it was
not known whether this was actioned. After fifteen minutes at
60 knots (69mph) during this trial nothing was noted unusual with
the ship with the exception of the parting of two gasbag wires
an two possible backfires from the engines, the speed was reduced
to 50 knots. Inspections around the ship especially the tail,
and it was commented at how steady the ship was under full speed.
At 17:00pm a signal was sent
out to the Air Ministry and to the Pulham Airship Station that
the ZR-2 would land at Howden at about 19:30pm, and the 200 soldiers
sent from the Norwich garrison would not be required at Pulham
that night. Onboard the airship some of the crew had taken back
to their bunks, and also returned to the crew space, as they had
been on watch for longer than anticipated.
A conference was in progress in the control car between Prichard,
Campbell, Maitland and Maxfield. The weather was favorable and
there were some hours of daylight left, and there remained the
question of the ZR-2's ability to withstand rough weather. Would
extreme control movements in the denser air of low altitude be
equivalent to the rigors of an Atlantic storm? There was no positive
answer but the surviving of such a test be encouraging. The pressure
readings on the control surfaces would indicate the degree of
stressing. The officers all knew of the rules of flying what was
designed as a height climber in low altitude. But would
it not be more prudent to risk damage in a controlled experiment
near a convenient airship base by chance rather than a hostile
Despite arguing against reckless
shortcuts in the test programme, Major Pritchard was committed
to the Atlantic crossing and faced the danger in either way. Flying
over the sparsely populated Holderness Plain, at about 54 knots,
and at an altitude of between 1,500 to 2,500 ft the ZR-2 began
to make a series of rudder movements of increasing magnitude.
The time was 17.27pm.
Earlier in the long flight
the rudder angle indicator in the control car had broken, so Captain
Wann could only assume that the rudders were responding to the
amount of helm applied. In the rear cockpit, Mr Bateman could
estimate the degree of rudder displacement by observing markings
on the control cables. His opinion supported Wann's later evidence
that turns had been made with 10 degree of rudder and later with
15 degree in each direction in turn. The elevators were still
being used to maintain a mean altitude.
Following the high speed test,
there was an air of confidence on board the ZR-2. The US crew
members who were in the crew space were happy that the grueling
flight would finish inside the hour and the ship would be handed
over and theirs. Some of the crew members wandered back along
the hull to the rear tail to get good viewing positions to enjoy
the scenery. One of the crew, Leading Aircraftman Ernest Wynne
Davies, RAF was also looking for a vantage point and he headed
for the lower machine gun pit which protruded as a shelf below
the hull, aft of Frame 10. Finding it occupied by Aircraftmaen
C.W. Penson and R. Withington, he looked over their shoulders
for a few minutes and then turned to go forward again.
At 17.34pm the cloud was broken
in places and the ZR-2 was approaching Hull from the North East,
perhaps as a farewell to a city that had given the airshipmen
hospitality and friendship over the last two years. By coincidence
or design, the ship passed close to the village of Sutton where
some of the American officers had been entertained by the Mr and
Mrs Robinson from Sutton House, a few days before. Shortly after
ZR-2 had passed, a small boy fielded a letter attached to a streamer
and delivered it to a house at nearby Haworth. It was a letter
from Flight Lieutenant Godfrey Thomas, to his fiancee.
On a course of 239 degrees magnetic, ZR-2 emerged from a cloud
and was heading over Alexandra Dock, where the Hull docks were
sided on the the river Humber. The helm movements which now followed
did not appreciably alter the course of the airship as each reversal
had time to cancel each other out before the airship had time
To the people who were on their way home from work, or taking
in the sun on the fine Wednesday evening along the waterfront,
the ship would have made a fine sight glinting in the early evening
sun. The six Sunbeam Cossack engines rumbling in the air. A number
of Hull citizens enjoying the evening sun on the promenade deck
of the Victoria Pier had the best view as the huge vessel moved
from left to right to pass a few hundred yards in front of them.
At about 2,500ft the details were clear and some observers could
see men in the floor to ceiling glass windows of the control car.
It is not known if the decision to order the final 15 degree rudder
movements were prompted by the sight of clear water and a safe
testing area ahead or whether the confidence from the speed trial,
or perhaps to show the people of Hull watching some real flying.
Eyewitness reports confirmed
that the ship seemed to crumple along mid section and a "great
wrinkle like a twisted and rolled newspaper" seemed to occur
in the silver hull. Some of the observers on the waterfront said
that a cloud of vapour seemingly turning the ship from silver
to a dark grey. This was most certainly water ballast discharging
and vapourising in the turbulence around the hull of the ship.
The front section then broke away, and one witness noted the roar
from the engines were silenced. The front section then dipped
down toward the river Humber. The front part of the airship caught
fire just before parting or immediately afterwards, but it then
detonated as the hydrogen from the ruptured gas cells was stirring
with the turbulent air.
Further objects fell from
the hull, including petrol tanks which spread burning fuel over
the water in to which crew and wreckage fell. A second massive
blast followed within seconds and spread more fuel and oil over
the surface to encircle the wreckage.
In the city, windows shattered
over a wide area and many people reported being cut by flying
glass or knocked to their feet by the blasts.
The tail section tilted and
fell towards the Humber estuary carrying four members of the crew
who were still alive. The tail then glided slowly down at an angle
of 20 degrees. Harry Batemen in the tail cockpit had quickly put
on his parachute and jumped but his parachute caught on the tail
cockpit and he was left hanging. Two others, Walter Potter and
Normal Walker made their way through the tail section and fins,
to the aft cockpit to find Harry Bateman hanging by his parachute.
Both men hauled him back in to edge of the tail cockpit. The tail
section then leveled out as if under control for a touchdown.
The lower fin made a soft
landing in to a sandbank. Norman Walker jumped off the tail cockpit
before impact was surprised to find himself submerged only to
the waist. The men were remarkably lucky as the tail section landed
on the Middle Sand, a shoal just off Victoria Pier, and as the
tide was in full ebb there was little depth and no current to
sweep them out further to the sea. However the shallowness of
the water made it difficult for the larger and faster vessels
from reaching the three men, who had an agnoising wait of 10 minutes
wondering if any of the blazing petrol would reach them first,
or when a smaller boat could be launched to help them.Five members
of the crew in the tail section were saved from the tail wreckage
which had not caught fire. Of the 49 people on board the ZR-2,
only 5 survived the crash.
The turning tide later soon
started to submerge the wreckage, and later that evening markers
had to be placed to avoid ships going near the submerged wreckage.
Early on the Friday morning
a tug, the Stephen Gray was dispatched and took on tow a crane
known locally as The Bull to position it near the wreckage to
start to remove it quickly from the sandbank and riverbed. The
wreckage was brought ashore at the Riverside Quay to be inspected.
The official report attributes
structural weakness as the cause of the crash, but the board of
inquiry did not offer any technical opinions on the disaster.
The ship had been built far stronger than the comparable L-71,
but the L-71 was not capable of being maneuvered as sharply, and
was thus protected from the higher stresses exerted on the R 38/ZR-2.
Three quarters of the $2,000,000
of the contract price had been paid with the final $500,000 being
due on acceptance of the ship. It was agreed by both Governments
that the ship was lost before delivery and hence both were equally
liable for the loss. The total monetary loss of the R 38/ZR-2
was calculated at $1,964,334.
There is some evidence of
the United States' plans for the ZR-2 had she not been destroyed.
It was hoped that by 1923 both the ZR-2 and the completed ZR-I
would be in operation. The ZR-2 was to be based at Lakehurst and
the ZR-I on the west coast of America. Although primarily to be
used in its original role of scout and escort ships, there would
be some cruises over continental United States in order that the
cost of airship operation for commercial concerns could be evaluated,
and of course to stimulate public interest. Potable mooring masts
would be built and it was hoped that "municipalities"
would erect masts at their own expense.
of Inquiry Findings.
of Check Criticised
The initial inquest on 3rd
October 1921 returned a verdict of accidental death due to the
breaking of the airship owing to unknown causes. The Coroner had
questioned all the survivors excluding the captain, who was still
in hospital, as well as several members of the construction team.
All concerned stated that up until the airship broke apart everything
had seemed normal and they had been happy with the condition of
This was followed on 8 October,
by a report of the Air Ministry investigation into the incident.
This report in essence shifted any blame for the incident from
the Air Ministry to the Admiralty, concluding that the ship had
been designed to Admiralty specifications and that much of the
work had been completed while the Admiralty was still in control
of the Airship Service. It was further concluded that the design
had never undergone the level of scrutiny, which a new design
of this type required. The report also stated that the system
of work at the airship factory was unsound as the same team responsible
for construction was also responsible for inspecting the ship.
The initial Inquiry did set
up a Aeronautical Research Committee of which the likes of Major
Scott, Wing Commander Cave-Brown-Cave represented the practicing
airshipmen, and complemented by academic scientists such as Professor
Bairstow, CBE, FRS and Sutton Pippard with a team which was capable
of doing all the sums in a highly mechanical investigation. During
the next four months, in the course of eighteen meetings, and
considerable homework, they did all the checking of calculations
which should have preceded the actual building of the airship.
They took time to read the twenty-nine research papers relating
to aerodynamic forces on airships or models. Ten of these, including
pioneering work by M. Eiffel, of the Paris Tower, had been published
before the first two frames of the R 38 had been joined during
construction. To their amazement, they discovered that no allowance
had been made for the aerodynamic stresses in the design, which
was based on static load/buoyancy conditions in level flight.
The Committee concluded that during the final flight "no
loads were imposed in excess of those which might have occurred
during the normal navigating of the ship in weather which might
reasonably be encountered", but that "owing to the instability
of the airship, the movements of the controls necessary to keep
her on a particular course were large and rapid".
The final findings of the
Committee was that "That on the assumptions made, the structure
was designed with great skill and the necessary calculations were
carefully carried out by methods admitted as sufficiently accurate
in other branches of engineering practice.
On the cause of the fire,
the Air Accidents Subcommittee endorsed the opinion of the Court
of Inquiry that simultaneous fractures of petrol pipes and electric
circuits were to blame. Later assessment of this and further research
gave a view that it was infact the vapourised petrol was ignited
by sparks from a broken cable.
The report also noted that
the final stages of construction had been rushed but concluded
that this had no impact on the quality of the workmanship. The
Admiralty responded by announcing that it would conducts its own
inquiry into the initial stages of construction up until the transfer
to the Air Ministry in October 1919. The Admiralty report, released
in January 1922, found no issues with the Admiralty designs or
procedures pointing out that at the time of construction the only
people qualified to comment on the design where already engaged
The report of the Air Ministry
court of inquiry into the disaster to the airship, was issued.
It stated lack of vital information regarding the many new features
were introduced in the design, and it appears evident that in
some cases there was a lack of vital aero-dynamical information
as to the effect of these modifications on the strength of the
structure. Having regard to the great differences in the requirements
between the R 38 and previous British airships, the design should
have been examined and discussed by an official and competent
committee before actual construction was begun. There is no evidence
to show that this was done. The system by which the construction
of the ship and the inspection of the work were centred in one
head, as was the case at the Royal Airship Works, Cardington,
Beds. where the R 38 was built, is unsound.
The final report by the Aeronautical
Research Committee into the R.38 incident was covered by The Times
on 22 February. The report concluded that the R.38 was lost due
to poor design caused by the lack of calculations on the part
of the design staff into the aerodynamic stresses on the Hull
during high-speed manoeuvres. The report made recommendations
for future airship design, including the use of theoretical and
physical models. The quote from The Times seems apt in that it
was commented that, in the study of the science of flying
too much haste not only means less speed but, as bitter experience
has shown, brings disaster in its train".
The Secretary of the Admiralty,
in a statement issued simultaneously says:- "With reference
to the report of the court of inquiry into the circumstances concerning
the loss of H.M. Airship R 38 and the Air Councils statement
thereon, the Admiralty are conducting a full investigation into
the history of the design of the airship and of the initial stages
of it's construction up to October 1919, when responsibility for
the design and construction of airships was transferred to the
Air Ministry, and the result of this investigation will be published
in due course"
and the R 36 to America
In March 1922 the Air Ministry,
following Commander Scott's investigations, suggested that the
R36 be given to the United States as part compensation for the
loss. The United States would have to bear the $30,000 expense
of repairs and inflation of the ship and upkeep of Pulham after
31st March, and the risks of the transoceanic flight. The Air
Ministry would not approve the R36 being flown across the Atlantic
by an American Crew and so Scott was to be the Commander. The
US department of Aeronautics declined the offer. The final interest
the US had in the R 38 was the settlement of the accounts.
The people of Hull still recall
the loss of the R 38 and even now there are many eye witnesses
coming forward with their own accounts of the loss.
of Crew who's lives were lost in the accident (as noted on the
R 38 Memorial)
D.S.O., A.F.C. Edward Maitland Air Commodore, Airship Base (Howden),
Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age 41. Son
of Arthur and Margaretta Maitland. C.M.C., D.S.O., A.F.C. Buried
in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire.
PANNELL J R National Physics
THOMAS, D.F.C. G M Flight
Lieutenant, H.M. Airship R 38, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Son of Mr. T. Thomas, of Savanna-la-Man, Jamaica,
British West Indies. D.F.C. Commemoarted in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY,
Yorkshire. "R 38" Memorial
MONTAGU, D.F.C. Rupert
Samuel Flight Lieutenant, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force
(Navigating Officer, Lieut.)., Royal Navy. Died on Wednesday 24th
August 1921. Age 26. Son of Alfred John and Hester Vaudrey Montagu,
of "Braeside", Cleveland Rd., Hillingdon West, Middx.
Native of Essex. His brother, Herbert Gerald Montagu, was killed
in action on the Somme in 1916. D.F.C. Buried in HULL WESTERN
CEMETERY, Yorkshire. Grave 305. 29524
. DUFFIELD C W National Physics
Thomas Frederick [Listed as MATHEWSON on CWGC] Flying Officer
270912, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Age 34. Son of Harriet Mathewson and the late
Thomas Mathewson; husband of Violet Theresa Mathewson, of "Melrose,"
Alexandra Rd., South Farnborough, Hants. Born at Seaford, Sussex.
A.F.C. Buried in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire. Grave 305.
GREENER William Hunter Flight
Sergeant 200501, Airship "R.38", Royal Air Force. Died
on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age 29. Born at Dunston-on-Tyne.
Son of William and Margaret Ann Greener, of J, Newsham Rd., Blyth,
Northumberland. Buried in NORTH SUNDERLAND CEMETERY, Northumberland.
Grave N. 18.
SMITH Frank Flight Sergeant
314374, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age
28. Husband of Edith Ellen Smith, of 8, Lock St., Caddy Field,
Halifax. Buried in STONEY ROYD CEMETERY, HALIFAX, Yorkshire. Grave
F. B. 13.
MARTIN Alfred Thomas Flight
Sergeant 200658, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th August
1921. Age 39. Husband of Winifred Mary Martin and father of five
from Dickleborough Scole, Norfolk. Alfred Martin had seen nearly
22 years service in the Army and the R.A.F. Buried in south-east
part of PULHAM MARKET CEMETERY, Norfolk. Moved from the Army (which
he joined in 1899) to the Navy to the Naval Air Service to the
RFC to RAF. When his grave was first marked, it contained a stone
with a carved airship relief, which subsequently got broken and
was replaced by a War Commission gravestone.
BURTON Frederick Ernest Sergeant
314136, H.M. Airship R 38, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Husband of Mrs. E. Burton, of 87, Guildford
St., Poplar, London. Commemorated in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire.
"R 38" Memorial.
OLIVER William Leading
Aircraftman 92523, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died
on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age 29. Son of Frederick Eaton
Oliver and Alice Rachael Oliver, of Sheffield; husband of Annie
Louisa Oliver, of 169, Shirebrook Rd., Heeley, Sheffield. Buried
in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire. Grave 305. 29517.
PENSON Charles William Aircraftman
1st Class 301407, Airship Station (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died
on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age 21. Son of James Ambrose Penson
and Eliza Ellen Penson, of 111, Westgate, Sleaford. Buried in
SLEAFORD CEMETERY, Lincolnshire. Grave S. 345.
DONALD C W Air Mechanic 1st
Class 246147, Airship "R.38,", Royal Air Force. Died
on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age 20. Son of Margaret Donald,
of 13, Rosebank Terrace, Aberdeen, and the late William Donald.
Buried in NELLFIELD CEMETERY, ABERDEEN, Aberdeenshire. Grave 2.
PARKER Roy Aircraftman 2nd
Class 251086, H.M. Airship R 38, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Son of Mr H Parker of 3 Denton Terrace , Bexley
, Kent.Commemorated in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire. "R
. CAMPBELL, O.B.E.
C I R Superintendent Royal Airship Works, O.B.E.
WARREN F Assistant
Constructor, Designer, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th
August 1921. Age 44. Buried in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire.
Grave 305. 2952
4. LITTLE, A.F.C. I
C Flight Lieutenant, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died
on Wednesday 24th August 1921. A.F.C. Buried in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY,
Yorkshire. Grave 305. 2951
8. PRITCHARD, O.B.E., A.F.C.
J E M Flight Lieutenant, H.M. Airship R 38, Royal Air Force. Died
on Wednesday 24th August 1921. O.B.E., A.F.C. Commemorated in
HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire. "R 38" Memorial.
WICKS Victor Houghton Flying
Officer, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Age 29. Son of Mrs. Elizabeth Pettiford (formerly
Wicks), and the. late John Wicks; husband of Beatrice Ellen Wicks,
of 92, Brighton Rd., Reading. Born at Tilehurst, Berks. Buried
in READING CEMETERY, Berkshire. Grave 76. 16342.
HEATH, A.F.M. S J Flight Sergeant
314892, Airship Base, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th
August 1921. A.F.M. Buried in KINGSTON CEMETERY, PORTSMOUTH, Hampshire.
Sailor's Graves 5. 12.
THOMPSON Harold Flight Sergeant
11507, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Age
25. Son of Joshua and Emily Thompson, of 70, Astbury St., Congleton,
Cheshire. Buried in ST. MARY CHURCHYARD, ASTBURY, Cheshire. New
section, grave B.11
RYE John Flight Sergeant
314361, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Age 34. Son of the late William and Ada Rye,
of Liverpool. Buried in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire. Grave
MASON J W A Sergeant 313827,
Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th August 1921. Buried in
ST. MARY CHURCH CEMETERY, TENBY, Pembrokeshire. Grave D. 12.
ANGER G S Leading Air Mechanic
243858, Airship Base (Howden), Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Age 31. Son of John and Jessie Anger; husband
of Christiana Anger, of 105, King's Rd., Caversham. Buried in
CAVERSHAM CEMETERY, READING, Berkshire. Grave 2. C. of E. 2862
WILSON John William
Leading Aricraftman 314914, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday
24th August 1921. Age 27. Son of Fanny Wilson, of 13, Trafalgar
Terrace, Brinkburn Rd., Darlington, and the late William Wilson.
Buried in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY, Yorkshire. Grave 305. 29517.
DREW John Cecil Aircraftman
1st Class 239474, H.M. Airship R 38, Royal Air Force. Died on
Wednesday 24th August 1921. Son of Mr T Drew of 22 Archibald Rd
, Tufnell Park, London. Commemorated in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY,
Yorkshire. "R 38" Memorial.
STEERE Eric Edward Aircraftman
1st Class 231041, H.M. Airship R 38, Royal Air Force. Died on
Wednesday 24th August 1921. Son of Mr. J. Steere, of 37, Gloucester
Place, Worthing, Sussex. Commemorated in HULL WESTERN CEMETERY,
Yorkshire. "R 38" Memorial.
WITHINGTON R Aircraftman
2nd Class 313300, Royal Air Force. Died on Wednesday 24th August
1921. Son of George Withington, of 2, New Street, Wolstanton.
Buried in ST. MARGARET CHURCHYARD, WOLSTANTON, Staffordshire.
Grave RH. 17. 24.THOSE
MARKED ARE BURIED UNDER THE R 38/ ZR2 MEMORIAL IN HULL.
of information and further reading:
Icarus over the Humber T.W. Jamison Lampda Press 1994 ISBN 1 873811
Court of Inqury