news cutting showing plan of R39 compared to that of the
R33 dated 23.07.19
contemporary news cutting showing the ring of the R39 on
the floor of the shed.
of the main rings under construction showing both men and
women working on the ring.
Canceled during construction
height / Altitude
hours full speed
The original plans for the
R39 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 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, and was required to carry enough fuel for
65 hours at full speed of 70.6 mph. It was agreed that a further
series of ships ship be ordered and the new ships, classed as
"Admiralty A Class".
Armstrong Whitworth company
had already been one of the major manufacturers of airships during
the early part of the First World War, and their experience as
an aircraft and armaments manufacturer meant that they were one
of the four main manufacturers assigned to take on Admiralty order.
The company had already gained experience and skills with building
the R25, R29 and R33 airships. The R33 was nearing completion
when the order was given for the construction of the R39.
Whitworth shed was located at their Barlow works just some
3 miles south of Selby, Yorkshire. With the launch of the R33
on 6th March 1919, the shed was vacated and construction could
begin on the R39. The R39 was to follow the same design specification
of the R38 which had begun construction in the Short's Brothers
shed at Cardington. Work had commenced on the R38 in February
of 1919, and so work was begun on the R39 at the same time, with
the first rings and jigs being laid down in February of 1919 when
the shed had become vacant. The R33 had completed it's outdoor
trials and been flown down to it's new base at Pulham in Norfolk.
The design of the ship was
to ensure that it would be able to offer not only communications
role but also the ship was also to be armed for the defense of
ships on escort duty and for attacking other aggressors:
39 Proposed Armament
520 lb of bombs
230lb of bombs
1x 1pdr gun on gun platform on the top of the ship
pairs of machine guns spread along the top of the ship,
the lower gun pit, and throughout the gondolas.
for the Admiralty team, or so it appeared at the time, almost
immediatley following the decision to commence the design of the
new ships. The large quantities of the wreckage of the latest
L70 Zeppelin had been recovered from the sea following the downing
of the L70 off the coast of Great Yarmouth on 5th August. The
Admiralty team were very much influenced by the data and material
they had obtained, and with so much material at their disposal
from this, the most advanced of the German Navy's Zeppelins. The
design team headed up by Campbell must have felt that they had
been presented with a blueprint for their new class of airship.
The Admiralty team were very much influenced by the data and material
the had obtained, leading them to assume it could be successfully
replicated in the same way the R33 had been based on the downed
L33. Unfortunately they were unaware of the dangers that were
inherent in the German design.
Construction had begun in
February, as the shed was being freed up as the R33 was complete
and space was available in the shed, and continued at a rapid
pace. Over the next few months a number of rings had already been
fabricated and constructed, but later August of 1919 just after
the Armistice finally signed, with many of the main rings completed,
the order for the R39 was canceled during construction, and so
work ceased on the ship. The girderwork which had been already
completed was dismantled and shipped to the Shorts Brothers facility
at Cardington distributed between the R37 and R38, whose orders
had not been canceled at that time.
has uncovered that some £90,000 (£4,682,000 in 2019)
was spent on the design and construction of the R39 (compared
to the completed R80 which was completed at a cost of £275,000
or £14,306,000 in 2019) which shows a considerable amount
of work had been started on the ship. The only image we have is
of the plan showing the silhouette of the ship, being the same
as the R38 class on which it was based.
Source : Hansard