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1 x 75hp
60, 000cft
Photo Gallery

A colour illustaration of a SSP class ship

Submarine Scout Class
SSZ 37 on patrol
An early Maurice Farman car
An early SS ship
The close up of SSZ 27 gondola
The clean outline of the envelope
Alighting on water

Alighting on the rear of HMS Furious

Submarine Scout Class

With the outbreak of the war the threat to British shipping became apparent to the Admiralty. It was realised that with airships, they had an instrument which could protect the shipping by spotting the submarine threats.

An order for the construction of a fleet of small “blimps” was put forward, and for their completion to be made as soon as possible.Early exploration and use of airships have been sporatic in the early years of the 20th Century, experimantal craft were used by the Army and often continental ships were purchased for evaluation and review.

However funding for the fledgling craft was often not forthcoming and also the useage of the ships had not been proven to either the Admiralty or Army.

When the Great War broke out on 4th August 1914, Britains airship fleet consisted of the four former Army airships (now known as Naval Airships number 17,18,19, and 20 when transferred to the Admiralty) and two continental ships, and a small Willows training craft. Seven ships in total.

Of airfields possesing hangers capable of housing airships, there were only 4, at Farnborough, at the Vickers porduction facility in Barrow, at Wormwood Scrubs in London and at Kingsnorth near Hoo on the Medway.

The pre titled Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corps was formed in to the Royal Naval Air Service on 1st July 1914 where by only 198 men of all ranks were transferred under the command of Commander E A D Masterman. This was later known as the Airship Section.

It was decided as hostitities grew worse in the latter part of 1914 that airships would be useful for Fleet observations following the loss of many ships to submarines in the months of October and November.

The First Sea Lord, Lord Fisher, realised that the situation had become critical and rapid short term measures were required. In a meeting on 28th February 1915 he called Cmdr Masterman and representatives from Vickers and Airships Limited attended.


A new smaller ship was required with the basic requirements that it should have a speed of between 40-50 mph, carry a crew of two, 160lb of bonbs, wireless equipments and fuel for 8 hours flying. They should be able to reach an altitude of 5,000ft and their design be simple in order to both ease production adn to facilitate training of the crews.

The main requirement was that the new airship, designated the Submarine Scout class had to be in the air within weeks rather than months.

Evaluation tests on the first SS craft, the SS2 were made in March of 1915 some 5 weeks after that first meeting. The ship was 70,000 cft and 140ft in length. The ship was effectivly an aeroplane fuselage without wings slung below an envelope.

There were eventually 3 types of “SS” or submarine scout class ships after the initial prototype was built. Each was quickly and cheaply assembled by attaching the wingless fuselage of a B.E.2c aeroplane beneath a simple envelope. Minor modifications were made to the original design, namely the palcement of the blower to fillw the ballonet in the envelope, and on the 18th March, less than 3 weeks after work began the new airship was entered in to service. Admiral Fisher commented his approval with the famous comment "Now I must have forty!"

The production SS ships differed from the prototype in that they carried two ballonnets insead of the original one, and a larger envelope. The main production problems which the contracted manufactureres had was the supply of envelopes as they were tied up with areoplane orders. 26 SS type ships were based on the original production ship SS1.


As soon as the SS airship programme was rushed in to operating in ealy 1915 the work of construction was transferred from the Farnborough facility to Kingsnorth, which was soon joined by a manufacturing centre in Barrow and Wormwood Scrubbs. At the same time new air stations were set up at Capel near Folkstone, Polegate near Eastbourne, Marquise near Boulogne on the French coast, Luce Bay near Stranraer in Scotland, and in Angleset. A new training station was set up at Cranwell.

At this time the rigid airship programme also started production. More air stations were also planned, with Longside near Aberdeen, East Fortune on the Firth of Forth, Howden on the Humber, Pulham in Norfolk, Mullion in Cornwall, and Penbroke in South Wales. Together with those already commissioned they were soon to provide a chain of bases strung around the coars from which airship patrols flew out reguarly to comat submarines. Wireless and ground bases were also key to this chain with the co-operation between air and see being vital. Patroling airships were required to transmit their callsign every hour enabling thier positions to be tracked and plotted. It meant that an airship commander can call his exact position when the call forhelp to the precise spot; a vital element in the anti submarine strategy.

The co-operation was essential between air and sea forces in that no airship could cary more than a tiny fraction of the armament available to a destroyer of even an armed merchantman ship, yet no surfaceship could approach the speed of an airship or command the same wide vision. The airship was to primarily call for find the submarine then call for help. The advantage was that in the clear waters of the mediterrenean a submereged enemy could often be seen as deep as 120ft (20 fathoms) but in northern waters the direct detection was more difficult. The advantage though was that periscope moving through the water made a destinctive feather wake and there were often signs which gave the presenece of a submarine. Small amounts of oil frequently leaked and could be spotted as a trail on the surface of the water. Also a damaged submarine would leak more and be easily spotted.

The “submarine scouts” with the prefix of “SS”, were to be so successful on coastal patrols that the Admiralty wanted bigger and better ships and fast. Three further classes “Coastal”, the “C*” and “North Sea” class ships were developed. Each having larger engines, envelopes and crews than the previous class ships, the patrol duration increased.

Equipt with small bombs, these ships proved to be not only “observers” but also active participants to the fleets battles. It was common that a U-Boat on patrol, once spotted by airship, had a choice of either moving away or engaging the airship in a race. The battle was between the U-Boat surfacing and being able to mount his gun and try to bring down the airship, whilst at the same time the airship would be signalling the location of the U-Boat to the fleet, and preparing to drop it’s bomb, before the U-Boat could take a shot at the ship.

New Classes of ships

The demand was so great for these Scout ships that various versions were constructed. The following designations were given: SS / SSP/ SSZ (Zero’s)/ SSE/ SST(Twin). The SS Zero’s were fitted with machine guns. 77 of this class were built and were very popular with the crews. The last class to be designed were the SS Twin’s which could carry a crew of 5, with a top speed of 57mph and stay airborne for up to 2 days.

In total 158 “SS” Class ships were built

Despite occassional tragedies the first SS ships proved invaluable. They only cost £2,500 each and the proof of their usefulness is that production only ceased when something better became available.

A famous event when an SS ship moored on the stern of HMS Furious, showing how versitile with Naval activities these small ships were. This has been stunningly re-created by James Baumann in his model. To visit more of the models, they can be seen at


Related ships: SS Airships (BE2c cars);SS Airships (Maurice Farman Cars); SS Airships (Armstrong Cars) SSP Airships; SSZ Airships; SST Airships; Coastal Class, North Sea Class

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