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Airship Operations at East Fortune

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    Posted: 22 Jun 2009 at 10:41

AIRSHIP OPERATIONS AT EAST FORTUNE 1916-1920

 

Coastal Class

The Coastal class of airship was developed by naval personnel at Kingsnorth as a more practical replacement for the small Submarine Scout class non-rigid airships then in service. The car for the prototype Coastal was modified from the fuselage of Avro 510 seaplane ‘131’. This was suspended under the 150 000 cubic feet capacity envelope of Astra-Torres non-rigid Number XVII, formerly serving as HMA Number 10.

Production versions of the Coastal type had envelopes of 170 000 cubic feet capacity, and were fitted with a 150 hp Sunbeam tractor engine and a 220 hp Renault pusher engine. Defensive armament consisted of two Lewis machine guns. For offence the Coastal could carry four 112 lb or two 230 lb bombs, or depth charges. Enough fuel was carried to allow patrol flights of 10-12 hours.

 

C4 was built at Kingsnorth and completed flight trials in April 1916. This was the second airship to carry the serial C4, the first having been transferred to the French and renumbered AT-0. Originally deployed to Howden, C4 moved to Longside on 7 September 1918, flying via East Fortune, and remained there until struck off charge in 1919.

 

C5A was reassembled at Pembroke as a replacement for C5, which had crashed due to a gas leak. Completing flight trials on 27 August 1917, C5A moved to Longside on 24 March 1918. C5A remained at Longside until 29 October 1918, when it moved to East Fortune, but didn’t remain in service long as it was deflated at Howden in January 1919.

 

C15 was built at Kingsnorth, completed flight trials on 26 July 1916, and arrived at East Fortune, via Howden, on 23 August. While at East Fortune C15 underwent towing trials with HMS Phaeton on 3 May and 5 June 1917. Unfortunately C15 was badly damaged during these trials, and in consequence was struck off charge on 16 July 1917.

 

C16, another Kingsnorth built airship, completed trails on 7 August 1916. C16 was allocated to East Fortune, flying there via Cranwell and Howden on 23 August. Five days later, on 28 August, C16 suffered magneto failure on both engines over the North Sea. The airship came down at the north end of Coldingham Bay, near Berwick, and was wrecked. C16 was officially deleted on 4 September 1916.

 

C18 left Kingsnorth for Longside in November, having completed trials on 22 August 1916. While landing at East Fortune on 16 April 1918, C18 was damaged and deflated. Repairs were quickly effected and C18 returned to Longside, from which the airship departed for Kingsnorth on 19 April.

 

C20 was built at Kingsnorth, and underwent flight trials on 12 September 1916. Flown to East Fortune on 23 September, C20 made the first experimental flight co-operating with the Battlecruiser Fleet on 30 September. During a further exercise with the Grand Fleet and a number of other airships on 16 September 1917, C20 made a forced landing in the sea. Accidently rammed by HMS Criana, C20 was still afloat on 22 December when the decision was made to destroy the airship with gunfire. C20 had flown a total of 110 hours.

 

C24 left Kingsnorth for East Fortune by rail. Trials had been completed on 23 October 1916, but the first operational flight was not until 13 December. On 9-10 July 1917 the crew of C24 made a momentous flight of 24 hours 15 minutes, more than twice the usual patrol time. Exercises were carried out with the Grand Fleet on 4 November 1917. C24 remained at East Fortune until April 1918, when the new Coastal star class C*3 arrived, and was then flown to Kingsnorth to be struck off charge.

 

C25 was built at Kingsnorth also. Flight trails were undertaken on 26 October 1916, after which C25 was dismantled for transportation to East Fortune by rail. The service of C25 at East Fortune seems to have been eventful, but not by virtue of enemy action. The airship was accidently deflated on the ground on 28 December 1917; forced to land at Balmackie (near Dundee) with engine problems; and wind damaged on 1 February 1918 when moored out. At some time in 1917 the airship car was fitted with an enclosed cockpit, and the Sunbeam engine may have been replaced with a 100 hp Green. On 29 July 1918 C25 left East Fortune for Longside, to which the airship failed to return from patrol two days later. Debris was later found some 60 miles east of Aberdeen. It was assumed that C25 was destroyed by a direct hit from the deck gun of a German U-boat.

 

Coastal Star Class

The Coastal Star (C*) class was developed from the Coastal class as an interim solution while problems encountered with the new North Sea class of airships were being dealt with. Development work and production was carried out at Kingsnorth. In essence, the C* class was a Coastal class airship fitted with an envelope of a new design with an increased capacity of 210 000 cubic feet. There were other modifications to improve crew comfort, such as replacing the canvas sides of the car with plywood and including glass portholes and a floor viewing panel. Power was provided by a 360 hp Fiat and a 110 hp Berliet-Ford. Lewis machine guns were caaried in the car for defence, and racks were fitted for two 230 lb and two 100 lb bombs.

 

The first C* class airship, C*1, was allocated East Fortune after trials had been completed at Kingsnorth on 30 January 1918. On 17 February C*1 arrived at its new base, having flown via Howden and Pulham. 868 hours and 7 minutes flying time was logged in 1918, before C*1 was deflated and put into store until being officially struck off charge in October 1919.

 

C*3 arrived at East Fortune, via Cranwell and Howden, on 4 April 1918. C*3 had undertaken trials on 30 March, and was allocated to East Fortune to replace Coastal C24.  C*3 flew for 588 hours and 7 minutes in 1918 after which, along with the rest of the C* airships at East Fortune, it was deflated and put into storage.

 

C*4 called at East Fortune, en route from Howden to Longside, on 16 November 1918, having spent its wartime service operating from the former. In January 1919 C*4 was deflated at Longside and went into storage pending deletion.

 

C*7 made the long flight from Kingnorth to East Fortune, via Pulham and Cranwell, on 17 June 1918. This was nine days after the completion of trials. C*7 moved to Longside on 31 September, where it was deflated in January 1919 having completed 330 hours and 40 minutes flying time.

 

C*8 went to East Fortune from Cranwell on 11 August 1918, having spent just over a month there. Having completed 204 hours and 13 minutes flying time, C*8 joined the rest of the deflated C* class airships in store on 25 January 1919. 

 

R23 Class

Serial

R24

Type

R23 Class rigid

Engines

4 x 250 hp Rolls-Royce

Length

535 feet

Diameter

53 feet

Capacity

960 000 cubic feet

Speed

52 mph

Maker

Beardmore

Notes

Under repair 27.2.1918

 

 

North Sea class

In 1915 it was decided that the Admiralty would use large rigid airships for co-operation with the Fleet in the same way that the German navy had employed Zeppelins. As it would take some time to design, develop and build a suitable fleet of such airships an interim design was needed.  In January 1916 a specification was approved for a 360 000 cubic feet capacity non-rigid, powered by two Rolls-Royce 250 hp Eagle engines, with an estimated top speed of over 55 mph and enough fuel to remain airborne for 20 hours. The car  was to be completely enclosed, with 6 feet of headroom, and made from duralinium and canvas on a welded steel tube framework. At 35 feet long, the car was separated into compartments for control, wireless telegraphy, navigation and sleeping. The latter was particularly important as it allowed two five man watches to be accommodated on extended patrols. A hot plate fitted to the engine exhaust meant  that the crew could enjoy regular hot food.

The engines were mounted in a smaller car astern. This was big enough to house two engineers to tend the engines, and was connected to the control car by ship-type engine telegraphs. This configuration produced drive shaft problems, some of which were solved by replacing the geared Eagle engines with direct drive Fiats.   All the North Sea class were built and underwent trials at Kingsnorth.

 

NS-1 left Kingsnorth on 8 April 1917 to be based at Pulham in Norfolk. It remained there until 17 July when it was returned to Kingsnorth for repairs. These were complete by September, and on the 6th NS-1 flew via Pulham to Longside, and then on to East Fortune. Back at East Fortune during November and December, NS-1 forced landed and Fenwick on 11 December 1917.  206 hours and 57 minutes of flight were completed in 1917, and like so many of the other North Sea class airships NS-1 was returned to Kingsnorth soon afterwards. NS-1 was struck of charge on 22 February 1918.

 

NS-3 flew to East Fortune from Kingsnorth on 22 July 1917. Engine problems caused it to land at Longside on 10 December, where it remained until the 21st. On its return Flight Commander JS Wheelwright and East Fortune Station Engineering Officer AS Abell began a programme of modification in an attempt to solve some of the shortcomings of the design. The Rolls-Royce engines were replaced with Fiats, and the engine and control cars were combined into one longer car. This car was then slung closer to the underside of the airship envelope. The modification became known as a ‘Wheelwright car’ and, following trials in March 1918 it was decided that other North Sea airships should be modified in a similar way. NS-3 went on to attain a world altitude record of 10 000 feet on 31 May, and underwent towing trials with HMS Vectis on 18 June. Three days later NS-3 took part in an attack on a suspected submarine after spotting an oil slick. This attack was in conjunction with a Royal Navy destroyer.; it proved inconclusive. Returning from this patrol in the early hours of 22 June, NS-3 was wrecked in a gale and crashed off Dunbar. Of the crew of seven, only Captains Wheelwright and PE Maitland were saved; making the crash of NS-3 the most serious suffered by East Fortune in terms of loss of life.

 

NS-4 arrived at East Fortune from Kingsnorth on 15 October 1917. It remained there until 17 June, when it moved to Longside until 27 August. Stopping briefly at East Fortune, NS-4 was back at Kingsnorth on 29 August. In October the airship spent ten days at Howden, before returning to Longside on 23 October 1918. It was deflated there on 6 February 1919 and placed in store. At some time, and probably during its first period of service at East Fortune, NS-4 was converted to have a Wheelwright car.

 

NS-5 was allocated to East Fortune on completion of trials on 18 November 1917.

12.2.1917 Howden to Kingsnorth

12.12.1918 Howden to East Fortune

Forced landing at Ayrton though engine trouble in high wind; envelope wrecked on trees.

Deleted 22.2.1918 at Kingsnorth.

 

NS-6

First flight Jan 1918

Acceptance trials 21-22 May 1918

Kingsnorth-East Forune-Longside 31.5.1918

Deflated Longside 8.2.1919

 

NS-7
Acceptance trials 6-7 June 1918

Kingsnorth-Pulham-East Fortune 29.6.1918.

Escorted German fleet into British waters following surrender.

East Fortune to Howden 2.1920

Howden-Pulham-Howden 3.3.1920

Used for crew training of Americans due to take over R-38 in June & September 1920. Last non-rigid to serve with RAF. Final flight 25.10.1921

 

NS-9

29.6.1918 First flight

1-4 July 1918 acceptance trials

Kingsnorth-Est Fortune 29.7.1918

5.8.1918 forced landing at Johnshaven

Escorted German fleet.

To Howden 1919.

NS-11

Kingsnorth-Howden-Longside 7.9.1918.

9-13.2.1919 world endurance record of 4 000 miles in 100 hours 15 minutes on mine-hunting patrol.

Longside-East Fortune 5.3.1919

With NS-12 first airship flight to Norway (24 hours).

East Fortune-Howden-Pulham- Kingsnorth-Cranwel 31.3.1919

Cranwell-Pulham 6.1919

Lost at sea 15.7.1919 (Captain W Warneford) Struck by lightning     Blakeney ?

 

NS-12

Trials flight 16.10.1918

Kingsnorth-Howden 22.10.1918

Howden-East Fortune 23.10.1918

East Fortune-Longside 26.10.1918 (Captain PE Maitland)

29.10.1918 first patrol

24 hour flight to Norway

Deleted 12.2.1919

 

P5 was the first of three ‘Parseval’ types built by Vickers at Barrow. Parseval had been contracted to build three more airships for the Admiralty, to augment those already in service. With the outbreak of war, Vickers assumed responsibility for meeting the contract, receiving technical support from Parseval to achieve this.

Anticipating the likelihood that the airships would be handled by inexperienced ground staff, the Vickers built Parseval types were specially strengthened in areas such as the nose cone. Vickers staff decided that the ballast and fuel was better carried in the suspended car, along with a small petrol engine to drive the air-blower for inflating the ballonets. The blower could also be driven by either of the two 240 hp Renault main engines. The car fitted to the airship was unique. Described as a ‘modified Coastal car’, this was made from aluminium and enclosed. The main engines were fitted at either end, driing pusher and tractor propellers respectively.

P5 was assembled at Howden in Yorkshire, and made its maiden flight on 12 November 1917. This late date indicates the relatively low priority Vickers accorded to the construction of these airships which had been ordered before the war. Obsolete by the time it entered service, P5 was used for training under the command of Flight Lieutenant Tommy Elmhirst. On 19 February 1918 P5 force landed at East Fortune and, presumably, suffered sufficient damage that repair was not thought to be practical. P5 was officially deleted at Howden on 9 July 1918, and was broken up for spares. Total flight time was 37 hours and 37 minutes in 1917, and 69 hours and 5 minutes in 1918.

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