Friday, 30 March 2018

March 1918- the final month of the RNAS and the birth of the RAF.

The  month of March 1918 was a significant time in the story of the Royal Naval Air Service and the increasing deployment of the Zero airships to the 2 stations in Wales. By the first of April 1918 the Royal Naval Air Service was combined with the Royal Flying Corpse into the newly formed Royal Air Force and the Zeros became RAF airships.

At RNAS/RAF Llangefni on Anglesey SSZ 50 and SSZ 51 where deployed on the 13th March ,their first patrols taking place on the 14th,  followed by SSZ34 arriving on March 23rd .

In the South at RNAS/RAF Milton in Pembrokeshire SSZ16 and SSZ 17 had been in operation over the Welsh coasts since August 1917. They where followed by SSZ37, SSZ52 and SSZ 53 in March 1918, with SSZ52 beginning her first patrol on March 19th 1918.

This period of change and important moment in the history of British military aviation is best described by Bill Williams in his book 'Airship Pilot No 28' ,Chapter 8. 'The Royal Air Force is Born'

Notably Bill Williams states:

 'At first it made little difference to us. We still wore our old naval monkey jackets and comfortable peaked caps, usually much battered.'

and goes on to recollect that:

 'There was a tendency for ex-naval officers to refer to the adjutants deprecatingly as "those bloody soldiers" but this soon passed when they found that the soldiers , who took some pains to establish themselves and took care not to interfere with flying operation's, were quite likeable men...although navy blue and khaki uniforms were mixed, ultimately merging into the pale Royal Air Force blue, which later became darker.''

The above photo from RAF Llangefni shows the mix of the old Naval and new Air Force uniforms still being worn in August 1918. (image credit and copyright Mr G.Owen) 

Some early teething problems existed with this new organisation ,again Bill Williams had a few issues with :

'the appointment of a khaki-clad executive officer to look after office work and maintenance...the inevitable clash came when I had to accuse him of taking men to wash windows when I needed them for a landing party.'

The commander of the airship station on Anglesey, Thomas Elmhirst , recollecting his service in 1977 for the Imperial War Museum gives a personal account of this time and the change in uniform.


Airships Over Anglesey Part Three : Thomas Elmhirst April 1918

Friday, 26 January 2018

ET Willows Welsh airship pioneer

ET Willows is a little known early aviation pioneer who carried out much of his early work and research in Cardiff.
You can learn more about him and his first 'Welsh' airships in the story map below :

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Airship Sheds

There are no surviving 'portable' airship hangers in existence although they featured at many of the RNAS airship stations.With the centenary of the fire and explosion on January 22nd, 1918 at the Pembroke airship station, we have turned our attention to these little-known structures.

There are a number of good images of the hanger that was built at RNAS Pembroke, (those below supplied by Brian Turpin) but it is hard to imagine or appreciate the sheer scale of these buildings and the windbreaks that protected the airships as they were walked in and out of the sheds.

The timber framework as built at Pembroke is a modified version of the plan presented above and has a straight truss rather than the curve section...maybe it was beyond the skills of the carpenters to create these curves?

You can explore this shed with the 3d model below, I hope it gives a good impression of the size and materials that went into these buildings.

Click on the image below to activate the 3d model, which is best viewed as a full-screen image.

Monday, 2 October 2017

Bill Williams early Airship Pilot.

As a pioneer in this field, he obtained the Airships pilot's licence No 28 which gives the title to his book 'Airship Pilot Number 28'. With the First World War at its height, he was posted to Anglesey to a unit flying non-rigid airships over the Irish Sea to guard convoys of ships heading for Liverpool against submarines.He received an Air Force Cross for his efforts.
In 1918 he was seconded to be the First Officer of the much-decorated crew who flew the Airship SR1 from Italy to England; the longest flight achieved for some years.
With the war's end, he was part of an ill-fated expedition to use Airships in the seal fisheries of Newfoundland. Returning to England he was heavily involved in the burgeoning Airship industry until its demise with the crash of the R101.
Many years later, with the development of the modern recreational Hot Air Balloon, he became involved again in his first love and was of considerable use to the pioneers with his experience of actually having flown these things before.

In 1972 he gave an interview that is preserved in the collections of the Imperial War Museum, a truly remarkable testimony from one so closely involved in the airship war and flying the Zeros.

We are releasing Bill Williams recordings that relate to the Zero and his time spent based on the Anglesey airship station. We have added images to accompany his own words, some of which have never previously been published.

We have also managed to identify Captain Williams in a number of the group photos we have recently received.

Airships Over Anglesey Part One

Airships Over Anglesey Part Two

A written account can be found in:

Airship Pilot No 28, Williams.T.B, William Kimber and Co. Ltd, London 1974

Autumn 17

The project has given display , talks and exhibitions over the summer and is planning the final 12 months delivery stage. This will include our new web site,digital reconstructions, field work and tour of the pop up museum with the publication of our book.

Project display at "Wings over Carew" August 2017 on the centenary of the deployment of SSz16 to RNAS airship station Pembroke .
There will be a review of progress in the November newsletter highlighting some of the research and the new information we have discovered.

 We hope to release the details of the reconstruction next month and are progressing with preparing the build space and coordinating various partners to assist in this phase. If you are keen to volunteer as part of this unique reconstruction get in touch, spaces are limited but we will share the progress online as we go.

What has been most peoples reaction to the project : " I never knew anything about airships and Wales - but I do now!"

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Next Event

Following up from our day at the Holyhead Maritime Museum last month, our display returns to Anglesey and the town of Llangefni with the Anglesey Treasures pop-up museum, courtesy of  Menter Mon. 

International support.

Volunteer support has already been received from Mike Jenkins in New Zealand who has supplied drawings, suggestions and advice as to how we can progress with the reconstruction.

Mike has a number of drawings that he wants to digitise and plans printing to scale and has solicited the help of his local print shop, who has offered to support our 'exciting and historical project', THANK YOU to Island Print for doing so.