Category Archives: Home Waters

6 January 1918 – Phillimore or less

Today, Rear Admiral Richard Fortescue Phillimore was appointed to the position of Admiral Commanding Aircraft for the Royal Navy. With the imminent demise of the Royal Naval Air Service, the Navy is putting in place a command structure for its aircraft.

He the first Flag Officer for Aircraft in the Navy. He is in command of Seaplane Carriers and the administrative control of all aircraft working with the Fleet.

It’s hard to call Phillimore an airman as he has no experience of flying. He does however have extensive experience as a Commander and during The was has held various positions.

However, he has as his Flagship the HMS Furious which has been at the forefront of experimental flying from ships.


5 January 1918 – Zeppelin Disaster

German Zeppelins have not visited Britain since October 1917, when heavy losses put a hold on the programme. Today, atny attempts to resume the bombing suffered a serious setback when 5 Zeppelins were destroyed.

This afternoon 5 airships were in the sheds at Ahlhorn – Zeppelins L46, L47, L51, and L58, and the Schütte-Lanz SL20. Two cleaners were at work in the after car in the L51 and six civilian employees were making repairs to the Schütte -Lanz, Other than this, the sheds were empty. Most of the 1000 airship and ground personnel were in the adjacent barracks.

Suddenly a series of explosions were heard and the sheds burst into flames, The flames spread rapidly, and within a minute the five airships and three of the four sheds which contained them had been destroyed. Fifteen men were killed, thirty seriously injured, and 104 slightly injured.

The initial reaction was that the disaster had been caused by a British air attack. Once that was ruled out, rumours of sabotage and traitors spread. An official investigation found that the fire had started in the double shed housing the L47 and L51. The two cleaners in the latter ship, who escaped with burns, testified that a fire followed a dull report in front of the car in which they were working.

The official report was that the disaster had been due to an accident, and the suggestion was put forward that a piece of roofing, made loose by the winter storms, had fallen and damaged a fuel tank, and that the fire was possibly started by sparks thrown off from bracing wires as they were struck by the falling piece of roof.

The exact cause of the explosion remains a mystery. At the time many never accepted the official explanation and believed that the destruction resulted from an act of sabotage.

26 December 1917 – Coastals clash

The various aircraft types have been doing their best to protect the convoys sailing from England. Often their presence is enough to cause u-boats to dive or call off attacks to avoid detection. The waters around the Cornish Coast were often too rough for seaplanes and much of the patrol work here is carried out by airships. In fact the base at Mullion was the busiest of all the airship stations during 1917 flying 2845 hours, sighting 17 submarines and bombing 12 of them.

Today, the Airship C23A left its base at Mullion around 1100 to patrol east of Falmouth to ensure that the way was clear for a convoy of 24 ships.

At 1420 the convoy was in line ahead with its escort of two destroyers and ten armed trawlers on the starboard side and the airship on the port side. At 1500 when the airship was steering east for the head of the line some distance away, one of the leading ships, the steamer Benito was hit by a torpedo.

The C23A moved at full speed towards the ship, which was about seven miles away, and three minutes later saw a second ship – the steamer Tregenna – torpedoed.

At 1510 the airship had reached the position, and within three minutes one of the ships sank. The other was abandoned. The airship continued to patrol between the derelict vessel and the convoy, and at 1540 spotted a torpedo breaking the surface astern of the last ship of the group. The airship located the beginning of the torpedo track and dropped two 100lb. bombs with delay-action fuses. The sea was rough and no results were observed. The airship crew kept watch over the rear of the convoy for another hour, but no trace of the U-boat was discovered. This also allowed the crews of both ships were rescued.

Subsequent records show that the attack was carried out by UB57, which sunk another ship on 28 December and clearly escaped unscathed.

21 December 1917 – SSP4 Lost

After the loss of the Airship SSP2 on 26 November 1917, the Airship station at Caldale on the Orkney’s suffered another disaster today as the SSP4 failed to return from an anti-submarine patrol and was assumed lost.

The SSP4 left the base at 1700 for the night patrol with a crew of tree Flight Commander William Frith Horner, Engineer Ernest Frank Anthony and Wireless Operator Rowland Charles Behn.

At around 1750 the SSP4 sent a message that they would be returning to base due to heavy snow. The base lights were put on facilitate the return of the ship. At 1810 another message was received from SSP4 requesting information on wind strength and direction. 10 minutes later another message from SSP 4 arrived asking for a destroyer to be sent to 72K and use searchlight.

At 18.50 Caldale received another request from SSP4 for weather conditions at the base. SSP 4 was told that a destroyer had been sent to the position 72K grid square on chart and was asked if they were having difficulties. SSP4 then started having communication problems as it could not receive messages from Caldale although Caldale could hear SSP4. SSP 4 started communicating through Peterhead.

At 1925 a new message arrived:

”Making no headway, ask Destroyers to search east of Orkney”

SSP 4 was lost and needing to get a position fix. To assist both Copinsay and Auskerry lighthouses on islands to the east of the main island were lit and destroyers and patrol boats sent out.

The lights and flares at Caldale were then put out as it was thought the airship would not arrive back for some hours.

At 2110 a message was intercepted from SSP4 to HMS the Campania:

”Despatch destroyer at full speed with searchlight to bearing 355 from Peterhead”

At 2200 the Admiral Commanding Orkney and Shetland (ACOS) sent the following message,

“Can you see any searchlights or shorelights”

By this time Caldale had restored communications with SSP4. The wireless operator estimated that the airship could be no more than 20 miles away from the base. 10 minutes later SSP sent the following:

“Send destroyer to Sanday, may not be able to get back”

At 2233, a message was received at Caldale from ACOS to be passed to SSP 4.

”Priority, you passed over Mull Head Papa Westray at 22.00. The lights at Caldale were lit again.

At 2315 a similar message was sent to SSP4

”Priority, you were over Skea Skerries at 22.45, ships in [Scapa] Flow are burning searchlights”

HNothing more was heard from the airship and at 0100 the lights at Caldale were turned off as the airship was known only to have enough fuel to last until midnight.

The next morning the wreck of SSP 4 was found at Tafts on the south shore of Westray but there was no sign of the crew. Various items including papers, charts, a boot, leather jacket and a glove were found still on board. The airship was salvaged and returned to Caldale. A subsequent court of enquiry determined that the SSP4 hit the water while the engine was still running. The crew likely abandoned the ship thinking it would sink. None of the crew were ever found.

This second accident led to the RNAS abandoning the base at Caldale as too dangerous and the remaining airships were moved to

Further detail of this accident and the base at Caldale, including photographs available at

17 December 1917 – Rotation

The Admiralty is now convinced of the value of having aircraft with the fleet, and various attempts have been made to provide launch systems for ships other than those classed as aircraft carriers.

In August 1917, the Cruiser HMAS Sydney was brought to Chatham docks for a refit. During the refit the ship was fitted with a rotating launch platform over one of the turrets.

On 8 December, after acquiring a Sopwith Pup aircraft (9932) from sister ship HMS Dublin, the Sydney carried out a successful test launch of the aircraft with the platform fixed and the ship turned into the wind.

Today, the feat was attempted again, this time with the ship cruising as normal and the ramp rotated to face into the wind. The launch was successful – the first launch of an aircraft from a ship-mounted rotating platform.

By this point the Sydney had acquired use of a second Pup (9931). It’s not clear which of the two Pups was used in this launch, but this was the first launch of its type from any ship.

The ramp proved successful and similar ones were fitted to other cruisers for the rest of the war.

The photo shows the position of the launch pad on the HMAS Sydney, but this is from later in the war as the aircraft is clearly a Sopwith Camel 2F1.

13 December 1917 – Bloomin’ Heek

The Heek family of Eemnes in the Netherlands were rudely awoken this morning when an unmanned airship crashed into their house. Fortunately for them, it was not one of the Giant Zeppelins based nearby but a British Coastal Class blimp, the C26.

Following the failure of the C27 to return on 11 December 1917, the C26 was sent out to look for the C27. The C26 was under the command of Flight Lieutenant Gray Campbell Conning Kilburn, with Flight Lieutenant Humphrey Evelyn Chichele Plowden, Petty Officer A.C. Townsend, Leading Mechanic F.D. Johncock and Radio Operator F.W. Warman.

Gray Campbell Conning Kilburn

They had no luck in spotting the C27 and were radioed to return to base. At15:40, the station asked the C26 for its position, to which the C26 answered: “12 kilometres east of Yarmouth”. The radio station then confirmed the order to return to base. The C26 confirmed this message, but around 17:15 the C26 sent a message that it had problems with one of its engines and was drifting towards the sea, approximately 4 kilometres east of Lowestoft. Lowestoft was warned but could not see the airship due to poor visibility.

A partial message was received from the C26 early this morning at 0123, but after that nothing.

The C26 was seen by the coastguard at Kessingland, south of Lowestoft, but he thought that it was on its way back to Pulham. The coastguard later saw the C26 flying along the coast and the crew shouting to the civilians to grab the ropes but visibility was getting worse. Kilburn later wrote about this encounter:

“We returned to Pulham at 12:30 and at 16:00 we reached the coast south of Lowestoft instead of Yarmouth. Visibility was very poor and the wind was stronger than I had expected. We followed the coast in the direction of Lowestoft to be sure of our position and at 17:00 we reached Beccle until suddenly our rear engine failed for an unknown reason. Our mechanic thought, as did I, that we would be able to restart the engine. But after we tried several times, it unfortunately didn’t work. We immediately tried to lower the airship so that we could land but this too failed as we couldn’t let enough gas escape to descend sufficiently.”

Nothing more was heard from the C26 until a telegram arrived from the marine-attaché in The Hague stating that an airship had come down in The Netherlands in the morning of 13 December.

It turned out that the C26 had drifted off further over the sea towards The Netherlands and came to ground near Poortugaal, Rotterdam. Four of the five crewmen managed to get out of the gondola here. Townsend injured his leg in the process. Kilburn’s report recorded:

“About 11 o’clock the drogue suddenly opened (it had got caught up in some way) and reduced our speed to about 8 knots. We fired Verys lights rifle periodically and also flashed the Aldis lamp. I did not throw the code books overboard as I intended to go up again on reaching the Dutch coast and send another W/T signal. At one o’clock the wind rose a little and the ship started to kite, hitting the sea several times and necessitating the use of the remaining ballast and a bomb. Shortly after, the drogue lifted out of the water and the ship ascended to 3,700 ft. where she was kept in equilibrium for two hours. Directly we rose we tried to send a W/T message. This took some time owing to slight damage to W/T instrument when hitting the sea. The operator heard base asking for information, but he was unable to get anything through. At 2.30 (earlier than we expected) we found that the ship was over land by the cessation of the sound of waves, thus, unfortunately, losing the chance of throwing the codes overboard. I intended landing to rip and burn the codes and the ship and send the pigeons off. Everything was prepared to do so. Again owing to the lack of a top valve we were unable to start descending and had to cut a small hole in the bottom of the envelope. Since the blower was useless, the ship got into a very bad shape and the car turned practically upside down, necessitating everyone sitting on the port rail. The rips and top patch were got ready and the water and the remaining petrol were used as ballast. No lights were seen at the coast or on land and owing to the fog the land was never seen at all. The grapnel caught in something and brought the ship up with a jerk that nearly threw everyone off, but the ship did not touch the ground and before we could rip she broke loose.

We could not see the ground (although we must have been fairly close) even with the aid of the Aldis lamp. At 3.15 am the grapnel caught again. This time I gave the order to jump, thinking we were only 10 feet up, holding on to the rip lines. But we were at least 30 ft. up and in the drop the rips were jerked from our hands. Lieut. Plowden was saved by falling into a canal, but PO Townsend unfortunately dislocated his leg. LM Johncock was shaken but escaped hurt. AM 2 Warman was caught up somehow and was taken off in the ship before we could do anything.”

Warman disappeared into the sky but hung on to the skid for an hour before the ship came down low enough for him to jump off near Sliedrecht.  The unmanned C26 was blown north by the wind where it got stuck in a tree at near Vecht. It then got stuck in telegraph wires that it had pulled along. The C26 eventually untangled itself and eventually crashed in Eemnes.

The crew were taken prisoner and interned for the rest of the war.

11 December 1917 – C27 Shot Down  



John Francis Dixon

Coastal “C” Class airships have been carrying out patrols in the North Sea since 1916. The type is slow, difficult to manoeuvre, vulnerable to attack and suffers from frequent engine problems. The open unheated cockpits also make life uncomfortable for the crew in winter. Despite all this, they are the only thing available at present to carry out long distance patrols of the North Sea.


Friedrich Christiansen

Today, C27 left Pullham for a patrol to the east of the Norfolk coast. On board of the C27 were: Flight Lieutenant John Francis Dixon DFC (Commander), Flight Lieutenant Herbert Hall (Second Officer), Air Mechanics Class 1 James Ernest Martin (Steersman), Ernest Rogers Whyte (Mechanic) and Jack E Collett (Radio Operator). The patrol proceeded normally with the proscribed hourly radio messges, but from 09:40 there was no response from the C27.

The C27 had run into trouble as they were spotted by a German Hansa-Brandenburg W12 piloted by Oberleutnant zur See Friedrich Christiansen and Vizeflugmeister Bernhard Wladicka. They attacked the C27 and set it on fire. The C27 then crashed into the sea, killing all five crew members. Christiansen took the following photo of the crash.