Parliament UK

Early day motion 1446



That this House notes with pride the centenary anniversary of the Admiralty's visionary decision on 7 May 1909 to embark on a development programme for military aviation by ordering the first airship HMS Airship 1; notes that consequently when the First World War broke out the British Royal Navy was not only prepared but was able to be the forerunner of innovative military strategy; recognises the continually valuable contribution being made by the Royal Navy and Fleet Air Arm to UK defence commitments worldwide; commends the flexibility, adaptability and professionalism that has become the hallmark of the Fleet Air Arm; and looks forward to the Fleet Air Arm continuing to make an invaluable contribution to UK defence in its hundredth year and going forward.

In 1910 Britain got its first airship, built for the Royal Navy at Barrow-in-Furness. It was given the radio callsign of SBZ and named HMS Airship 1. Come the start of WW1 in 1914, the German's got a shock at our preparedness in having fully armed, fully communicating airships which were called H.M.S. AIR SHIP 3 and 4. In build and during Vickers trials of the first airship it was called the "MAYFLY".

This picture is taken from this web site and is the copyright of the Barrow Dock Museum. I highly recommend a visit to this site.


Ship Type: Airship 1
Customer: Admiralty
Image Date: 22 May 1911

 She was fitted with an already well established piece of kit called "The Portable and Harbour Defence" transceiver {which most ship's carried}  operating on a fixed frequency of 196.34 kc/s, using the quenched-spark transmission method, a more sophisticated set than was the original spark transmitter. Her trailing aerial was always a problem, and if it touched the fuselage [in high winds etc] there was always a risk of fire.

The quenched-spark technique is complicated so I wont bother with an explanation here, but if anybody from the world of W/T would like to know the fit/technique or indeed any other detail,  get in touch.

See also this page which shows the callsigns of the earliest of days both naval and mercantile -  ship radio callsign system pre and post 1912

In addition to this information there is an excellent book called "IN THE SHADOW OF THE EAGLE'S WING" By Peter COONAN [1982]  ISBN 095082870X - HARD BACK - a history of aviation in the Cumbria, Dumfries and Galloway region, 1825-1914 which covers the story of HMS Air Ships in more detail.  Currently, as I write my page, the book is out of print and not available in outlets like Amazon etc. It is available to library services.  It is relevant to mention that the RN Fleet Air Arm Museum starts its stories from the very first aero planes, mentioning only the word 'airships' and 'lifting devices' but nothing else.

In the NAVY LIST of the 18th December 1913 the Naval Air entry shows just a few lines of text which are:-

The early formation of the Royal Flying Corps was formed from a NAVAL WING and a MILITARY WING, where some of the personnel in the Military Wing were naval.

Airship 1 and 2 were decommissioned before WW1 started but Airship 3 and 4 were commissioned and operational. Airships were stationed at Farnborough and were naval air assets. The following text shows the organisation of Farnborough [Airships] and the crews of HMS Airship 3 and HMS Airship 4, in the second half of 1913:-

The letter [N] meant NAVIGATOR, the [T] meant TORPEDO and the [I] meant INTERPRETER. The Gunners were warrant officers and flew with either of the airships, i.e., there were not dedicated crew members as were the commissioned officers.

The officer appointed to control the Wireless Telegraphy equipments fitted into airships and airplanes was:-

Also based at Farnborough was the HQ of the Military Wing of the Royal Flying Corps [RFC]. It was a fledgling Wing as this text depicts:-

However, the Naval Wing of the RFC was well established in 1913 as these plates show:-