RNAS Howden, Yorkshire
Visit Date(s): 2007; 18/04/09; 26/02/11
The airship station of RNAS Howden was built as a reaction to the German U-Boat threat of WW1. Survey work was undertaken in August 1915 by two Royal Navy lieutenants (the Admiralty had taken full responsibility of airship operations in January 1914). They found a site a few miles north of the market town of Howden, East Yorkshire, to be suitable and an area of around 400 acres was identified for requisition, which was duly completed in September 1915.
Construction began in the winter of 1915/16, with the laying of a standard gauge railway branch line. This connected the site to the nearby NER line from Howden Station and ran directly into the middle of the facility. The installation allowed the supply of men and materials for construction and once completed, the supply of the Station itself.
The first major buildings to be constructed were those designed to house the Coastal class of non-rigid airships, the 'Coastal Sheds'. 'Coastal Shed A' was the first to be erected and measured 232 ft (98 m) by 120 ft (36 m) with a clear height of 80 ft (24 m). 'Coastal Shed B' was a similar size, measuring 320 ft (97 m) by 110 ft (33 m). The final shed to be constructed and the largest up to that time, was the No. 1 Rigid Airship Shed . Placed on the same alignment as the Coastal Sheds (north-east/south-west), this measured 150 ft (45 m) wide with a clear door height of 100 ft (30 m) and an length of 700 ft (213 m). The large 'A' form trusses were of a sufficient size to allow for offices and workshops to be built within them - a full-length annex 35 feet (10 m) wide on both sides. Running in-line with the Coastal Sheds sheds from the doors at their north-eastern ends and transversely inwards to the Rigid Shed, were large windbreaks. The rigid shed also had a very large windbreak which ran from its south-western end for several hundred feet.
Whilst the sheds were being erected, the living sites, gas (hydrogen) production plant, workshops and other facilities, including mains water, gas and electric, were also installed.
During 1918, work was commenced on a fourth shed - the enormous No. 2 Twin Rigid Airship Shed. This vast structure looked similar to two single Rigid Sheds in a pair but was in fact larger. Each span alone measured 130 ft (39 m) at the doors alone with a clear height of 130 ft (39 m) and the internal floor length was 750 ft (228 m). Upon completion in 1919, including space for the open doors, it covered an area of 8.5 acres (3.4 ha) and weighed 5208 tons (5291 tonnes) and was the largest building in the UK. The size of the site itself (by now under RAF control) had increased to 1124 acres.
In 1921, the Americans were keen to explore the possibility of using the non-rigid design of airship for their own coastal patrols. One airship, the R38 (USN designation ZR-2), was used for trials and on its final flight to Pulham in Norfolk, was forced to return to Howden. It was seen over the River Humber in some trouble. It broke up in mid air and killed 44 crew members, including 16 Americans of the evaluation team. This crash claimed more lives than the famous Hindenburg disaster on 1937, which killed 35. The loss of the R38 ended military airship activities in the Britain.
The site closed as a military station in 1921 but was taken over by the Airship Guarantee Company in 1924. Perhaps the most famous airship to emerge from Howden was the R100, sister ship to the ill-fated R101. The R100 had on its design team a young Barnes Wallis, who later found fame as the designer of the bouncing bomb.
With the departure of the Airship Guarantee Company in the early 1930s, all of the sheds were dismantled and sold for scrap. Today very little remains. The site of the No. 2 Rigid Airship shed has gone completely, the site now being a golf course and only a few fragments of concrete remain of the rest of the site. The water tower remained until demolition in late 2009. A site survey, undertaken by a small team from the Airfield Research Group in 2011, revealed the floor of the No. 1 Rigid Airship shed, along with other identifiable remains, including the foundations and mounts for the windbreaks.
NOTE - This land is private and casual viewing not permitted.
Elsewhere on Airfield Archaeology
Elloughton (St Mary the Virgin Church)
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