This Day In History: The US Navy Establishes An Airship Base In New Jersey (1937)

On this day, the US Navy constructed a dedicated Airship base in Lakehurst New Jersey in 1942. The Airship Patrol Group One and the Air Ship Squadron no. 12 were stationed by the Navy at the new base. The US navy were the only military in WWII that used airships, also known as dirigibles or blimps.  The US navy was considered to be using outdated technology when it created the Airship group.  The Navy had been actually slow in adopting the blimp and only did so during WWI, several years later than the US army. However, the US navy came to appreciate the value of the Airships and the service believed that they could help with long-range reconnaissance and surveillance.  The Navy recognized that the blimps could be used to detect submarines that could threaten convoys. Airships were used to patrol coastal areas of the United States by the end of WWI. They proved extremely useful and they detected many submarines and saved many ships from being torpedoed.  The navy continued to develop Airships and came to favor rigid Airships by the 1930s.  They were used for long-term scouting and to support convoys and the fleet. The navy’s plans to expand the number of Airships was stopped in the 1930s because of concerns over the safety of the blimps. In the 1930s two Navy Airships were lost, the Makron and the Akron.  Many services and even the public came to regard the blimp or Airship as inherently dangerous after the Hindenburg disaster. The Hindenburg was a commercial Airship and it exploded in 1937 with the loss of 100 lives. In 1937 the Army abandoned the use of Airships and transferred them all to the Navy.

Hindenburg_burning_composite_1937
The Hindenburg exploding in 1937

The US Navy despite the dangers still believed that the Airships could be useful and by 1942 they had almost ten in service. During the war, the number of Airships rose to 150. They were used in anti-submarine operations along the US Coast and they were armed with machine guns and depth charges. They often provided invaluable intelligence to the US Navy on the whereabouts of German U-Boats. Only one US Airship was lost during the course of the war and that was the K-74.  It detected a submarine on the surface and it opened fire with its machine-gun and the U-Boat returned fire. The Airship tried to drop its depth charges but only two were released. The U-Boat managed to hit the Airship and the crew was forced to ditch into the sea. Luckily, the crew was rescued and they sustained no losses.  After the war, the US Navy Airships were decommissioned.

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