‘Above and beyond’ maritime history: airships

Inspired by our Above and Beyond exhibition, our Library Assistant Sonia Bacca explores flying machines in our Caird Library and Archive.

Not all our readers may know that a small part of the material housed in the archives of the Caird Library was published by the Admiralty Air Department, and that some of the items relate to airships, a controllable balloon in the form of an elongated giant bag, ‘below which is slung a car where crew, engines and fuel can be carried’ (Airship saga, p. 10).
Rigid Airship at the National Maritime Museum
These charming and peculiar machines, initially regarded as momentary curiosities, gradually became a popular symbol of technological innovation. In fact, in Germany, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin constructed the Zeppelin, the most successful airships of all time. Employed during the early years of the First World War for bombing targets, airships were immediately recognised as too vulnerable for the task and consequently began to be employed as scouting cruisers, ‘a job the airship was ideally suited for, providing rapid coverage of a wider area than had been possible with conventional surface scouting vessels’. (Airship saga, p. 15
Airships came in different classes or types, for example the S. S. Airship or ‘submarine scout’-type of airship was developed between March and April 1915. Designed with the main purpose of identifying submarines in enclosed waters, the S.S. airship type used to fly at an altitude of about 750 feet, but was also capable of flying to 5,000 feet, at an air-speed of 40 to 50 mph. (Handbook on SS Type Airships, p. 1)
Spithead in Wartime by William Wyllie at National Maritime Museum
The 'C Star'-class airships were anti-submarine patrol machines which could reach a maximum speed of 56 mph.
Study of an airship at the National Maritime Museum
If you would like to know more about airships, the following items (and many more!) can be viewed in the Caird Library Reading Room
• Ventry, Arthur Frederick Daubeney Olav Eveleigh De Moleyns. Airship saga: the history of airships seen through the eyes of the men who designed, built and flew them. Poole: Blandford, 1982 
• Great Britain. Admiralty. Air Department. Handbook on SS Type Airships. London: Admiralty, 1917 
• Great Britain. Admiralty. Airship Department. Handbook on the "Coastal" and "C Star" airships. London: Admiralty, 1918 
• Swinfield, John. Airship: design, development and disaster. London: Conway, 2012.
• Great Britain. Admiralty. Director of Naval Construction. Rigid airships. London Admiralty 1921
• Robinson, Douglas H. The Zeppelin in combat: a history of the German Naval Airship Division 1912-1918. Henley-on-Thames G T Foulis 1971
Find out how to register for a free reader’s ticket to visit the Caird Library