Thursday, 31 October 2019

American Airship Disaster

CAPE TIMES - 1933, April 5

Disaster has befallen the Akron, greatest airship in the world and pride of the United States Navy. She is believed to have been struck by lightning during the night off the New Jersey coast. At any rate she crashed into the sea with 77 officers and men aboard and sank, after drifting for some hours, a hopeless wreck. So far, one officer and three men have been rescued, and one of these, the wireless operator, has since died.





THE STAR Johannesburg - 1933, April 4
The world’s largest airship, the United States naval dirigible AKRON, is reported to be a wreck off the New Jersey coast. Naval officials believe the airship was struck by lightning. Admiral WA Moffett, Rear-Admiral Berry and Rear-Admiral Cecil, the last 2 commanding officers of the Naval Air station, are among the complement of 19 officers and 57 men on board. Only the chief officer, Commander Wiley, and 3 of the crew are known to have been saved, and the Lakehurst Naval Station telephones that chances of saving the remainder are slight.
THE LAST RADIO MESSAGE
The last wireless communication with the Akron was at 10 o’clock last night, since when thunderstorms have interfered with messages. The Akron landed in the sea near the Barnegat lightship, and a German tanker, the Phoebus, was the first on the scene. The Phoebus rescued the chief officer and 3 of the crew, but the master thinks the remainder were lost. Four coastguard vessels, a cruiser, a destroyer and all craft in the vicinity are rushing to the scene of the disaster, where the wreck of the airship is reported to be afloat still. It is impossible to send an aeroplane owing to a “ceiling” of only 300ft and bad visibility.
Admiral WA Moffett has been the driving force behind America’s enthusiasm for lighter than air craft. From the day when the 2R3, given to America under the reparations agreement, made her historic trip across the Atlantic from Germany, Admiral Moffett has been an advocate of airships as the dreadnought of the skies.
The Akron expressed his ideal, for it had an armament of 16 guns and carried 5 aeroplanes inside the hull. These were equipped for screening the dirigible with smoke or for concerted attacks on enemy warships. The Akron, or ZRS4, was given into the charge of the United States Navy by its constructors, the Goodyear-Zeppelin Company, on August 8, 1931, and the occasion was one of great national rejoicing.
HUGE CAPACITY
The Akron was only a few feet longer than the German giant, the Graf Zeppelin, but it had a gas capacity of 6 500 000 cubic feet, or almost twice that of the Graf Zeppelin. It had a diameter of 133 feet and a lift capacity of 91 tons. The use of helium which is non-inflammable and non-explosive, permitted the incorporation of several new features. Former airships found it necessary to house their engines in gondolas suspended away from the hull itself to avoid the danger of explosion, but the Akron’s eight motors were housed inside the hull, which reduces parasite drag to a minimum. The Akron was 785 ft. in length and the frame of the vessel was made of duralumin to provide lightness and strength. There were 10 000 000 individual numbered parts, 54 000 tiny flat braces and 6 500 000 rivets. The deadweight of the airship empty was about 100 tons.
SEVENTH DISASTER
The crash of the Akron makes the seventh airship disaster since 1921, states the London correspondent of The Star. In February of that year the American dirigible, Roma, exploded at Hampton, Virginia, and 34 people died of injuries. On August 24, 1921, the ZR2 collapsed and exploded over Hull and 42 were killed. The French airship, Dixmude, German-built, was mysteriously lost in a gale with 30 men on board in 1923. The American airship, Shenandoah collapsed in a thunderstorm on September 3, 1925, and 14 were killed. On May 25, 1928, General Nobile’s airship, the Italia, crashed at North Spitzbergen and 14 were killed, and 3 would-be rescuers also lost their lives. 3 years ago, the British airship R101 exploded at Beauvais, France, and 46 were killed.
CAUGHT IN STORM
In May, 1932, the Akron fought a terrific battle with a storm over California, and when attempting to land afterwards broke 3 times from the moorings. 3 youths were hauled into the air clinging to the mooring ropes. 2 fell 200 feet and were killed. The other was rescued after dangling in the air for 3 hours.
REPORT BY MASTER OF THE PHOEBUS
Latest messages received from the German tanker Phoebus indicates that most of the crew of the Akron are lost. The Master of the Phoebus describes how he found mattresses and wreckage floating on the water. He rescued 3 men and saw 3 other men sink before his rescue party could reach them. He describes a thunderstorm and lightning, which might have struck the Akron. He suddenly caught a glimpse of the aircraft with her lights flashing on the water, and he heard men hailing him.
He turned on all the ship’s lights and put out lifeboats towards the dimly discernible lumps of the wreckage. Reuter, New York






More interesting facts about the USS Akron:
The USS Akron was commissioned in October 1931 and had its maiden voyage on November 2, 1931. During a full-blown thunderstorm during the night of April 3-4, 1933, the ship crashed into the stormy Atlantic. Sadly, of the 76 people on-board, most had died of exposure or drowning in the turbulent and freezing cold sea. Incredibly, the Akron had not been equipped with life jackets.
The role of the Akron was to scout for enemy ships and submarines.
It was 785 feet long - over 3 times longer than a Boeing 747 airliner.
Nearly seven and half million cubic feet of volume was displaced.
It had four starboard propellers and the engines’ water reclaiming devices appear as white strips above each propeller.
The emergency rear control cabin was visible in the lower fin.
It could carry up to five small fighter-reconnaissance aircraft.
The plane was launched and retrieved via a trapeze-style mechanism.
Bristled with 8 heavy machine guns, it had a crew of 60.
Range of nearly 7,000 miles. 
With a top speed of 79 miles per hour, it was twice as fast as the latest American Lexington-class aircraft carriers.

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