the success of HMA No. 9, further ships were ordered by the
Admiralty. Along with the Vickers Company, three new contractors
were required to produce rigid ships. The Vickers Company had
already proven themselves with the design and construction of
No. 9 and were the only company with any experience of building
a large ship.
the trials and design success of HMA No. 9, it was agreed that
the Zeppelin threat had to be tackled head on; the Admiralty required
more ships. There were initial problems at the Admiralty with
regards to change of staff and also general opinion regarding
rigid airships, as the successful non-rigid programme was expanding
rapidly. However in June of 1915, along with the Vickers Company,
three new contractors were selected to produce rigid ships.
three new contractors were Beardmore, Armstrong and Whitworth
and finally Shorts Brothers. All three companies were to become
famous in the world of aviation. By October 1915 the drawings
were approved and three ships were ordered. By December the pace
of design and the requirement for big ships had increased dramatically
and a further sixteen ships had been budgeted for by the Admiralty.
All of these ships were to become known as the 23 Class, which
were in effect stretched versions of the original No. 9. The designs
were seen in essence as modified versions of No.9, with an extra
bay inserted in the middle of the ship. A gun platform was added
to the top of the ship designed to take a two pound gun and two
Lewis machine guns. The platform was surrounded by 18 inch sanctions
carrying lifelines. These sanctions could be extended to double
the height in order to carry a canvas windscreen. Three other
Lewis guns were to be fitted at the extreme tail, in the control
car further aft and on the top walking way.
The bomb load was to be greater than that of HMA 9 but none was
actually specified. The ships each possessed an external keel,
to the same pattern as the No. 9. The cabin being 45 feet long
contain crew accommodation, a wireless room and a bomb room. From
the keel further aft were three gondolas which were suspended
below and accessible by open ladders. The ship gondolas also contained
airtight buoyancy bags in case the ships had to alight on water.
This was a technical requirement of all ships since HMA 1 - the
Mayfly. With this rapid expansion of the requirement for airship
production, there were a few problems in that so far, only one
company had actually built a ship and hence had all the facilities.
However to help the programme Vickers provided components to the
other three companies to assist in production. The original ships
were divided out between the various contractors and the registrations
were allocated between them:-
H.M.A 23 - Vickers
In April 1916 the Government approved for a total fleet of 10,
23 class ships, but this was later modified in the light of further
design technology available from Germany. The later ships becoming
the R23X class and the R31 class.
HMA 23 was the first to be completed, and hence the designation
of the class of ships. There were a number of delays in the initial
constructions and the ship was completed on 26th August 1917.
On lift and trim trials, the HMA 23 was found to have a disposable
lift of only 5.7 tons due to the machinery being two tons heavier
than originally estimated. Although not unexpected, the figures
were disappointing and 2 weeks later on the 18th October the Admiralty
decided that the design must be altered. The alterations to the
ships included the removal of dynamos and bomb frames and many
other items which were deemed not necessary were removed.
The measures to be undertaken were aimed at lightening the airships
by the elimination of all unnecessary weight. In addition to removal
of the dynamos, buffer wheels and bomb frames, many other small
items not considered essential were either taken out or replaced
with lighter equipment. The folding tables which had been intended
for the keel cabin were never installed and the original plan
of fitting a two-pounder gun on the top platform was also discarded.
The rear car was replaced by a smaller and lighter one containing
an engine with direct drive to a single two-bladed propeller 13
feet 6 inches in diameter. As there was now no space for the auxiliary
controls, these were transferred to the keel cabin.
of these modifications had already been carried out on the first
three ships, while others followed in due course. Together they
effected a marked, if not substantial, improvement to the airships'
four of the 23 class airships were flown extensively, but although
rather more efficient than No. 9 they still did not provide the
performance which had been hoped for.
23 herself had been commissioned on 15th October 1917, and left
on that day for Pulham. She had a top speed of 52 mph and flew
a total of 8,426 miles in 321 hours and 30 minutes. Although she
carried out some patrols, usually under the command of Captain
I. C. Little, she was used mainly for training and experimental
work. Trials were undertaken in January 1918, at Pulham with a
two-pounder gun in its mounting on the top platform of HMA 23.
The gas valves were placed on either side of the hull rather than
at the top to, avoid risk of escaping gas being ignited during
shells were fired with the gun pointing downwards, but instead
of embedding themselves in the mud of the airfield as expected,
they seem to have ricochet into the surrounding countryside. The
airship took the strain well, although some flexibility was present
which would have adversely affected aiming under combat conditions.
No further action was taken in the matter because of the ever
present weight problem. Later in 1918, HMA 23 was involved in
another experiment, this time to determine whether an aeroplane
could be carried by an airship and released in mid-air either
to repel attackers or to take offensive action on its own account.
A Sopwith Camel was suspended beneath the envelope by specially
the first trial, a dummy was placed in the cockpit and the controls
were locked. As the airship flew over Pulham air station the aeroplane
was released. It glided to the ground, showing that the slipping
gear operated correctly. Another Camel was then taken up, this
time piloted by Lieutenant E. Keys. As the aeroplane left No 23
the pilot had no trouble in starting the engine. He pulled out
of the dive to fly around the airship before landing safely.
provision had been made for retrieval of the aeroplane during
flight, as the intention was that it should make its own return
to base after action. As with other unusual projects tried out
during the war, nothing further was attempted. Similar trials
were held after the war with R.33, and the method was eventually
perfected by the Americans in the early 1930s. A noteworthy departure
from routine training and testing befell No 23 on 6th December
1917, when she was sent to make an unannounced daylight flight
over London, arriving out of the mist from Pulham around midday.
At a low altitude she circled over Buckingham Palace, Whitehall
and the City, where thousands of Londoners clearly saw the lights
twinkling in her gondolas; the red, white and blue roundels on
her envelope and her designation numerals. Wartime censorship
allowed press reports of the incident ("At last. ..a British
Zeppelin"), but the airship's number could not be published,
despite its having been so publicly displayed!
in the following year No 23 flew again over London, on one occasion
accompanied by R.26, but these appear to have been the high points
in an otherwise mundane and unwarlike career. She was deleted
in September 1919.