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Contemporary news cutting showing plan of R39 compared to that of the R33 dated 23.07.19
Another contemporary news cutting showing the ring of the R39 on the floor of the shed.
One of the main rings under construction showing both men and women working on the ring.

News paper cutting from Associated Press News showing the R39 framework and central keel (Edition Dated 20th August 1919)

Status Incomplete: Canceled during construction
Length 699ft
Diameter 85.5ft
Height 93ft
Speed 72mph

6 x 350hp

Volume 2,740,500cft
Total Lift 82.5 tons
Disposable Lift 45.5 tons
Pressure height / Altitude 22,000 ft
Endurance 65 hours full speed
Armstrong Whitworth and the second Admiralty A' Class Ship.

The original plans for the R39 were laid down as part of an order by the Government for a series of ships at the latter part of the First World War.

Design Specifications

In June of 1918 the Admiralty made requirements for a ship to be built which would "be required to patrol the North Sea for six days without support, as far as 300 miles from a home base." It was to have a combat ceiling of 22,000ft, and was required to carry enough fuel for 65 hours at full speed of 70.6 mph. It was agreed that a further series of ships ship be ordered and the new ships, classed as "Admiralty A Class".

Armstrong Whitworth company had already been one of the major manufacturers of airships during the early part of the First World War, and their experience as an aircraft and armaments manufacturer meant that they were one of the four main manufacturers assigned to take on Admiralty order. The company had already gained experience and skills with building the R25, R29 and R33 airships. The R33 was nearing completion when the order was given for the construction of the R39.

The Armstrong Whitworth shed was located at their Barlow works just some 3 miles south of Selby, Yorkshire. With the launch of the R33 on 6th March 1919, the shed was vacated and construction could begin on the R39. The R39 was to follow the same design specification of the R38 which had begun construction in the Short's Brothers shed at Cardington. Work had commenced on the R38 in February of 1919, and so work was begun on the R39 at the same time, with the first rings and jigs being laid down in February of 1919 when the shed had become vacant. The R33 had completed it's outdoor trials and been flown down to it's new base at Pulham in Norfolk.

The design of the ship was to ensure that it would be able to offer not only communications role but also the ship was also to be armed for the defense of ships on escort duty and for attacking other aggressors:

R 39 Proposed Armament

4x 520 lb of bombs8x 230lb of bombs

1x 1pdr gun on gun platform on the top of the ship

12 pairs of machine guns spread along the top of the ship, the lower gun pit, and throughout the gondolas.


L70 crash and the "New Blueprint"


Fortuitously for the Admiralty team, or so it appeared at the time, almost immediatley following the decision to commence the design of the new ships. The large quantities of the wreckage of the latest L70 Zeppelin had been recovered from the sea following the downing of the L70 off the coast of Great Yarmouth on 5th August. The Admiralty team were very much influenced by the data and material they had obtained, and with so much material at their disposal from this, the most advanced of the German Navy's Zeppelins. The design team headed up by Campbell must have felt that they had been presented with a blueprint for their new class of airship. The Admiralty team were very much influenced by the data and material the had obtained, leading them to assume it could be successfully replicated in the same way the R33 had been based on the downed L33. Unfortunately they were unaware of the dangers that were inherent in the German design.



Construction had begun in February, as the shed was being freed up as the R33 was complete and space was available in the shed, and continued at a rapid pace. Over the next few months a number of rings had already been fabricated and constructed, but later August of 1919 just after the Armistice finally signed, with many of the main rings completed, and framework in place, the order for the R39 was canceled during construction, and so work ceased on the ship.

The girderwork which had been already completed was dismantled and shipped to the Shorts Brothers facility at Cardington distributed between the R37 and R38, whose orders had not been canceled at that time.

Recent research has uncovered that some £90,000 (£4,682,000 in 2019) was spent on the design and construction of the R39 (compared to the completed R80 which was completed at a cost of £275,000 or £14,306,000 in 2019) which shows a considerable amount of work had been started on the ship. The only image we have is of the plan showing the silhouette of the ship, being the same as the R38 class on which it was based.

Source : Hansard Records 1925

Related ships: R38, R37

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