the Royal Naval Dockyards based at Chatham in Kent, on the
river Medway, it was seen as a high priority to establish
an airship base close by at the mouth of the Thames.
early as October 1912, negotiations by the admiralty were
commencing with local land owners to buy land. In January
1913 estimates were being drawn up for the costs of the
constructional and operational airship sheds needed.
Kingsnorth project was ambitious from the outset.Messrs
Hill and Smith of Brierley Hill, Staffordshire commenced
work on building the steel framed shed in April 1913. In
July of 1913, Vickers had been awarded the contact for the
second shed, but this was to be built out of prefabricated
materials which were imported and assembled from Germany.
Vickers had also been awarded the contract for construction
of the hydrogen plant. A network of roads were created over
the wet marshlands of Northern Kent, along with a small
power station, stores, engineering workshop garage, blacksmiths
forge, and explosive store. A housing block was also erected
for the officers and men.
commissioned in March of 1914, the large timber and metals
sheds were nearing completion at this time, but work was
still remaining to be completed on many of the other buildings.
Over the next 4 years up to 1918, a large scale programme
continued with the expansion of the station. In August of
1914, a further 81 acres was annexed off from Barton Farm
nearby to ensure there would be enough land for airship
the looming threat of the German airforce, a set of anti
aircraft guns were positioned on the base, close to the
offices quarters in November 1914.
The first two airships based at RNAS Kingsnorth were used
to escort troopships carrying the British Expeditionary
Force to France during the summer of 1914. Astra Torres
No.3 and Parseval No.4 were based and used Kingsnorth as
their patrol base for the outer reaches of the Thames and
the English Channel
number 1 being extended
the end of August 1914, the Astra Torres No.3 was deployed
to Ostend. The ship was sent back as the General in charge
claimed to have no use for it, however it proved so useful
in directing the guns from the Royal Navy ships for locating
the enemy fleet vessels, the General wanted to do nothing
else but scouting for them. However the airship was extremely
vulnerable to enemy fire, that it was decided to return it
back to Kingsnorth. An additional Astra Torres ship was later
diverted to Kingsnorth to be used for patrolling the English
As the war continued, and further more local airship bases
at RNAS Polegate and RNAS Folkstone, with the new submarine
scout class of airships, the function of RNAS Kingsnorth for
guarding the Thames approaches began to diminish. The local
Commander in Chief wrote to the Admiralty requesting three
additional SS class airship to be based at such a strategic
location, however the request was turned down by the Director
of the Air Service on the grounds that it was not considered
practical. The main reason behind this decision was that the
sheds at Kingsnorth would be used for the building of the
new Coastal Class airship class. Despite the request being
turned down, there was always on SS Class ship at Kingsnorth
to be called upon for patrol duties.
the rush to create and build the new Submarine and by 1915,
the new enlarged ship, the Coastal Class patrol ship, in
the early part of 1915, there were only less than one hundred
British men who could actually fly an airship. It was then
decided that the role of RNAS Kingsnorth would be to use
the station as a training station. The pupils whom had completed
the free ballooning courses and ground instruction at RNAS
Wormwood Scrubs, would then be passed on to RNAS Kingsnorth
for immediate instruction at an operational airship station.
training was given to the pupils, and due to the requirements
for qualified pilots, that the initial stage was omitted
and pupils found themselves on the immediate instruction
course at an operational airship base. Intensive training
was given in both theory and practice at Kingsnorth. The
pupils could find themselves on courses learning aeronautics,
navigation, metrology, engineering, and of course, flying
lessons. Instruction would be given in Submarine Scout ships
which were perfectly suited for instruction as they had
a two seater configured fuselage. The instructor would sit
in the Captains seat in the rear, and the pupil in the font
seat. The instructor would initially fly the ship and pupil
would observe and feel the ship. After a few take off and
landings, and if the instructor felt the pupil worthy enough,
then they would swap seats and the pupil take the controls.
the summer of 1916, mid war, Submarine Scout ships SS.14
and SS.31 were used on patrol, and Coastal Ship C.1 was
used for training purposes.
Kingsnorth was often used for experimental ships, for example
where new engines were fitted to ships. The Submarine Scout
S.S. 31 was retained for training and also doubled up as
an experimental platform. In 1917 RNAS Kingsnorth, as it
had done with its use as a patrol base, lost its
role as an instructional base, and the pupils were transferred
to the newly opened RNAS Cranwell, instead.
Kingsnorth retained its experimental work up until
the end of 1917, and the airships A.P.1 was constructed
there. The A.P.1 was an experimental fighter airship
which was the envelope of a Submarine Scout ship, was used
to lift the B.E.2 aeroplane in to the air. The plane would
then detach itself from the envelope at high altitude, and
them fight approaching Zeppelin bombers. The first such
flight was meant to be carried out in the summer of 1915,
but some faults were discovered, and the fist test was postponed
until the first flight on 21st February 1916. Wing Commander
Neville Usborne, and Sqn Leader de Courtney of Ireland,
were volunteered to test fly the the fighter airship
As an experienced airship pilot, Osborne was responsible
for the take off, and Ireland would handle the landing.
liftoff went as planned, however at the moment of the aeroplanes
release, some 4,000ft above Strood, something went wrong.
The envelope began to deflate, and the ship began to descend,
and where as three independent hooks which were holding
the aeroplane below the envelope were meant to disengage
simultaneously, one failed to disengage, and the plane fuselage
became entangled in the descending envelope. In an attempt
to disengage the aeroplanes body, Ireland tried to crawl
along the fuselage, however he lost his grip and fell to
his death. Usborne was still still strapped in to his seat
in the fuselage, and fell to earth. His body was later recovered.
A second experimental ship A.P.2 had been completed, but
after this tragedy, never flown. It was two years later
that the idea of launching an aeroplane from an airship
was successfully accomplished by the R33, launching a plane
at RNAS Pulham. Although the loss of Usborne and Ireland
was indeed a tragedy, accidental involving experimental
flights from RNAS Kingsnorth were very rare.
November 1914, airship No.3 was used for towing experiments
behind a Royal Naval Vessel. Later in March 1916 the same
experiment was undertaken using the larger Coastal airship
to see if their range could be extended by this method.
To help with planning this, a large area of the landing
area of RNAS Kingsnorth was marked out to represent the
afterdeck of a destroyer. A Coastal crew practiced their
skill by accurately dropping a trail rope on to the mock
ship and being attached to it. On May 12th 1916, Coastal
C.1 flew in to Harwich harbour where it attached to a cruiser
before being towed out to open sea. The Commander of Harwich
Naval Force R.Tyrwhitt declared his approval at the handling
of airships and the skills of the pilots.
Kingsnorth saw other experiments, the SS 14 was used to
test a new grappling hook. When dropped from from 250ft
the hook could penetrate hard turf to a depth of 12 inches,
and in soft ground, to a depth of 6 feet. Mooring experiments
were undertaken, and more importantly trial using a mooring
mast. Various trials were also carried out with bombs, and
different types of machine guns fire from the experimental
the expansion of the constructional side of the airship
station, a new branch line was added in 1915 connecting
the station to Hoo in the south and then on to the main
line to London.
Kingsnorth became a design base, with the Coastal Class,
North Sea Class, being designed and all prototypes being
constructed here. The design office grew from only one draughtsman
at the onset of war, which rapidly grew to a team of forty
nine by 1916. The sheds became a constructional station,
with parts commissioned and arriving from many different
sources. There was an engine test house to check the performance
of the engines which arrived, a chemical research laboratory,
and a miscellaneous instrument and experiment workshop.
the turn of 1918, Kingsnorth and its extensive facilities
has focused purely on airship assembly. With the exception
of test flights by newly assembled airships, there was very
little flying from the station.
1919, despite large investment in the site, the extensive
facilities, which had been extended to and added to the
RNAS station since 1914, it was rapidly demobilised. Due
to its location, it became a repository for live mines,
some 4,400 of them were stored in the iron shed
and deactivated mines, of unknown quantity, were stored
in the wooden shed. In March 1919 came the decision to close
the RNAS station, and by August of the same year, the drawing
office was closed. It was reviewed and discussions made,
due to its proximity to London and the lower Home
Counties, to convert the base to a civilian base, for the
future plans for civilian airship services, however this
was later scrapped. In 1920, it was decided to put the site,
the buildings and laboratories, the two airship sheds and
107 other buildings up for sale.
the later 1920s the sheds and some of the technical
buildings were used for wood pulping. The accommodation
blocks were converted into workmans houses. One of
the two airship sheds was still standing in 1939.
the second half of the 20th century, an oil refinery sited
close by took the last of the original buildings. Today
the site on the estuary is home to two other power stations,
and a large coal fired station, with a 600 foot chimney
marks the site of the old RNAS Kingsnorth airfield. The
coal fired power station stopped generating electricity
in 2012, and is planned for demolition. The site also forms
part of a North Kent nature reserve.