R101, 75 years on

R101 riding at her home mast

'R101 RIDING AT HER HOME MAST. Set in a frame of typical English countryside beauty, R101, product of modern engineering and cornerstone of Britain's hopes of commercial air supremacy, rides at her mast at Cardington, in Bedfordshire. This mooring mast was specially built to facilitate the handling of Britain's largest airships, R100 and R101, which were completed in the autumn of 1929.'

It was the 75th anniversary of the R101 disaster a few days ago. The R101 - then the largest aircraft ever constructed - crashed in stormy weather in France, early on 5 October 1930, on its way to Karachi in British India (now Pakistan). Out of 54 passengers and crew, 48 died in the crash or shortly thereafter, including the Secretary of State for Air, Lord Thomson, and his Director of Civil Aviation, Sefton Brancker. With the onset of the Slump, and the Labour government's political difficulties, the state-sponsored scheme to bind the Empire together by airship was difficult to sustain; after R101, it was abandoned.It has been suggested that Thomson's triumphant return from India might have at least reinvigorated Ramsay Macdonald and his government, but we'll never know. See John Duggan and Henry Cord Meyer, Airships in International Affairs, 1890-1940 (London: Palgrave, 2001), 175-6. Britain eventually scrapped its other (and more successful) large airship, the R100, and shelved plans for the even bigger R102 and R103. The Karachi base was never used. No more airships were built in the UK until 1951.

Image and caption source: John Hammerton, ed., War in the Air: Aerial Wonders of our Time (London: Amalgamated Press, n.d. [ca. 1935]), 638.

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6 thoughts on “R101, 75 years on

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  2. Brett Holman

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    Hey cool, a trackback! My very first one. And from the History Carnival, no less. But for some reason WordPress has neglected to mention the author's name or link to the originating post: Acephalous. How irritating.

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