Royal Naval Air Station Howden

In 1915 the British Admiralty sent two Naval Officers to find a suitable site in the North East of England for an airship station which could be used to protect the shipping using the East Coast ports from the threat of attack by German U-boats.

The Royal Naval Airship Station Howden was opened in 1916. The airship station not only provided protection for the shipping it also provided a livelihood for hundreds of local civilians, which in turn helped to turn around the towns fortunes. Howden had been on a downward trend following the passing of the horse fairs and the building of the port at nearby Goole.

The Air Station consisted of:

Barrack huts, officers quarters, a chapel, YMCA, post office and a pigeon loft, the latter housing the carrier pigeons which were carried, two per airship, so they could be released to carry messages back to the station, if the unreliable radios on board failed or the airship ditched.

Besides the living accommodation, there were the office blocks, technical area, a large hydrogen gas works, electric powerhouse, stores, fuel dump and workshops. All built on the left side of the approached road. 

On the right side of the approach road, were the three airship sheds, one shed for the rigid type airship flanked by two smaller sheds which housed the non-rigid type airship and provided a wind break for the larger shed. 

One casualty of all this building was Brindcommon Farm, which was demolished to clear the approach to the landing field.

By 1919 the RNAS station was to boast  that it housed the largest airship shed in the world. The Number 2 Double Rigid Shed measured 750 feet (228.6 meters) in length and 130 feet (39.624 meters) clearance height at the doors and could have housed 6 Howden Minsters.

Howden Royal Naval Airship Station formally opened on 26th. June 1916. The first airship flight out, the C4, and last airship out (some 13 years latter) was piloted by the same pilot, Sub-Lieutenant Ralph Booth. 

The Howden Pigs

Although only one airship (the R-100) was actually designed and built at Howden between 1923 -29, it was as a training and anti-submarine station that was to be the station's main role in the years between 1916 and 1920. Airships would arrive at Howden on the new rail links that had been constructed right into the station and would be assembled in the sheds or would fly in under their own power. 

Coastal Class C4 Blimp.

The airships: C4, C11,C19 and C21, called locally the "The Howden Pigs", were based at the station and could be seen regularly flying out to patrol the North Sea during the war years.

There were 44 coastal bases established, stretching across the British Isles from Scotland to Cornwall. A total of 225 non-rigid scout class airships flew under British colours, totaling some 88,000 flying hours.  

The Howden station, like many service establishments had its own social life with the Officers, NCOs messes and a YMCA.

Dances, amateur dramatics and sporting events were occasions for letting the hair down. Guests were allowed on the camp, repaying the hospitality of the community. The service personnel also frequented the local taverns establishing a close bond with the townsfolk of Howden and its environs.  

Parachute training was also available at the Howden Station, under the supervision of aircraftsman ‘ Brainy’ Dobbs, whose ingenuity and inventiveness had impressed the keen parachutist Edward Maitland. Dobbs was involved in many of Maitland's experiments with parachutes, and with the development of rubber boats.  The men dropped from a moored balloon, wearing very primitive parachutes, by to-days standards.    

Married personnel were allowed to "live-out" in lodgings in the neighbouring villages or farms. Transport was available on the two railways, the NER and the Hull and Barnsley Railway, providing easy access to Hull in the east and the industrial towns of Yorkshire in the west.

York was a favoured destination the young service personnel with a leave pass.  

The role of the WRNS/WRAF at Howden




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