Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 2

Cloud Shadows on the Atlantic

Cloud Shadows Thrown Upon the Atlantic.
Photo by Major Pritchard taken from the R 34.

The R34 is up and away, having taken off a little before midnight on the 9th of July. Promising the people of New York City a flyover, the zeppelin heads west and is soon over the city. General Maitland recorded the event:

New York at night looks wonderful from a height of 1000 feet — miles and miles of tiny bright twinkling lights. We wonder if it is necessary to go higher to avoid bumping into the “skyscrapers”, so Scott puts her up to 1500 feet to be quite sure! The searchlights at first make some very unsuccessful attempts to find us, and their beams are “feeling” through the sky in every direction. Finally they get us fair and square over Fifth Avenue.

The Times Square, Broadway, is a remarkable sight—we see thousands of upturned faces in spite of the early hour (1 am), and the whole scene is lit up by the gigantic electrical sky signs.

The air over New York feels very disturbed, partly owing to the approaching cyclone from the Great Lakes, of which we have already had warning, and partly also to the heat rising upwards from the city itself; in spite of this the ship is very steady.

Flyover completed, the R34 turns east and begins her 3000 mile journey home. With a strong tail wind to start her voyage, the ship is making nearly 80 miles an hour ground speed. The weather is good and the day is quiet and routine.

Lunch, served at noon, is cold bologna sausage and pickles, stewed pineapple, and a ration of rum. Maitland notes the rum “is much appreciated, as the weather has turned much colder.”

By 4.50 pm, the R34, with the help of the wind, had covered a third of the distance home, when the General noted the wind had finally dropped and the sea below them was a deep blue.

At 6.15 pm a five-masted schooner is sighted about 5 miles away and Maitland is quick to observe “What an interesting contrast between the old and the new — the sailing ship and the airship!”

Supper was served at 8 pm and consisted of “fresh boiled eggs and cocoa, preceded by a cocktail mixed by Scott. Apparently some Thermos flasks full of cocktail ingredients had been handed in by some anonymous well-wisher, and we try them as an experiment. Decide they are just as good in the air as on the ground!”

Not mentioned in any secondary source I have on the voyage is the gramophone that was on board. The officers and crew of the R34 indulged in some high-flying jazz!

Maitland also noted the very favorable impression everyone had of the Americans they’d met and that “Quite a number of charming ladies declared their intention of making the return trip as ‘stowaways’, and the ship was carefully searched before starting.”

With cocktails, jazz, and fond remembrances, the men of the R34 motor on into the night.

Stay tuned! There’s more to come on this epic voyage!

Interior of R34

Interior of R 34 showing Walking Way and Petrol Tanks.
Taken on board during flight by Major Pritchard.

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Zeppelin Mania: R34’s Flight Home Day 1

R34 flying just above a depression copy

R 34 Flying Just Above Dense Clouds On The Outskirts of a Depression.
This illustration shows a typical cloud horizon.
(From General Maitland’s published logbook.)

All good things must come to an end, so it is said. For 3 days the crew of the R34 have partied hearty. However, bad weather was on the horizon and Major Scott makes the decision to take off and head for home before the forecast storm hits.

From General Maitland’s log:

Time 11.30 p.m. (New York summer time)—It is very dark, and the wind is gusting up to thirty miles per hour on the ground.

Our final preparations are made in the ghostly light of powerful searchlights.

We have made hosts of friends during our three wonderful days in America, and they are all here on the ground to see us off.

11.40 p.m.—Last farewells. Crew are all aboard and Scott releases ballast to ensure the ship being light when starting. At the last moment another bag of mails and a case of rum are thrown in through the open window of the forward car.

11.54 p.m. (July 9th, New York summer time, or 3.54 a.m., July 10th, Greenwich mean time).—Away.

A great cheer comes up to us as we rise into the sky and steer straight for New York…

Again that strange feeling of loneliness—as sudden as it is transient.

And the R34 is away! Motoring into the night sky on her way from Long Island to the heart of the Big Apple.

[Note:—While in the midst of last minute research, I made the most wonderful discovery: The Log of H.M.A. R34: Journey to America and Back by Air-Commodore E.M. Maitland.

What an exciting find! The book is available online and in ebook form at https://archive.org/details/logofhmajourney00maitrich

General Maitland, with wit, humor, and an eye to the poetic, gives us a most extraordinary travelogue. This book is his actual log that he kept almost minute by minute on the R34’s voyage to America and back. The publishing of he log in 1920 is made all the more important by the fact General Maitland died in the R38 tragedy the following year. His death was a huge blow to the British rigid airship program.

For me, having relied on a host of secondary sources for my accounting of the voyage, the discovery of his log emphasized the importance of primary sources in research. For according to General Maitland, the rough journey depicted in the secondary sources of the flight to America simply wasn’t the case. There were only a couple episodes of violent movement, according to Maitland. At all other times the ship’s movements were slow and deliberate. Nothing like a storm-tossed ship on the sea. He makes numerous comments of never feeling “seasick” or more appropriately, as he noted, “airsick”.

However, not being able to find the source of the “rough” journey stories, I must consider the political aspects. General Maitland was a dyed in the wool airshipman. He wrote numerous times of the future airliners and what the R34’s flight demonstrated was needed in them. His job was to make an assessment of the feasibility of long-distance airship travel. Could it be the General “softened” his account of the actual conditions? Possible. After all, he needed to convince the Air Ministry bureaucrats that airliners were not only possible but desirable.

So where did my secondary sources get their “rough” journey information? Perhaps newspaper accounts drawn from the crew members, who may have exaggerated the dangers to make themselves look even more heroic and to please the journalists looking for a hot story.

Whatever the case, and hopefully I can find out by the time of the R34’s centenary in 2019, do read the log. It is an exciting and extraordinary travelogue. An adventure back in time as well as to a fantasy land that exists above the clouds.]

There is more to come as the R34 makes her way home to Britain. So stay tuned for tomorrow’s adventure!

R34 moored out at Mineola copy

R 34 moored out at Mineola. Viewed by searchlight.
(From the published logbook of General Maitland.)

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