The luxurious zeppelins got the most attention from historians and the general public, but the smaller, less glamorous blimps stayed in service much longer and performed impressive feats. During the Second World War they patrolled the seas for submarines, and in 1942 one of them, the Resolute, was issued a Letter of Marque – a document last used during the War of 1812 that was usually used to justify attacks that otherwise would have been regarded as piracy. Letters of Marque were issued only to armed vessels, and the blimp did carry one rifle and some depth charges; if someone at the Naval airship office had a sense of history, they might at least have included some cutlasses and muskets. Eyepatches and a parrot would be optional.
Those blimps were called the K-Series, and over 100 of them were built by Goodyear Airship Operations in Akron, Ohio and fitted out to stay in the air for weeks if needed. Two of them made the first crossing of the Atlantic in non-rigid airships, flying round-trip from Massachusetts to Morocco, and others spent long, lonely patrols above the Atlantic, Pacific, and Caribbean seeking U-Boats. Which raised the question – what could be cooked in that cramped cabin to keep up the morale of the crew? The picture below, which was provided by Richard Van Treuren of the Naval Airship Association, gives an answer:
It’s hard to tell precisely what is on that plate, but it included eggs made on a tiny hot plate and coffee brewed in the electric pot that was built into the bulkhead of the blimp. Other meals included beans heated in a small crock, plus whatever meats and cold cuts could be found locally. Some crewmen complained about the blandness of the meals, but whatever was served hot was probably appreciated; according to Mr. Van Treuren, the heating aboard these blimps was so rudimentary that the eggs sometimes froze.
The blimps were very effective at their job, warning convoys and calling in airstrikes on surfaced submarines. Only one naval blimp was lost during the war, short down by a submarine they were attacking with a machine gun and depth charges in an attempt to keep the U-boat away from nearby merchant ships. One crewman died after a shark attack, the only American blimp crewman ever killed in action, and the rest were rescued a few days later. The navy tried to keep the event classified, which prevented the public from appreciating the service of the crew that initiated the last airship attack in history.
There’s a lot more to learn about these naval airships – if you’d like to know more, the Naval Airships Association has a page at http://www.naval-airships.org