The Times

Posted on Jul 2, 2011

The Times

Wednesday 16 July 1919



In the early hours of Tuesday morning an airship was seen to catch fire and fall into the sea off the Norfolk coast. The Sheringham lifeboat at once put out, and salved a small part of the aluminium wreckage. The crew were not found. The Air Ministry have, up to the time of going to press, issued no official statement.

The Airship is the N.S.11, with a crew of two officers and five men, which left Pulham – the station where the R34 landed on her return from America – at about midnight on Monday on mine-sweeping patrol duty. At 1 o’clock there was a severe thunderstorm accompanied by lightning. The cause of the fire will probably never be known. It may have been caused by an accident on board the ship, or she may have run into an electrical storm, such as the R34 encountered on her outward voyage across the Atlantic. Referring to this storm in his log, General Maitland said “such a buffeting a non-rigid airship could never have stood.

There is only one other case of a British airship catching fire in the air, and this was one of an experimental type, which was undergoing trials. The N.S. type of airship is of the non-rigid class with a capacity of 360,000 cubic feet, and is 262ft. in length. She has two Fiat engines of 250h.p. each.


Mr J. T. Elwin, of Newgate, Cley-next-the-Sea, said that he was awakened at 12.30 on Tuesday morning by the noise of an airships engine. He called out to his mother, “I can hear a Zepp., but it is not working right.” “My relations and I watched it from the bedroom window,” continued Mr Elwin. “It appeared at a standstill over neighbouring houses, and was making a lot of noise. I came downstairs and saw it going over Cley Church towards the sea. As it disappeared from my view behind a plantation I noticed a flash come from it, but whether it was simply from the exhaust or anything else I could not say.”

Mr. E. A. Standgroom said that half an hour after the airship had passed over he heard a tremendous explosion, and the whole place was lit up as brightly as day.

Mrs. Catling, also of Pley [sp], said that she saw the airship distinctly. It looked like one of the “Pulham Pigs,” as they call them locally. She watched it go out over the sea and suddenly heard a big explosion. The airship seemed to be one mass of flames.


Mrs G Hudson, of St Margaret’s, Blakeny [sp], said “I heard an airship a little before 12.30 and looked out of my bedroom window. I took my field glasses and located it quite easily as it came from the south-east. It was one of the big silvered type and appeared to be going along splendidly, indeed so gracefully that I turned to my husband and said, “I should not mind being in her.” It continued its journey out of my sight and I got into bed again, but I could not sleep and listened to the noise of the engines in the distance. This lasted for about half-an-hour. The next thing I heard was an awful explosion and I saw a terrific glare. I rushed to the window again with my glasses and saw the airship apparently in its original position.

“While I was watching she suddenly took a header and went down to the sea in flames. Just before she reached the surface she exploded again and flaming fragments were scattered about. With my glasses I saw a black object drop out of the flames. It looked like a parachute, but I could not say definitely what it was. The mass burnt on the surface of the sea for hours. The time of the first explosion was about a quarter to 2 and immediately after it came down in flames. I then heard a peal of thunder and saw a flash of lightning and the rain came down in torrents. I feel confident that the airship was not struck by lightning, because there was no lightning till afterwards.”