Unless you are completely oblivious to our culture, you know it is customary to make a fuss over fathers on the third Sunday of June. As of this month, my Dad has been gone 15 years. I miss him still and find myself remembering things we enjoyed together, even after all these years. This week, I decided to look at my DVDs of “Victory At Sea.” For those of you who have NO idea what I’m talking about, “Victory at Sea” was a very early TV series about WWII that focused on the sea war in both the Pacific and European theaters. Each show (there were 26 of them; each was 30 minutes long) was full of original war footage and there was no scripted dialogue - the whole thing was narrated.
I was all of four years old when the series was first televised in 1952, but I remember snuggling up with Dad on the dark green couch and watching it on our new black-and-white TV, fascinated with the ocean and ships but not even remotely understanding the significance of the story line. Dad had only been out of the Air Force for seven years and he really enjoyed the series. I remember we also had an LP (“long-playing”) record (you know - vinyl?!?) of the program’s beautiful music we’d play on our stereo (that would be a radio and record player – with a needle and everything - housed together in a furniture-grade wooden cabinet with two – count ‘em, TWO – speakers embedded in the unit).
Anyway, now that I have dated myself to almost the early Pleistocene period of modern electronics, I watched the first five shows in the “Victory at Sea” series this week and learned something I’d never been aware of. When American and Canadian ships were hauling war materiel and other things to England in ship convoys, they were sitting ducks for German U-boats, which would even torpedo them just off the U.S. eastern seaboard. One of the protections provided to the convoys was overhead coverage by blimps!
I am intrigued by blimps. When I watch golf on TV, I pay more attention to the shots of the MetLife blimp overhead than what's happening on the fairway. A ride in one is on my aviation “bucket list” so learning about their role as convoy protectors immediately got my attention.
The blimps that did this duty were non-rigid “K” class, consisting of an “envelope” holding the helium for lift, and a 40-foot “control car” attached underneath it. There was no superstructure – when deflated, the blimps went completely flat.
The blimps were powered by two radial engines mounted on the sides of the control car - you can just make out the propellers under the blimp in the photo above. The U.S. Navy ordered 134 of them from the Goodyear Aircraft Company in Ohio. These “LTA” (“Lighter Than Air”) aviation units had a crew of ten: a command pilot, two co-pilots, a navigator/pilot, an airship rigger, an ordnance man, two mechanics, and two radiomen. Each blimp carried four depth charges to drop on submarines and had a machine gun for protection. A typical shift for a crew was 12-16 hours, floating over the convoys in all but the worst weather, weather that would ground other patrols. Each crew usually went out on patrol every other day.Blimps operated by the U.S. Navy served in the Atlantic, Pacific and Mediterranean. They did not operate alone – they worked with PBYs and other aircraft patrols. However, their ability to hover quietly directly over the convoys at varying altitudes was a special attribute the other protective units didn’t have.
Speaking of special attributes, Happy Father's Day to all of the male persuasion who love and protect their families and others who depend on them. A special shout-out to those who do this while also protecting and serving the country they love.
The CAF Red Tail Squadron is a volunteer-driven 501c3 non-profit organization that operates under the auspices of the Commemorative Air Force. For more information, please visit redtail.org.