The Smaller and Older Mighty K-Ships

"No Ship Has Ever Been Sunk Patrolled by a Blimp"

K-ship escort WWII

The K-ships were a lot smaller than the Nan-ship but have a much more colorful and longer history. The first K-ships were built in 1941. In World War II K-ships made 55,900 operational flights of over 550,000 hours. During that war 89,000 surface ships were escorted by K-ships. Not a single one of these surface ships was lost to enemy submarines. The submarines feared the presence of the airship in spite of the fact that there is no public record of an airship ever sinking an enemy submarine. One airship, K-74, was shot down in the Florida Straits in July 1943 by the German U-boat U134 when the airship flew over the sub, and the depth charges failed to explode on the sub. During WW II the airships also conducted search and rescue, patrol, photography, and mine laying. Recently released classified documents may prove that there were other sub - blimp encounters, too.

Interier of k-ship car.

I only flew a few missions in our squadron K-ships. I remember them as cold, crowded, and uncomfortable. They had a radar, sonobuoy receivers, magnetic detection equipment (MAD), and radios. Shortly after I arrived at the base the K-ships were phased out of our airship squadron and replaced by the bigger ZPG-2N. We generally called it the "Nan ship".

The K-ship was much smaller than the Nan-ship, and it required fewer ground handlers. Also, the missions were usually just day-long flights. The Nan-ship got its name from the fact that it was the series "N" airship in the list of lettered airships.

K-ship at Weeksville N.C.

This snapshot of a k-ship was taken at Weeksville, North Carolina. Notice the hangar doors are the "clam shell" type. Lakehurst blimp hangars were different.

The proud record that these K-ships had during WWII certainly says a lot about the brave crews that flew them. WWII K-ships had radar, sonobuoys, MAD, depth charges, contact bombs, a machine gun, and during the latter stages of the war, homing torpedoes. However, the capabilities of the Nan-ship were dramatically improved over the K-ship. The Nan-ship had sonobuoys, passive electronic counter-measures (ECM), Magnetic Anomaly Detector (MAD), and powerful radar that could spot garbage from the ships floating miles away on the water. I know, because one time during an exercise I thought some garbage was a periscope and we scrambled some carrier aircraft out to the garbage to make a "kill".

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Here is an old Navy blimp toilet story:
My first flight was a day flight in a k-ship. I was the second radioman flying that day, just for training. There wasn't much to do except try to stay out of the way and drink coffee. Soon I had enough coffee to start looking for the "latrine". I asked my buddy, sitting at the radioman's position on the starboard about midship, where I could relieve myself. He pointed, behind his position to a rubber hose approx. 3 ft long with a black plastic funnel (approx. 2" diam and 6" long) hanging on a hook on the bulkhead. That was the "urinal" and it simply drained outside into the ocean (hopefully). No privacy. No place to wash. Just enough equipment to get the job done with Navy efficiency.

Interier of k-ship car.

For more serious jobs there was other equipment with no unnecessary frills (Thank you Goodyear.). In the aft of the car was a galley area with a couple of places to sit plus a round (approx 12" dia. x 15" h) can-like thing with lid. No screen or privacy was provided, for space was very limited. To operate this utility (should one be so unfortunate as to need it), one would place a waterproofed paper bag (with some sort of plastic or waxed interior) in the "can" and hope the earlier bombing practice would help to hit the target.

During the brief period of k-ship operations before the squadron received the ZPG-2N "Nan" ships, there were a few incidences involving the operation of the k-ship "can" that produced stories to re-tell at the bar endlessly. One story involved one of our enlisted radiomen who had some serious gastrointestinal problems after a rough night at the Airship Tavern not far down the road outside the Lakehurst main gate. The mission that day was to take some "high-ranking Navy wheel" for a short ride in one of the last k-ships. During the flight, lunch was prepared in the "galley" (such as it was - see snapshot above) for the "wheel". With most inappropriate timing, the radioman had to use the can, which was in the "galley" area. No two people ever ignored each other so tactfully while each went about their business.

The ZPG-2N "Nan" ships that replaced the k-ships had great improvements for crew rest and survival on the long flights.

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© Copyright 2002, revised 2014 by Lawrence Rodrigues
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