The R38 Airship

The R38 Airship in flight - this airship was built and tested at Cardington and crashed in the River Humber 90 years ago on Aug 24 1921 with the loss of 44 lives.

Work started on the R38 by Shorts in 1919 but wasn't completed until 1921 after they had returned to Rochester. The whole airship programme had been dramatically cut at the end of the First World War and due to severe financial constraints it was agreed that the US would purchase this airship with their personnel to be trained in the UK. The ship would then be flown back to America with a US crew. The airship left Cardington in June 1921 and flew to Howden for further testing. During a test flight on August 24th with a half American, half British crew the ship crashed in the River Humber near Hull claiming 44 lives leaving just five survivors. It is known that the R38 held trial flights in Shortstown and Howden and it is highly likely that some of the British crew stayed in Shortstown at the time. It is a very sad fact that very little is remembered about this airship in Bedford today but news of the crash and subsequent loss of lives must have been a devastating blow to the people who had worked on the ship from 1919-1921.

These workers included draughtsmen, engineers, carpenters, riggers and many others some of whom would have lived in the newly built houses in Shortstown. There would also have been teams of women cleaning and gluing together the moleskins which made up the outer skin of the ship.

There are scant records of early residents in Shortstown but in a letter written by a Mr Gordine who lived there as a child from 1918 to the mid 1920's he recalls the R38 crash:

“We all spent the night gathered around the gates waiting for the news especially one survivor named Potter." It is known that Walter Potter (pictured right) had been in the area around this time. He later returned to Shortstown as part of the R101 programme and lived there from 1925-1930. Sadly he lost his life in the R101 crash. Potter Meadows in the new development in Shortstown is named after Walter.

From a press release prior to the R101 flight to India we know that Alfred Hastings (far rightt) had also been assigned to the R38. Fortunately he was not on the ship when it crashed. He later moved to Shortstown with the R101 team and lived here in 1930. Like Walter Potter he was killed in the R101 crash.

R38 crash survivor Flt Sgt Walter Potter
Engineer Alfred Hastings. Also attached to the R38 he was later to lose his life when the R101 crashed .

Engineer Frank Browdie pictured far left was also part of the R38 crew. This man was a highly experienced crew member and had been on board the triumphant R34 trip to America in 1919. Electoral registers show that he lived in Shortstown from 1930 - 1939. It is not known what happened to him after this time - he may have enlisted to serve in WW2. Please make contact if you have information about him.


Frank Noble pictured left was also attached to the R101 team and lived in Shortstown from 1929-1930. Again please make contact if you know anything about him.


Pictured below - two imagaes of the R38 - named the ZR2 by the US


This page first appeared on the Shortstown Heritage website now closed.