signed USS AKRON DOCUMENT AIRSHIP zeppelin autograph
SIX PAGE REPORT ON USS AKRON ON U.S. NAVAL AIR STATION LAKEHURST STATIONARY
SIGNED BY MOODY E. ERWIN, USN
ONE OF ONLY THREE SURVIVORS OF THE 1933 USS AKRON CRASH
REPORT IS DATED 28 MARCH 1960
SIZE: 8 X 11 INCHES - SIX PAGES TYPED ON ONION SKIN PAPER
WITH UNSIGNED TYPED NOTE FROM MOODY STATING THIS ITEM IS FROM HIS PERSONAL SCRAPBOOK
UNIQUE HAND SIGNED AUTOGRAPH REPORT - NOT A REPRINT!
AN ELDERLY MOODY TYPED: "FEB 25 80. DEAR HARRY. THE QUESTION YOU ASK WOULD TAKE ME A WEEK TO ANSWER FULLY. I HAVE A FULL TIME JOB WITH MY BLIND WIFE. I AM SENDING YOU A SIGN PICTURE OF THE SHIP AND A COPY OF MY RETOLD STORY TAKEN FROM MY SCRAP BOOK & A SMALL BUTTON FROM MY FLYING UNIFORM, THE OTHER ONE IS FROM MY DRESS UNIFORM. THIS IS THE BEST I CAN DO. ANYTHING ELSE FROM ANYONE WILL BE IGNORED. AS I HAVE REACHED HTE POINT OF NO RETURN. I HAVE BEEN VERY SICK. THANK YOU FOR SENDING POSTAGE.E YOU ARE THOE ONLY ONE IN OVER 1500 COLLECTORS TO DO THAT. TOLEN[sic] WROTE A BOOK. HE DIDN'T EVEN THANK ME FOR MY TIME. I THINK IT WAS THE SHIP OF THE SKIES. HE MADE A JOKE OF IT. I HOPE THIS WILL HELP YOU A LITTLE. YOURS TRULLY MOODY E. ERWIN "
CONDITION: Very good
OTHER RARE AIRSHIP ITEMS FROM THIS COLLECTION ON EBAY THIS WEEK - DIRECT LINK
USS Akron (ZRS-4) was a helium-filled rigid airship of the United States Navy that was lost in a weather-related accident off the New Jersey coast early on April 4, 1933, killing 73 of the 76 crew and passengers on board. During its accident-prone 18-month term of service, the airship also served as a flying aircraft carrier for launching F9C "Sparrowhawk" biplanes.
At 785 feet (239 m) long, 20 ft (6 m) shorter than the German commercial airship LZ 129 Hindenburg, the Akron and sister airship, the USS Macon (ZRS-5), were amongst the largest flying objects in the world. Although the Hindenburg was longer, it was filled with hydrogen, so the two airships still hold the world record for helium-filled airships.
Construction and commissioning
Construction of the ZRS-4 commenced on October 31, 1929, at the Goodyear Airdock in Akron, Ohio by the Goodyear-Zeppelin Corporation. On November 7, 1931, Rear Admiral William A. Moffett, Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics, drove the "golden rivet" in the ship's main ring. Erection of the actual hull sections began in March, 1930. On May 10th, Secretary of the Navy Charles Francis Adams chose the name Akron and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Ernest Lee Jahncke announced it four days later, on May 14, 1930.
Sample of the duralumin from which the frame of the USS Akron was built
The massive frame of the airship was built of duralumin. Once completed, the Akron could store 20,000 US gallons (76,000 L) of gasoline, which gave it a range of 10,500 miles (16,900 km). Eight gasoline powered engines were mounted inside the hull. Each engine turned one twin-bladed propeller via a driveshaft which allowed the propeller to swivel vertically and horizontally.
On August 8, 1931, the Akron was launched (floated free of the hangar floor) and christened by Mrs. Lou Henry Hoover, the wife of the President of the United States, Herbert Clark Hoover. The Akron's maiden flight took place around the Cleveland, Ohio area on the afternoon of September 23rd with Secretary of the Navy Adams and Rear Admiral Moffett on board. The airship made eight more flights — principally over Lake Erie but ranging as far as Detroit, Michigan, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Columbus, Ohio — before being flown from Akron to the Naval Air Station (NAS) at Lakehurst, New Jersey, where the airship was delivered to the Navy and commissioned on Navy Day, October 27th with Lieutenant Commander Charles E. Rosendahl in command.
On November 2, 1931, the Akron cast off for a maiden voyage as a commissioned "ship" of the United States Navy and cruised down the eastern seaboard to Washington D.C. Over the weeks that followed some 300 hours aloft were logged in a series of flights. Included in these was a 46-hour endurance run to Mobile, Alabama and back. The return leg of the trip was made via the valleys of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers.
Akron's maiden voyage on November 2, 1931, showing four starboard propellers. The engines' water reclaiming devices appear as white strips above each propeller. The emergency rear control cabin is visible in the lower fin.
Participation in a search exercise, January, 1932
On the morning of January 9, 1932, the Akron cleared Lakehurst to work with the Scouting Fleet on a search exercise. Proceeding to the coast of North Carolina, Akron headed out over the Atlantic where it was tasked with finding a group of Guantanamo Bay-bound destroyers. Once located, the airship was to shadow them and report their movements. Clearing the North Carolina coast at 7:21 on the morning of January 10th, the airship proceeded south, but bad weather prevented sighting the destroyers (contact with them was missed at 12:40, although they sighted the Akron) and eventually shaped a course toward the Bahamas by late afternoon. Heading northwesterly into the night, the Akron then changed course shortly before midnight and proceeded to the southeast. Ultimately, at 9:08 am on January 11th the airship succeeded in spotting the light cruiser USS Raleigh (CL-7) and a dozen destroyers, positively identifying them on the eastern horizon two minutes later. Sighting a second group of destroyers shortly thereafter, the Akron was released from the evaluation about 10:00, having achieved a "qualified success" in the initial test with the Scouting Fleet.
As historian Richard K. Smith says in his definitive study, The Airships Akron and Macon, "...consideration given to the weather, duration of flight, a track of more than 3,000 miles (4,800 km) flown, her material deficiencies, and the rudimentary character of aerial navigation at that date, the Akron's performance was remarkable. There was not a military airplane in the world in 1932 which could have given the same performance, operating from the same base."
First accident (February, 1932)
The Akron was to have taken part in Fleet Problem XIII, but an accident at Lakehurst on February 22, 1932, prevented the airship's participation. While being taken from the hangar, the ship's tail came loose from its moorings, was caught by the wind, and crunched into the ground. The heaviest damage was confined to the lower fin area which required repairs before the ship was ready to go aloft again. In addition, ground handling fittings had been torn out of the main frame, necessitating repairs to those vital elements as well. The Akron was not certified as airworthy again until later in the spring. Its next operation occurred on April 28 when the airship made a nine hour flight with Rear Admiral Moffett and Secretary of the Navy Adams aboard.
Testing of the "spy basket"
Soon after returning to Lakehurst to disembark its distinguished passengers, the Akron took off again to conduct a test of the "spy basket" — something like a small airplane fuselage suspended beneath the airship that would enable an observer to serve as the ship's "eyes" below the clouds while the ship herself remained out of sight above them. Fortunately the basket was "manned" only by a sandbag as the contraption proved "frighteningly unstable", swooping from one side of the airship to the other before the startled gazes of the Akron's officers and men. It was never tried again.
Experimental use as a "flying aircraft carrier"
The Akron and the then still under construction Macon (ZRS-5) were regarded as potential "flying aircraft carriers", carrying parasite fighters for reconnaissance. On May 3, 1932, the Akron cruised over the coast of New Jersey with Rear Admiral George C. Day, President of the Board of Inspection and Survey, on board, and for the first time tested the "trapeze" installation for in-flight handling of aircraft. The aviators who carried out those historic "landings," first with a Consolidated N2Y trainer and then with the prototype Curtiss XF9C-1 Sparrowhawk, were Lieutenant Daniel W. Harrigan and Lieutenant Howard L. Young. The following day, the Akron carried out another demonstration flight, this time with members of the House Committee on Naval Affairs on board.
"Coast-to-Coast" flight & second accident (May, 1932)
Following the conclusion of those trial flights, the Akron departed from Lakehurst on May 8, 1932, for the west coast of the United States. The airship proceeded down the eastern seaboard to Georgia thence moved across the gulf plain and continued on over Texas and Arizona. En route to Sunnyvale, California, the Akron reached Camp Kearny in San Diego, California, on the morning of May 11th and attempted to moor. Since neither the trained ground handlers nor the specialized mooring equipment needed by an airship of Akron's size were present, the landing at Camp Kearny was fraught with danger. By the time the crew started the evaluation, the heat of the sun's rays had warmed the lifting helium gas, and the expense of fuel (40 short tons (36 t)) during the transcontinental trip had further lightened the airship making the Akron all but uncontrollable.
Stills from the May 11, 1932, incident: the two pictures on the left and picture at far right are of Seaman Cowart; the picture 2nd from right shows Henton and Edsall before their fatal fall
The mooring cable was cut to avert a catastrophic nose-stand by the errant airship and the Akron headed up. Most men of the mooring crew, predominantly "boot" seamen from the Naval Training Station San Diego, let go of their lines. One man was carried 15 feet (4.6 m) into the air before he let go and suffered a broken arm in the process while three others were carried up even farther. Two of these men — Aviation Carpenter's Mate 3d Class Robert H. Edsall and Apprentice Seaman Nigel M. Henton — lost their grips and fell to their deaths. The third, Apprentice Seaman C. M. "Bud" Cowart, clung desperately to his line and made himself fast to it before he was hoisted aboard the Akron one hour later. Nevertheless, Akron managed to moor at Camp Kearny later that day and proceeded thence to Sunnyvale. The tragic accident was captured on Newsreel film.
West coast flights
Over the weeks that followed, the Akron "showed the flag" on the west coast, ranging as far north as the Canadian border before returning south in time to exercise once more with the Scouting Fleet. Serving as part of the "Green" Force, the Akron attempted to locate the "White" Force. Although opposed by Vought O2U Corsair floatplanes from "enemy" ships, the scout ship managed to locate the opposing forces in just 22 hours — a fact not lost upon some of the participants in the exercise in subsequent critiques.
Akron over Lower Manhattan.
In need of repairs, the Akron departed Sunnyvale on June 11th bound for Lakehurst on a return trip that was studded with difficulties, principally due to unfavorable weather, and arrived on June 15th after a "long and sometimes harrowing" aerial voyage.
The Akron underwent a period of voyage repairs upon returning from the west coast, and in July took part in a search for the Curlew, a yacht which had failed to reach port at the end of a race to Bermuda. (The yacht was later discovered safe off Nantucket.). The scout ship then resumed operations capturing aircraft on its "trapeze" equipment. Admiral Moffett again boarded the Akron on July 20th, but the next day left the airship in one of her N2Y-1s which took him back to Lakehurst after a severe storm had delayed the airship's own return to base.
Further tests as "flying aircraft carrier"
Akron entered a new phase of her career that summer engaging in intense experimentation with the revolutionary "trapeze" and a full complement of F9C-2s. A key element of the entrance into that new phase was a new commanding officer, Commander Alger Dresel.
Third accident (August, 1932)
Unfortunately, however, another accident hampered this vital training on August 22nd when the Akron's tail fin became fouled by a beam in Lakehurst's massive Hanger No 1 after a premature order to commence towing the ship out of the mooring circle. Nevertheless, rapid repairs enabled eight more flights over the Atlantic during the last three months of 1932. These operations involved intensive work with the trapeze and the F9C-2s, as well as the drilling of lookouts and gun crews.
Among the tasks undertaken were the maintenance of two aircraft patrolling and scouting on the Akron's flanks. During a seven-hour period on November 18, 1932, the airship and a trio of planes searched a sector 100 miles (160 km) wide.
Return to the fleet
After local operations out of Lakehurst for the remainder of 1932, the Akron was ready to resume operations with the fleet. On the afternoon of January 3, 1933, Commander Frank C. McCord relieved Commander Dresel as commanding officer, the latter USS Macon's first captain. Within hours, the Akron headed south down the eastern seaboard toward Florida where, after refueling at the Naval Reserve Aviation Base, Opa-locka, Florida, near Miami, the next day, proceeded to Guantánamo Bay for an inspection of base sites. At this time the N2Y-1s were used to provide aerial "taxi" service to ferry members of the inspection party back and forth.
Soon thereafter, the Akron returned to Lakehurst for local operations which were interrupted by a two-week overhaul and poor weather. During March, the rigid airship carried out intensive training with an aviation unit of F9C-2s, honing hook-on skills. During the course of these operations an overfly of Washington DC was made March 4, 1933, the day Franklin D. Roosevelt took the oath of office as President of the United States.
On March 11, the Akron departed Lakehurst bound for Panama stopping briefly en route at Opa-Locka before proceeding on to Balboa where an inspection party looked over a potential air base site. While returning northward the rigid airship paused at Opa-Locka again for local operations exercising gun crews with the N2Y-1s serving as targets for the gunners before getting underway for Lakehurst on March 22nd.
On the evening of April 3, 1933, the Akron cast off from the mooring mast to operate along the coast of New England, assisting in the calibration of radio direction finder stations. Rear Admiral Moffett was again on board along with his aide, Commander Harry B. Cecil, Commander Fred T. Berry, the commanding officer of NAS Lakehurst, and Lieutenant Colonel Alfred F. Masury, USAR, a guest of the admiral, vice-president of the Mack Truck Co., and strong proponent of the potential civilian uses of rigid airships.
The Akron soon encountered severe weather, however, which did not improve when the airship passed over Barnegat Light, New Jersey at 10:00 pm as wind gusts of terrific force struck its massive airframe unmercifully. The airship was being flown into an area of lower barometric pressure than at take-off which caused the actual altitude flown to be lower than that indicated in the control gondola. Around 12:30 am on April 4, the Akron was caught by an updraft followed almost immediately by a downdraft. Commander McCord, the captain, ordered full speed ahead, ballast dropped. Executive officer, Lt. Cdr. Herbert V. Wiley, handled the ballast and emptied the bow emergency ballast. Coupled with the elevator man holding nose up, this caused the nose to rise and the tail to rotate down. Akron's descent was only temporarily halted, however, and downdrafts forced the airship down farther. Wiley activated the 18 'howlers' of the ship's telephone system, a signal to landing stations. At this point the airship was nose up at between 12 and 25 degrees.
The Engineering Officer called out "800 feet" (240 m), which was followed by a 'gust' of intense violence. The steersman reported no response to his wheel as the lower rudder cables had been torn away. While the control gondola was still hundreds of feet high, the lower fin of the Akron had struck the water and was torn off. ZRS-4 rapidly broke up and sank in the stormy Atlantic. The Akron had been lost owing to operator error having been flown into the sea while operating in an intense storm front. The crew of the nearby German motorship Phoebus saw lights descending toward the ocean at about 12:23 and altered course to starboard to investigate believing they were witnessing a plane crash. At 12:55 an unconscious Commander Wiley was pulled from the water while the ship's boat picked up three more men: Chief Radioman Robert W. Copeland, Boatswain's Mate Second Class Richard E. Deal, and Aviation Metalsmith Second Class Moody E. Ervin. Despite desperate artificial respiration, Copeland never regained consciousness and died aboard the Phoebus.
Although the German sailors spotted four or five other men in the stormy seas, they did not know their ship had chanced upon the crash of the Akron until Lieutenant Commander Wiley regained consciousness half an hour after being rescued. The crew of the Phoebus combed the ocean in boats for over five hours in a dogged but fruitless search for more survivors. Navy blimp J-3, sent out to join the search also crashed with the loss of two men.
The United States Coast Guard cutter Tucker, the first American vessel on the scene, arrived at 06:00 and took aboard the Akron's survivors and the body of Copeland. Among the other ships which relentlessly combed the area for more survivors were the heavy cruiser Portland, the destroyer Cole, the Coast Guard cutter Mojave, and the Coast Guard destroyers McDougal and Hunt, as well as two Coast Guard planes. Most of the casualties had been caused by drowning and hypothermia as the crew had not been issued life jackets and there had not been time to deploy the single life raft. The accident left 73 dead making it the deadliest air crash up to the time. Wiley, standing next to the two other survivors, gave a brief account on April 6th.
Aftermath of the loss of the USS Akron
The Akron's loss spelled the beginning of the end for the rigid airship in the US Navy, especially since one of its leading proponents, Rear Admiral Moffett, was killed with 72 other men. As President Roosevelt commented afterward: "The loss of the Akron with its crew of gallant officers and men is a national disaster. I grieve with the Nation and especially with the wives and families of the men who were lost. Ships can be replaced, but the Nation can ill afford to lose such men as Rear Admiral William A. Moffett and his shipmates who died with him upholding to the end the finest traditions of the United States Navy."