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Airships: Potential PoDs 5 - The Eccentric Tycoon

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
The one big problem with ASW airships wasn't their existence (see: K-blimps) or any facet of their design so much as their inherent lack of support structure. Aerodromes would need to be tailored to them, at-sea handlers would be of critical priority for Transatlantic use (See: USS Pakota) due to weapons stowage and crew endurance, and most importantly the theoretical ASW airships need to have firm backing- because they will absolutely get stolen by fools in 8th AF or Bomber Command for their ability to serve as long-range high-power coordination vehicles or other such malarkey. Fit a radar to one, and I'm sure the degrees of stupid can only increase.
 

AndyC

Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
There is a lot of truth to that, and I think you've put your finger on why they weren't re-invented for the role. After all, technology and manufacturing were far more advanced in this war than in WWI and it went on for longer, yet in WWI, the Royal Navy came up with the Sea Scout blimps rapidly, and even evolved then (from the very rudimentary type I illustrated to less-obviously hammered-to-fit types like the SSZ class:


(seen escorting a convoy in WWI, ironically).

The need for everything along the lines of a support structure being needed means that an existing capability needs to exist first. With the sheds, ground crew, and so on. If they are very-long-range airships (R101, R102/103, Hindenburg-style) then the need for at-sea handlers can be avoided and the amount of work the military forces need to do in the Other Lines of Development (TEPIDOIL: Training, Equipment, Personnel, Information, Doctrine, Organisation, Infrastructure, Logistics) simplify considerably - you're just pressing into use what already exists.

But absolutely - coming up with all of that ab nihilo under war conditions - not happening. You need an existing capability.

It could also be one of the repercussions of the R101 PoD: had that not happened, and the R100, R101, plus increased-capacity R102 and R103 been in operation at the time war broke out (with the even-more-capable R104 either in late design or early construction), then these long-range aircraft just bobbing there would have been ripe for use. ("When you have knives, every problem resembles a steak"). Most of TEPIDOIL is done or easily adjustable from the civilian situation.

The desire for the Bomber Command types to pull them away is also very real, but the fact that these fly very slowly in comparison to most bombers makes them less "sexy" and attractive to the Bomber Harris type people. There's also a fairly disastrous PoD there, though, when all of this was in position and they did misuse them for bomber support, as you suggest they might.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
The desire for the Bomber Command types to pull them away is also very real, but the fact that these fly very slowly in comparison to most bombers makes them less "sexy" and attractive to the Bomber Harris type people. There's also a fairly disastrous PoD there, though, when all of this was in position and they did misuse them for bomber support, as you suggest they might.
The thing is, zeppelins have the thing where a lot of their flight characteristics aren't nearly as tightly tied to their bomb load as a heavier than air craft. You could very feasibly loft a hundred thousand pound bomb load across... five, six ships, and have a seventh along to air-launch a stripped down Hurricanes with trapeze rigs as close air defence. Not much compared to a flight of Lancasters, until you realize you can operate out of some forsaken aerodrome in the Midlands, and they're completely capable of executing circuitous missions and time delay raids in areas thought to be untouchable. They're also very good at nebulous location strikes- Tirpitz would last a month at most before a theoretical airship bomber squadron obliterated her.
 

AndyC

Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
Huh.
Ultra-long-duration / loitering bombing missions.
I hadn't thought of that.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
Huh.
Ultra-long-duration / loitering bombing missions.
I hadn't thought of that.
Loitering and ultra-long duration is quite literally the traits that make them such good submarine hunters- but now you can apply it to turning Kiev into a firebombed hellscape via the expident route of overflying Sweden and Norway and coming in from the north in the Baltic where there's a weak air defense network instead of coming in over the heart of Germany. It's not a straight case of everything a fixed-wing can do, an airship can do better, but in use certain use cases the marginal problems of airships can be negated. Strategic bombing and marine patrol are the two big ones- and everywhere else, airships suck. Take them anywhere within ten miles of a furball, for example, and you'll have Me110s crawling down their throat and murdering them unless they're porcupine nests of Bofors- and then there goes your payload weight!
 

AndyC

Si tacuisses, philosophus mansisses
Patreon supporter
Published by SLP
That provokes further thoughts, and I've ended up numbering them, because that's sort of how I think. The fact that so many come to mind underlines how valuable these discussions can be; the story and ATL prospects are multiple:

1 - The obvious ASW role for airships in the Battle of the Atlantic was real and could have made a difference, but the lack of any airships or support structure precluded them
2 - Once they existed and were used successfully in the first role, other roles would have come about in which they could have been pretty successful (ultra-long-time loitering/deep attacks)
3 - They would also have inevitably been tried in roles where they'd have been badly suited, because that always happens ("The bomber will always get through", for example).
4 - The other side would have evolved attempts to stop them. I think that ASW would have been the hardest to stop (outside of submarine aircraft carriers? Could that even be remotely possible); anti-airship airships would run into aeroplane screen issues (only for ultra-long-range vs ultra-long-range options, but that's still a very evocative idea). You'd probably see redeployment of air defence networks to protect the heartlands that were previously out of range - but that has knock-on effects that they are no longer deployed as per OTL (there's a limit to resources, after all...)
5 - Airship production would be ramped up considerably due to 1,2,3 (and part of 4). This leaves a whole bunch more airships by the end of the war and new roles being searched for.
 

Tabac Iberez

Impetious
Published by SLP
4 - The other side would have evolved attempts to stop them. I think that ASW would have been the hardest to stop (outside of submarine aircraft carriers? Could that even be remotely possible); anti-airship airships would run into aeroplane screen issues (only for ultra-long-range vs ultra-long-range options, but that's still a very evocative idea). You'd probably see redeployment of air defence networks to protect the heartlands that were previously out of range - but that has knock-on effects that they are no longer deployed as per OTL (there's a limit to resources, after all...)
Regarding submarine aircraft carriers:

The few attempted examples were miserable failures on every level. The I-400 class and derivatives were some of the worse sea-boats the IJN ever built, aside from the fact they were useless outside of a biological agent delivery role- and frankly, they were useless for that too. The German attempt at airborne interdiction from underwater (the u-boat flakenviel IIRC, also called the flakbote) meanwhile, was even worse since the fact of the matter is the planes it was attacking would loop back to strafe it. Not a problem, until you realize that enough Hispano fire could compromise the pressure hulls.

The problem for re-alocating air defenses, meanwhile, is that unless airship technology gets both exotic solutions to compete with planes, American walls of funding, and some absolute mad lads to operate them, they're not going to be able to really threaten a lot of the heartland unless something kicks down the door first. The issue is, airships are pretty well capped to 10,000 feet ASL not by technology, but by the crew's physical limitations. For anything over that altitude, oxygen starvation is an issue- which means lugging around an oxygen candle for the ship and air flasks for the crew. This isn't an issue in a bomber, but in an airship where you've got a lot more distance between stations you'd start hitting issues with air delivery quickly. That's all before you find the issues of burning an oxygen candle in the middle of your ship, by the way- good luck figuring out where to put a 600 C tub of burning salt and rust and how the thermal dissipation will affect static lift calculations.

5 - Airship production would be ramped up considerably due to 1,2,3 (and part of 4). This leaves a whole bunch more airships by the end of the war and new roles being searched for.


Practically speaking? You're not going to see a lot of searching for new roles immediately, you're going to see airships getting shoved into boneyards and deteriorating incredibly quickly unless they get sold off to third world powers or the colonies. Gas envelopes degrade relatively quickly, and unless you're willing to build storage barns or have convient caves, they're going to be exposed to working condition wear without maintenance. I'd fully expect the airships to get dragged out for Korea, fail miserably, and then get conceptually abandoned after that since the British MoD is about as good at predicting future needs as a magic 8-ball, and the US War Department is liable to do the standard "generate funds in case of government shenanigans" strategy they always use- dump milsurp gear into the civilian market. Until gas turbines and high-power MAD come around, the dirigible is pretty much a dead letter- and after that, it's strictly MPA only due to the omnipresent threat of Stingers and Saggers.
 

Hendryk

Nothing ever ends
Published by SLP
Location
France
But the early 20th Century also had a considerable number of rich individuals (maybe not quite as noticeable as the tycoons of the 19th century), but if one such had caught the airship bug, it is possible they could have either been more popular at the time of the PoDs above, or even stubbornly remained plying the air lanes.
I went with that option in WIAF, the tycoon in question being Song Ziwen a.k.a. T.V. Soong, one of the richest men in China, who OTL was the brother-in-law of Sun Yat-sen and Jiang Jieshi. He orders two airships from Goodyear Zeppelin in the late 1920s with the intention of starting his own international transport company, only to have one crash in 1932 and the other one be commandeered by the Chinese military at the start of the Sino-Japanese War. The latter shows up in @Bruno's story "The Road to Yakutia" featured in the book. In the end Song's involvement in airships fails to make a difference in the greater scheme of things.
 
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