Memories: Lima’s links to the ZR-2 disaster in 1921

One lived in Lima with his family in his youth, while the other often spent summer vacations with cousins ​​in the Spencerville area, where his father grew up. Both eventually joined the US Navy, and both were part of a selected crew tasked with bringing the designated ZR-2 airship to the United States from England, where it had been built.

One summer evening 100 summers ago, the lives of the two men came to an end when the ZR-2 shattered in the skies of England during a final test, killing 44 of the 49 men on board. It was the first in a series of airship disasters, culminating about 16 years later with the destruction of the German airship Hindenburg in a thunderstorm in Lakehurst, New Jersey.

Lloyd Crowl was born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in January 1892, the son of George and Jessie May Crowl. In his youth, writes the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in August 1921, Crowl had worked as a courier for Western Union and later became one of Fort Wayne’s first taxi drivers. He also worked in the auto industry in Detroit.

Crowl “came to this city (Lima) with other members of his family shortly before the war (World War I),” wrote the Lima News & Times-Democrat on August 25, 1921. “He was employed as a driver and for a time worked in B&O Railroad stores. Crowl’s mother had remarried and was now Mrs. Franklin Hoyt. In 1921, the family was living at 1105 E. North St.

When World War I broke out, Crowl enlisted in the Navy and served aboard submarines.

“After being discharged, he re-enlisted in air service in Charleston, South Carolina, as a mechanic. He was one of the men selected from that branch of the service to help bring the ZR-2 to this country, ”Lima News & Times-Democrat wrote. Crowl had married former Minnie Smith and she was living in Garrett, Indiana, while she was away.

Emory Coil was born in September 1888 in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of the Rev. Elijah A. and Sarah Catherine Steen Coil. Her father was born in the Spencerville area and lived there until the age of 20, when he began a life of ministry.

“While living in Marietta, Reverend Coil lost his wife,” the Spencerville Journal wrote in September 1921, “and his two sons, Emory and Harold, spent their summer vacation with their aunt, Mrs. CB Stose. .

Stose, Elijah Coil’s sister, lived in the Spencerville area.

“Still interested in boats and ships as a boy in high school in Marietta, he got an appointment at the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated from the academy with honors and his promotions were swift, ”the Journal wrote.

When the $ 2.5 million ZR-2 “was ready to be handed over to this country, Lieutenant Commander EW Coil was chosen as one of the officers to be in charge of the giant ship and to pilot it through. the Atlantic on this side, ”adds the newspaper.

Coil had married former Mildred Luiza O’Connell in 1916, and the couple had a daughter. Coil’s wife died in 1919, as did her brother, Marion, and a sister, Alfreda. Her father had died in 1918. Coil married May Edith Lawne in 1920.

In April 1920, the first members of the United States Navy Rigid Detachment, consisting of nine officers and 18 enlisted men, arrived at Howden Airship Station in Yorkshire County, eastern England, for start their training.

The ZR-2 began life towards the end of World War I as the R-38, intended for patrols and escorts. But, with the end of the war and military cuts on the agenda, the British decided to put Project R-38 on hold. Before plans for the airship were canceled, the British proposed the project to the United States, which had hoped to start its own fleet of rigid airships with two zeppelins confiscated from the Germans at the end of the war. When the German crews destroyed the zeppelins, the United States agreed to purchase the R-38.

Renamed ZR-2 by the US Navy, the airship was 699 feet long with a diameter of 85 1/2 feet and a height of 93 feet. The ZR-2 was powered by six 350-horsepower engines and could travel at a top speed of 72 mph for 65 hours. Supported by a system of beams inside, it was lifted by 14 large gas bags filled with hydrogen. When completed in June 1921, it was the largest airship in the world.

Problems with the airship’s balance and faults in its beams were detected during test flights in June and July 1921, then a series of summer storms kept the ZR-2 in its hangar until mid-August. 1921.

Finally, on August 23, 1921, the ZR-2 set out again for speed and height tests over the North Sea, after which it had to be loaded for the crossing of the Atlantic to the United States. Among the 49 on board for the final trial were 27 Royal Air Force and 17 US Navy personnel, including Crowl and Coil.

After a day of testing, its return to England was delayed by a fog bank, and the ZR-2 spent the night over the North Sea. On August 24, with better weather conditions, ZR-2 began crucial full-speed races in the sky near the port city of Hull and the Humber River estuary.

At around 5:30 p.m., ZR-2 approached Hull from the northeast, “maybe,” according to the Airship Heritage Trust website, “as a farewell to the town that had offered the airships hospitality and l friendship over the past two years … … For people coming home from work or sunbathing on a fine Wednesday evening along the waterfront, the airship would have made a beautiful spectacle glistening in the early evening sun.

A few minutes later, he fell from the sky.

“It was while the ZR-2 was sailing over Hull that it was seen emerging from the clouds and suddenly breaking in two,” Lima News & Times-Democrat reported. “A portion seemed to rise in the air. The other descended slowly and fell into the Humber. One explosion occurred as the ship fell and another after hitting the water. The wreckage floated in the water about two hundred yards from the river dock and continued to burn.

Eyewitnesses said the ship appeared to be collapsing along its midsection and “a large wrinkle like a twisted and rolled newspaper” appeared to be occurring in the silver hull, according to the Airship Heritage Trust. Subsequent investigations blamed the disaster on the structural flaws of the enormous airship.

In mid-September 1921, the bodies of most of the American dead from the ZR-2 arrived at the New York Navy Yard aboard the British light cruiser Dauntless after an “eight-day stormy passage from Plymouth,” the New York reported. Herald in September. 17, 1921.

“Six US destroyers greeted the funeral vessel off the Ambrose Channel flagship and six seaplanes flew over the motorcade as it made its way to the Navy Yard across the bay and river,” according to the Herald.

Crowl’s body was brought to Garrett, where his widow lived. The streets along the line of march of the funeral procession from the church to the cemetery “were lined on both sides by spectators and large numbers were turned away from the church, unable to secure seats,” wrote the Garrett Clipper September 26, 1921..

The coil was buried at sea.

“At noon Tuesday,” the Spencerville Journal reported on September 22, 1921, “Lt. Commander Emory Coil’s body, with adjustment ceremonies, was lowered over the side of the destroyer Beck, a hundred miles to the southeast. from Sandy Hook, and the coffin sank. at the bottom of the Atlantic.

His widow, the Journal added, was on board the destroyer for services.

The US Navy’s ZR-2 crashed in England on August 24, 1921. Among the dead were Lloyd Crowl and Emory Coil, both of whom had ties to the area.

Contact Greg Hoersten at [email protected]

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