A friend came across a handful of black and white photos in an old dresser while antiquing in Northeast North Carolina. The images were a collection of Navy lighter-than-air themes from the 1940s. She passed them along to me to see if I could find out more about them.
During WWII, the U.S. Navy operated airships at Naval Air Station Weeksville near Elizabeth City, North Carolina. Many of the images found in the dresser are from Coastal Carolina.
NAS Weeksville was built in 1941 and served as a base for lighter-than-air ships supporting anti-submarine operations, reconnaissance, and search and rescue along the mid-Atlantic coast during WWII. The air station specialized in the operations and maintenance of Navy Blimps was open through the mid-1950s.
The above photo is a Navy photo of the installation after 1943. Hanger 1, the large structure on the right, is an all-steel framed structure with corrugated metal siding, built before all steel was reserved for making war materials. It was completed in 1942, making NAS Weeksville the second blimp base on the east coast after NAS Lakehurst in New Jersey. Hanger 2, the large structure at the left center, was a wood-framed building completed in 1943.
The following images are from the collection found loose in an old chest of drawers. Long forgotten, they are images taken by an anonymous American Sailor during and shortly after WWII. Most of the photos are from NAS Weeksville. The prints we very small (2″ X 3″). I scanned them at the highest resolution I could.
I emailed some of the photos to the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. A volunteer researcher confirmed the outdoor photos as NAS Weeksville circa 1943, after Hanger 2 was built. The car in the center photo looks like it could be a pre-war Plymouth. Identifying the blimp in the hanger has proved to be problematic. The architecture of these hangers was similar to other Blimp air docks from NAS Weymouth in Massachusetts to NAS Moffett Field in California. Without an envelope number or a number visible on the gondola, I can’t tell you where our “Naval Reserve” recruiting blimp was located when this photo was taken.
The second group of photos didn’t look like coastal Carolina to me. Research on that M-Class airship revealed that the M-2 was delivered to NAS Lakehurst, New Jersey in February1944. It would wind up at NAS Richmond, Florida, south of Miami. In May 1945, The M-5 was present aloft over the surrender of U-858 at Fort Miles, Lewes, Delaware. The U-858 was the first enemy ship to surrender to the United States forces following the defeat of Germany in World War II. After the war, M-3 returned to NAS Lakehurst and was used as an experimental platform for radar.
The photos that really interested me were of the gondola from K-107. According to U.S. Navy Airships by James R. Shock (page 137), this blimp was assigned to NAS Moffett Field in Santa Clara County, California. Built by Goodyear, K107 was shipped to Moffet Field in December 1943. K-107 patrolled the California coast during her tenure. In 1944, K-107 rescued downed pilot LTjg Gordon W. Dooley when he crashed off the coast. The blimp dropped a raft to the aviator in the water and then came back to hoist him up into the airship. In 1947, K-107’s envelope was punctured during a mishap with Hanger No.1’s doors at NAS Moffett Field. While the report I read only mentioned the envelope, the gondola looks to have sustained significant damage.
We still know very little about the photographer who took the images recovered from the antique dresser. There were only three images with sailors. All look like they were taken at NAS Weeksville outside of Hanger 2. The final shot may have been an attempt at a “selfie” with a film camera. I will assume the sailor in the leather flight jacket was an Aircrewman. Only flight crew were issued leather flight jackets.
As for the remains of NAS Weeksville, Hanger 1 still stands today and has been used as a stop-over location for blimps traveling along the east coast or needing maintenance (think Goodyear, Met Life, Ameriquest, Liberty Mutual, etc…). Hanger 2 was destroyed in a massive fire in August 1995. Three blimps inside the building at the time were lost. All that remains are the four concrete corner towers that once framed the massive hanger doors.