top of page

The R38 US Crew

The R38 Memorial at Western Cemetery, Kingston upon Hull.

When the R38 crashed in the river Humber in August 1921 16 US crew lost their lives. Here are their names:


1. Commander L A H Maxfield USN

2. Lieut Comdr E W Coil USN

3. Lieut C G Little USN

4. C.M.M. L E Crowl

5. C.M.M. W A Julius

6. C.M.M. R Coons

7. C.M.M. W J Steele

8. C.B.N. M Lay

9. Lieut Comdr W N Bieg U S N

10. Lieut H W Hoyt USN

11.Lieut M H Esterly USN

12. C.M.M. A L Loftin

13. C.M.M. G Welch

14. C.M.M. J T Hancock

15. C.M.M. C J Aller

16. C.B.N. A D Pettit

17. Norman Walker (rank not known) was the only US survivor.

Those who lost their lives.

Comdr Louis Henry Maxfield USN. Born Nov 19 1883.

Comdr. Louis H. Maxfield, U.S.N., was head of the U.S. Rigid Air Detachment based at Howden. He was born in 1883 in Minnesota USA and entered the Naval Aviation service in 1914. He served in Europe during WW1 and was in command of the U.S. Naval Station at Painbaeuf in France.

Lieut Comdr Emory Wilbur Coil USN. Buried at sea Sept 20 1921.

Lieut Marcus Herbert Esterly. Born June 30 1891. Enlisted in 1912. Note his US gravestone has his surname as Esterly but the Hull memorial lists him as Esterley.

Lieut Henry Willets Hoyt USN. Born 26 May 1890. Served in WW1.

Lieut Charles Gray Little USN. Born July 9th 1895.

C.M.M. Charles Ivan Aller. Note the Hull memorial lists him as C J Aller but his US gravestone reads Charles Ivan Aller. Born 1888.

C.M.M. Robert Monroe Coons Born 30 Dec 1895.

C.M.M. Lloyd Erwin Crowl. Born 17 July 1892.

C.M.M. John Trustcott Hancock. Born 1890 in London. Buried in City of London Cemetery.

C.M.M. William A Julius.

C.B.N. Maurice Lay. Born 1890. Transferred to England in 1920.

C.M.M. Albert Lenin Loftin. Born 10th December 1897.

C.B.N A D Pettit

M.M. Willian Jeremiah Steele. Born 1895.

C.M.M. George Welch.

Lieut Comdr Valentine Nicolas Bieg USN Born Oct 24 1889. Note the Hull memorial lists him as W N Bieg but his US headstone reads Valentine.

Norman Walker. Sole US survivor.

Other US men involved with the R38 (or ZR2 as it was renamed by the US)

US Crewman Thomas Dayton Dickerson

Following the end of WW1 the Airship programme in the UK was immediately cut back due to economic restraints. It must also be remembered that initially the early airships were built for warfare. However the United States were still keen to build better airships and agreed to purchase the R38 from the government. In preparation of this a team of US officers was sent to the UK to take up training. Thomas Dickerson was one of the men who came to the UK.

I have had the great pleasure of hearing from Thom Dickerson, the son of Thomas Dickerson the US R38 crew member shown left. Thom is a professional photographer and luckily for us has been restoring the photographs taken by his father throughout his career. Thom has some fabulous images of the crew members and the R38 and other UK airships.

Like his British counterparts Thomas started his career in the Navy in 1917 and was then selected as part of a small group to be sent to the UK to receive Airship training. He trained on the R32 and R80 airships - the R32 was one of the early ships built at Cardington by the Short Brothers back in 1919 and the R80 was a much admired ship designed by Barnes Wallis who of course went on to design the successful R100

Initially the US team were at Howden but at some point would have transferred to Cardington to take up training on the R38. It is not known whether these men lived in some of the relatively new houses in Shortstown or were billeted on the main site - certainly huts were in place on the camp to facilitate naval personnel. Perhaps more information will come to light in the futureDouble-click to enter your text here. Use the text menu to add title text or to style parts of your text.

Shown here an extract of the flight log of Thomas Dickerson.

Luckily as it transpired for Thomas a last minute change was made to the R38 crew on a training flight over the River Humber and he was not on board when it crashed. However many of his colleagues were to lose their lives including Lieut Commander Maxfield who appears on the log book above as Captain on the training flights.

After the R38 tragedy Thomas returned to the US where he worked on The Shenandoah, a US airship as an Engineering Chief. Again fortune favoured him as he was not on the last flight of this ship when it crashed in 1924. From this date on he continued his career in aviation and died aged 66 in 1962.Thom has more details and fantastic photos of his father on the link below:

Thanks must go to Thom for allowing these images to be shown.

These two photographs shown with the kind permission of the US Naval Historical Center. They are images of some of the US crew en route to the UK on board the Princess Matoika a passenger liner. They were to receive airship training at Howden and Cardington and then bring the ship home.

Standing left to right: N. Julnis,* A.B. Galation, and H. Christensen. Kneeling left to right: J.W. Cullinan, M. Lay, and I.L.Thomas. Chief Boatswain's Mate M. Lay and Chief Machinist's Mate W.A. Julius were among those who were killed in the crash.*The original photograph caption names this man as N. Julnis, the US Naval Center later identifies him as W A Julius.

Above standing left to right: W.G. Steele, F.L. Stevens, W.A. Russell and R.N. Coons* Kneeling left to right: S.H. Knight, F.M. Gorey and A.C. Carlson. Chief Machinist's Mates W.J. Steele and R.M. Coons were among those killed in the airship crash.



*The original photograph caption names this man as R. N. Coons, the US Naval Center later identifies him as R M Coons.

The cigarette case given to George Whitehead by the crew of the R38.

Below: Reverand George Whitehead.

The inscription reads "Presented to George Whitehead by the crew of the R38."

These photos sent in from Peter Raisbeck refer to his grandmother’s brother George Whitehead and his connection to the R38. In Peter’s words:

“I have found a cigarette case amongst stored trophies with the inscription “to George D Whitehead from the crew of the ZR2.” The Rev George D Whitehead was my grandmother’s brother, who emigrated to the USA in the late 1800.s from Swaledale in Yorkshire. He was a Baptist Minister in New England USA, but at the inclusion of the USA into the First World War he was seconded back to Britain as controller of the America YMCA. He was then a Baptist Minister in Luton, and it seems he was also pastor to the American crew of the R38 in Cardington prior to the ship breaking up over the Humber.”

If anyone can tell us anything else about George Whitehead please get in touch as it would be interesting to find out more about his connection to the R38. Thanks. Jane.

And thanks to Peter Raisbeck for sending in such intriguing information.


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

bottom of page