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US Navy Officer USS Helena, and Blimp pilot


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I am not sure if I ever posted this. But here goes. Complete group with paperwork (original DD-214) ID, and lots of photos to LTCDM Franis Lewis Bailey Jr.

Lieutenant Commander. Francis Lewis Bailey, Jr,

US Navy Lighter Than Air (LTA) Blimp Pilot

USS Helena (Pearl Harbor survivor) 95386

Served (1940-1946). Naval Reserves (1946-1959)

From a short history by his son Steve Bailey: Francis Lewis Bailey, Jr. after attending the U.S. Coast Guard Academy for 2 1/2 years and spending 1 1/2 years at U.C.L.A., enrolled in the first Officer Candidate School for the U. S. Navy in 1940.

He graduated with top honors and was assigned to duty on the newly commissioned Light Cruiser U. S. S. Helena (CL-50). Note: Report of separation dated 1946 – lists him as enlisting in the Navy 9 July 1940 and was an Able bodied Seaman (AS), and being commissioned on 14 Nov. 1940. He came aboard just after her shake down cruise to South America where her crew (unofficially) investigated the derelict German pocket battleship Admiral Graf Spee in Montevideo harbor after her scuttling (see photos). Bailey would take part of 4 of the most hard fought Naval battles of the early part of WW2. Bailey was assigned to the USS Helena in 1940.

My father was NOT on board when the Helena went down (7 July 1943), he was in flight training in Pensacola, FL. Steve Washburn (my namesake) was on board and was last seen swimming for shore. I will try to find the 1/2 wing and let you know. Email

After basic air training of 18 weeks, my father was assigned (much to his chagrin) to the Lighter-Than-Air Unit at Lakehurst, New Jersey ZP-12. He became a blimp pilot, probably, mostly due to his age. He was, by that time, 28 years old. The Navy wanted 21 year olds (who didn’t know they were not invincible) to fly fighter planes, so my dad was stuck with blimps. This factor probably saved his life and I would not be here today.

He was sent to the U. S. Naval Base at Recife, Brazil (ZP-42) to escort the Allied convoys going across the Atlantic from Brazil to North Africa to support the war in Europe. The German U Boats were still active but they had great respect for blimps as the slow moving dirigibles could track a submarine at their own speed and rain down depth charges on them. They had a few “kills” but the deterrent factor was enormous.

He lived to see the end of the war and return to his wife and year-old son – me.

10 Feb.1946 Report of Separation lists Service as 7 years 0 months and 17 days. Rank: Lieutenant Commander. During WW2 1,400 LTA pilots were trained for service and 3,000 crew men. So LTA groups are on the rarer side.

It appears Bailey served 10 years in the Naval Reserve after 1946-1959 - for the Navy Reserve Medal.

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Blimps were probably the most effective single ASW platform during the war. They were low speed, high endurance vehicles with carrying power for plenty of weapons. Remember that sonar was not yet very effective for detection, so many (most?) of the detections were visual, and blimps were ideal for this. Of course, many of the detections were marked by a sinking merchantman. The blimp could stay on station over the sub until the convoy had time to pass through the danger zone, and the sub didn't have the speed / endurance to catch up after they had passed.

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Yes Hugh and Igor the Blimps were very effective. They were under orders not to engage submarines on the surface, because they were such good large targets. One did and was shot down. Very nervy pilot. These people never got any Air Medals for some reason, a shame. George

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