The first military air base in Ireland was established at Bentra, near Whitehead, in October 1915. It was home to Royal Naval Air Service airships which patrolled the Irish Sea looking for German U-boats.
The station housed an airship shed made of steel and canvas measuring 150 feet long by 45 feet wide and 50 feet high. Wooden huts provided accommodation for the pilots and engineers. At least four airships operated from the station at Bentra – SSZ11, SSZ12, SS20 and SS23. Various types of aircraft also landed at the station and it became known as Whitehead Aerodrome. Affectionately named “battlebags” by their crews and “blimps” by civilians, Royal Naval Air Service airships were a familiar sight around Britain’s shores during the war years 1914 – 1918. At least 226 airships were built and operated by the Royal Navy during the First World War in a bid to beat the deadly German U-boats.
The primary task for the airships stationed at the Bentra was to protect the Larne-Stranraer ferry and guard incoming convoys in the North Channel from German submarines. When the prevailing wind permitted, the crew would scout from the air, looking for submarines on the surface or the wake of a periscope. Success depended on close cooperation between the naval airmen and the warships operating from Larne harbour.
Today the site can be found by following a walking trail at https://www.abct.org.uk/airfields/airfield-finder/larne-bentra-whitehead
Listen to BBC World War One at Home’s item on Bentra airship station http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01sdwzw
Research: Mark McCrea, Member History Hub Ulster