Tuesday, 8 May 2012

"Ich Wollte Einmal um die Welt Fliegen" - Memories of LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin"

Visitors viewing the Gondola and interior of LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin"

May 2012 marks not only the 75th anniversary of the tragic and well publicised demise of the German airship "Hindenburg" in 1937 but also, on the 8th May, the end of the last commercial flight of its smaller sister ship  LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin". The achievements of the latter airship are now very much overshadowed by the disaster that befell its sister ship.

A souvenir cover for the first flight of LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin", 1928
[From my own collection]

Christened on the 8th July 1928 by a Daughter of the original Designer, Count Ferdinand Von Zeppelin, the postal cover above commemorates "ZL-127 Graf Zeppelin's" first trans Atlantic flight. Departing Friedrichshafen in Southern Germany on the 11th October 1928, LZ-127 arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey on the 15th October 1928, after a flight time of 111 hours and 44 minutes. The great airship carried a compliment of 40 crew members under the command of Captain Hugo Eckener and just 20 passengers. With a length of 776 feet she was the largest dirigible yet built and made a most impressive sight. Her five Maybach V12 engines, each developing a maximum of 550 h.p. on take off and 450 h.p. at cruising speed, gave her an average speed of 80 miles per hour.

LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin" above the airship hanger at Friedrichshafen

Her claim to fame really came in August 1929 when LZ-127 commenced a successful circumnavigation of the globe, often crossing land masses with no proper maps and occasionally without radio contact. She flew from Lakehurst New Jersey USA across the Atlantic Ocean to Friedrichshafen Germany, thence onto Tokio (now Tokyo) Japan, across the Pacific Ocean to Los Angeles USA thence back to Lakehurst, with a flight time of 21 days and 5 hours.

A Maybach engine of the type powering the "Graf Zeppelin".

Following a number of European trips she entered regular transatlantic service to Rio de Janiero Brazil in 1930. But in 1931 she took time out to take a multi-national team of scientists to the Arctic, financed largely by 50,000 letters sent by philatelists.   

The Control Room of LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin"

A further claim to fame came in 1933, when after completing a flight to Brazil, she detoured via Chicago to make - despite a swastika emblazoned on one side of the tail - a very popular appearance at the Chigago World's Fair. Even at this early stage the appearance of the Nazi swastika, as now required by the German Air Ministry, stirred negative emotions. The Captain did however take some trouble to steer the airship clockwise around Chicago so that the swastika was less evident to the crowds watching below. 

A Hamburg-America Line poster advertising
the Germany to South America Route. 

Continuing her flights to South America, she provided a comfortable and speedy mode of travel as opposed to the slow and less than comfortable liners servicing this route. Additionally, Brazil and Argentina had a large German population and there were strong business and trade links.  

Captain Hans Von Schiller,
LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin" 

It was over the Canary Islands while returning to Germany from Brazil that Captain Hans Von Schiller received the spine chilling news of the "Hinderburg" disaster at Lakehurst. He perhaps rather wisely chose to withhold this news from the passengers until they had safely landed in Germany on the 8th May 1937.

Josef Braun, Obermaschinist [Engineer]
 on LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin
taken in 1990 

Josef Braun, had served as a Mechanic / Engineer aboard LZ-127 as early as its round the world flight in 1929 and was aboard the final flight from Brazil. In 1979, along with two other crewmen from the "Graf Zeppelin" then still alive, he returned to Lakehurst New Jersey to attend a 50th anniversary tribute hosted by the US Naval Air Technical Training Centre. In 1990 a now elderly Josef Braun spoke with brimming pride of his years of service on the Zeppelin airships. His original wish had been "Ich wollte einmal um die Welt fliegen" ["I wanted to fly once around the World"]. His wish indeed became reality at an early age. Josef died in 1998 aged 94 years, and appropriately, a bronze casting of a Zeppelin airship is affixed to his gravestone. The last crew member Josef Sonntag, who was also a mechanic, died in Friedrichshafen on the 1st November 2005 aged 94.

LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin" landing at Friedrichshafen, Germany.

LZ-127 "Graf Zeppelin" never carried another paying passenger, the great airship making only one more flight. This took place on the 18th June 1937, flying from Friedrichshafen to Frankfurt, where she remained on display but with her hydrogen tanks emptied. She was broken up in March 1940 on the orders of Hermann Goering’s Luftwaffe, presumably her aluminium would have been more useful for the war effort. 

Bibliography :

- Image(s) are only from my own collection where specifically noted.
- Wikipedia

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