LZ 120

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LZ 120 “Bodensee”, October 1919

The Zeppelin LZ 120 "Bodensee" (later "Esperia" ) was a commercial airship operated by Deutsche Luftschiffahrts AG ( DELAG ) at the beginning of the 1920s. LZ 120 was the first airship to be built in Germany after the First World War . In 1921 the LZ 120 had to be given to Italy as a reparation payment, where it was called "Esperia" until it was decommissioned in 1928.


After DELAG had to cease its activities at the beginning of the First World War and surrender its remaining airships to the military, passenger aviation was to be continued after the end of the war. The Zeppelin LZ 120 “Bodensee” and its sister ship LZ 121 “Nordstern” were built for this purpose . The two airships were intended for passenger traffic in Germany and Europe. The Zeppelins also hoped that the new passenger airships would get the public excited about larger projects.

The hull number LZ 120 for a 20,000 cubic meter ship was determined at a meeting on February 12, 1919. The plans for LZ 120 were completed after only two months. The ship was built in Friedrichshafen . For this purpose, some of the war zeppelins still available from the war were used.

The airship took off on its maiden voyage six months later on August 20, 1919 under Captain Bernhard Lau. The next day Lau carried out another test drive. Part of the test drives was the determination of the maximum speed. They found 130  km / h for all four engines, 112 km / h for three, 94 km / h for two and still an impressive 74 km / h for only one rear engine. The two test drives were very satisfactory. After that, the ship was ready for passenger service.

The ship

LZ 120 was Zeppelin's first fully streamlined airship. He implemented the aerodynamic knowledge of Zeppelin engineer Paul Jaray . As with the Schütte-Lanz airships, the LZ 120 no longer used a cylindrical central part of the fuselage and its aspect ratio (length / diameter ratio) was a very low 6.5 compared to earlier zeppelins. The gondola was tied directly to the fuselage and no longer hung under it. Jaray also checked the shape of LZ 120 on a 2.54 meter long model (1:50 scale) in the wind tunnel .

The gondola, which was up to 2.5 meters wide, resembled a luxurious railroad car. Forward was the bridge , behind it lay the passenger spaces. Although the ship was actually only designed for 20 passengers, there was room for up to 30 passengers on board, 20 of them on firm, padded seats and 10 more in wicker armchairs that were set up in the passenger compartment. There was another passenger seat on the navigating bridge, for which, however, double the fare had to be paid. There was a separate compartment for prominent travelers, a buffet compartment with an electric stove and refrigerator and a steward who looked after the guests. Toilets were also available. But they were very narrow and depending on the movement of the air it was not always pleasant to stay on them. The usual crew consisted of twelve men. The electricity for the lighting, the kitchen and the radio station , which for the first time also allowed radiotelephony on board zeppelins, was generated by two wind generators. The 80 meter long antenna was first deployed at a sufficient height and then hung under the ship.


From August 24, 1919, the LZ 120 “Bodensee” ran on scheduled services between Friedrichshafen and Berlin-Staaken , sometimes with a stopover in Munich on the Oberwiesenfeld , today's Olympic Park . In the marketing and handling of the trips, DELAG worked together with the Hamburg-America Line (HAL or HAPAG) under the name "DELAG-HAPAG Airship Line ". The first trip was carried out under the command of Hugo Eckener . The zeppelin took about six hours for the 600 kilometers, the fastest journey took four hours. At that time, the train still took around 24 hours, but this was less due to the technology than to the chaotic post-war conditions in Germany.

Up to December 5, 1919, 103 passenger trips had been completed. In total, the airship was in the air for 532 hours and also proved itself in bad weather. It was practically always fully booked and carried a total of 4050 people, of which 2379 were passengers, of which 126 as invited guests did not have to pay a fare. LZ 120 covered a total of 51,258 kilometers on these journeys. 4500 kilograms of mail and 30,000 kilograms of freight (including luggage) were transported. The Zeppelin rose 38 times in Friedrichshafen to travel to Berlin and back, 15 times it landed in Munich. Only one trip had to be canceled after the start in Berlin on November 24th due to strong headwinds. LZ 120 made tours in Berlin seven times, once it drove from Berlin to Stockholm and back. An unplanned trip ended with an emergency landing in a forest in Saxony-Anhalt (see below).

After the end of passenger service on December 5, 1919, LZ 120 carried out test drives from Friedrichshafen on December 9, 10 and 11, 1919, during which the ship and various systems on board were to be checked or further developed.

Stockholm trip

On October 8, 1919, the “Bodensee” sailed from Berlin to Stockholm with 20 passengers on board . He should explore the feasibility of a regular service to Stockholm. The trip Berlin-Stockholm-Berlin was a one-time event that was initiated by the Swedish company Svenska Lufttrafikaktiebolaget (SLA), which was founded in the same year . The Zeppelin LZ 121 "Nordstern", which was newly built according to LZ 120, was intended for service on the Friedrichshafen-Berlin-Stockholm route. On the way back, the Swedish fixed-wing enthusiast Axel Petersson (1868–1925) was not particularly impressed. He was later quoted as saying, “ Zeppelins are airplanes for the disabled and women. "

Emergency landing near Cröchern

Except for one incident, all trips went smoothly. On November 2, 1919, when landing in Berlin-Staaken, the airship was thrown onto the ground and back into the air by several gusts of snow . The control pod was damaged, the tail propeller broke and the other two engines went out of order. In a panic, seven people - two of them passengers - jumped from the gondola. The ship, which had become lighter, rose and threatened to hit the hall into which it was to be brought. The helmsman Albert Sammt ordered the crews, who had been holding the ship on the ground by ropes, to release the ship. It rose above the snow clouds and drifted in the sky without drive. The radio transmitter had also failed. However, the crew managed to get an engine running again and intercept the ship before it reached the rebound height . Later the second engine was available again. However, the wind was too strong to return to Berlin-Staaken. He pushed LZ 120, stern first, towards the west. Since there was little fuel on board, the crew decided to land without the help of a ground crew. Captain Hans Flemming with Albert Sammt at the elevator and the zeppelin designer Ludwig Dürr at the rudder, put the airship at Cröchern , north of Wolmirstedt near Magdeburg , on a pine tree protection. It could also be anchored there immediately. The incident had claimed a fatality: a member of the holding team in Berlin did not let go of the ship in time and crashed from a height of 50 meters. The LZ 120 crew only found out about this after their emergency landing. There were no injuries on board. The remaining 29 passengers had been brought to the crew quarters inside the hull, as it was feared that the gondola could be damaged when touching down. They were brought by bus from Wolmirstedt to Berlin, "safe and in good spirits," as the newspapers reported.

Two days later, after the snow had stopped and the side engines had been repaired, the airship drove back to Berlin. Among other things, two defective engines had been removed to make the ship lighter, the other two were repaired. It resumed normal service three days later.

Handover to Italy

However, plans for commercial airship travel in Germany were shattered by the aftermath of the First World War . The Versailles Treaty of June 1919 stipulated extensive reparations payments to the Allies, including the surrender of all airships. At the end of 1919, passenger operations were initially banned, LZ 120 "Bodensee" and LZ 121 "Nordstern" were confiscated.

In the course of 1920 it became apparent that LZ 120 had to be handed over to Italy, while LZ 121 went to France. They were intended to replace the war zeppelins that had been destroyed by their crews at the end of the war and thus escaped the victorious powers. The namesake of the "Bodensee", LZ 90, which bore the German army designation LZ 120 , was transferred to Rome by Captain Pochhammer as early as Christmas 1920. It was a war airship from the First World War.

In the winter of 1920/21, the “Bodensee” was lengthened by ten meters and an additional gas cell was added. It then had the same dimensions as the LZ 121. Furthermore, the fourth engine was reinstalled; it had been expanded while it was still in operation in 1919 to increase the payload. LZ 120 "Bodensee" rose on June 27, 1921, two weeks after the delivery of LZ 121, to one last trip within Germany. A total of 54 people were on board. Among the 43 passengers, 10 of whom were women, there were also many well-deserved Zeppelin employees who were given the honor of a farewell trip. The journey took four hours and 17 minutes. Various maneuver and radio tests as well as other tests were carried out with a ballast hopper, as had already happened with LZ 121.

On July 3, 1921, Hugo Eckener's airship was personally driven without a stopover in a 12.5-hour journey over 1329 kilometers to Italy and delivered there as German reparation. The route ran via Zurich, Bern, Lausanne, the Rhône, Avignon, San Remo and Elba to Ciampino. In addition to the twelve German crew, three Italian officers, a civilian and a stowaway were on board. After crossing Rome at 6:44 p.m., LZ 120 landed at 7:12 p.m. in Ciampino near Rome , his future home.

Operating as an Esperia

LZ 120 with Esperia lettering

The German crew of the overpass stayed in Italy for several weeks to train the new Italian owners. The first ascent there, on August 9, 1921, was also the acceptance run with German and Italian garrisons.

On September 2, 1921, "Bodensee" was renamed "Esperia" in a ceremonial handover ceremony. Then the zeppelin went on a demonstration run. With Esperia (Latin: Hesperia) the Greeks used to refer to the western areas (today Spain or Italy). Esperia was popular with Latin poets in Italy, while Hesperia remained in the Spanish area.

LZ 120 was subordinate to the Italian Army and, in addition to training, maneuvering and research, was mainly used for representation. LZ 120 carried out a total of 142 trips under the name “Esperia”.

In 1922 leaks were found in the gas cells. The ship was then decommissioned. The repairs were delayed mainly due to organizational difficulties. The overhaul with the support of German Zeppelin experts began after the emptying of the ship around May 1923 and lasted until August 20, 1923. Umberto Nobile was also on board for the inspection run that followed the test run the next day (August 21) . Major Valle, who was to take over the ship afterwards, was locked in the cabin for the first part of the test drive so that he could not interfere with the ship's command. The reports on this voyage showed that they were very satisfied with the ship. After this 26th trip, LZ 120 made a further 116 trips in the remaining five years of its service life. These included several “parades” that were used exclusively for representation or propaganda, as were later carried out by the large Zeppelins LZ 127 , LZ 129 and LZ 130 .

Again and again aerial photographs were taken from LZ 120, for example of the ruins of Ostia in November 1924, Naples (May 1925), or the Vesuvius crater in February 1928.

In 1925 the "Esperia" made two long-distance trips. Together with the Italian N1, the later “ Norge ”, she went to Spain on a friendship visit at the end of May. The two ships met on the northern tip of Corsica and then sailed to Barcelona . During the landing there was a moment of shock when the sailors who had been assigned to the holding team took care of the arrival of the Spanish king and let go of the holding ropes. After a three-hour stop , the two ships continued to Cuers-Pierrefou near Toulon in France to commemorate the victims of the “ Dixmude ” accident. At that time, the sister ship LZ 121 “Méditerranée” (previously “Nordstern”) was stationed there. The next day, the two ships returned to their bases in Italy. On August 3, 1925, LZ 120 made another long-distance journey. It took 21 "highly esteemed illustrious" passengers to Tripoli and back to Ciampino on the same day.

In early 1927 a number of night trips were made. In the same year, at the end of July 1927, the Esperia took part in a military maneuver followed by an air parade in honor of Mussolini , who visited the fleet. There are records of a few other parades, for example in honor of the Spanish royal couple on November 20, 1923 via Centocelle , for Francesco de Pinedo returning from a flight around the world , for the Afghan king in February 1928 or for the funeral of the Italian general Diaz on March 3, 1928. On the occasion of the visit of the Italian royal couple to Spain in mid-1924, the "Esperia" escorted a whole group of Italian warships and met them on their return with the commanding general of aviation on board. In addition, tours with various guests on board are documented again and again.

The last trip took place on July 28, 1928. It was actually supposed to be used to test an engine and to check repaired gas cells. However, the Italian Ministry of Aviation had already given a written order to cancel LZ 120 on July 21. The background was probably not least the misfortune of the "Italia" in the Arctic. The scrapping began immediately after the last trip. Photos show that the frame parts of LZ 120 were made into trellises and pergolas .


The frame was 17-sided and consisted of eleven braced main rings made of duralumin at a distance of ten meters. An untensioned auxiliary ring was arranged between the main rings. An internal, additionally stiffened keel stairway began 20 meters from the bow and reached up to ten meters in front of the stern. The cover was made of cotton and was impregnated with cellulose varnish . The paint was coated with aluminum particles to reflect the sun and gave the ship a silver-gray appearance.

The LZ 120 was actually overpowered with its four Maybach in-line six-cylinder Mb IVa engines , each with an output of 176 kW (240 hp). The top speed was 132.5 km / h. This makes the LZ 120 the fastest rigid passenger airship to date (2005). The engines were designed for high altitudes and could only be operated under 1800 meters in order not to exceed their rated output of 190 kW. The engines were seen as robust, reliable and durable. In the rear motor nacelle (presumably taken over from the Zeppelin military airships Type U or Type V), two motors were installed next to each other and delivered their power via a gearbox with a ratio of about 2: 1 to a two-winged wooden propeller with a diameter of 5.2 meters. In each of the side motor pods there was a motor with a gearbox that allowed the direction of rotation to be reversed (reverse gear) and a smaller two-winged wooden propeller 3.2 meters in diameter.

  • Length: 120.8 m (later 130.8 m), in its original length the shortest rigid airship ever built by Zeppelin
  • Largest diameter: 18.71 m
  • Carrying gas : 20,000 m³ (later 22,550 m³) hydrogen in 12 (later 13) gas cells
  • Range: 1700 km
  • Standard crew: 12 men: Commander, “helmsman” or watchman (corresponding to 1st officer), 1 altitude helmsman, 1 helmsman, 1 radio operator, 1 steward , 6 machinists
  • Empty weight: 13,646 kg (later 14,700 kg)
  • Payload: 9593 kg (later 11,500 kg)

Other airships with the name "Bodensee"

  • In 1988, on the 150th birthday of Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin , a hot-air airship was christened “Bodensee II”. It carried out various mail flights for airship anniversaries.
  • With the Zeppelin NT SN 02, a new airship of the Zeppelin works was christened on August 10, 2001 under the name D-LZZR “Bodensee”. It started passenger operations five days later and was sold to Japan in 2004.


  • Albert Sammt: My life for the zeppelin. Pestalozzi Children's Village, Wahlwies 1981, ISBN 3-921583-02-0 , chapter emergency landing in a snow-covered forest. Pp. 45-53.
  • Peter Kleinheins: LZ 120 "Bodensee" and LZ 121 "Nordstern". Airships in the shadow of the Versailles Treaty. Zeppelin Museum, Friedrichshafen 1994, ISBN 3-926162-80-5 .
  • Peter Kleinheins, Wolfgang Meighörner (Hrsg.): The large zeppelins - The history of airship construction . 3. revised Edition. Springer, Berlin 2005, ISBN 3-540-21170-5 .

Web links

Commons : LZ 120  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Airship Hindenburg and the great age of the zeppelins ; Text by Rick Archbold; Illustrations by Ken Marschall; Bassermann Verlag Munich, 2005 ISBN 3-8094-1871-4 , pages 58 and 59
  2. Emergency landing of the airship "Bodensee" in 1919 as an entry in the Cröchern Chronicle of the Elbe-Heide-Verbandsgemeinde ( Memento from March 4, 2016 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Albert Sammt: My life for the zeppelin. Pestalozzi Children's Village, Wahlwies 1981, ISBN 3-921583-02-0 , chapter emergency landing in a snow-covered forest. Pp. 45-53.
This article was added to the list of excellent articles on September 25, 2005 in this version .