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Zeppelins were rigid airships from German production, which were named after their inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin . They were used from 1900 to 1940 for both passenger and military purposes. Compared to other types of airship , their success was so great that the term zeppelin is now often used synonymously - as a generic name - with 'rigid airship' or applied to all types of airships. The first rigid airship is attributed to aviation enthusiast David Schwarz (1850-1897).


Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin retired from military service at an early age in 1890 at the age of 52 and then turned seriously to the development of an airship. Together with Theodor Kober , the count began to consider airships in the following years, which resulted in the concept of a steerable draft in February 1894 and which were published in a "memorandum on the steerable airship". On August 13, 1898, he received a patent for a “steerable aerial vehicle with several supporting bodies arranged one behind the other” (Imperial Patent Office, patent specification No. 98580). The design, which was protected retroactively to August 31, 1895, had the following important features, but never got beyond the conception phase, so it was not built:

  • Gas space divided into several cylindrical cells,
  • Control possibility with the help of elevators and rudders ,
  • two separate gondolas firmly connected to the frame,
  • Propulsion by propellers , mounted at the height of the greatest air resistance,
  • Possibility to couple several such ships like train wagons together (this was never realized).

Zeppelin received the plans for this first dirigible airship from the widow of the Hungarian designer David Schwarz.

The individual zeppelins are described in the list of zeppelins .

Development up to line traffic

The first "Zeppelin" LZ 1

Sketch of LZ 1

A commission of experts who had submitted his designs by von Zeppelin in 1898 showed little interest, so that the count was largely left to his own devices in implementing his idea. In 1898 he founded the “Society for the Promotion of Airship Travel”, for which he raised more than half of the share capital of 800,000  marks (inflation-adjusted in today's currency: around 5,487,000 euros). He first delegated the technical implementation to the engineer Theodor Kober and later to Ludwig Dürr .

In 1898, the production of parts for the first Zeppelin began in the factory of Carl Berg in Lüdenscheid , who was also involved in the construction of David Schwarz's airship . Another 18 large, drum-shaped balloons that will later be hung into the frame of the first Zeppelin Z1 came from the Clouth Gummiwerke AG plant in Cologne . The assembly of the first Zeppelin rigid airship began in 1899 in a floating assembly hall on Lake Constance in the bay of Manzell near Friedrichshafen . This hall could be turned into the wind for the difficult take-off process.

The prototype LZ 1 (LZ for "Airship Zeppelin") was 128 m long, measured 11.65 m in diameter and was powered by two Daimler motors with 10.4 kW (14.1 hp) each. To balance ( trim ) the approximately 13-ton construction, a weight of 130 kg that can be moved between the front and rear gondolas was used. 11,300 cubic meters hydrogen ensured as a carrier gas for lift , the payload , however, was only about 300 kg.

On July 2, 1900 at 8:03 p.m., the airship's first ascent of the airship took place in Manzeller Bay, under the eyes of around 12,000 spectators on the lake shore and on boats. The trip took only 18 minutes, then the winch for the counterweight broke and LZ 1 had to make an emergency landing on the water. After repairs, the technology showed some potential in two further ascents in the following weeks and in particular exceeded the speed record of 6 m / s (21.6  km / h ) held by the French airship "La France" by 3 m / s ( 10.8 km / h), but has not yet convinced potential investors . Since the financial means were exhausted, Graf von Zeppelin had to dismantle the prototype again, sell the remains and all tools and dissolve the company.

A misfortune as "starting aid" - LZ 2, LZ 3, LZ 4

LZ 2 1905
Competition from France: Lebaudy's Liberté, ca.1909

The Zeppelin idea owes its second (and third) chance mainly to the later General Director and CEO of the Zeppelin Plant, Alfred Colsman . He was Carl Berg's son-in-law, and the success and skill of the zeppelin factory are due to him, as well as the aviation enthusiastic population. It was it and Colsman's tireless entrepreneurial spirit that made it possible for the Count to develop the technology to such an extent that it became interesting for civil and military purposes.

The basis for the financing of LZ 2 , and LZ 3 made donations and the proceeds of a special lottery , which was approved by state in December 1906th Another 100,000 marks came from the count's private fortune. Finally, Chancellor von Bülow contributed 50,000 marks from a disposition fund .

Zeppelin's landing in Munich , painting of Zeppelin's first destination on April 2, 1909 by Michael Zeno Diemer (1910)

LZ 2 was about the same size as LZ 1, but significantly improved and rose to the first short flight attempts on November 30, 1905. The second and this time longer ascent followed on January 17, 1906. However, the airship was driven over land by a strong wind, later the engines and controls failed. The zeppelin therefore had to make an emergency landing at Fischreute / Sommersried Kißlegg , where the temporarily anchored ship was irreparably damaged during the night by an upcoming storm.

Its successor LZ 3, in which all still usable parts of LZ 2 were installed, rose to the first tests on October 9 and 10, 1906. LZ 3 was the first successful zeppelin and covered a total of 4398 km on 45 journeys by 1908. Theodor Lewald , the ministerial director responsible for culture in the Reich Office of the Interior , got to know flying objects during the 1904 World's Fair and saved the Zeppelin shipyard from bankruptcy . He convinced the military that the technology was interesting. The army bought LZ 3 and renamed it ZI . It served as a training ship until 1913, when the technically outdated ship was disarmed.

Zeppelin stone on the banks of the Rhine in the Kornsand district , 2005
LZ 4 at take-off, in flight and after the crash in Echterdingen, 1908

The army also wanted to take over LZ 4 , but first demanded a demonstration that the zeppelin was suitable for a 24-hour journey. The airship took off from Friedrichshafen on August 4, 1908 at 6:22 a.m. to reach Mainz. During this voyage, the ship had to make an emergency landing on Kornsand near Trebur - Geinsheim on the same day at 17:24 due to a small engine failure near Rhine kilometer 481 . A large memorial stone, the Zeppelin stone on the banks of the Rhine, commemorates the helpfulness of the local farmers who left their work in the fields to support the team with the emergency landing. The engine could be repaired and the airship took off again at around 10:00 p.m. On the way back, the LZ 4 had to make another stopover two hours later due to engine problems in the fields near Echterdingen near Stuttgart . Here an emerging storm tore the ship from its anchorage on August 5, 1908. It ran aground on a fruit tree in a field in Bernhausen , caught fire, and after a very short time all that remained of the proud structure was smoking debris. Two technicians who were busy repairing the machines could only save themselves by making a daring jump.

Although no one was seriously injured, this accident would certainly have meant economic ruin for the airships had not one of the numerous spectators spontaneously started a fundraising campaign that sparked an unprecedented wave of helpfulness across the country. The impressive sum of 6,096,555 marks (equivalent to 36 million euros ) came from the zeppelin donation by the German people , which enabled the Count to found Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH and a Zeppelin Foundation . The Zeppelin project was finally financially sound. Count Zeppelin therefore later described August 5, 1908 as "the hour of birth of national airship travel in Germany". In Echterdingen, a zeppelin stone with several memorial and information boards commemorate this day.

Zeppelins before the First World War

“Bankruptcies, bad luck and mishaps characterize the early years. Twelve of 19 airships alone were destroyed in accidents before 1913, and 14 crew members drowned in October 1912 after their airship LZ 14 was pushed into the sea in a storm over the North Sea. "

- Kerstin Mommsen at the beginning of the Zeppelins

In the following years up to the outbreak of World War I in the summer of 1914, 21 additional Zeppelin airships (LZ 5 to LZ 25) were completed.

1909: Zeppelin LZ 6 landed on the later Grugapark site in Essen

LZ 5 was built as a civilian airship and made its first voyage on May 26, 1909. From May 29 to June 2, 1909, the airship completed a 38-hour record-breaking journey from Lake Constance to Bitterfeld over a distance of 1194 km. On the way back, LZ 5 landed near Göppingen and was badly damaged in the process, but was able to continue its journey to the home port of Manzell after an emergency repair. On August 5, 1909, the airship was taken over by the army and was given the designation Z II. The zeppelin was on display at the " International Airship Exhibition " in 1909 in Frankfurt am Main . On the return trip after a parade on April 22, 1910 in front of Kaiser Wilhelm II in Bad Homburg vor der Höhe , in which the Parseval airship PL 3 and the Groß-Basenach airship M1 of Major Hans Groß took part, the Z II had to be on Landed and anchored in Limburg on April 24, 1910 . The next day, a gust of wind tore the unmanned airship from its anchorage and drove it eastward. In Weilburg Z II ran aground on rocks Weberberg and was doing so destroyed that it had to be scrapped.

With the LZ 6 , the first zeppelin was built in 1909, which was used commercially for the transport of passengers. For this he was supported by the newly founded on November 16, 1909 German Luftschiffahrts-AG ( DELAG ) , the first air shipping company , taken over the world. For the first time, tests for the use of a radio system were carried out with this ship . By 1914 a further six airships were sold to DELAG and were given names in addition to their production numbers, for example LZ 11 Viktoria Luise (1912) and LZ 17 Sachsen (1913). Four of these ships were wrecked in accidents, mainly when they were being dumped. People were not harmed.

LZ 7 Germany had an accident on June 28, 1910 in a storm in the Teutoburg Forest . The ship had started in Düsseldorf , but was then driven off in a storm and due to technical problems and crashed into the Teutoburg Forest near Bad Iburg . People were not harmed. A memorial stone commemorates the crash.

LZ 8 was destroyed on May 16, 1911 by a gust of wind.

LZ 10 Schwaben , was used as a passenger airship for tours in 1911/1912 and was destroyed in an accident on June 28, 1912 in Düsseldorf.

The Hamburger Luftschiffhallen GmbH (HLG) was founded in 1911, and a year later the Zeppelin Hall was built in Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel , 160 meters long, 45 meters wide and 25 meters high for two airships. Numerous airship hangars had already been built, and more were being built in Germany and around the world.

A regular service was started between Düsseldorf , Baden-Oos , Berlin-Johannisthal , Gotha , Frankfurt , Hamburg , Dresden and Leipzig . Due to the First World War, the expansion to European cities did not take place.

Zeppelins in World War I

The remaining 14 zeppelins were bought by the army and navy of the German Reich, some of which provided their ships with their own "tactical" numbers.

LZ 18 in the crash, 1913

When the war began, the military also took over the DELAG ships. At this point in time it had already decommissioned three others (including LZ 3 / “Z I”) and lost five others in accidents. Two of them died: The marine zeppelin LZ 14 / "L 1" was pushed into the North Sea by a storm , with 14 soldiers drowning. LZ 18 / "L 2" went up in flames on October 17, 1913 after an engine exploded in midair, and all 28 men on board died.

State of the art in 1914 were zeppelins with lengths of 150 to 160 m and volumes of 22,000 to 25,000 m³, which could carry payloads of up to nine tons. They were usually powered by three Maybach engines, each with 147 kW (200 hp), and reached speeds of up to around 80 km / h.

During the war, the development of the zeppelins was strongly promoted. Rigid airships of the Schütte-Lanz type were also used. They were very innovative, from which the zeppelins also benefited, but limited in their performance due to their wooden framework. It was not until the end of the war that they were also built with a scaffolding made of duralumin , but not completed.

Technical advantage

The military leadership of the German Reich initially had high hopes for the airships. Compared to airplanes , they reached greater heights, were almost as fast, thanks to their larger payload, could be more heavily armed and loaded with more bombs, could stay in the air longer and had a significantly greater range .

Fighting them from the air initially proved difficult for the enemy, although hydrogen gas is in principle easily flammable. In fact, in 1917, LZ 91 / "L 42" even survived two lightning strikes in the air unharmed. Since enemy aircraft did not initially have suitable firearms, initial successes against zeppelins were achieved through bomb hits. The British pilot Reginald AJ Warneford had the first success with bombs on June 7, 1915 . He set the army airship LZ 37 on fire over Ghent and received the Victoria Cross , the highest British medal .

The Allies only achieved regular combat successes with incendiary ammunition in the spring of 1916. The first zeppelin to be set on fire and shot down in this way was LZ 47 / "LZ 77" on February 21, 1916, the first day of the Battle of Verdun . "LZ 77" took off from Namur Airport under Major Horn and was shot down near Brabant-le-Roi .

On 29./30. January the airship "LZ 79" under the command of the commander Major Geissert took off from Namur, dropped bombs over Paris and was hit in the stern on the way back. The result was the stranding on the roofs of a village in southern Belgium (at that time a German position). The twelve crew members survived and later took over the airship "LZ 90" under commandant Major Geissert, later under commandant Hptm. La Quiante. Among other things, she carried out an attack against London . There, because of the weather and because the commandant thought that the observation gondola , which was carried for the first time, would not bring anything, she simply dropped it over London.

Airships in action

German naval airship over a ship of the line of the deep sea fleet , 1917

The Zeppelin military airships were used for reconnaissance and for air raids with bombs.

From the first days of the war, numerous German airships were lost because initially strongly defended targets on the western front were attacked in daylight . Not infrequently, the airships were brought to the ground by infantry fire because too much lifting gas was lost through the shell, which was riddled with bullets.

On August 6, 1914, after the first attack on Liège - a night attack - LZ 21 / "Z VI" had to make an emergency landing in Walberberg near Bonn due to heavy gas loss . In the same month two zeppelins were shot down and LZ 23 / “Z VIII” fell temporarily into French hands.

The army airships were able to bring their strengths such as strategic bombing and reconnaissance to bear on the eastern front as well as in the southeast on the Black Sea and the Adriatic . On the western front, however, they were deployed almost exclusively behind the front and bombed supply routes and supply facilities.

After the first attacks in the area of ​​the English east coast, bombing raids by the army and navy on targets in the greater London area took place from May 1915 to spring 1917. The British soon succeeded in locating the zeppelins by monitoring their radio traffic, but initially they had no effective means of control. The zeppelins were able to expand their range of action into the British Midlands and Scotland up to 1916 , which forced the population living there to darken large areas. From September 1916, however, the British got the threat posed by the zeppelins under control. These could now more and more often be located by their radio traffic and / or illuminated with headlights and destroyed by fighter aircraft and / or the use of flak with incendiary ammunition.

The Supreme Army Command (OHL) and the new "Commanding General of the Air Force" (Kogenluft), Lieutenant General Ernst von Hoeppner , ordered the cessation of Army airship operations in the spring of 1917. The Navy cut the number of its attacks to about half. The number of reconnaissance missions remained roughly the same.

At the forefront of German innovations were the airships of the 55,000 cubic meter R-Class . The navy was preferably equipped with these airships. The army lacked the necessary large airship hangars , which is why it was still equipped with smaller Q-class ships. Retrofitting would have been much more difficult and expensive than with the Navy. At the same time, the large aircraft (G aircraft) and the giant aircraft ( R aircraft ) came on. Up until March 1917 there was virtually parity in the number of bombs dropped, with a simultaneous reduction in costs, but after that the zeppelins became increasingly less important as a means of attack against aircraft.

year Attack drives Reconnaissance trips
1914 0- 058
1915 038 350
1916 123 312
1917 052 338
1918 018th 131

The Navy kept its airships in use until the end. Over the North and Baltic Seas , the zeppelins were able to use their endurance advantage in numerous long and sometimes very successful reconnaissance missions. They did a particularly good job tracking down enemy mine barriers and marking minefields with dropped buoys. In the winter of 1916, naval airships were also used to supply the German islands, cut off from the outside world by ice, with food.

Attack drives, especially against England , had only been carried out under cover of darkness since the end of 1914. The opponents reacted to this with further development of the air defense and the use of searchlights . There had already been air raids before the First World War (e.g. Tripoli 1911). There has been great controversy everywhere about the use of aerial bombs. There was also no agreement on the question between the German Kaiser and the OHL. So (as far as this was possible and selectable) only military targets were targeted, but the accuracy in the dark left a lot to be desired, since the airships only worked with dead reckoning and sextants for astronomical location determination.

From 1916 new zeppelins could operate at greater heights, some involuntarily climbing well over 7,000 meters. In order to achieve targeted bombing out of clouds, observers were lowered into observation baskets on steel cables below the underside of the cloud. This facility was later omitted because a larger bomb load or more ballast water or fuel could be carried instead.

On August 5, 1918, after a bomb attack, the LZ 112 / "L 70" was located on the basis of radio communications and shot down by an Airco DH4 fighter aircraft. The commander of the naval airship division, Corvette Captain Peter Strasser , was also on board the L 70 . After this incident, the naval airships were only used in long-range reconnaissance for the deep-sea fleet .

In 2014, the director of the Cologne City Museum, Mario Kramp , published a book that describes all the war-related incidents with zeppelins in Cologne during the First World War, including a British airship attack on Cologne in October 1914.

Military record

Over 100 airships were launched at the shipyards in Friedrichshafen, Staaken and Potsdam, 88 of which were zeppelins during the war. About 500 aeronauts lost their lives in the kills and crashes.

The airship dropped 197 tons of bombs in 51 attacks on England (mostly in the squadron), killing 557 people and injuring 1,358. In addition, around 1,200 reconnaissance trips were undertaken. Two thirds of all war airships were lost, about half each to enemy action or accidents. Those who fell from downed airships are buried at the German war cemetery at Cannock Chase . The loss of human life was 11% (79 men) in the army and 26.3% (389 men) in the navy .

Depending on which aspect is considered, the operational impact of war airships in the literature is assessed quite differently. Although the zeppelin attacks caused only comparatively little damage, they spread disproportionately high levels of fear and terror among the enemy in the military and civilian population and tied up large amounts of resources essential to the war effort. The Entente cordiale had to put down weapons, material and people in a ratio of almost 1:33 to combat the German military airships with around 15,000 men and an average of around 25 airships. Although other branches of arms, such as the naval forces, adopted such binding strategies as their own, the efficiency of the airships remained unmatched here, even by the German submarines . Nevertheless, the zeppelin attacks could neither permanently shake the morale of the attacked nor seriously hinder their war efforts. Rather, the use of the zeppelins contributed to strengthening the public's impression in the Entente states that the Germans were resorting to illegal means of war. Last but not least, the successful destruction of the zeppelins is put into perspective if the costs, the construction, the infrastructure necessary to maintain this war weapon and the losses caused by kills and accidents are included in a balance sheet of effectiveness.

Nevertheless, at the end of the war, the war zeppelins were still state-of-the-art aviation technology. In this respect, it would be shortened to say that progress has simply “overtaken” them. Rather, the military, tactical and strategic requirements and, above all, practical constraints took their toll.

Technological record

The large production volume and the increasing demands of the war effort led to a significant further development of the zeppelins. Towards the end of the war, the Zeppelin Society in Friedrichshafen and various other locations produced airships around 200 m in length and more. With volumes of typically 56,000 to 69,000 cubic meters, they could carry 40 to 50 tonnes of payload and, with five or six Maybach engines, each with around 191 kW (260 hp), reached speeds of 100 to 130 km / h.

The longest continuous voyage in terms of time was made by LZ 90 / "LZ 120" under Captain Ernst A. Lehmann from July 26 to 31, 1917. The journey took 101 hours, and after landing the LZ 90 still had gasoline on board for a further 33 hours of travel. This endurance run over the Baltic Sea is partially viewed as a test drive for the Africa trip of the L 59.

LZ 101 / "L 55" set an altitude record of 7600 m on October 20, 1917 to avoid enemy fire over the western front. LZ 104 / "L 59", in turn, the so-called "Africa Airship", set a route record. On November 21, 1917, the German airship L 59 took off from Jamboli ( Bulgaria ) in the direction of East Africa . The commandant of the airship, Kapitänleutnant Bockholdt, had loaded ammunition, rifles and medical supplies. After reaching its destination, the airship should be disarmed and used for tents and other equipment. After a radio message, the commander turned back halfway (see also German East Africa ). It covered 6757 km in 95 hours.

The end of the war airships

The German defeat in the First World War also meant the end of German war airships, because the victorious Allies demanded a complete disarmament of the German air forces. The Treaty of Versailles explicitly named the airships and, in Article 202, called for the surrender of all remaining airships, airship hangars and the German factory in which the lifting gas was produced as part of the reparation payments .

One week before the contract was signed, on June 23, 1919, many war airships destroyed their zeppelins in their halls so as not to have to hand them over to their former opponents. In doing so, they followed the example of the German deep-sea fleet, which had sunk itself in Scapa Flow two days earlier . The remaining zeppelins were transferred to France , Italy , England and Belgium in 1920 .

Zeppelins after the First World War

First steps with LZ 120 and LZ 121

Graf von Zeppelin died in 1917, before the end of the war. With Hugo Eckener , a man took over the management of the company who, unlike the Count, had long had the peaceful rather than the military use of airships in mind.

While the contract of Versailles with the " Schütte-Lanz Luftschiffgesellschaft", which had exclusively manufactured rigid military airships, had thrown the only serious competitor out of the running, the Zeppelin company and DELAG hoped to be able to resume their passenger journeys quickly.

Indeed, two smaller zeppelins were successfully completed, albeit with difficulty. LZ 120 “Bodensee” rose for the first time in August 1919. The 120.8 m long and with a top speed of 132.5 km / h the fastest airship (and one of the fastest airships in history) was powered by four Maybach in-line six-cylinder engines with 177 kW (241 hp) each In the same year it actually carried almost 2400 passengers, most of them in the liner service between Friedrichshafen on Lake Constance and Berlin. The following winter it was extended by 10 m. The sister ship LZ 121 “Nordstern” was to be used primarily for a planned liner service to Stockholm .

However, that did not happen. The operation of the two airships was initially prohibited at the end of 1919. In 1921 the victorious powers demanded the surrender of these two airships as well, to replace those naval zeppelins that had been destroyed by their crews in 1919. LZ 120 went to Italy as Esperia ; LZ 121 as Méditerranée to France. Both ships were used there for several years before they were disarmed. Further projects could not be realized at first, partly because of the express prohibition of the Allies. So German Zeppelin airship travel came to a temporary standstill. However, Eckener and his staff did not give up and continued to look for investors and a way to circumvent the Allies' restrictions.

LZ 126 - The order from America

As early as the 1920s, the US had begun experimenting with rigid airships. With the ZR-1 "USS Shenandoah" they had designed one themselves based on the model of the German naval airship LZ 96 "L 49" captured in 1917 and ordered another one in England. But the delivery of the British R38, which was intended as ZR-2, did not materialize: the airship broke apart during a test drive in England and killed 44 people. The USS Shenandoah was also destroyed in an accident.

LZ 126 before landing in Lakehurst

With this in mind, Eckener succeeded in getting the contract for the third American rigid airship to Friedrichshafen. Of course, Germany had to bear the costs for the construction itself, because they were offset against the reparation costs. For the Zeppelin Society, however, this was of secondary importance, and so Dürr designed the LZ 126 , the so-called American airship .

The company brought all of its many years of experience to the project and thus finally completed its best zeppelin to date. The first test drive took place on August 27, 1924. The LZ 126 was 200 m long, had a volume of around 70,000 m³ and was powered by five Maybach petrol engines with 294 kW (400 hp) each.

Eckener, who had great confidence in the new ship, personally transported it from Friedrichshafen to Lakehurst near New York on October 12th . The 81-hour journey across the Atlantic was uneventful. In the States, the newcomers were celebrated by enthusiastic crowds, and President Calvin Coolidge invited Eckener and his team to the White House , where he described the new zeppelin as an "Angel of Peace".

Under its new name ZR-3 "USS Los Angeles", the LZ 126 became the most successful American rigid airship. The zeppelin was in reliable service for almost eight years, longer than all other US rigid airships, before it was decommissioned for economic reasons in 1932 and scrapped from October 1939. All other of the five US rigid airships of this time were destroyed by accidents.

The heyday of zeppelin aviation - LZ 127

With the delivery of the LZ 126, Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH had reported back as the technological market leader in its field, but was far from being back in business. In the difficult economic situation in Germany after the war, Eckener and his employees first had to stir the drum for two years, not least with the successful construction of the LZ 126, in order to raise the necessary capital for the next project.

LZ 126 and LZ 127 in the Lakehurst hangar
Postage stamp showing the "Graf Zeppelin"

Two more years later, on September 18, 1928, LZ 127 "Graf Zeppelin" rose for the first time. The heyday of zeppelin aviation began with this ship, which became the most successful airship ever.

The engines of the airship with a length of 236.6 m and a lifting gas volume of up to 105,000 m³ could be driven with gasoline as well as with gas. The gas was burned in a buoyancy-neutral manner, making it easier to compensate for buoyancy . Eckener initially used the new ship for spectacular demonstration trips, including to America, where he was again enthusiastically received in October 1928. In August 1929, the "Graf Zeppelin", sponsored by the American media magnate William Randolph Hearst , was the first and to this day only airship to circumnavigate the earth. In 1931 he undertook a German-Russian trip to the Arctic , financed by the multimillionaire Lincoln Ellsworth , the Russian government and 50,000 consignments of collector's mail, with which he realized a 20-year-old dream of the deceased Count.

A transatlantic liner service was set up from 1930. Although the global economic crisis gradually became noticeable and over time competition from airplanes arose, from now until 1936 "Graf Zeppelin" carried increasing numbers of passengers between Europe and North and South America .

Eckener planned to relieve the successful airship with a zeppelin of a similar design. But the tragic and loss-making accident of the British passenger airship R101 on October 5, 1930 prompted the Zeppelin Society to rethink the safety of hydrogen-filled airships. The USA now had the incombustible noble gas helium and used it as a lifting gas for their airships. Since the Zeppelin company now maintained good relations in the United States - she was part of a joint venture with the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company , the Goodyear-Zeppelin Co. , the construction of the US-rigid airships USS Akron and USS Macon involved - it was decided to put the LZ 128 project aside and to design a completely new zeppelin that was suitable for filling with helium.

USS Akron (ZRS-4) over Manhattan (1931-1933)

National Socialist Period

From 1933 National Socialism began to overshadow Zeppelin aviation. The National Socialists had little love for Eckener's vision of unifying world airship traffic, and since they knew that the giants of the air could no longer be used for war operations, they turned to the further development of aircraft technology .

On the other hand, they were very interested in exploiting the great popularity of the airships for propaganda purposes . Since Eckener did not want to cooperate, Reich Aviation Minister Hermann Göring founded the state-owned Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR) in 1935 , which took over the operation of the airships. From then on, the swastika clearly adorned the tail fins of the zeppelins, and from time to time propaganda trips were made, during which the people were heard from the air with marching music and Nazi slogans.

Construction LZ 129

The skeleton of the "Hindenburg" reconstruction
"Hindenburg", dining room

On March 4, 1936, the new Zeppelin LZ 129 “Hindenburg” (named after the former Reich President Paul von Hindenburg ) was finally completed and undertook its first test drive. It had previously been speculated that LZ 129 would be given the name "Hitler" or "Germany", but Hitler insisted that nothing bore his name that could be in danger of being destroyed in an accident or catastrophe, such as an ominous omen. In addition to the propaganda trips, the "Hindenburg" began a little later to support "Graf Zeppelin" on the transatlantic lines.

In the new political situation, Eckener was unable to get the helium for the filling because the USA had meanwhile imposed an embargo . Since the USA alone was able to extract significant quantities of helium from natural gas, after careful consideration the "Hindenburg" was filled with hydrogen again like its predecessor, not least for economic reasons. Apart from the much lower procurement price for the gas, the passenger capacity increased from 50 (helium) to 72 (hydrogen) people. For the first time, a zeppelin was powered by diesel engines.

The end of the LZ 129

Film report of a US newsreel about the Hindenburg disaster

On May 6, 1937, when landing in Lakehurst, the stern of the LZ 129 caught fire and within seconds the world's largest airship went up in flames. The exact cause of the Hindenburg disaster was initially unclear. Although there was often speculation about a possible act of sabotage (by the National Socialist side or by their opponents), old and newer findings clearly support an accident scenario, according to which the new paint on the zeppelin played a fatal role. Afterwards, the shell caught fire due to electrostatic discharge, so that finally the hydrogen also ignited.

Hugo Eckener's theory about the Hindenburg disaster is based on the assumption that the excessively sharp turning maneuver tore a tension wire inside the zeppelin, which damaged a hydrogen cell. The hydrogen flowing up at the stern of the airship was ignited by static electricity, caused by a second storm front over Lakehurst, and the lowering of the ropes to the ground crew, whereby the zeppelin was grounded.

A similar theory suggests that the upwardly flowing hydrogen was not ignited by static electricity, but was ignited by sparks from an engine's power cord.

Either way, the Lakehurst disaster ushered in the end of German airship travel. Confidence in their safety was permanently destroyed, and further passenger transport in hydrogen-filled zeppelins was out of the question from now on. LZ 127 "Graf Zeppelin" was decommissioned one month after the accident and converted into a museum .

Only test drives with LZ 130

Hugo Eckener tried further to find helium from the USA for the sister ship of the “Hindenburg”, LZ 130 “Graf Zeppelin II” , but in vain. The airship, intended as the new flagship of the Zeppelins, was completed in 1938 and, again filled with hydrogen, undertook a few workshop and test drives, but never carried passengers. Another project that was supposed to exceed even the “Hindenburg” and the “Graf Zeppelin II” in size, the LZ 131 , never got beyond the production of a few frame rings.

Scrapping during World War II and the 1950s

The final end came with the outbreak of World War II . In March 1940, Göring ordered the airship hangars to be blown up and the two remaining airships LZ 127 and LZ 130 to be dismantled. At that time, some frame parts of the planned airship LZ 131 already existed in the Friedrichshafen shipyard. The aluminum parts were sent to the war industry for recycling. The airship hangar in Frankfurt was blown up by a pioneer unit of the Wehrmacht on May 6, 1940.

Many aeronauts saw the reason for this sharp cut less in factual necessities than in National Socialist ideology. Eckener himself wrote in his autobiography:

“All of this happened without compelling necessity, with such haste and lust for destruction, without regard to the value of the material and goods destroyed in the process, that it revealed not only a complete indifference, but an obvious disdainful aversion to the Zeppelin, which Goring also openly showed expressed in the decisive resolution. A clear decision was made here, and despite all the regrets about the unreasonableness of blowing up a valuable construction such as the hall, I was not even dissatisfied with it, because in fact: The world of thought about the old Count's zeppelin idea and that about the idea of ​​Hitler were in their innermost core incompatible with each other. "

- Hugo Eckener

In the 1950s, LZ 131 was the basis of a study on a new version of the airship concept. However , the project known as LZ 132 was never realized.

The new Zeppelin NT at the turn of the millennium

After LZ 130 it became quiet about the Zeppelin airships. The Zeppelin works were mainly active in other fields of mechanical engineering.

A Zeppelin NT was sold to Japan
Measurement flight over the Kinzig valley on the Zeppelin NT designed by Stefan Szczesny
The Zeppelin NT N07 (D-LZFN), Friedrichshafen

In September 1993, Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH (ZLT) was founded in Friedrichshafen as a subsidiary of the Zeppelin Group with more modest goals and got back into the airship business. She sees herself as the successor to the original Zeppelin companies.

The Zeppelin NT rose for the first time in September 1997. The first studies for this had already been carried out at the beginning of the 1990s. Although the "Zeppelins of new technology" are larger than the usual impact airships , with a length of 75 m and a hull volume of 8,225 m³ they are 10 to 20 times smaller than their giant predecessors with up to 200,000 m³. Actually, they are not zeppelins in the classic sense, but ultra - modern, semi - rigid airships . Their main advantage over impact airships, in addition to their higher payload, is their excellent flight characteristics.

The first product to be realized was the Zeppelin NT (New Technology), type LZ N07. So far (2013) four ships have been built by him. They offer space for twelve passengers and staff in the gondola and are successfully used for sightseeing, research flights and similar purposes. The cruising speed is 70 km / h, the usual flight altitude 300 meters, the filling consists of helium. The balloon is 75 meters long, equivalent to an Airbus A380 , and its own weight is eight tons.

  • The prototype of the Zeppelin NT, which had been used for geological investigations by the South African company De Beers since 2005 , was destroyed on September 20, 2007 in Botswana by a tornado on the anchor mast.
  • The first production model was sold to Japan on March 2, 2004 .
  • A Zeppelin NT is stationed in Friedrichshafen and flies in the Lake Constance region; another in Île-de-France , which has been used commercially since mid-2013 on four routes ( Vexin , Chantilly Castle , the Seine down from Paris (Seine loops) and Versailles ).
  • The fourth zeppelin made its maiden flight on May 21, 2008 and has been flying for Airship Ventures in the USA since October 2008 .

Since spring 2005, the ZLT has also been developing a slightly enlarged type of the existing model.

Zeppelins and the development of airship travel

Until 1945

The airships before the First World War were mostly experimental constructions that served more research purposes and were only in operation for a short time. Occasionally they have already been used to transport loads or for tourist purposes. As reconnaissance and bomb-carrying military aircraft, they gained relevance in the First World War.

From the 1920s, airships were used for long-haul transatlantic trips. They offered a significantly reduced travel time for the passengers. The end of the age of long-distance travel in airships began in 1937 with the disaster of the Zeppelin LZ 129 "Hindenburg" in Lakehurst . One of the main reasons for the disaster was the filling of the German zeppelins with hydrogen instead of helium . As a raw material essential to the war effort, helium fell under the US embargo that was then imposed on Nazi Germany . Civil airship traffic came to an end with the Second World War.

After 1945

“Police” zeppelin of the Paris police, experiment on the occasion of the Fête de la Musique , 2005

A revival of transatlantic airship travel after the Second World War was not even attempted during these years due to the rapid development of aircraft. The disadvantages of the airships were too obvious: even then, airplanes achieved a much greater speed. Measured against the number of passengers carried, the operation of the airships was extremely complex and required a lot of staff. Sometimes there were more crew members than passengers on board, and large rescue teams were needed on the ground for take-off and landing. In addition, large airship hangars had to be provided at the airfields . The significantly lower comfort of the aircraft was accepted from now on.

During and after the Second World War, airships were only used in areas that could be easily filled by smaller, cheaper and more flexible impact airships , such as military airships , for long-term observation, touristic tours or for advertising .

It has also been suggested again and again that rigid airships could have a future as heavy-duty transporters, especially for delivering extremely large and bulky loads to poorly developed areas. A similar project in recent times has been the semi-rigid airship CL160 from Cargolifter AG . Although it was well advanced around 2000, construction was stopped when the company went bankrupt in May 2002 . On August 24, 2005, Zeppelin Luftschifftechnik GmbH was awarded the contract to purchase the intangible goods (archives, records) from the insolvency portfolio of Cargolifter AG. In this way, the knowledge and the experience gained from this large airship project should be preserved for Germany. It is to be incorporated into a German research network for lighter-than-air technology. Lockheed Martin is working on a new type of airship, the hybrid airship P-791 .

Zeppelin myth and culture

In the German Empire before the First World War, there was great zeppelin enthusiasm, visible for example in the zeppelin donation by the German people in 1908 or the fact that after the crash of LZ 7 in 1910, a crowd cheered Ferdinand von Zeppelin on his arrival at the scene of the accident. Zeppelin stones and monuments were erected in many places in the country . The enthusiasm is Helmut Reinicke in the context of flight enthusiasm since the rise of the first free balloons (the balloons are provided) is 100 years earlier.

The Zeppelin myth has inspired various fictional works.

Film and literature


The history of the zeppelins is of particular interest to stamp collectors . The airships carried mail on their domestic and international flights from 1909 to 1939 . In many countries, high-face stamps were issued specifically for this purpose, and collectors often mailed postage and postmarked envelopes specifically for other collectors. The rarest zeppelin mail items include those that were transported by the “Hindenburg” on its last journey. The envelopes received, although scorched at the edges, now fetch prices of several thousand euros .


  • A Lithuanian national dish, elongated "zeppelin-shaped" potato dumplings filled with minced meat, is called cepelinai .
  • In Vienna, an elongated, baguette-like white bread is called Zeppelin.
  • Zeppelin sausages have been produced in Frankfurt am Main since 1909 .



The Zeppelin Museum in Friedrichshafen has the richest collection on the subject of Zeppelin , which has been housed in its own premises with 4000 m² of exhibition space in the former port station since July 2, 1996 . There are also smaller zeppelin museums in the nearby town of Meersburg , the Zeppelin Museum Meersburg , and in Niederstetten in Franconia , the Albert Sammt Museum , with memorabilia from the last airship captain.

Aviation museums at various former war airship locations are also devoted to Zeppelin history in detail, such as the Zeppelin Museum Zeppelinheim near Frankfurt Airport, the Aeronauticum in Nordholz , which is next to Naval Air Wing 3 "Graf Zeppelin", and the Zeppelin and Garrison Museum in Tønder (in today's Denmark ).

See also


  • Peter Kleinheins: The big zeppelins. The history of airship construction. 3. Edition. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, New York 2005, ISBN 3-540-21170-5 .
  • Peter Meyer: Airships. The history of the German zeppelins. Bernard & Graefe, Bonn 1996, ISBN 3-7637-5951-4 .
  • Wolfgang Meighörner (Ed.): Giants of the air. History and technology of the zeppelins in selected reports and numerous photos. Müller, Erlangen 1997, ISBN 3-86070-595-4 .
  • Peter W. Brooks: Zeppelin: Rigid Airships, 1893-1940. Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington, London 1992, ISBN 1-56098-228-4 .
  • Douglas H. Robinson: The Zeppelin in Combat. A History of the German Naval Airship Division, 1912-1918. Foulis, London 1971.
  • Douglas H. Robinson: Giants in the Sky. A History of the Rigid Airship. University of Washington Press, Seattle 1973, ISBN 0-295-95249-0 .
  • Hugo Eckener : In the zeppelin over countries and seas. Wolff, Flensburg 1949.
  • Hugo Eckener: In the airship over countries and seas. Heyne, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-453-00994-0 .
  • Franz Kollmann: The Zeppelin airship, its development, activity and services. Krayn, Berlin 1924.
  • Alfred Colsman : Airship ahead! Work and experience at the work of Zeppelin. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, Berlin 1933.
  • Ernst A. Lehmann: On air patrol and world travel. Experiences of a zeppelin leader in war and peace. Schmidt and Günther, Leipzig 1937.
  • Friedrich Heiss: The Zeppelin Book. People and Reich, Berlin 1936.
  • Hugo Eckener: Brief instructions and practical tips for guiding Zeppelin airships (1920/21; PDF file; 2.9 MB) ( Memento from February 7, 2013 in the Internet Archive )
  • Albert Sammt: My life for the zeppelin . Pestalozzi Children's Village, Wahlwies 1981, ISBN 3-921583-02-0 .
  • Karl Clausberg: Zeppelin: the story of an unlikely success. Schirmer-Mosel, Munich 1979, ISBN 3-921375-23-1 .
  • Guillaume de Syon: Zeppelin! Germany and the Airship, 1900-1939 . Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, Baltimore, London 2002, ISBN 0-8018-6734-7 .
  • Helmut Braun: German Zeppelins and American Politics . In: Technikgeschichte, Vol. 71 (2004), H. 4, pp. 261–282.
  • Rüdiger Haude: Rigid and less rigid systems. On the political symbolism of the zeppelins in the German Empire . In: Technikgeschichte, Vol. 77 (2010), H. 2, pp. 113–128.
  • Heinrich Walle : The Zeppelin airship as a pacemaker for military and civil technological developments from the end of the 19th century to the present . In: Technikgeschichte, Vol. 59 (1992), H. 4, pp. 319-340.

Web links

Commons : Zeppelin  - album with pictures, videos and audio files
Commons : Zeppelin  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Zeppelin  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ W. Meighörner: Basis of success - the steerable draft . In: Airships that were never built . Friedrichshafen 2002, p. 16f.
  2. Meighörner, W. (2002): Basis of Success - Der steerable Luftzug, in: Meighörner, W. (Ed.): Airships that were never built, Friedrichshafen, p. 25.
  3. Le Commandant Voyer, Les Ballons dirigeables , Berger-Levrault, 1908, Paris-Nancy, pp. 250f. online at archive.org
  4. a b c Clausberg, K. (1990): Zeppelin: The story of an unlikely success, Augsburg, p. 167.
  5. Arnd Krüger , Rolf Pfeiffer: Theodor Lewald and the instrumentalization of physical exercises and sport. Uwe Wick & Andreas Höfer (eds.): Willibald Gebhardt and his successors (= series of publications by the Willibald Gebhardt Institute, vol. 14). Aachen: Meyer & Meyer 2012, pp. 120–145, ISBN 978-3-89899-723-2
  6. Otto-H. Häusser: Zeppelin light for Filderstadt. February 26, 2014, accessed June 26, 2014 .
  7. Zeising, J. (1998): “Reich und Volk für Zeppelin!” The journalistic marketing of a technological development, in: Meighörner, W. (Ed.): Wissenschaftliches Jahrbuch, Friedrichshafen, pp. 67–227.
  8. ^ Klagholz, B .: The day of Echterdingen. Zeppelin LZ 4 on the Fildern - disaster and a new beginning of aviation, Leinfelden-Echterdingen 1998 (Publications of the City Archives Leinfelden-Echterdingen, Volume 5)
  9. ↑ Information board Zeppelinstein in Echterdingen
  10. ^ Graf Zeppelin on his 175th birthday. A special publication by Südkurier from May 14, 2013, pp. 16-17.
  11. ^ Peter Meyer: Airships. The history of the German zeppelins. Wehr & Wissen, Koblenz / Bonn 1980, ISBN 3-8033-0302-8 , p. 28.
  12. ^ Graf Zeppelin on his 175th birthday. A special publication by Südkurier from May 14, 2013, p. 16.
  13. Dirk Hecht, Zeppelins over Schriesheim. In: Schriesheimer Jahrbuch 2011, 2011, 99–111 (with photos); Graf Zeppelin on his 175th birthday. A special publication by Südkurier dated May 14, 2013, p. 16 and supplement Zeppelin-Mobile.
  14. ^ Roland Fuhrmann Dresden's Gate to Heaven , publisher. Thelem, Dresden, 2019, 536 pages, ISBN 978-3959084826
  15. Alexander Schuller: The gateway to heaven: the airport looks back. 100 years of Hamburg Airport (part 1). Hamburger Abendblatt , December 27, 2010, p. 16 , accessed on January 26, 2011 .
  16. ^ First zeppelin against Liège: The "strategic air war" began in August 1914 in Cologne . , FAZ from October 6, 2014
  17. Dieter Vogt Zeppelin A rider general goes into the air in MERIAN booklet Bodensee, January 1979, p. 89.
  18. Zeppelin was almost completely destroyed. In: Vorarlberg / News. ORF , September 21, 2007, accessed on January 26, 2011 .
  19. Reinicke, H. (1998): Germany takes off: The Zeppelin cult - Zur Sozialpathologie der Deutschen, Cologne.