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The German Air Force in the Great War

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The German Air Force in the Great War
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Author(s): Georg Paul Neumann
Date Published: 2012/04
Page Count: 240
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-835-4
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-0-85706-834-7

Germany’s battle for the skies

The Great War was, of course, the first conflict in which mankind took to the air to any significant degree. Powered flight added a new dimension to reconnaissance and the delivery of ordinance. The need to prevent both brought about the evolution of the fighter plane as all the protagonists of the First World War embraced aerial warfare. This book is an overview of the German Air Force; it discusses all types of aircraft from observation balloons and airships to aeroplanes employed by land based and naval forces. The activities of the German Air Force at war is considered in all the theatres in which it saw service and the text concludes with consideration of anti-aircraft and ground defensive measures. A good overview and recommended.
Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

At the outbreak of war Germany stood supreme among the nations of the world in the matter of airship design. The rigid type—as distinct from the semi-rigid and non-rigid types—was especially favoured, and had already achieved a high standard of excellence in the Zeppelin and ‘Schütte-Lanz’ airships. Yet how insignificant they seem in comparison to the types that now exist! During the four years of the war, beneath the pressure of dire necessity, more technical improvements were effected in airship design than would otherwise have been accomplished in ten years.<br>
The German public knew little of this progress as it was kept secret for military reasons, consequently their enthusiasm for airships gradually grew weaker, and, owing to ignorance, false ideas rose concerning their value, their contemporary efficiency, and their future prospects, for only experts were in a position to arrive at a correct judgement on these points. The irony of the affair lay in the fact that our enemy, England, at the same time fully recognised the importance of the airship as a weapon in time of war and a means of international transport in time of peace. The English therefore made every effort to copy those German airships which fell into their hands during the war. This masterpiece of German engineering was eagerly studied and imitated in every detail. In spite of that they did not succeed in building a serviceable airship until after the Armistice, when they made the first trans-Atlantic flight while Germany was condemned to inactivity.<br>
All the same, Germany has no cause to be jealous because an English airship made the first flight to America. Without any boasting she can claim that this success is not due to English engineering, but entirely to German inventive genius and design. German work was quietly made use of in foreign countries, ‘appreciated,’ and copied. A German airship, with no assistance, made a flight during the war which was even more remarkable and considerably more difficult than that which the English accomplished under present-day conditions and with every modern means of assistance.<br>
In the autumn of 1917 a naval airship, the L. 59, was sent from Bulgaria to the assistance of our troops in East Africa. A large quantity of munitions, arms, medical stores, and other goods had to be carried. The ship was obliged to fly over hostile territory, without the aid of wireless weather reports, and without the support of a base in case of danger; across the deserts of the equator which were unknown to airship travel; and constantly menaced by hostile forces. There is no doubt that she would have reached her goal in safety had she not been recalled by wireless when over Khartoum in Upper Egypt, because of a false rumour concerning our position in East Africa, and on account of the pusillanimous politicians who considered that the ship was not competent to deal with the situation. This was only one of the many errors made by politicians during the war, errors which varied from weak-mindedness to exaggerated confidence.<br>
Even if the airship had fallen into the hands of the enemy on its arrival because of the altered conditions on that front, the loss would have been nothing in comparison to the gain, owing to the moral effect of such a flight on the whole world. The importance of airships would have been increased a hundred- or a thousand-fold, not only in the esteem of the savage races of Africa and the imaginative people of the East, but also in that of our cool-headed enemies, particularly the Americans, a result most valuable to us. One remembers the impression made on America by the first voyage of the U-boat Deutschland. However, the case of the L. 59 only repeated the same old story of bureaucratic blunders and lost opportunities in world-politics. A bitter subject, this, for all Germans.<br>
In the matter of skill the homeward voyage was an even finer achievement than the flight to Africa. The L. 59 covered 4500 miles in a flight lasting roughly ninety-six hours without any delay whatsoever, and could have continued for a long distance without difficulty. That fact will demonstrate to the uninitiated better than many words the pitch of excellence attained by Germany in the design of rigid airships.<br>
At the beginning of the war the German army had set great store by the power of the airship as a factor in land fighting, and had constructed what was in those days a strong fleet of ships. Unfortunately the airship fleet of the navy was only in its very early stages. A private company, the ‘German Airship Travel Co.,’ possessed three passenger airships, which were placed at the disposal of the Government when war broke out.<br>
All existing rigid airships were similar to these in size and performance. The gas-capacity of a Zeppelin lay somewhere between 650,000 and 800,000 c.f ., while that of the Schütte-Lanz of the same period was about 860,000 c.f. The performance of these ships was comparable to the smallness of their size.<br>
At the beginning of the war the army possessed the Z. 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9, all of them Zeppelins; of other types, the Sachsen, Victoria-Louise, and Hansa; the S.L.S., S.L. 2, a semi-rigid ship, the M. 4, and a small Parseval.<br>
The navy only had one ship, the L. 3, a fact that one might consider somewhat strange when one thinks that the airship must have seemed the most suitable means of carrying out observation patrols over the sea, and raids on countries otherwise out of reach. No doubt, however, the reason for this meagre provision of airships lay in the fact that they were clearly not competent to work under the exacting conditions demanded by the navy, conditions which made it necessary that long distances should be covered. Although the naval authorities recognised this fact, they also saw how useful airships of a better type would be, and they were in negotiations with the building yards of the Zeppelin and Schütte-Lanz for the construction of bigger ships when war broke out.