|1933 Egyptian Stamp Marking 1931 Visit|
|Dr. Hugo Eckener|
Eckener's crown jewel was the Graf Zeppelin, named for the founder Count von Zeppelin. It remains one of the best-known Zeppelins, its memory eclipsed only by the ill-fated Hindenburg, whose end was so memorably captured in newsreels in 1937. (The Hindenburg was not one of Eckener's. He hated the Nazis and the feeling was mutual, and he was removed from his position after Hitler came to power and the Zeppelin works nationalized by the Nazis. Hindenburg, with its bright swastikas on its tail, was Hitler's attempt to impress the world. Well, it's certainly remembered.)
Returning, though, to Graf Zeppelin. Designated LZ 137, she was built at the Zeppelin works at Friedrichshaven am Bodensee between 1926 and 1928, she was 776 feet long (the largest airship built to that time) and could reach a top airspeed of 80 mph, though it normally did not reach that speed. During its lifetime (1928-1937) it would make 590 flights and cover a million miles, including one round-the-world trip (Weltfahrt). She was Weimar Germany's pride and joy, and she was meant as a demonstration of German aviation prowess.
As a result its trips were often intended to impress, and therein lies the theme of this posts: its Middle East visits, to Palestine in 1929 and to both Palestine and Egypt in 1931. It would also visit Tangier during one of its Mediterranean voyages, as well as I believe on its trips to Latin America.
The 1929 Visit to Palestine
For a good summary of both the 1929 and 1931 visits, let me refer you to zan article by Alan McGregor in a 1994n issue of Saudi ARAMCO World: "Contrary Winds: Zeppelins Over the Middle East."
Originally, the 1929 trip was supposed to include both Palestine and Egypt, but as the article notes, while Britain approved overflying the Palestine Mandate, it vetoed the visit to Egypt, worried about Egyptian nationalism and determined that the first dirigible to visit Egypt should be the British R-101, and intending that it make a visit in 1930 to India, making a stop in Cairo. Nevertheless, an Al-Ahram reporter, Mahmud Abul-Fath, was going to make the voyage. The ARAMCO World article quotes dispatch he publish on March 24, 1929, the day before the flight:
"The Egyptian people, through no fault of their own, are being prevented from witnessing a magnificent spectacle. This is due to [British] envy of the thoughtful, hard- working German nation, which is developing so quickly and outclassing most other countries, particularly in aviation. As a result, the people cannot see the [Graf Zeppelin], and it will not see the Suez Canal."Below is a German map of the 1929 route (in which rhe Zeppelin did not land):
|Route of the 1929 Visit|
The ARAMCO World article is a little confusing in its sequencing:
By early evening they were over Palestine, dropping a bundle of 5000 letters to the large German colony at Jaffa. They found Mount Carmel bedecked with German flags and the word "Willkommen " spelled out in 8-meter-height letters; then they flew along the coast to Tel Aviv, where a passenger showered confetti on the crowds below.Since Jaffa and Tel Aviv adjoin each other, while Mount Carmel towers above Haifa, this is confusing. Mail drops were in fact made at both Haifa and Jaffa, and in fact franked postcards from both are collectors' items, frequently seen on E-Bay and philatelic sites. Both Haifa and Jaffa had large German colonies (actually Jaffa's was at Sarona, now a part of Tel Aviv), but oher accounts and the map make clear that after the mail drop at Haifa, he Zeppelin proceeded down the coast to Tel Aviv-Jaffa, I'm unsure if this photo of the Zeppelin over Sarona is from the 1929 or the 1931 visit (most photos are from 1931, since most of the 1919 flight was after dark):
Proceeding out over the Mediterranean, the Zeppelin proceeded along the Egyptian coast, where Dr. Eckener, off Rashid, sent birthday greetings to King Fuad I, regretting that "contrary winds" prevented him from visiting Egypt. Graf Zeppelin then passed over Greece, circled the Acropolis, and proceeded via Vienna to Friedrichshafen and home. The first Middle East visit had lasted four days, May 25-28. Her next Middle East visit would be in 1931.
Meanwhile, the British completed their challenger to he Graf Zeppelin, the R-101. On October 5, 1930, on its first trip outside Britain, R-101 crashed and burned in France, killing 48 of the 54 people aboard including Britain's Air Minister. That marked the end of British dirigible building. It also brought Dr. Eckener to the funeral of those killed. At that point, the British Air Ministry invited Eckener to visit Egypt with the Graf.
On April 9, 1931, Graf Zeppelin left Friedrichshafen at 6:10 AM and proceeded south over Corsica, Sardinia, and Sicily, and reached the Libyan coast at 5:15 AM the next day and proceeded eastward over Benghazi, crossing into Egypt at Sollum and continuing to Alexandria at 12:55 PM. The Zeppelin spent 40 minutes circling over Alexandria while much of the population watched.
So much of the 1929 trip had been in the dark that there were few photo opportunities, But the 1931 trip offered plenty of the sort of publicity photos Eckener and Germany had been hoping for.
|Over the Cairo Citadel and Muhammad ‘Ali Mosque|
At 5:15 AM,the ship reached Cairo and the old Almaza airfield, which was Cairo's original civil airport and is today an Air Force Base some distance south of Cairo International Airport which replaced it. There, at 6:10 AM, British troops stationed in the area manned the mooring cable and also formed a cordon around he airship to hold back surging crowds, estimated at 30,000, who had flocked to Almaza to see it Firehoses were reportedly used to hold back the crowds when it took off later. An account of that visit can be read here.
|Troops Guarding the Zeppelin|
Arriving this time in clear daylight at 11 am, the Zeppelin took several circuits over the city, stopping her engines 100 meters over the Church ofthe Holy Sepulchere, and also unfurling the German flag over the (German-run) Augusta Victoria Hospital on the ridge east of the Old City. And, of course, again providing great photo opportunities:
|Over the Old City of Jerusalem|
|Over the Old City of Jerusalem|
|Over David's Tower and the Jerusalem Citadel|
The Graf Zeppelin then returned to Cairo, landing at Almaza at 5 PM. After picking up Eckener and the other, and departed over the desert, passing over Siwa and exiting over Libya. The second Middle East visit of the Graf Zeppelin was over. She returned to Friedrichshafen after 97 hours (four days plus an hour).
The ARAMCO World article cited earlier claims that for years Egyptians used the phrase "zayy al-zeppelin" (like the Zeppelin) to refer to something very large.