Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  

First Military Airlift Mission ?

Recommended Posts


Once more this heroic story proves reality beats Hollywood.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites


Once again thank you for telling a great story


wasn't there also some long distance Arctic Zeppelin flights just prior to WW2 also not fully revealed at the time??

There were an number of Zeppelin and Airship flights to the Arctic in the 30's but I think they were all pretty well publicised at the time. There were a series of covert flights by the Graf Zeppelin II (the sister ship of the Hindenburg) in 1939 to eves drop on the British radar facilities but my books on that subject are in a box somewhere.


Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
Guest stephen.mills

Does anyone have a biography or biographical information on Kapitanleutnant Ludwig Bockholt of the L59 and a hi-res image 300dpi?

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites
ian turner

For interest, found out a bit more on this topic, which I relay here briefly:

L.59 attempted the Africa trip twice before the actual voyage - on 13 and 16 Nov '17 - due to initially positive weather conditions worsening after the start. The airship had been torn once in a thunderstorm, with damage to the outer skin and spars. There was a hurried repair, due to the daily deteriorating situation of Lettow-Vorbeck.

After return from the aborted trip, there was some debate as to whether to reuse L.59 for a similar expedition, but finally the decision was made to convert the airship back to an oprational role. 21 Dec '17 saw the craft in Friedrichshafen with threee workshop stays, and was back in Jamboli by 20 Feb '18.

Thereafter L.59 was involved in some operational sorites as follows:

3-4 Mar '18 - attack on Southern Italy - postponed due weather

10-11 Mar '18 - attack on Naples - targets being the gasworks and military harbour and other harbour facilities and industrial sites at Bagnoli. The Italians had not anticipated attack by air and the cities were not blacked-out. No defense was offered by the Italians and the attack claimed dead and wounded as a result. The zeppelin however suffered its own problems on the return trip after this attack, with the crew in the rear engine cell being overcome by fumes. Some two hours without the crew and engine ensued.

20-23 Mar '18 - attack on Port Said. L.59 temporarily lost direction/orientation due to weather conditions. Port Said was only reached in the early hours of the morning. The airship would need to make too low a bomb run, risking excessive ground fire, and so the attack was cancelled. Cloud cover helped evade hostiles over Crete on the way back.

A 5 day overhaul was required after this last sortie, and by 7 Apr '18 the fateful operation against the Britsh base at Malta was attempted. A switching of targets being considered wise, so as to maintain the element of surprise for each bombing run. On route to Malta, the L.59 encountered the German U-boat, U53, operating out of the Dalmatian coast. Radio contact was not established because the submarine's radio equipment was out of service. U53's commander had the machineguns and cannon made ready in case of attack, it being unclear if L.59 was hostile. However he finally realized it was a 'friendly' and held fire.

However, some time later, at an estimated distance of some 25-30 km South, two seprate points of fire in the air were observed by the U-boat. These developed briefly into an enormous flame and the clear outline of an airship could be recognised. Several aexplosions were heard and the airship broke in two and fell, burning, into the sea.

Whilst it is certain that the loss was not due to enemy action, the actual cause remains unknown, and the two separate sources of fire are also a mystery. However it is at least from the evidence of the observing german U-boat that the place and time of L.59's fate (20.34 hrs) was recorded.

L.59's Africa flight, whilst having been aborted, nevertheless pointed to the way of postwar global airship flights, which era sadly ended with the Hindenburg disaster in 1937.

In the old cemetery at Palastweiher in the old town of Konigswinter is a small memorial on the grave of his parents, Katharina and Wilhelm Schmitz, asking for quiet remembrance of their son, Maschinenmaat Karl Schmitz, who found a cold grave in the roads of Otranto on 7/4/18. Casual observers of the memorial may consider his fate might have been onboard a warship, but despite being naval personnel, he was a crew member of L.59, operated by the navy.

Ian Turner

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  

  • Create New...