I just saw the BBC Time Watch episode on D-Day/Omaha Beach, with footage of the landings, and in some shots of the ships going for the beach you can see a lot of zeppelins (or at least they look like zeppelins, they might have been much smaller and even tethered to the ships) - not just one or two, but something like 8 to 10 in a single frame. I’m guessing those are allied air ships - mostly because they’re hanging around over the allied ships but don’t seem to be doing anything, like dropping bombs - , but I can’t think of a good reason for them to be there - they’re clearly not much use for dropping infantry, I wouldn’t think you’d need so many to gather intelligence and the bombing raids seemed to be finished at that time.
So what were those air ships doing over there - what were they used for? Any general information on the use of air ships during WWII would be appreciated too.
The Nazis were opposed to them – most especially Hermann Goering, whose rise to power under Hitler was largely due to his early joining of the NDSAP as one of the first celebrities to support it, having won fame as a WWI combat ace (i.e., in heavier-than-air aircraft). Add to this that Hugo Eckener, CEO of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin [hope I remembered this correctly – the “Zeppelin Airship Corp.”] was himself firercely anti-Nazi.
The Nazis seized on the Hindenburg crash to ground the Graf Zeppelin, the only other rigid airship in Germany (and apart from the U.S.S. Los Angeles, no longer actively flying, the only other one in the world) and tried to delay the construction of the Graf Zeppelin II, the Hindenburg’s unfinished sister ship, which was completed and flew briefly in 1939. Both Grafs and the Los Angeles were dismantled in 1940 and the debris used for war materiel by Germany and the U.S.
Didn’t the US also refuse to sell helium to Germany in the 1930s (thus the Hindenburg being filled with hydrogen)? During WW1, hydrogen-filled observation balloons were picked on by fighters with incendiary bullets.
While it is true that the U.S. embargoed helium, that had nothing to do with the German, (not Nazi), decision to stick with the more efficient (and more easily renewable and cheaper) hydrogen that they had been employing since they pioneered practical lighter-than-air craft prior to the twentieth century. The Zeppelin company never even considered employing helium.
BTW, just in the interest of the Straight Dope, some nomenclature:
balloon: any lighter-than-air craft. It is most often used to indicate a craft without a means of propulsion or steering, either relying on a tether to keep it moored to the ground or a ship or else having a pilot that can control altitude (through changes in ballast or inflation) but relying on wind for motion and direction.
dirigible: a lighter than air craft than is directible (dirigible), using engines and control surfaces, typically with a rigid frame allowing it to carry substantial amounts of cargo, passengers, or weapons
blimp: a lighter-than-air craft with engines and control surfaces that is manufactured without a rigid frame, used to carry much lighter cargoes. Technically, such a craft is dirigible/directible, but the word dirigible is rarely used and would generally confuse the issue if applied to such craft. The origin of the name blimp has not been established.
Zeppelin, typically capitalized: a rigid frame dirigible manufactured by the Zeppelin company. By association, it is sometimes used (lower case) to indicate a dirigible, (more frequently in the 1920s and 1930s than now).
Occasionally, dirigibles are called rigid airships and blimps are called non-rigid airships.
Airship: A dirigible (which by the way is short for “dirigible balloon”). Most commonly used to refer to a rigid dirigible but can mean any variety.
Semirigid: (We could probably go on for several pages without needing this one, but in the interests of completeness) A dirigible with a keel (like a rigid) but no other frame (like a blimp). Since they had the disadvantages both blimps and rigids, and the keel did not compensate enough for the problems, they were discontinued early; I think the last ones were taken out of service or crashed in 1929.
Nonrigid: Another term for blimp, more common in Europe than America.in their heyday.
A quick google of ‘military zeppelin’ returned this link with a brief recounting of the Germans using LTA craft in bombing attacks (during WWI I believe). By WWII the skies had pretty much given over to heavier than air craft.
Are you absolutely sure about that?, I had some book back at my homecountry that went through the history of German airships and Im very certain that in one section it mentioned how the Zeppelin engineers, when they found out that they couldnt get helium to fill their latest design, made changes so it could make use of the greater buoyancy of an hydrogen filled airship.
The closest I can come (at the moment as I leave for work) to a reference was an interview I saw with two of the engineers who worked on building the Hindenburg who claimed that they would never have considered helium for hydrogen’s (critical to them) 7 1/2 - 8% greater lift and ability to be “manufactured.”
In (mild) support of that is the fact that Zeppelin made no effort to find a supply of helium in the 1920s before the U.S. embargoed helium.
In opposition is the very large number of claims that the Germans “couldn’t get” helium from the U.S.
Ale: Until the Hindenburg explosion, the men at Zeppelin considered hydrogen safe – while it is combustible when mixed with oxygen, it requires a spark to ignite, and if vented, goes straight up away from the airship, (There’s at least a little evidence that what happened to the Hindenburg may have been sabotage, with the flammable paint used on the fabric envelope catching fire, leading to the gasbags rupturing and their contents burning.
After that, Eckener made some efforts to get helium to fly the Graf II (with not-so-buoyant helium, the smaller Graf I’s payload after being crewed and fueled was probably about equal to a Boy Scout patrol – if the boys are mostly young and lightly built).
You remember correctly, Ale. The Hindenburg and her sister ship, the Graf Zeppelin II, were initially designed with the intention of using helium, and they only switched to hydrogen when they realized that they couldn’t count on getting the helium. They would have been the first airships operated by Germany using it after flying over one hundred airships using hydrogen.
According to Hindenburg - an Illustrated History by Rick Archbold, the German LZ128 was being planned when the British hydrogen-filled R101 crashed, killing 48 people.
Because of the decision to use hydrogen, they were able to take advantage of the extra lifting capacity and added some additional passenger cabins. The original design had 25 two berth cabins, and they added nine more two berth cabins and one four berth family cabin.
In addition to any personal/cultural animus against them, airships are vulnerable when the enemy has any kind of airplanes. Germany was never really in a situation at any place or time where they could be sure of no enemy airplanes, so airships were pretty much a non-starter for valid reasons.
The US in the north Atlantic, on the other hand, could be pretty sure of no Axis planes being around, making airships possible.