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An AIRSHIP in the FIELD: A personal narrative

  • Written by  Staff
An AIRSHIP in the FIELD: A personal narrative

The following account has been translated from a German weekly newspaper. It is the only narrative of its kind which as yet reached “The Sphere.” It gives an account journey in a German airship under war conditions. 

“Up to now the airship branch of the [German] military service has been particularly silent concerning its doings, but there is no doubt that it will perform a tremendous work against the enemy. There is good ground for belief in the effectiveness of this weapon, in which- even our enemies acknowledge it- Germany energy and thoroughness have surpassed all opponents. Although England and Russia completely, and the French in a slightly lesser form, denied the utility of these air-cruisers, claiming they could have easily been put out of action, yet today they undoubtedly sail over the lines and the fortresses of the enemy, in spite of their size and the slowness of their flight they are less vulnerable than the airplanes, because even many hits and the loss of several people does not essentially damage the great airship unless under exceptionally unfavorable circumstances.”

 

Over Czenstochowo in an Airship

“The account of a long journey was related by a German airship officer to an Austria reporter at the time of the first great battle on Polish ground. ‘We were thirteen hours on the way doing 700 kilometers, of which 500 kilometers was over the enemy’s country. It was still dark when my man woke me in the morning. In an hour’s time, we had sighted B--, while two hours later we crossed the frontier. Czenstochowo lay outlined below us; the Warta twisted in its marshy course among the hills. For 100 kilometers, we followed the railway to Keilce, and saw soldiers marching along half of the distance under us who were either Russians or Austrians. We turned down friendly greetings and turned to the northeast, the railway showing us the way. The forts of Ivangorod lay like small four-cornered cubes round the fortress; we turned away from them. The heights of Radom were crowded with soldiers. It was obvious that the Russians were in strong force and were prepared to receive the enemy.

 

The Airship Shot at 

“‘Our appearance created huge excitement among the great grey patches below, which were the regiments; thousands of white gunpowder smoke came puffing, only visible by the telescope. Near Lublin there was firing from large masses of troops, who covered the whole level plain to the horizon. Southeast of Lublin infantry was forming, quite visible though small, with artillery in front. The smoke from the cannon rolled itself into a ball, and for the first time we heard through the noise of our own motor the detonation, though very faint and far off. I was in the back gondola; it sounded like the rapping of one’s knuckles against a wall. Then, again, right under my feet, the bullets hit but recoiled harmlessly from the metal covering of the gondola. Then a bullet went by my ear, into the outer covering of the balloon which hung over our heads like a gigantic silver roof, bored a tiny hole in it, ripped a strip of the inner lining, and lost itself in the hydrogen.

 

Patching in Mid-Air

“’Bullet now followed fast on bullet; we counted twenty-five hits, twenty-five holes through which the gas escaped, also the shells came nearer, a splinter fell in our splinter like a stone. A telegraph message came from the front gondola, “Full speed!” All four motors drove. Then came the order to patch what needed patching. Swinging between heaven and earth we repaired what was possible to repair. As the sun was sinking we landed among the vanguard of our friends, gave our report, journeyed on again, and ended in the Austrian headquarters. ‘

“So much for the information gathering journey. Originally the idea had been used to cause destruction to fortified places, but now it had also been found possible to be useful against the armies in the field. As to its effects on our towns, we know a great deal from actual witnesses in the bombarded towns. Liège, Namur, and Antwerp were the first towns to make acquaintance with the with the fear of the air, and undoubtedly the moral impression of these visits hastened the surrender of all these towns.”

  

Over Antwerp

A citizen of Antwerp relates the following: “I was awakened at one o’clock by the tremendous humming a motor. It came from above. I opened the window and saw to the south over the railway station a gigantic being, which threw a stream of light on the town. Then followed a noise like muffled bells and a clap of thunder. Again, a stream of light, and two seconds later a sound as if two goods wagons had crashed against one another with terrific force. Then followed, thundering from the guns of the forts, rifle-fire, and between them the bombs of German airships. The inhabitants all streamed into the streets, men, women, and children, in their night clothes, wandering from one corner to another, seeking safety, for at first the people thought the bombardment of the city had begun. 

 

The Attack on Ostend 

“That was the beginning. Since then the methods and the weapons of the airships have been necessarily perfected till the early work seems mere child’s play compared with to the destructive power of the present weapons. For example, at the visit over Ostend, while it was still in the hands of the English, the projectiles produced frightful destruction. ‘It was,’ so writes the Antwerp Metropole, ‘a quarter to twelve that night, while Ostend lay in the deepest darkness, that a telephonic message from Thourout informed the commandant that a Zeppelin was passing in the direction of Ostend, and a few minutes later one could hear the fearful hum of its engines, 200 meters above the roofs. (the witness was deceived over the real flying height of the airship, but night is naturally not good for such observations.)

 “The Zeppelin turned its searchlight on the sea coast, then took the direction of the railway station, and soon four fearful denotations tore the stillness of the night. The citizen guard of Ghent, who were occupying the station, fired twice with the guns, but with the swiftness of the wind the airship disappeared into the night. The first bomb had torn a hole in the Bois de Boulogne more than 32 feet in circumference and 16 feet deep. The others had produced ‘fantastic destruction’ near the station, but had not actually hit it. Fitted out with more machine guns the Zeppelins are also unpleasant opponents for the troops.”

 

 

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