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Flight Into the Abyss
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|NEW 2012 Edition
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Flight Into the Abyss
Zeppelin Operations in Africa, 1917-1918
by Owen P. Hall, Jr.
Merriam Press Military Fiction 5
Second Edition (June 2012)
Paperback (ISBN 978-1478141433) — #HF5-P — $14.95
Hardcover (ISBN 978-1-257-10380-5) — #HF5-H — $36.95
How it all Began: The Konigsberg Episode
The German light cruiser SMS Konigsberg launches a surprise raid at Zanzibar, sinking the HMS Pegasus on September 20th, 1914. The British seek revenge and bottle up the Konigsberg in the Rufiji Delta 150 nautical miles south of Zanzibar. Ten months later the Konigsberg is finally destroyed via the world’s first combined air and sea operation. The guns, ammunition, and supplies from the Konigsberg’s hulk are transported inland to support ongoing German ground operations.
Over the next two years the German East Africa army under the command of Major General von Lettow-Vorbeck stages guerrilla warfare against superior Allied forces. However, his army is running low on medical supplies and ammunition and may not last out the year. The Admiralstab hatches a plan to provide the required supplies by Zeppelin. The LZ 102 under construction is lengthened by 100 feet to accommodate two additional hydrogen-filled gas bags. The plan calls for a one-way trip to German East Africa after which the airship will be cannibalized to support the local war effort.
Unfortunately, the plan unravels when the LZ 102 is destroyed in a severe storm after landing at Juterborg. The Admiralstab immediately orders the partially completed LZ 104 to be reconstructed along the lines of the LZ 102. The new Zeppelin is ready in less than three weeks. Longer than a modern dreadnought, the Afrika-Schiff embodies the latest in airship technology. She is equipped with five Maybach 210-horsepower engines giving her a top cruising speed of 60 knots. The airship has a cargo lifting capacity of nearly 18 tons and a range of over 9,000 nautical miles.
After a 1,000 nautical-mile trip from Berlin, the LZ 104, captained by Hugo Eckener, arrives at the former army airship base in Jamboli, Bulgaria, which has been expanded to support the super Zeppelin. On November 13th, 1917 Lieutenant Ludwick Bockholt assumes command of the LZ 104 and conducts a test flight over Palestine where the airship encounters severe thunderstorms. The flight lasts nearly 32 hours giving the crew useful experience for the upcoming flight to Africa. The German weather service reports favorable weather conditions starting on November 20th.
The Longest Flight
The Afrika-Schiff leaves Bulgarian airspace at 10:00 on November 21st, 1917. Lieutenant Bockholt plots a course directly for the Egyptian coastline nearly 750 nautical miles away. The LZ 104 continues south using the Nile River as a guide. Two days into the mission Bockholt receives a recall signal from Berlin, but after consulting with his officers Bockholt decides to ignore the signal and continue southward. The airship encounters a severe storm off Lake Victoria. After weathering the tempest Bockholt sets course for the general location of the retreating Schütztruppe.
LZ 104 arrives at the Schütztruppe’s main camp prior to sunset after a nearly 96-hour flight. A team of over 300 locals secure the airship to a makeshift mast. The precious cargo of ammunition and medical supplies is unloaded over the next few hours while repairs to the airship are completed. Bockholt does not want the airship to be dismantled, as was called for in the original plan, and proposes a bold attack against several British installations. A set of makeshift bomb racks are installed and the water tanks are refilled from a nearby river.
The LZ 104 is readied for offensive operations with 6,000 pounds of makeshift ordinance from the Konigsberg and the recently captured Portuguese arsenal. She lifts off in the early light for a bombing attack on Zanzibar. The British are caught by surprise and considerable damage is inflicted on the merchant ships located in the roadstead. The airship sets course for the Arabian Peninsula. Lieutenant Bockholt is informed by German intelligence that the British are deploying fighter and search aircraft along the Nile Delta. Bockholt steers an eastern course and heads for Damascus. The Afrika-Schiff arrives at Jamboli several days later after completing the longest air flight in human history.
The Balkan Terror
The LZ 104 is sent back to Germany to be converted to a strategic bomber. She returns to Jamboli in the early spring of 1918 with a number of enhancements, including the capability to launch aircraft and new high-altitude engines. On her first mission she supports the breakout of the Goeben into the Aegean Sea and attacks the British supply base at Salonika with unqualified success. Lieutenant Bockholt selects Naples as his next bombing mission, which is carried out with mixed results in early March.
The Empire Strikes Back
In mid-March the British launch a carrier raid on the Zeppelin base at Jamboli using the newly recommissioned HMS Furious. A specially trained squadron of seven Sopwith Camels flies the 100 nautical miles from the Aegean Sea to attack the Zeppelin base. Unfortunately for the British, the LZ 104 left the base some time before the attack. Lieutenant Bockholt is on his way to bomb British naval facilities in the Nile Delta area. The British airstrike yields only minor damage to the Zeppelin installation. The Balkan Terror’s bombing raid leads to spectacular results.
Airship versus Warship
The German supplies the Balkan Terror with the new, top-secret, anti-ship guided missile. In late March Bockholt takes the Zeppelin out for an anti-shipping mission in the Aegean Sea. The airship encounters a supply convoy escorted by two British cruisers and three destroyers headed for Palestine. Bockholt successfully launches a guided missile that strikes and sinks HMS Weymouth. The remaining escorts keep the Zeppelin at altitude; however, Bockholt is able to sink an escort destroyer and two merchantmen.
In early April the LZ 104 is readied for the longest—and perhaps the most important—strategic bombing raid to date. The airship sets out to attack the British naval base at Malta. The British discover the Zeppelin’s mission and plan a surprise air attack. The Balkan Terror is shot down over the Straits of Otranto; the entire crew is lost. A lurking German U-boat exacts revenge by torpedoing the HMS Furious during her participation in the downing of the Balkan Terror.
Appendix A: LZ 104 Specifications
Appendix B: LZ 104 Crew
Appendix C: Aircraft Specifications
Appendix D: Dicta Boelcke
Appendix E: Zeppelin Glossary
Appendix F: Equivalent Naval Ranks (1914)
Appendix G: Tell of the Tape
Appendix H: Nomenclature
Appendix I: LZ 104 Resume
1. Battle of Mafia Island (Action Track)
2. German East Africa
3. Africa (LZ 104 Track)
4. Mediterranean (LZ 104 Track) – Naples Raid
5. Mediterranean (LZ 104 Track) – Nile Delta Raid
6. Mediterranean (LZ 104 Track) – Malta Raid
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