On May 6, 1937, the German airship Hindenburg designed by Ferdinand von Zeppelin, burst into flames 200 feet over its intended landing spot at New Jersey’s Lakehurst Naval Air Station. Thirty-five people on board the flight were killed (13 passengers and 22 crewmen), along with one crewman on the ground. Dr. Hugo Eckener (10 August 1868 – 14 August 1954) the manager of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin, no fan of the Third Reich, named the airship for the late German president Paul von Hindenburg and refused Joseph Goebbels’ request to name it after Hitler.
The Nazis came to power in January 1933. A planned arrest of Eckener in 1933 was blocked by Hindenburg. Hitler met Eckener only one time, in July 1933, but the two barely spoke. Eckener did not make any secret of his dislike of the Nazis and the disastrous events he foresaw. He criticised the regime frequently, and refused to allow the Nazis to use the large hangars at Frankfurt for a rally. Eventually the Nazis declared Eckener to be persona non grata and his name was no longer allowed to appear in print. The Führer, never enthralled by the great airships in the first place, was ultimately glad that the Zeppelin that crashed in a fireball didn’t bear his name.
803 Feet Long and 242 Tons
The giant flying vessel measured 803.8 feet in length and weighed approximately 242 tons. Its mostly metal frame was filled with hydrogen. It came complete with numerous sleeping quarters, a library, dining room, and a magnificent lounge, but still managed a top speed of just over 80 miles per hour.
The zeppelin had just crossed the Atlantic Ocean after taking off from Frankfurt, Germany ½ days prior on its first transatlantic voyage of the season. Thirty-six passengers and a crew of 61 were on board. Despite being filled with 7 million cubic feet of highly combustible hydrogen gas, the Hindenburg featured a smoking room. Passengers were unable to bring matches and personal lighters aboard the zeppelin, but they could buy cigarettes and Cuban cigars on board and light up in a room pressurized to prevent any hydrogen from entering. A steward admitted passengers and crew through a double-door airlock into the smokers’ lounge, which had a single electric lighter, and made sure no one left with a lit cigarette or pipe.
As it reached its final destination in New Jersey, it hovered over its landing spot and was beginning to be pulled down to the ground by landing lines by over 200 crewmen when disaster struck. A small burst of flame started just forward of the upper fin, then blossomed into an inferno that quickly engulfed the Hindenburg’s tail.
Max Pruss the commander of the Zeppelin, was born in 1891 in Sgonn,Easy East Prussia. He joined the German Navy in 1906 and completed airship training during World War I, serving as an elevatorman on the German Zeppelins. Pruss became part of the Hindenburg crew in 1936 on the third flight to Rio de Janeiro. During his career, he flew 171 times over the Atlantic. The final flight of the Hindenburg was May 3–6, 1937, and it was Pruss first flight as commanding Captain of the Hindenburg. According to Airships.net he was a member of the NSDAP
Pruss and several crew members rode the Hindenburg down to the ground as it burned, then ordered everybody out. He carried radio operator Willy Speck out of the wreckage, then looked for survivors until rescuers were forced to restrain him. Pruss, however, suffered extensive burns and had to be taken out by ambulance to Paul Kimball Hospital in Lakehurst. The burns were so extensive that he was given last rites, but although his face was disfigured for the rest of his life, his condition improved over the next few months. Pruss was unable to testify at investigative committees, but officially he was not held responsible. Pruss died age 69 on 28-11-1960. in Germany, of pneumonia contracted after a stomach operation
“Oh, the Humanity!”
Many jumped from the burning craft, landed on the soft sand of the naval base below, and lived to tell about it; others weren’t so lucky. Herb Morrison, a reporter for WLS Radio in Chicago, happened to be covering the event and cried out the now famous words, “Oh, the Humanity!” The majestic ship turned into ball of flames on the ground in only 34 seconds.
The cause of the disaster is still uncertain. At the time, many thought the ship had been hit by lightning. Many still believe that the highly flammable hydrogen was the cause.
Some Germans even cried foul play, suspecting sabotage intended to sully the reputation of the Nazi regime. NASA research, however, has shown that the highly combustible varnish treating the fabric on the outside of the vessel most likely caused the tragedy.
As a 14-year-old cabin boy, Werner Franz
was the youngest member of the Hindenburg and he died age 92 on 25-09-2014, thought to be the last surviving crew member of the Hindenburg.
One of the ground crew died in the disaster, the 51 years old, Allen Hagaman
In New York City, funeral services for the 28 Germans who lost their lives in the Hindenburg disaster are held on the Hamburg-American pier, on May 11, 1937. About 10,000 members of German organizations lined the pier. Seems to be a mixture of Nazi Germany, American, and German-American Bund flags.