Pruss, Max.

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Pruss Max, born in 29-09-1891 in Sgonn, East Prussia, German Empire, (now Zgon, Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship, Poland), to Friedrich Pruss, a factory worker, and Luise Pruss, born Kaminski. In 1898 the Pruss family moved to Bielefeld. Max Pruss, third from left, He was one of six siblings. In 1907 Pruss joined the “Schiffsjungen-Division” of the German Navy based at Kiel. He trained on the ship “Preussen” in the Navigation and Signals Service and received his helmsman’s certificate (Steuermannspatent) in 1914.. According to he was a member of the NSDAP. Pruss joined the German naval airship service during WWI and made his first flight as an enlisted trainee/observer aboard the Navy Zeppelin L3 in 1914. He flew as a petty officer on the non-rigid Parseval ship PL-6 (formerly an advertising airship for Stollwerck, a chocolate company based in Köln), on which he served in the Baltic for approximately three months. He then trained as a member of the crew of Leutnant (later Überleutnant and Kapitänleutnant) Horst von Buttlar-Brandenfels and served as an elevatorman on the World War I Zeppelin L6. Horst von Buttlar-Brandenfels died 03-09-1962 (aged 74) in Berchtesgaden, Bavaria, West Germany. Max Pruss remained part of that same crew aboard L11, L30, L25, and L54. He served on the Germany Navy zeppelins L6 (LZ-31), L11 (LZ-41), L25 (LZ-58), L30 (LZ-62), and L54 (LZ-99), mostly as an elevatorman, the most challenging and demanding position.

Pruss was elevatorman on LZ-126 under the command of Hugo Eckener during the ship’s transatlantic delivery flight from Germany to America to become the U.S. Navy airship USS Los Angeles. Hugo Eckener died of heart ailment on14-08-1954 (age 86) in Friedrichshafen, Bodenseekreis,  Pruss then worked with Eckener and fellow zeppelin officers Hans von Schiller, Hans Flemming, and Anton Wittemann, here together,

giving lectures around Germany to raise money for the Zeppelin-Eckener-Spende and the construction of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin.  Von Schiller died age 85 on 08-12-1976 in Tübingen and Anton Wittemann died 1950 (age 44–45).

Pruss served aboard Graf Zeppelin during many important flights, including the ship’s historic 1929 Round-the-World flight, and was given command of Graf Zeppelin in 1934. He served as a watch officer aboard Hindenburg during many flights of the 1936 season — along with fellow watch officers Albert Sammt, Heinrich Bauer, and Knut Eckener the son of Dr. Hugo Eckener, under the command of both Hugo Eckener and Ernst August Lehmann.   Albert Sammt died old age 93 on 21-06-1982 in Niederstetten, Heinrich Bauer passed away in 1979, age 77. Ernst August Lehmann died in 1948 (age 59–60).

Max in the middle himself eventually received command of Hindenburg, and he was the ship’s captain on the transatlantic flight from Lakehurst to Frankfurt on September 30 – October 3, 1936, and during Hindenburg’s last three South American crossings of the 1936 season.

Max Pruss was in command of the Hindenburg when it was destroyed by fire at Lakehurst, New Jersey on 06-05-1937.

  He survived the crash, but suffered very serious burns on much of his body, including his face, and remained in a New York hospital for many months. Despite numerous operations to repair the burn damage he had suffered, Pruss remained badly scarred for the rest of his life.

To the end of his life, Pruss believed the Hindenburg disaster was the result of sabotage. In a 1960 interview, he dismissed the possibility that an electrical discharge could have caused the accident, arguing that zeppelins had passed through thunderstorms and even lightning many times without incident:

On 06-05-1937 35 people died during the disaster with the LZ129 Hindenburg, the largest passenger airship ever built. The Hindenburg disaster marks the end of the zeppelin era.

By the time of the Hindenburg disaster Pruss was a member of the Nazi Party, and he was one of only two zeppelin captains, out of seven active commanders, who belonged to the Party; the other was Anton Wittemann. (Captain Walter Ziegler the watch officer on the Hindenburg’s final flight, was also a member of the NSDAP but never actually commanded a zeppelin.) Walter Ziegler survived the war, and settled down in Hamburg, where he worked for a British petroleum company. During World War II Pruss served the Luftwaffe as commander of the Rhein-Main airport in Frankfurt.

Pruss kept in touch with his fellow airshipmen over the years.  In a 1947 letter to aviator Clara Adams (see letter), the highly decorated vice admiral in the United States Navy, and an advocate of lighter-than-air flight. Charles Emery Rosendahl wrote:

“I just had a letter from Captain Max Pruss and the surviving crew members of the Hindenburg.  They had just gotten together on May 6, the tenth anniversary of the Hindenburg, and held a memorial ceremony in Frankfurt…  Although the plastic surgery for his very severe burns was successful, he is far from the fine looking man he was before the accident. Nevertheless he seems as cheerful as anyone can be under the circumstances.”

During the 1950s, Pruss energetically but unsuccessfully tried to raise interest in the construction of new zeppelin airships to be inflated with helium.  In support of his crusade he often used an argument offered by Charles Rosendahl in the 1930’s, when the airplane was already posing a competitive challenge to the airship:  “If you want to get there quickly, take an airplane; if you want to get there comfortably, take an airship.” Charles Emery Rosendahl was in command at Lakehurst on the night of 06-05-1937, and witnessed the destruction of the Hindenburg, leading fire fighting and rescue efforts.

The United States Navy ended airship operations in August 1962. Rosendahl was aboard the N class blimp ZPG-3W on the final flight. Charles Emery Rosendahl died 17-05-1977 (aged 85) in the Naval Hospital Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In describing Hindenburg in his 1960 interview, Pruss commented:

I can only say that [Hindenburg] was a real ship for passengers, and a new ship, too, and it’s very regrettable that we have no airships. On an airship you have a wonderful trip, not with an airplane about 1,200 meters high and so you can’t see anything. In an airship, we have a height from 100 to 200 meters over the ocean.  You have very nice islands, you have big ships. It’s for passengers a very, very comfortable [flight] and a very nice flight. No seasickness.

Ferdinand Adolf August Heinrich Graf von Zeppelin

is inspired by, among other things, the American Civil War, where hot air balloons are used to reconnoitre enemy territory. During the First World War, about a hundred Zeppelins are eventually built. They are used, among other things, for bombing raids over eastern England, and London is also reached on a few occasions. However, because the anti-aircraft defenses are developing rapidly, the Zeppelins are less and less used for bombing raids later on.After the First World War, the Zeppelins (from 1918) are used on a large scale as a scheduled service for civilians. The most famous passenger airship is the Graf Zeppelin. This airship makes 144 Atlantic crossings and covers almost two million kilometers.waPruss’s plan to revive passenger zeppelins centered on a modified version of LZ-131, which had been designed as a successor to LZ-129 Hindenburg and LZ-130 Graf Zeppelin II; it was proposed to equip the redesigned LZ-131 with four 1800 hp engines to carry 100 passengers or 42 tons of freight at speeds up to 100 MPH.  Later plans envisioned another design for a 200 passenger, 920-foot long airship inflated with 10.5 million cubic feet of helium. But building such ships required not only a huge investment of funds for the zeppelins themselves — up to 24 million marks per ship — but also similar amounts for the reconstruction of hangar and operating facilities dynamited in 1940 by order of Hermann Göring

  and futher destroyed during the course of the war, and Pruss was never able to attract sufficient interest to turns these plans into reality.

Death and burial ground of Pruss, Max.


Pruss returned to Germany around October 1937, where he served as commandant of Frankfurt Airport as World War II broke out. By this time he was already urging the modernization of Germany’s remaining Zeppelin fleet, and during a 1940 visit by Hermann Goering to Frankfurt Airport on his left Bruno Leopold Loerzer and Hugo Otto Sperrle, this was the subject of an alleged quarrel between Pruss and Goering. In the 1950s Pruss tried to raise money for new Zeppelin construction, citing the comfort and luxury of this mode of transportation. Pruss did not see his dream realized, as his death was over 30 years before the construction of a new airship at the Friedrichshafen complex by Zeppelin Neue Technologie (NT).

Max Pruss died in Germany on 28-11-1960, age 69, of pneumonia contracted after a stomach operation. Pruss is buried at the Südfriedhof/cemetery of Frankfurt am Main.   Section  A, Grave Nr. 361.  My friend, Wolfgang Linke from Frankfurt am Main, visited the cemetery for me and made the neccesairy pictures with great thanks.


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