The Incredible Story Of How The Hindenburg Disaster Ended The Era Of The Airships

Hindenburg

Photo: AP

75 years ago, on May 6th 1937, Nazi Germany’s prized LZ-129 Hindenburg airship crashed and burned in Lakehurst, New Jersey, creating the iconic photo to the right.The disaster had many ramifications, not only ending 36 staff and passenger’s lives, but also ending the era of the airship and proving incredibly embarrassing for the Nazis.

Named after German President Paul von Hindenburg, the airship was huge — three times the length a modern Boeing 747

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For the Nazis, it was not just a feat of engineering, but a propaganda vehicle — the country had just began to occupy the demilitarized Ruhr Valley.

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After just a few test flights, Nazi propaganda boss Dr. Joseph Goebbels ordered the airship to fly to every major German city to drop Nazi campaign pamphlets and to blare patriotic music.

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In 1936, the Hindenburg made many transatlantic flights.

Its passengers were affluent, and the airship offered great luxury.

Rigid airships had been used since the turn of the century, but few had matched the grandeur of the Hindenburg.

At this point, Germany completely dominated the airship industry.

That all changed in New Jersey on May 7, 1937, when the airship caught fire and exploded in mid-air.

Somehow, a fire started on the ship as it was due to land. A number of theories, including static electricity, have since been mooted.

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Crucially, the airship was filled with flammable hydrogen, rather than the safer helium, as the gas was easier for Germany to get hold of.

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It took just 34 seconds for the entire ship to catch ablaze. Those on board had little choice but to jump 300 foot.

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Some still suspect that the disaster could have been an act of sabotage, and the Nazi investigation covered that up to save face.

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The disaster became notorious, at least partly due to the Herbert Morrison's news coverage of the crash.

There had been numerous airship disasters in the past (including some with higher death tolls), but something about this disaster captured the public imagination.

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Germany grounded its fleet of hydrogen-filled airships after the disaster, but were never able to replace them as the USA was the only country with substantial helium resources.

Within a few years transatlantic aeroplane flight became economical and safe, and airships were consigned to history.

The age of the airship was over.

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