The First World War saw the development of aircraft as one of the most vital elements in the warring nations' armouries. The Germans also made great use of the airship and in April 1918 a giant Zeppelin, loaded with death and destruction, took off from a German base in Bulgaria heading for an important Allied naval base in the Mediterranean - MALTA. Only the vulnerability of this weapon to the slightest accident saved the unsuspecting people of this island from their first air raid

For most people "Zeppelin" is synonymous with giant airships and the word quickly brings to mind the German airships sowing death on London and other British towns during the First World War, the pioneers of strategic and terror bombing. The rigid type airship, that is the airship which kept its streamlined torpedo shape by means of an internal girder frame rather than by the pressure of the gas, was the brainchild of German noble and soldier Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin. Lacking the required technical know-how he, Zeppelin sought the help of engineer Professor Muller-Breslau who evaluated and revised Zeppelin's proposals and turned them into practical pro­positions.
Luftshiff Zeppelin 1 (LZ 1) made its first flight in July 1900 when it was flown off a floating raft on Lake Constance. LZ 1 was 128 metres long with a hydrogen gas capacity of 11,300 cubic metres. Powered by two 15 hp Daimler engines, it had a top speed of 28 kilo­metres per hour. The results achieved were not very encouraging and LZ 1 was dismantled after three flights lasting a total of little more then two hours
The elderly German Count was not discouraged and raised funds to build better airships. The second one was wrecked on its second trip in November 1906 but LZ 3 began a series of successful flights in October of the same year. Ominously it was accepted by the German Army and used as a training ship. LZ 4 and LZ 5 were very successful making non-stop flights lasting 30 and 38 hours respec­tively.
LZ 6 was acquired by a newly formed national company Deutsche Luftshiffahrts A.G. (DELAG) but was destroyed after catching fire in its shed. LZ 7, which a capacity of 19,300 cu.m. Gas and a speed of 60 km/hr carried 32 people on the first passenger flight Essen-chum-Dortmund and back. Between 1911 and the war in 1914 DELAG operated several other airships including LZ 10 "Schwaben" which carried some 1500 passengers in 218 flights and LZ 13 which carried 6,000 people in 630 hrs airship flights for several years, and DELAG's airships were taken over by the German Navy and. Army and used for training. New Zeppelins were built for the Navy and Army and during the night of 19/20 January 1915, LZ 24 and LZ 27 carried out the first German raid across the North Sea against England.
Britain strengthened her defence and losses among the highly dangerous hydrogen filled airships rose alarmingly. New Zeppelins, bigger, faster and higher flying were developed in attempt to out per­form and out match the defences. Early 1916 saw the use of the first "Super Zeppelins" with gas capacity of 55,200 cu.m., six 240 hp engines, a maximum speed of 103 km/hr and a range of 3700 km. In August 1917 the Germans introduced the V~type airship which was superior in all aspects to the Super Zeppelins.


To interfere with these submarines when they were moving to and from their Austrian Adriatic bases, drifters commandeered from British fishing ports were, from September 1915, used to lay a net barrage across the Otranto Straits at the south end of the Adriatic. Each drifter was commanded by a Chief Skipper or Skipper, usually Royal Naval Reserve. Ratings were Royal Naval Reserve or Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and included both British and Maltese men. Seven of a crew of nine in HM drifter Frigate Bird were drowned when their vessel was sunk in a collision with the troop transport Theseus off Marsaxlokk when both were sailing without lights in the dark night of March 11, 1918. Five of the seven dead were Maltese.
In May 1916 Rear Admiral Mark C.F. Kerr was appointed to command the British Adriatic Squadron. He was a strong believer in the efficacy of aircraft in the war against submarines. In mid 1916 he asked that Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) aircraft be supplied to his command to patrol over the drifters line. He knew that the submarines were being assembled at Pola from parts sent by rail from their makers' yards in Germany that torpedoes were being produced at Fiume and that Cattaro was the main operational base for the submarines. Kerr wanted, also, to bomb these targets as the most direct way to reduce the submarine menace in the Mediterranean.
But be­cause the French and Italian navies were numerically superior to the British in the Adriatic, he was referred to them. They were unrespon­sive. High-ranking commanders' private wars often inhibit effective allied organisation and in this case benefited the enemy in the Adriatic and throughout the Mediterranean. Having failed to obtain aircraft, Kerr asked for a kite balloon ship to enable him to provide the drifters line and anti-submarine patrol ships with observation balloons. By this time there was a change of thinking on the part of the British Admiralty and the small RNAS detachment at Gibraltar was transferred to Malta at the end of 1916. Meanwhile command of the drifters and ship barrage was as­sumed by Commodore (later Admiral) A.W. Heneage who was the Senior British Naval Officer in Italy.
A site for a seaplane base was found at Otranto and four Short 827 (150hp) and six Short 184 (225hp) seaplanes were sent. Commodore Murry Sueter was given command of this new RNAS station. The later Short 320 seaplanes were also sent. The Admiralty ordered 25 of these floatplanes in January 1917 of which twelve were allocated to Otranto and two to Malta, where together with four Short 184s, they equipped a torpedo school for air crew training. In April 1917
Allied Admirals decided to appoint one officer to direct all ship


  • His mission as a diplomat of Württemberg in Berlin ended in 1890. He returned to military service as commander of a cavalry brigade in Saarburg. Disagreement in the evaluation of his command during autumn manoeuvres in 1890 led to his final resignation from military service after his promotion to a lieutenant-general

  • Kober also planned and realized the construction of the first airship LZ 1. A joint-stock company, the Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt was founded in order to ensure the financing of this airship. LZ 1 took off for the first time on July 2, 1900.

  • Despite this quick success, it took 8 years until the future of the Zeppelin airships stood on a sound financial basis. After the complete destruction of airship LZ 4 in a storm in 1908 collections and donations as a reaction to this disaster amounted to 6 million Mark. This capital was used to found the company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH. Incoming orders from the army as well as from the Deutschen Luftschiffahrts Aktiengesellschaft (Delag) ensured the company's future existence.

  • Count Zeppelin as an airship man
  • After the foundation of the company Count Zeppelin retired steadily from business. While he saw the mass production of 'his' airships during World War I, he did not live to see their temporary end as a result of the regulations in the Treaty of Versailles. He died on March 8, 1917 in Berlin and was buried on the cemetery Pragfriedhof in Stuttgart.

  • The war to end all wars

    During World War 1, over 10,000 men were employed in dockyard establishments. Eight hundred allied vessels passed through Malta each month and the dockyard worked a high pressure. After the war a floating dock, capable of taking the largest war vessel then afloat, was installed in the Grand Harbour.
  • It was sunk by enemy aircraft in 1942

  • All the information found on this web site is the result of a lot of research, from books I own dating back to the 1900's and other resources. All credit goes to the respective authors. If you think that I am in breach of any copyright, please contact me, and I will remove the material in question.

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