Classic History Books

William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

the great problem of constructing a really-serviceable, steerable balloon.


CHAPTER IX. The Strange Career of Count Zeppelin

In Berlin, on March 8, 1917, there passed away a man whose name will be remembered as long as the
English language is spoken. For Count Zeppelin belongs to that little band of men who giving birth to a

work of genius have also given their names to the christening of it; and so the patronymic will pass down

the ages.

In the most sinister sense of the expression Count Zeppelin may be said to have left his mark deep down
upon the British race. In course of time many old scores are forgiven and forgotten, but the Zeppelin

raids on England will survive, if only as a curious failure. Their failure was both material and moral.

Anti-aircraft guns and our intrepid airmen brought one after another of these destructive monsters blazing

to the ground, and their work of "frightfulness" was taken up by the aeroplane; while more lamentable

still was the failure of the Zeppelin as an instrument of terror to the civil population. In the long list of

German miscalculations must be included that which pictured the victims of bombardment from the air

crying out in terror for peace at any price.

Before the war Count Zeppelin was regarded by the British public as rather a picturesque personality. He
appeared in the romantic guise of the inventor struggling against difficulties and disasters which would

soon have overwhelmed a man of less resolute character. Even old age was included in his handicap, for

he was verging on seventy when still arming against a sea of troubles.

The ebb and flow of his fortunes were followed with intense interest in this country, and it is not too
much to say that the many disasters which overtook his air-ships in their experimental stages were

regarded as world-wide calamities.

When, finally, the Count stood on the brink of ruin and the Kaiser stepped forward as his saviour,
something like a cheer went up from the British public at this theatrical episode. Little did the audience

realize what was to be the outcome of the association between these callous and masterful minds.

And now for a brief sketch of Count Zeppelin's life-story. He was born in 1838, in a monastery on an
island in Lake Constance. His love of adventure took him to America, and when he was about

twenty-five years of age he took part in the American Civil War. Here he made his first aerial ascent in a

balloon belonging to the Federal army, and in this way made that acquaintance with aeronautics which

became the ruling passion of his life.

After the war was over he returned to Germany, only to find another war awaiting him - the
Austro-Prussian campaign. Later on he took part in the Franco-Prussian War, and in both campaigns he

emerged unscathed.

But his heart was not in the profession of soldiering. He had the restless mind of the inventor, and when
he retired, a general, after twenty years' military service, he was free to give his whole attention to his

dreams of aerial navigation. His greatest ambition was to make his country pre-eminent in aerial


Friends to whom he revealed his inmost thoughts laughed at him behind his back, and considered that he
was "a little bit wrong in his head". Certainly his ideas of a huge aerial fleet appeared most extravagant,

for it must be remembered that the motor-engine had not then arrived, and there appeared no reasonable

prospect of its invention.


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