Start: Warzaw, September 23rd, 4 p.m.
From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen
(The Gordon Bennett Races) by Ulrich Hohmann Sr
Poland had engraved its name as first on the fourth cup, not surprising for insiders, because they had performed very well in the year before in Basel with a 4th and 6th rank. This young republic, founded on November 11th, 1918, after a long struggle for independence, had understood the charisma of a Gordon Bennett victory. First very closely connected to France and with enemy feelings towards the German Reich, President Moscicki, elected in 1926, tried to improve relationships to Germany without loosing the connections to France. Poland tried to open wide in all directions. On January 26th, 1934 this let to a non-aggression pact with the German Reich. If one wants to win friends from all sides, one also had to offer hospitality at big sporting events. The Polish did this fantastically.
For ballooning, better for ballooning in service for science, the year started with horrible reports. On January 30th in Moscow a stratosphere balloon started with a crew of three men, reached an altitude of 20.600 meters where they reported by radio to the ground crew a temperature reading of minus 77 degrees Celsius. The radio contact was interrupted. The next day a search fleet of planes discovers the capsule with the three dead men southeast of Moscow. The two German high altitude researchers Martin Schreck and Viktor Masuch meet the same faith. On May 13th they climb into the basket of the high altitude balloon BARTSCH VON SIGSFELD to be later discovered dead in Russia. Success in altitude research, to which very much attention is paid in those days, is reported from the USA. There, female pilot Jeanette Piccard, becomes the first woman to reach space together with her husband, twin brother of Auguste, Jean Piccard as observer. Their altitude on October 23rd was 18.672 meters.
From prominent political persons this year mostly sad news has to be reported. On February 17th, Belgium King Albert I has an deadly accident on a mountain tour, aged 59. Shortly before his death, he had asked his people for a subscription, to provide a new racing balloon for Demuyter. This subscription was very successful, Demuyter became well equipped, but the tragic death of his sponsor did not make him very happy about this. In Germany, on June 30th, the so called "Röhm Coup", started, with in fact was none, and just served Hitler to get rid of his inner party opponents. Aged president von Hindenburg does not realise anymore how far these events reach, he dies on August 2nd, 1934, aged 86. Also in Austria political parties struggle. This fight ends in the murder of Chancellor Dollfuß on July 25th, 1934 in his office at the Ballhausplatz in Vienna. Some good news reaches the media four days before the start of the Gordon Bennett Race: On September 19th the Soviet Union declares its membership to the League of Nations in Geneva.
Sports ballooning was less regarded by the public. Everybody looked towards car racing, the competition between Mercedes and Auto Union. It is the time of the famous Mercedes Silver Arrows with drivers like Caracciola and Faglioli, winning the Grand Prix of Italy in Monza on September 9th, while the famous driver of Auto-Union, Hans Stuck sets five new world records for speed on September 20th. Three days later the balloons start in Warzaw. But before we look at this, I want to show a relationship that shows how far or near these days lay back from today: Brigit Bardot is born on September 28th, 1934, five days after the launch.
The National Aero Club of Poland had sent out the invitations. Demuyter states, that these invitations, compared to several invitations the years before, were remarkable friendly. One felt the efforts of this nation, to become acknowledged in this circle. Demuyter also writes in his memories, that he realized, that all addressed people did respond to these efforts with great care and affection. There was more or less a wide span of promises to help and sympathy, a fraternisation among balloonists. One episode before the race was typical: Two pilots from Spain had sent their entry 21 days after the deadline. According to the rules, they could not take part. But Demuyter suggested conducting an opinion poll among all participating crews, if they had any objections to the late entry. The Polish Aero Club as well as all participating competitors agreed, first the international jury denied and referred to the rules. Those who consider this not to be too important, may remember, that in Spain the Republic was proclaimed in December 1931 and since then a lot of hard internal struggle and separatist movements had happened, which later (at the beginning of October 1934) lead to an uprising with almost the amounted to a civil war in Austria. This uprising was beaten down by strong military forces. Every other nation however, according to its kind of government, had expressed its own position to this situation. If under these circumstances a united opinion shapes, this is quite remarkable.
Organization was perfect. Meteorological information were printed almost every hour and handed out to the competitors. Winds were quite different, according to the altitude the balloons were driven far apart. Comparing the tracks, they differ more than 70 degrees. Demuyter is enthusiastic about the climatic situation, for he can improve his track according to the altitude. Other balloons suffer from snow, rain and poor sight because of clouds. The teams in front made a far trip to the Soviet Union, the country, that attracted a lot of interest in those days. Let the competitors report:
The victorious Polish competitors, winning the Gordon Bennett Cup for the second time, captain Franciszek Hynek and lieutenant Wladyslaw Pomaski tell:
More than half of our flight happened over the clouds. It was hard to navigate, to know, over which villages we exactly were, because our maps were quite old and towns, having grown rapidly in the past, were indicated as small on them. So, for example, Woronesch is the largest town in the county. Due to our maps it was a poor little town.
Immediately after launch we went to an altitude of 3000 meters where we stood almost all the time. In no case did we sink below 2500 meters during the whole flight. So we stood out of the rain and snow, which created lots of problems for the other competitors. Our flight happened above the clouds. From the meteorological information we knew, that in our flight direction a cold stream was expected. We had calculated this, so we soon went to this high altitude. If we had flown lower, it would have happened the same to us like to the other competitors. The sight above the clouds was not good. From time to time we met a "window", so we could see Brzesz, Wysokie Litewskie and Siemiatytsche, where we dropped our first message. The border of the Soviet Union was passed south of Sluzk.
Monday morning after the first night was perfect. The sun was shining, weather was excellent and the flight smooth and fast. Almost no ballast was dropped because it wasn’t necessary. We ate little, everything was frozen and we had not much appetite. Already before midnight we started dumping food, like lemons, apples, tomatoes and canned food. Speed was constantly at an average of 30 kilometres an hour.
An incident happened, when we were discovered by a military plane somewhere between Kursk and Nowgorod Siewierski. We were at an altitude of 3500 meters when the plane sped towards us and circled us for about ten times. Obviously he did not know, for which purpose we were here. He gave us signs to land by approaching us for little more than 100 meters. Sometimes we were afraid, he might shoot at us. We also gave signs, that we did not intend to land and dropped messages telling the reason of our flight. Obviously he had watched this, finally left us alone, landed, probably found the messages and was satisfied.
Our radio worked perfect, so we got frequent information. We learned about the landings of some balloons on Soviet territory and the unfortunate mishaps of the balloon TORUN, who had to land early. We felt sorry for the poor Frenchman, bad luck had generally followed him in Poland, already on the journey there he had been robbed on the train.
Also the second night was quite comfortable. During the night we dropped the rest of our ballast. From sunrise on, the flight again caused no difficulties. As yesterday we needed no ballast till noon. Later it became more difficult, ballast was at its end and therefore we had to land near Anna; this was at 1:40 p.m. Polish or 2: 40 p.m. Russian time.
We had let fly all the eight doves, we had carried with us, but it later proved, that only one of them reached home. Landing was close to some kind of collective farm on a stubble field with 200 meters of dragging. This shows, that there was a strong surface wind, reaching up to 60 kilometres an hour. When dragging, we were shrouded in big clouds of dust. The black earth there was hard and covered with dust, for it had not rained for about six month. Also, the landing became difficult, because we did not manage to open our rip panel at the beginning, for we had not used it since our flight in Canada.
The first person we met was a shepherd with his flock of sheep. Somehow we managed to communicate with him, then Ltd. Pomaski walked back, to collect the lost parts of our equipment. Meanwhile I learned from the shepherd, that we were close to the village of Anna, 100 kilometres away from Woronesch. Gradually also the farmers from the village arrived who gave extraordinary help to us. They helped us collecting our tools, and carried by all the oxygen bottles and the other parts.
When we arrived at the village soviet (Town-council), the chairman of this office, to whom we wanted to present our passports, answered very politely, that this would not be necessary, because he already did know, who we are. Obviously he had already got information about the race and the Gordon Bennett Cup. He, as well as all the others were extremely friendly to us. At once they offered to us to have a bath. Then we were invited for dinner. They made every effort, to offer us everything they could get: eggs, honey, fruit. Breakfast next morning was even more and lunch was so much, that we simply could not eat all up. There was fish, chicken, cake, everything you wished.
So poverty can’t be seen there? "We haven’t felt it" was the diplomatic reply of Ltd. Pomaski.
After we had washed – tells Ltd. Pomaski – I sent a telegram to the aero-club in Warzaw. Then we cared for the certification of our log books, for which we needed three witnesses according to the rules of the race. Then representatives of the Soviet aviation arrived. They had been told of our arrival prior to our landing.
The reason for this was, that we had dropped an oxygen bottle in the area of Woronesch, which was at once carried to the aero-club. So the representatives of the aero-club of Woronesch knew, that we were close by and rushed to meet us, sending ahead a truck for the transportation of the balloon and a car to pick us up. Even the commander of the airfield of Woronesch, General Kutakow, came to meet us. He missed us, because we had already left at 1 p.m. In Woronesch we had a warm welcome by Mr. Kartaszew, representative of the local aero-club. General Kutakow and Mr. Kartaszew cared for us with extreme politeness and friendliness.
In a discussion with representatives of Soviet aviation we expressed our wishes, that Soviet pilots will take part in future challenges and the competition for the Gordon Bennett Cup.
"Having entered the League of Nations now", we told them, "why don’t you also join the F.A.I. (Federation Aéronautique International), to have the possibility to compete in international challenges. You have everything necessary for that here, good machines and perfect terrain."
Due to Col. Hynek Soviet Russia has a close net of airfields, especially in the south, in the area of Kiew, Woronesch and in the whole Don area; the terrain there is perfect and empty. Col. Hynek tells, that the chairman of the school for military pilots in Woronesch explained to him: "75 pilots have already finished my school and none of them was able to destroy his plane, they even tried hard, because they didn’t know where or on what."
Ltd. Pomaski adds: "Not only aviation is developing well, but also the supporting branches, like for example parachuting, which is performed there as a sport by the youth of both sexes."
At the station in Kiev a representative of the aero club waited for us. In the evening we went to the opera of Kiev, on an invitation by the members of our consulate. The "Faust"-performance was excellent. The spectators made a very intelligent and educated impression, but were dressed very poor. The only, a little negative impression to us was some kind of depressed mood, that could be felt in the theatre. Did the whole trip make us tired? "Not at all", replied Col. Hynek, "I would go there again right now."
On Saturday evening the crew of the balloon WARZAWA, Col. Zbigniew Burzynski and Ltd. Jan Zakrzewski, reaching second place at the past Gordon Bennett Cup, arrived at Warzaw with the train from Moscow.
On request, Col. Burzynski told the following about the flight of the balloon WARSZAWA:
As you may remember, we launched first. It was some minutes past four. Two hours after take-off we reached an altitude of 1600 meters. Above Lomza rain surprised us. To get out of the rain, we climbed higher. This was important for the further heading of our flight. The wind drove us to the east. After flying above Osowiec we crossed the Polish border 20 kilometres north of Pinsk. During the first night we managed to use very helpful atmospheric streaming and slowly reached the impressing altitude of 4500 to 6000 meters. In this altitude we stood for about six hours, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m..
Being asked, if oxygen masks had been used, Col. Burzynski replied, that their oxygen supply was only equipped with the normal mouthpieces. "We did use our oxygen supply for some hours of the flight at the altitudes I told."
"Above Orsza we started sinking. Our altitude was about 1000 meters. At about 6 p.m. we flew over Kaluga. During the night we climbed again to 3000 meters. This second night was again very fortunate to us. The clouds lifted us up to 6000 meters. From 9 to 10 p.m. we flew in this altitude, and later, from 2 a.m. on, at an altitude of 5000 meters. Of course we had to use our oxygen supply. We had only one bag of ballast left."
We had to think of landing, so we started to descent slowly. From an altitude of 950 meters we dumped an oxygen bottle on a parachute. We found this bottle later. I must say, that no a single part of the balloon got lost. The landing happened with no incident in the village of Bykowo in the district of Moscow. The place of our landing is 200 kilometres northeast of Moscow. We landed on September 25th, at 4.50 a.m. The inhabitants of the village as well as representatives of the village council came quick to our help and took us and our balloon in their protection. Representatives of the village soviet drove us and our balloon by car to Rjazan, 60 kilometres away. There we waited for the arrival of the military attaché from our Moscow embassy, Col. Hartland. Together with him also a representative of the PAT (Popolski Aéronautique Towarzystwo) came to Rjazan. On Wednesday we left for Moscow. The trip was interrupted by a break down of our car. In Moscow we stayed from Thursday to Saturday. There the members of our embassy cared for us very hospitable. We went to the theatre several times, like to the opera "Boris Godunow". First in Moscow we got the results of the race. The embassy phoned to the aero club at Warzaw, then we learned that we had made the second place."
In Warsaw both were welcomed at the station by their families and comrades of the second balloon branch with Col. Hilewitcz. Here Burzynski said good-by to his fellow Zakrzewski, whom he had not left alone a single moment within the last week. Col. Burzynski lives at Jablonna and Ltd. Zakrzewski in Warzaw.
The Italians, Capt. Pirazolli and Ltd. Caputo, flying balloon DUX, have returned to Warzaw. They had no special impressions from their flight. The atmospheric conditions had been so bad, that they did not manage to cover at least half of the way, they could have done. Their explanation of the early landing was, that they had been forced to dump more that ¾ of their ballast already in the first night. From 7 p.m. on they had been in clouds. Rain and snow put so much weight on the balloon, that they could not have kept it flying without enormous dump of ballast. This went on until 6 a.m., when they finally came out of the clouds at sunrise. Then they went up to an altitude of 3600 meters, where they flew to the Northeast with a speed of 40 to 50 kilometres an hour. The great loss of ballast however did not allow them to continue the flight. They dumped the rest of their ballast, even their tools as well as washing and drinking water. But it did not help. At 8 a.m. they landed 7 kilometres northeast of the village of Muzowjer, 160 kilometres northeast of Leningrad. Also their landing was not so smooth, as they got some scratches. At first, they did not manage at all to communicate with the inhabitants of the village. Finally they were guided to a larger village named Lada. There a female teacher was living, who spoke a little French. With her help, they found three witnesses, to certify the log book according to the rules of the race. The two pilots slept in the house of the teacher. The following night, they drove to Leningrad, where they stood for two days, and had a very warm welcome by the representatives of local aviation.
Next year, as both of them expressed, they will take part again in the race, if possible.
Some more words about poor pilot Peter from France: Not only had he been robbed on the train to Warzaw, as Capt. Hynek had mentioned it above, when he finally arrived at Warzaw, his co-pilot fell ill. A substitute person from France could not arrive in time, so Polish organizers asked German pilot Hildebrandt, a retired major, who was in Warzaw as a spectator, to serve Peter as co-pilot. Their balloon TORUN then escaped during inflation, again the organisers helped and gave them the balloon BRATISLAVA from Czechoslovakia. But this balloon was old and leaking, so Peter and Hildebrandt had to land after 5.22 hours and less than 300 kilometres. This little story of misfortune is quite important from another point of view: It was five years before breakout of World War II, relations between Germany on one side, France, Poland and Czechoslovakia on the other side were not the best. If under these circumstances a German (retired) military person mounts the basket of a Czechoslovakian balloon in Poland to serve a French pilot, launching with the sound of ‘La Marseillaise’, the French national anthem, and probably fly to Soviet Russia, this is a ‘very delicate diplomatic affair’, which may only happen in the special atmosphere of a Gordon Bennett Race.
The results were painful for the German air sport association. They had a lot of hope for better places. It sounds a little weepy, what former President, balloon captain Raven, states as excuse:
"The Gordon Bennett Race 1934, held from Warzaw on September 23rd, is over, the official results are well known, the newspapers had published enough reports as well from the competitors and the criticisers, so today, after some distance from the race, we can only finish with the clear, but unpleasant statement: Germany had not performed well, only one of three balloons, Germany had entered has won a prize, but also this balloon is ranked eight, the two others are in the second row.
Of course, our pilots know the reasons for their defeat; they already knew it before they flew. They knew, that we don’t have modern racing balloons, they knew, that they could not have flown for training once or twice a week within the previous year, we don’t have the money for this in Germany. We are not a country with a military air force and all the supplies, as other countries have. We also know, that we could not sent any pilot to the race, but only those who could afford the costs by themselves, without support from the German Air-sport Association or the government of the Reich, we knew all this. Some people may say, we could have renounced from this competition. No, that would have been absolutely wrong, one may be defeated, but never may retreat cowardly. Great men and mighty armies have also suffered defeats, becoming big and strong especially by this."
Some years ago, at the presentation of the new racing-balloon DEUTSCHLAND for example, this sounded much more optimistic. Not only this year, but again and again, we always meet the same excuses: Lack of money, wrong material, and so on. More honest would be the simple confession: The others are better.