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19 July 2014 Powered Aeroplanes : Speed over a recognised course : 480.00 km/h Travis P. Holland (USA)
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26th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett - Liege (BEL) 1938

Start: Liege, Belgium, September 11       

From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen
(The Gordon Bennett Races) by Ulrich Hohmann Sr    

Ernest Demuyter and his co-pilot Pierre Hoffmanns, had created the foundation for the possibility of the final resting place for the fifth cup after the 1938 race in Belgium, winning in 1936 and 1937. For Demuyter it had been victory number five and six in 17 races. Until today, there was no pilot, who took part in more races, and the number of victories was not reached before 1990. Gordon Bennett did invite "the best pilots of the world" to the race in 1906, and Demuyter had proved with his success, that he was the best in his times. There was no world championship in this sport in these days, but it is surely not wrong, to call him the world champion of balloon pilots. It is told, that he made much more than 1000 flights, he had not counted them by himself since statistics were not considered as very important in those days. Now, in 1938, he was just 45 years old. For a balloon pilot, this is the best age. If the horrible war had not come, the world may have heard a lot more of Demuyter.

At first, he did not want to compete in the race 1938. His son was ill and his comrade of the last years, Pierre Hoffmanns, had broken his arm. But then he changed his mind and was nominated for the race. In his last competition, number 18, he finished sixth.

Ballooning was still highly recommended in the days before World War II, even if the interest in those month was more for the new Lufthansa airplane, the Focke-Wulf FW 200 "Condor", flying non-stop from Berlin to Cairo in 11 hours in August, and a little later from Berlin to New York in 24 hours. In the sporting sector, glider flying came up very strong and pushed the balloon a little to the background. For research of the atmosphere, the balloon had proved its value in previous years.

The participants at the Gordon Bennett Race were the great sportsmen of the time. They were the "grandseigneurs" of sports, no matter in which country they lived. Which other sport leads its participants to the Tundra, jungle or eternal ice. In which other sport, there are to be faced so many adventures, even after the flight? The pioneers of aviation, Alberto Santos Dumont and Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, had requested in earlier years, that before any pilot could hold a license to fly any other aircraft they would need to hold a license for balloons. Even if this was not practiced any longer, the direct contact with wind and clouds had its value for training.

Nine balloons from four nations were sent on their journey in front of 70,000 spectators on Sunday, September 11th. Germany was not represented for the first time after its re-entry to the races in 1927. In the "Reich" the political situation was boiling. The day before the launch, Hitler held his final speech on the Reichsparteitag in Nürnberg, showing to everybody, that after the occupation of Austria now the "Question of Sudetia" and the faith of Czechoslovakia dominated his thinking. The incidents with German balloons the year before had already showed the tension. The balloons again made their way to the southeast and over flew the areas of tension. Antoni Janusz won for Poland. 1932 and 1934 he made only fourth place, in 1935, 1936 and 1937 he was always second, now he finally made it. Far down in Bulgaria was his landing place, 37 ¾ hours he was in the air. Belgium team Captain Thonnard and van der Schueren, had to accept second place, the dream of finally winning the fifth cup was gone. This cup was back to Warsaw and stood untouched for 45 years, until balloon pilots could meet again for friendly competition.

The 1939 race was se for September 3rd. The balloons had already arrived at Warsaw. Postcards and letters for the collectors of balloon mail were ready franked and stamped. They got an additional stamp in Polish language, saying: The Gordon Bennett Race of 1939 from Warsaw was annulled because of the outbreak of war.

Ernest Demuyter and his co-pilot Pierre Hoffmanns, had created the foundation for the possibility of the final resting place for the fifth cup after the 1938 race in Belgium, winning in 1936 and 1937. For Demuyter it had been victory number five and six in 17 races. Until today, there was no pilot, who took part in more races, and the number of victories was not reached before 1990. Gordon Bennett did invite "the best pilots of the world" to the race in 1906, and Demuyter had proved with his success, that he was the best in his times. There was no world championship in this sport in these days, but it is surely not wrong, to call him the world champion of balloon pilots. It is told, that he made much more than 1000 flights, he had not counted them by himself since statistics were not considered as very important in those days. Now, in 1938, he was just 45 years old. For a balloon pilot, this is the best age. If the horrible war had not come, the world may have heard a lot more of Demuyter.

At first, he did not want to compete in the race 1938. His son was ill and his comrade of the last years, Pierre Hoffmanns, had broken his arm. But then he changed his mind and was nominated for the race. In his last competition, number 18, he finished sixth.

Ballooning was still highly recommended in the days before World War II, even if the interest in those month was more for the new Lufthansa airplane, the Focke-Wulf FW 200 "Condor", flying non-stop from Berlin to Cairo in 11 hours in August, and a little later from Berlin to New York in 24 hours. In the sporting sector, glider flying came up very strong and pushed the balloon a little to the background. For research of the atmosphere, the balloon had proved its value in previous years.

The participants at the Gordon Bennett Race were the great sportsmen of the time. They were the "grandseigneurs" of sports, no matter in which country they lived. Which other sport leads its participants to the Tundra, jungle or eternal ice. In which other sport, there are to be faced so many adventures, even after the flight? The pioneers of aviation, Alberto Santos Dumont and Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin, had requested in earlier years, that before any pilot could hold a license to fly any other aircraft they would need to hold a license for balloons. Even if this was not practiced any longer, the direct contact with wind and clouds had its value for training.

Nine balloons from four nations were sent on their journey in front of 70,000 spectators on Sunday, September 11th. Germany was not represented for the first time after its re-entry to the races in 1927. In the "Reich" the political situation was boiling. The day before the launch, Hitler held his final speech on the Reichsparteitag in Nürnberg, showing to everybody, that after the occupation of Austria now the "Question of Sudetia" and the faith of Czechoslovakia dominated his thinking. The incidents with German balloons the year before had already showed the tension. The balloons again made their way to the southeast and over flew the areas of tension. Antoni Janusz won for Poland. 1932 and 1934 he made only fourth place, in 1935, 1936 and 1937 he was always second, now he finally made it. Far down in Bulgaria was his landing place, 37 ¾ hours he was in the air. Belgium team Captain Thonnard and van der Schueren, had to accept second place, the dream of finally winning the fifth cup was gone. This cup was back to Warsaw and stood untouched for 45 years, until balloon pilots could meet again for friendly competition.

The 1939 race was se for September 3rd. The balloons had already arrived at Warsaw. Postcards and letters for the collectors of balloon mail were ready franked and stamped. They got an additional stamp in Polish language, saying: The Gordon Bennett Race of 1939 from Warsaw was annulled because of the outbreak of war.

Meanwhile the launch field was well known to everybody. For the third time in a row, all met on the airfield "Pole Mokotowskie". Hynek and Burzynski had finally won the fourth cup for their country, the new one, donated by Poland, should need a very long time, until it went to the final possession of another country. For the first time in the history of this race, the Americans had stayed away. There has been a qualification race in the States on July 3rd, but the winner, Trotter, did not want to travel. The National Aero club then nominated Fairbanks, but the government suggested he, to withdraw from the trip due to the tense political situation in Europe (in Spain civil war had broken out after an uprising of military forces in July, Italy had just finished its campaign of conquest in Abyssinia, today’s Ethiopia). America also stayed away from the race in the two following years. Clouds became darker and darker on the political sky!

It was a great year for German sport. The Olympic Games in Berlin had just finished two weeks before the race, Max Schmeling had won in boxing against Joe Louis by knock out in the twelfth round in New York on June 19th and Bernd Rosemeyer created with his Auto Union racing car many problems for Mercedes, which were used to victory. In air traffic, the new airship HINDENBURG had opened the frequent connection between Frankfurt and Lakehurst near New York in May (One trip every week, fare 1000 Reichsmarks). A German victory in the Gordon Bennett Race would have fit well to this.

Let’s go to the Gordon Bennett Race. We know, that the flights were always full of adventures. It is difficult to say, if the bigger adventures have to be faced in the flight itself or at the trip back home. In 1936, for some crews, it was the trip home.

Ernest Demuyter finished the series of Polish victories. In his 16th race he managed his 5th victory. His balloon BELGICA was in perfect condition. Its envelope made of yellow silk was light, much lighter than the envelopes of the other balloons, made from cotton, except SACHSEN and AUGSBURG. Also construction silk was used for their envelope and the net for the first time, the Polish instead had returned to the cheaper cotton.

The days before the launch were full of social events. There was an invitation from President of the Republic, Professor Dr. Moscicki, and the F.A.I. used the race to hold their annual conference. The whole population of Warsaw is on the field when the balloons start their journey right on time in the drawn sequence. At first MAURICE MALLETT starts with Dollfus, at final L.O.P.P with Capt. Janusz.

From the winning balloon the following is reported: BELGICA first left eastbound, later northbound. After 28 hours of flight, Moscow is reached. Following the river Volga, the winds from the low pressure area over the Baltic Sea pushed the balloon towards the river Dwina. After a flight of 46 ½ hours, having reached a maximum altitude of 6200 meters, they landed in very unfavourable stormy weather in a tundra shaped clearing southeast of Archangelsk. It was the luck and skill of Demuyter, to bring the balloon down there undamaged, but Demuyter himself hurt his hip. His co-pilot, radio specialist Hoffmanns was unhurt.

The reception by the population of this remote and already down to 5 degrees C cold tundra area was very warm, especially the kids from the school created a enthusiastic welcome for the pilots. With a kind of a sledge and a tractor the balloon was pulled out of the swamp, to be later transported home from Archangelsk with the Danish freight steamer ELIE.

For Demuyter and Hoffmanns a banquet was held in the main town of the district, at which Demuyter declared frankly: "I’m not a communist, I’m a bourgeois!" – "No, a man like you can’t be a Burschuj!" was the reply. With a steamboat on the river Dwina they then went to Moscow. There they learned, that the crew of the balloon L.O.P.P. was still missing. After a lunch in the Belgian embassy, Demuyter was interviewed by Russian reporters and requested a final statement. He explained, that it was his burning wish, that his Polish comrades would be searched for and found with the use of all possible means. He gave a position, where he thought, L.O.P.P. might be, and was later happy to hear, that he had guessed right.

Demuyter finally stated: "I hope, that the noble and fair spirit of sports, as it was performed impressing at the Olympic Games in Berlin, and also influenced the Gordon Bennett Race at Warsaw, will be continued by the nations!"

Two crews shall tell of the race and their adventures afterwards. First the report of Carl Götze/Werner Lohmann, who reached fourth place like they did the year before.

"After take-off in Warsaw we flew northeast with bad sight. After about 20 hours, we had no more sight and for the last 14 hours we flew blind with no orientation. But we had rain and snowstorms instead. Our balloon was forced up and down by an invisible hand without dumping ballast. The altimeter showed 5000, then 500 meters within a short period. It was wet. In the low altitudes, water dropped down on us, in the freezing-area above 4000 meters, we grew stiff like icemen. The thin icy net creaked in disharmonic sounds when the climbing balloon grew. So we had detected a northbound direction in a period of flying low and it became dark several hours earlier than at Warsaw, we had to fear, that at this wind speed, we could only estimate, we might fly over the coast of the White Sea or Ice Sea. Our calls were no longer answered by the barking of dogs. We thought, that these critical hours might decide the race. Flying on would rise the chance for success. We had to take this risk.

The balloon went below the freezing zone by itself. The ice melted and the icy water ran down from the envelope and net to the basket like from a shower. The water was in our gloves, shoes and clothes. Our mood was correspondingly to that. The water that ran off made the balloon lighter. It climbed again to the freezing zone. Our feelings also reached the freezing level. These incidents and the water repeated. But then, suddenly, the balloon does not stop falling. From 2000 to 1000 meters no sight, 800 meters no sight, 400 to 200 meters no sight. Only roaring and rushing, we don’t know, what it is. Continuing the quick fall, we suddenly have water with foam waves 100 meters below us. To all directions only water. Lights in the east – but our track seems to be northwest. Quick as lightening, the emergency ballast goes overboard, the trail rope already sizzles behind us like a sea snake. Then we climb fast. After a few seconds we are already back in the clouds and only hear the roaring below us. Is it the Fin Bay or the Bottnic Bay, the White Sea or the Ice -Sea, or one of the great inland lakes like for example the Ladoga Lake? We hope for the latter. In any other case, we are lost. That means continuing the flight. Still rain and snow and ice higher up. Much later it came to our minds, that such physical and psychological strain was similar to the last grades of a torture in the Middle Ages, if not an enthusiastic target would have been the basic and the motivating force.

Tuesday morning at 3 a.m. it becomes bright. We hadt sight. We saw land with many lakes! But flight direction to the west! This means reduction of the distance to Warsaw. No roads, no settlements, but swamps and lakes and still flight to the west with great speed. So venting, finally the balloon reacts. Below us now forests with clearances. There we have to land. The trail rope drags, it is storm. The balloon rocks like a chariot. It is still impossible to rip off. The trail rope gets caught in the trees several times and knocks them over. Our net cracks, as it might tear up every moment. Then our basket hits high trees, the net hooks up and tears. Our basket hangs in a high scorched pine tree. The tree tips for 45 degrees to two other pines. We are caught. The storm tears our beautiful balloon DEUTSCHLAND to thousand pieces. We swing about 15 meters above the ground of this back-forest. We lower, what we have still with us, and then climb down on the rope ourselves. Swampy ground – rain.

Quickly we build up a tent from the wet balloon fabric, crawl in and sleep from about 3.40 a.m. for 5 hours. At about 9 a.m. we wake up totally wet and half frozen. We eat something and drink only one cup of coffee each – to save our supplies, then we improve our tent. We try to set up a fire, but fail. There is only wet and rotted wood. Then we try to find out, if there are people, roads or even a settlement around. We walk for hours, hardly find our tent again, and come back with the certainty, to be in the deepest, uninhabited back forest. It is 3 p.m. and already becoming dark. We shoot rocket flares. There is no reaction. Exhausted we lay down again to sleep – until Wednesday morning 2 a.m. It is bright again. In spite of the tent we are more wet than before – if this is possible. Water falls down from the roof of the tent like in a limestone cave. We become sure, that we have to go out and search in spite of the rain. Time does not work for us. We pack our baggage and want to march south. But after a short time, we realise, that we don’t proceed in this swamp and back forest (there are thousands of rotten trees on the ground). We decide, to leave back the baggage and probably return later. After several hours, we come to a lake. The sun comes out. We drink from the water of the lake and sleep on the shore for some hours. Then we continue searching and find places, where people had build cabins. Together we shout "Halli hallo!" In the afternoon, we hear dogs barking as an answer – far away. After some more hours, the barking comes closer. The dog sees us, and runs away. But behind us a Russian stands with a levelled gun. He is more frightened than we are. We manage to convince him of our peaceful attitudes. Together with him, we have another 1 ½ hours walk through swamp, water and back forest until we reach his cabin. He gives us something to eat and to drink. Cooked jacket potatoes without salt and butter and tea made from the water of a river. We slept in his cabin.

The next day we went for our baggage with him and then marched 25 kilometres to Nadvoicy, the next railway-station. Alone, we would have never found the way. It was more than a 25 kilometres hike for the sports badge, because we had to cross tipped trees, swamps and water. We covered only 2 1/1 kilometres an hour.

In Nadvoicy we were guests of the town commander, and got a free ride to Murmansk. There we went on board of a British freight steamer and reached Lodingen after four days. Even if the trip around the North-Cape and through the Fjords of Norway was connected with wonderful impressions, we had no greater wish than to return home as quick as possible."

Logbook of balloon "Deutschland"

1st pilot: Carl Götze jr., Düsseldorf (85th flight)
2nd pilot: Werner Lohmann, Düsseldorf (20th flight)

Time

Altitude

Temperature

Direction

Ballast

Position/Remarks

1936-08-30 Sunday

 

 

 

17.45

Start

16

E

46

Start in Warsaw

18.00

380

16

E

44

2 km east of Warsaw (42 km)

20.00

400

16

ENE

42

 

21.00

400

16

ENE

41

Cross river Bug NW. of Drobizyn; Moscow transmits in German

22.00

320

16

ENE

40

Lurenka. German news in the radio.

23.00

330

16

ENE

40

Listen Radio, weather reports from Berlin a. Warsaw

24.00

350

15

ENE

 

Swamps, Inversion

1936-08-31 Monday

1.00

420

14

ENE

 

 

2.00

400

14

ENE

 

 

3.00

400

13

ENE

39

At 3:40 high terrain, had to sacrifice 1 bag, to stay clear

4.00

500

12

NNE

39

Dawn

5.00

520

12

NE

39

It's light

6.00

750

13

ENE

39

Above the clouds

7.00

900

14

NE

39

Above the clouds

8.00

1100

17

 

39

Between two layers of clouds

9.00

300

18

NNE

37

Balloon fell, dumped two bags

10.00

2200

19

NE

35

 

11.00

3000

30

 

34

 

11.30

1800

27

NNE

28

Fall stopped with 6 bags

12.00

2200

18

NE

23

Have to dump ballast permanent between two layers of clouds

13.00

4500

13

NE

22

Soft hail and snow in the basket. We feel very cold

14.00

4600

13

 

20

 

15.00

800

12

 

8

 

16.00

1100

12

 

6

Rain, sacrificed at once 1 bag

16.30

1100

12

 

5

Permanent light rain

17.00

2600

10

 

4

Clouds from 200 to 2900 m altitude

17.30

2600

6

 

4

No visibility, navigation impossible

18.00

3000

5

NE

4

Are pulled up and down without using ballast, probably storm, everything wet.

18.05

4200

 

 

 

Everything frozen in the basket, climbing slows down

18.15

5200

 

 

 

 

19.00

3000

 

 

 

Frozen parts start melting. Dark. We don't know, where we are, clouds below

19.45

900

 

N

2

Since 1 3/4 hours rain. Can't write to the logbook

20.00

 

 

 

 

Have constructed an umbrella from the bag for the vent and sit under it

20.30

 

 

 

 

Put barograph to the side bag. Realized, that baro-clock is switched off.

23.00

 

 

 

 

Permanent rain and snow. In higher altitudes everything freezes. Slip in the basket from the ice.

1936-09-01, Tuesday

1.00

Still no visibility. In clouds

2.00

Horrible wet and cold. Nothing is dry anymore

3.00

Passing the clouds we meet great water

3.40

Landing. Much speed to the west. Balloon destroyed in the back forest. Crew unhurt

4.20

Climbed from the basket in the trees

5.00

Cut two trees. Build up a tent. No chance to set up a fire

5.30

Went to sleep, clothes totally wet

12.30

Ate something. Walked around in rain

15.00

Returned. It's already becoming dark. Lost our way in spite of the signs, we had made

16.00

Ate something. 1 1/2 cups of coffee each. Went to sleep to start walking at morning.

1936-09-02 Wednesday

1.00

It's light

2.00

Got up. Hear water roaring in the distance. Ate something

6.30

Packed up. Decide to walk south. Have to leave back baggage

8.00

Come to a little lake with abandoned cabins, sleep for 1 hour, hear dog-barking in the distance and walk towards it

9.00

Meet a hermit with a dog. He wants to shoot at us

9.30

We present our international passport. Walk with him to his cabin

9.45

He cooks potatoes for us. I give him two cigarettes. He is very friendly now and shows us our position

11.00

Local time is 17.00

11.30

Had a meal. Black bread and jacket-potatoes. Can't return to the balloon, because it is getting dark at 14.00 due to our time. Will sleep in the cabin and go for the baggage tomorrow. Can't communicate. Don't know how to get out of here.

13.15

Have tried to dry our feet on the fire. Forest worker (Alexi) comes with his family (3 wives)

13.40

Sleep in the cabin. Family wants to eat in front of cabin

1936-09-03 Thursday

2.30

Got up and had breakfast. Then we went off for the balloon and the search for our baggage. (Alexi, 3 wives, Werner and me)

6.10

Returned. Give everything, we can't take with us, away.

6.45

Went off to a railway station 20 kilometres away, accompanied by Alexi

8.30

Straining hike, because impassable and the 4 Russians carry an enormous amount of own baggage with them. Several breaks. Estimated marching-speed 2 1/2 kilometres an hour.

11.00

Another rest, we are all very exhausted. Lay down and fall to sleep at once.

14.00

Arrived, very tired. Detected, that we are at the station of Nadwoicy (we landed 25 km north)

15.0

We are brought to the guardhouse. It looks, as if we should be arrested.

16.0

The commander of the village came to pick us up with a horse coach. We are his guests. His name is Savehnle, Alexander. A Dr. Schäfer is a perfect interpreter.

1936-09-04 Friday

7.30

to our time (13.45 there), got up. After a long time brushed teeth again. Will leave either this evening or tomorrow at noon for Murmansk-Hammerfest

21.00

Left for Murmansk

signed: Carl Götze jr.

The second report from this race comes from Switzerland. The crew Dr.Erich Tilgenkamp/Maurits ten Bosch won the third place with their flight.

WITH BALLOON "ZURICH III" TO THE WHITE SEA
From the National-Newspaper, Basel September 17th and 18th, 1936
by Dr. Erich Tilgenkamp

Again the flags of the competing nations of the Gordon Bennett Race fly over the huge Warsaw airfield of Mokototow. Again uncounted thousands of spectators are around and watch with interest the last preparations for the start of a race without a race track, for a flight to the unknown. After a period of wonderful nice weather, without wind but with bright sunshine, the first disturbances of a low pressure area, approaching from the Baltic Sea, can be seen. The sky is covered, but fortunately the wind is low, so inflation can be done as scheduled and without problems. Over there is the golden yellow silk balloon of the Belgian Demuyter, probably the best pilot of the world, who has logged more than a thousand flights. Very great the Germans. They had come with special constructed silk balloons, over which even a net made of silk spans. Brand new they gleam far over the field and attract the admiration of the spectators. They are the lightest balloons in the race, almost 200 kilograms less weight than ZURICH III. It is now already three years old and has done some stormy flights. But proudly it shows the white cross in the red shield on its body. It has lost its bright silver colour and changed it to a dark mouse grey. On the other side of the field are the racing balloons of the Polish.

My comrade Maurice ten Bosch and me have prepared technically quite well, so we don’t have to work a lot on the field. Once again we discuss the weather situation considering the last reports with meteorologist Dr. Berger from Zurich, who is in Warsaw because of the congress of the F.A.I.. A big low pressure area had formed over the Baltic Sea, promising winds from south to west, that means drift to the north, up to the White Sea, or to the east, to the great plains of Russia. With eagerness, our dear president, Col. Messner, takes part in the discussion. As an old, proven fighter and Gordon Bennett-winner, he contributes advice, while Lt.Col. Walo Geber helps, where a hand is needed. Major Mazurek, the proven builder of our balloon, reports, that it is time to climb into the basket. Then strong hands of soldiers grip the basket and carry us across the field to the launch position in front of the stand for the honourable spectators. The basket is filled with sand bags up to the edge. Thousand kilograms of ballast it carries. In one corner, already connected, are the oxygen bottles made from aluminium. The breathing masks from the Dräger-company are clear and on the map board, reaching out of the basket, the map of Poland is spread. A command sounds over the field, officers and soldiers stand at attention and our national anthem sounds over the huge field.

In a moderate speed we climb towards the night sky, coloured deep red in the west. Very fast and not higher than 50 meters, we cross the huge parking lot. The horns beep and are added by the sound of the sirens of the ships and boat in the darkness of the river Weichsel. This was our last impression from the world outside, because from now on our concentration belongs mostly to the balloon.

Very weak and with a vague light the moon shines through the close layer of clouds. The other balloons have already disappeared in the darkness, only WARZAWA II follows us like a shadow in a distance of about 800 meters. We blink over with our big beam light, but get no answer. In the light of our torches we start working. One pilot controls the instruments and cares for the ballast, the other checks the track of the flight and does the navigation. We have reached an inversion and our heading turns more and more to the north.

Frequently we get weather information from Warsaw, Berlin and Moscow by our radio, interrupted by music. So the hours pass by. From time to time a hand full of sand, to stop the sinking tendency of the balloon, once a short navigation and comparing to the map, it is quite monotonous and wonderful calm around us.

At 11 p.m. I hand over the piloting to my comrade and crawl into my sleeping bag. At 1 a.m. a big river with a huge bending comes to sight ahead of us, we manage to identify it on the map then the clouds take us into their soft, white bed and silent, unseen and without visibility we proceed. Maurice ten Bosch has now taken over the place in the sleeping bag and tries to find a few minutes of sleep. The whole concentration belongs to the instruments now. At 5 a.m. the new day dawns slowly and heavy in the east. We have climbed and are now hovering to the northeast at about 1500 meters. From time to time there is a hole in the clouds and we can see a little piece of the earth, a railroad -track, a road, a piece of a forest, the edge of a lake, but it is too little , to fix our position on the inaccurate maps of Russia. At 8 a.m. we have breakfast. Some good gulps of hot bouillon, a piece of dark bread with sausage, some sweeties and fruit. Also a gulp of cool water from the rubber bag.

The weather reports allow us, to draw accurate weather maps. They back up our intention, to fly very low. But suddenly the inversion disappears. The balloon starts sinking. Sandbag after sandbag is emptied and the open space in the basket grows. We can now see the floor and count the bags. On the shoulder of a railroad-track we see a big soviet star, so we are in Russia. Slowly, step by step it goes up again, while the load in the basket is more and more decreasing. Again the sun approaches the western horizon; we are in the basket for already 24 hours. We estimate our speed at about 40 kilometres an hour, so Warsaw must be already 1000 kilometres behind of us. Even if we had looked eagerly the whole day for other competitors, we were not able to discover at least one balloon. After a long time, we can finally see the earth below us again. It doesn’t look very well, a huge Tundra spreads, a horrible picture.

How shall I describe a Tundra? A brown yellow dirty plain, on which nothing can be seen, no tree, no bush. The earth seems to be pushed together like waves. Bad for a balloon, who is forced to land here, because on a Tundra you can’t walk, one sinks like in a swamp. A power line and several roads indicate that a larger town is close.

Night had come in again, we have only eight bags of ballast left, and it is questionable, if we can keep the balloon up until next morning. We still don’t know, where we are. Finally two large spots of light can be seen ahead of us, they approach quickly. Like in fever, we look to our maps, to find these two towns, for now we have finally the chance to fix our position. Closer and closer the lights come, more and more details can be seen. Exactly in the middle between the two towns we cross a big channel to the north. It is Leningrad and Kronstadt.

So we don’t find the inversion again, we have to climb higher and soon ZURICH III is again bedded in the white cotton wool of the low clouds. We have to save our ballast as much as we can and have to try everything, to put the night behind. The drizzle has developed to a heavy rain and from 10 p.m. on, it poured like from buckets. The rain drums on the envelope with the sound of machine guns, with no interruption, for hours, incredibly, what comes down. The water on the balloon creates little creeks, running down the envelope and falling down right above the basket. At three places, it runs directly to our heads, as if we had opened some faucets up there. To use a map or a log book is impossible, within a few minutes the paper is so soaked, that it falls apart. The water pouring to the basket loads the balloon more and more, we have to get it out. Above our heads, we have fixed a bag to the load-ring, where we collect the water, to keep at least some of the flood away from us. While my comrade uses both caps of our thermos flasks to catch as much of the water coming down from the balloon, I have taken the big shovel for the sand to bale out of the basket the still rising puddle of water. For hours we work like this. A strange occupation for balloonists. Everything, really everything is completely soaked. The sleeping bag has become unusable, in the side bags of the basket the water stands several centimetres high, and on the floor, we stand deep in a dirty, brown liquid. We had put rubber gloves over our wool gloves, but even this precaution proved useless, because as time passed by, the wool gloves became so wet, that it was better to take them off. But the worst was, that we could not protect ourselves against this flood. At about 11 p.m. we are completely soaked down to our skin. Even to the tin cans for the films, I carried under my waterproofed suit in the pockets of my vest, the water had found its way. With resignation we give up the struggle against the water.

Meanwhile ZURICH III climbs higher and higher, towards the morning light. 3000 meters, 4000 meters, it is getting quite cold, the thermometer drops to minus 15 degrees C. Everything that was wet and soaked just before, now covers with a thick coating of ice. The instruments did not work anymore. The barograph stood still, the wind wheel did not work any longer, even the watch in the pocket stopped. The water layer on the basket floor changes to a sheet of ice, the water bag becomes a single block of ice. If we want to drop sand, we have to knock it to pieces before. Everything becomes hard and deeply frozen. Our clothes are stiff as if they were made of iron. We are shivering, our hands tense up and don’t serve us anymore. Endless painful hours approach, and still day won’t break, while our ballast ends up. We are freezing, if freezing is a word for that. My comrade stands like a tree next to the variometer, while I crouch down in a corner and try to catch some warmth. Dear reader, jump in the Lake of Zurich in an ice cold winter night, and then sit on a bank at minus 15 degrees C for six hours. Then you may imagine, how we felt.

Soon we had been on our way for 40 hours and start feeling our nerves. To this, the thin air in the altitude adds discomfort. Our resistance decreases. We have only one hope: the sun. How long minutes can be! Time is acting so slow. To save sand, we drop an oxygen bottle, tied to a little parachute it swings down to the darkness. We have no idea, where we are. We can still realise a northbound direction, sometimes we can detect a high wind speed from the drift of the clouds. We estimate about 60 kilometres an hour. At about five a.m. day breaks, we are up to 6000 meters. From time to time we take some oxygen, this refreshes our bodies. Then the sun breaks through. But it is very, very low on the horizon. We realise, that we are far up in the north. In fact, we are drifting just a few kilometres below the Polar Circle. So our hope for getting warmer is destroyed, while the temperature is still decreasing. At 8 a.m. my body breaks down. I am at the end of my physical power. Down! But the vent is frozen and we don’t manage to pull it off. Resigned we let the balloon drift on. Even if we can see the sun now, we don’t have the power to fix our position with the sextant. We think, we are 700 to 800 kilometres north of Leningrad. Our pulses beats heavy, the loins are full of unbearable pain, again the tensed hands grip to the vent-line. With a last powerful jerk we rip off the plate, the balloon sinks!

Wonderful, how it is getting warmer and warmer. At 0 degrees C we already feel very warm. We fall through the clouds and still see nothing below us. The air is so stable, that our fall does not exceed more than 2 to 3 meters per second even without dropping ballast. Everything in the basket changes. What was hard and stiff before, now again becomes soft and wet, water drops from everywhere. At about 600 meters, we come out of the clouds and see the earth again. As far as the eye reaches, forests and lakes, lakes and forests. Spontaneously we both say: Finland.

With a speed of about 50 kilometres an hour we rush close to the tree tops. Below us is the ruffling water of a big lake, ahead of us an island with little, weathered, gnarled fir trees. An unforgettable beautiful picture. We look for settlements or other signs of human action. Far away, in a bay surrounded by fir-trees, we can see a lonesome fisherman in his canoe shaped wooden boat. On the other shore, a thin pillar of smoke rises from the forest, but nothing else can be seen from human beings or settlements

Meanwhile we have reached the island and cross it only a few centimetres above of the tree tops. Exactly in our track is an old giant of a tree, four times as high as the other firs. We don’t realise it until the balloon crashes against the brown trunk, the net gets caught in the branches thick as arms, and we swing around the trunk like in a carousel. All efforts, to get the balloon free, are useless, the time for it, allowed by the rules, is over, and we are still not on the ground, have landed against our will. We rip out, the gas escapes, the envelope falls on the firs, while the net stays spanned high up in the trees. For us, the Gordon Bennett Race is over.

Where are we? We cannot discover our giant lake with the island on the map. So we try, to find any indicator leading us to a human settlement. But our fairy island seems to be uninhabited. As far as the eye reaches, a white carpet of moss covers the ground, so in the first moment we thought, snow had already fallen. We think we see a path, but it is an illusion. Then my brave comrade tells: There comes a father with two children. With eager we look to the bush, but it is again an illusion, only some broken firs which looked like it. With a cry of cheer I discover the cabin of a charcoal burner. With big steps we walk across the blueberry bushes, covering almost the whole island, towards our new discovery, but it is again an illusion, just a big rock. So we separate. One of us walks to the shore, the other is heading towards the inner part of the island.

To draw attention, I shoot all our ammunition, the shots sound far over the water. Then a boat with two bearded men comes. I talk to them in German; but they only shook their heads. Also some sentences in Russia have not result. Shrugging their shoulders they press only one word over their lips: "Finski". So we are in Finland. The sound of a motor then again draws our attention to the water. Over the wide plain a big, grey motorboat is heading for us. Soon we can recognise Russian soldiers with their typical long, grey brown coats. To their guns the bayonet is fixed. So Russia. The motorboat hits the stony beach, the soldiers jump out, an officer walks to us and asks us – if we feel well. Together we look for our balloon in the forest. Then we pack our instruments, while the soldiers study every detail with interest. Then we have a long, long trip with the motorboat across the lake to a little village, Wokonavelok. The commander of the border station welcomes us, leads us to a big room, orders tea, bread and butter, and, what was a big present for us, orders to heat up the huge oven. So we finally get out of the wet, which created so much pain for us within the last almost 24 hours. Around the oven hangs all of our trousseau, while we are sitting in our underwear and huge Russian felt boots, given to us by the commander, in front of the open fire and suck in the warmth.

Then we return to the island, accompanied by 15 soldiers, to recover the balloon. We want to save the fur-trees, but wood seems not to be of much value up here, without thinking about the soldiers cut 15 trees to create a huge open space. In the middle, lonely and abandoned, the giant fur, on which the net hangs down. It also falls down. Meanwhile it is night again. For 60 hours we are now on our legs and so tired, that we fall to the beds without further questions. Before, we have to unpack all of our instruments and present them for control. Camera and films are confiscated and sealed in a parcel.

A wonderful trip in the motorboat across Lake Kuito with its steep forested shores brings us and our material to Uchta, the main village of the garrison on the north end of the lake. We are lodged in the officers’ mess and have excellent food. To the commander, a nice man, we talk about our sorrows because of the wet balloon, it must be dried before shipping it by rail for 2000 kilometres to Warsaw. He knows an excellent and astonishing solution. The great gymnasium is emptied, the balloon is spread to the floor and the walls, and then the room is heated up to a temperature of 50 degrees for not less than 40 hours. The net is hung to another room like a fisher net and also dried for 40 hours at a temperature of 60 degrees. Day and night two soldiers have thrown wood to the ovens with no interruption. Then balloon ZURICH is packed well by Russian soldiers, put to a truck and transported across Karelia to the railway station Kiem on the White Sea. We drive ahead in a Ford, on a wide, but incredibly bad road. About 200 kilometres we drive exactly east, through forests and forests, passing blue idyllic lakes and huge rivers. From time to time we can see an abandoned log house, the home of a charcoal burner. Life up here close to the Polar Circle must be very hard and one of the soldiers, speaking a little German, explained, that the year before not less than 600 families have left the area.

The "Polar Arrow" brings us to Leningrad, where we arrive very "reduced" – we had no baggage with us and nothing to change – so the manager of the Grand Hotel Astoria in Leningrad refused to give us a room. First after our confirmation as Gordon Bennett pilots he changes his mind. The Russian Aero Club helps us. They also care for the transportation of our material to Warsaw at no charge. We spend an afternoon of interesting discussions with Russian stratosphere scientist and meteorologist, Professor Motschanoff, have a sight seeing trip of Leningrad, which had hosted the Gordon Bennett pilots already two years ago, an on goes the voyage as guests of Intourist to Moscow, where we take part in the efforts to find the lost Polish comrades of balloon L.O.P.P.. But Russian bureaucracy starts slowly and lot of time is lost. When the search and rescue planes were finally ready for take off, they could not leave because of the fog. So we also left to reach the home town of ZURICH III via Warsaw.

A journey of six thousand kilometres to unknown and strange areas far north is the result of our flight. It was hard and difficult, but also unforgettable beautiful. Big Belgium ace, Demuyter, became the winner, a well earned victory for the best of all.

The unlucky team from Augsburg, Ernst Frank and Hans Bauderer had sacrificed much money to pay for their new racing balloon. Still four month after the race, 7.500 out of 12.000 Reichsmarks, balloon and the travel had cost, was uncovered. So the cup for speed, offered for the first time, was only a little comfort. They had made the best average speed with 45,6 kilometres an hour.

Finally, let’s make a little detour to the time 30 years later. Until the end of the sixties, gas balloons where flown with a glued rip out panel. This was a little dangerous, if the old glue was not removed completely before closing the panel again, it might open in flight.

Two pilots then tested a rip out panel which was sewn and then closed with a tape. This was a big step forward and since then, all gas balloons flew with a rip-out panel secured like this. The two pilots were honoured as "inventors of the sewn rip-out panel" and always argued, which of them had the right to carry this title.

Why this is told here? In the 1936 race the French and the Belgium balloons appeared with a sewn and glued rip-out panel. The ballooning magazines printed accurate and long reports about it. The quarrel 30 years later was absolutely unnecessary.

 

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