Start: Stuttgart, Canstatter Wasen, October 27th 4 p.m.
From the Book: Die Gordon Bennett Ballon Rennen
(The Gordon Bennett Races) by Ulrich Hohmann Sr
The victory of Hans Gericke in 1911 had secured the survival of the Gordon Bennett Race, the cup had not gone to the final possession of an aero club. If the Americans would have conquered the cup, nobody would have sponsored a new one, due to the low interest of European countries in flights on other continents, as it was shown in 1910 and 1911. Of course, a prognosis like this cannot be proved afterwards, but the possibility of this one is great.
So Hans Gericke had brought back the race to Germany. He could not see the start anymore. Just seven days before launch he had fallen to death with the balloon REICHSFLUGVEREIN I near Riesa in Saxony. The "Deutsche Luftschiffer-Verband", as the national aero club was called in these days, declared Stuttgart to be the town of the launch. Reason for this was the central position of this town in Europe, the distance to the seas, but also the capacity of the gas factory, for a record breaking number of competitors was again expected. This number was nearly met, 23 entries were received, for the first time even one from the Czardom of Russia. But in the last minute some entries, also the Russian one, were withdrawn. The fee of 400 Marks was lost for the no-shows.
Reason for this may have been the political circumstances. War ruled on the Balkans. A military alliance of Russia, Bulgaria, Serbia and Greece was chasing out the Turks. And besides this, efforts also went against the Austrian/Hungarian Empire. In Albania civil war raged between Christians and Muslims.
The preparations for the launch of the Gordon Bennett Race instead were done with Swabian thoroughness. Among the officials we find names, still known today by balloonists and in Swabia: Alfred Dierlamm, Hermann Euting, Oberleutnant Henke, Albert Hirth, First Major of Town Lautenschläger, factory owner Berthold Fein. Besides the Gordon Bennett Race there was also the annual national championship on October 24th and the congress of the German aeronauts on October 28th on the program. Also, it had to be full moon, to make orientation easier for the long distance pilots.
On the Cannstatter Wasen, the field for the horse races, 320 meters long, 260 m wide was separated by wooden walls. The stands for the spectators were added by economic stalls, press-office, competition centre and buildings for mail and material. On the south western side, towards the river Neckar, the gas tubes were laid. The gas works of Gaisburg pumped the special light lifting-gas (0,39 kg/cu m) with exhausters of 95 hp each underneath the Neckar, where it could be taken from 24 valves at the opposite side of the river.
The central station of the meteorological office in Stuttgart got weather telegrams from all over the world, they were transmitted at once to the launch field and handed to the competitors. Also a book store had erected a shop for maps on the launch field, to allow everybody to compete his material. The balloon factory Riedinger from Augsburg ran a stock for spare parts on the field. The sand for the ballast was riddled extra fine and dried on the fire, to protect it against freezing in higher altitudes, even hay to upholster the baskets was prepared.
For the safety, passports with a special visa for France, Russia and Turkey were given to each pilot. (All foreign authorities were instructed, to give their special protection to the holder of these passports). For the physical well being the champagne producer Kessler & Cie. from Esslingen had prepared a picnic basket for every balloon, containing among others a bottle of "Kessler extra cuvee". The company "Dr. Theinhardts Nährmittelgesellschaft" from Cannstadt added a test can of "Hygiama", a kind of iron rations for surviving after landing in remote areas.
20 race balloons, each of a capacity of 2200 cu m were ready. When inflating the American balloon KANSAS-CITY, an accident happened, being crumbly like tinder, it burst. The crew got DÜSSELDORF II for rent, so they did not have to do the long journey for nothing, but flew out of the competition.
The group of contestants included besides proven old fellows (Bienaime was there for the fourth, Leblanc for the fifth time) also newcomers, becoming quite famous in future. Georges Blanchet from France was new, he competed in totally eight races. Legendary Ferdinand Eimermacher, here he appears for the first time, competed "only" four times, due to political post-war reasons. The Belgian Ernest Demuyter entered the stage as the youngest competitor ever in a Gordon Bennett Race, he was just nineteen, he had done his first balloon flight at the age of fifteen. Two years later he passed his pilots examination and soon went for his first solo flight in a balloon of only 300 cubic meters, which ended after one hour at Eindhoven in the Netherlands with a hard landing at 80 km/h. His big time in the Gordon Bennett Races lay still ahead of him, he flew in totally 18 races. In 1912, he wrote his name "de Muyter", with the French title of nobility. After 1918 we find only the printing Demuyter.
Swabian king Wilhelm II. and his queen, the heads of the court, military and the town were present, when at exactly 4 p.m. and best weather conditions PICARDIE opened the race under the sounds of the Marseillaise. HONEY-MOON followed with "God save the king". At last, only DÜSSELDORF II and the full moon stood above the Wasen.
Night broke in, when the balloons disappeared in the direction of Backnang and the crews accommodated themselves for long and lonely hours in their baskets upholstered with hay, made their entries to the log book and had a first check of the picnic basket donated by the champagne company Kessler.
From the race itself, at first young Ernest Demuyter shall report:
(Here the translation of the chapter of Demuyters book should be printed)
What happened to the other competitors? – All balloons had to try to find a pretty fast layer and, by saving as much ballast as possible, stand the cold night. At morning, the balloons were, without seeing each other, in the area of Dresden and Magdeburg, heading ENE, speed 30 km/h, at worsening weather. First landings were reported. The area became more and more monotonous. Snowfall started. Bienaime later said, that he reached a speed of 110 km/h in a snowstorm over Warzaw.
Some balloons escaped this weather by flying to other altitudes. Sigmundt from Austria, Piccoli and Usuelli from Italy drifted more south like Demuyter, Usuelli received an extra cup of honour from the "Niederrheinischer Verein für Luftschiffahrt" for his 1182 km in 34:18 h and the ninth rank.
Bienaime had launched first in Stuttgart on Sunday afternoon with PICARDIE, he landed, still in the snow storm, after 45 h and 55 min. as the last near Rjäsan south of Moscow. The distance, he had covered, was 2191 kilometres, the longest distance ever achieved in a Gordon Bennett Race. His fellow-citizen Leblanc landed one hour earlier with ILE DE FRANCE, also in the area of Moscow. His 2001 kilometres put him to second..
Both Frenchmen were welcomed with honour in Moscow. They did not know, that their fellow John Watts, flying out of competition in DÜSSELDORF II for 36 hours, meanwhile was being searched for with urgency. He was lost. First after some diplomatic efforts it was achieved, to get him released from Russian custody after four days as "British spy". Also Harry E. Honeywell, Captain of the American army and placed third in the race, saw a Russian jail from the inside. When leaving Russia, he was stopped at the border by an order of the chief of the police department, brought back to the landing place and put to prison there. First an ukase from the czar gave him back his freedom.
Let's remember the statement, Hans Gericke made a year before about the quality of the balloon material. He considered the French balloon as the best, that means the lightest. Since these years, we watch, that Gordon Bennett Races are not only won by the perseverance of the pilot, the races also make an important contribution to the development of the balloon itself. This will become still more visible in the future races but should not reduce the performance of the pilots at all. As well as in car-, ski- and bobsled races in the past and today also at Gordon Bennett, the pilot and the material are basic for the success. The lightest balloon, the best technical equipment do not guarantee the victory, if pilot and his companion don't have enough constitution and skill. Again and again we will see Gordon Bennett Races, in which crews, using normal, heavy balloons as used for all days passenger flights in the clubs will win against new balloons, only constructed for the race.
The two races, launched from Germany, had been something special. This sounds chauvinistic, but is not. The fact, that they are still today much better remembered as many others, has to be credited to the Swiss (1908) for the second longest in duration and to the French (1912) for the longest in distance.
Gordon Bennett Race 1912
It happened on Thursday. Milky clouds rushed along the sky, joined together, became darker and darker and formed black tangles. 10, 15 balloons already had flown off with the helping hands of the soldiers and waved through the air, gaining higher and higher. Then a wurttembergian balloon was carried by. All the friends of the crew gathered around the basket, to give a last farewell to the departing aeronauts. Close to the basket stood an older man in a black civil dress and watched with interest the last handling of the launch masters. The balloon mounted - "Good luck, Good luck, happy landing!" The aeronauts cheered and waved their hats, only the pilot took a bag of ballast with his right hand and emptied it. Totally concentrated, it took some time, until he recognized, that the man in the civil dress lifted his hat, and his passengers saluted and stood still. And the lady on board with the white orange hat gracefully waved the shimmering giant wheel for a cheerful greeting from the air above. With lightening speed the pilot now rose his left hand to his cap, spreading ballast with his right, saluting with his left hand, he stood still, full of joy and respect, until the balloon was out of sight – for the man in the civil dress was his king.
On Sunday at about 3 p.m.: A big noise and a tearing sound – an American balloon burst right in the middle. So proud it had been, so fearless pulling on the ropes, almost full and ready, to fly the sea of air for a lot of miles, now a poor scrap of cloth with a big wound lay on the ground. The pilots had come across the ocean, men, having got rid of every gram of unnecessary fat by year long exercises, men, personifying joy of sports, ambition in their eyes and in every vain, driven only by one thought: the cup must be back to America, even for the price of life. The balloon had lost his life, but with the balloon, the hope for fight and victory was gone. The heroes, prepared to face death with courage, got overwhelmed with shivering and shock. Tears filled their eyes, broken they stepped aside. They did not look back to the wreck, to the place where the balloon, robbed of its power lay. Without emotions they listened to the condole sing words of their comrades. – But suddenly, new life entered these beaten down figures, a word was spread of a German spare balloon. And right, the Germans, full of chivalrously helpfulness put the balloon DÜSSELDORF II, which they could not fly by themselves at their disposal. A wonderful victory of international friendship in sports! Now the eyes of the Americans were gleaming bright again, new energy came to the face of the Yankees, the muscles swelled again: Let's go to the race in a German balloon!
On the launch field on Sunday. Another American balloon is carried by. In the basket a small, black-haired man with eye glasses makes his last preparations next to his companion, vividly gesticulating, without calm, noisy and excited. Let's call him Mr. Miller. "Missis Miller, Missis Miller, just a moment please!" His wife approached the basket with their little son on her hand. "Over there, Mister X, he wants to have photos of the last balloon meeting, don't let me forget it, to mail him some". The balloon is weighed, photos are taken, ready for take-off. – Attention, hands off! In the very last moment a spectator hands over his card to the lively man. "Stop, Missis Miller, take this card, or I will forget or loose it - good-bye, good-bye – Attention, let go!" The balloon lifts, the restless man shouts "Hurray, Hurray, Württemberg!" with a voice like thunder, joyful echoed from below. But soon the balloon sinks down, two bags of sand are dumped quickly and under the mocking laughter of the soldiers: "He'd shout to much" the balloon jumps up to the element of air.
A balloon from France approaches the launch platform. Look at these two young, fresh characters in the basket! Passing the protective circle of the soldiers is a lady in a black satin coat, guided by a tall man, deeply veiled, a black miniature poodle on her left arm, not caring for the leash hanging to the dust. Her eyes are red from weeping, and from time to time a heart breaking sobbing shakes her body. Why is this beautiful lady weeping so pitiful? Now the balloon rises, on the edge of the basket a tall young man is sitting. Joyful he lifts his cap, all his eyes for the lady. And some little melancholy hushes across his face, on which joy for sports and altitudes is gleaming. In a mixture of youthful enthusiasm for air sports and a tender sympathy with the one who stays back full of sorrows for him, his lips send a quick kiss to the lady. She stands still with whimpering heart, and while a shaking sobbing makes this sensitive body tremble, the lace handkerchief in her white satin glove waves all the sorrows and love to the friend vanishing in the airspace. Au revoir, au revoir! Then with a fatherly gesture the guide of the lady takes her arm and leads her out of the circle, far away the balloon disappears in the distance and another giant ball enters the launch platform.
How the language changes with the times! I discovered these impressions in a newspaper from these days. For good reasons I did not "translate" the impressions of the author to the much more sober language of today. A lot of the air of former thinking and feeling would be lost.