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.