Book article about the 24th Coupe Aéronautique Gordon Bennett

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

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 1000 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 Tempe-
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 gating 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.

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