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Hindenburg Remembered: Death Of A Dream

As we mark three-quarters of a century since the German airship Hindenburg crashed and burned at Lakehurst Naval Air Station, the curators of the base’s rich aviation history offer perspective of its meaning before and after the disaster.

Construction of Hindenburg began in Friedrichshafen, Germany in 1931 and was completed in 1936.
Construction of Hindenburg began in Friedrichshafen, Germany in 1931 and was completed in 1936 (Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

The Navy Lakehurst Historical Society marks the anniversary with a commemorative dinner May 5 at the Clarion (formerly the Quality Inn) in Toms River. The group is bringing all its resources to bear for the next evening’s traditional annual memorial service on the grounds where it happened. Both events are open to the public.

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Society President Carl Jablonski points out that the airship owed its very existence to Adolf Hitler’s emerging nationalist government, which saw opportunity in subsidizing the overextended Zeppelin Company.

 

The manufacturer sought bankrolling for several projects including the not-yet-completed Hindenburg, which was designed with extreme luxury in mind. Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, the Fuhrer’s Minister of Information, intervened.

Hindenburg Promenade Deck (Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

“They said, ‘Look, we’ll give you the money to finish this airship and your projects,’” says Jablonski, “‘but we want this airship to be featuring the Swastika.’ It was used for propaganda.”

The United States and Germany were not overtly antagonistic in 1937, but the Great War had ended less than two decades earlier and storm clouds were gathering in Europe again. The massive dirigible issued a powerful statement in its slow, sedate trans-Atlantic crossings.

The flaming wreckage brought to a halt not only the concept of lighter-than-air travel as the primary passenger, military and reconaissance mode of the future, but also the use of hydrogen inside such vessels. It was replaced with the much less volatile helium.

Film, photo and audio accounts turned the Hindenburg into the airborne equivalent of unprecedented disasters such as the Titanic on sea and the World Trade Center on land. But Jablonski reminds us that it wasn’t the only crash of its kind – or even the worst – or even the first in Ocean County.

USS Akron emerging from Hanger One at NAS Lakehurst
USS Akron emerging from Hanger One at NAS Lakehurst (Navy Lakehurst Historical Society)

“The US Navy airship Akron got caught in a storm and crashed,” he says. “Seventy-three of 76 on board perished off Barnegat Light [on April 4,] 1933.”

See all about Lakehurst’s military air heritage – and get details about the 75th Anniversary commemoratives  at nlhs.com.

 

 

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