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French Airships / Dirigeable - After the Great War

Up to the first months of 1922, complete neglect had been prevailing in what regards both the two zeppelins surrendered by Germany and the twenty odd serviceable dirigibles that had survived the war, this being the twofold result of lack of credits and of want of faith in the gasbags that have been profusely derided in service papers. Then French experts who made investigations in Germany and studied the possibilities of helium and of another non-inflammable gas, brought new facts to the knowledge of the Paris Admiralty, and when Admiral Lanxade (curiously enough a noted gunnery specialist), became head of the newly-created Aeronautical Department he decided to revive the gasbag service and to train dirigible crews in all heavier-than-air craft at all serviceable, and since May 1922, small and large dirigibles had been humming, as if by enchantment over all naval bases in company with avians de chasse, to the great delight of military men who see in this aerial activity a compensation for France's maritime decline.

Although it was contended in service papers that the largest rigid, the 65,000 cubic-meter Dixmude, was being totally neglected, it was certain that at no time previously had so many French aeronauts been simultaneously in the air for the purpose of experiments and exercises, and - a fact deserving of notice in the light of the experience of rival fleets - no accident had marred that continuous aerial practice. The improved Zeppelin Mediterrance (25,000 cubic metres) had to its credit several interesting performances, including one of 700 kilometres at a fine rate of speed (up to 150km. per hour), with on board Commandants Yvon and Rivet and ten officers de vaisseau. The Brest soft dirigible AT 10, in commission for coastal exercises, has kept the air days on end, advancing 200 miles to sea to meet the Salaun fleet, and directing by wire less the repeated submarine attacks which accounted theoretically for the Toulon Dreadnaughts.

The French Government maintained a very reserved attitude over the question of airship construction. Dirigible balloons had not lost favor for military purposes. The authorities were merely of the opinion that it was prudent to await the results of technical investigation, and of the progress being carried out elsewhere, before embarking upon the construction of new airships. Before doing anything further it was awaiting developments and acquiring fresh experience which was believed to be necessary in view of the uncovincing results obtained with the dirigibles previously constructed in the country, and especially with the three German airships which were surrendered under the terms of the Versailles Treaty.

  1. During 1921 the Zeppelin dirigible L-72 was delivered to France by Germany. The first proposed designation, "DR-1," was not in accordance with French practice, which assigned names to airships, and accordingly it was renamed the "Dixmude," in recognition of the magnificent work of the French marine fusiliers in defence of that town in October and November, 1914. The Dixmude was taken over by the Marine and was intended to be used for survey work over the Mediterranean and North Africa, but for some time past the German airship had been lying in its shed near Toulon waiting for repairs which the authorities were reluctant to carry out. As the Dixmude was already four years old in 1922, which was regarded as the normal life of an airship, it was feared that repairs will be continually absorbing large sums of money.
  2. The L-133 had to be taken down at Maubeuge before it could render any useful service.
  3. The Nordstern, or Mediterranee as it was called, was still waiting in its' shed at St. Cyr until arrangements can be made for handing it over either to the military or naval services. It was feared that the Mediterranee will share the fate of the other airships. Nordstern, re-named Mediterranée, undertook a number of propaganda flights and trained some French naval airship crews. The French Army took over LZ.113, but never flew the obsolete airship. She was subjected to ground testing with an eye toward improving Dixmude and gaining knowledge for a future series of French-built rigid airships.
The aeronautical station at Orly in the suburbs of Paris was selected to be the principal French airship base; and, during the year 1921, the buildings and plant required for construction were in an advanced stage. They included big gas-holders, airship sheds, and workshops, and a Customs house. Mooring masts for airships Iwere embraced also in the French program. Under the war settlement, seven German airship sheds were allocated to France, and the French Council of National Defense was seeking to persuade the Government to agree to the Air Department's airship programme, and reerect these sheds at Marseilles, Paris, Tunis, Casablanca, Algiers, and Dakar (Senegal). It was realized that France could not neglect the prospect of German airship construction and operation being maintained.

The program of French-built dirigibles was cancelled.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2012 19:26:36 ZULU