The Zeppelin companies in Germany

By: Rob Mulder
For: www.europeanairlines.no

Deutsche Luftschiffahrts Aktien-Gesellschaft – DELAG (1909-1935)

The first airline company in Germany was not an airline company in the way it could be defined, as its aim was not the opening of regular, sustained air services, but much more the transportation by rigid airships of passengers on joy-ride flights. First after the Great War, the full potential of the rigid airship was recognised and exploited, but for Germany it was too late (due to the Treaty of Versailles). Later in the twenties, new initiatives were started and up to the destruction of the Hindenburg in the USA (May 1937) the rigid Zeppelin airship turned out to be the ideal mean of transportation across the oceans.

The man behind this was the German Graf (Count) Ferdinand von Zeppelin. His first encounter with a lighter-than-air craft was on August 19, 1863 during his time as observer of the American Civil War. These balloons were tied to the ground and were not steerable. The first steerable lighter-than-air craft was constructed by Frenchman Henri Giffard, who in September 1852 had made a 144-feet-long-steerable-balloon. Around March 1874 the Count started to make his first notes about this problem. His ideas led to a dirigible based on a rigid framework and multiple gas cells. The biggest problem was how to make the framework strong enough without making the craft too heavy. Furthermore, a steerable rigid airship would need an engine and this was not at hand by 1874.

After the first flight of the electrical driven no rigid airship of French Captains Charles Renard and Arthur Krebs (1884), the Count urged King Wilhelm of Württemberg to start up a program of airship development. In 1890 he was forced out of the army and could now use his time to create a useably rigid airship. He hired the service of balloon maker Theodor Kober to solve the structural problems. The first designs were all rejected, but a light metal airship with a rigid framework of aluminium built by David Schwarz gave new hope. Together with aluminium maker Carl Berg he started a joint stock company for airship construction: the Aktien-Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt (Joint Stock Company for Promotion of Airship Flight). A floating wooden shed at Manzell, west of Friedrichshafen near the Bodensee (Lake Constance) was constructed and here on July 2, 1900 the Luftschiff Zeppelin 1 (LZ 1) made its 18-minutes maiden flight. It had to be abandoned due to technical problems. On October 17 a second flight was made, witnessed by Hugo Eckener, who was to write an article for the Frankfurter Zeitung. This flight had a better result despite some minor mechanic problems, but one hour and thirty-two minutes later it returned from its flight above the Bodensee. The ship was manoeuvrable! Several flights followed, but the LZ 1 was far from perfect. No orders or military interest followed and the Count was forced to dismantle the ship and fire all personnel, except an engineer Ludwig Dürr. The Gesellschaft zur Förderung der Luftschiffahrt was dissolved. Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin turned now to his old friend King Wilhelm of Württemburg to ask for funds. The King organised a lottery that brought in M.124,000. A further M.50,000 came from Prussia and a mortgage on his wife’s family’s estate brought in the remainder. November 1905 the LZ 2 was ready, but its first flight had to be aborted due to damage to the steering surfaces caused by a rope that did not release on take-off. On January 17, 1906 an new attempt was more successful, although both engines failed and the airship drifted towards Kisslegg were trees and the wind damaged the airship beyond repair. After the new article written by, now Doktor, Hugo Eckener, Zeppelin and he met, where the Count asked for moral support from Eckener by publishing articles.

In October 1906 the LZ 3 lifted for the first time and became a great success. It was lengthened in 1907 and made among others an eight-hour flight. LZ 4 made in July 1908 a twelve-hour flight to Switzerland and back. The Count was now a national hero. On May 4, 1908 a twenty-four-hour endurance flight was to convince the German Army to buy his airships, but after a promising start engine trouble starting near Mannheim caused an extra-ordinary landing near Eichenheimer (near Stuttgart). During the repairs the airship was lifted by the wind and after an explosion and a fire destroyed beyond repair.

The German population was now more willing to donate money and three million Marks came in for the construction of a new airship. In order to be able to administrate all this money the Count decided to form the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung, which in its turn formed a number of subsidiaries such as the Maybach Motorenbau. The mother company’s first managing director was Mr Alfred Colsman with Dr Hugo Eckener appointed director of public relations. The Army bought the rebuilt LZ 3 and the new LZ 5, but further orders stayed out. In order to be able to use the new LZ 6, Alfred Colsman suggested the formation of a new company. On November 16, 1909 the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts Aktien-Gesellschaft – DELAG was formed at Frankfurt-am-Main with a stock-capital of 3,000,000 Marks. The company was a sister-company of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH Aim of the world’s first airline company was the transportation of passengers and the training of crew-members. During the winter of 1909-10 the DELAG worked on the organisation of the company and planned several flights. The management was in the capable hands of the well-known aviation pioneer and promoter for air traffic with rigid airships, Dr Hugo Eckener.

On June 19, 1910 the first rigid Zeppelin airship was ready for delivery and started its delivery flight. It was the Zeppelin LZ 7, carrying the name Deutschland (Germany) and flown by the Count Von Zeppelin himself to Düsseldorf. Well one week later, on June 28, 1910, the first flight of three hours would start and on board were thirty-two passengers, among them seventeen journalists. The plan was to make a flight across the Ruhrgebiet (Ruhr area). The specially hired captain on board was Kapitän Kahlenberg, who encountered problems with the port side engine, after which he decided to make an extra-ordinary landing near Münster. After repairs the ship departed for Düsseldorf, but there it would never arrive. Above the Teutoburger Wald (Teutoburger Forest) near Osnabrück the airship hit the treetops and crashed. It had to be written-off. Fortunately nobody was hurt. The remains of the airship and the insurance paid for the construction of the second airship for the DELAG, the LZ 8 Deutschland II, also known as Ersatz Deutschland – replacement for Germany). Up to the delivery of the LZ 8, DELAG used the LZ 6, which had its maiden flight on August 25, 1909. Unfortunately on September 14, 1910 this airship had, due to neglect of the crew, to be written off after a huge fire while stored in its hangar at Baden-Oos. Both the airship and the hangar were destroyed. In its short time at DELAG the airship had made 34 flights and carried 726 passengers. The airship had made mainly day-trips from Baden-Oos to Mannheim and Stuttgart. A joy-ride flight with the airship was only possible for those who could afford it. A two-hour trip cost Mk.200 per person, plus food and beverages.

The airships were stored in specially designed hangars. The first hangar was erected in Düsseldorf and had a length of 160 meters. The head office of the DELAG was at Frankfurt-am-Main, and a hangar was built at Rebstock. It had the same length as the one in Düsseldorf. During the winter of 1910-11 no airship left its hangar. DELAG possessed now its own hangar in Friedrichshafen, Düsseldorf and Baden-Oos. Other hangars were built at Allenstein, Dresden, Gotha, Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel, Köln, Königsberg, Leipzig, Leignitz, Metz (up to 1918 German territory), Posen, Potsdam and Trier. Most of the hangars were erected by the respective cities and rented to DELAG. Later a hangar was erected at Johannisthal near Berlin, followed by a new hangar at Biesdorf. This hangar could be turned around, allowing the airship to enter in the appropriate direction of the wind.

The visit of a city by a Zeppelin always gathered large crowds. The main object of all these flights was the proper training of the crew for the German Army. Of the nearly 34,000 passengers carried by the airship up to 1914, only 11,582 paid for its fare. The remainder was crew members and personnel under training.

At the beginning of the 1911-season DELAG purchased the LZ 8 Deutschland II. It was delivered on 30 March, but also this airship had a short life with DELAG. Already on 16 May, after just 24 flights, it was damaged beyond repair while being manoeuvred in and out the hangar at Düsseldorf. The hull was badly broken caused by strong rain-showers and wind. Again DELAG was without an airship.

A new airship was built and delivered on July 15, 1911: the LZ 10 Schwaben. This 140 meter long airship was stationed at Baden-Oos and made during the summer flights to Berlin, Düsseldorf and Frankfurt-am-Main. On July 20 Dr Hugo Eckener flew it with eight passengers and a crew of eight to Luzern in Switzerland and after a few rounds above the city continued to Rigi, Zürich, Winterthur and Frauenfeld. After this it returned via the Bodensee to Baden-Oos. During the winter it was stationed at this hangar.

On March 4, 1912 the LZ 11 Viktoria Luise (called after the only daughter of the Kaiser) could be delivered and for the first time, the DELAG had two airships at its disposal. The latter was the one used most of all pre-war airships. At the outbreak of the Great War it had made 489 flights, flown 54,312 km and carried 2,995 passengers.

But the pleasure of two airships in use lasted only a short while. On June 28 the LZ 10 Schwaben was destroyed by fire at Düsseldorf. During a storm static electricity had enlightened the highly flammable hydrogen gas. Up to its destruction it had flown 27,312 km and carried 4,354 passengers and crew. Right after the destruction of the Schwaben, DELAG ordered a new airship, the LZ 13 Hansa. The loss of the Schwaben was the last peacetime loss of a Zeppelin up to May 1937, when the famous LZ 129 Hindenburg was lost. The Hansa had been delivered in July 1912 and was stationed at Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel. In September it was used by the German Navy during fleet manoeuvres, but returned to DELAG again.

Dr Hugo Eckener made on August 11 one flight with the LZ 13 Hansa to Flensburg. A not too interesting fact, if not that its was his birthplace…

The second major trip of a Zeppelin abroad was made to København (Copenhagen, Denmark). Dr Eckener flew the LZ 13 Hansa on September 19 to the Danish capital, where it arrived at 10.30 am. After a half-an-hour stop the airship continued to Malmö (Sweden) and Hamburg, where it landed at 5.40 pm. Besides being stationed at Hamburg, the LZ 13 Hansa was used for flights out of Potsdam, Leipzig and Gotha. Captains on board were Capt Doerr and Capt Heinen.

In the winter of 1912-13 the LZ 11 Viktoria Luise and the LZ 13 Hansa were stored in the hangar. In June 1913 they were joined by a new airship, the LZ 17 Sachsen, which was stationed at Leipzig and made headlines, when on June 9, 1913 it flew from Baden-Baden to Wien, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The LZ 17 Sachsen made one round above Linz (Austria) before arriving at Wien. It landed on the famous airport of Wien, Aspern. Among the passengers were Dr Hugo Eckener and Graf Von Zeppelin. During its flight above Wien it flew above the Schönbrunn Palace, the home of the Emperor. After this it returned to Germany. Upon its return in Germany the airship made some joy-ride flights, before being hired to the German Navy. It was used for training purposes and stationed at Leipzig. It remained there from October 25, 1913 until the spring of 1914, when it returned to DELAG.

During the winter 1913-14 the LZ 17 Sachsen was lengthened by 8 meter and had now a length of 148 meter. It was powered by three 180 hp Maybach engines, giving it a speed of 75.6 kmh.

The start of the Great War made an abrupt end to all civil flights of the three airships in service with DELAG. On July 31, 1914 all services ceased and the three airships were handed over to the German Army, who stationed them in Köln and Potsdam. During the Great War the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH built a considerable number of rigid airships for the German Army and Navy and the airship made fame, when it started its role as bomber. But the most remarkable long-distance flight was made by the Naval airship L 59 which started on November 21 for a flight from Bulgaria to East Africa, where the German Army was in bad need of supplies. It had been recalled west of Khartoum and returned to Bulgaria on the 25th after a non-stop flight of 6,760 km in just under 100 flying-hours. A black day in the history of German aviation was March 8, 1917, when the Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin passed away. He was buried in Stuttgart. After the Armistice, the DELAG resumed its work and nine months later the first airship took to the air: the LZ 120 Bodensee. For the first time the airships carried a civil registration and LZ 120 was allotted the registration D-I. It made its maiden flight on August 20, 1919 and was put into service on the world’s first regular airship service between Friedrichshafen, München and Berlin/Staaken. This service was opened on August 24, 1919. München was served on demand and only until October 4. The last passenger flight was December 5, 1919, after which the airship was stored for the winter. The aircraft had made 78 flights and in addition 25 joy ride and special flights with a total of 531 hr 30 min. The distance flown was 51,258 km and the results were impressive (close to 100 % load factor): 4,050 people of which 2,253 revenue passengers, 5,000 kg of mail and 330 kg of cargo and luggage. The service was a great success.

The plans of the DELAG were however much bigger than just a domestic air service. In Sweden the year 1919 saw the foundation of the first serious airline company of Sweden, the Svensk Lufttrafik AB - SLA (q.v.). The company’s managing director, Capt. Lenn Jacobsen took contact with the German airline company DELAG to discuss the charter of the airship LZ 120, D-I Bodensee for a return flight from Berlin to Stockholm. This flight was carried out on October 8 that year and the Bodensee made the 1,750 km flight back and forth within one day. During the demonstration at Stockholm, members of the Royal family were present. The flight was also used to push the Swedish Parliament, Riksdagen, to grant SLA a loan (of 1,750,000 Swedish Kroner) for the construction of a hangar for rigid airships near Stockholm. The to be ordered rigid airship was scheduled for use on the air service London – Stockholm, with intermediate landing at Göteborg. The flight to Stockholm was the first international flight of a Zeppelin after the end of the Great War. The airship left Berlin at 5 am, with on board a large party of celebrities: Count Douglas, the Courtmaster of the Swedish Court, the head of the German Reichsluftamt, Dr August Euler and many others. The flight went across the Danish island of Bornholm and along the Swedish east coast directly to Stockholm, where ten thousands of spectators were awaiting the arrival of this large airship. It arrived Stockholm around 12.30 noon and after a tour above the city centre and the Royal Palace it continued to the specially prepared military field, where Swedish military personnel took the aircraft down. The Crown Prince of Sweden greeted the party together with two other Swedish princes, as well as the Swedish Minister of War, the Head of the Post Office, numerous Naval authorities and the German Ambassador. Strong winds shortened the visit and at 2 pm the airship had to start its return flight to Berlin. Sever storms and rain met the aircraft on its way back, but after nine hours it could moor safely at Berlin/Staaken. The next day it continued on the regular air service to Friedrichshafen with a departure at 10.45 am.

Furthermore, DELAG scheduled the extension in southern direction as well. It wanted to start up a service from Friedrichshafen to Switzerland (Friedrichshafen – Zürich – Luzern – Interlaken – Neuenburg – Genève) in cooperation with the Swiss airline company Ad Astra Aero AG. From Genève the service would have to be extended to Spain and eventually to South America. Thus a through service from Stockholm in Sweden to South America would be established. But it did not come that far. The success of the regular air service led to the decision by the DELAG to order a second airship, which was to be used on the air service to Stockholm. The scheduled reopening of the air service Friedrichshafen – Berlin in February 1920 was halted by the Entente. After the Great War, seven airships had been destroyed by the Germans and the Entente wanted a compensation for this. It wanted so many new airships, until the volume of the seven airships was compensated. It did not want seven new airships, but only compensation for the total volume. It also demanded the destruction of the hangar in Friedrichshafen. Negociations ended with the handing over of the two post-war airships Bodensee and Nordstern to the Entente. On July 3, 1921 the LZ 120 Bodensee flew to Ciampino near Rome, Italy, where it was handed over to the Italian Navy and renamed Esperia. It flew until it was dismantled in 1927. The LZ 121 Nordstern was not ready until 1921 and made its maiden flight on June 8, 1921. Five days later it was flown to Saint Cyr, near Paris, France, where it too was handed over to the Navy, but this time of France. The French Navy named it Méditerranée and used it until 1926. This meant the end of DELAGs operations.

But the DELAG did not ceased to exist. Already in January 1920 the German press speculated in the possible formation of an airship company in the USA for a scheduled transoceanic air service New York – London – Berlin. These turned out to be partly false. The USA wanted to gain an advantage with regard to air service by airships and had purchased the R.33 from the UK. The DELAG had already had talks with neutral countries like Holland and Sweden and prepared the foundation of a German-Spanish-Argentine airship company: the Sociedad Colón Transaeréa Española (q.v.). This Spanish-Argentine-German airship company was to be used for the scheduled air service to South America and connect Spain with Friedrichshafen (German airships were of course not allowed to cross French territory!). The US Government was interested to get an rigid airship from the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH as they regarded these airships superior to the Allied airships. It ordered therefor the LZ 126, which was finished by 1924. It was now possible to make a flight across the Atlantic Ocean and prove to the world that the rigid airship had a future as well. The airship was commanded by Dr Hugo Eckener and had a DELAG-crew on board. On October 12 they flew the airship to Basel and via France across the Golf of Biscaye to its destination New York. The city was reached on October 15 after a flying-time of 81 hr 2 min. The airship was handed over to the US Government and christened Los Angeles. It ceased operations in 1936, but was still stored in 1940. The 1924-crossing turned out to be the first of many Zeppelin flights across the Atlantic Ocean.

Financially the DELAG and the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH had a hard time. In order to be able to build the next airship, Dr Hugo Eckener had to give lectures. By 1927 the companies had gathered 2.5 million Reichsmark, after which the German Government granted 1.5 million. Now the construction of the LZ 127 could start. On July 8, 1928 the daughter of the late Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin could christen the airship on the name Graf Zeppelin. Together with Hindenburg the rigid Zeppelin airships became world famous.

The Graf Zeppelin had a duralumin framework and a weight of 58 ton. It could carry well 107,000 kg of freight and was 236.6 meter long and the housed 105,000 m³ gas. The five 580 hp Maybach 12cc engines gave the aircraft a cruising speed of 110 kmh. From 1928 to 1931 the Graf Zeppelin made a number of long distance flights:

  • October 11-15, 1928: From Friedrichshafen to New York in 111 hr. Flown approx. 10,000 km;
  • October 29 – November 1, 1928: New York to Friedrichshafen in 71 hr 51 min;
  • March 21, 1929: Flight above the Mediterranea visiting among cities in Italy and Palestine. Flying time 81 hr 25 min, flown approx. 8,000 km;
  • April 23, 1929: Visit to Spain;
  • May 16, 1929: Departure for New York, but flight due to engine troubles abandoned above France;
  • August 1, 1929: Flight to New York with return to Friedrichshafen as part of around-the-world flight. The flight to Friedrichshafen was made in 55 hr 19 min. Here the Graf Zeppelin continued:

August 15:  to Russia and landing at Tokyo (Japan) on 19 August after a non-stop flight of 101 hr 49 min. The rigid airship crossed for the first time the Russo-Asian continent and China. Total length: 11,247 km.

August 23: Flight from Tokyo to San Francisco, arrival 25 Aug after a 9,650 km long flight in 80 hr.

August 26: Arrival at Los Angeles and:

August 29: Flight across the American continent to the starting point at Lakehurst. The flight around the world had been completed. On 1 September the airship started its return flight to Friedrichshafen, where it arrived on 4 September after 12½ days and 34,200 km flying.

  • May 18 – June 6, 1930: Flight from Friedrichshafen to Sevilla (Spain) and further to Recife, Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and return via Recife to Lakehurst (USA) and Sevilla to Friedrichshafen;
  • July 1930: Flight to Svalbard (Spitsbergen) and back.
  • April 1930: Again a flight across the Mediterranea.
  • July 24-30, 1931: Polar Flight in cooperation with Russia. Routing: Friedrichshafen – Berlin – Gotland (Sweden) – Helsinki (Finland) – Navra – Leningrad – Franz Joseph’s Land – Nikolaus II-Land – Taymir – Nowaja Semlja – Leningrad – Helsinki – Gotland – Berlin. A 71 hr flight!

But more important was the start after 11 years of the commercial use of the Zeppelins. In co-operation with the Deutsche Luft Hansa AG – Deutsche Lufthansa AG and the Syndicato Condor Ltda the first aircraft/airship flights were opened. On 18 May 1930 the Deutsche Luft Hansa AG started with aircraft to fly airmail from Berlin to Friedrichshafen, where the ‘Graf Zeppelin’ took over and continued to Rio de Janeiro. The first airmail arrived there on 25 May. The airship continued to operate well into the thirties. But by that time the DELAG had been succeeded by a new airship company, called the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei GmbH. The DELAG ceased to exist and was dissolved in 1935, after twenty-six years of operation, albeit not continuously.

 

Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei Gesellschaft mit beschränkter Haftung DZR (1935-1945)

In January 1933 the Nazi-regime took over control of civil aviation in Germany and set up a complete new structure within the civil aviation administration. The RLM was taken over by Herman Göring and he wanted the obsolete DELAG-company to change its structure. As he wanted full control, a new company was formed. On March 22, 1935 the Deutsche Lufthansa AG and the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH founded the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei GmbH – DZR with seat in Berlin. The stock-capital was RM 9,550,000 divided between:

Deutsche Lufthansa (40.31 %):

a) 6/13 ownership of the new airship LZ 129: RM 3,000,000

b) Direct payment:                                                   RM    850,000

Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH (59.69 %):

a) Ownership of LZ 127  Graf Zeppelin:               RM 1,900,000

b)  7/13 ownership of the new airship LZ 129:      RM 3,500,000

c)  Direct payment:                                                  RM    300,000

Of the capital paid in by the German airline company, only RM 400,000 was paid in directly by DLH, while the remainder was covered by the RLM. The airline company took over the airship LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin, which had operated the South-Atlantic route since 1930. Furthermore, the stock-capital was used for the construction of the next Zeppelin, the LZ 129 Hindenburg.

During 1935, the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin continued to operate the South-American route with great regularity. The season for the DZR in 1935 started on April 1 and during the year the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin performed nine airmail flights to South America, seven regular flights to South America without airmail, but with revenue passengers, printing matter and commercial samples. Furthermore the airship made three airmail shuttle flights between Recifi and Bathurst and finally one flight to Berlin and three trial flights. The total distance flown in 1935 was 354,501 km. On September 15, 1935 it made its 100th ocean crossing and on September 22 its 50th flight over the South Atlantic route. A further milestone was the 1,000,000th km flown (December 1935).

The year ending December 31, 1935 gave the new company a profit of RM 33,270.59, but the DZR was heavily subsidised. From the RLM it had received no less than RM 1,531,294 (55.54 % of its income). The revenue passengers covered RM 599,042.03 of the income, airmail RM 461,363.20 and air cargo RM 35,932.31.

On the South Atlantic route, a hangar for airships could finally be taken in use in Rio de Janeiro, which made it possible to continue to this city instead of Recifi.

In March 1936, the biggest airship built by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH entered service with DZR: the Zeppelin LZ 129 Hindenburg. It was designated for the North Atlantic route and started to operate the non-stop service Frankfurt-am-Main – New York (Lakehurst) on May 6, 1936 and was an instant success. The airship was designed for passenger comfort and the fifty passenger tickets it could sell were sold out long before departure. For this reason the airship was rebuilt and took later in the year 72 passengers and a crew of 55.

The first flight of the LZ 129 Hindenburg in service of DZR went to South America (departure 30 March), followed by the introduction on the North American route on May 6. The terminal in Frankfurt-am-Main was constructed at the new airport of the city, Rhein-Main. Here two hangars were erected, which could house the two Zeppelins used by DZR. The hangar was opened on July 8 of that year. In New York, the terminal was at Lakehurst, New Jersey. Up to December 7, 1937, the LZ 129 Hindenburg had made 14 flights across the South Atlantic and 20 across the North Atlantic. The crossing to Lakehurst took 63 hr 42 min, while the return flight lasted 51 hr 46 min. The LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin continued service as well and made 134 crossing on the South Atlantic and 7 on the North Atlantic, flying a total of 294,820 km, including a flight across the Pacific Ocean. The LZ 129 Hindenburg flew 303,670 km. During the autumn of 1936 both airships were used on the South Atlantic service and it’s was for the first time, that two airship flew a regular service over the same route. A special flights was made as well. On 1 August the LZ 129 Hindenburg made its famous appearance at the Olympic Games of 1936 in Berlin carrying the Olympic rings on its side.

The results for the year 1936 were more than promising and a new Zeppelin airship was order, the LZ 130 that was to replace the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin.

But the year 1937 was to  become the year in which everything changed. On April 26 the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin depart for what was to be its final regular service. It was to be replaced with the LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin (II), which was supposed to be ready in 1937.

But the use of the German rigid airships meant a safety-problem, as the Germans were not allowed to obtain the much more saver helium, which the Americans had the sole right on. The route to New York was reopened in 1937 with departure on May 3 of the airship LZ 129 Hindenburg. The ship left Frankfurt-am-Main on schedule with 97 passengers and crew. The crossing was delayed by bad weather, but once it arrived at Lakehurst, New Jersey, on May 6 (in European time May 7) it was ready to moor. Suddenly fire brook out at the rear end of the airship, soon leading to a huge explosion. The airship crashed to the ground and was burned out. This tragic event had been witnessed by journalists and therefor well documented. It must really have been a horrible site. The fire killed thirteen passengers and  twenty-two crewmembers, while 17 passengers and 16 crewmembers were severely injured. Among the dead was the famous Zeppelin captain Ernst Lehmann. The German-American Board of Inquiry, headed by Dr Hugo Eckener investigated the accident and concluded that a leak in the stern cell caused the loss of hydrogen, which was ignited by static electricity. The fire started a chain reaction throughout the airship.

This tragic loss led to a complete halt of all airship services. The construction of the successor of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin (the LZ 130) was nearing completion, but after the accident, a program of modification was implemented to make the airship safer and suitable for the use of helium. But, despite approval by the US Government authorities, it had been impossible to obtain helium from the Americans, the North Atlantic traffic could not be resumed despite the concession for 18 return flights for the year 1938.

The RLM offered the DZR an extra subsidy to cover the loss of income. Thus the year 1937 ended with a modest loss of RM 3,904,74 and in 1939 the loss was only RM 1,054.94. The old LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was put on display in a hangar in Frankfurt-am-Main, while on September 14, 1938 the new Graf Zeppelin (II, LZ 130) made its maiden flight. It never entered regular service. Instead it was used for joy ride flight throughout Germany. The scheduled construction of the new airships LZ 131 and LZ 132 were postponed indefinitively. The LZ 130 Graf Zeppelin made in 1938 another eight flights with 147 flying-hours and flying 13,900 km. From January 1939 until the outbreak of the Second World War (September 1939) it made another seven flights logging 174 flying-hours. On September 1, 1939 the DZR ceased operation completely due to the outbreak of the Second World War. The LZ 127 and LZ 130, together with the LZ 131 that was under construction in Friedrichshafen, were by order of the RLM dated May 6, 1940, dismantled. The shed at Rhein-Main Airport and other maintenance buildings were blown up. For the destruction of the airship DZR received in accordance with an agreement with the RLM (dated April 12, 1940) RM 6,175,000, which covered the debt DZR had with the RLM. The spare engines of the LZ 129 and the LZ 130 were sold to the RLM and the experience gained and DZR’s personnel were put at the disposal of the RLM. But this meant actually the end of the DZR. The company was not dissolved until after the war. The exact date is unknown, but the year reports of the DLH still mention the company right up to 1945. De facto the company did not exist anymore.