Alternative History

A Good Heart - Lighter Than Air

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David Schwarz was a pioneer of airship development . He conducted a test flight outside Berlin in 1897 which was witnessed by Count Ferdinand Zeppelin. The German government made a contract with Schwarz that granted him exclusive rights to build airships in Germany for the next 30 years. But Schwarz had a bad heart which occasionally caused the development of his craft to be delayed. And, partly due to excitement from receiving the German contract, Schwarz suffered a fatal heart attack in 1897.

But what if David Schwarz had a good heart?

Early Development

David Schwarz was a Jewish Croatian carpenter. He was ultimately to become the father of German airships - the very symbol of the nation's technological superiority and military might.

1896: Schwarz drives his workers like a demon. The four cylinder Daimler engine has already proven itself to be powerful, and Hans Gross is an excellent balloonist. Schwarz's negotiation with the German Army is going well. One military man in particular, Count Ferdinand Zeppelin, is keenly interested in the craft's progress. The entire nation is engrossed by the idea of powered flight, news reporters and the curious flocked to Carl Berg's shops where the dirigible was being developed.

1897: The demonstration flight within Berlin is almost flawless. Even before the flight, the German Government grants Schwarz exclusive rights to airship construction for the next 30 years; now he would prove their trust was well placed. Count Zeppelin attended the flight as expected.

1898: Carl Berg's shops are expanded and Schwarz continues to drive his men to fill the new Army contract. Zeppelin has proven to be an invaluable evangelist in the otherwise conservative military.

1899: The industrialist Karl Lanz offers to help finance further development. He wants to actively participate in projects and also encourages the use of laminated wood as a cheaper alternative to aluminum for a dirigible's structural members.

1900: A very large dirigible (Designated the Lanz-1) is constructed using plywood supports. The remainder of dirigibles under construction uses aluminum.

1902: After a spectacular failure of the Lanz-1, Johann Schütte becomes involved. He introduces several improvements in design. -- Now the four great names in early airship design are all working together: Schwarz, Zeppelin, Lanz, & Schütte. Because of Schwarz's exclusive contract, they are not allowed to set up independent efforts. The team benefits from Schwarz's drive and vision, Zeppelin's pragmatism and clout in military and political circles, Schütte's innovative engineering, and Lanz's ideas and financial support.

1903: The K-16 is completed which uses an internal keel and plus-sign tail assembly. The K-16 proved to be a very reliable and capable craft.


1904-1914: The Germans had a decade before the outbreak of WWI to continue airship development and experiment with their use. Airships in ATL are advanced by about five to seven years over their OTL counterparts. At the time many people who were interested in flight were not loyal to heavier-than-air versus lighter-than-air craft: they just wanted to fly with whatever technology that could do the job. With the success of the German airships, many key people who worked on airplane development in OTL would instead work on dirigible development in ATL. This contributes to the further advancement of airship technology but also slows heavier-than-air craft development in ATL. As a result, airplane technology in ATL is generally one to two years behind OTL.

At Lanz's insistence, several more experimental plywood craft were built. These proved to be susceptible to humid air and were completely unsuitable for Naval use. Even in the best circumstances the wood structured craft flew lower and slower than aluminum structured dirigibles. The L-3 was later used as target practice in an artillery experiment, and the L-5 was similarly used for target practice from ship-born guns. Both test demonstrated that airship were vulnerable to large guns (this fact was a well kept German secret). These results, along with the continued difficulty in airship navigation, gave David Schwarz enough evidence to argue against the planned tactic of using airships as bombers.

Schwarz argued that dirigible were best used for patrol over land and sea. They could not be effectively used to bomb protected targets because they were vulnerable to artillery and they were unlikely to be able to accurately navigate over the targets in the first place. Schwarz's unpopular stance earned him the nickname of "Mr. Good Heart" (Herr gutes Herz (?)) because he was considered to be too "goodhearted" for the realities of war. Through various machinations the Schwarz Airship Company was divided into two units; one civilian and one military. Count Zeppelin was placed in charge of the much larger military division and Schwarz retained control of the civilian branch.

David Schwarz was frustrated by his de facto demotion and ultimately created for himself the position of Experimental Engineer. In this position he continued to develop airships but no longer ran any part of the company outside the shops. To run the civilian division he hired a man named Hugo Eckener in 1906. Eckener proved to be very popular with everyone and with Count Zeppelin in particular. Under Hugo's leadership a fleet of civilian transport was created with regular trips throughout Germany, Austria, and France. In 1911 Eckener was placed in charge of the entire Schwarz Airship Company and his popularity throughout Germany soared.

Although Zeppelin believed city-wide bombardment via airship was a viable strategy, he also experimented with a wide variety of possible uses for the craft. Before WW1 German military thinkers had already devised several uses for airships and all these uses were experimented with.

  • Naval Patrol: This was where airships were considered most useful. It is very difficult for ships at sea to find each other, but airships can spot ships, and even submarines, without difficulty. They could then relay this information to sea craft which would respond accordingly.
  • Air to ship combat: If dirigibles found isolated ships at sea they could drop bombs on their weakly protected decks.
  • Overland Patrol: Although not as useful as over-sea patrol, Overland patrol was considered a crucial role for the airship in any future conflict.
  • Air bombardment of cities: German thinkers often considered airships to fill the role of artillery with almost unlimited range.
  • Supply: It was thought that dirigibles could break naval blockades by dropping supplies from the air. They could also supply troops in remote areas (this tactic proved critical in the African campaign in WWI).
  • Paratroop platform: Experiments were made with the Kathchen Paulus style of parachute both for dropping supplies and for dropping soldiers. The K-36 and K-39 were constructed specifically for paratroopers. This ability was widely publicized and Germans often bragged that they could move their soldiers anywhere in the world. In actuality only a small number of soldiers could be deployed by this means and navigation problems meant that they could not reliably be dropped at a specific location. But as a propaganda tool the paratroopers were quite useful. Both France and England were especially concerned.

Brief Outline of WWI

{I hope to expand this area later} WW1 began the same as in OTL and generally ran the same way, with some notable exceptions. Airships allowed the navy to have greater success early in the war. German forces in Africa were successfully resupplied by airship to a limited degree (including use of one-way Lanz style craft). Airships kept out of reach of heavier-than-air craft throughout the war.

Despite greater German success, the war ended very unfavorably for them and a hated treaty was imposed.

Between Wars

After the war, Germany plunged into economic and political chaos. Many writings called for "The One" to come forward and lead Germany to recover its greatness. Kizer and Hindenberg failed to step forward to claim to be "The One". But Adolf Hitler, leader of the National Socialist Party did not hesitate to try and claim the mantle. German industrialists became very concerned about the Nazi party, which they considered to be communistic. A group of industrialist and political leaders urged Hugo Eckener to become Germany's leader. Hugo still ran the Schwarz Airship Company and was considered to be a national hero. At first he hesitated, but he was ultimately persuaded. Eckener's popularity propelled him to the top position. German thinkers and writers of the time generally agreed that he was "The One". Hitler was considered little more than a dangerous clown and was pushed away from power. Hitler and other Nazi leaders faced regular arrests and the Nazi party ultimately failed. In 1939 Hitler committed suicide in a small apartment in Austria and the event was little noted in the press.

Partly due to his old friendship with David Schwarz, Hugo Eckener very publicly defended the Jewish-German community. He was able to defuse much of the anti-Semitic sentiment which was building throughout the nation.

Due to a bad economy and resentment over the treaty ending WWI, Germany decided to build up a large military and planned to retake land to the south now claimed by France, and to the north now part of Poland. Eckener distrusted Stalin, so there was no partition of Poland as in OTL. Eckener also feared French military might (which looked good on paper) and so did not favor any attack to the south. Eckener's genius lay in logistics and he realized that oil was the key to any future wars. He did not feel he could count on the USSR to supply Germany with its petroleum needs.

The plan endorsed by Hugo was to "trick" the USSR into attacking Poland. Eventually German troops would move to "help" Poland defend itself but would ultimately claim the territory for Germany. Meanwhile, troops would move east to secure the oil fields. Once these areas were secure the armies would move south to reclaim the Rhineland. That was the plan, at least.


Temporarily Adopted by me - 1 Imp (Say Hi?!) 22:12, February 24, 2013 (UTC)

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