Ernst A. Lehmann
Captain Ernst August Lehmann (12 May 1886 - 7 May 1937) was a German Zeppelin
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on 14 March 1899...

 captain. He was one of the most famous and experienced figures in German airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...


Pre-war experience

Ernst Lehmann was born in 1886 in Ludwigshafen am Rhein
Ludwigshafen am Rhein
Ludwigshafen am Rhein is a city in Rhineland-Palatinate, Germany. Ludwigshafen is located on the Rhine opposite Mannheim. Together with Mannheim, Heidelberg and the surrounding region, it forms the Rhine Neckar Area....

. At the age of 14, he decided that he wanted to build ships. He studied engineering at the Technische Hochschule Berlin
Technical University of Berlin
The Technische Universität Berlin is a research university located in Berlin, Germany. Translating the name into English is discouraged by the university, however paraphrasing as Berlin Institute of Technology is recommended by the university if necessary .The TU Berlin was founded...

 and received his degree in 1912. By this time, he had already joined the navy
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

 and had attained the rank of naval reserve lieutenant.

Upon graduation, he began work at the Imperial Dockyards
Howaldtswerke-Deutsche Werft is a German shipbuilding company, headquartered in Kiel. In 2009 it was the largest shipyard in Germany and has more than 2,400 employees. It has been part of ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems owned by ThyssenKrupp, since 2005...

 in Kiel
Kiel is the capital and most populous city in the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, with a population of 238,049 .Kiel is approximately north of Hamburg. Due to its geographic location in the north of Germany, the southeast of the Jutland peninsula, and the southwestern shore of the...

. He did not find this work satisfying so, encouraged by Dr. Hugo Eckener
Hugo Eckener
Dr. Hugo Eckener was the manager of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin during the inter-war years, and was commander of the famous Graf Zeppelin for most of its record-setting flights, including the first airship flight around the world, making him the most successful airship commander in history...

, he joined the DELAG
DELAG, an acronym from was the world's first airline to use an aircraft in revenue service. It was founded on November 16, 1909 with government assistance, and operated airships manufactured by Zeppelin Corporation...

 to serve as pilot of the passenger airship LZ 17 Sachsen. He commanded a total of 550 flights of this ship.

Service during World War I

During the First World War
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Captain Lehmann commanded army
German Army
The German Army is the land component of the armed forces of the Federal Republic of Germany. Following the disbanding of the Wehrmacht after World War II, it was re-established in 1955 as the Bundesheer, part of the newly formed West German Bundeswehr along with the Navy and the Air Force...

 airships, beginning with the Sachsen and followed by the LZ XII, LZ 90, LZ 98, and LZ 120.

Post-war commercial airship travel

After the war, Captain Lehmann continued his involvement with the airships, now used for civilian purposes. He made preparations to fly the naval airship L 72 on the first transatlantic crossing
Transatlantic flight
Transatlantic flight is the flight of an aircraft across the Atlantic Ocean. A transatlantic flight may proceed east-to-west, originating in Europe or Africa and terminating in North America or South America, or it may go in the reverse direction, west-to-east...

 of an airship in 1919. Permission was denied by the German government. In 1920, he spent six months in Sweden studying the economics of an airship line between Stockholm
Stockholm is the capital and the largest city of Sweden and constitutes the most populated urban area in Scandinavia. Stockholm is the most populous city in Sweden, with a population of 851,155 in the municipality , 1.37 million in the urban area , and around 2.1 million in the metropolitan area...

 and the Mediterranean, with a stopover in Friedrichshafen
This article is about a German town. For the Danish town, see Frederikshavn, and for the Finnish town, see Fredrikshamn .Friedrichshafen is a university city on the northern side of Lake Constance in Southern Germany, near the borders with Switzerland and Austria.It is the district capital of the...

. These plans were never realized.

In 1921 he spent four months in the United States to prepare for a planned New York to Chicago airship route, and in 1922 tried to negotiate with USA and England over a North Atlantic route.

With the founding of the Goodyear Zeppelin Corporation in 1923, Captain Lehmann served as Vice President in charge of engineering.

In 1924, Captain Lehmann was second-in-command of LZ 126 on the first nonstop transatlantic flight between the European and American mainlands. The purpose of the flight was to deliver the Zeppelin to its new owners, the United States Navy
United States Navy
The United States Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces and one of the seven uniformed services of the United States. The U.S. Navy is the largest in the world; its battle fleet tonnage is greater than that of the next 13 largest navies combined. The U.S...

, who rechristened the ship USS Los Angeles
USS Los Angeles (ZR-3)
The second USS Los Angeles was a rigid airship, designated ZR-3, that was built in 1923-1924 by the Zeppelin factory in Friedrichshafen, Germany, where it was originally designated LZ-126...


In 1935, when Hermann Göring
Hermann Göring
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, was a German politician, military leader, and a leading member of the Nazi Party. He was a veteran of World War I as an ace fighter pilot, and a recipient of the coveted Pour le Mérite, also known as "The Blue Max"...

 created the Deutsche Zeppelin Reederei to increase Nazi influence over zeppelin operations, Captain Lehmann was named director of the new airline.

Captain Lehmann served as commanding officer on more than 100 of the flights of the Graf Zeppelin
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin
LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin was a German built and operated passenger-carrying hydrogen-filled rigid airship which operated commercially from 1928 to 1937. It was named after the German pioneer of airships, Ferdinand von Zeppelin, who was a Graf or Count in the German nobility. During its operating life,...

 between 1928 and 1936. In 1936, he commanded 10 round-trip flights to Lakehurst
Lakehurst, New Jersey
Lakehurst is a Borough in Ocean County, New Jersey, United States. As of the United States 2010 Census, the borough population was 2,654.Lakehurst was incorporated as a borough by an Act of the New Jersey Legislature on April 7, 1921, from portions of Manchester Township, based on the results of a...

 on the new Hindenburg
LZ 129 Hindenburg
LZ 129 Hindenburg was a large German commercial passenger-carrying rigid airship, the lead ship of the Hindenburg class, the longest class of flying machine and the largest airship by envelope volume...

. Captain Lehmann was a skilled accordion
The accordion is a box-shaped musical instrument of the bellows-driven free-reed aerophone family, sometimes referred to as a squeezebox. A person who plays the accordion is called an accordionist....

 player, which he often used to entertain passengers on long flights with renditions of Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

 pieces or German folk songs.


Although Max Pruss was the commanding officer of the last flight of the Hindenburg, Captain Lehmann was the most senior officer on board. He was fatally burned when the ship caught fire at Lakehurst on 6 May 1937; he died the following day.

At his death, he believed that the Hindenburg was sabotaged. He came out of the burning wreckage saying "I don't understand it." During a deathbed conversation with Commander Charles Emery Rosendahl, he said "it must have been an infernal machine."


Lehmann was a supporter of the Nazi party, and often thought about impressing the Nazi party over safety. During the Deutschlandfahrt propaganda flight, the Hindenburg took off in gusty conditions and the ship's lower fin smashed the ground. Dr. Eckener was furious and said to Lehmann:

How could you, Herr Lehmann, order the ship to be brought out in such windy conditions. You had the best excuse in the world for postponing this idiotic flight; instead, you risk the ship, merely to avoid annoying Herr Goebbels
Joseph Goebbels
Paul Joseph Goebbels was a German politician and Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. As one of Adolf Hitler's closest associates and most devout followers, he was known for his zealous oratory and anti-Semitism...

. Do you call this showing a sense of responsibility towards our enterprise?

After Lehmann's death, Hugo Eckener blamed Lehmann for pushing Max Pruss to land the ship.


In the 1975 film The Hindenburg
The Hindenburg (film)
The Hindenburg is a 1975 American film based on the disaster of the German airship Hindenburg. The film stars George C. Scott. It was produced and directed by Robert Wise, and was written by Nelson Gidding, Richard Levinson and William Link based on the book of the same name by Michael M. Mooney .A.A...

, Captain Lehmann was portrayed by Richard Dysart
Richard Dysart
Richard A. Dysart is an American actor, perhaps best known for his role as Leland McKenzie on the NBC legal drama L.A. Law....

, although this portrayal is quite inaccurate with Lehmann appearing wary of the Nazis, whereas the real Lehmann was a well-known supporter. In the 2007 docudrama Hindenburg: The Untold Story
Hindenburg: The Untold Story
Hindenburg: The Untold Story known in Germany as Das Geheimnis der Hindenburg and Die Hindenburg: die ungeklärte Katastrophe, is a two-hour docudrama about the disaster of the Hindenburg, and the investigation that followed. It aired on May 6, 2007 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the disaster...

, Polish actor Aleksander Trabczynski portrayed Lehmann. In the fictional 2011 RTL
RTL may refer to:* RTL Group, Europe's second-largest TV, radio, and production company** RTL Télé Lëtzebuerg, a Luxembourgish main television station** RTL Television, a German commercial television station** RTL , a French radio station...

 television movie of the disaster, he was portrayed by Ulrich Noethen
Ulrich Noethen
Ulrich Noethen is a German actor who has appeared in many movies and TV films.He starred in Comedian Harmonists. He also played Heinrich Himmler twice, in Der Untergang and Mein Führer – Die wirklich wahrste Wahrheit über Adolf Hitler.Noethen has won various awards for his acting, including the...

. In this film, he supports the Gestapo in their the brutal torture of Merten Kroger for the alleged murder of a passenger, but orders his release upon seeing proof of a bomb aboard the ship. During the landing approach, he pushes the landing approach and ignores Kroger's warning that putting stress on the ships frame would be dangerous, saying it's "less dangerous than a bomb going off". He is proven wrong when although the bomb is diffused, the airship explodes due to static electricity.


Captain Lehmann's book Zeppelin: The Story of Lighter-than-air Craft, written in collaboration with Leonhard Adelt (who was on board as a guest during the Hindenburgs last flight), had recently been published in German when the Hindenburg was destroyed. An English edition, translated by Jay Dratler, was published later in 1937 with a preface and closing chapter by the American airship captain Charles E. Rosendahl
Charles E. Rosendahl
Charles Emery Rosendahl was a Vice Admiral in the United States Navy, and an advocate of lighter-than-air flight.-Early career:...


External links

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