Zeppelins Pieces, Part One
By Mike Bennighof, Ph.D.
I've always been partial to our Zeppelins book supplement for the Great War at Sea series. It has great original illustrations, and we put them on the huge pieces normally seen in games like Rome at War. These do, just barely, fit on our standard Naval Tactical Map. The book combines background articles, scenarios and new rules in pretty much the ratio I like to see and with exceptional quality. It's probably the best such combination we've produced, and I'm extraordinarily proud of it.
Here's a look at some of those huge pieces that make Zeppelins such a joy to behold.
Shenandoah, a copy of the ill-fated British R.38 (herself a copy of the crashed German L.49) saw a good deal of training and propaganda use before ending her career in a spectacular crash over eastern Ohio. She appeared in our long-gone Plan Black game on a small piece. The new, bigger piece (and new Zeppelins rules) can be used in place of the small one, and the Zeppelins book adds her to scenarios in Plan Red and Plan Gold. We also included her never-named sister that broke up during testing and christened her Niagara.
Los Angeles flew more hours than any other American airship. Built by the German Zeppelin company as a war reparation, she was the floundering firm's showpiece, with the best technology and craftsmanship of the immediate post-war period. She was the only American airship to actually survive service, and was scrapped in 1939 — opening the door to a Second World War at Sea variant.
Forbidden to fly rigid airships, the U.S. Army bought a huge semi-rigid from Italy and named her Roma. Roma had a very short career, exploding on her first training flight after clipping some high-voltage electric lines. All of the American airships see heavy use in Zeppelins scenarios, however.
Italy maintained a large fleet of locally designed and built semi-rigid airships, and used them aggressively against the Austrians over both land and sea. Nine of the 24 airships built by the Italians were lost in action before big Caproni fixed-wing bombers took over many of their missions.
The Italian airships were smaller than German zeppelins, carrying a small crew and only a miniscule bomb load. Better suited to reconnaissance than air attack, they pressed on in the attack role anyway and suffered the consequences.
Vickers built a series of rigid airships for the Royal Navy during the war, but the Admiralty only gave the program priority after the Battle of Jutland. The British falsely concluded that German zeppelins had played a key role in spotting the Grand Fleet, and wanted some of this capability for themselves.
But the brief golden age of British airship construction came after the Armistice, when German technology fell into Allied hands. Vickers and the new Royal Airship Works built new and improved rigid airships based on this new data, but the program came to an inglorious end when R.38 broke apart on a test flight.
It would not be an Avalanche Press product if it lacked appropriate Imperial and Royal content. The Austro-Hungarian Air Service gets all of its major operational airships, from the small M.I and M.III through Trieste (the captured Italian Citta de Jesi) to the pair of German L.20-class ships the Austrians tried to purchase in 1917. There were a few others that we left out as they did not see much if any active service, but we always have Daily Content to remedy this oversight.
French attempts to build their own series of rigid airships met with repeated failure, but when the Great War ended France obtained three former German airships. One of these, the former L.72, was one of the finest airships built by the Zeppelin Works up to that time and entered French service as Dixmude. The French brought her into service very slowly, lacking experience with such delicate craft, and on her first long-range training mission the big ship ran into a thunderstorm and exploded after a lightning strike.
Like France, Russia also tried to launch an airship program with mixed success. Gigant was, as her name implies, a very large ship and her frame simply could not stand up to the stresses. She broke down on her maiden flight and would never be repaired, but that's never a barrier to inclusion in a game product.
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Mike Bennighof is president of Avalanche Press and holds a doctorate in history from Emory University. A Fulbright Scholar and award-winning journalist, he has published over 100 books, games and articles on historical subjects.
He lives in Birmingham, Alabama with his wife, three children and his dog, Leopold.