Irish Medals: First East-West Transatlantic Flight, 1928


Date: 1928

Ost-West-Ozeanflug der Bremen [First East-West Transatlantic Flight of the Bremen], 1928, silver medals by the Prussian mint (3), conjoined busts of Fitzmaurice, Köhl and von Hünefeld right, rev. aeroplane above the waves, 36mm (FMB 211; Kaiser 927)

Ost-West-Ozeanflug der Bremen [First East-West Transatlantic Flight of the Bremen], 1928            featuring the conjoined busts of Fitzmaurice, Köhl and von Hünefeld

Description:

Ost-West-Ozeanflug der Bremen [First East-West Transatlantic Flight of the Bremen], 1928, silver medal by the Prussian mint.

  • Obverse: Conjoined busts of Fitzmaurice, Köhl and von Hünefeld, all facing right
  • Reverse: Aeroplane (Junkers W 33) above the waves
  • Diameter: 36mm
  • References: FMB 211; Kaiser 927

The Bremen Flight 1928:

The Bremen is a German Junkers W 33 aircraft that made the first successful ‘non-stop’ trans-Atlantic aeroplane flight from east to west on April 12 and 13, 1928. The departure from Baldonnel was at 0538 GMT. After 36½ hours, the aircraft landed on frozen ice at Greenly Island in Quebec.
  • Greenly Island is at 51 22 36.5N, 57 11 27W, west of St Anthony and a bit north of most of the usual tracks between Ireland and the US
    • Blanc Sablon is the nearest point marked on most regional maps.
  • The aircraft is owned by the Ford Foundation Museum in Dearborn, Michigan
  • It is currently on loan and public display at the Bremen Airport Museum
  • It was restored by veterans and by instructors in the Lufthansa Engineering School
    • Aircraft Registration: D-1167
The Bremen: First Non-Stop East-West Transatlantic Crossing 1928

Crowds gathered at Baldonnel Aerodrome and cheered wildly, splashing holy water as the ‘Bremen’ a German Junkers W33 type aircraft, loaded to a weight of 5 tonnes with 520 gallons of petrol, finally took off on 12 April 1928 at 05.38, destination: New York (USA)

The East-West direction is the more difficult one with average headwinds of about 10-20 knots at low altitude. Since cruising speeds were less than 100 knots, that was a serious disadvantage.

  • The average speed on the Bremen flight was only about 50 knots point-to-point
  • This comparatively low speed was due to:
    • headwinds
    • navigation problems they encountered with bad weather
    • very limited navigational instruments

Greenly Island is small, barren and rocky. It was fortunate for the crew that the airplane landed in a peat bog. The relatively soft landing saved them but damaged the plane. The Bremen crew did not depart the island for two weeks as they attempted to repair the aircraft.

The crew of the Bremen Flight 1928 (Left to right): Baron Günther von Hünefeld, Commandant James C. Fitzmaurice and Captain Hermann Köhl

On their arrival in New York on April 30, the Bremen’s crew were honoured with a tickertape parade. On 2 May, the 70th United States Congress authorized President Calvin Coolidge, to confer the United States Distinguished Flying Cross on the Bremen Flyers.

  • They were the first ‘non-Americans’ to receive that honour
  • Back in Ireland on 30 June 1928, they were bestowed the Freedom of the City of Dublin in recognition of their trans-Atlantic flight achievement
  • Later in 1928 they published a book about their experience called (in English) The Three Musketeers of the Air
The Bremen at Greenly Island, Newfoundland: Thirty six hours and thirty minutes later after leaving Ireland, they crash landed on a frozen lake at Greenly Island, Newfoundland (off the coast of Labrador). The flight is considered the first successful East to West transatlantic flight - The Bremen had approximately two hours of fuel left

The Bremen at Greenly Island, Newfoundland: Thirty six hours and thirty minutes later after leaving Ireland, they crash landed on a frozen lake at Greenly Island, Newfoundland (off the coast of Labrador). The flight is considered the first successful East to West transatlantic flight – The Bremen had approximately two hours of fuel left.

After Bremen’s crew had been flown out, the repaired plane was moved to the Canadian mainland. Fred Melchior of Junkers subsequently attempted to fly it to New York but crashed on takeoff, inflicting more damage than had been sustained during the reservoir landing.

  • The dismantled Bremen was then shipped back to Germany

Commandant James C. Fitzmaurice

Commandant James C Fitzmaurice, born in Dublin in 1898, a former Irish National Volunteer who joined the British Army, worked his way through the ranks during the First World War and joined the Royal Flying Corps which became the RAF 100 years ago on 1 April 1918.

  • At sixteen years of age, he enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Royal Leinster Regiment (the Leinsters)
    • He was quickly released for being underage
  • Fitzmaurice enlisted in the British army again in 1915; throughout his service, he held the titles of Corporal, Sergeant, and Commander
    • He was posted to the School of Military Aeronautics
    • He was trained in Eastbourne, England
  • After the war he flew military mail between England and France
  • In February 1922, he joined the newly formed Irish Army Air Corps
    • He became OC in October 1926
  • He participated in an East-West Atlantic attempt on 16 September 1927, as co-pilot of the Princess Xenia with Capt R.H. McIntosh in a Fokker FVIIA from Baldonnel
    • After five hours they turned back due to bad weather
    • They performed an emergency landing on Beale Beach near Ballybunion in Co Kerry

After the Bremen flight, Fitzmaurice went to live in America. He was involved in an Irish entry in the England-Australia Air Race in 1934 and other ventures. In May 1934, Fitz sought authorization from U.S. officials to export an American high-speed airplane to compete in the October 20 London-to-Melbourne MacRobertson Trophy Air Race. This was the Bellanca Flash 28-70 Irish Swoop, sponsored by the Irish Hospital Trusts and patriotically liveried with green wings, yellow cowling and white fuselage. Fitz’s co-pilot was to be ex-RAF sergeant Eric Bonar. Ultimately the Bellanca was disqualified at the last moment because it lacked certified approval for full-load landing tests.

  • Colonel James C Fitzmaurice died in Dublin on 26 September 1965 and was buried in Glasnevin cemetery after a State funeral.
  • The Irish Air Corps flying school at Baldonnel has been named in his honour
  • A special postage stamp was issued by the Irish Post Office in 1998
  • A bust in his honour was unveiled in the County Council Offices in Portlaoise, Co Laois, where he spent his childhood
  • A plaque in Dublin on the North Circular Road, near his birth-place, on the 70th anniversary, Sunday 12 April 1998

Captain Hermann Köhl

Captain Hermann Köhl was a former Army officer who had transferred to the German Air Force and later to the Junkers airline and to Luft Hansa where he did a lot of test flying and night flying. After the Bremen flight, he returned for a time to Luft Hansa but soon retired and died on 7 October 1938 as a result of kidney failure.

  • There is a museum in his honour in Pfaffenhofen an der Roth, near Ulm, in Southern Germany

Baron Günther von Hünefeld

Baron Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld, represented the sponsor, North German Lloyd shipping company, also travelled on the flight and served as steward.

  • He died in Berlin, from cancer, on 4 February 1929

 

Flight Log of the Bremen Flight: 1928

  • 12 Apr, 05:09 GMT:
    • Started engine of the Bremen at Baldonnel Aerodrome (about 19 km (12 miles) southwest of Dublin)
  • 12 Apr, 05:38 GMT:
    • Lifted off from Baldonnel Airport and headed west
  • 12 Apr, 07:05 GMT:
    • The Bremen passed the Slyne Head Lighthouse in County Galway, started across the Atlantic, and headed for Mitchel Field, Long Island, New York while maintaining an altitude of 1,500 feet (460 m) and an airspeed of 200 kilometres per hour (120 mph)
  • 12 Apr, 09:00 GMT:
    • The crew started their first meal aloft: hot bouillon and sandwiches
  • 12 Apr, 13:45 GMT:
    • Bremen crossed the 30th meridian west. Surface speed was over 90 knots (170 km/h; 100 mph)
  • 12 Apr, 16:00 GMT:
    • Bremen climbed to 610 m (2,000 ft)
  • 12 Apr, 21:00 GMT:
    • Crew made their last drift calculation. When the sun disappeared and the clouds obscured the stars, the Bremen climbed to 6,000 feet (1,800 m)
    • Köhl estimated that they were then about three hours from land
    • If they had been able to stay on course, his estimate would have proven to have been correct
    • In fact, without the aid of the north star, they then relied on a magnetic compass and drifted far off course toward the north.
  • 13 Apr, 06:50 GMT:
    • They saw Polaris again. Fitzmaurice then estimated that their magnetic compass was in error by 40 degrees
    • Köhl immediately turned southwesterly to follow the east coast of North America towards Mitchel Field on New York’s Long Island, which was then about 1,500 miles (2,400 km) south of the Bremen
    • They flew among the Torngat Mountains of Labrador (then part of the Dominion of Newfoundland) and then, unable to recognize any landmarks, followed the George River upstream in the northeastern part of the Canadian province of Quebec
    • In order to minimize the adverse effect of a strong southwest wind, Köhl descended into the George River Valley and flew at an altitude of 10 feet (3.0 m).
  • 13 Apr, 14:00 GMT:
    • The Bremen passed over the lakes at the source of the George
    • The crew saw nobody on the ground but people on the ground sighted the plane.
  • 13 Apr, 15:00 GMT:
    • The Bremen had crossed back into Labrador, and was seen flying over North West River on the shore of Lake Melville.
  • 13 April: At about 17:50 GMT, with about two hours of fuel remaining, and only a general knowledge of their location, the crew spotted a lighthouse on an island with a pack of dogs and four people.
    • The island was Greenly Island in the Strait of Belle Isle, which separates the island of Newfoundland from Labrador and Quebec on the mainland.
    • Greenly Island, only 1 square kilometre (0.39 sq miles) in size, lies about 4 kilometres (2.5 miles) off the Quebec mainland

 


Further Reading:

  • Fennelly, Teddy, “Fitz and the Famous Flight” (publ. Arderin Publishing / Leinster Leader, Portlaoise, 1997)
  • Fitzmaurice, John, “The Flying Fitz” (publ. Authorhouse, Bloomington, 2006)
  • Hotson, Fred T., “The Bremen” (publ. Canav Books, Toronto, 1988)

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