CHAPTER V. GERMANY'S AERIAL DREADNOUGHT FLEET
Although Germany, as compared with France, was relatively slow to recognise the immense possibilities of aircraft, particularly dirigibles, in the military sense, once the Zeppelin had received the well-wishes of the Emperor William, Teuton activities were so pronounced as to enable the leeway to be made up within a very short while. While the Zeppelin commanded the greatest attention owing to the interesting co-operation of the German Emperor, the other types met with official and royal recognition and encouragement as already mentioned. France, which had held premier position in regard to the aerial fleet of dirigibles for so long, was completely out-classed, not only in dimensions but also in speed, as well as radius of action and strategical distribution of the aerial forces.
The German nation forged ahead at a great pace and was able to establish a distinct supremacy, at least on paper. In the light of recent events it is apparent that the German military authorities realised that the dawn of "The Day" was approaching rapidly, and that it behoved them to be as fully prepared in the air as upon the land. It was immaterial that the Zeppelin was the synonym for disaster. By standardisation its cost could be reduced while construction could be expedited. Furthermore, when the matter was regarded in its broadest aspect, the fact was appreciated that forty Zeppelins could be built at the cost of one super-Dreadnought, so that adequate allowance could be made for accidents now and then, since a Zeppelin catastrophe, no matter how complete it may be, is regarded by the Teuton as a mere incident inseparable from progressive development.
At the beginning of the year 1914 France relied upon being strengthened by a round dozen new dirigibles. Seven of these were to be of 20,000 cubic metres' capacity and possessed of a speed of 47 miles per hour. While the existing fleet was numerically strong, this strength was more apparent than real, for the simple reason that a large number of craft were in dry-dock undergoing repair or overhaul while many of the units were merely under test and could not be regarded therefore as in the effective fleet. True, there were a certain number of private craft which were liable to be commandeered when the occasion arose, but they could not be considered as decided acquisitions for the simple reason that many were purely experimental units.
Aerial vessels, like their consorts upon the water, have been divided into distinctive classes. Thus there are the aerial cruisers comprising vessels exceeding 282,000 cubic feet in capacity; scouts which include those varying between 176,600 and 282,000 cubic feet capacity; and vedettes, which take in all the small or mosquito craft. At the end of 1913, France possessed only four of the first-named craft in actual commission and thus immediately available for war, these being the Adjutant Vincenot, Adjutant Reau, Dupuy de Lome, and the Transaerien. The first three are of 197,800 cubic feet. All, however, were privately owned.
On the other hand, Germany had no fewer than ten huge vessels, ranging from 353,000 to 776,900 cubic feet capacity, three of which, the Victoria Luise, Suchard, and Hansa, though owned privately, were immediately available for war. Of these the largest was the Zeppelin naval vessel "L-1" 525 feet in length, by 50 feet diameter, of 776,900 cubic feet capacity, equipped with engines developing 510 horse-power, and with a speed of 51.8 miles per hour.
At the end of 1913 the effective aerial fleet of Germany comprised twenty large craft, so far in advance of the French aerial cruisers as to be worthy of the name bestowed upon them - "Aerial Dreadnoughts." This merely represented the fleet available for immediate use and did not include the four gigantic Suchard-Schutte craft, each of 847,500 cubic feet, which were under construction, and which were being hurried forward to come into commission early in 1914.
But the most interesting factor, apart from the possession of such a huge fleet of dirigible air-craft, was their distribution at strategical points throughout the Empire as if in readiness for the coming combat. They were literally dotted about the country. Adequate harbouring facilities had been provided at Konigsberg, Berlin, Posen, Breslau, Kiel, Hamburg, Wilhelmshaven, Dusseldorf, Cologne, Frankfort, Metz, Mannheim, Strasburg, and other places, with elaborate headquarters, of course, at Friedrichshafen upon Lake Constance. The Zeppelin workshops, harbouring facilities, and testing grounds at the latter point had undergone complete remodelling, while tools of the latest type had been provided to facilitate the rapid construction and overhaul of the monster Zeppelin dirigibles. Nothing had been left to chance; not an item was perfunctorily completed. The whole organisation was perfect, both in equipment and operation. Each of the above stations possessed provision for an aerial Dreadnought as well as one or more aerial cruisers, in addition to scouts or vedettes.
Upon the outbreak of hostilities Germany's dirigible fleet was in a condition of complete preparedness, was better organised, and better equipped than that of any of her rivals. At the same time it constituted more of a paper than a fighting array for reasons which I will explain later. But there was another point which had escaped general observation. Standardisation of parts and the installation of the desired machinery had accomplished one greatly desired end - the construction of new craft had been accelerated. Before the war an interesting experiment was carried out to determine how speedily a vessel could be built. The result proved that a dirigible of the most powerful type could be completed within eight weeks and forthwith the various constructional establishments were brought into line so as to maintain this rate of building.