Sunday, May 3, 2020

My Cousin who was First to Fly the Atlantic the Hard Way

As everyone knows, Charles Lindbergh was the first person to fly across the Atlantic Ocean non-stop, flying from Long Island, New York on 20 May 1927 and landing in Paris, France on 21 May 1927.

What's less known, is that flying West to East follows the prevailing winds, and thus easier that attempting to fly it the other way, from Europe to the United States against the wind.

The Distinguished Flying Cross
Baron Günther von Hünefeld had the idea of being the first to do it the hard way, and in 1927 he bought a pair of Junkers W 33 aircraft, naming them the SS Bremen and the SS Europa. He was instrumental in this achievement, being the one to conceive, finance, and plan the grand adventure.  His one problem was that he didn't have a pilot's license, and therefore needed some help.

First to Fly the Atlantic the Hard Way

On 12 April 1928, Hünefeld along with Hermann Köhl and James Fitzmaurice took off from Baldonnel, Ireland in the SS Bremen airship and landed at Greenly Island, Labrador, Canada. They had originally planned to fly to New York, but in any case they were the first to fly across the Atlantic from Europe and on May 2, 1928, Hünefeld and his two companions were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross by President Calvin Coolidge as authorized by the U.S. Congress.

The SS Bremen, Hünefeld's Junkers W 33 aircraft, after landing on the ice Labrador
The Three Musketeers of the Air

In late1928, their book "The Three Musketeers of the Air", the story of the three Bremen flyers, was published in English by Putnam. It was as-told-by story of their conquest of the Atlantic from East to West by Captain Hermann Koehl, Major James C. Fitzmaurice, and Baron Guenther von Huenefeld.

Additionally, a complete flight log of their transAtlantic flight is detailed on Wikipedia.

From the dustjacket:
Of what stuff are heroes made? What is the grim will, the superb daring that can send men on ventures where death is their only escort, and death their probable host? "The Three Musketeers of the Air," written by the three flyers who have been stamped by that phrase, tells you. 
For here are, first, the individual autobiographies of the three heroes. To the reader, Baron von Huenefeld emerges as a man of artistic and literary tastes, a poet, a gallant figure who faces danger with a monocle . . .who has never let ill health deter him from action because "we have only one life to live." 
But Major Fitzmaurice has been bred to soldiering. At the age of sixteen he ran off to join the army. He belonged to the cavalry in the 17th Lancers, known to England as the "Death or Glory" boys. A flyer in the Irish Free State Aviation Corps, his is the terse account of one to whom perils are all in the day's work. 
And Captain Koehl? The most reticent, the most silent, the most inscrutable of the three men . . .he, too, tells his story. His reserve, one finds, has been the quiet of the man whose mind is centered on every tremor of the plane's motor. He was pilot of "The Bremen." It was to Captain Koehl that Major Fitzmaurice would signal the direction of the winds by blowing out over his palm to indicate favorable winds; by motioning back towards his face with his hand to indicate adverse winds. 
A strangely exciting book, this record of "The Three Musketeers." Three totally different temperaments knitted together by a common cause - "All for one and one for all" - in a Junkers plane that flew its lonely way over a trail peopled by the ghosts of lost flyers. 
In the following section of the book, together the three men write the story of this great effort, the first Transatlantic flight from East to West. Here are their thoughts, their feelings, their sensations, their actual experiences during their hazardous hours in the air between Baldonnel Airdrome and Greenely Island. 
Next comes an account of the good will tour undertaken by these men in the United States . . .the fine faith and spirit in which they made the tour, and their appreciation of the fervor with which they were welcomed.

Video History of The Flight of the Bremen

Great 15 minute video tracing the story of the Bremen. If the embedded video doesn't work, the link is

The Jewish Hero

On 26 April 1928, Das Berliner Tageblatt declared that the newly crowned national hero had a Jewish mother.   The announcement was made to counteract some anti-Semitic propaganda that had being trying to use the flight as a triumph of the pure Aryan race.  Their hero was half-Jewish, so shut up and quit this nonsense!

Jewish Daily Bulletin, Friday, 27 April 1928

And this is where I join the story, as the Marcus LACHMANN listed as his grandfather is on my family tree!  And, I mean right on my family tree. Marcus is the brother of my 3rd great grandfather, Isaac LACHMANN.

Baron Hünefeld's mother was Elsbeth Hünefeld geb LACHMANN, my 2nd great grandmother Henriette MAASS geb LACHMANN's first cousin.   And so, the Baron is my great grandmother Rosa BODENHEIMER geb MAASS' second cousin.   I've met a bunch of my 2nd cousins, so it's quite likely that she knew him and had heard of him. In fact, they both lived in Berlin, so they likely met.

Rosa was born in Berlin in 1886, so she was just a few years old than Günther who was born in 1892.

The other important clue in that short blurb is that he is related to Hans Lachmann-Mosse, who is indeed also a second cousin of both Rosa and Günther.

Cousins via The LACHMANN family of Graudenz

Baron Günther von Hünefeld in 1928
Death of Baron Günther von Hünefeld

After his successful crossing of the Atlantic, Baron von Hünefeld decided to try an aound-the-world attempt.  Hünefeld and Karl Gunnar took off from Berlin on 18 September 1928. They met up with another pilot, Friedrich Karl von Koenig-Warthausen in Iran and went on to arrive in Tokyo on October 20th.  At Tokyo, the attempt was abandoned due to Hünefeld's failing heath, and he returned to Berlin where he died in February 1929 of stomach cancer.

He is buried in the Landeseigener Friedhof Berlin-Steglitz cemetery.

The SS Bermen Today

The original restored "Bremen" today is owned by the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit and is currently under display at Bremen Airport in Germany.

von Hünefeld's Junkers W33, Bremen, at Bremenhalle airport in Bremen,  Germany
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