I was talking with a neighbour of mine the other day who has lived here in the Chalke Valley all his 75+ years, when suddenly he said, “Did you know that the Graf Zeppelin II flew down this valley just before the war?” Well, obviously, I had to confess I did not know that. The Zeppelin II, or L 130 as it was also known, never flew passengers and its longest recorded flight was some forty-eight hours, when it was on a quite blatant spying mission in August 1939 to try and discover whether the strange high pylons dotted along the English coast were some kind of radar. It certainly flew up the east coast of Britain all the way to the Shetlands – and, I’m glad to say, discovered very little, because we in Britain had seen it coming and so turned off our radar chain for the duration.
One small reason for seeing it coming was its immense size. The Zeppelin II was the sister ship of the Hindenburg, and some 240 metres in length. It was absolutely enormous and could be seen for miles and miles and miles.
It could also be heard for a good long time too. With four Daimler Benz 602 diesel engines, but with a maximum power of just 80-odd miles per hour, it made a pretty impressive racket and was in the sky above you and good amount of time. And this was what my friend, Brian, remembered so vividly. He was in the garden with his father when he heard this faint rumble, which gradually grew until the entire air around him seemed to be vibrating. His father lifted him onto his shoulders and they watched it, as it headed straight down the Valley in a south-west direction and then turned back, heading north-east. “It was massive,” he said. “I’ve never forgotten.” According to Brian, nor had a friend of his in the next village. They had talked about it just a while back.
Historical evidence suggests that Brian’s memory is tricking him, but what other airship could it have been? The British airship programme was finished with the demise of R101 in 1931, and I don’t think any US airships ever flew over Britain at that time. Brian is absolutely certain of what he saw, but I wonder whether perhaps what he had seen was some experimental craft from Boscombe Down. If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them…