Newly uncovered footage emerges of Hindenburg airship, emblazoned with Nazi swastikas, flying over New York just hours before giant fireball killed 35 people

The huge German airship exploded above a New Jersey airfield on May 6 1937 – with newsreel footage of its burning wreckage forming one of the 20th Century’s most iconic images

Chilling footage has emerged of the Hindenburg airship, emblazoned with swastikas and other Nazi insignia, flying over New York just hours before it was destroyed in a fireball, killing 35 people.

The huge German airship exploded above a New Jersey airfield on May 6 1937 – with newsreel footage of its burning wreckage forming one of the 20th Century’s most iconic images.

At about three times longer and twice as tall as a modern-day Boeing 747, the Hindenburg was a wonder of its age, with the pre-World War II Nazis declaring it “the pride of Germany”.

The ship was widely photographed arriving in Europe, South America and North America during more than 30 transatlantic crossings, but many of the best known images of the doomed craft are from its first few months of service in 1936.

Despite this, very little footage was captured during the Hindenburg’s final hours, as it raced over Manhattan en route to landing in the Lakehurst airfield in New Jersey in an attempt to make up time lost to delays caused by thunderstorms over Boston.

The sight of the colossal airship making its unscheduled detour over what was then New York City’s most populous borough drew hundreds onto the streets; all unaware that, just hours later, the flight would end in disaster.

Now, however, footage has entered the public domain showing the airship making its now legendary detour.

The sight of the swastika-decorated airship flying over the world’s most famous skyline, including the recently built Empire State Building, is chilling – and not just because disaster was hours away.

Within two years of the Hindenburg explosion, Nazi Germany was at war with Britain, with the USA itself drawn into the conflict by 1941. World War II went on to become the deadliest conflict in human history.

But despite later events, the Hindenburg was actually seen as an example of Germany’s gradual reintegration into the western world following World War I, which had left the country impoverished and politically isolated.

In fact, many of those on board the Hindenburg at the time of the disaster were set to journey to London for the coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth – the parents of Elizabeth II.  

After the ship passed over Manhattan, it approached the Lakefield airfield in New Jersey at around 7pm and attempted to land.

Adverse weather conditions and an unprepared ground crew meant the attempted landing was disorganized however, and the ship was forced to make several sharp turns, emergency breaking manoeuvres and ballast dumps in order to give it the best chance of landing safely.

By 7.25pm the first signs of disaster were apparent, with witnesses on the ground reporting seeing blue charges, most likely static electricity, in the back of the ship, and the ship’s upper fin fluttering as if gas were leaking.

Soon, mushroom-shaped yellow and red flames were spotted around the fin and, within seconds, the entire balloon was ablaze.

Only partially tied to a mooring mast as a result of the haphazard nature of its landing, the ship lurched forward, causing water and fuel tanks to explode and forcing the flames towards the passenger carriage. As the ship lost buoyancy and crashed to the ground, further gas cells exploded.

In total 35 people lost their lives in the disaster; 13 passengers and 22 crewmen - including one member of the ground crew. Despite lasting only an estimated 37 seconds, the blaze was captured on newsreel footage and led to unprecedented levels of international news coverage.

Countless hypotheses, including a number of sabotage theories voiced by experts, have been voiced to explain why the disaster occurred but the official cause of the explosion remains unexplained.

The Hindenburg explosion shattered public confidence in airships as a mode of international travel, and within just a few years this “transport of the future” and the so-called airship era was over.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own