Q: How many cows does it take to build a Zeppelin? A: 250,000

Wurst luck – how building of airships hit German sausage-eaters

Lewis Smith
Friday 23 August 2013 20:30 BST
The 'Graf Zeppelin', seen here in 1931, was the most famous of the German military airships
The 'Graf Zeppelin', seen here in 1931, was the most famous of the German military airships (PA)

The German high command planned to bring Britain to its knees during the First World War by issuing a ban on the eating of sausages, film researchers have discovered.

Cow intestines used to make sausage skins were such a vital component in the construction of Zeppelin airships that the Kaiser’s military chiefs were prepared to sacrifice bratwurst and other types of sausage in the pursuit of victory.

Rather than permitting the intestines to be eaten, they were used to create special bags to hold the hydrogen gas used to keep Zeppelins aloft. It took more than 250,000 cows to make one airship.

Zeppelins brought terror to Britain in the first widespread bombing campaign directed at civilian targets, and German leaders were convinced the casualties would sap the British will to fight on. The technique by which the intestines, called goldbeater’s skins, were turned into gas bags has been found by a Channel 4 team almost a century after the last Zeppelin raid was launched.

Dr Hugh Hunt, a University of Cambridge engineer, and colleagues visited a food factory in Middlesbrough where they worked out that by making sausage skins wet, stretching them and allowing them to dry again, they could be bonded together to form ideal vessels for gas.

He said: “One of the most intriguing things about the Zeppelins is that we don’t have a huge amount of information about how they were built, nor about how they were destroyed. But while shooting down a massive hydrogen balloon sounds pretty easy, actually it was quite the opposite. If you shoot a bullet at a balloon of hydrogen, all you get is a small hole... It barely made any difference.”

Only 1,500 people were killed in Zeppelin raids but the terror they instilled was widespread. Attacks were made on London’s East End and towns in east and southern England, including Hull, King’s Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

‘Attack Of The Zeppelins’ is on Channel 4 on Monday at 8pm

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