Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Ludwig Felber

Crew Member

Age: 34

Hometown: Waging am See, Germany

Occupation: Elevatorman

Location at time of fire: Bow mooring shelf

Died in hospital

Ludwig Felber was one of three elevatormen on the Hindenburg's last flight, the others being Kurt Bauer and Ernst Huchel.

Born on September 30, 1903 in Waging am See, a Bavarian lakeside town near the German/Austrian border, Felber was forced to leave his hometown at the age of 22 after fathering an illegitimate daughter. Disowned by his parents, Felber moved to Friedrichshafen, where he married his sweetheart and sought work to support his wife and daughter. He was eventually hired by the Luftshiffbau Zeppelin in 1932 as a riveter, and worked in the ring and framework assembly departments as the company built their new airship, the LZ 129 Hindenburg.

He was eventually hired as a Zeppelin crewman, first serving as a rigger on the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin under Chief Rigger Ludwig Knorr. When the Hindenburg was put into service in 1936, Felber was assigned to the ship as one of its helmsmen, and he manned the rudder wheel on the Hindenburg's maiden flight on March 4th, 1936.

Ludwig Felber (right, in leather coat) at the Hindenburg's rudder wheel in 1936. (photo courtesy of the Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmBH Archive)

During the Hindenburg's first North American flight of the 1937 season, Felber was standing watch as an elevatorman trainee, having recently been promoted to that position. On his last standby watch, between 4:00 and 6:00 in the late afternoon of May 6th, 1937, Felber made ready the landing tackle on the mooring shelf in the Hindenburg's bow. He went on watch at 6:00, and was at the elevator wheel in the control car as the ship approached the landing field at Lakehurst, NJ an hour later. However, since the crew was going to have to bring the ship in to land in inclement weather, Captain Albert Sammt, the watch officer on duty, ordered navigator Eduard Boetius, a more experienced elevatorman who was on watch in the control car, to take over for Felber. Sammt sent Felber forward to the mooring shelf in the bow to take a landing station there alongside Ernst Huchel, who was the senior elevatorman aboard. Felber relieved fellow elevatorman Kurt Bauer, who in turn took a landing station along the keel just ahead of the control car.

Ludwig Felber's approximate location at the time of the fire.
(Hindenburg structural diagram courtesy of David Fowler)

When the Hindenburg caught fire a short time later Felber, standing on the mooring shelf and probably assisting with the lowering of the main mooring cable, was right in line with the huge tongue of flame which shot up through the ship's axial walkway and out the bow. Astonishingly, Felber was pulled from the wreck alive, albeit very badly burned. He was taken to nearby Paul Kimball Hospital, where he lasted into the night, and died early in the morning on Friday, May 7th, 1937. His body, along with those of his comrades who died in the fire, was returned to Germany onboard the steamship Hamburg, which sailed from New York a week later on May 13th.

Two photos of a badly burned crew survivor, very likely Ludwig Felber, being led from the bow of the Hindenburg.

Ludwig Felber, despite having left his hometown in disgrace over a decade before, was buried in the cemetery in Waging am See, laid to rest with full military honors as a hero of the German Reich.

Ludwig Felber's grave in Waging am See.

Thanks also to Herr Manfred Sauter of the Freundeskreis zur Förderung des Zeppelin Museums e.V., whose memorial article on the Hindenburg crew members who lost their lives at Lakehurst (Zeppelin Brief, No. 59, June 2011) provided additional details on Felber's career, and to Dr. Cheryl Ganz for providing me with a copy of the article.


Anonymous said...

How did you find this information?

Anonymous said...

Hi Patrick,
After looking long and somewhat morbidly at the pics of Ludwig Felber, I'm finding it hard to link the two pictures up of him appallingly burned, god rest his soul.
It definitely looks like the ground crew members, but the top shot has Mr Felber in clothing, the next he is practically unclothed, and his facial injuries look much worse. Could the top photograph be of Alfred Bernhardt?
The picture on the Erich Knocher indeed looks like Ludwig Felber. Just an observation.
Thanks Steve

Patrick Russell said...

It's often quite difficult to match these post-fire photos of survivors with identified photos of the passengers and crew. (Hell, it's often quite difficult to just look at these poor folks in their painfully burned states.)

All of the photos in this series are, however, of the same person. I'm virtually positive of that. The facial features sometimes appear to differ slightly, but I think that's just due to lighting differences from one photo to the next. And a number of survivors did shed their burned outerwear as they were led away from the wreck.

Alfred Bernhardt, to my knowledge, was loaded onto Harry King's baggage truck right next to the wreck after he was pulled out. Bernhardt seems to never have regained consciousness. King found Bernhardt's engraved wedding band in the bed of his truck while cleaning it the next day and returned it to the Zeppelin Company offices.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for clearing that up Patrick, I had wondered for some time about this, although the two naval guys are very akin to the lower photo. I guess the whole image of poor Ludwig stuck in my mind, but old photos can play tricks. Anyway, many, many thanks for such a wonderful blog, and also the sister blog too with the hard work you have put into. Hopefully one day I would like to pay my respects to the dirigible, with a visit to Lakehurst. NJ.
Best of regards