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February 4, 2011
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Disaster at Ahlhorn by Elric888 Disaster at Ahlhorn by Elric888
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For Germany's Imperial Navy Airship Division, the year 1918 started with a bang, quite literally. On January 5, 1918 a series of progressively larger explosions rocked the airbase. It all started with a fire in shed number one, 'Aladin', a shed that had been host to a number of accidents, and was considered jinxed by the airship crews stationed at Ahlhorn.
The ships stationed at Ahlhorn had been kept in a ready to fly state, awaiting a break in the weather; they were fully fueled, and full of hydrogen. Shortly after 5 pm a fire broke out under the rear gondola of the L-51, housed in shed one. The fire heated the hydrogen in the gas bags, causing it to expand, and escape through the automatic valves into the shed. Soon the fire spread, valving gas from her shed-mate, the L-47, and within minutes the mixture of oxygen and hydrogen in the shed exploded. Moments later shed number two, 'Albert', caught fire and exploded more violently than shed one. Forty seconds later, half a mile across the landing field, sheds three and four, 'Alix' and 'Alrun' exploded in quick succession. The blast was so violent that the only thing left standing was the south door frame of shed three. The blast was heard in nearby Oldenburg, and Bremen, 40 km away...they even felt the pressure wave.
Much about the disaster remains speculation. The cause of the fire in shed one has never been explained, though the likely cause was guessed at. Why Alix and Alrun exploded so violently, and how the fire even reached them is not entirely known, but Peter Strasser (overseer of the Airship Division) theorized that the blast wave from the first two sheds (and perhaps broken window glass) buffeted the gas bags in the ships housed in sheds 3 and 4, causing them to tear and valve gas, embers from the first explosion ignited the mixture. If this theory is correct, it certainly explains why these two sheds detonated with such force. Hydrogen only burns in the presence of oxygen, the more hydrogen in the mix, the more violent the reaction. By the time these sheds were ignited, the mixture within was probably well saturated with hydrogen. Initially sabotage was suspected, though no evidence supported this, and the disaster was considered an unfortunate accident.
5 airships were lost in the disaster, L-51, L-47, L-58, L-46, and SL 20. Sheds 1 and 2 were repairable, 3 and 4 were demolished, and the unfinished sheds 5 and 6 were both damaged. Because the accident happened as operations were closing for the day, casualties were minimal. The human toll was 10 dead, 30 severely wounded, and 104 with minor injuries. The disaster left Ahlhorn crippled, and it has been said that Strasser never got over it.


Like my previous airship base, a site plan and lots of reference photos were used to paint this, although in this case I had more complete coverage of the base. Many of these buildings survived two world wars, and still stand today. I used modern color photographs of these buildings, photos taken of the aftermath of the disaster, some taken of the base before the disaster, and a modern satellite image of the area. The individual buildings of the village of Ahlhorn is merely speculation, I had no references for the buildings beyond the confines of the base, but nearly all the rest of the buildings were at least visible in one or more shots, or appear in modern photos of them.

The Ahlhorn area is home to some other interesting tidbits of history as well, several prehistoric tombs are nearby, the Richtofen Squadron (Jagdgeschwader 71) was formed at the Ahlhorn airbase in 1959, the Wildeshauser Geest nature preserve is nearby as well, incorporating historical man-made lakes once used as fish farms.

Enjoy my artwork! I welcome comments and questions :)
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:iconrickyrab:
Rickyrab Featured By Owner Feb 13, 2013
Here's an idea for you: why not try illustrating the Hindenburg disaster at Lakehurst?
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:iconraejekii:
raejekii Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2011  Hobbyist Digital Artist
Normally I disregard real-world maps but I like this one. Its historical and of a specific place rather than a general overview of europe, which seems to be a common fad.

I think it looks very good, and I love how you included the history behind it too. Thanks for doing this ^^
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:iconelric888:
Elric888 Featured By Owner Mar 20, 2011
Thanks :D I have plans on doing several other airship bases in time, so keep an eye out for more
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:icondeorse:
Deorse Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
An interesting hand drawn aerial shot, good job.
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:iconelric888:
Elric888 Featured By Owner Feb 7, 2011
Thanks :D
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:icondeorse:
Deorse Featured By Owner Feb 10, 2011  Hobbyist General Artist
You're welcome.
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:iconmensjedezeemeermin:
MensjeDeZeemeermin Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2011
VERY well done, catches the horror of a horrible moment--and yet, that many more in England survived because of it. Planes crash, the world goes on... Zeppelins burn--people give up on them. It's rather depressing.
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:iconelric888:
Elric888 Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2011
Thanks :D
As a weapon, the airship was kind of ineffective, people in England were injured and killed, sure, but it wasn't what the Zeppelin was good at, nor was bombing civilians even intentional. Radio navigation was in its infancy during WWI, that combined with the blacked out state of most of Britain led to errors in judging the position of the ships. As a means of tying up resources and troops, the raids on England were quite effective.
That's war..
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:iconmensjedezeemeermin:
MensjeDeZeemeermin Featured By Owner Feb 5, 2011
Yes, but war is fundamentally stupid, counter-productive, an utter perversion of technology (in no better example than the zeppelin) and at times, sadly necessary. But I wonder how the airships might have done without the first one...
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:iconelric888:
Elric888 Featured By Owner Feb 6, 2011
For the most part I agree with you, except in the point that war actually tends to propel certain technologies along..many things that we take for granted even today came about as a result of the need for them in wartime. I'm actually slowly researching a book on this very thing as it relates to Zeppelins, and you might be surprised by some of these things :D
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