Ernst Lehmann

Captain Ernst Lehmann

Captain Ernst Lehmann

Ernst Lehmann was born on May 12, 1886 at Ludwigshafen am Rhein, a town on the Rhine river directly across from Mannheim, and close to Worms and Heidelberg.

By age 19 he had joined the Navy, serving on a cadet training ship, and he was commissioned a Reserve Lieutenant.  Lehmann also continued his studies, and received an engineering degree from the Berlin-Charlottenburg Technical University in 1912.

In the Spring of 1913, Lehmann began training as an airshipman under Hugo Eckener, and by the Fall of 1913 he was placed in command of the DELAG passenger ship LZ-17 Sachsen.

During the remainder of 1913 and most of 1914, Lehmann commanded Sachsen on its numerous passenger flights, mostly local sightseeing flights from Oos (Baden-Baden), Leipzig, and Hamburg.

Lehmann was in the control car of Sachsen on July 31, 1914 when he was given a telegram from the War Ministry ordering him to remain within 50 kilometers; the outbreak of war was imminent.

In August, with the beginning of World War I, Sachsen was taken over by the Army, and although Lehmann was a Naval officer, he was left in command of the ship.  Lehmann and Eckener used Sachsen as a training ship; their most important student was Peter Strasser, who would lead the German Navy’s airship program through the war, until his death in a zeppelin raid on England in August, 1918.

Ernst Lehmann aboard LZ-127

Ernst Lehmann aboard LZ-127

Although primarily used as a training ship, Sachsen was fitted with bomb racks and machine guns, and Lehmann took the ship on bombing attacks against targets in Belgium, England and France.

Lehmann spent the war commanding several Army airships, including Z-XII (builder # LZ-26), which Lehmann fitted with an observation basket (sometimes called a “cloud car”) which could be lowered from the ship; LZ-90 (builder # LZ-60); LZ-98 (builder # LZ-68); and LZ-120 (LZ-120).

Hugo Eckener being greeted by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge after the successful transatlantic delivery flight of LZ-126.

Ernst Lehmann (far left) at the White House with Hugo Eckener, U.S. President Calvin Coolidge, and Hans Flemming after the transatlantic flight of LZ-126.

After the war Lehmann worked at the Zeppelin Company in Friedrichshafen, with temporary assignments in Sweden and America developing plans for passenger transportation lines, and in 1923 he moved to Akron, Ohio as Vice President of Engineering for the newly-formed Goodyear-Zeppelin joint venture.

Lehmann served under Eckener as an officer on the transatlantic delivery flight of LZ-126, which became the U.S. Navy airship Los Angeles; Lehmann joined Eckener and the other crew members for the ticker-tape parade in New York celebrating the crossing, and at a White House reception where Lehmann met United States President Calvin Coolidge.

Lehmann later served under Eckener on most of the important flights of LZ-127 Graf Zeppelin, and was often in command of Graf Zeppelin himself.

Ernst Lehmann with his accordion

Ernst Lehmann with his accordion

Lehmann was known as an enthusiastic musician and often entertained airship passengers with his accordion or played the lightweight duralumin piano installed in the Hindenburg’s lounge during the 1936 season.

While Hugo Eckener was deeply troubled by the rise of National Socialism and became known as an opponent of the regime, Ernst Lehmann did not share Eckener’s hostility to the Nazis, and in return for his cooperation with the Nazi Party, Lehmann was given the leadership of the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei and airship operations.


Damage during March, 1936 propaganda flight

Less than three weeks after Hindenburg’s first flight, and just days before the ship’s first ocean crossing, Lehmann cancelled important flight tests to accommodate a request by the Nazi Ministry of Propaganda for Hindenburg and Graf Zeppelin to make a joint three day propaganda flight in support of Adolf Hitler.  Lehmann even insisted on making the flight despite unfavorable weather conditions on the day of the takeoff, and Hindenburg’s lower fin was damaged in the predictable accident that followed. Hugo Eckener harshly and openly criticised Lehmann for endangering the brand new ship, and the entire zeppelin program, to curry favor with the Nazis.

Despite his support of the Hitler regime, however, Lehmann never actually joined the Nazi Party.  (Only two of the seven active zeppelin commanders were Party members, Max Pruss and Anton Wittemann; Captain Walter Ziegler was also a member of the NSDAP, but never actually commanded a zeppelin.)

Ernst Lehmann in the Dining Room of LZ-129 Hindenburg

Ernst Lehmann in the Dining Room of LZ-129 Hindenburg

Lehmann often served as commander of Hindenburg, but he was onboard as an observer during its final flight, which was commanded by Max Pruss.  There is some reason to believe that Lehmann may have exercised de facto operational control during Hindenburg’s final landing maneuver (since there was an apparent re-ordering of roles as compared to typical DZR procedure), and that he may have therefore been somewhat responsible for the disaster, but the truth may never be known.

Lehmann in control car of Hindenburg, arriving at Lakehurst after flight to North American. May 9, 1936.

Lehmann in control car of Hindenburg, arriving at Lakehurst after first flight to North America. May 9, 1936.

Lehmann sustained serious injuries in the during the Hindenburg’s crash; his back was badly burned from his neck to his spine, and he was taken to Paul Kimball Hospital where he died the next day.  Before dying, Lehmann told American airship officer and Lakehurst commander Charles Rosendahl that he believed Hindenburg must have been destroyed by an “infernal machine” (Hollenmaschine), presumably referring to a bomb or other sabotage device, or possibly a shot fired from the ground.

Ernst Lehmann's casket at memorial service at New York pier.

Ernst Lehmann’s casket at memorial service at New York pier.

Ernst Lehmann’s casket lay in state with those of other German victims of the disaster at Pier 86 in New York City before being returned to Germany for burial.

56 Comments on "Ernst Lehmann"

  1. hi dan. do you know how i can get in touch with addison bain? would love to speak to him. i was at the 80th anniversary but never made it to speak to addison bain. thanks for anyway you can help. i am enjoying the book by you , patrick, and cheryl. a great book, way to go.

  2. Does anyone know of the connection that Ernst Augustus Lehman had with Chicago. He visited there when he was in the US! Also my grandmother’s name was Augusta Lehman Pearce and she was from Germany and when her son was born in Chicago she left him there with someone named Schneider around 1896.

  3. Mark White | May 7, 2016 at 7:28 am | Reply

    My wife’s grandmother was Mathilde Lehmann (sister of Ernst). She married Felix Jacobi (also a zeppelin pilot), her grandfather. Now she is living in NSW, Australia. I was an airship lover in my teenage years; imagine my surprise when she casually told me about this connection to Captain Lehmann on our very first date 🙂

  4. Bonjour,

    J’ai appris que l’oncle de mon grand-père (Rolf Lehmann) était Ernst Lehmann…

    Quelqu’un a des infos?

    D’avance merci..

  5. Hello everybody,
    if you have interest, it’s official information about Ernst August Lehmann from site:

    Lehmann, Ernst August
    Luftschiff-Kapitän, * 12.3.1886 Ludwigshafen/Rhein, † 7.5.1937 Lakehurst bei New York. (evangelisch)
    Vater(father) – Ludwig (1858–1939), Dr. phil., Chemiker, Betriebsleiter b. d. BASF in L., S d. Gymnasialprof. Joh. Adam in Speyer u. d. Magdalena Julia Butenschön;
    Mutter(mother)- Luise Friedrike (1861–1924), T d. →Johannes Schäfer (1823–1902), Advokat u. Bgm., Gründer der Kalkwerke J. Schaefer in Diez/Lahn (s. L), u. d. Wilhelmine Zimmermann;
    Bruder (brother, see above)- Otto (* 1887, âš” 1915), Maler;
    Schwester (sister)- Mathilde (âš­ →Felix Jacobi (he is too a Great military Zeppelin captain), 1880–1960, Gen.-Major); – âš­ 1) 1915 (âš® 1934) Susanne Dienemann (* 1886), 2) München 1934 Marie (1891–1975) gesch. v. Dr.-Ing. Albert Müller-Hauff, Hüttendir., T d. Dr. med. Alexander Schulze-Berge in Bonn u. d. →Maria Magdalena Schorn; 1 S aus 2) (früh †).

    Best regards.

  6. I have been told all of my life that Ernst Lehmann is a relative on my mother’s fathers side of the family. They dropped the second N from the name. Does anyone have any information on Edward Adam Lehman and Augusta Bollenburg Lehman? They may be from Alsace-Lorraine, Thank You

  7. Ernst Lehmann was the brother of my Great Grandfather. Ernst Lehmann’s nephew is my grandfather Hans Lehmann who fled Germany at the end of WWII and settled in the North of England. I live in Australia.

    • Hi Matt my name is jason i live in Australia Also and am fascinated By Zeppelin Airships!! and all those involved with them!!! i was wondering if we could have a chat on FB sometime or even Possibly meet up someplace i live in N.S.W thanks ever so much for your time!! Kind Regards Jason Wallace!

    • Hi Matt,

      I have been trying to put pieces of our family tree together and have been told that Ernst Lehmann was my Great Grandfather, Francis Lehmann’s cousin. Francis immigrated from Germany and I believe lived in New York, United States of America. I have been trying to track back any information I can to fill in the blanks of our family tree. Any information in regards to siblings, aunts uncles etc. would be helpful. Thanks in advance for your help.

      • Hey Holly,
        My brother searched our family tree and discovered that Ernst was our great great uncle. Meaning my fathers mothers brother. Her Name was Mable Lehman. Regards.


      • Hi David: my grandfather, Frank Lehmann was Ernst’s cousin. They played together as children until my grandfather’s family immigrated to the U S. Settled in Buffalo, NY, where he later married my grandmother, Genevieve Lang. Carol

  8. My grandfather was Paul Lehmann, born in Berlin about 1870, was in the Prussian calvary. He had a brother Christian Lehmann, Paul moved to the USA in 1912.
    We have no records of the his brother Christian left behind in Germany.Anybody held of this family?

    • Yes, I’m a descendant of Christian Lehmann (at least as far as I can tell). I’ve been trying to track down his lineage for a long time and just found this post today.

      From what I know they came over to NY and settled in Brooklyn in about 1858 (his son Julius links to my family tree), so not so sure they were left behind at all.

  9. Gordon Leeman | July 18, 2010 at 11:50 am | Reply

    Anybody know of any progeny in U.S?

  10. which book of his was the best and where do you buy it?

  11. he is a distant cousin of mine. but dont know that much information about him

  12. My grand father is Stern Lehmann, son of Caroline & Frank Lehmann, immigrants from Germany who moved to the St Louis area. They have all passed (died in their late 90’s), but I believe they may have been some how related to Ernst. I recently found a number of newspaper articles, photographs and letters they kept regarding the Hindenburg. If anyone has any information or recognized these names I would be happy to share information and learn more about my family history.

    • Ernst Lehmann is my relative. Anyone need other information about him, please let me know.

      John Lehmann
      Baden Baden

      • harold horton | May 9, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply

        hello, my great aunt was married to paul otto lehman who was an older brother to ernst lehman. uncle paul lived in mississippi. i would be interested in sharing information on my uncle. i have very little information on ernst. have some old german photos that belonged to uncle paul.

        • Harold

          My grandmother was Adele(Hedwig) Lehman b 1877, sister Clara, brother Otto and her father- Otto Lehman, Mother-Elise Grimm. If you have any info on these names it would be a great help.

        • hi. would love to hear from you.great history. love anything you could share about ernst lehmann, who died on the hindenburg disaster. thanks for your help and hope to hear from you.

          david cell: 704-254-0859

      • Ralph Lehmann | August 25, 2011 at 7:27 am | Reply

        I have been doing a family history, and would like as much information on Captain Ernst Lehmann as possible. Thanking you in advance. I completely enjoyed the book.

        Ralph Lehmann

      • John,
        My grandmother was Adele(Hedwig) Lehman b 1877, sister Clara, brother Otto and her father- Otto Lehman, Mother-Elise Grimm. If you have any info on these names it would be a great help.

      • Hello John,
        I’ve been looking for information on my mother’s family (Lehmann) from Mannheim – there’s a clear family resemblance to his photos here. My grandfather’s name was Otto and my grandmother died early (they had 5 children).
        Please let me know if you know of any possible connection between our families.

      • Hello John,
        My Grandmother, (my fathers mother), I believe was the sister of Ernst Lehman. I have been told by my brother who traced our family tree that Ernst is our great, great uncle. My grandmothers name was Mabel Lehman. Regards and look forward to your reply.


      • John I am looking for Lehman that was living after war in Mannheim and got married to a lady with surname Bam just looking for relatives

      • I wonder if you have researched the Capt’s relatives backwards? My family story goes that my relative Adolph Julius Lehmann, born 1835 was his great uncle. Adolph’s father Carl Freidrich Lehmann (a surgeon) was born 1800 in Belgern, Saxony and his father, another Carl Freidrich, was an army doctor who married and died in Belgern. Adolph was an engineer and inventor. I would very much like to know if there could be a connection. Thanks
        Rachel Ring

      • Adolph Julius Lehmann | September 6, 2016 at 4:48 pm | Reply

        I was told that my Lehmann g grandfather (above) was possibly the uncle of Ernst Lehmann. Adolph J Lehmann was born circa 1865. Would you know of any relatives on his parents side please. thank you.

    • Frank is my relative too. Let’s talk about our famous relative.
      John Lehmann

    • sophie lehmann | April 7, 2012 at 3:46 pm | Reply

      my grand-father(is in alive)is the nephew of Ernst Lehmann….
      I’m Sophie Lehmann ,the great-nice of Ernst………..
      I’m live in Belgium…but my grand-father come from Gotha in Germany…His father was brother with Ernst Lehmann…

      • My father used to refer to Ernst as Uncle Ernst. My ggmother said that Ernst was the younger brother of Herman Fredrich Lehmann and the had a sister named Freida.
        Do you have the family tree info for Ernst?

      • Hello Sophie,

        My name is Ron Lawson and according to my brothers research into our family tree he and I are the great great nephews of Ernst. My fathers mother was the sister of Ernst according to my brother. He was our great great uncle. Her name was Mable Lehman and married my grandfather William Lawson. Can you shed any light on this? Regards./


  13. does anyone know where i might be able to get original photos of the hindenburg, akron, macon and los angeles airships? would love to see both interior and exterior photos. thanks.

    david helms

  14. another Zeppelin Enthusiast | January 24, 2010 at 5:03 pm | Reply

    From reading Captain Lehmann’s book I can say that probably he did have sympathies for the Nazis; in the 1930s many people in Germany did. Yet I never found any antisemitic statements in it (anti-communist I found one, when he adscribes to Stalin the failed revolution attempt in Brazil which teh crew of Graf Zeppelin witnessed at the beginning of the book). It is impossible to say; however, had he lived I doubt he would have liked Goering having both “Graf Zeppelin” ships scrapped and the Zeppelin hangars blasted, as was done in 1940 (at a time when a German victory seemed possible). Would he have turned against the Nazis in the end (like Stauffenberg did)? We will never know.
    In any case “Auf Luftpatrouille und Weltfahrt” is engrossing reading which I have enjoyed immensely for over 30 years now; Wonder if they ever could reprint it. In any case I’m glad to have an original copy from 1937 and it is one of my most prized possessions (too bad that when I was akid once I managed to knock my water glass over it and since then the cover is warped, but apart from that it’s intact.) I have a commemorative book of Graf Zeppelin’s round-the world trip with actual photographs too. This I know was reprinted in Germany soem years ago, but I have an original.

  15. Does anyone know if Capt. Lehmann had connections to Belgern in Saxony?
    Story in my family goes that he was the great nephew of my relative Adolph J Lehmann whose grandfather was a Dr. in that town.

  16. i have always love studying airship history and admired the men who commanded them. Ernest Lehmann was a gigantic name with respect to the zepplin airships.can anyone put me in touch with relatives of his and also tell me where he is buried in germany?many thanks for your help.

    david helms

    • Ernst Lehmann is buried in Grassau, Germany, next to his son Luv, who died tragically as a baby just a few weeks before the last flight of the Hindenburg.

      Several of Captain Lehmann’s relatives have visited this site; if you would like to post your email address publicly (I would not do that without your permission) perhaps one of them will contact you.

      • do you know how i can get in touch with relatives of ernst lehman or max pruss? also, do you know where dr. hugo eckener and max pruss are buried? thanks for your help. you may post my email publicly. that’s ok.


      • david helms | May 31, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Reply

        you may post my email publicly dan. would love to get in touch with some of lehmann’s relatives. let’s give it a shot.


  17. Just read these comments and the info on Captain Ernst Lehmann. He was my grandfather’s cousin and they used to play together as small children. If you haven’t read his book “Airships” try to get it and read it. My local library was able to track down a copy for me to read. As for his support of Hitler, he was becoming disatisfied with Hitler’s program prior to his premature death. I also learned he was “quite the ladies man” despite his rather small stature. People can think what they want, but I am not ashamed to claim him as a relative. He was very intelligent as have been so many of the relatives on my mother’s side of my family.

    • I don’t know who might have suggested that you should feel ashamed to claim Captain Lehmann as a relative, or why. If it related to his support for the Third Reich, we should remember that, as with so many people from the National Socialist era, the full story is rarely black and white. And if it related to some of his operational mistakes as an airship captain (his sometimes over-aggressive tactics), we should remember that it was still a pioneering age, and that even Hugo Eckener, who was famed for his caution, made some operational errors, the departure of LZ-127 from Mines Field in Los Angeles being a prime example.

    • hi carol. can you share some information with me about ernst lehman? i know he must have been a remarkable man. thanks. do you also know how i can reach other
      relatives of his? thanks for yourhelp.

      • Hi David:

        Just received your note. I do have a little information about Captain Ernst Lehmann, the first seven chapters of his book was, and may still be available , Haven’t been there since March 2005. I have other info regarding Ernset from a professor who was finally able to research him. He was Director of Flight Operations aboard the Hindenburg (LZ-129), that was destroyed at Lakehurst. He was serving as a training officer, as well as being on board because of sabotage threats to the Hindenburg. I don’t know how much info you have, or how I can send my info to you. I do remember that the first documentary I saw regarding the Hindenburg fire had the nurse who attended him just before he died, and she stated that he insisted the “accident” was not an accident. I have seen various other documentaries, but none of them include this, seems time has changed history. I am 72 years old, and the first few years I tried to get info on Ernst all I came up with was “classified information”.

        • thanks for a reply carol. i will be more than happy to take any information you can share with me on ernst lehmann. i know the doctor who attended him was dr raymond taylor and i have been by paul kimball hospital. hope to hear back from you very soon and thanks.


        • Would you know whether Capt Lehmann had a great uncle called Adolph Julius Lehmann. He was a civil engineer and had many designs patented in england. He arrived here around 1864 with his father Carl Lehmann a retired surgeon. Thank you.

    • david helms | May 31, 2010 at 8:42 pm | Reply

      hi carol. i would love to hear more about captain lehmann. i have always had great admiration for all those giants in zeppelin airship history. hope to hear from you and thanks.


  18. Hildegarde lehmann | December 16, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Reply

    Thank you so very much. If you need more info from me, let me know. I don’t have much but a few names. Thanks again.

  19. Believe it or not… Captain Ernst Lehmann was my grandmothers uncle or great uncle.

    • Hildegarde lehmann | December 6, 2009 at 5:45 pm | Reply

      I just became aware of Captain Lehmann. I am wondering if he might possibly have been related to my father, Otto Ernst Lehmann, from Hamburg, Germany.
      Any info you could supply me with, would be greatly appreciated. My father died in NYC when I was 4 and my mother is gone now. Can you assist me in any way. My grandmother on mothers side was Maria Schurmann. Do not know my fathers grandmother. Thank you.

      • I can find out something if I ask my mom. My mom has the original newspaper about the hindenburg incident. I learned as a child that he was my great great great uncle.

        • hi rebecca. is there any way i can get a copy of that newspaper coverage of the hindenburg disaster. i love researching and collecting info on the hindenburg. thanks for a reply.


  20. Hello Dan,
    I just read your brief review of Lehmann’s life. Too bad so many people like him were involved with the Nazi’s regime, even if they did not join the party they were guilty by association and (in Lehmann’s case) actual PR support. Ön a different point please note that you left out the word ´to´in the second to last sentence of your article. When you wrote ¨…and he was taken Paul Kimbal Hospital…¨you meant to write ¨…and he was taken ´to´ Paul Kimbal Hosipital…

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