Published on May 11th, 2022 | by FII Reader0
Galway to Berlin 1932
By Bridget Egan-Mitchell
A noteworthy event in the history of Irish aviation occurred on 22nd October 1932 when approximately 1000 items of mail were flown from Galway to Berlin.
There can be little doubt that this flight was inspired by the ‘Experimental Flight’ of August 1929 when mail was collected from the North German Llyod steamer the “Karlsruhe” which was launched in August 1927 and was now on its return journey from New York.
The mail was flown to Croyden in a Vickers-Vixen piloted by Col. Charles F. Russell who was the first Chief of the Irish Free State Air Force. There were stops at Baldonnel, and Sealand near Liverpool for fuel. This resulted in considerable saving of the time required for overland transport.
On this occasion, the bulk of the mail came from the transatlantic German liner, the “Bremen” which was launched in May 1928, the remainder was collected around the country, including Galway.
In the publication Flight, October 20th, 1932:
“Airisms from the Four Winds Dublin to Berlin Service?
Our Irish Correspondent informs us that on October 22nd a flight by a Fokker monoplane, organised by Col. Charles F. Russell, one-time Commander of the Irish Free State Air Corps, will be made from Dublin to Berlin to demonstrate the possibilities of a regular service to the business community of Ireland. It is understood that the flight is being made in co-operation with Royal Dutch Air Lines.
The machine, it is stated, will be a 30-seater and in addition to passengers arrangements are being made with the Free State Department of Posts and Telegraphs to carry a limited quantity of mails. The aeroplane will leave Dublin in the morning and return on the following day; the return fare being £15. Subscriptions for the organising of the flight and campaign for the promotion of aviation in Ireland have been received from many important business men in Dublin and the Association of Chambers of Commerce, Dublin, has expressed an interest in the project.
Galway Harbour Commissioners have privately subscribed the sum of £80 for a “feeder” service to Dublin on the morning of the flight.”
Ex RAF officer Oliver Eric Armstrong, who later became the first Aer Lingus pilot where he was affectionately known as Paddy, piloted the Fox Moth of Iona Airways and was accompanied on the flight by Iona founder Hugh Cahill.
According to the Connacht Tribune of October 29th, 1932, Capt. Armstrong “left Oranmore at 6.30 a.m. carrying mails and two passengers, Misses P. Kenny and K. Curran, on the first stage of a journey to Berlin”. They flew to Baldonnel where the mail was transferred to the KLM Fokker PH-AID for the flight to Berlin.
Reporting in the same issue of the paper, Miss Kenny noted that “the weather seemed to get bad at Athlone. Afterwards, Mr Armstrong told us that from Ballinasloe he had to fly blind and only a couple of hundred feet from the ground. It was only when we heard our pilot being congratulated by everybody on his feat of coming through such bad weather so successfully that we realised what we had passed through.”
The flight took 55 minutes and “our return journey to Galway by train” took 4 hours. Peggy Kenny and Kitty Curran were lifelong friends and both gained prominence in Galway life in very different fields. Peggy was a member of the renowned Kenny family whose father, at this time was editor of the Connacht Tribune. She later married Walter Macken, the well-known Galway novelist. Kitty Curran joined the staff of the Harbour Board and played a helpful and prominent role in Board activities, on one occasion acting as Harbour Master, albeit for a short period.
Not only was this, the first Irish-Continental European air mail delivery, it was also the first passenger service. 14 people boarded the 30 seater monoplane at Baldonnel for the flight to Berlin. They were: Col. Chas. F. Russell, Mr Chas. E. McConnell, A.L.P.A., Mr Frank Gallagher, Col. Hugo McNeill, Capt. Hugh St. George Harpur, Dr G. E. Pepper, who was the first to receive an Irish Pilot’s Licence in 1930, Lieut. A. Russell, Mr J. K. Smith, Mr T. Hayden, Mr N. O’Connell Redmond, Mr George J. Bonass, Major S. Dunckley, Mr C. H. Manders, and Mr Denis Johnson, a stand-in for Mr O. Grattan Esmonde T.D. who was unable to travel. Grattan Esmonde was a Committee member of the Irish Aero Club which had been revived in 1928. Initially, the Club was established in 1909 and, according to Donal MacCarron, “faded away when the Great War broke out in 1914”.
The Irish Press, which made a contribution towards the cost of the flight, obtained publicity rights for the story of the flight with lengthy articles by “David Hogan” who was none other than Frank Gallagher, listed above, the first editor of the paper.
‘FIFTEEN THOUSAND FEET UP: 200 MILES AN HOUR’
He gives a vivid description of the rain on the Saturday morning on his way to Baldonnel. The engines were running when he arrived and the mail from Galway also arrived; everybody got aboard and the plane took off at 08 00. “The thin arms of Dun Laoghaire Harbour were the last of Ireland that we saw”.
After an hour’s flying, they were overland, near Holyhead. “It seemed unreal that from directly above it should look like Ireland, little fields, brilliant green, no tillage, many cattle”. There was no improvement in the weather and the aircraft began to ascend. Again, his description of this experience is worthy of quotation: “Into the lower clouds we went thundering. About us, over us, below us, was drifting, drenching whiteness; nothing else. There was the sense of being lost”. The flight continued above the clouds towards Croyden, now the location of Northolt, where Captain Scholte took over control from Col. Russell who had flown from Dublin. While descending, the provision of paper bags “For air – sickness”
Following a 45 min stop in Croyden, everyone is back on board and the ‘plane follows the Thames to the coast’. At 5000ft, a kindly gale has gathered behind us giving a speed of 200 miles an hour; they observe the shadow of the plane on the clouds, and a complete rainbow, “it is beautiful”. What a lovely description of a ‘glory’; the earliest description of this appears in a work by Charles Turner on Aerial Navigation published in 1910.
At approximately 1.00 pm the aircraft crosses the Schelde delta; they observed the red-roofed houses, the windmills and the carefully tilled fields. At Rotterdam, they land “at the first municipal aerodrome ever built”… that was in 1920. It was destroyed in 1940 to prevent it being used by the German Army.
Back in the air again after 45 minutes, the long, narrow, tilled fields of Holland are noted, separated by small canals. Attention is drawn, no doubt by all the aviators aboard, to the smoke from the “ burning weeds” indicating that the wind is blowing in the direction in which the plane is flying, thus leading to an increase in airspeed. “Nearer the German border, there are many forests, some glorious in autumn colours”. Amongst these near Doorn, they observe the “castle of the ex-Kaiser”.
At 2.30 the plane crosses the German border.
“David” is captivated by the arrangement of towns and villages and spends an hour or more counting these, and attempting to estimate the number of houses in each, while they fly along at 6000ft, at times reaching 240 kilometres an hour.
The crew of the Fokker have an exciting moment when they observe
“Down almost touching the land is another Royal Dutch Airliner. It is flying to Amsterdam from Batavia in the West Indies. Our pilot is famous; so is Van Dyke, ‘pilot of the Java’ plane below. Our wireless operator taps out Ireland’s greeting”.
And so they continue, passing Hanover on the left ‘dark, colourless’ and 10 minutes later he notes ‘Leipzig sparkled and shone on the right, whitespired with autumn-treed streets’.
They cross the river Elbe and the lakes and woods around Brandenburg, then the wireless operator Den Outer draws their attention to the flashing lights and explains that these lights flash every thirty miles guiding aircraft to Berlin.
“The aerodrome – the best and most up-to-date in the world—lights two or three acres with red lights among the grass to guide us down, a runway of white lights standing out for the final landing.
“We are being welcomed by many, led by one of the Directors of Deutsche Luft Hansa, Germany’s greatest air organisation. The mails are handed over and there is great ceremony as the German post office receives them”.
Col Russell talks “to the world’s Press representatives of a new air achievement and of its importance to Ireland, to Germany and to Europe”.
In the evening the group spent their time seeing “the most dynamic capital in the world. In its streets we saw the Nazis march in uniform, and at every corner, collections were being taken for the parties in the general election”.
They were up at 4.00 am as Col. Russell said: “The aerodrome at five”.
It appears that the flight to Rotterdam attracted lots of attention en route with people dismounting their bicycles to watch, and children waving.
They arrived at Rotterdam at 8:35 and by 9:10 were out over the North Sea. “Col. Russell asked Herr Scholte to fly by the coast of Belgium” where they observed Zeebrugge and Ostend. They encountered fog and rain in London where they landed at 11:30.
Dr Peppar of the Irish Aero Club flew back to Dublin noting the “snow and sun” as they crossed the Welsh mountains at 1500ft.
On arrival at Baldonnel at 4:00 pm the weather was described as “clear and invigorating”. There was a special ovation awaiting Captain J. B. Scholte with emphasis on his ability to maintain his schedule.
Col. Russell was described as being “jubilant at the success of the flight” stating that “We have done what we said we would: we have brought the Galway airmail to Berlin in record time. We have shown that we can effect a saving of two and a half days in the delivery of transatlantic mail between Europe and America”. While no mail was carried on the return flight there was, however, a small package of a Berlin newspaper the “Berliner Tageblatt” for Sunday 23rd October. This was postmarked on presentation to Dublin’s GPO at 7:45 pm.
A Complimentary Dinner for Colonel Charles F. Russell was arranged for Tuesday 15th November 1932 in the Dolphin Hotel.
I am indebted to the following for their kind assistance:
- Mary Qualter, Galway Library Headquarters, Island House.
- Colette Dempsey and Colleagues, Westside Library, Galway.
- Annemarie, Rachel and Sinead in the office of the Harbour Master Brian Sheridan.
- Carmel, Elaine and Kathleen in the Connacht Tribune Office, Market Street, and other members of staff now in Liosban Industrial Estate, Galway.
- Margaret and Gabriel Kearney, Select Cartridge, Galway.
- GPO staff and associates Stephen Ferguson John Horgan.
- The staff of the National Library of Ireland, with a special ‘thank you’ to James Harte who, in addition, arranged permission for publication of Frank Gallagher’s narrative.
- Sincere thanks also to Andros Florides for his photographic work, and to Ben Dunnett, Graphic Designer of Cantec.
- It is not possible to write anything relating to the history of Galway without incurring a debt to Tom Kenny, whose Grandfather T.J.W. as editor of the Connacht Tribune at the time of the flight and gave it detailed coverage.
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- MacCarron, Donal. Wings over Ireland. The Story of the Irish Air Corps. Midland Publishing Ltd. Leicester. 1996.
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- Phillips, A. Air Mail Magazine. Vol 2, pp. 368-369. 1940.
- Turner, C.C. Aerial Navigation To-day. Seely & Co. London, 1910.
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- Woodman, Kieran. ‘Safe and Commodious’ The Annals of the Galway Harbour Commissioners, 1830-1997. Galway Harbour Company. 2000.