Air base ship - Flugstützpunktschiff

The Friesenland in 1937 with a Blohm & Voss Ha 139 mail plane

As a flight base ship (also aircraft base ship ), the German Lufthansa referred to the catapult ships used in the 1930s for its Atlantic air traffic with flying boats : the Westphalia , the Swabia , the Ostmark and the Friesenland .


When Lufthansa started considering airmail traffic over the South Atlantic around 1930, land planes in particular were not yet suitable for this task. The engine technology was prone to failure and an emergency landing on the water would have resulted in the loss of the aircraft, if not the crew. Flying boats and seaplanes could make an emergency landing in the Atlantic as long as the weather conditions permitted, but their range was still too limited to cover the entire distance without stopping.

The air base ships offered the solution to the problem. They served as floating air bases for take-off and landing and for stopovers for refueling and maintenance work, as well as for the recovery of the aircraft crews from their long flights. They were equipped with an airplane catapult, with which the flying boats were catapulted into the air for takeoff; the 10-ton flying boats of the Dornier Wal type, or from 1937 also Do 18 , were accelerated to 150 km / h within seconds by the ships' steam catapult. At the stern, a canvas stiffened by struts could be deployed as a landing sail and then brought in again, onto which the flying boat floated up after the water , to then be taken off by aAircraft lifting crane to be lifted on deck. In addition, maintenance and repair workshops, fuel tanks and rooms for the replacement aircraft crews were on board, often including a replacement flying boat.

The first two air base ships were converted former cargo ships, the following two were special ships specially ordered by Lufthansa for this purpose. From 1934 the Westphalia and Swabia were used in the South American service. The Ostmark followed in 1936 and the Friesenland in 1937 . They were all taken over by the Luftwaffe during World War II and used in the military.

The regular Lufthansa postal service to South America began in February 1934. For this purpose, the Westphalia was initially stationed about halfway between Bathurst ( Gambia ) and Natal (Brazil) in the South Atlantic . After the Schwabenland was also available from September 1934 , one ship was posted off Natal or at Fernando de Noronha , the other off Bathurst. There they took the flying boats on board after they had crossed the Atlantic, they waited and ran with a Dornier Wal on the next postal flighton board a little way out into the Atlantic to launch the flying boat from a position from which the destination was safely within reach of the machine. From Bathurst, the ship usually ran 650 km to the southwest into the Atlantic with a Dornier Wal on board, in order to then start the machine. The flight then went to Fernando de Noronha, with very good conditions to Natal. The ship at the South America station was mostly with a Dornier whale on board at Fernando de Noronha. A Dornier whale started with the post in Natal to the ship at Fernando de Noronha and was lifted on deck there. As a rule, the Dornier Wal, which was already on board, started with the reloaded mail, but sometimes also the Dornier Wal, who had arrived from Natal.

Based on the experience with the two converted ships, Lufthansa soon decided to have catapult ships specially designed for this task built. The Ostmark was put into service on May 22, 1936, the Friesenland on August 15, 1937.

With the outbreak of war in September 1939, Lufthansa's transatlantic service ended, and after the Second World War the development of aircraft had advanced to such an extent that land-based wheeled aircraft could take up air traffic across the Atlantic. A four-engine Focke Wulf Condor had already completed the first non-stop flight of a land plane for passenger aviation across the Atlantic on August 10, 1938. It flew in 24 hours and 36 minutes from Berlin to New York and on August 13 in 19 hours and 55 minutes from New York back to Berlin. This meant that the end of seaplanes, which were also inferior to land aircraft in terms of speed, in the Atlantic service was foreseeable.


  • Simon Mitterhuber: The German catapult aircraft and slingshot ships , Bernard & Graefe Verlag, Bonn 2004, 1st edition, ISBN 3-7637-6244-2
  • Jörg-M. Hormann: Flight book Atlantic - German catapult flights 1927-1939 , Delius Klasing Verlag, Bielefeld 2007, 1st edition, ISBN 978-3-7688-1973-2