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Deutsche Luft Hansa was founded on 6 January 1926 in Berlin. The name of the company was a composite of “Deutsche Luft” (“German Air” in German), and “Hansa” (after the Hanseatic League, a powerful mediaeval trading group). The airline was created by a merger between Deutscher Aero Lloyd (an airline formed in 1923 as a co-operation between the shipping companies Norddeutscher Lloyd and Hamburg America Line) and Junkers Luftverkehr, the in-house airline of Junkers.
This action was taken due to an initiative of the German government which hoped to reduce the amount of financial support it provided to the two partly state-owned airlines, which were both plagued by heavy debts at that time.
The foundation of the airline coincided with the lifting of restrictions on commercial air operations imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles. This allowed the route network to be quickly expanded to cover major European cities. The initial fleet consisted of 162 aircraft, nearly all of them outdated World War I types, and the company had 1,527 staff.
The most important airfield for DLH was Berlin Tempelhof. From there a Fokker F.II took off on 6 April 1926 for the first scheduled flight to Zürich via Halle, Erfurt and Stuttgart. In the same year, Deutsche Luft Hansa acquired a stake in Deruluft, a joint German-Soviet airline, and launched non-stop flights from Berlin to Moscow, which was then regarded as an exceptionally long distance. Shortly after that flights to Paris were commenced. Deutsche Luft Hansa was one of the first airlines to operate night flights, the first of which connected Berlin with Königsberg using Junkers G 24 aircraft.
This route proved so successful that the night train connection was discontinued some years later. During its first year, the airline operated more than six million flight kilometres, transporting a total of 56,268 passengers and 560 tons of freight and mail.
Over the following years, the domestic network grew to cover all the important cities and towns of Germany. More international routes were added through co-operation agreements. With the newly founded Iberia in Spain its longest scheduled route was 2,100 kilometres from Berlin to Madrid (though with several stopovers). The establishment of Syndicato Condor in Brazil served the airline’s interests in South America where there were important German minorities at that time.
The first East-West crossing of the Atlantic Ocean (from Baldonnel Aerodrome in Ireland to Greenly Island, Canada) was made by the Luft Hansa pilots Hermann Köhl and Ehrenfried Günther Freiherr von Hünefeld and the Irish pilot James Fitzmaurice using the Junkers W 33 aircraft Bremen in April 1928. The airline launched scheduled multi-leg flights to Tokyo. A Heinkel HE 12 aircraft was launched (by catapult) off the NDL liner Bremen during her maiden voyage crossing the Atlantic in 1929, shortening the mail delivery time between Europe and North America.
Even though the early years of the decade saw a difficult financial situation due to the Great Depression, Deutsche Luft Hansa further expanded its international route network in South America, and launched scheduled flights from Germany to the Middle East. Politically, the company leaders were linked to the rising Nazi Party; an aircraft was made available to Adolf Hitler for his campaign for the 1932 presidential election free of any charge. Erhard Milch, who had served as head of the airline since 1926, became a high-ranking official at the Aviation Ministry when Hitler came to power in 1933.
A key interest of Deutsche Luft Hansa at that time was the reduction of mail delivery times. In 1930, the Eurasia Corporation was established as a joint-venture with the Chinese transport ministry, granting Luft Hansa a monopoly position for mail transport between Germany and China, as well as access to the Chinese market. To this end, the Shanghai–Nanjing–Beijing route was launched in the following year using Junkers W 34 specially deployed there.
A record was set in 1930 when the mail route from Vienna to Istanbul (with stopovers in Budapest, Belgrad and Sofia) was completed in only 24 hours. By comparison, the first transatlantic passenger flight by the airline (from Warnemünde to New York City using a Dornier Wal flying boat) took roughly one week.
After several years of testing, the first scheduled postal route between Europe and South America was inaugurated in 1934. For this purpose, catapult-launched Wal flying boats were used. These were replaced by the Dornier Do 18 in 1936 making operations in non-visual conditions possible. The European network saw the introduction of the Junkers G.38 (at that time the largest passenger aircraft in the world) on the Berlin-London route via Amsterdam, as well as the Junkers Ju 52/3m and Heinkel He 70, which allowed for faster air travel. This was promoted by so-called “Blitz Services” (German: Blitzstrecken) between Berlin, Hamburg, Cologne and Frankfurt. In 1935, the first aircraft not manufactured in Germany were introduced into the Luft Hansa fleet: two Boeing 247s and one Douglas DC-2.
The grip on the domestic South American markets was further tightened in 1937, when the Sociedad Ecuatoriana de Transportes Aéreos (SEDTA) and Lufthansa Perú were founded as Luft Hansa co-operations in Ecuador and Peru respectively, operating Junkers W 34 aircraft. The Middle Eastern network was expanded with the launch of the Berlin-Baghdad–Tehran route in the same year. In 1938 the Focke-Wulf Fw 200 long range aircraft was introduced making it possible to fly non-stop between Berlin and New York and from Berlin to Tokyo with only one intermediate stopover. This last year prior to the outbreak of World War II turned out to be the most successful one in the history of the airline, with 19.3 million flight kilometres on the scheduled European routes and a total of 254,713 passengers and 5,288 tons of mail transported.
On 1 April 1939, Deutsche Luft Hansa launched scheduled transatlantic flights between Port Natal, South Africa and Santiago de Chile using Fw 200 aircraft, a route which had previously been operated by Syndicato Condor. With Bangkok, Hanoi and Taipeh, further Asian destinations were added to the route network.
During the 1930s, Luft Hansa aircraft had also been deployed on a number of experimental and survey missions, most notably for developing the best airborne crossing of the South Atlantic, and during the Third German Antarctica Expedition in 1938-39, when two Dornier Wal aircraft performed a photographic survey of 350,000 square kilometres, an area which became known as New Swabia.
During World War 2
With the outbreak of the war on 1 September 1939 all civilian flight operations of Luft Hansa came to an end, and the aircraft fleet came under command of the Luftwaffe, along with most staff as well as maintenance and production facilities. There were still scheduled passenger flights within Germany and to occupied or neutral countries, but bookings were restricted and served the demands of warfare. During the later years of the war, most passenger aircraft were converted to military freighters.
The Luft Hansa co-operations in foreign countries were gradually dismantled: Deruluft ceased to exist in March 1940, and by November of that year, the Eurasia Corporation had to be shut down following an intervention by the Chinese government. Syndicato Condor was nationalised and renamed Cruzeiro do Sul in 1943, in an attempt to erase its German roots.
The last scheduled flight of Deutsche Luft Hansa – from Berlin to Munich took place on 21 April 1945, but the aircraft crashed shortly before the planned arrival. Another (non-scheduled) flight was performed the next day, from Berlin to Warnemünde, which marked the end of flight operations. Following the surrender of Germany and the ensuing Allied occupation of Germany, all aircraft in the country were seized and Deutsche Luft Hansa was dissolved.
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