The July 1931 Flight of the Graf Zeppelin

by Philip Robinson

A 1981 USSR stamp featuring the "Malygin". 

Last July the 70th anniversary occurred of this memorable flight by the famous airship to the Arctic.  Zeppelin mail is, of course, keenly collected, and this particular flight is of particular interest to Russia collectors as the airship met the Russian icebreaker "Malygin", and mail was exchanged in both directions.  Both Russia and Germany issued special stamps, the Russian set being Scott C26-C29 (imperforate) and C30-C33 (perforated).  The German issue (Scott C40-C42) consisted of an overprint on the existing airmail stamps featuring the "Graf Zeppelin".

The first registered postcard illustrated here has the Russian 30 k and 1 R stamps and two strikes of the BRISE-GLACE MALIGUINE (French for "Icebreaker Malygin") cancellation dated 18 July 1931, also the ship's registration cachet.  Addressed to Friedrichshafen, Germany, where the "Graf Zeppelin" was based, it has the red LUFTSCHIFF GRAF ZEPPELIN / POLARFAHRT 1931 cachet and a three-line mark in German which translates as "Via the icebreaker 'Malygin' / and the airship 'Graf Zeppelin' / Arkhangelsk - North Pole - Friedrichshafen".  Finally there is a Friedrichshafen receiving mark of 31 July. 

The second card illustrated traveled in the opposite direction.  Mailed from Leningrad and addressed to Sweden, the stamps are canceled with the PAR AVION ZEPPELIN cancel of 25 July, with the Malygin's mark being applied two days later.  

In the 1930s, airships were seen as the mode of transport of the future.   Sadly, it was not to be - spectacular disasters such as that of the "R101" in France and the "Hindenburg" in the U.S.A. demonstrated the potential problems, though in recent years, with modern technology, there has been a resurgence of interest in this lighter-than-air transport system.

April 6, 2002.  Thanks to a German friend, Dr Ernst Schmidt, I have a possible postscript to this article on the flight of the Graf Zeppelin.  A sub-group of the Essen Philatelic Society prepared some covers for their "37th international exchange day" (when stamps are exchanged) last November.  I am attaching a copy of the cover Dr. Schmidt sent me; it has a commemorative stamp canceled by a special postmark depicting the airship hovering over the icebreaker, against a polar backdrop and with an inscription relating to the 70th anniversary of the link-up.

Much of the German text on the postmark and the cover defies easy translation - for example I wrote "a sub-group of the Essen Philatelic Society" above but it is literally "Working group "Ruhr" of the Stamp Friends Essen".  However, at the upper left of the cover the iscription translates directly as:

   70 years ago / POLAR FLIGHT / of the Zeppelin airship / LZ 127 GRAF ZEPPELIN

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