From MUFOB New Series 9, Winter 1977-8.
Throughout the years 1896 and 1897 unknown airships were seen over North America by thousands of people, although their origin has never been satisfactorily explained. These airships have now become part of the UFO myth, and are considered to be the starting point of the phenomenon in the USA. However, sightings have been made in other places, notably England (1) and New Zealand in 1909.
UFO sightings are a global phenomenon, and generally speaking, the reported activities of the UFOs are similar throughout the world. I was interested to find out if this also applied to the airship sightings, and it was with faint expectations that I began researching in 1975 to see if there was a Danish equivalent of the North American wave. Whilst going through old Danish newspapers I arrived at the time of the Tunguska episode in 1908, when a supposed meteorite exploded over the Siberian tundra. Here I found my first trace. In the newspaper Thisted Amstidende for July 7th 1908 there appears under the heading “Mysterious Phenomena” a short account of some reports of a dirigible operating over the Vendsyssel at night (See box below). The report also stated that a burning, balloon shaped object had been seen over the island of Funen. I followed the story up by searching through other newspapers that covered the Vendayssel area in 1908.
The first mention of the phenomenon appears in the Vendsyssel Tidende and the Aalborg Amtsidende for June 30th. Mr Bye-Jorgensen, an accountant, was watching the evening sky from his villa in Hasseris. At 22.50 hrs an object like a large bird caught his eye. He brought his binoculars, and saw through them that it was a large, long object like an airship. He estimated it to be about 30 kilometers away, at an elevation of 30 degrees. At one point, when it was possible to see the object straight on, something could be seen protruding from it, which was taken to be some sort of motor or steering equipment. During the half-hour that the object was visible it passed behind a cloud for a moment, before disappearing in a north-westerly direction. Bye-Jorgensen afterwards insisted that tie object had moved against the wind. His maid was also a witness to the observation.
Both newspapers wanted the matter to be investigated further. Other people in various towns in the Vendsyssel were asked if they had seen anything. As a result, a man from Hjorring reported a bright light in the southern sky at 21.30 hrs on 29th June. The light was very intense, and at first he had thought it to be fireworks, but said it was too high in the sky for that, and had stood still for a while before disappearing. “It could have been the lanterns on an airship,” wrote one of the newspapers.
There were others who had seen something that night. Mr Wibroe, a factory owner from Nibe told the following story to the Aalborg paper on July 2nd:
“At 22.25 hrs I was sitting looking out of my window. Over O]and, between Hojskoven and Osterby, I saw a large object about the size of an eagle. Through my binoculars I could see two wings, but in about ten minutes it disappeared from view over Jammer Bay. Three other members of my family also saw the airship.”
At 23.00 hrs the airship was seen by a farmer’s son from Norhalne. He saw it flying northwards, and said there was a kind of ‘aura’ around it. Something was seen by two labourers in Robling, about 7km. south of Aalborg. One of them described it as like a “large stork soaring in the air.” They both agreed it could have been an airship. They had it in view for about twenty minutes. It was also seen further north-west. The nearest witness was probably Jakob Kirkeskov. He saw it between 22.00 and 23.00 hrs. It was only about 130 meters away from him, in a northwesterly direction. He claimed to have seen an antennae at the front of the object, as well as wings on the side.
On the 3rd July, the Vendsyssel Tidende reported that they had received a letter from a W. Wolff from Kraghede School at Tylstrup. Along with his wife and another couple they had seen an odd, dark shape in the evening sky. They had seen it in the direction of Rubjerg Lighthouse, and had first thought it to be an odd shaped cloud, but then thought it resembled an odd shaped bird. It disappeared from view after a quarter of an hour.On the 4th July, the same paper published a letter, datelined Gammel Skagen, 3rd July 1908.
“To the Editor… You might be interested to know that the airship, mentioned in Tuesday’s edition of your honoured paper, was also seen at Skagen by Dr. Mestergaade and the chemist in Skagen, as well as by Peter Christian Peterson from Gammel Skagen… At about midnight on the night of Saturday/Sunday, the doctor pointed out a dark object to my informant Petersen. It seemed to change shape regularly, and gave out two beams of light, one down to the water and the other upwards (2).
About half an hour earlier the chemist had seen the same object out over the sea to the north. Two other men saw it after midnight, disappearing in a northerly direction.
The witnesses were not aware that it could have been the airship. It was only when they read of other observations in your newspaper that they realised the object must have been the airship. The change in shape could have been due to the object’s motion. The beams of light had the same characteristics as a light projector.”
The newspaper phoned Dr. Mestergaard in Skagen. He confirmed the observation, adding that he had seen a very strong silvery light showing for about a quarter of an hour. The newspaper then regarded it as proven that there had been several successful flights of a dirigible airship of an advanced type which was able to fly against the wind.
Naturally there was great speculation as to where the unknown craft had originated. Count von Zeppelin’s craft was quickly excluded, because, as a newspaper wrote: “It could not have come this far up without warning over the electric telegraph”. In July 1908 von Zeppelin was with the airship LZ4. Its flight is exactly charted, from Friedrichshafer, via Schaffhausen, to Lucerne, Zurich and back to Badensee, a trip of about 300 kilometers. Von Zeppelin had another airship, the LZ3, It was built in October 1906, and undertook several succeasful flights. It was later handed over to the German Army, and was first laid up in 1913. I have been unable to establish an alibi for it for 29th June 1908, so until further notice this possibility remains.
But there were others, besides von Zeppelin who laid built airships in Germany. The airship Gross-Basenach I, in which the German major Gross made an ascent had crashed in the treetops of the Grunevald Forest. August von Parseval had built his first airship in 1906, and by 1908 both his airships PL2 and PL3 must have been airworthy. One of the greatest flights mentioned in connection with the PL2 was on 15th September 1908, when the airship travelled 290 km. in 11 hours from Berlin.
Two French airships were also operating in 1908, the Republique and the Ville de Paris. The former made its maiden flight on the 24th June from Moisson. The Ville de Paris made its longest trip on the 15th January 1908; 238 kms. from Verdun to Sartrouville-Valmy. It was then in the workshops being rebuilt, not emerging until October 1908 as the Ville de Paris II.
The theory that it was an English airship was popularly accepted at the time. The British fleet had planned a large exercise in the North Sea, and Esbjerg and Skagen had received naval visits. I have tried to examine this possibility in detail. I wrote to the Air Force Library and asked for information about the Vendsyssel airships. I wanted to know if it was possibly the English dirigible Nulli Secundus II. They were unable to give me any information concerning Vendsyssel, but sent material which proved it could not have been the Nulli Secundus. The trial flight of this craft took place in July 1908, and lasted only 18 minutes. In the middle of August it went out of commission. There was only one other English airship aloft in the crucial period, the Beta. It was a very slow craft, and one of its more notable flights was from Farnborough to London and back in 1910, a distance of only 40 miles. I have been able to furnish more information to the (Danish) Air Force Library, who are also trying to find a solution to the problem.The results of our combined efforts can be summarised as follows:
Many independent witnesses saw something, which they described as an airship, in the sky over the Vendayasel area of Northern Denmark in June 1908.
There were no officially notified flights in that period.
It is established that there was no possibility of it being a British airship, as was generally supposed at the time.
An examination of the flight characteristics and known movements of other airships of that period make it very unlikely that a French or German vessel could have flown in secret to this part of Denmark.
This mysterious craft must for now be classified as an Unidentified Flying Object, although the possibility of it being an airship of German origin is being explored further by military sources in West Germany.
1. CLARK, Jerome and Loren COLEMAN, The Unidentified. Warner Paperback Library, 1975; GROVE, Carl, The airship wave of 1909. FSR, volume 16, number 6, November December 1970.
2. Searchlight-like beams of light feature in many of the 1897 and 1909 reports. They are not a feature of regular airship construct-ion of the period.
FURTHER NOTERS (JR):
John Keel, in an article in Flying Saucer Review (Vol. 16, number 3, May 1970) reports two other Scandinavian sightings of 1909. The first was on August 24th, when an unidentified airship circled twice over the Estonian capital of Tallinn, disappearing in the direction of Finland. According to the Swedish newspaper Dagens-Nyheter it so alarmed the local people that they demanded the formation of a ‘defensive air-fleet’.On the 24th September a ‘winged object’ was reported over the Castle Forest near Gothenburg in Sweden, at an altitude of about 100 meters. With the 1908-9 airships, the ‘Ghost Flyers’ of the 30′s and the mystery ‘rockets’ of 1946 Scandinavia is emerging as a major source of historical UFO reports. These reports are particularly interesting as they show almost to perfection the way in which the phenomenon mirrors the technology of the time.
THISTED AMSTITENDER – JULY 7th, 1908.
From different areas of Vendsyssel have come reports in the past few days of a dirigible airship equipped with electric light projectors, which moved along the coast by Jammer Bay, and came inland several times.
The airship is only seen by night, but is nevertheless seen by many people, who give more or less fantastic descriptions of the sight. It is generally thought to be some sort of balloon experiment by the British Navy in Valbaek Bay.
This information is fully supported by Politiken’s reporter in Fyn, who telegraphed the following story:”Friday evening at half past ten a large vague, burning object shaped like a balloon was seen low over the southerly horizon from Odense. After some time the balloon divided into several parts, and it looked as if large areas of burning matter flew to all sides. Several observers immediately cycled in the direction of the sight, but it had disappeared. Hundreds of people saw the phenomenon, and are all agreed it must have been a burning balloon. Out in the country, no one has seen the phenomenon close to.”
KEY TO MAP:
1, Aalborg; 2, Thisted; 3, Esbjerg; 4, Nibe; 5, Skagen and Gammel Skagen; 6, Odense; 7, Jammer Bay.
Vendsyssel is the northenmost island of Denmark where Thisted and the Skagens are situated
This article was translated from the Danish by Annette Barfod.