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Zeppelins raid America, 1918

Orionblamblam

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Anyway to address the topic, as forum poster drejr mentioned, the Kaiser quite literally bombed New York City with dynamite and caused about half a billion dollars of property damage (in today's money) and dozens of injuries to dockyard workers.

A few points:
1: It wasn't certain at the time that the Germans were responsible. Blame was also laid at the feet of Commies and the Irish.
2: It was a militarily valid target (arms headed to Russia) and *relatively* few died.
3: Even so, it ramped up interest in war with Germany.

Compare with a Zeppelin raid, which necessarily would have been a broad area attack likely to kill and injure many civilians. It would be blisteringly obvious that the German government was responsible.
 

Kat Tsun

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I'm pretty sure by 1918 everyone except actual loonies knew it was the Germans, and they were the only group of people seeing significant scrutiny at the time regardless.

A zeppelin raid in 1918 would not materially influence US decisions during the war, and in the grand scheme even after. Maybe some more AAA batteries and airplane squadrons would be placed in New York City in the '20's instead of the Navy's airship program. Maybe the Navy might never have a airship program besides blimps (goodness knows it would be a net positive). But nothing substantial.

So Zeppelin becomes known mostly as a novelty cookware manufacturer and you see websites in the 2000's "dedicated to the Interwar Zeppelin manufacturing of sporks and aluminum saucepans" or something? Maybe they make aluminum fuel tanks for Bf-109s and -110s or something after they shutter their airship hangars in 1924 instead of 1937. Seems more plausible than a tiny backwater country being able to invade a major industrial European state by itself motivated entirely by hindsight.
 

Dilandu

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Uh huh. The populations of France and Britain are told that they can stop fighting now, that they will get paid a lot of money, and that the Germans will get bitch-slapped by the Americans. And for this the French and Brits will rebel?

Sigh. Firstly, the idea of paying France and Britain would NOT get any support among the Americn elites. Since French and British elites are smart, they would essentially demand the complete forgiveness of all their debts to US - which would severly cripple the US financial system.

Secondly, the average Johns and Jeans in trenches would not see any of that money. They would all go to powers to be at the top. For them, the situation is "you should suffer a bit more, because Americans are playing big boys". Should I remind you, that when French government tried to hold he fleet in Black Sea against Bolsheviks, it caused a full-scale revolt? Peoples get tired of war; they want to go home. They are running on last fumes of patriotism, and money do not replace it.

Thirdly, as I mentioned above: US army could NOT took the whole Western front. At least not until deep in 1919. So essentially, either US army would be forced to advance with its flank bare, and any counterstrike leading to immediate disaster, or US army would be forced to rely on Entente troops to support them on flanks. Which they did not want to do.

So essentially to wage this ridiculous war, the US would be forced not only to completely forgive all debts of UK and France (which, combined with already lost Russian debt would means collapse of US financial system), but also pay a ridiculous sum of money to French and British soldiers directly, to prevent them from revolting. Summing up with the expenses of war, the US would be ruined.
 

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zeppelin raid in 1918 would not materially influence US decisions during the war, and in the grand scheme even after. Maybe some more AAA batteries and airplane squadrons would be placed in New York City in the '20's instead of the Navy's airship program. Maybe the Navy might never have a airship program besides blimps (goodness knows it would be a net positive). But nothing substantial.
Actually here I suspect the opposite; with the proven capabilities of airships as transcontinental raiders, US Navy (and Army air force) would demand their own long-range airships capable of reaching Britain and Japan from American mainland.
 

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I'm not convinced they would. It would only prove that long range bombing was possible (which was well known anyway, ), but any damage inflicted by an airship would be insignificant in nature and certainly less dangerous than the Liberty Island blast.

US Navy interest in zeppelins was primarily as scouts and long-duration patrol aircraft (essentially bigger blimps) for the Battle Force and nothing else, and it required significant industrial effort from Zeppelin working with Goodyear to make anything to begin with. ZR-1, ZRS-4, and ZRS-5 all crashed and their role as fleet scouts were eaten by flattops. The British, suffering the brunt of zeppelin bombing, didn't much think of them either, as airplane technology advanced too quickly I guess. The airship scheme sort of fell on its face. It would likely be very much akin to the Japanese balloon bombing campaign of WW2. An interesting historical footnote and not much else.

OTOH there might not be a ZR-3, so it just accelerates the inevitable demise of the airship instead of leaving it on life support for a decade?

I suppose that's better than wasting time with them though.
 

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I'm not convinced they would. It would only prove that long range bombing was possible (which was well known anyway, ), but any damage inflicted by an airship would be insignificant in nature and certainly less dangerous than the Liberty Island blast.

Well, US were impressed enough to build Shenandoah, which was designed as a long-range high-altitude bomber, not scout.
 

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The US would have to push a hell of a lot harder considering the month or two between any possible Zeppelin raid and the complete and utter collapse of Imperial Germany and its military.

That would actually seem to bolster my case. American rage would kick in just as the Germans are collapsing. Let Ferdinand propose his Foching weak-sauce terms... Pershing's going to *Berlin.*

Eagle tears aren't going to get Pershing over the Rhine if the Germans blow the bridges.

It would have been insanely stupid not to agree to the armistice because it gave the Allies control of the Rhine and the option to resume hostilities (and Foch very nearly did in June 1919). With the loss of the Rhine and their heavy equipment Germany lost any capability of continuing the war. Since it didn't actually end the war, France could and did seek extremely harsh conditions in the Treaty of Versailles.

The Armistice was effectively an unconditional surrender, that it wasn't actually one is because the Allies had different agendas at Versailles. There's no reason they couldn't have carved Germany up like after WW2, but nobody except Clemenceau wanted that and it's doubtful a zeppelin raid would change anything. American public opinion and the press were overwhelmingly in support of an unconditional surrender on November 10, on November 11 nobody cared.

America purging Germany of communism would be pretty awesome, though. "Those guys aren't supporting the army we're fighting hard enough! Get 'em!"
 
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Kat Tsun

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I'm not convinced they would. It would only prove that long range bombing was possible (which was well known anyway, ), but any damage inflicted by an airship would be insignificant in nature and certainly less dangerous than the Liberty Island blast.

Well, US were impressed enough to build Shenandoah, which was designed as a long-range high-altitude bomber, not scout.

They copied a German airship bomber. It is somewhat inevitable it would resemble an airship bomber. ZR-1 wasn't designed for anything in particular except to give the US industry experience in large rigid hulls fabrication. By the time Akron and Macon appear, the USN is interested in airships as scout carriers, hence the Sparrowhawks and trapeze system. Then the head honcho of the airship program dies on Akron, and with him so do the airships.

Any interest beyond the novelty of a new technology was focused on putting airships to work looking for surface ships. Then they found out Dauntlesses worked just as well.
 

Michel Van

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About the Scenario

Yes the Germans could have manage to Bomb the USA with their zeppelins

But outcome would be drastic for German Empire !
With a Pearl Harbor event in 1918
The USA goes in full War mode just like 1941

Then German Army is on run, hunted by colonel Patton with orders only to stop once he reach Berlin.
At Treaty of Versailles were French brutal to Germans
Imagine that include a furious of US of A !

They would cutup Germany
Even demand that Former Emperor Wilhelm II and general Ludendorf and Hindenburg
are extradite to USA for a Military Trail and execution

But long term effects are more drastic
The German raid show that intercontinental Bombing is feasible
After WW1 the USA, Britain and France will R&D on that
First with their Zeppelins later with long-range Bomber in 1930s

Imperial Japan will think twice to bomb Pearl Harbor, knowing there reaction of 1918 and there current fleet of long-range Bombers.
And if the little annoying Austrian manage to get to power in reunited Germany,
It will be under shadow of US fleet of long-range Bombers circling over his head...
 

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Considering the average Zeppelin carried 1/50th the bomb load of the first barge blast at Liberty Island...

Hard to imagine a relatively petite bomber putting a tiny crater in a random New York City street (assuming it isn't bombing Maine or Vermont or Delaware instead!) would cause the USA to suddenly turn into the British Empire if a 50 tons explosion right next to the Statue of Liberty couldn't do the same. :eek:
 

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Considering the average Zeppelin carried 1/50th the bomb load of the first barge blast at Liberty Island...

On the other hands, zeppelin could cause much more precise damage - without air defenses and without blackout, zeppelin could just hover over the city, dropping bombs on specific streets and buildings. While, of course, the bomb load would hardly be over 1,5-2 tons, rain of 100-kg HE bombs and incendiaries would clearly cause quite a lot of damage.
 

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Considering the average Zeppelin carried 1/50th the bomb load of the first barge blast at Liberty Island...

On the other hands, zeppelin could cause much more precise damage - without air defenses and without blackout, zeppelin could just hover over the city, dropping bombs on specific streets and buildings. While, of course, the bomb load would hardly be over 1,5-2 tons, rain of 100-kg HE bombs and incendiaries would clearly cause quite a lot of damage.

Bombers of the era, and later eras, had trouble reaching the right cities. I don't think precise is the right word when you find yourself lucky to hit the country you aim at from inside the same continent. The tiny HE bombs are not substantially damaging in any material sense. It would be comparable to the Japanese balloon bombs, really.

Maybe a zeppelin crashes in the sea and everyone drowns, then the Germans stop.

There's not much reason to believe it would do much of anything to alter the course, or aftermath, of the war at all. I'm not really sure it would even make the US uninterested in zeppelins as a scouting platform, since that was mostly Admiral Moffett's personal pet. OTOH if Goodyear never makes a deal with Zeppelin then the airships die in the '20's rather than the '30's.
 
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Dilandu

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Bombers of the era, and later eras, had trouble reaching the right cities. I don't think precise is the right word when you find yourself lucky to hit the country you aim at from inside the same continent.

With blackout - yes. But there weren't any blackout in America...

I don't think precise is the right word when you find yourself lucky to hit the country you aim at from inside the same continent.

Er, airships have one important advantage over planes. They could hover over target, minimizing relative motion, and dropping bombs from basically stationary position. That's why bombardment from airships often managed to hit specific objects, like industrial plants, railway stations, ect.

Maybe a zeppelin crashes in the sea and everyone drowns, then the Germans stop.

It never deterred them from attacks on Britain...

I'm not really sure it would even make the US uninterested in zeppelins as a scouting platform, since that was mostly Admiral Moffett's personal pet. OTOH if Goodyear never makes a deal with Zeppelin then the airships die in the '20's rather than the '30's.

Most likely, USN and USA would get interested in airships as trans-ocean platforms, capable of reaching potential opponents like Britain and Japan. From 1920s point of view, it is quite reasonable assumption. Frankly, I'm puzzled why you insist that successful demonstration of airships capabilities would cause LESS interest in them.
 

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* Problematic navigation in air over Atlantic, outside the range of Telefunken radio-navigation network (no practical solution, the only possible way would be to reach America using standard navigation methods and then try to find the specific target - or hit the target of opportunity).
You could use U-Boats surfacing at predetermined times and locations as temporary navigational waypoints, broadcasting radio beacons and possibly even coded local weather reports. Very careful placement & timing would be required though, both for accuracy and to avoid enemy naval units. Allied RDF along with signals intelligence would have been a concern in such a scenario.
 

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You could use U-Boats surfacing at predetermined times and locations as temporary navigational waypoints, broadcasting radio beacons and possibly even coded local weather reports. Very careful placement & timing would be required though, both for accuracy and to avoid enemy naval units. Allied RDF along with signals intelligence would have been a concern in such a scenario.
Quite interesting idea! Thank you!
 

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Bombers of the era, and later eras, had trouble reaching the right cities. I don't think precise is the right word when you find yourself lucky to hit the country you aim at from inside the same continent.

With blackout - yes. But there weren't any blackout in America...

I don't think precise is the right word when you find yourself lucky to hit the country you aim at from inside the same continent.

Er, airships have one important advantage over planes. They could hover over target, minimizing relative motion, and dropping bombs from basically stationary position. That's why bombardment from airships often managed to hit specific objects, like industrial plants, railway stations, ect.

Maybe a zeppelin crashes in the sea and everyone drowns, then the Germans stop.

It never deterred them from attacks on Britain...

I'm not really sure it would even make the US uninterested in zeppelins as a scouting platform, since that was mostly Admiral Moffett's personal pet. OTOH if Goodyear never makes a deal with Zeppelin then the airships die in the '20's rather than the '30's.

Most likely, USN and USA would get interested in airships as trans-ocean platforms, capable of reaching potential opponents like Britain and Japan. From 1920s point of view, it is quite reasonable assumption. Frankly, I'm puzzled why you insist that successful demonstration of airships capabilities would cause LESS interest in them.

I'm pretty sure the reason for missing targets is because navigating over 6-8 hours of flight at night accurately is tiring and difficult, not because the cities aren't visible. From 10,000 feet up I'm pretty sure anything looks like New York City if you've never seen it before. Considering airship commanders were often blown off target, even with blackout orders they were still able to hit towns. Just the wrong towns. Because from high up, towns look like "towns", not "Gravesend" or "Leytonstone". Getting within an exact city was common enough, but it wasn't uncommon to hit random towns along the way because navigators were assuming the wind was a couple knots faster in a particular direction or whatever.

You see a "big town" in the bombsight? Must be London.

This only becomes multiplied over trans-oceanic distances so a Zeppelin raid on "New York City" turns into "the Northeast Seaboard" or even something silly like "inland Maine" or "Labrador".

The only real big reason airships limped along in the '30's is because Zeppelin was spared from shuttering its airship hangars when it formed a joint venture with Goodyear Rubber Company. From there comes the loosening of treaty restrictions on certain airship types, and the Hitlerite fascination with them didn't exactly slow it down. But if the joint venture never happens...where do zeppelins go? Probably in the dustbin of history.

I disagree with drejr's assertion that random zeppelin bombings in Maine or whatever would cause parties within the US to not want Goodyear to form a JV with Zeppelin, if only because a single zeppelin raid or something would probably not bring about much notice, but it's plausible.

The only other alternative is that airships continue the exact same course they did IRL, because airships were known for only two things in practice:

1) Being worse than airplanes in every conceivable metric.
2) Crashing with large amounts of fatalities.

The first one doesn't really start to show up until the late '20's when airplanes really ramp up in performance. The second is just a matter of flight hours.

Personally I think that it wouldn't change much of a lick of how airships went, but the idea that airships die in 1924 and become mostly known as a failed competitor to airplanes from the 1910's, instead of a failed competitor to airplanes in the entire interwar, would probably save a good amount of money, aluminum, and lives wasted on the things, so I suppose drejr is a bit more optimistic than I am.
 

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I'm pretty sure the reason for missing targets is because navigating over 6-8 hours of flight at night accurately is tiring and difficult, not because the cities aren't visible. From 10,000 feet up I'm pretty sure anything looks like New York City if you've never seen it before. Considering airship commanders were often blown off target, even with blackout orders they were still able to hit towns. Just the wrong towns. Because from high up, towns look like "towns", not "Gravesend" or "Leytonstone". Getting within an exact city was common enough, but it wasn't uncommon to hit random towns along the way because navigators were assuming the wind was a couple knots faster in a particular direction or whatever.

As far as I knew from the sources available, it was exactly the blackout. L-13 raid on London in 1915 was so successful exactly because airship managed to sneak undetected, and no blackout was in place, when they hovered over city. They were able to accurately pinpoint targets such as Bank of England (which survived only by luck, they prepared 300-kg HE bomb for it), and attack them with precision.

This only becomes multiplied over trans-oceanic distances so a Zeppelin raid on "New York City" turns into "the Northeast Seaboard" or even something silly like "inland Maine" or "Labrador".

I'm not sure. If the coastal city is not blackened, it is usually possible to determine the shape of coastline and thus the city itself.
The only real big reason airships limped along in the '30's is because Zeppelin was spared from shuttering its airship hangars when it formed a joint venture with Goodyear Rubber Company. From there comes the loosening of treaty restrictions on certain airship types, and the Hitlerite fascination with them didn't exactly slow it down. But if the joint venture never happens...where do zeppelins go? Probably in the dustbin of history.

British rigid airship program have nothing to do with zeppelins.

1) Being worse than airplanes in every conceivable metric.
2) Crashing with large amounts of fatalities.

Up until mid-1910s, airships were superior to airplanes in everything expect speed, and even there the difference was not exactly orders of magnitude. During World War I, rapid increase in aircraft performance led to airships superiority in payload decreased, but they still have superior height and vertical climbing. And airships range was not actually beaten by planes up until B-36 era.
 

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Somewhat counter-intuitively, flying very slowly helped aiming... as long as you were vertical of the target of course (not 50 miles away because of wind).

And thus airships had an edge over heavier than air bombers, because just like attack helicopters today they could stop in midair, hover, drop the bombs, and then run away.
In 1915 of course. By 1917 losses were mounting...

The Breguet XIVs attacking the german 1918 offensives from the air and in massive waves got surprisingly good results (la division aérienne).
 
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Michel Van

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Should I remind you, that war was declared in 1917? Almost a year into the war is kinda late to claim that "enemy caught us unprepared"...
Yes, the USA was on War with German Empire since April 1917
But the US force were deployed slowly, until august of 1918, here they show a positive effect on War against Germans.
With German Attack on USA cities, would speed things up fast, in more Man power and equipment like Tanks
(The USA was already mass producing RF-17 Tanks for French.)

And USA would not stop until there invaded German empire and occupied Berlin to find the responsible for attack on US.
Next to that would Capitol Hill scream for Revenge, what will have impact with more harsher Treaty of Versailles for Germany.
 

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I'm pretty sure the reason for missing targets is because navigating over 6-8 hours of flight at night accurately is tiring and difficult, not because the cities aren't visible. From 10,000 feet up I'm pretty sure anything looks like New York City if you've never seen it before. Considering airship commanders were often blown off target, even with blackout orders they were still able to hit towns. Just the wrong towns. Because from high up, towns look like "towns", not "Gravesend" or "Leytonstone". Getting within an exact city was common enough, but it wasn't uncommon to hit random towns along the way because navigators were assuming the wind was a couple knots faster in a particular direction or whatever.

As far as I knew from the sources available, it was exactly the blackout. L-13 raid on London in 1915 was so successful exactly because airship managed to sneak undetected, and no blackout was in place, when they hovered over city. They were able to accurately pinpoint targets such as Bank of England (which survived only by luck, they prepared 300-kg HE bomb for it), and attack them with precision.

This only becomes multiplied over trans-oceanic distances so a Zeppelin raid on "New York City" turns into "the Northeast Seaboard" or even something silly like "inland Maine" or "Labrador".

I'm not sure. If the coastal city is not blackened, it is usually possible to determine the shape of coastline and thus the city itself.
The only real big reason airships limped along in the '30's is because Zeppelin was spared from shuttering its airship hangars when it formed a joint venture with Goodyear Rubber Company. From there comes the loosening of treaty restrictions on certain airship types, and the Hitlerite fascination with them didn't exactly slow it down. But if the joint venture never happens...where do zeppelins go? Probably in the dustbin of history.

British rigid airship program have nothing to do with zeppelins.

1) Being worse than airplanes in every conceivable metric.
2) Crashing with large amounts of fatalities.

Up until mid-1910s, airships were superior to airplanes in everything expect speed, and even there the difference was not exactly orders of magnitude. During World War I, rapid increase in aircraft performance led to airships superiority in payload decreased, but they still have superior height and vertical climbing. And airships range was not actually beaten by planes up until B-36 era.

The Imperial Airship Scheme ended five years before the Hindenburg flew. That will still happen, because airships tend to disintegrate mid-flight after so many flight hours.

Fair point about the blackouts. I suppose they might try to bomb the Statue of Liberty or something then. Maybe they succeed? Maybe they don't? America can build another one with German reparation money either way, and they already tried that so it won't be a surprise to anyone, either. I'm not sure how everything else changes the outcome that airships vanish over the medium term (10-20 years after the war ends). They're just kinda bad.

Flying over the ocean won't lead to America having a stable of intercontinental airship bombers (nor anyone else). It might lead to the Coastal Artillery getting a dozen high caliber AAA guns mounted on Liberty Island I guess.
 

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I suppose they might try to bomb the Statue of Liberty or something then. Maybe they succeed? Maybe they don't?

Well, a good idea would be to go and demolish Wall Street) While it would be tricky to find, it is far from impossible. And destruction of many major financial companies offices would clearly cause utter havoc on stock exchange, causing multi-million dollar damage)

Flying over the ocean won't lead to America having a stable of intercontinental airship bombers

If we consider them only as bombers - yes.
 

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A single Zeppelin isn't going to level New York City lol.

As a matter of property damage, the Great Chicago Fire did more "damage" to the stock exchanges (whatever that means, as diverting a few months' revenue to rebuild offices isn't very hard, and New York City in 1917 isn't an industrial wasteland) than a couple dozen 100 kg HE bombs would. It might even help New York in the long run, although I'd imagine the Triangle Factory fire did more to improve fire codes than anything a single airship would do.

Maybe an atomic bomb would do some noticeable damage but even then it would be fixed pretty rapidly. Just look at Japan and Germany who had even worse damage.

Rigid airships are just kind of inherently bad. Flying one across the ocean is going to do no more to help them survive than the Hindenburg did when it flew across the Atlantic. It might even prove the point that they're dangerous if such an ship crashed on its way home and serves to further their demise. The niche where airships in general (blimps, Zeppelins, etc.) are economical are so limited that people have been struggling to find something to use them as that isn't more easily and cheaply done by small aircraft, tractor-trailers, and helicopters for over 100 years. I'm not sure what an airship would be useful for in practice, besides maybe transportation of some outsize goods in austere environments, like the Yukon or something, but they're honestly so vulnerable to weather conditions and have literally zero advantages over something like an H-54 that it just isn't worth the trouble. They can transport things somewhat faster (2-3x) than an ice road truck or resupply vessel, but they are slower than a helicopter or airplane, and they might be able to carry the entire town's worth of fresh veggies in one go (considering fresh produce expires after a week or so, that's a constant delivery schedule that would still benefit the airship, if only a little bit).

So they are good for transporting https://umanitoba.ca/faculties/management/ti/media/docs/AA04_airship_large1.pdffairly low density, but high bulk items (fresh produce, for instance), moderate distances (~1000 km). Given that airliners have, and continue, to serve as mass movement platforms for people (the idea of airline tickets as expensive is somewhat antiquated) while ships are mass goods movers, I don't see a place for airships delivering peaches and mangoes to Nome. They would need to be more substantial, as I doubt the desire for fresh versus canned peaches is so great that people are going to fund a whole new method of transportation infrastructure simply because they cannot wait six months for the ocean to unfreeze. Climate change will make this less of a concern anyway as the northern latitudes open up in terms of service and agriculturally arable lands.

At the moment airships exist somewhere between a small ferry and a large cargo heavy helicopter like the Mi-26, with neither of the advantages of already existing with already-built and paid-for infrastructure, which is always a tremendous benefit. Generally speaking in low latitudes most of these transport tasks have been consumed by rail, road, or barge/canal transport, so they are already a no-go there because the markets for that sort of transportation are shrinking anyway. They may be useful for transporting things in the Yukon or Alaska, I guess. Maybe delivering a supermarket's worth of sailor biscuits to some rural Alaskan community and taking on mail or something for transport back, but that's a huge stretch considering the entrenched position of bush pilots. I don't think they (lighter-than-air vehicles) actually have much of a market for anything besides novelty advertising, but who knows, maybe one day people in Nunavut or Nome will be able to enjoy collard greens and spinach year round without worry courtesy blimps I guess?

They were far less advantageous in the past when energy was more freely available and inefficiencies better tolerated, though, so that is a real thing, but irrelevant.

As none of the practical considerations of airship technology have become serious until literally 90-100 years after airships ceased to operate, I don't see what "bombing New York in 1918" would have to do with "robot drigibles delivering fresh peaches to Wal-Mart in 2040s Alaska" have to do with each other. Probably because they have nothing to do with each other. Airships becoming popular again in papers is mostly because people are desperately searching for ways to keep ahead of the Jevon's Paradox than anything, as cheap, portable energy is becoming something of a hot button issue (as it always has been, really).

Ultimately the basic problem with Zeppelins, which is that rigid airships are just kind of dumb, doesn't get fixed if you blow up a bunch of office ladies.

The fundamentals/economics are against Zeppelins until well into the 21st century, and even then it is still an tremendous open question whether they will actually find a market.
 

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I'm just wondering if anyone has actually looked at the reality of the Zeppelin campaign against Britain or even their attempts to bomb Paris?

The L59 voyage (which was planned as a one-way trip) was dogged with problems (buoyancy, engine failure, crew fatigue) and recalled.
Even crossing the North Sea was a battle with the prevailing winds, heading across the Atlantic would have been a much more dangerous trip and the chances of the disappearance into the mid-Atlantic was far more likely. There certainly would not be enough fuel for a eight-ten day round trip Germany-USA-Germany, just pure fantasy.

The R34 showed it was possible to fly Transatlantic in a rigid airship in July 1919, but arrived with her fuel tanks virtually empty.
 

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