The fourth voyage of
From Mount Kilimanjaro onward
From the Diary of Kapitän Albrecht von Kober,
commanding officer LZ-X1 Württemberg:
We are preparing to leave for Africa and are also receiving supplies to
be delivered to Stützpunkt Südwacht. If all goes
shall be on our way to Africa in three days. I shall now also have some
time to write a few letters.
We left for Africa in the early morning mist. We have set a course
which will lead us over the Alps, Italy, the Mediterranian, Egypt,
Abyssinia, and Kenya. Our engines are all in perfect working order, the
Württemberg is in excellent condition, I am not expecting any
difficulties, so we should arrive at Stützpunkt
about three days.
I am a little uneasy about this mission. In the past, we have faced
marauders, raiders and bandits, but if the Flottenkommando is right,
trouble is brewing in Africa and the British are involved, too. I hope
this does not develop into some sort of Napoleonic War played out in
Africa, long years of war with ever changing coalitions.
But I shall not be a prophet of bad times, so far, no big crisis has
developed, so it may actually be quite a pleasant and exotic post to
occupy on the slopes of Africa's highest mountain.
We are cruising along the western coast of Italy, the weather is very
fine with a light breeze coming from southwest. As far as I have heard,
Italy only recently built a number of airships and I hope we should see
some of them. It would be nice to get a closer look. So far I have only
seen those of the US, British and French airfleets. Maybe one will be
patroling the Strait of Messina which we shall cross towards the
We had a most splendid look at Mt. Etna, flying real low across the
perfectly still surface of the Strait of Messina. Unfortunately, not a
single Itallian airship was to be seen. Soon we shall cross onto
Africa. The crew is just as excited to see the Dark Continent as I am,
although I served here once as a young Leutnant.
Our journey has been delayed. Apparently, the situation is already
quite volatile. Approaching the Egyptian coast we received morse
signals from an English cruiser.
They instructed us to touch down on a landing patch near Alexandria,
where we are now.
The British consul Sir Baring has sent a note apologizing for this
delay, he mentioned something regarding trouble in the Sudan and his
desire for a joint German-English expedition. It appears his ressources
are stretched and he is rather happy to have us here. Let us see what
becomes of it. He is due to meet with me and some of my officers
tomorrow in Alexandria. An automobile is already on its way to pick us
Meanwhile, we do what we can to pass the time. After our previous
adventure in India, my men have seen a lot, but they are just concerned
as I am. It is one thing to be pitted against savages but a different
thing to face another European whom you may have called friend the year
This whole affair seems to be more complicated than I thought and
rather odd. I may not say anything specific but it seems like someone
who is not connected to a European power is stiring up trouble in the
The British officials in the Sudan only found out after more or less
accidentaly capturing a French patrol investigating the matter.
Apparently, the French have been aware of someone operating in Africa
for some time and were out to get him or them.
It is not clear for what purpose this person is in Africa, other than
causing trouble. There have been cases of native tribes being incited
against each other and on other occasions, European citizens, both
civilians and members of the local adminsitrations were attacked.
Now the race is on. I guess everyone wants to get their hands on this
malefactor first. Both to expose others or, in case it happens to be a
countryman, to hush this up.
Of course, we shall help in this search or hunt. I hope this person is
no subject of the Kaiser.
It is rather rude of me to say this, but Alexandria is a city you can
smell. Perhaps it is partly due to the heat and the intense overcowding
but the city creates a miasmic cloud which in my oppinion is worse than
London or Essen.
I sincerely hope we can leave this place rather sooner than later.
Everyone is anxiously eying the æthergraph, urging it to
typing a message.
Finally! We can leave this nauseous place and head up the Nile Valley.
We shall rendevouz with LZ-39 Rostock and HMD Agamemnon and HMD Xerxes
along the way.
I wonder if this is going to be a race against the French or whether we
are going to meet up with them later on, too. So far, it looks more
like a race against them.
The vistas from the gallery and cockpit window of the
Württemberg are almost worth all the trouble we have thus far
encountered on our voyages. And the African heat is very
close to the surface of the majestic Nile River.
Orders changed again. Rostock is flying directly to Mt. Kilimanjaro,
Agamemnon and Xerxes are heading there, too. We are currently flying
over Abyssinia. To my knowledge, it is the only African state, and a
one at that, which is not under the influence of a European power.
We just moored at Stützpunkt Südwacht, Rostock and
British airships should be here wihin a day or so. The heat is not as
bad as I had feared, though wearing the standard officer's boots in
this weather is quite uncomfortable. Luckily we hav been issued special
equipment for our stay in Africa.
I have just spoken to the commander of the base, Hauptmann Lenker. He
does not have any more information than me. So all we know is still
only vague rumors and few facts about someone running loose in Africa
and causing trouble.
I hope the British can tell us a little bit more.
The British airships should arrive within the next few hours, Rostock
arrived during the night. I am really itching to go on this mission,
now. Although we do not know who our opponent is, at least I find
solace in the fact that he hails from civilized parts of the world.
Last night my dreams were again haunted by the nightmarish images from
the Indian swamps which I still carry around inside my head.
dreams are returning more rarely, so eventually, they might go away.
I hope Gwendolen has a pleasant stay in Switzerland and is well on her
way to recovery. I would enjoy this beautiful landscape a lot more with
her by my side, now I can only marvel at the brilliant nightsky and
wish to see her again soon.
We are on our way, if I only knew where to. Our small flotilla of four
airships is heading west towards the Belgian Kongo. Intelligence
reports have come in that someone has recently incited the natives
there. But really it is like trying to find a needle in a haystick at
night and the haystick is being piled upon all the time. It is a whole
continent and we have only so few airships to spare. Our only hope lies
in the fact that this person seems to be moving rather fast. He must
have some advanced means of thransportation. Since there are very few
railways and all of them are being patrolled right now, it is almost
certainly an airship. With any luck, we encounter it.
Just received new orders. Every few days orders change. This is all too
unorganised in my oppinion. Neither our Flottenkommando nor the British
Admirality seem to be sure what to do. Right now it appears our main
purpose is to simply be around. We are heading towards Kamerun
now, where we will rendevouz with two American airships.
What do the Americans have to do with it all? Apart from Liberia they
have no stake in Africa at all. What is going on? If the Russians
should suddenly turn up as well, I shall be really concerned.
In the meantime, I calm my thoughts enjoying the vistas. If only
Gwendolen was here with me.
What in God's name is happening? In the early hours of the morning, our
flotilla spotted two small and rather rag-tag airships, HMD Xerxes
spotted them, to be exact. I am sure they were the very same airships
we saw on our way to India and, now that I think of it, they could also
be the same we encountered over the Indian Ocean.
Is someone following me? Or this Zeppelin? Gruson has voiced similar
suspicions to me, Hartmann agrees, too. This time the airships did not
approach but fled on a north-easterly course.
Obviously, four military craft, each one much larger than they, would
have been too much of a challenge. If someone is following us, how can
they find us? How do they know where we are? Is someone sending signals
from my Zepplin or are they just following likely routes and are
intercepting our æthergraph signals?
The messages to the Flottenhauptquartier are coded, so we should be
save there, I should try a trick though, when the opportunity presents
So now we are moored at Batua Airfield in Kamerun waiting for the
Americans to arrive. I was much delighted when I received the names of
the airships we are expecting. The USS Yellowstone and the USS San
Andreas, so hopefully I will have the opportunity to exchange a few
words with Captain Peabody, I wonder if anything exciting has happened
to him since our adventure in the ruins of Ur in April.
I wish I knew what the secret of those two tiny airships is. Next time
we encounter them, we shall not let them get away.
To pass the time I went to the commander of the airfield, a Hauptmann
Kress, and instructed him to relay a message to Geneva, I would have
used our æthergraph but I do not know if the mystery airships
somehow able to intercept the messages. It could be one way of tracking
us after all.
Heavy rain has set in. Hauptmann Kress told me, we were lucky yesterday
when we arrived to have fine weather. Apparently, September and October
are the rainy season here and the rain may continue for a week. Well,
least it is still warm. The rain makes the temperatures quite bearable.
Also there are far less flies around, although our quarters still have
a rather amazing assortment of various interesting insects. I
guess my cousin Lothar would find these quite interesting.
I do not mind the insects, I can alyways just remove them and if they
become too numerous, we can all always go back to the
My mind still dwells on the two airships. If I only knew...
Oh well, by this time tomorrow the American aiships will be here and
than, all we need is new orders. I find it rather unnerving that
neither I, nor Kapitän Reuter of LZ-39 Rostock nor the British
received new orders thus far. We are just sitting here waiting.
Very well and good. I am not only in the company of friends
again, Captain Peabody arrived late at night yesterday but we also have
some rather precise orders which I thus far cannot mention in this
diary. We have set course back east across the continent, this is quite
a cruise already.
The rain also keeps pounding us. It is a shame the LZ-X1
Württemberg is the only one equipped to cruise above the cloud
ceiling. The gondolas of the others are not equipped for maneuvering in
such altitudes. On the other hand, the constant rain makes for quite a
Around 10 o'clock this morning we spotted and in turn were spotted by a
pair of presumably French airships while flying over the Belgian Congo
towards Kenya. We are pressing on. We do not know wheather or not there
are more French airships around and although our six vessel strong
flotilla is quite a force, we would much rather avoid a confrontation.
Besides, as it is, we do not know if the French are potential allies in
this situation or not.
I am also convinced that it is only the close familiar connection
between Kaiser Friedrich III and Queen Victoria which makes the
cooperation between us and the British Navy possible.
Tomorrow by the latest we shall reach British territory and than we
shall also have time to make definite plans on how to tackle this
We are about to moor at Nairobi airfield. Later we shall all meet in
the officer's club, a really splendid habit of the British is their
building of officer's clubs wherever they have major installations.
Hopefully there will be some time for cigars, too.
Captain Wallace of HMD Xerxes also informed me that we are to expect a
high ranking officer. The British will also send another Airship. All
well and good. They have the largest area of the continent claimed for
their Empire, it is only well and good that they should provide the
largest number of vessels for this operation.
Nairobi airfield is maybe the strangest military installation I have so
far seen. A vast airfield, basically just a patch of flat land
marked by stakes and barrels by day and signal fires by night. But on
the edge of this patch stands a mansion build from wood and stone the
size of which would put some patrician houses in Berlin to shame. The
mansion in turn is sourounded by a fortified military camp not unlike
in structure to the one we saw in India recently, only more expansive.
This mansion is obviously the Nairobi Officer's club and prides itself
to be the finest example of British culture and civilization between
Cairo and Cape Town.
The founder of the Club, Lord Wolseley, had it built at great personal
expense. I think it was a very good investment. We had an excellent
dinner and some very fine cigars and brandy last night. I was also able
to chat a little with the other captains. The Americans are, as far as
they told me, only observers but will lend a hand if things get rough.
Since they are also on good terms with every power in Europe at the
moment, their presence might just deter the French from taking rash
actions against a British airship or especially a German Zeppelin. I
guess Napoleon III is still holding the grude from the Battle of Sedan.
The British, just like my men and me, are itching for action. Everybody
wants to find out what is afoot here.
Yesterday afternoon I also had a closer look at the British craft. From
what I can tell, they are able to transport quite a number of troops,
maybe 20 to 30 each. Rostock only carries 15 infantry, my own Zeppelin
just eight. However, the Württemberg is the fastest ship of
flotilla by quite a margin, so if the one we seek has an airship and
gives chase, it will be the duty of my men and me to pursue and disable
him. I am eager to test my Zeppelin in actual combat and so are my men.
Furchtlos und Trew!
On a completely different note:
I have noticed that a small town has sprung up nearby. Soon, there will
also be a railway comming from what the British officers told me
yesterday. With both the railway and the airfield, this small town may
soon grow to become a city.
Also, within the next day or two, HMD Ajax will arrive and with her
The watch officer has just confirmed the approach of HMD Ajax. I am
eager to meet the admiral.
So now we have a plan and a strategy. There have been rumors of strange
things going on along the banks of the Congo River. Apparently a
missionary and some daredevil big game hunter and his retainers have
witnessed something that could mean the construction of some sort of
base in the Heart of Africa. We have to presume that those accounts are
true, it is the only thing we have right now. The British have invested
some energy already in verifying those rumors but the scouting parties
they have sent have failed to report back and are presumed missing.
Tomorrow at dawn we shall fire up our engines and take our flotilla to
My sleep has once again been disiturbed by nightmares from India. They
have become less frequent but on nights like this I still wake up
screaming and drenched in sweat. It is no use going back to sleep now.
This operation is going to commence in a little more than an hour
anyway. I guess I shall write a letter to Gwendolen and ask someone at
the officer's club to see it delivered with the next supply airship
that arrives from Europe. A letter is sometimes preferable to an
The mood onboard has changed. This is no longer a patrol. We all know
that soon real fighting may take place. Gods, I hope we are up against
wildcard, a lunatic or some sort of malefactor who is no credit to his
country but also not sponsered by one. If it turns out that this person
or persons are hired by some government, the fragile peace in Europe is
in danger. Every nation would feel betrayed if one neighbour or ally
would turn out to be low enough to take meassures like employing those
anarchist mercenaries or whatever they are.
The watch officer just called, I must go.
We have spotted the small airships again and thanks to our superior
equipment, we spotted them before they spotted us. This time I am
giving chase. I want to find out what is behind it all. USS San
Andreas, the second fastest craft in our flotilla, is following us to
provide backup while the others are continuing on their course. Since
we are very fast, we shall be able to catch up with the flotilla.
This is going to be interesting. We have managed to disable both
airships, they have both landed, well, one crashed, on a patch of
savanna. One actually fired an explosive rocket in our direction which
went wide, even before we came in range. In contrast, our Zeiss guns
proved to be very accurate.
We are preparing to deploy our infantry on the ground to investigate.
There is no movement there but we shall be cautious. I will personally
lead our detachment.
Automatons! Both airships were crewed by automatons! I was not
aware that any nation was able to field such advanced automatons,
capable of flying an airship.
They were all smashed, being rather fragile constructions. We have
salvaged what we could, taking care not to set up any booby
traps. We now carry the remnants of four automatons, and a number of
other devices we found, between us. Gruson has run a sniffer over them,
there does not seem to be explosives in any of them. We have also found
a number of pretty impressive rocktes, very likely of the kind that was
fired at us. I was tempted to take some of those, too. Caution got the
better of me, though. They may well explode after a set time or we may
trigger them by accident.
Some of the loot will be transfered to the English airships. I have
already informed them. Coded communiqués have also been sent
Stützpunkt Südwacht and Berlin. We may very well face
completely different kind of adversary than previously thought.
We have also destroyed the wrecked airships from the air.
We have caught up with the rest of the flotilla. With the recent
developments we are proceeding on high alert and with extreme caution.
None of us has faced automatons before, they simply are not advanced
enough, from what we know, to be used in combat. Judging from the
performance so far, the
automatons might not be a significant threat but they will also not
again, this may have been a feint to lure us into a false sense of
security. But why have they been comming after me before? Did they just
put themselves on my trail after they encountered the
for the first time? And if so, are they unrelated to what is going on
here now? Before we can come to any conclusion we have to find the site
the English have heard about and investigate. We should reach the River
Congo later today and than we shall begin our search in earnest.
We have reached the approximate area the big game hunter gave as the
location where he reported to have spotted something strange. Of
course, we cannot be too certain about this but it is the only
information we have so far. We have decided to split in two groups. The
Württemberg, LZ-39 Rostock, HMD Xerxes and USS
will search downstream while the other British airships and USS San
Andreas will commence searching upstream. In any case we
should find something, soon. Even when flying slowly, we cover more
ground in two hours than people on the ground would cover in a day.
HMD Xerxes just reported spotting something. We are moving in to
There it is, a rather odd assortment of buildings in the middle of the
jungle, near the banks of the Congo River. We have informed the other
group, they should be here within the hour. We are getting ready to put
infantry on the ground.
Everything is ready. The scouting party has just landed near the
The scouting party has encountered resistance. We are sending
reinforcements down. I will lead the German detachment.
This site was defended by half a dozen automatons and a handful of men.
They were highly trained and took their toll on our men. We have lost
three dead and nine wounded, one of them is not expected to live.
To my regret I have to report that Matrose Sachs gave his life in the
line of duty.
We are not finished here, yet. In one of the buildings, the second
largest, we discovered a rather large metal trapdoor in the center of
We are preparing to demolish the building and bring the
Württemberg in position to fire at the trap door. My Zeppelin
the most precise guns of all the craft in the flotilla.
The trapdoor will be blasted open with explosives and if there is no
need for our Zeiss guns or if they have done their work, a detachment
of British infantry will go and investigate.
We are also keeping a lookout for other airships and movement on the
ground. So far, nothing has been spotted.
We burried our dead last night, I have written a report for the
Flottenkommando and a letter for Sachs' family.
Also, we have blasted the door open, it revealed a tunnel or long ramp
leading down. The floor of the tunnel is made of steel, the walls are
concrete. What is going on? Admiral Grant has sent five men down the
tunnel to investigate. They reported another door, a blast door, about
150 paces down the tunnel. Given the angle of the ramp, this means the
blast door is about 30 meters underground. What have we found here?
Gruson, Dusterman and engineers from the other airships have gone down
to assess the situation at the blast door. They think we cannot force
this door open with regular explosives, the tunnel may well colapse.
They are now working at a special shaped charge to punch a hole into
the blast door. It is difficult to tell, how thick this door is,
Dustermann reckon it may well be 40 cm of solid steel.
So far, we have not detected anything suspicious around us. No movement
on the ground or on the river, nothing in the air. Has this base, or
whatever it is, been abandoned?
The first charge did not penetrate the door but made a substantial dent
and there is some thermal deformation but we will have to use another
We have found a massive underground workshop beyond the door. A
factory. However, it seems incomplete. Not evacuated but incomplete.
Someone was building a base here. The aperatures we found are very
advanced. There is a European, maybe an American at work here. Whoever
it is, he has quite a bit of ressources at his disposal. We have
reported our findings to our respective headquarters.
The patroling Zeppelins and airships have reported nothing suspicious
so far. Maybe we can find some clues here. Maybe the salvaged
automatons reveal something.
Dustermann is working to get the ætherbrain of the automaton
working again. He is not sure it is going to work and he would rather
have a proper workshop at his disposal. Gruson and the English
are still investigating the underground factory.
The foreward observation post has reported the sighting of three French
airships. I hope the situation does not become volatile.
The French did not come to investigate after all. We are
continuing searching the factory below and Dustermann is certain he
will get the ætherbrain working within the next few days.
A French flotilla is approaching. Six airships. We are getting ready.
Well, we are heading back to Südwacht, at least for now. The
French Flotilla also contained a Belgian airship. Since we were on
foreign territory, we were of course obliged to leave. There will also
be official protests via the diplomatic channels, I presume.
Still, the Belgian officers thanked us for finding this secret factory.
They will now continue with the investigation.
They did not enquire about automatons, though, we still have ours, I
guess the British have at least one, too.
We are back at Südwacht. The automaton is being send on to
Berlin, Rostock is taking it. To my surprise and delight I found a
letter from Gwendolen waiting for me.
How I wish to be with her. Alas, my duty keeps me here. Soon I will be
in Africa a month. This whole affair lays heavy on my mind. What is
going on? Are the Belgians hiding something? What do the French know?
Compared to the tension of the previous weeks, today was almost boring.
The crew has made some minor repairs and maintenance, Dustermann and
Gruson are working on the salvaged automatons. We are also awaiting
further instructions from Berlin.
New orders have come in. I am to deliver the automatons personally. The
Württemberg is ready. We will take off as soon as the sun is
down and head to Berlin under cover of night. With any luck, we will
reach Berlin before anyone learns of our departure.
I am pretty certain, the English have sent one of their airships back
We are steaming towards the Mediterranean Sea, going full speed. So far, no watch officer has reported anything unusual.
I was right. We overtook HMD Xerxes just a few miles off the Egyptian
coast. They morsed "Good Luck", a wish we happily returned.
It is good to know that even in the present situation, there is this
kind of comradery between the airforces of different nations. Then
again, Friedrich III and Queen Victoria are family, so I guess, our
nations are related as well.
We crossed the Alps during the night and are due to touch down in Friedrichshafen within the hour.
I thought we would be flying to Berlin, but new orders came in at 4:23 this morning. Well, it is good to be home again.
The story continues in the next chapter: The Trail of the Automatons