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Introduction to these stage notes
These notes about the 14 stages and the exact flight plans are based on the book “Im Grossflugzeug nach Peking” written by Dr. Robert Knauss and published in 1927, a year after the actual flight. Knauss was the leader of the ‘expedition’ and describes the flight in detail.
The 14 stages of Viperstrike’s flight are not always exact reproductions of the stages of the real flight, since the original planes may have been slower than the Junkers 52 used in the sim flight but the crews set out very early in the morning, mostly at first light and were flying until dark and even into the night in some cases so they could cover considerable distances.
Navigation was a pretty basic affair in those days. Radio navigation was in its infancy and they were forbidden to have wireless radio on board anyway. So they used mostly compass and maps (they had a separate compass/map table in the cabin so the compass would not be irritated by the other instruments in the cockpit). This meant they had to fly low so they could recognize the landmarks. Over very long stretches they followed the railway lines to the east, which also meant that if anything happened to them they could at least expect a train to come along and help them eventually.
I hope you will enjoy if not all then at least some of the stages!
Notes for Stage 1 / Berlin-Königsberg Departure from Berlin-Tempelhof at midnight on July 24th 1926
Followed the navigation lights (rotating red neon lights all the way to Königsberg, set up in 10-25km intervals) because Berlin-Königsberg was an established regular flight route.
Because of bad weather they had to use the gyro-pilot (like an AP) To ensure accurate readings they had a second compass on the navigstion table in the cabin of the plane.
First dawn over Pomerania, then passing Danzig (Gdansk) on their right.
First landing in Königsberg to take on fuel. (Historically this was just a short stop – they continued all the way to Moscow on that first day)
Notes for stage 2 / Königsberg – Smolensk Passed the border to Lithuania at 7.30 am
Note a difference in agriculture – „wide untarmaced village streets, fallow land and wilderness predominant“
West of Kowno/Kaunas rain and fog over the forest, flying low above the treetops
Over Kaunas airfield they glide down to 20m and drop a bouquet of flowers with ribbons as greeting to Lithuanian aviators
From here they follow the old heerstrasse (military road) today E262/A6 and pass over trenches, craters and gun positions from WW1. They stay on the northern bank of the Düna (southern bank was Poland) and cross into Russia near Drissa (today Werchnjadwinsk)
In this area they are passed by the regular „Deruluft“-flight from Moskow to Berlin (has been operating for 4 years at the time of the flight). Deruluft, from Wikipedia: „Deruluft (Deutsch-Russische Luftverkehrs A.G., or Deruluft) was a joint German-Soviet airline, established on 11 November 1921. Deruluft opened its first permanent airlink between and Königsberg (via Kaunas and Smolensk) on 1 May 1922. It started a new route between Berlin and (via Tallinn) on 6 June 1928, and maintained both routes until 31 March 1936. Deruluft was a successful business, but terminated on 31 March 1937 due to the changed political situation.“
Around lunchtime landing in Smolensk. Refuel and have a glass of Russian Tchai from the Samovar in the „Deruluft“ waiting room.
Notes for stage 3 / Smolensk – Moscow After a 2 hour break in Smolensk they take off again
They pass over the battlefield of Borodino (WP1) and remember the Battle of Borodino where in 1812 Napoleon opened the way to the occupation of Moscow. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Borodino
They follow the Moskwa River into Moscow, describing walled monasteries on the hillsides and manor houses with impressive parks along the way
The first thing they describe seeing is the golden cupola of the Redeemer Cathedral and the Kreml
They are met in the air by an escort of „Deruluft“ and „Dobroljet“ (operated flights from Moscow to the Caucasian region of southwest Russia) planes which accompany them to Khodynka airfield. This doesn‘t exist any more but WP2 is on the old site and close examination of satellite imagery still shows where the airfield was.
Satellite view: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khodynka_Field
They are greeted by various dignitaries of the Russian aviation authorities and the German embassy. The flight continues the next morning.
Notes for stage 4 / Moscow - Kasan Flight leaves on the morning of the 25th of August at 3.40 am
They are joined by two Russian pilots who Luft Hansa have invited along. Kauss calls them excellent pilots and good company.
The clock has to be changed forward by one hour, something Knauss says they had to do on almost every stage since the were flying eastwards. They reached the point with the biggest time difference in Charbin, which was 8 hrs ahead of Berlin time.
On leaving Moscow they follow the railway line to Arzamas. Soon after leaving the city they encounter endless forests and swamps, interspersed with small settlements and peat cutting sites.
Near the town of Murom (WP1) on the river Oka the sky is clearing up. Behind Arzamas (WP2) the forests are thinning out and there is more agriculture. Knauss describes yellow, black and green fields surrounding each village.
At Kasan they encounter the river Volga.
Kasan was then the capital of the Autonomous Tartar Republic and Lenin’s birthplace.
Since it is summer they accept an invitation to have tea and sandwiches on the shady terrace of the airport building which is constructed entirely of wood. After two hours they continue their flight.
Notes for stage 5 / Kasan-Kurgan Weather: Knauss gives little information, only that it gets worse behind Jekaterinburg but since he talks about ‘good visibility’ earlier it must have been quite good before.
After a two hour break the flight continues. The planes are slowly approaching the Ural mountains.
At Poljany (WP1) they cross the river Wjatka. The more they approch the Urals the forest gets denser.
At 14.45 they fly over Sarapul (WP2) where they can’t land because the airfield is flooded. After flying over dark pine forests in hilly terrain they reach Krasnoufimsk (WP3)
Their landing and stay here make quite entertaining reading. It also becomes clear why they landed at a different place on their return flight. The airfield is described as a rarely used narrow meadow with steep wooded hills to one side and a railway dam with telegraph poles on the other. After chasing off a herd of cows from the airstrip they managed to land only to be immediately surrounded by the local population who arrived on foot, horseback or horse-drawn cart. Some narrowly avoid running into the propellers. The crowd makes it difficult to make the necessary arrangements for refueling and maintenance of the planes. Knauss describes the people as “truly Russian” with the women wearing bright headscarves over their Sunday best dresses and the farmers with high boots and colorfully embroidered linen shirts.
They enter town on horse-drawn carriages on bad deeply rutted roads for which they seem to be well suited. Knauss describes the roads as wide, unsurfaced, full of cows, pigs and chicken deeply muddy after rain and dusty and bumpy in the dry season.
They have a filling meal at the farmers cooperative.
Since they want to leave early next morning, the spend the night (3hrs!) on board the planes.
At 2 am D 903, the first plane, tries to take off. The mud clings to the wheels of the plane and slows it down so that it keeps bouncing back on the ground. A sudden gust of wind forces it to land in a nearby field after jumping a gravel pit 30m wide. Soon after D 901 suffers a similar fate. The two planes at a weight of 6 tons each now have to be pulled back 2km to the airfield (the wheels have sunk into the mud, so they can’t be moved with the propellers). Two Ford tractors can’t move the planes either and only by using the propellers and the tractors at the same time they can be moved. This is highly dangerous since the tractors are very close to the spinning propellers. Finally trees have to be felled and the railings of a bridge have to be knocked down to allow the return to the airfield bypassing the gravel pit. This takes all day and with the help of the locals using shovels and hoes the airfield is extended by another 300m. They spend another night in
hammocks in the planes and finally take of to Jekaterinburg (then called Sverlovsk) at 3.30 next morning.
On the way they cross the Ural mountains which Knauss reports not to be real mountains but more large hills as in the Black Forest. Jekaterinburg became known for the murder of the Czar and his family during the revolution.
There is a change in weather as they enter the plains behind Jekaterinburg. There are many neat old farming villages and fertile fields. At noon on July 27th the land in Kurgan. Its large airport was the main base for Admiral Koltschaks airforce who fought against the revolutionaries in the revolution. Most of the buildings had been torn down and on taxiing one of the planes sinks into the mud and is “carried rather than rolled” into position by an enthusiastic crowd.
They are met by German beer brewers, former prisoners of war who have decided to stay on after the war.
Notes for stage 6 / Kurgan-Omsk Weather: No information, but apparently good visibility After 4 hours of refueling and maintenance they take off from Kurgan. The fly across the lowlands of western Siberia which extends to the river Jenissei. The countryside is covered with woods, meadows and fields. Knauss describes many circular lakes which can be seen from above.
At 14.20 they fly over Petropawlowsk. A smoking fire is lit at the airport to help them with navigation.
At 16.07 they arrive at Omsk, then a city of 130 000 inhabitants. With its modern grid of streets it is decribed as “neat” by Knauss. The airport is in good condition and has 3 wooden hangars, with a fourth under construction.
There isn’t much on this stage in the book (about one page) since it’s only part of the IRL stage.
Notes for stage 7 / Omsk-Nowosibirsk Weather: first fair, then headwind, thunderstorms in the distance. 28Th: a sunny morning
As they continue the flight towards Nowosibirsk the weather takes a turn for the worse. There are dark clouds with lightning ahead and the wind turns into a headwind. They follow the railway line over the dark plains. The only lights they can see on the ground are the campfires of the sheperds.
The planes can only identify each other by the glowing exhaust pipes with their blue flames. To stay in touch the two planes exchange light signals at regular intervals. Near Barabinsk station (WP1) they land for the night on a temporary airfield lit by bonfires. At the end of this stage on the 27th (Krasnoufimsk-Barabinsk) they had covered a distance of 1440km, the same as Berlin-Naples.
They sleep in the planes. Fuel is delivered by horse and cart in the morning and they take several hours to fill the tanks because they have to use handpumps. Meanwhile the pilots walk along the runway, checking for obstacles (like firepits dug by sheperds) and horses which have to be moved off the runway. They use bits of paper, empty tin cans and branches to mark the way.
On the 28th, a sunny morning, they continue towards Nowosibirsk. Before they cross the river Ob, they fly across a plain covered in sweet and saltwater lakes. They arrive at their destination after 2hrs. This airport is run by the Russian (Red) Airfleet. Knauss includes an excerpt from a local newpaper report: “..we are invited to view the planes. We enter the passenger area. Comfortable and clean. Ten windows, small tables, wonderful toilet.”
Wasn’t sure about which airport to use for Nowosibirsk, but chose UNNE since it is right next to the railway line which they seem to have followed for most of the flight.
Notes for stage 8 / Nowosibirsk-Krasnojarsk Weather: sunny, cloudless skies On continuing their flight, they cross the railway line to the Kuztnezk Basin, an important coal mining region. To make Russian industry less vulnerable in a war, Stalin moved many important industries here, plans for which Knauss mentions in his book.
They still follow the track of the Transsiberian Railway and encounter the first really dense forest since Kurgan, “a mixture of deciduous and dark pine trees as far as the eye can see.”
At Taiga (WP1) a railway line to Tomsk branches off. In clear, sunny weather they reach Mariinsk (WP2) at 16.00. They pass over Atschinsk (WP3) the forest has been replaced by agriculture but before they reach the Jenissei River the forest is back. Near the river, Knauss is reminded of the landscape of Germany, with the river flowing through densely wooded hills, with red sandstone cliffs on its shore.
As Knauss puts it, “in festive mood” from all the pleasant sights they land in the evening sun on a green airfield to a friendly reception by the local population. Members of the local youth organization, both boys and girls, pump the fuel into the airplanes.
The crew are invited to an evening feast on an island in the river, which can only be reached by motor launch. Knauss excuses the pilots early on, so they can get enough rest and he stays to the end “to be rewarded by delicious Jenissei-sturgeon”. After 2 hours of sleep they take off again towards Irkutsk.
Notes for stage 9 / Krasnojarsk-Irkutzk Weather: Sunny, hot Early in the morning they take off from Krasnojask, circle once low over the roofs of the town to “wish the locals a good morning” and are on their way. The route to Irkutzk doesn’t follow a straight line, since they continue to follow the railway line and can avoid the mountains this way. After Kansk (WP1), where they cross the river Kan, they once again fly over densely wooded Taiga. Knauss muses on the animals living there: deer, moose, boar, wolves and bears. Fox, badger, and above sable are hunted for their furs.
The the air they fly through smells of smoke and they have the cabin windows open even though they fly at 1000m altitude because of the summer heat. Knauss reflects on the waste of the natural resource wood through the yearly forest fires in this area and expresses hope that airplanes can help fight these fires in the future.
At 10.35 they land in Nischne-Udinsk (WP2) for refueling. (This airport still exists and can be seen on satellite imagery but is not available in the sim. WP2 is exactly above the runway). It is very hot and they have tea in the shade of the airplanes’ wings.
After 2 hrs they take off and gain altitude with difficulty. As Knauss remarks this is due to the fact that hot air doesn’t have the lifting ability of colder air.
They land in Irkutsk at the airport near the village of Bokowo, about one hour west of the town. (This I take to be UIIR, the position is about right). They are greeted by a big crowd and the Vice-Governor. According to Knauss the ride into town over the dusty roads by car is almost more dangerous than the flight. Their car breaks down near the old monastery which the crew visit while the car is being repaired. At the wooden pontoon bridge they have to wait for a large herd of cows to pass before they finally arrive at their hotel in the city.
Notes for stage 10 / Irkutzk-Tschita Weather: foggy at first, clearing up over Lake Baikal, cloudy over the mountains, thunderstorms, around 13.00 clearing up, only high level clouds
The following section on Irkutsk you could also use at the end of stage 9.
In Irkutsk they have flown 4/5th of the total distance. It took them 4 1⁄2 days of flying without any technical problems. Knauss states that in D 903 they didn’t have to change a single one of the 36 spark plugs since Berlin. They stop in Irkutsk for a few days of rest before continuing. The expedition had placed their own meteorologist, a Dr. Steinkopf in Irkutsk with the local observatory. He supplied the planes with daily weather forecasts by telegraph.
While there they are feasted by the local dignitaries, watch a football game, Irkutsk vs. Tomsk (Irkutsk won). On August 3rd they go on an excursion to lake Baikal by car. The temperatures are above 30° C in the shade. Their car breaks down for the first time before they even leave the town. They follow a rough track, through rivers and small villages. They climb a hill and the view reminds Knauss of the lakes in the Swiss Alps. Lunch is at a fisherman's hut – scrambled egg and “some bottles, cooled in the ice cold waters of the lake”. On the way home their car breaks down completely. They hire a farmer to give them a lift back to Irkutsk on a horse drawn cart, sitting on a layer of hay. Hours later they arrive, “dusty, shaken but in good cheer.”
August 13th they continue the flight. They take off through a layer of fog into the morning sun. it takes them 2 hours to reach Werchne-Udinsk (today: Ulan-Ude). On the way they cross the fertile delta of the Selenga River. Instead of following the river they cross the Chamar Daban mountains (up to 2200m high) only to meet the river again at Werchne- Udinsk. From here it is another 1600km straight to Peking, about 1 day and a half according to Knauss. This route is blocked to them because Mongolia at the time is at war with China. This forces them to take a detour of 1100km through Mandchuria.
On flying over the airfield at Werchne-Udinsk, they spot two Junkers F 13 planes (predecessors of their own G 24), owned by “Dobrolet” a Russian airline but prefer to fly on to make time. To avoid a thunderstorm front over the mountains, they leave the railway track below and fly an arc to the north. At times their plane is accompanied by two eagles. Around 13.00 o’clock the weather clears up. They cross the Jablonowij mountains and after flying over a few lakes they land in Tschita at 15.47. They arrive an hour early, so they miss the grand reception with marching band.
More on Tschita at the beginning of the next stage
Notes for stage 11 / Tschita-Manjur Weather: sunny
Their stay in Tschita is overshadowed by the rather basic state of their hotel. There is no running water, only a water tank with a tap in each room which tends to be rather temperamental and occasionally sprays water over everybody. A greater problem were the lice, especially at night. Knauss calls the toilet ‘prohibitive’. For evening entertainment, they are treated to a lengthy dinner with plenty of Vodka and a performance of the local variety of wrestling.
Next day they visit the local hospital. The director is a German who studied under Knauss’ father in law. They see the locals bathing in the river “naked as is customary everywhere in Russia”, men and women using different places along the river. Knauss reports lots of military activity with columns of soldiers marching marching through the town which is home to a border garrison.. Also there are maneuvers being held in the vicinity. This is an area where there are tensions between the Russians, the Chinese and even the Japanese who want to expand their influence in the region. Manjuria is an important supplier of agricultural products for Japan, so they invest heavily in the railway infrastructure in this region to get the produce to the harbours for shipping.
On leaving Tschita, they first follow the valley of the river Ingoda. Near Undurga (WP 4, today: Tarskaya) the railway line splits into a branch towards Wladivostok and a southerly branch, the ‘Eastern Chinese Railway’ which they follow into the Aga valley. After one hour they reach the river Aga where they slowly leave the mountains and see the Mongolian Steppe begin.
They fly low over immense flocks of sheep much to the amazement of the Mongolian shepherds. Soon after passing the Chinese border, they reach Manjour (Chinese: Xijiao), their airport of entry into China. This airport is brand new and they are the first planes to land there. They have to pass customs inspection. The customs commission is made up of a Danish a British and a Chinese official.
Since the commanding Chinese general invites them to a banquet the following evening, they decide to stay for a day.
Notes for stage 12 / Manjur-Harbin Weather: Bad, dark rain clouds, poor visibility, low clouds, strong wind with gusts over mountains, later some sunny spells
The following day, they leave for Harbin. They are joined by a Chinese pilot in the D 903 who speaks fluent French since he was trained in France during WW1. Knauss calls him ‘a valuable help’ when landing at Chinese airports.
They land at Hailar (ZBLA) to take on fuel which is necessary because of the strong headwind. They cross the Chingan mountain range which Knauss describes as largely unexplored wilderness where no man has set foot yet. They spot herds of red deer below them but fail to see any of the tigers that live in the area. The pilots struggle wind adverse wind conditions, as Knauss puts it: ‘we are often in the clouds, mountains to the left and right so that we are afraid to crash at any time.”
Once over the mountains, the valleys widen and they fly over the steppe, even the sun comes out again. After Quiquihar (WP1) the agricultural use of the land begins again.
Harbin comes in sight, they fly over a busy river port with steamboats and barges. The Songhua River is a direct connection to the Pacific Ocean. At the airport they are welcomed by a military marching band, the Chinese governor of the area and the German consul. They are impressed with the city which Knauss calls the ‘Paris of the Far East’ with tarmacked streets, pretty shops and an elegant nightlife. In the evening there is the usual dinner-banquet with all local dignitaries.
I chose ZHAA for airport since todays main airport is too far out from the city to fit Knauss’ description. He calls the airport ‘a mousetrap surrounded by power lines and telephone wires’ - that seems more likely for ZHAA.
Notes for stage 13 / Harbin-Shenyang (Mukden) Weather: At first attempt rainy, dense fog. Next day (actual flight) fair weather, good visibility, strong headwind after Changchun Next morning risky take-off from ‘mouse-trap’ airport, barely clearing the telegraph wires. They follow the railway south. The fog gets thicker and forces them to fly at treetop level. When the planes lose sight of each other even though they are close together they decide to turn around.
Knauss explains that they could have risen above the fog at 3000 m and flown to Mukden by compass but since they had no news of the weather conditions at Mukden, they feared the airport there would also be in dense fog, preventing them from landing. They were forbidden to have a radio on board and radio navigation was in its infancy.
They return to the ‘mouse-trap’ and experience a tropical downpour in the streets of Harbin.
On the morning of August 29th they leave Harbin for good. All day they fly over Manchuria which Knauss describes as ‘a fertile garden’ covered in fields of soy, corn, potatoes and Kaoliang. At 8.32 (I love this German precision) they are over Changchun (WP1). They fly over rows of poplar trees bending in the wind. At 10 o’clock they reach Changtu (WP2). Knauss describes how the streets turn blue from people in blue working clothes running into the streets to watch the planes. After 11 they reach Mukden (nowadays: Shenyang), the old capital of Manchuria, origin of the Manchu dynasty of Chinese emperors. It is a place of historical importance, best known for events which took place there a few years after the flight. See Mukden-incident. The weather is tropical, they are on the same latitude as Rome. As usual they are greeted by local dignitaries and businessmen. Knauss remarks on the number of Japanese who built their own quarter in Mukden (see Mukden incident) and the Chinese ladies in pants of black silk, short jackets and ‘frighteningly long fingernails’.
I chose ZYYY for landing even though it is now closed to the public. According to my research it is the oldest airport in Shengyan, opened in 1920, so it would have been the place where the Ju’s landed.
Notes for stage 14 / Shenyang (Mukden)-Peking Weather: Very good (sunny) with favourable wind
On August 30th They take of from Mukden for their final stage into Peking. The weather is good with a following wind. This makes them faster than planned. Since their arrival in Peking is scheduled for 15.00, they take a somewhat longer route along the coast.
Knauss is very positive about the scenery on this stage, he calls it ‘among the most beautiful landscapes of the entire journey’. They fly over the Gulf of Liao-dong where they observe black traditional Chinese junks lying at anchor. For the crew this is the first encounter with the ocean since Königsberg. They follow the coast, which Knauss calls the ‘Chinese Côte d’Azur’.
They fly over Shanhai-guan where the Great Wall ‘rises from the sea’ (not sure if visible in the sim?). According to Knauss they now pass over the ‘Chinese Riviera’ with pretty seaside resorts, villas and green gardens. Over Pei-ho ( WP1, today: Beidahe) the planes circle to greet the local German community.
They turn inland over Tijanjin, an important port city for northern China and Mongolia. From there they follow the Bei-He river into Peking (modern irrigation systems have made this river more or less diappear. I planned the route to follow what must have been the course of the old river, now partly the Northern Canal). On approaching the city, Knauss is impressed with it’s greenness. According to him, without the impressive square of the city walls, the city is almost invisible with its low roofs and the houses almost disappearing under the many trees.
When they finally land at Nanyuan airport, there is a grand reception with the presentation of medals and a banquet. Many high representatives of the Chinese government and the German embassy are present. Knauss quotes from a Chinese newspaper report, full of amusing errors: On inspecting the planes the reporter finds a ‘leisure room’ and reports that the wings can be filled with gas to make them lighter.
They stay in Beijing until Sept. 8th . The return flight includes an emergency landing near Hailar in pouring rain, to solder a leaking radiator. Subsequently the planes get stuck in the muddy ground, two members of the crew swim across a flooded stream to reach the nearest station. An express train is stopped between stations and supplies the planes with food and other supplies. They have to wait for two uncomfortable days before the rain lets up and they can take of again.
Another final hiccup occurs, when they try to land in Kungur which is to replace the airfield in Kasnoufimsk, which had given them so much trouble on the outward journey. They discover that the replacement airfield is half flooded, full of holes and trenches, so they pass over it and finally find a suitable dry field about 20km away. They now have the problem that their fuel is at the Kungur airfield. So Kauss and another member of the crew hire a horse and cart from a farmer and make their way into Kungur where they arrive late at night. Next day the fuel is carted out to the planes and the following day they can continue the flight.
On September 26th at 11.30, they finally land back in Berlin Tempelhof to a grand reception.