84. The Origin of the Ghost Zeppelin

As is so often true with many of the Doc Savage stories, there is a large basis in fact of some of the more fantastic ideas brought forth in the story. The story of the “ghost zeppelin” that appeared early on in the pages of “The Lost Oasis” is one of these items.

The real story starts during World War I when construction began. The “LZ-114” was built by the German company Luftschiffbau Zeppelin for the Imperial German Navy and completed in 1920.  The Allied powers confiscated the airship as part of the war reparations assigned to Germany. The ship was turned over to the French government and renamed “Dixmude” and renumbered L-72.

Newspaper articles in 1921 reported the “Dixmude” would be used for commercial air travel between France and Algeria.

Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Friday, July 8, 1921 – Note: the article mistakenly names the “Nordstern” (LZ-121) as the “Dixmude” (LZ-114). The “Nordstern” was renamed the “Mediterranean.”

Reports later that year cited problems blamed on sabotage. The airship sat idle for several years until it was rehabilitated in 1923 and put into service. The zeppelin made several trips around France in late 1923 as a publicity tour.

On October 1, 1923, the newspapers were filled with exhilarating headlines on the zeppelin’s record-breaking accomplishments. The “Dixmude” had just returned on a flight from France to Algeria having broken many records. The world thrilled to the craft’s success.

  • FRENCH AIRSHIP ENDS 4,500-MILE NON-STOP FLIGHT
  • SUPER-ZEPPELIN DIXMUDE STAYS IN AIR FOR 118 HOURS
  • BATTLES HURRICANE ON ITS RETURN
  • FRENCH AIRSHIP MAKES NEW RECORD
  • FRENCH AIRSHIP BREAKS ALL RECORDS
  • WORLD RECORD SET BY FRENCH AIRSHIP
  • SUPER-ZEPPELIN SETS NEW RECORDS

The airship left France on December 18, 1923, for a cruise to the oasis of In Salah in southern Algeria. The airship arrived at the location and dropped mail to the local authorities. It then headed north to the Biskara airfield south of Algeria on December 20. It was later spotted that evening in Tunisia. In the early hours of December 21 witnesses near Sciacca, Sicily saw a strange red glow in the sky. One witness saw fiery objects falling into the ocean. This was during a thunderstorm. Undoubtedly the airship was struck by lightning which ignited the hydrogen lifting cells. The captain’s body was found by fishermen on December 26. Various pieces of debris were found but the main wreckage was not discovered.

The newspapers went crazy with sensational headlines.

December 23

  • NEWS ON THE DIXMUDEThe Observer of London, England reported that a wireless message had been received in Tunisia that afternoon. The airship flying on looking for a suitable landing site.

December 24

  • FRENCH DIRIGIBLE DRIFTING HELPLESSLY THREE DAYS
  • NO REPLY FROM THE DRIFTING AIRSHIP

December 25

  • DIXMUDE CREW FACES DEATH IN DESERT WASTES
  • GIANT DIXMUDE SIGHTED; SEEMS UNDER CONTROL
  • DIXMUDE NOW BELIEVED SAFE IN TATAHONIN

December 26

  • BIG FRENCH AIRSHIP STILL UNACCOUNTED FOR OVER AFRICA
  • CRIPPLED DIXMUDE MAY HAVE BEEN FORCED DOWN IN SEA

December 27

  • BELIEVE DIXMUDE LOST IN DESERT
  • PLANES SCAN DESERT LANES FOR DIRIGIBLE
  • FAR IN DESERT DIXMUDE MEN MAY BE DYING
  • SAHARA SAND HIDES FLYER
  • DIXMUDE’S CREW OF 50 OFFICERS DEAD OR DYING IN THE SAHARA
  • BIG DIRIGIBLE THOUGHT LOST IN THE SAHARA


December 28

  • DIXMUDE SIGHTED IN DESERT, PARIS ADVISED
  • DIXMUDE SIGHTED IN SAHARA DESERT
  • LOST AIRSHIP SEEN DRIFTING OVER SAHARA
  • DIXMUDE SIGHTED – Reported Drifting Into a Desolate Region
  • DIXMUDE CAPTAIN DEAD IN MEDITERRANEAN


December 29

  • DIXMUDE LOST IN HURRICANE
  • AIR TRAGEDY IS A MYSTERY
  • DIXMUNDE GIVEN UP AS LOST


The news was silent for many years until a new flurry of reports sprung up in 1931.

January 21, 1931

  • An article in the January 21, 1931, issue of The Times reported that the wreckage of the “Dixmude” was reported spotted in the Sahara Desert.
    REMAINS OF DIXMUDE IN SAHARA, REPORT – Reports of a possible French expedition to locate the wreckage.
  • MAY SEEK LOST FRENCH DIXMUDE IN DESERT SAND – This article notes the French government may send an expedition into the remote regions of the Sahara Desert to search for wreckage.
  • FRENCH TROOPS MAY TRACK DIXMUDE, LOST AIRSHIP, TO HEART OF SAHARA DESERT – This article repeats much of the same information as above but adds that the airship is supposedly down some 300 miles south of In Salah. This is a region untouched by European explorers. The natives report seven bodies at the wreck site.
  • Time Magazine, February 2, 1931 – Aeronautics: Ghost Ship; This article revisits the mystery. It reiterates that tribesmen claim to have seen the floating airship drifting south over the Sahara six days after it was supposedly destroyed.


By the time Lester Dent got around to writing “The Lost Oasis” he had a wealth of material to draw on for the “Ghost Zeppelin” featured in the story. The “Dixmude” L 72 became the” Aeormunde” ZX 03.

Doc Savage gives some details on the “Aeromunde” that strongly coincide with the “Dixmude.”

  • The craft vanished more than a dozen years ago.
  • The airship was flying over the Mediterranean Sea.
  • The commander’s body was found floating in the sea.
  • No other trace ever found.

“The Lost Oasis” was the seventh published story in the September 1933 issue of Doc Savage Magazine. Prior to this issue Doc Savage had found a lost Mayan civilization, living dinosaurs, battled a menace from the swamps, seized a fabulous treasure from the polar wastes, saved a Pacific nation for despoilment, and battled a criminal gang for control on an Arizona dam. These stories were all exciting and unique in their own ways. But “The Lost Oasis” raised the adventure to a new level. Doc Savage encounters deadly vampire bats, fights modern slavers, travels on a hijacked dirigible to remote location in the desert that harbors a diamond mine protected by man-eating plants.

Lester Dent took two fabulous ideas and combined them into one blockbuster story. He created a fabulous diamond mine deep in the remote desert that could only be reached by using a stolen dirigible. The idea for the lost oasis come straight from the legend of the lost city of Zerzura which housed a tremendous treasure deep in the vastness of the Sahara Desert. That legend goes back at least 800 years. The dirigible in the story is clearly based on the French zeppelin “Dixmude.”