Airship LZ.127 “GRAF ZEPPELIN” the flight to ROME

Flavio Riccitelli


To keep alive the attention of world public opinion on the airship and in particular on the LZ.127 “Graf Zeppelin”, which had started a long series of regular commercial flights to South America with transport of passengers, goods and mail, was its short flight to Rome, carried out in May 1933 before starting the second voyage of the year in South America. At the time, postal transport was no less important than passenger and freight ones and from it derived vital revenues for the Zeppelin Company, as evidenced by the great attention that was given to the philatelists, whose correspondence carried with the airship, in addition to the normal postal cancellations, it received a different special stamp, depending on the flight. The same happened for the flight to Rome, whose highly propaganda purpose was highlighted by the presence in the Italian capital of the Reich Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels.

Flight Chronicle

On May 29, 1933, departing late at night from Friedrichshafen, the “Graf Zeppelin” airship begins its 303rd journey, having Italy as its destination. From Lake Constance, at a speed of 120 km per hour, the airship heads to Schaffhausen and then to Basel, which is flown over at two in the morning. From there it continues on to France: Besancon, the Rhone valley, Valenza, Montelimar and at six in the morning it reaches Avignon. Beyond Marseille, the usual route that had already brought the airship to the Mediterranean on previous voyages is followed. Following the coast, it reaches Nice, Montecarlo and, after the Italian border, Sanremo, Genoa, Portofino, Pisa.
At 12.20 the Zeppelin is on Livorno. Sailing at an altitude of 200 meters, he drops two bags of correspondence which are collected on a building in via S. Carlo 46 by a certain Angelo Aulici who brought them to the central post office where they were promptly sorted. There are about fifty postcards and letters addressed to the same city, over 300 letters and postcards addressed to northern Italy and 400 letters to Germany (1).
At 3.00 pm Orbetello is passed, then Santa Marinella, and after flying over the Roman countryside at 4.30 pm the airship arrives in Rome. In all 16 hours of flight. The city of Rome is flown over for a good half hour before landing at 17.00 at Ciampino airport, where the King and the highest officials of the state are waiting for the airship. The authorities are welcomed on board by Commander Lehmann for a visit to the airship. In the meantime, the courier transported on the outward journey is delivered from the post office of the airship (with the exception of the correspondence destined for the postal launch in Naples) and the departing courier is collected, both for the next circular flight over Rome and the one destined for continuation of the flight.
After the ministers Balbo, Gazzera, Siriani, the Mannaresi undersecretaries, Riccardi, Solmi, the minister Goebbels, the German ambassador, the prefect and other authorities take their places on the airship to participate in the tour of Rome that the Graf Zeppelin happily performs (2) .
In the evening the “Graf Zeppelin” resumes its journey towards Naples, to fly over the city and carry out the second launch of correspondence. Late on the schedule, the command of airship decides to reverse course and return to its base in Germany. The planned postal launch is carried out on Nettuno and the courier transported to Naples by vehicle. The Zeppelin arrived in Friedrichshafen the following day (May 30, 1933) and was immediately subjected to construction work for the second voyage of 1933 to South America. This voyage begins on 3 June and ends in Brazil on 6 June 1933. Before starting the Atlantic crossing, a new correspondence launch is made, this time on Barcelona.

Commemorative emissions

To celebrate the event, the Italian postal administration issued a series of 6 stamps for the metropolitan area and the same for each of the Colonies (Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, Aegean Islands).

PostageType and destination
L. 3Postcard for Italy and Europe
L. 5Letter for Italy (15 gr.) And for Europe (5 gr.)
L. 10Postcard for Brazil
L. 12Letter for Brazil (5 gr.)
L. 15Postcard for other countries in South America
L. 20Letter for other South American countries (5 gr.)

The same did Republic of San Marino and Greece, the latter with a series of three stamps (30, 100 and 120 Drachmas). The new stamps issued were only valid for stamping the mail to be transported on the return trip to Germany and what the airship was about to do shortly thereafter in South America. Their value corresponded exactly to the surcharge for the Zeppelin transport. These were accompanied by ordinary postage to compensate for normal domestic or foreign taxes.

PostageType and destination
Dr. 150For any destination / Postcard
Dr. 200For any destination / letter


For this trip two special stamps were prepared, from Germany and Italy. The first was used on the courier departing from Germany and the Post Office which was on board the airship. It was vermilion red and in addition to the representation of the she-wolf and the twins, it bore the words “LUFTSHIFF GRAF ZEPPELIN / ROMFAHRT – 1933”. The second was used for mail taken on board in Rome. It was a large blue or violet circular stamp, also depicting the she-wolf and the twins, with the words “ITALIAN AIR MAIL / DIRIGILE GRAF ZEPPELIN 1933”.
The mail franked with the stamps issued for the occasion, with the exception of Greece and the Aegean, was canceled with special date stamps, different according to the place of departure; applied only (but not always) on the air surcharge, consisting of the special commemorative stamps. The rest of the postage, which covered the normal port, was canceled with ordinary postmarks. These special stamps were circular in shape and bore the words “MAIL AEREA – ZEPPELIN”, as well as the name of the locations of the post offices of departure, which were ROME, NAPLES, BENGASI and TRIPOLI.
Unlike Tripoli and Benghazi, no special stamp was made for mail from the Aegean Islands. The ordinary postmark date “MAIL AEREA / 24.5.33 / RODI / (EGEO)” was used, as a cancellation of the entire postage, even of the special Zeppelin stamps.
The mail from the Republic of San Marino had the special stamps canceled with a special octagonal stamp, green in color, known with three different departure locations: CITTA ‘, BORGO and SERRAVALLE. The correspondence from Greece, equipped with the special air surcharge, was concentrated in Rome with a postal connection organized by the Italian Express Air Company. In confirmation of this, a five-line red validation stamp was applied to it.
The Rome post offices, unlike the other localities, used two different cancellation stamps, having significantly different characteristics, while maintaining the same wording. In the 1st type, the word ROME appears to have narrower and taller characters, furthermore the wording ZEPPELIN AIR MAIL appears quoted and has a dividing dash between the words AEREA and ZEPPELIN: the entire writing therefore exceeds the horizontal line of the upper bezel of the stamp. In the 2nd type, the wording ROMA is of wider and shorter characters, furthermore the wording ZEPPELIN AIR MAIL is missing the quotation marks and the dividing dash: the writing is therefore shorter than the previous type (3). The characteristics of the 1st type stamp are repeated for the stamps of other localities therefore it seems that the 2nd type stamp was a following variant.
Upon arrival in Rome, the mechanical stamp “ROMA / POSTA AEREA / 17-18 / 29-V / 33-XI” was placed on both correspondence from Germany with the airship and on the one about to be loaded on it to which a plate with the stylized shape of the airship and the words “CRUISE ZEPPELIN / 1933 – XI” was added for the occasion. On a small part of correspondence the same stamp is also present with the date 30.5.33. (4)
Mixed franking was mandatory for dispatches from Vatican City, as this country did not sign the postal agreement with Germany. Vatican stamps were used as ordinary fare and Italian Zeppelin stamps as air surcharge for airship transport. The former were stamped with the ordinary stamp of the Vatican Post Office and the latter by the Italian Post Office, with the special date stamp “Rome – Zeppelin Air Mail”.

Philatelic Documentation

If we consider the great interest aroused by this flight among collectors, we understand how the quantity of mail arrived in Rome, even from distant countries, was greater than expected. The classification of the aerograms of this trip is therefore quite complicated.
Unlike the other zeppelin trips, for which the division criterion by country of departure has usually been followed, for this trip the best way to classify the documents flown is to divide it into three stages, within which there are further differentiations:

  1. outbound flight from Friedrichshafen to Rome
  2. circular flight over Rome
  3. return flight
  1. Outbound flight (Friedrichshafen-Rome)

The mail destined to be transported with this flight was concentrated as usual in Friedrichshafen, the starting point for all flights of the airship. In addition to the German post (Photo 1), this courier included the one coming from other states (mostly European) that had stipulated the postal agreement with the German postal authorities for the transport of mail by airship. For non-affiliated countries, such as Luxembourg, mixed franking with another affiliated country was required. In this case Germany.
In addition to the special German stamp mentioned above, correspondence was canceled at the start with the ordinary stampmark “FRIEDRICHSHAFEN / 29.5.33. 0-1 / (BODENSEE) “or with the cancellation of the post office on board” LUFTSCHIFF / 29.5.33 / GRAF ZEPPELIN “.

A mail bag was thrown as the airship passed over Livorno. Recovered and delivered to the post office, the courier was regularly sorted, but on most of it the arrival stamp was not applied, which made the aerograms on which it was applied rarer. This is the ordinary stampmark “LIVORNO / / CORRISPONDENZE”, which also comes with a different shapes and dates: “ XI” or “”.

The courier of this flight includes, in addition to the correspondences destined to be downloaded in Rome, also those destined for the launch on Naples, which on arrival were retained on board and launched, after the program changes, on Neptune. The first ones have the arrival of the figured mechanical cancellation or, more rarely, one of the two special date stamps described above. The others have on arrival the special stampmark dated “NAPLES / 30.5.33.XI-6 / ZEPPELIN AIR MAIL”, circular in shape.

In addition to Germany, where most of this courier’s correspondence comes from, there are aerograms from Austria, Gdansk, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg (mixed franking), Holland, Sarre, Switzerland, Hungary and the United States. The latter, sent on board the steamship “Bremen” and catapulted to Southampton and from there forwarded to Friedrichshafen, are to be considered the rarest documents of the outward journey. All aerograms bear the special German stamp.

2. Circular flight over Rome

On May 29th, 1933, at 6.15 pm, the airship landed in Ciampino, where it made a short stop, before making a short tour over Rome and its surroundings. During the stop, the courier was exchanged, with the delivery of the incoming mail and the collection of the outgoing one, not only for the next tour of the city, but also for the continuation of the journey. The courier of the circular flight, to be considered as a stage in itself of the airship’s journey to Italy, includes correspondence from Germany (bearing the special German stamp) and those collected in Rome, on which the large Italian special stampmark was applied light blue.

The courier of Rome tour is easily recognizable, being made up of correspondence (letters and postcards) addressed mostly to Rome or to other Italian cities, which after the flight were forwarded to their destination by ordinary way. It mainly consists of aerograms with Italian postage or from the countries of the Italian area (San Marino, Aegean Islands, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Eritrea and Vatican), but aerograms are also known from Albania, Greece, Gibiliterra, Tangier, Syria, Lattaquie and the United States. All aerograms are equipped with the great Italian special stampmark.
A small part of this courier, probably prepared by the well-known trader S. Bayer, has a small unofficial stamp in green with the words “Circular Flight over Rome”. Some postcards bearing the Ciampino cancellation also have the same origin, given that the post office was functioning on that airfield that day.

3. Return flight

This is undoubtedly the most important stage of the journey, for the quantity of mail transported, but also for some peculiarities in the postal documentation. Coming to Rome, the airship took delivery and transported to Friedrichshafen all the courier, addressed partly to Europe and partly to South America.

In addition to the countries of the Italian area (San Marino, Aegean Islands, Tripolitania, Cyrenaica, Eritrea and the Vatican) and Greece (via Aero Espresso), correspondence also arrived in Rome from other countries, for which a convention already existed. postal with Germany. The courier therefore also includes aerograms from Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Malta, Syria, Lattaquie and Lebanon. Like all the post from Rome, the large blue special Italian stampmark was applied to them.
It was an exceptionally large courier, part of which was sent the next day (May 30, 1933) by rail or by ordinary air mail to Friedrichshafen, considering that the departure for Brazil was scheduled for June 3 (5). This circumstance can be explained if we consider that Rome post office, before starting to cancel the correspondence, wanted to wait for the telegraphic confirmation that airship had left from Friedrichshafen. What happened shortly before departure. Well, considering that the airship left Rome at 7.45pm on the same day, the time available was certainly not enough to stamp all correspondence on that day. This also explains why Italian Zeppelin stamps, in most cases, were canceled on 29 May 1933 and more rarely with earlier dates. Furthermore, given the large amount of mail to be disposed of, it is understandable that many correspondences have been canceled at the start with the mechanical stamp instead of the circular stamp and others, in most cases the courier coming from San Marino and destined for South America, are even without the great Italian special stampmark. In the latter case there were a small number of atypical aerograms, but the circumstance also provided the opportunity for the production of fakes.
From the above, it can logically be said that the aerograms bearing the linear machine stamp of May 30th (instead of May 29th) on the back, are part of the courier sent the following day. Moreover, by carefully observing the correspondence, it can be seen that the aerograms on which the above stamp has been applied, almost all come from Tripolitania and on them the special zeppelin stamps are obliterated with the stamp “TRIPOLI / 29.5.33 / ZEPPELIN AIR MAIL “, when instead the aerograms, always coming from the Colonies, bearing the linear machine stamp of 29 May 1933, are stamped on departure with dates always prior to 29 May, and therefore arrived in Rome in time to be boarded on the airship. It is therefore, in all probability, an additional courier, consisting of direct correspondence in Europe and South America. For the latter, the boarding on the airship certainly took place after its arrival in Friedrichshafen.

Considering the many peculiarities of the return flight and the fact that it preceded the second trip of the “Graf Zeppelin” to South America by a few days, the analysis of postal documents cannot fail to make further distinctions, depending on the destination countries. We can therefore assume the following subdivision:

• Rome-Friedrichshafen
• Post launch on Neptune
• Rome- (Friedrichshafen) -South America
• Postal launch on Barcelona

3.1 Rome-Friedrichshafen

In this case, reference is made to correspondence arriving from Italy and destined for Europe, with the exception of that destined for Spain. Upon arrival in Germany, the stampmark “FRIEDRICHSHAFEN (BODENSEE) / / MIT LUFTSCHIFF / GRAF ZEPPELIN / BEFORDERT” was applied, manually (circular stamp) or mechanically (linear stamp with airship shape). Both are green.

If we exclude the mail launched on Neptune, it should be assumed that the “Romfahrt” (ie the phase of the journey characterized by the use of the special German stamp) ended in Rome and therefore on the return journey to Friedrichshafen the airship transport only correspondence with the great Italian blue stampmark. The “Romfahrt” instead continued on the return journey, given that on the “Graf Zeppelin” the on-board post office worked, which, like all ships in port, could accept outgoing correspondence. However, the postage necessarily had to consist of German postage stamps. There are therefore a limited number of correspondence delivered not to the Rome-Ciampino post office, but directly to the airship’s post office, on which the special figured German stamp has been applied. These matches are recognizable, compared to those departed from Friedrichshafen, from the date of the on-board stamp “LUFTSCHIFF / 30.5.33 / GRAF ZEPPELIN”, instead of 29.5.33. They also have the Friedrichshafen circular stamp of 30 May on arrival.

In much more limited numbers, and therefore much rarer, are the aerograms with Germanic postage presented immediately after the arrival of the airship at the Ciampino post office which applied the special Italian stampmark and then at the post office of the airship. They do not bear the linear machine stamp of Rome on the reverse, as having German postage they could not be unloaded and were detained by the on-board office which sent them on to Friedrichshafen. On the return flight, the stamps were canceled, like the previous ones, with the on-board stamp of 30 May and the special German stamp and the Friedrichshafen circular arrival postmark were applied to them.

3.2 Post launch on Neptune

In Rome the correspondence destined for the launch on Naples (carried out on Neptune), coming from Italy and from the countries of the Italian area, was also taken delivery. The courier was therefore composed not only of aerograms with the German red stampmark, not downloaded in Rome and coming from Germany and various European countries, but also of correspondence bearing the blue Italian stampmark. Transported to Naples, the correspondence was stamped on arrival with the cancellation “NAPLES / 30.5.33 XI-5 / ZEPPELIN AIR MAIL”, prepared for the occasion.

3.3 Rome- (Friedrichshafen) -South America

The mail collected in Rome, considering the very short processing times, was not perfectly divided for the different destinations, creating many problems on arrival. However, the long and laborious work of sorting mail, collected and closed in separate bags, depending on the destination, have to be considered. As required by the postal agreement, in fact, the German post offices did not take charge of courier destined for South America, which therefore remained closed in the bags in Friedrichshafen and opened only at its destination. This explains why these correspondences have no other stampmarks, other than those applied on departure in Rome and on arrival in South America.

But for a small amount of letters and postcards, mainly destined for North America, the above procedure was not followed. They were handed over to the Friedrichshafen post office and held until the airship left. On these correspondences (which could be defined as “out of bag”), as well as on the many others that flowed in those days to Friedrichshafen (from Germany and other European states), destined for transport by airship to South America, the special German stampmark was printed on three lines “LUFTSHIFF GRAF ZEPPELIN / 2. SUDAMERIKAFAHRT / 1933”, green. They were then restarted from Friedrichshafen, as attested by the ordinary cancellation “FRIEDRICHSHAFEN / / (BODENSEE)” and have the particularity of having the special German stamp next to the Italian one.

3.4 Postal Launch on Barcelona.

The courier was made up of the mail collected in Rome and that flowed to Friedrichahsfen. The mail loaded in Rome, already sorted, was closed in unopened bags in Germany, but only at its destination. This explains why on these correspondences there is only the special Italian stampmark and the Barcelona arrival / transit stamp.

On correspondence departing from Friedrichshafen, in addition to the special green German stampmark, a red stampmark was applied on a line with the words “FRIEDRICHSHAFEN (BODENSEE) – BARCELONA”.

Direct mail to South America, coming from Italy and from the countries of Italian area, was almost entirely concentrated in Rome, rather than in Friedrichshafen. In fact, if we consider the limited edition of the new zeppelin stamps and their validity only for this journey, added to the general curiosity aroused by the arrival of the airship in Rome, we must logically assume that almost all philatelists have concentrated their shipments in Rome and sent only a few aerograms to Friedrichshafen. This is how we explain the rarity of the Germanic green stampmark on the Italian “Zeppelins”.

The postcard of the photo (on the back of which there is a photo of the airship flying over Rome, more precisely Piazza di Spagna), which is part of the courier launched on Barcelona (via Friedrichshafen), has the particularity of having been sent on June 3, 1933 , therefore after the airship’s departure from Rome, and having reached the base of Friedrichshafen (via Stuttgart) in record time, in time to be boarded on the airship and subsequently launched on Barcelona. It is equipped with all the travel stamps for which it was intended (6).
Finally, a small number of correspondences are known that have traveled “out of sack”, on which the special Italian stampmark, the German one of the 2nd Sudamerikafahrt and the red stamp on a line of Barcelona post office have been applied.


Although very short, the airship LZ.127 “Graf Zeppelin” flight to Rome is of particular importance in the great universe of the Zeppelin mail, and this for several reasons. First of all for the large quantity and variety of philatelic documentation produced. And then, unlike previous trips to Italy (on the occasion of the Orientfahrt, with a postal launch in Rome and the Mittelmeefahrt, with a postal launch on San Remo, both carried out in 1929), on this occasion the “Graf Zeppelin” for the first time once landed on Italian soil. Great importance was given to the event by the fascist regime, which took every opportunity to attract the attention of world public opinion to our country. And indeed, none other previous Zeppelin flight was remembered with issuing in contemporary way of such so many stamps: 33. Moreover 1933th was an year full of great aviation events for our country.


  1. Taken from “One hundred years ago the flight of the first Zeppelin”, by Gabriele Fabris, Philatelic Chronicle n. 266, October 2000.
  2. Idem
  3. Ref. “Zeppelin airship trip to Rome. The cancellation stamps of the Italian Post Office ”, by Romano Savini, 1970
  4. On this point, please refer to the reading of “The Zeppelin Cruise in Italy: the Corriere Supplementare”, an article I wrote and published on AidaFlash n.81, June 1998. On the subject see also “The Rome Flight of 1933: some answers ”, By B. Wilcsek, The Airpost Journal, May 1999, in which the author expressly refers to the previous article.
  5. Idem
  6. Ref. “Contribution to the Sieger Catalog”, by P. Gall, THE Collector n. 8, 1959.

Essential Bibliographie:

• “Zeppelin aerograms with Italian and German stamps”, by P. Gall, Il Collezionista, 1958
• “The Zeppelin dirigible trip to Italy”, by P. Gall, Il Collezionista, 1961
• “A Zeppelin on Italy”, by M. Onofri, Il Collezionista, 1967
• “Zeppelin Catalog aerograms”, by E. Violino, Ed. Orlandini, 1971
• “Aerophilatelia Italian Catalog”, by F. Corsari & U. De Simoni, 1972
• “Italian, Italian Colonies, San Marino, Vatican (1929-1939) Zeppelin Aerograms Historical Descriptive Catalog, by Fiorenzo Longhi, Ed. Vaccari, 2009.