The First Successful Non-Stop East to West Transatlantic Flight 

As part of the UCD MA in Archives and Records Management course, I am working on a project to catalogue the papers of Timothy Aloysius Smiddy in UCD Archives.  Timothy Smiddy was the first official diplomatic agent of the Irish Free State. In 1924 he was appointed as Ireland’s envoy extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to the US, where he stayed until 1929.

Research forms a large part of a cataloguing project, as understanding the context of the papers is crucial for arranging and describing them.  Archival arrangement involves identifying which materials belong together, putting them into a logical order (although we try to maintain the original order that the collection arrives in as much as possible), and assigning a hierarchy.  Broad subjects are arranged as a series high up the hierarchy, with more specific topics arranged as sub-series or files beneath, and single items at the bottom.  Detailed descriptions of the materials are written so that researchers can discover what is in the collection, and reference numbers are given to each file and item so that the archivist can retrieve the material and researchers can accurately cite material.

The change from learning about processing archival collections in the classroom to having the physical papers of a real collection in front of me was a bit daunting at first.  But once I started looking through the boxes my confidence grew.  Timothy Smiddy had an interesting life and I am enjoying learning about a range of subjects, and sharing what I have found.

While looking through the boxes I came across a folder labelled ‘Captain James Fitzmaurice’.  To find out where this folder fitted in with the rest of the papers I needed to discover who James Fitzmaurice was, and the connection to Timothy Smiddy.  The answers turned out to be very interesting.

Captain James Fitzmaurice 

Irishman Capt. James Fitzmaurice was an aviator, born in Dublin.  He enlisted in the British Army at the outbreak of war in 1914, and grabbed the opportunity to train as a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. After the war ended, he continued his training with the Royal Air Force.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty of 6th December 1921 led to the formation of an Irish National Army (later called the Free State Army), Fitzmaurice joined this new army in August 1922, aged 24.  He had an adventurous and daring streak, taking on dangerous flying missions around the mountainous regions of Kerry, dropping leaflets urging the anti-treaty IRA to surrender their arms.  In 1927 he became the Commanding Officer of the Baldonnel Aerodrome in Co. Dublin, which was the HQ of the Army Air Corps.

Transatlantic Flight East to West

In 1919 the first non-stop transatlantic flight had been achieved, travelling from west to east, but there hadn’t been a successful flight in the opposite direction.  Fitzmaurice, looking for something more interesting to do than routine duties, was keen to make the transatlantic crossing.  An opportunity arose in September 1927 when he joined Capt. Robert H. McIntosh on his transatlantic attempt in the Princess Xenia, but bad weather had forced them to turn back.

Fitzmaurice had another chance to attempt the flight in April 1928 when he joined up with two Germans, Captain Hermann Köhl and Baron Günther von Hünefeld; who had also had a previous failed attempt.  The aircraft was a German Junkers W33 aeroplane called the Bremen, Baron von Hünefeld owned the plane, Capt. Hermann Köhl was the pilot, and Capt. James Fitzmaurice was the co-pilot.  They had to wait 17 days for the weather to clear, but on April the 12th they were able to take off from Baldonnel Aerodrome.  Despite a near miss with a sheep on take off, bad weather, instrument-light failure, and an oil leak, they landed at Greenley Island, Canada on 13th April 1928.  They had just completed the first successful non-stop east-west transatlantic flight. 

The crew of the Bremen became famous in North America.  Parades and receptions were put on for them as they toured the US, wherever they went huge crowds came out to welcome them.  

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The crew of the Bremen arriving in New York City, James Fitzmaurice is in uniform smiling. UCD Archives, P319/29

They arrived in New York City on 30th April, more than two million people and ten thousand US troops turned out to greet them.  Mounted police can be seen controlling the crowds in the background of the photograph below.

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New York City, UCD Archives, P319/29

Having an Irishman amongst the crew brought national prestige for the new Irish Free State, and the positive publicity that was generated helped in their cause to achieve recognition of their independent status.  Fitzmaurice helped promote his country by carrying the tricolour flag with him and wearing his Irish Army uniform during the flight and at all the receptions.  He was promoted to major in his absence.  Timothy Smiddy was the Minister Plenipotentiary to the US at this time, he held a dinner in honour of Capt. Fitzmaurice at the Mayflower hotel in Washington D.C. and accompanied him on the official visit to Arlington Cemetery, where the crew laid a wreath on the tomb of the unknown soldier.

President Calvin Coolidge presented the men with Distinguished Flying Crosses, and they received the Freedom of the City of Dublin.

(L – R) Capt. Hermann Koehl, Maj. James Fitzmaurice (in uniform), and Baron von Huenefeld (saluting). Timothy Smiddy is standing behind Fitzmaurice. Arlington Cemetery, Washing, D.C. UCD Archives, P319/29

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Signed menu card, UCD Archives, P319/29

Fitzmaurice was promoted colonel in July 1928 and retired from the Air Corps in February 1929.  He went on to promote various air ventures, initially travelling between Ireland and Germany, before heading to New York where he lived during the 1930s.  He moved to London in 1939 where he ran a wartime service mens club until 1945, he retired to Dublin in 1951.  He was the last surviving member of the Bremen, and was awarded a medal in Munich only three weeks before he died, on 26th September 1965.   He received a military funeral and is buried in Glasnevin cemetery.

This post was researched and written by Selina Collard, Library Assistant, UCD Archives.


Patrick Long, Dictionary of Irish Biography, October 2009, DOI:

Teddy Fennelly, Col. James Fitzmaurice—Ireland’s greatest aviator, 20th-century / Contemporary History, Features, Issue 2 (March/April 2019), Volume 27,

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