24 May 1917 – Zeppelins return and a dramatic rescue

Despite poor weather consisting of snow and hail, six Zeppelins attempted a raid on London overnight (L40, L42, L43, L44, L45 and L47). L44 turned back with engine trouble just after reaching the English coast and dropped bombs in the sea. L47 miscalculated its position and also dropped bombs over the sea due to thick clouds.

L42 came farthest inland flying over Essex to Braintree, then turning north-west and, later, north-east, before going out to sea near Sheringham at 0325. overland for three hours. During that time bombs fell in open country causing some minor damage. On the way back, the ship was struck by lightning three times but got home.

The L45 and L43 followed similar paths across Suffolk and Norfolk through an area of thunderstorms. Between them they dropped 40 bombs damaging property and killing a farm labourer.

L40 did not reach land either and turned back with engine trouble. At the same time a flyingboat from Yarmouth, piloted by Flight Lieutenant Christopher John Galpin, set out for Terschelhng in the hope finding a Zeppelin. At about 0530 the L.40 suddenly appeared out of a cloud a mile ahead. The captain of L40 dropped his remaining bombs and climbed as rapidly as he could. Galpin had approached to within 300 yards when the nose of the Zeppelin met the clouds. He was able to fire off half a drum of incendiary ammunition but failed to hot and the Zeppelin disappeared.

Despite a large number of sorties from RNAS and RFC aircraft, there were no further encounters mainly due poor weather and visibility,

Two Sopwith ‘Baby’ seaplanes, had left from Westgate air station but only one returned. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Leonard Graeme Maxton was missing. It turned out that they had already been picked up by a trawler but this was unknown so at 0810 Flight Sub-Lieutenant Harold March Morris, with 2nd Class Air Mechanic GO Wright, went out in a Short seaplane to look for the missing Sopwith. What happened to the Short was told later by Morris in his report:

‘On Thursday 24th at 8 a.m. I was ordered with A. M. 2nd Class Wright as observer to go in search of Flight Sub-Lieutenant Maxton who had failed to return. I set out steering East for 30 minutes, then I turned N.W. for 5 when my engine suddenly stopped. I was forced to land.

The sea was choppy and the wind rising, so my observer sent off his pigeon while I kept the machine head to wind. At about 2.30 my starboard lower plane was carried away causing us to swing broadside on to the sea: we climbed out on to the other plane so as to balance things, but the machine gradually got tail to wind and the tail plane was smashed and the machine gradually began to sink tail first. As she sank we climbed out on to the floats and sat on them, till I was washed off, but managed to catch the tail under water and climb on again. Here we sat till the machine sat up propeller in air and finally turned right over, leaving just the underneath part of each float out of the water. By this time the sea was very rough and the wind blowing a gale. We clung as best we could all night and when morning dawned, the wind had dropped considerably and the sea was getting quieter. We watched all day and by evening the sea was calm and we caught sight of a lightship and a cruiser and two destroyers in the distance, but we could not make them.

About sunset six seaplanes, flying very low, and in diamond formation, flew over us as we waved to them and they answered by firing a green light, but they took no further notice. Their machines had our markings, but were going east and flying very fast. Nothing else happened till the Sunday when an aeroplane flew over, but failed to see us.

The weather remained calm till on the Tuesday at about 2 ‘clock we sighted an H.12, which also saw us; it circled round coming lower and lower and finally landed, although the sea was getting rough again. As it passed us we hung on to the wires and climbed in. We tried to get it up again, but the water was too rough and we only broke our tailplane, so we taxied for about 25 miles till we sighted the Orient which took us aboard and later on transferred us to the White Lilac which brought us into Felixstowe at about 9.30 p.m. on Tuesday night. The signal code book we had with us was first torn up and then thrown into the sea, just before our machine turned over.”


Harold Dent Smith

The H12 crew were Flight Sub-Lieutenants James Lindsay Gordon and George Ritchie. Hodgson, Leading Mechanic SF Anderson, and Wireless Operator BW Millichamp.

One pilot was lost however, when Flight-Sub-Lieutenant Harold Dent Smith failed to return. It was assumed he had crashed in the sea and was drowned.


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