Tag Archives: zeppelin

The tracking of Zeppelins has become quite sophisticated now. A central operations room has been established at the Admiralty to coordinate the messages coming in from the British wireless interception stations and those going out to the eight Warning Controls (the country was divided into areas for the purpose of warning of an attack).

When Zeppelins approached within 150 miles of the English Coast their position, course, and speed were communicated at once, by telephone from the Admiralty, direct to one or more of the East Coast flying-boat bases.

The commanding officers at each base then had the discretion to launch one or more flying-boats. The subsequent positions of the airship or airships were passed on, as they were plotted to the air stations, and then relayed by wireless to the flying-boats already in the air. The receipt of continuous information also enabled commanding officers to judge the need for sending up additional aircraft.

Today an additional innovation was added in a special squared chart of the southern part of the North Sea, known as Tracing Z. This enabled the positions of Zeppelins to be communicated by code signals based on the chart.

14 May 1917 – Zeppelin destroyed

On 26 April the Admiralty put a new tracking system in place to detect Zeppelins. As the Zeppelin patrolled, their courses were methodically plotted by the British wireless interception stations, and if they approached within 150 miles of the English Coast the position, course, and speed were communicated direct to one or more of the East Coast flying-boat bases.

Local commanders then had discretion to send out aircraft – keeping them up to date with the Zeppelin’s position by wireless.

Soon after dawn this morning, in misty weather, news was received of a Zeppelin near the Terschelling Light Vessel.


Robert Leckie

A Curtiss H12 ‘Large America’, manned by Flight Lieutenant Christopher John Galpin, Flight Sub-Lieutenant Robert Leckie, Chief Petty Officer Vernon Frank Whatling, and Air Mechanic J Laycock, was sent out from Yarmouth.

After eighty miles, the flying-boat shut down the wireless to lessen the chances of discovery. At 0448, the crew spotted Zeppelin L22 ten to fifteen miles away, cruising slowly at 3,000 feet, The flying-boat was 2000 feet up and then climbed another 1,000 feet.

Leckie made a skilful approach and dived on the Zeppelin until he was twenty feet below and fifty feet to starboard of her gondolas. Then Flight- Lieutenant Galpin opened fire from the two Lewis guns in the forward cock-pit. After a burst of fire both guns jammed, and the pilot turned away to try and clear the guns. But no second attack was necessary. As the flying-boat turned, the L22 began to glow, and within a few seconds she was falling in flames. Her skeleton plunged upright into the sea, leaving no trace in the dawning light save a mound of black ash on the surface of the water.


A publicity shot of the crew and their H12

17 March 1917 – Zeppelins are back

In the first raid since November 1916, five Zeppelins attempted to attack London overnight. One of them, L42, was the first of the ‘s-class’, Zeppelins, but L42 had to return early with engine problems.The remaining Zeppelins, L35, L39, L40 and L41, were modified ‘r-class’ models, with an engine removed for greater height.

Strong winds forced the raiders south.  L39 arrived first over Margate in Kent at 2220. Unfortunately thick cloud from 3000ft to 9000ft made target identification impossible    and L39 dropped bombs more or less blind. In the event L39 only dropped seven bombs, none of which caused any serious damage.  L39 reached the coast at St. Leonard’s at 2340 and then flew westward along the coast as far as Pevensey Bay and then went out to sea. Strong winds forced her south across the English Channel to Dieppe. Battling the wind across France, L39 passed to the north of Paris, but then stopped over Compiègne around 0530. Three batteries of French AA guns opened up and eventually they hit their target. L39 burst into flames and crashed at about 0555a with the loss of the entire crew.8ef58bdd5536ec0c20403f6703f1baf1-640x3601A short video of the wreck can be seen here.

About 20 minutes after L39 appeared over Kent, L35 appeared over Broadstairs, Kent. In the end 20 bombs in all were dropped, none of which caused any serious damage. L35 went out to sea at 0015 near Dover. L35 was also blown off course and flew over Calais. Strong winds prevented her reaching her home base at Ahlhorn near Bremen. Instead she managed to find a berth at Dresden, many miles to the south-east, but  was damaged entering the shed. 

The second wave arrived at 0100 over Herne Bay with L40, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Sommerfeldt, led a second wave, arriving over Herne Bay on the north Kent coast at about 1.00am. 23 bombs fell causing little damage, though four sheep were killed. L40 went out to sea at New Romney at about 0215, and eventually got back to her base at Ahlhorn.

L41 arrived 20 minutes later at Cliff End near Pett, south of Winchelsea. L41 dropped 23 bombs over the Rye and Camber Sands area again causing minor damage L41 went out to sea at Dungeness at 0205 and crossed the French coast at Boulogne eventually reaching the base at Ahlhorn after a mission lasting almost 27 hours. 


29 December 1916 – Double disaster

The German Naval Air Service had hoped to end the year with one final mission over England. To this end, eight Zeppelins set out with orders to bomb the south of England. Bad weather reports led to their recall after they had been at sea three hours.


This followed bad news yesterday, when Zeppelin L24 crashed into a wall while being taken into its hangar at Tondern, It caught fire and was completely destroyed. L17 in the hangar next door also caught fire and was destroyed.


Despite these losses the German authorities can be content that the Zeppelins are having the desired effect. The raids over England have caused substantial damage, killed 293 and injured 692. This is obviously miniscule compared to the losses at the front, but such is the public outcry from the raids that the Army and Navy have been forced to set up substantial defences which are diverting men, guns, aeroplanes and other supplies from more important theatres of war.


For example, there are over 17000 men retained for home anti-aircraft defence. Of these over 2000 are in the RFC, 12000 are manning anti-aircraft defences such as guns and searchlights and the remainder involved in early warning and detection. This is on top of the emergency services personnel who are also tied down on home defence activities.

28 November 1916 – Double disaster

No Zeppelins have been sighted over England since 1/2 October when L31 was destroyed. Overnight, 10 navy Zeppelins raided, with two of them, L24 and L30, turning back early and L36 failed to cross the coast.

The remaining seven divided into two groups, one aimed for the north-east and the other targeted the north Midlands. L14 arrived over Hull around 2110 and meandered around the city for a while while the AA guns took potshots, finally retiring at 2225. L16 arrived around 2120 and attacked various villages in the Barnsley area and then flew towards York dropping bombs and causing minor damage. At 0035 L16 flew out to sea again. L22 meandered near the Humber for a couple of hours without dropping any bombs. L13 dropped bombs ineffectively over North Yorkshire.

Ian Pyott

Ian Pyott

The main action of the night was confined to two airships, L34 and L21. L34, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Max Dietrich, attacked Hartlepool around 2330. The ship was rapidly picked up by a searchlight and then seen by 2nd Lieutenant Ian Pyott of 36 Squadron in his BE2c. Another n targeted the Zeppelin and Dietrich responded by dropping 12 bombs on it causing some damage to buildings.

At this point Pyott attacked but without result and L34 turned east back towards the coast. At around 2340 another 16 bombs fell, killing four and injuring another 11.

Now L34 was under heavy AA gunfire, and Pyott attacked again. This time he was successful and L34 began to burn, crashing into the sea a mile off the coast. The entire crew were killed.

At this point L35 which was nearby and had also been targeted by searchlights, abandoned the mission and flew out to sea.

L21 flew over Barnsley dropping one bomb but continued on quickly to Stoke-on-Trent which suffered its second air raid of the war. 23 bombs in all fell on Goldenhill, Tunstall, Chesterton, Trentham and Fenton causing minor damage.

L21 then headed South east to Nottingham. At 2255 two aircraft from 38 Squadron spotted L21, but a series of evasive manoeuvres and a climb to 13000 feet threw them off. L21 continued east and was unsuccessfully attacked by an aircraft from 51 Squadron, who had to retire with engine trouble.

Edward Laston Pulling

Edward Laston Pulling

At around 0600, L21 had reached Great Yarmouth, but the earlier delays meant that it was now getting light and the Zeppelin became an easy target. Three RNAS aircraft took off and attacked. All three engaged and Flight Sub-Lieutenants Edward Laston Pulling and Egbert Cadbury scored hits, wither latter likely firing the fatal shots. At 0642am the flaming wreck of L21 crashed into the sea off the coast of Lowestoft killing all the crew.

26 September 1916 -Back, back again

Despite the loss of two zeppelins the German Navy decided to press ahead with another raid on England overnight.

Caution was exercised however by the captains of the two ‘super-Zeppelins’, L.30 and L.31, who were to attack London. Both avoided the area in the end due to clear skies. L30 claimed to have bombed Ramsgate and Margate never actually appeared inland. L31, attempted to attack Portsmouth but was located by the searchlights and attacked by AA fire. L31 released bombs but these all fell in the sea and L31 then flew back over Dover before returning home.

The other Zeppelins attacked the Midlands and the North. L14 arrived off the Yorkshire coast at about 2205 and steered towards York. At around 2245 L14 arrived on the outskirts of York and dropped seventeen bombs at various locations around the city. A woman died of shock near Heworth but other than that there was only minor injuries. At 2300 a searchlight located L14 and the ship steered away towards Ripon. At about 2340 L14 dropped bombs on Newby with Mulwith, Wormald Green, Dunkeswick and Harewood. L14 was then caught again in a searchlight at Collingham, and a nearby AA gun fired nine rounds. L14 then dropped three bombs at the light and severed the telephone line between the gun and the searchlight. L14 went out to sea at Scarborough at about 0130.

L.16 also reached Yorkshire near Bridlington Bay at about 2205. The ship flew around for two hours dropping only three bombs in total before going out to sea near Speeton on Filey Bay just before midnight.

L21 arrived further south off the Lincolnshire coast at 2145 and flew west over the Peak District and Pennines. At around 2225 L21 began dropping bombs around Lancashire causing minor damage but without any major injuries.

L.21 then dropped bombs on Bolton – thinking it was Derby, killing 13 people and destroying houses and other properties. L21 then flew over Blackburn, Burnley, Skipton, Ripon and Thirsk and over the North Yorkshire moors and out to sea near Whitby at 0305.


Cossey Road, Sheffield after the raid

L22, arrived off the Lincolnshire coast around 2230 and also flew west dropping various bombs on the way to Sheffield. At around 0025 L22 began dropping bombs on the city. These caused widespread damage, killing 28 people and damaging over 80 houses. The ship then flew over Doncaster at 0045 and north of Scunthorpe at 0120, flying out to sea near the village of Garton at 0205.

The RFC had only two aircraft airborne due to the fog but neither saw either L21 or L22.


9 August 1916 – Partial Payback

At the same time as German Naval Zeppelins were returning, a British raiding party set off to raid the Army Zeppelin sheds at Zeebrugge.

Flight Sub-Lieutenants Ralph Harold Collet and Donald Ernest Harkness, flying Sopwith 1½ Strutters without observers to save weight, set off over the sea and crossed the coast east of Zeebrugge.

Collet went first to the shed at Berchem Ste. Agathe, but he saw through the open door of the shed as he glided down to bomb that there was no airship inside, and so he aborted the attack and went on to Evere where, from little more than 150 feet above, he scored eight direct hits with le Pecq bombs on the large airship hangar.

Hardness arrived at around the same time and was forced to drop eight bombs from higher up due to the AA fire Collet had attracted. He then dropped four more on the hangar at Berchem Ste. Agathe. Both pilots got back safely to their aerodrome.

In the end there were no airships in the sheds at the time the bombs were dropped, but considerable damage was caused to the sheds.