Tag Archives: zeppelin

19 October 1917 – The Silent Raid

Today, 11 naval Zeppelins (L41, L44, L45, L46, L47, L49, L50, L52, L53, L55, L56) attempted a raid on England.

The targets were various industrial centres in the North of England, and overall, and whilst successful in terms of the damage caused with 36 killed, 55 injured and nearly £55,000 worth of damage, five of the Zeppelins were lost and this turned out to be the last mass Zeppelin raid of the war.

For more detail on the damage caused by the raid see Ian Castle’s excellent website. Here I am going to focus on how the Zeppelins fared, as for all the talk of disaster, what is telling is that the British defences played no part whatsoever in the loss of the Zeppelins and had it not been for the poor weather including winds of up to 50 miles an hour, it is likely that the raid would have been more successful and losses would have been reduced.

L46 came in over the Norfolk coast but soon abandoned the mission and jettisoned the bombs. L46, flying at great height, was taken by the wind over neutral Holland but was unseen by the Dutch defences and reached home safely, the last of the raiders to do so on a direct route.

L41 also came inland over Lincolnshire and eventually reached Birmingham where bombs fell on the Austin plant at Longbridge. Turning for home, L.41 was carried over Northamptonshire, Essex, the Thames estuary, Kent and over to France where, after struggling in the wind for nearly three hours, she finally crossed the Western Front near La Bassée.

L53, came inland over The Wash bombing Bedford, Leighton Buzzard. And targets near Maidstone. L53 passed out to sea between Folkestone and Dover at 2330 but was carried by the winds behind Allied lines in France, L53 finally managed to push across the Western Front near Lunéville at around 0300.

L52 came inland over the Lincolnshire coast at 1930pm. High winds forced the ship south-west and then south dropping bombs at Kensworth and Hertford. The wind continued to carry L52 to the south-east and after crossing Kent the ship went out to sea near Dungeness at 2315. Carried across France, L52 managed to cross the Western Front near St. Dié at about 0530.

L55 also arrived over Lincolnshire and was blown south west and then south east eventually going out to sea near Hastings at about 2225. Once over France, the ship experienced severe engine problems, struggled with navigation and lost the use of the radio. The captain eventually got L55 back over Germany but, running out of fuel, they made an emergency landing at Tiefenort, where a storm wrecked L55 on the ground.

L44 arrived inland over the Norfolk coast at 1845 and headed south dropping bombs along the way. L44 went out to sea over Deal at 2052. Swept across France behind Allied lines, French AA guns opened fire on the ship just 10 miles from the Front Line and it crashed in flames at Chenevières. The entire crew were killed.

L49, came inland at 2000 over north Norfolk coast and proceeded to drop bombs all over he area. Struggling with engine problems and navigation, L49 crossed south-east England with the wind carrying her across France. Having seen L44 shot down, with only two engines working and attacked by a squadron of French aircraft, the captain decided to ditch to avoid being shot down. Once on the ground the crew were prevented from burning L49, leaving the Allies the prize of one the latest Zeppelin designs.

L50 came inland over Norfolk at 1945 and flew south-west dropping bombs along the way. The wind then carried L50 towards the south-east and out to sea. The ship seems to have had serious navigation issues at one point being 150 miles west of the Western Front. Seeing the fate of L44 and L49 the captain, with two engines out of action, decided to crash land and at least deny his ship to the enemy. He hit a wood, which ripped off two of the gondolas causing most of the crew to leap overboard. L50 then soared back up with four men still on board. The uncontrollable airship eventually disappeared over the Mediterranean and no trace of the ship or the four men was ever found.

L45 appeared over the Yorkshire coast at 2020, attempted to attack Sheffield but the ended up over Northampton. After dropping bombs there the ship ended up over London where most of the nights damage was done. The wind then carried L45 over the coast near Hastings at 0100. Blasted across France by the wind, L45 was unable to make headway to the east and eventually, when about 70 miles from the Mediterranean coast, he decided to make an emergency landing near Sisteron and the crew surrendered.

The crew of L45


21 August 1917 – “Hot Air”

This evening, eight naval Zeppelins set out from the north German sheds – the L35, L.41, L42, L44, L45, L46, L47 and L51 with the intention of raiding the English Midlands. The airships, keeping well together, approached the Yorkshire coast until they came within sixty miles of the Humber, where they dispersed and cruised about for three hours.


The L41 returning home

Eventually the L41 attempted an attack on Hull, crossing the coast soon after midnight. However the searchlights and heavy anti- aircraft gun-fire made the L41 turn back and drop the bombs randomly. Hedon suffered damage with a Methodist Chapel destroyed, and some other minor damage to property. In addition, one man was injured.

British records of the time suggest that no other bombs fell overland. At the time, however, the German Admiralty issued a lengthy report of the raid, in which it was claimed that the Zeppelin fleet had bombed Hull, warships in the Humber, and various industrial establishments. This was assumed at the time to be propaganda.

However, German records of the raid suggest that the crews genuinely believed that they had attacked Hull with 11000 kg of bombs. This is reported in the Official History (Volume 5, p56). The Official History also notes a packet of reports to which it was judged no credence could be attached at the time. In this packet, labelled Hot Air, are messages which show that an airship passed over Pontefract and was later reported near Rochdale in Lancashire, while from Doncaster came news of bombs heard exploding in the distance.

Two of the twenty pilots who went up to attack the L.41 saw her, but they could not get near enough to engage her. One of them while flying at 15,000 feet estimated that the L.41 was some 5,000 feet higher still and, although he pursued her twenty miles out to sea and fired bursts at long range, he could not get near enough for effective attack.

The Zeppelins tended to fly at around 20,000ft, mainly to ensure that they were out reach of British Aircraft, which at this point in the war they were. However, flying height made accurate navigation and precision bombing impossible. It’s possible that the bombs fell in uninhabited areas and were not detected.

19 July 1917 – Smuts Committee initial report

“The War Cabinet at their last meeting held on the 11th July 1917, decided (Minute 3) ‘That the Prime Minister and General Smuts in consultation with representatives of the Admiralty, General Staff and Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief Home Forces, with other such experts as they ‘may desire should examine i. The defence arrangements for Home Defence against air raids. ii. The air organization generally and the direction of aerial operations.’

2. We regard the first subject for our examination as the more pressing and we deal with it accordingly in this first report, so far as the defence of the metropolitan area is concerned.

The second subject of our inquiry is the more important and will consequently require more extensive and deliberate examination. We propose to deal with it in a subsequent report.

3. London occupies a peculiar position in the Empire of which it is the nerve centre, and we consider, in the circumstances, that its defence demands exceptional measures. It is probable that the air raids on London will increase to such an extent in the next twelve months that London might through aerial warfare become part of the battle front. We think, therefore, that it is necessary to take special precautions, so far as the defence of London is concerned, and so far as this may be done without undue prejudice to operations in the Field and on the High Seas, as the fighting forces must, as a matter of general principle have the first call upon our output of aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.

4. The arrangements for Home Defence, including that of the London area, against hostile air raids, have been undergoing a continual and rapid transformation, which, together with other causes, has militated against efficiency. In the first instance, attacks were made by Zeppelins at night and our defences were so organized as to deal with this form of attack. Anti-aircraft guns, singly or in pairs, or in large numbers, were placed at convenient points, and aeroplanes of no great power or speed were disposed at suitable centres.

After some modification, the original dispositions were found to be adequate to meet night attacks by Zeppelins. We have, however, now to meet attacks of an entirely different character, which take the form of invasions by squadrons of aeroplanes in formation and our arrangements for defence are accordingly being adapted to meet this development.

One cannot, however, entirely preclude the possibility of a repetition of Zeppelin attacks, and it would consequently be unwise to abandon the earlier defence arrangements. Additions to these arrangements are, however, necessitated by the new ‘formation attack’ by day. The defence against Zeppelins was effectually carried out, not only by individual anti-aircraft guns, but also by single aeroplanes fitted with special armament.

As operations were conducted by night, there was no question of formation either for attack or defence. Now, however, that the attack is made by day by large enemy units in formation, one or two anti-aircraft guns firing from any particular point cannot hope to cause serious damage, and generally have no other effect than that of frightening the enemy pilots, while the defending aircraft, unless they can also operate in formation, are liable to very serious risk and cannot do much more than hover round the outskirts of the enemy formation. An attack in formation could, we think, only be properly met by a barrage fire from guns concentrated in batteries at suitable points in front of the area to be defended, or by flights or squadrons whose object is, by concentrated attack, to break up the hostile formation and destroy individual machines after they have been scattered out of their formation.

5. The relevance of these remarks is well illustrated by what happened in the air raid over London on Saturday, 7th July. The enemy machines attacked in definite formation which they maintained throughout the raid. In our view they should have been met and repelled by a heavy barrage of gun-fire before they reached London. Instead of this they were only subjected to a sporadic gun-fire in the London area which did them no observable damage. As regards aeroplanes on that occasion, we actually disposed of a larger number of first-class machines than the enemy, but our machines were distributed among a number of stations and some of them came in in driblets from various training centres.

Our machines were not in formation when in the air, and even when they attempted to concentrate they did not come under a unified command in the air, nor have they been trained so to fight. The result was that their very spasmodic or guerrilla attacks failed to make an impression on the solid formation of the enemy, and the damage that was done by our superior numbers of first-class R.F.C. machines was comparatively negligible.

We have investigated the circumstances in some detail and are informed that the reasons why greater results were not achieved were that some of our pilots were not accustomed to the new machines they were flying, that certain machines were not used because of missing spare parts, and a certain amount of shells that were fired were useless on account of defective fuses. These defects should, and can be remedied with all possible speed, but it is to the general arrangements and organization that we wish to refer more fully.

6. Four separate agencies contribute to the defence of the London area against air raid: (a) Royal Naval Air Service, which is not under the Home Command, but works under the direction of the senior naval officers in the naval districts, but in co-operation as far as possible, with the Home Defences.

There seems to be a general agreement among those whom we have consulted that for the limited purpose of the defence of London, the present division of command in this respect should not be disturbed.

The principal function of the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons is to deal with enemy raiders on their return journey, as they recross the Channel. They did so very effectively on the occasion of the last raid, and after consideration of all the circumstances, we are disposed to think that the above squadrons should continue to operate under separate Naval Commands, but in close co-operation with the Home Defence.

(b) The Observation Corps (distinct from the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service), which consists of a number of observers round London, mostly infantry soldiers, often elderly and not specially qualified for the duties they have to perform. This Corps is directly under orders of the Field-Marshal Commanding Home Defences.

(c) Various incomplete units or single machines of the Royal Flying Corps allocated to Home Defence, under the Command of Colonel Higgins.

(d) The anti-aircraft guns of the London area under the command of Colonel Simon.

7. The last three agencies operate separately under orders of the Home Defence head-quarters which is the only connecting link between them. This system appears to us to involve too great a dispersal of Command when dealing with a problem like the air defence of the London area, which is not only of very far-reaching military and political importance, but also constitutes a well marked, distinct task, separable from other problems of Home Defence, which accordingly calls for a corresponding concentration of executive command.

Our first recommendation therefore is that:

Subject to the control of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief of the Home Forces a senior officer of first-rate ability and practical air experience should be placed in executive Command of the air defence of the London area including the above services (b) (c) (d) of paragraph 6 above, and that this officer should be assisted by a small but competent staff, who should be specially charged with the duty of working out all plans for London Air Defences.

This officer would take his instructions from the Field-Marshal and would in turn issue his orders to the Observation Corps, the Officer Commanding the anti-aircraft guns, and the various Air Units. The unity of command which is essential to any warlike operation, whether of an offensive or defensive character, would be thus achieved. We think that this officer should be appointed without delay so that he may at once set to work to deal with the various pressing problems connected with London air defence, some of which are referred to below.

In view of the possibility of the recurrence of Zeppelin attack, as well as for other reasons, we think it would be inadvisable to remove the anti- aircraft guns from their present stations in the London area. In our view, the best defensive use of anti-aircraft guns against hostile aeroplanes attacking by day, would be for them to put up a barrage in front of and covering London, and our second recommendation accordingly is that:

Immediate attention should be given to the question of the numbers and disposition of anti-aircraft guns to put up such a defensive barrage.

It is true that there is at present said to be an insufficiency of guns for this purpose but, as stated in paragraph 3 above, we regard the defence of London as so important as to call for exceptional measures, and special endeavours should therefore be made to provide an adequate number of guns for this purpose. 8. A more pressing problem, in our opinion, is the provision and organization of a sufficient number of air units, trained to fight in formation, and their proper disposition to dispel any air attack on London. At present the only reliable unit formed for this purpose is the squadron specially detailed a week ago from the Western front. Three other units are in process of formation, but they neither have the necessary number of machines nor have the pilots the required training for fighting in forma- tion. We understand that an additional squadron, complete in point of numbers, will be furnished almost immediately and posted to the North- East of London. Another squadron to be disposed to the South-East should be complete in numbers in three or four weeks. Both of these will, however, require to be properly trained to manoeuvre in formation in suitable units. Our third recommendation therefore is that:

The completion and training of these three additional squadrons, successively, be pushed on as rapidly as possible and that, in the meantime, the return of the first unit to France should not be sanctioned until the air defence of London is reasonably secure.

9. In the course of our investigation, we considered the point whether our present type of fighting machine is the best to cope with the slower but more powerful Gotha raiders. In regard to this we make no recommendations and leave the problem for the further consideration and study of the experts of the Air Board, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Ministry of Munitions.

10. The question of the provision of sufficient aircraft for defence purposes and for the formation of a reserve is one which, in our view, requires careful and immediate consideration. The enemy may possibly adopt the ruse of sending a small number of machines well in advance of his main attack in order to lure our squadrons into the air; the main enemy force may then appear on the scene and find himself unchecked, owing to the fact that our machines in coping with the advanced patrols had exhausted their petrol, and our pilots, their energy. We are advised that, theoretically, for our machines in the air to descend, refill with petrol, and reascend to the proper height, would take some 45 minutes, but in practice other factors would supervene and the actual time taken would be considerably longer. The result might well be that the main enemy force would meet with practically no opposition, and after doing the maximum amount of damage, might return to its base with immunity and intact. In view of such a situation, which might well arise at any time, we submit that it might be advisable to avoid sending up more units than are necessary onthefirstwarningofacomingraid. Suchacontingencywethinkmust be contemplated and to meet it reserves should be kept in hand. We accordingly recommend that:

The air defence units for the London area should he sufficient not only to cope with feints, but to meet the real attack or a possible second attack follow- ing close on a first attack.

The formation and retention of such a reserve is only in accordance with the general and elementary principles of warfare.

II. We believe that if prompt effect is given to the above recommendations, subject always to the adequate and reasonable provision of aircraft for naval and military operations by land and sea, a fair measure of security for the London area from hostile raids may be obtained until, at any rate, some unforeseen development takes place.”

17 June 1917 – Another one bites the dust

Following the successful aircraft raid. On 13 June, another Zeppelin raid was made overnight with the same result as the raid on

Four Zeppelins set off to bomb England, but with only four hours of darkness, it was obvious that the airships would be unable to penetrate very far inland. In the event they encountered head winds and only two reached the coast.

The L42 appeared over the North Foreland at 0205 and bombed Ramsgate, Manston, and Garlinge. One bomb exploded in a naval ammunition store near the Clock Tower in Ramsgate Harbour and great military damage was caused. The buildings of the naval base were destroyed and many thousands of windows throughout the town were shattered. Two men and a woman were killed and seven men, seven women, and two children were injured.

During the attack the Zeppelin was caught by search light but lost again, apparently due to the fact that the underside of the L42 was painted black. A number of Naval pilots went up to intercept. Flight Sub- Lieutenant George Henry Bittles, in a seaplane, engaged the L42 at 11,000 feet when she was thirty miles east of Lowestoft, but her nose went up rapidly and the seaplane was soon outdistanced. Flight Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury, in a Sopwith Pup also caught up with the L42 at 15,000 feet and at once attacked. However, a petrol-pipe fracture hampered the plane’s climbing ability and the Zeppelin was able to get away. Another flying boat chased and the at 16,000 feet, found herself alone and out of harm’s way and, although a flying-boat took up the L42 but was unable to catch up.

The L48 was first seen about forty miles north-east of Harwich at 1134, but did not actually come inland until 0200, having struggled with engine problems and a frozen compass. L48 then attacked Harwich but was driven off by anti-aircraft fire.

Two aircraft took off from the RFC’s Orfordness Experimental Station shortly before 0200. Lieutenant Ernest William Clarke in a BE2c fired four drums at long range as he was unable to get above 11,000 feet. Lieutenant Frank Douglas Holder flying a FE2b with Sergeant Sydney Ashby as his observer made a number of attacks, but Holder’s front gun jammed and so did Ashby’s while firing his fifth drum.


London Pierce Watkins

At 0328 near Theberton, Captain Robert Henry Magnus Spencer Saundby, RFC also from the Orfordness  Station in a DH2 and Lieutenant Loudon Pierce Watkins, 37 Home Defence Squadron RFC in a BE12 made further attacks.  Saundby fired off three drums and Watkins fired off three as well. At that point the L48 burst into flames and crashed into a field at Holly Tree Farm. Remarkably, three of the crew survived, albeit badly injured – Heinrich Ellerkamm, Wilhelm Uecker and Otto Miethe.

Captain Franz Georg Eichler, and the commander of the Naval Airship Division, Korvettenkapitän Viktor Schütze, who was also on board were both killed. Other crew members killed were Heinrich Ahrens, Wilhelm Betz, Walter Dippmann, Wilhelm Gluckel, Paul Hannemann, Heinrich Herbst, Franz Konig, Wilhelm Meyer, Karl Milich, Michael Neunzig, Karl Floger, Paul Suchlich, Herman Van Stockum and Paul Westphal.


The wreckage of L48

Watkins was credited with the victory and later awarded the Military Cross.

An excavation of the crash site was carried out in 2006.

14 June 1917 – L43 Destroyed

Following the destruction of the L22 on 14 May 1917, the Felixstowe flying boats had another success today.

This morning around 0840, while patrolling off Vieland, an H12 (8677), spotted a Zeppelin five miles away at a similar altitude.


This was the L43. The pilot Flight Sub-Lieutenant Basil Deacon Hobbs, climbed another 500 feet and then dived to attack. Flight Sub-Lieutenant Robert Frederick Lea Dickey manned the bow Lewis gun, and the wireless operator, H. M. Davies, and the engineer, A. W. Goody, manned the amid- ships and stern guns. The flying-boat passed diagonally across the tail of the Zeppelin, and, after a burst of tracer ammunition from the Lewis gun amidships, followed by Brock and Pomeroy incendiary ammunition from the bow gun, the L.43 caught fire. It then broke in two and crashed into the sea. The entire crew were killed.

This incident led to the end of lower level patrolling by Zeppelins. The returned to higher altitudes which the seaplanes couldn’t reach. This in turn made it easier for British submarines to cross the channel without detection.

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