Tag Archives: Zeppelin

Warneford VC and the Destruction of Two Zeppelins on 7 June 1915

The first raid on the United Kingdom by German airships took place on 19 January 1915. In February Kaiser Wilhelm II relaxed his previous ban on raids on London: military targets east of the Tower of London could now be bombed. L8 had to abandon an attempt to bomb London on 26 February because of high winds. She tried again on 4 March, but was hit by gunfire and wrecked on landing in Belgium. A number of attacks were made on other targets on the East Coast of England and in France, including Paris, in March and April.[1]

In April the German army received LZ38, the first of the new P class Zeppelins. They had a maximum speed of 60 mph, a cruising speed of 40 mph, a crew of up to 19, a defensive armament of 7 or 8 machine guns and a bomb load of over two tons.[2]

The first raid on London was made by LZ38, captained by Hauptmann Erich Linnarz, on 31 May. She dropped over a ton of bombs, killing five people and injuring 35; damage worth £18,596 was done to property.[3]

Attempts by the Royal Naval Air Service to destroy airships, both by intercepting their raids and attacking their bases, had by then resulted in the destruction of only Z9. She was bombed in her shed by Flight Lieutenant Reginald Marix, flying a Sopwith Tabloid, on 8 October 1914. Squadron Commander Spenser Gray was unable to find the airship sheds, so bombed Cologne railway station.[4] Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The Cuxhaven Raid on Christmas Day 1914 failed to find the German navy Zeppelin base.

On 3:15 am on 17 May the army Zeppelin LZ39 was spotted off Dunkirk. Seven RNAS aircraft took off from Dunkirk to join two other that were already on patrol. Grey and Flight Sub Lieutenant Reginald Warneford attacked the airship from below, but she climbed away from them and headed towards Ostend. Flight Commander Arthur Bigsworth, flying an Avro, managed to get 200 feet above her as she flew 10,000 feet above Ostend. He dropped four 20 pound bombs on the airship, which emitted some smoke from her tail, but continued on her way. She landed roughly but safely. One of her officers was killed and several men wounded, five gasbags damaged and one propeller lost.[5]

LZ37, LZ38, LZ39 and the navy Zeppelin L9 set out to bomb London on 6 June, but encountered strong winds and fog. Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy’s L9 diverted to her alternative target, the Humber, using flares to find the docks.. She dropped 13 explosive and 39 incendiary bombs on Hull according to the British Official History: the German one says nine and 50 respectively. Around 40 shops and houses were damaged, a sawmill burnt down, 24 people killed and 40 hurt. Rioters sacked shops owned or allegedly owned by Germans. Hull had no anti-aircraft guns, so the only defensive fire came from HMS Adventure, under repair in the port. Mathy dropped seven more incendiaries on Grimsby, causing little damage, before heading home. Guns at Immingham and Waltham fired at L9 without hitting her.[6]

The fog also prevented British aircraft from taking off from Killingholme. The light cruisers HMS Aurora and Penelope, each carrying a seaplane, left Harwich in pursuit of L9, but she escaped.[7]

LZ39 suffered problems and had to turn back to her base at Evere. The other two army airships encountered fog, ad were unable to reach England, so also headed back home.[8]

In the early hours of 7 June, the RNAS airfield at Dunkirk sent four aircraft to bomb the airship bases at Evere and Berchem St Agathe. Two Henri-Farman biplanes, flown by Flight Lieutenant John Wilson and Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Mills, headed for Evere. Wilson took off at 12:40 am and arrived at 2:05 am. He replied to a series of long flashes from a searchlight with a series of short flashes, which kept the anti-aircraft guns quiet whilst he circled until there was enough light to attack. At 2:20 am he could just see the airship shed, so dropped his three 65 pound bombs from 2,000 feet. One hit the centre of the shed, sending up dense smoke but no flames. Mills turned up at 2:30 am, but was forced by anti-aircraft fire to turn away and gain height. He came back at 5,000 feet, dropped his four 20 pound bombs, setting LZ38 alight and destroying her. Both pilots had problems with fog, but got home safely, although Mills had to land on the beach between Calais and Dunkirk and Wilson in a field near Montreuil.[9]

One of the aircraft sent to attack Berchem St Agathe suffered technical problems, got lost and had to land in a field near Cassel. Warneford, flying the other, a Morane, spotted an airship just after 1:00 am. At 1:50 am he caught the Zeppelin, which was LZ37, over Bruges. Its machine guns fired on his Morane, forcing him to retire and climb. The airship turned after him and continued to fire for a period. Once Warneford had reached 11,000 feet, he headed back towards LZ37, switched off his engine, dived and dropped his six 20 pound bombs as he flew along the airship 150 feet above her. The Zeppelin exploded, throwing Warneford’s Morane upside down. He managed to regain control as it dived. One of LZ37’s crew fell through the roof of a nunnery and somehow survived, although the wreckage that fell with him killed two nuns.[10]

The explosion had damaged a petrol pipe in Warneford’s aircraft, forcing him to land behind enemy lines. He initially intended to destroy his aircraft, but then realised that he had not been seen, so set about repairing it. After 35 minutes on the ground behind enemy lines he was able to take off and landed safely, although at Cape Gris-Nez rather than Dunkirk because of the fog.

Warneford, the first pilot to destroy an airship in the air, was awarded the VC. The citation, available on naval-history.net, said that:

 29189 – 11 JUNE 1915

Admiralty, 10th June, 1915.

The KING (is) pleased to approve of the grant of the Victoria Cross to Flight Sub-Lieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford, Royal Naval Air Service, for the conspicuous act of bravery specified below:

For most conspicuous bravery on the 7th June, 1915, when he attacked and, singlehanded, completely destroyed a Zeppelin in mid-air. This brilliant achievement was accomplished after chasing the Zeppelin from the coast of Flanders to Ghent, where he succeeded in dropping his bombs on to it from a height of only one or two hundred feet. One of these bombs caused a terrific explosion which set the Zeppelin on fire from end to end, but at the same time overturned his Aeroplane and stopped the engine. In spite of this he succeeded in landing safely in hostile country, and after 15 minutes started his engine and returned to his base without damage.

 

He was killed on 17 June when an aircraft that he was testing crashed.

Wilson and Mills received the DSC:

 29201 – 22 JUNE 19….. award of the Distinguished Service Cross to:

Flight Lieutenant John Philip Wilson, R.N., and Flight Sub-Lieutenant John Stanley Mills, R.N., for their services on the 7th June, 1915, when, after a long flight in the darkness over hostile territory they threw bombs on the Zeppelin shed at St. Evere, near Brussels, and destroyed a Zeppelin, which was inside. The two Officers were exposed to heavy fire from anti-aircraft guns during the attack.

The bulk of the German army’s airships were transferred to the Eastern Front soon afterwards, where they bombed railway lines in support of the German offensive in Poland. However, two of them bombed London in July.[11]

 

 

[1] W. A. Raleigh, H. A. Jones, The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922). vol. iii, pp. 93-97.

[2] J. H. Morrow, The Great War in the Air: Military Aviation from 1909 to 1921 (Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993), p. 108.

[3] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air. vol. iii, pp. 97-98.

[4] Ibid. vol. i, pp. 389-90.

[5] Ibid. vol. ii, p. 350.

[6] Ibid. vol. iii, p. 103.

[7] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical) 1925 vol. xiii, Home Waters part iv, February 1915 to July 1915. p. 237.

[8] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air. vol. iii, pp. 104-5.

[9] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 351-52.

[10] Ibid. vol. ii, pp. 352-53.

[11] Morrow, Air, p. 109.

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The First Zeppelin Raid on the United Kingdom 19 January 1915

On 3 September 1914 the Admiralty was put in charge of the defence of the United Kingdom against air attack. Its strategy was to use its limited number of aircraft in attacks on airship bases rather than on defensive patrols.[1]

A seaplane carrier raid was launched against the airship base near Cuxhaven on 25 December 1914. An attack on the Emden base was planned, but was postponed on 14 January 1915 because the weather was unsuitable for seaplanes.[2]

Night attacks were expected in 1914, so some restrictions on lighting were introduced in London, Birmingham and coastal towns. These did not entail a full blackout because of the potential effect on road safety and business. Major thoroughfares and bridges had their lighting broken up and parks were given lights in order to stop enemy airmen using them to find their targets. Lights on public transport were reduced to the minimum and ones in shops shaded.

A Naval Corps of Anti-Aircraft Volunteers was established to man anti-aircraft guns, with recruitment starting on 9 October. However, there were so few guns that only London, Dover and Sheffield could be defended at first. The dockyards were so busy that it was decided that their lights would be put out only when a raid had been detected.

Guns and searchlights were deployed in ports as more became available, but the RN did not have enough men to man them. A conference on 16 October 1914 therefore decided that the army would responsible for the aerial as well as the land defence of defended ports, with the help of the aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service. Once enemy aircraft or airships had crossed the coast it was up to the Admiralty to destroy them. The aircraft of the army’s Royal Flying Corps would be principally responsible for aiding the army in fighting an enemy invasion, but when available would help the RNAS in combating air raids. [3]

The first German air raids were carried out by aircraft. One dropped two bombs into the sea off Dover on 21 December. Three days later another dropped the first aerial bomb to land on British soil, also on Dover. The only damage was broken glass. Another aircraft appeared the next day. It was attacked by British anti-aircraft guns and pursued by three aircraft, but it ecaped.[4]

The German navy had discussed using its airships to attack the UK in September 1914, but had decided that it did not then have enough Zeppelin airships to do so whilst carrying out the more important task of fleet reconnaissance. By 7 January 1915 it had 12 airships, and Admiral Friedrich von Ingenohl, the Commander-in-Chief of the High Seas Fleet, decided that four could be used to bomb the UK. The long nights of January and February were thought to be particularly suitable for airship raids. There was also a desire to act before the British repeated their raid on the airship sheds.[5]

The intention was to attack military targets, with damage to historical buildings and private property being limited as far as possible. The German Admiralty thought that London was a military target, but Kaiser Wilhelm ordered that:

‘London itself not to be bombed at present; attacks are to be confined to dockyards, arsenal, docks (those near London also), and military establishments of a general nature, also Aldershot Camp, if there are no German prisoners there.’[6]

The first date on which the weather was suitable was 19 January. Three Zeppelins set off between 9:00 am and 11:00 am. L6 (Oberleutnant Freiherr von Buttlar) had to turn back because of engine problems, but L3 (Kapitänleutnant Hans Fritz) and L4 (Kapitänleutnant Graf von Platen) arrived over the east coast of England at 8:00 pm.

Their target was Great Yarmouth. The authors of the British Naval Staff Memorandum note that it ‘seemed to exercise a curious fascination over the minds of those planning raids in Germany…in preference to more valuable objectives.’[7] It had been the target of a raid by surface ships on 3 November 1914. It was a defended port, so was a military target, but not an important one, so was most likely chosen for geographical rather than military reasons.

L3 crossed the coast at Winterton and turned south towards Yarmouth. Fritz reported being fired upon by anti-aircraft guns on the north side of the town, and dropped six 110 pound explosive and seven incendiary bombs from 4,900 feet. He then headed home, crossing the English coast at 8:27 pm and reaching Fühlsbüttel at 9:00 am on 20 January.

L4 made a navigational error and found herself over the small town of Sheringham around 8:35 pm. Von Platen dropped two bombs on it, before heading west and dropping one bomb on each of the villages of Thornham, Brancaster, Hunstanton, Heacham and Snettisham, He stated that his airship then found itself over a large town at a height of 820 feet. It was caught in searchlights and came under fire, so he dropped seven 110 pound explosive and one incendiary bombs. The town was King’s Lynn.[8]

The British Naval Staff Monograph states that:

‘The firing and the searchlights which the airships reported they had been met with were entirely imaginary. Althoguh the British air stations had been warned at 8:40 pm, and L4 did not get clear of the Norflok coast until 12:30 am, January 20, no anti-aircraft action was taken either by guns of aeroplanes.’[9]

It is difficult to see why an internal document, intended only for the use of RN officers and written in 1925, would lie, so it would appear that the Germans imagined the anti-aircraft fire.

Four British civilians were killed in the raid. Samuel Smith, the first person in Britain to be killed by aerial bombardment, and Martha Taylor in Yarmouth and 14 year old Percy Goate and Alice Gazely, a 26 year old war widow, in King’s Lynn. Three were injured in Yarmouth and 13 in King’s Lynn. This link includes pictures of the damage.

It is widely claimed, including by the Daily Mail and Gorleston & Great Yarmouth History websites linked in the previous paragraph, that the Kaiser forbade attacks on London because he did not want to risk injuring his relatives in the British Royal Family. However, this website notes that L4 flew over Sandringham, one of the Royal Family’s houses, leading to allegations at the time that it was a target of the raid, which it was not.

 

 

[1] Naval Staff Monograph (Historical)  vol. xii, Home Waters part iii, November 1914 to the end of January 1915. pp. 173-74.

[2] Ibid., p. 169.

[3] Ibid., pp. 174-75; W. A. Raleigh, H. A. Jones, The War in the Air: Being the Story of the Part Played in the Great War by the Royal Air Force, 7 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1922). vol. iii, p. 83-86.

[4] Raleigh, Jones, War in the Air, p. 89.

[5] Naval Staff vol. Xii. p. 175.

[6] Quoted in Ibid., p. 176.

[7] Ibid.

[8] There are some differences in times and number of bombs dropped in various sources. The ones quoted here are from Ibid., pp. 176-77.

[9] Ibid., p. 177.

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