Zeppelin LZ.38

29/30 April 1915

This was the first raid on England to be carried out by a German military airship.

LZ-38 was the single army airship that carried out the raid, under the command of Hauptmann Erich Linnarz. It was first reported from the Galloper lightship as being 30 miles south-east of Harwich, going west, after 11 p.m. on 29 April.

At 11.55 p.m. she crossed the coast at Old Felixstowe and went straight inland, reaching Ipswich at 12.10 a.m. There, she dropped five incendiary bombs in the borough, one of which failed to ignite. One fell on a house in Brookshall Road, setting fire to it and the adjoining house; otherwise no damage was done and no casualties were caused.

Immediately afterwards, five more incendiary bombs fell at Bramford, to no effect. At 12.20 a.m. five explosive and eleven incendiary bombs fell at Nettlestead and Willisham, 7 miles north-west of Ipswich, doing no damage except for crops. The airship eventually reached Bury St Edmunds, and for ten minutes circled over the town, going round two or three times. At 1 a.m. she dropped three HE and forty incendiary bombs on the defenceless town. Luckily, most incendiary bombs simply burnt out causing no damage or were doused by buckets of water.

The most significant damage was suffered by four business premises on the Butter Market, where Day’s Boot Makers and adjoining shops were gutted, and burned until morning. By some miracle, there was only one casualty – a collie dog belonging to a Mrs Wise.

The airship had now left the area of coast fog; the sky was quite clear and moonlit at Bury St Edmunds, and the LZ-38 was plainly visible at a height of about 3,000ft. She therefore hastened to return to the protection of the fog before she could be attacked, and went off eastward at high speed, dropping a single HE bomb as she went. No damage was done in either case.

At 1.15 a.m., she reached Creeting St Mary, 16 miles east-south-east of Bury St Edmunds, and dropped an incendiary bomb there, followed by another at Otley; neither causing any harm. At 1.27 a.m. another fell at Bredfield, 10 miles east-south-east of Creeting St Mary, and at 1.30 a.m. another at Melton, 2 miles from Bredfield, with the same result. The last bomb, also an incendiary, was harmlessly thrown at Bromeswell, and the airship proceeded out to sea near Orfordness at about 1.50 a.m.

After turning north along the coast, at 2 a.m. she passed over Aldeburgh and was last heard of at sea at 2.20 a.m., still going in the same direction. No action was taken against the Zeppelin; the mobile guns of the RNAS reached Bury St Edmunds at 1.45 a.m., three quarters of an hour after the raid, and it was by then too foggy on the coast for aircraft to go up.

10 May 1915

LZ-38, again commanded by Hauptmann Linnarz, was this time first spotted at 2.45 a.m. over the SS Royal Edward which was moored off Southend as a prisoner of war hulk. The raider dropped an incendiary bomb close to the port side of the ship, the flames leaping up to a height 10–12ft and lasting half a minute. The LZ-38 was travelling towards Southend and dropped two more bombs in the water between the ship and the shore.

She passed over Southend east–west at 2.50 a.m., dropping four HE and a large number of incendiary bombs on the town as she went. Two of the HE bombs failed to explode. After leaving Southend the airship went over Leigh to Canvey Island where, at 3.05 a.m., the Zeppelin came under fire of the AA (anti-aircraft) guns at Thames Haven and at Curtis & Harvey’s Explosive Works, in Cliffe. There were 3in guns mounted at Cliffe and their fire, the volume of which was probably unexpected, straightaway turned the LZ-38, which appeared to be hit – although not vitally.

The Zeppelin went back over Southend, dropping more incendiary bombs there at 3.10 a.m. She headed north-east towards Burnham, and went out to sea near the mouth of the Crouch. At 4.18 a.m. she passed the Kentish Knock light vessel, heading east. She passed near Sunk at 4.30 a.m. and by 5.15 a.m. she had moved south of the Shipwash, after which she headed towards the Outer Gabbard and out to sea. On returning to Belgium, she was found to have been holed twice aft by AA (anti-aircraft) fire, a shell having gone through her stern.

A large number of incendiary bombs, estimated to be about ninety, were dropped on Southend but, owing to the energy of the fire brigade surprisingly little damage was done. A timber yard was burnt out and a number of small fires were started, all of which were brought under control, except for one in a dwelling house which was completely burnt out. A woman was killed and a man injured in this house. A private of the 10th Border Regiment was also injured in the town.

The very heavy load of incendiary bombs carried by the airship was remarkable, as is the time at which the raid was carried out, just before dawn. As this time was not again chosen for a further raid, it was evidently deemed unsuitable for some reason. The height of the airship was unusual for this period, being estimated at 9,000–10,000ft, which is much higher than previously.

During the raid a message was dropped on the town, written on a piece of cardboard in blue pencil: ‘You English. We have come and will come again soon. Kill or Cure. German.’

17 May 1915

LZ-38, with Hauptmann Linnarz, was spotted again seven days later at 12.30 a.m. hovering off North Foreland for some time,and appeared to have dropped some bombs in the sea. She then approached Ramsgate. On being fired at from drifters at sea, she first went east and then northwards and was off the Tongue lightship shortly after 1 a.m. At 1.40 a.m. she came overland again at Margate and flew across Thanet, reaching Ramsgate at 1.50 a.m.

She dropped a number of bombs, apparently four HE and about sixteen incendiaries, on the town. One HE bomb struck the Bull and George Hotel, penetrating to the basement and blowing out the whole front of the building. A man and a woman who were on the second floor were seriously injured and died three days later; another woman was slightly injured. No other casualties were caused, though bombs fell all over the town and in the harbour. A few buildings and some fishing smacks were damaged. After throwing the bombs, the airship went out to sea under hot rifle fire and disappeared in the clouds.

She then proceeded down the coast, and came inland again about 2.10 a.m. at Deal, where she hovered for a short time with propellers stopped. At 2.25 a.m., LZ-38 approached Dover and was engaged by the AA guns of the garrison. In all, five rounds of 6-pdr and twenty-eight rounds of 1-pdr ammunition were fired. On being caught by the searchlights and fired at, the airship at once rose to a height of at least 7,000ft, dropping bombs as she did so, and emitted a dense cloud of vapour in which she disappeared (this was a discharge of water ballast).

The bombs fell at Oxney, 3½ miles from Dover. They were all incendiary, and thirty-three were found. No damage was done by any of them.

The airship carried on north, was fired on by the guard ship in the Downs at 2.50 a.m., hovered about in the neighbourhood of the North Goodwins until 3.25 a.m. and then went back to Belgium after day had dawned. She passed over the British lines at Armentières at about 4.20 a.m.

While over Ramsgate, the lights of London were discernible from the airship, but her commander’s instructions expressly forbade his venturing far inland and no attempt was made to raid London. The estimated value of the damage caused by the raid was £1,600.

26 May 1915

LZ-38 and Hauptmann Linnarz paid their second visit to Southend on this night, several weeks later. The raid was clearly a repetition of his earlier reconnaissance of the route to London, special attention being paid to the mouth of the River Blackwater.

At 9.18 p.m. LZ-38 passed Dunkirk going west, and at 10.30 p.m. appeared off Clacton-on-Sea. She then passed south-west via Bradwell-juxta-Mare at 10.50 p.m. to Southminster at 10.53 p.m. Here, she was fired on with fifty-seven rounds from a pom-pom.

LZ-38 turned south to Burnham-on-Crouch shortly before 11 p.m., passing over Shoeburyness at 11.05 p.m., where the airship came under fire from a 3in AA gun and veered westwards to Southend. Here, at 11.13 p.m., she dropped twenty-three small HE bombs and forty-seven incendiaries. Two women were killed (one of them, unfortunately, from a fragment of AA shell), a girl was injured and several other people received minor injuries.

LZ-38 went off to the north-east, and was again engaged by Shoeburyness AA fire at 11.20 p.m. (the 3in gun at Shoeburyness fired a total of twenty-four rounds HE and thirteen rounds of shrapnel). She passed Wakering at 11.25 p.m. then left via Burnham, where she was fired on with 200 rounds of rapid fire by A Company, 2nd/8th Battalion Essex Regiment, thence to Bradwell and out to sea at the mouth of the Blackwater at 11.45 p.m. The monetary damage caused by the raid was estimated at £947.

It was noted that the small HE bombs were more like grenades, weighing about 5lb each. The GHQ report stated:

These clearly had no other object than the killing or maiming of as many people as possible. Owing to their small size the damage they could inflict to well-built house property was relatively slight but as the casing of the bomb was serrated in the same manner as that of a Mills grenade, the explosion of such a bomb in a crowded thoroughfare or building would cause serious casualties.

The First Raid on London

LZ-38 was first reported on 31 May passing Dunkirk at 8.30 p.m. She crossed Calais at 8.55 p.m. and made for the North Foreland, passing Margate, where she was fired at with 500 rounds from the Maxim machine guns of the Southern Mobile RNAS section at 9.42 p.m. Other .45 Maxim machine guns of the Southern Mobile RNAS opened fire on her from Reculver at 9.50 p.m. and she seems to have moved over to the Essex shore. Here she was fired upon with twelve rounds of shrapnel shell by the 3in gun at Shoeburyness at 10.12 p.m.

LZ-38 passed inland between Rochford and Rayleigh at 10.25 p.m., reaching Wickford at 10.35 p.m. Later, at 10.50 p.m., she passed Brentwood and then seems to have hesitated as to her course; her commander was evidently fixing his exact position with regard to London.

LZ-38 then came straight in, passing between Woodford and Wanstead at 11.15 p.m. The airship was seen over London for the first time, about 400 yards away from Stoke Newington Station and, at this point, commenced dropping bombs at 11.20 p.m.

The first bomb to drop in the Metropolitan Police area was an incendiary. It fell on 16 Alkham Road, Stoke Newington, penetrating into two bedrooms and destroying their contents by fire. The spot where this bomb fell is about 300 yards south-east of Stoke Newington Station and it may possibly have been aimed at the station. The next bomb was also an incendiary and it fell on 8 Chesholm Road, falling through the roof of the back bedroom but without doing any further damage. This was followed by three HE grenades that fell on 41, 43 and 45 Dynevor Road, Stoke Newington. At the first house the windows and doors were blown out, but nos 43 and 45 also had the back extensions of each house practically demolished and the rest of the doors and windows blown out.

The airship then steered a course due south about 500–600 yards west of the main Kingsland–Stoke Newington road, which was doubtless visible. Bombs were then thrown in rapid succession, the next being an incendiary which fell at 27 Neville Road, Stoke Newington, completely gutting the premises. This was followed by an HE grenade, which landed in the roadway of Neville Road and failed to explode.

An incendiary bomb fell on a shed at the rear of 21 Neville Road, but caused no fire, and another incendiary followed this at 47 Neville Road, falling through the roof to the floor below without causing any fire. Another incendiary bomb was dropped at 6 Allen Road, and this went through the roof of the house to the ground floor, gutting two rooms and injuring four children slightly. At 69 Cowper Road, an incendiary bomb fell into a small water tank without causing any serious damage, while at 71 Cowper Road another incendiary caused a small fire.

The next bombs to fall were two grenades at 102 Shakespeare Road. One struck the coping of the house and another fell on the front steps. Considerable damage was done to no. 102 and the adjoining houses. Three more incendiary bombs were thrown into Barrett’s Grove, Arundel Grove and St Matthias’ Road, Stoke Newington, but no damage was caused.

Two HE grenades were dropped on Woodville Grove. These fell into gardens and did not explode. They were followed by three incendiaries and an HE grenade dropped in Mildmay Road, which caused very slight damage. From this point onwards to the Shoreditch Empire Music Hall no grenades were thrown. More incendiaries fell in Queen Margaret’s Grove and King Henry’s Walk without doing any damage; two, however, caused a fire in Ball’s Pond Road in which two people were burnt to death, and a man and four women injured.

Incendiary bombs were dropped all the way down Southgate Road at close intervals, but fortunately they all fell into gardens or onto roadways and caused no damage. After crossing at Regent’s Canal, an incendiary bomb was dropped at 6 Witham Street but only caused a slight fire, which was extinguished by the occupier.

The airship now veered more to the south-east, and dropped several incendiary bombs, causing only slight damage, until at 28 Hemsworth Street, Hoxton, where the premises were gutted, as were those at 31 Ivy Lance, Hoxton, where an incendiary bomb caused severe damage by fire and slightly injured a child. The next bomb, dropped at Bacchus Walk, Hoxton, destroyed the premises, and hit and seriously injured a soldier. Between this point and the Shoreditch Empire, three more incendiary bombs were dropped without causing any serious damage, two of them falling onto stone pavements.

Subsequently, four incendiary bombs were dropped together, three falling on the Shoreditch Empire Music Hall and the other on the house next door; the damage in both cases was slight. A grenade was also thrown at this point, and this fell onto the pavement in front of the music hall without causing any casualties. The audience was in the building at the time, and any tendency to panic was averted by the promptitude of the manager in addressing the audience from the stage.

The next bomb was an incendiary, and fell on the premises of Hopkins & Figg’s, drapers of Shoreditch, without causing any serious damage. There were about thirty female assistants sleeping on the premises and the consequences might have been very serious had the bomb set the building on fire.

Three incendiary bombs fell on Bishopsgate Street Goods Station, but the fires were promptly extinguished by the men on duty. Two incendiaries and one HE grenade fell into Pearl Street, Shoreditch, but did no great damage. These were followed by three incendiary bombs in Princelet Street, and an HE grenade in Fashion Street, none of which caused any serious damage.

Altogether, four men (including two soldiers), two women and two children were injured in Hoxton and Shoreditch. Fortunately there were no fatalities.

The airship then passed over Whitechapel. Incendiary bombs which fell on Osborn Street, Whitechapel and near Whitechapel Church did no damage. A HE grenade fell into a large tank of water at the whisky distillery of Johnnie Walker & Sons, Whitechapel, followed by three incendiaries in Commercial Road East, none doing any harm.

LZ-38 began to turn due north-east and, at the same time, dropped seven HE grenades in close succession. The first of these fell in a yard at 13a Berners Street, injuring a horse, followed by two on the same spot in Christian Street, Whitechapel. The casualties here were severe, as two children were killed, with five people seriously hurt and five slightly injured.

Another HE grenade fell in Burslem Street, St George’s, but failed to explode; followed by another in Jamaica Street and another in East Arbour Street, with similar results. The next bomb was also a grenade that fell on Charles Street, Stepney, but only broke some glass. The next two bombs were incendiaries at 130 Duckett Street and 16 Ben Jonson Road, Stepney, and these caused slight fires in both instances. They were closely followed by a grenade, which also fell on Ben Jonson Road, but caused no damage.

It is worthy of note that the commander of LZ-38 made no attempt to attack the docks which, at this point in the raid, lay only about 1 mile away from him to starboard.

A relatively large distance of 3 miles now elapsed before the next bombs were thrown. The fact that the airship was passing over the relatively thinly inhabited areas on each side of the River Lea could apparently be seen from the airship and, for this reason perhaps, no bombs were thrown hereabouts. The next bombs released were two incendiaries, which fell at Wingfield Road and Colgrave Road, West Ham, but did no damage. A grenade in Florence Street, Leytonstone, caused little harm, as did others which fell at Park Grove Road, Cranleigh Road, Dyer’s Hall Road and Fillebrook Road. The last bomb in Fillebrook Road, fell at about 11.35 p.m. The casualties at Leytonstone amounted to three people being slightly injured.

The total number of bombs dropped in the Metropolitan Police area were:

30 HE grenades at 5lb each = 150lb

89 Incendiary bombs at 25lb each = 2,225lb

This weight represents a total of 1 ton 1cwt and 23lb of bombs dropped on London.

LZ-38 now went off east, passing Brentwood at 11.55 p.m. and was spotted between Burnham and Southminster at 12.30 a.m. Her commander clearly had some difficulty in fixing the locality of his point of departure – no doubt the mouth of the Crouch – and hesitated for a few moments just as he had outside London, before deciding his position with regard to the coast. The airship was fired upon by an AA gun at Southminster and the mobile guns of the RNAS at Burnham. LZ-38 went out to sea at the mouth of the Crouch about 12.40 a.m. The estimated monetary value of the damage caused by the raid was estimated at £18,596.

The question of the height at which this airship was travelling was of some importance. At Shoeburyness her height was estimated at 7,500ft by the military authorities. The reports of the RNAS, however, speak of her as having passed near that place (probably on her return) at 10,000ft and, ‘at no part of its journey does it appear to have descended much below this elevation’.

No action against the airship was taken by the AA guns in London, then controlled by the RNAS. The reason given for this inaction was the airship was so high that it was neither seen nor heard: ‘There is no authentic case of anyone having been able to see it during its passage over London … it was faintly heard by the gun-station at Clapton.’ This statement appears to be substantiated, but at the same time the accurate manner in which the airship followed the straight line of the Kingsland Road from Stoke Newington to Shoreditch, at a height of 10,000–11,000ft, even by moonlight, is remarkable.

So great a height was not attained by any of the other airships, whether army or naval, which raided London later in the year. Their height was between 7,000 and 10,000ft during the raids of 7 and 8 September, until they had got rid of their bombs and were going off. On 13 October, however, the height of 12,000ft was attained by a naval airship, but it was not until autumn 1916 that this became the normal raiding height.

Hauptmann Erich Linnarz and his crew pose for photographs after LZ38’s first raid.

‘I was London’s First Zepp Raider’ by Major Erich Linnarz

Major Linnarz, who was commander of Zeppelin LZ.38, had been four times over England before, on May 31, 1915, he succeeded in reaching London. This was London’s first air raid.

It was not until January 1915 that the Kaiser at last sanctioned the bombing of England, and not until four months later that he was prevailed upon by his advisers to give his consent to attacking London. The proud ship LZ.38, the latest product of Count Zeppelin’s works at Friedrichschafen on Lake Constance, which I commanded, was one of those detailed for the job.

On the morning of May 31 orders in cipher were brought from Berlin to me at Brussels to raid London. Preparations for the flight were carried out all that day. Engines were tested, ballast tanks examined, the radio apparatus thoroughly overhauled, and the huge deflated envelope closely inspected for flaws. Presently there was the hiss of gas and slowly the monster took a more rigid shape. Then the bomb-racks were loaded. One hundred and nineteen bombs there were in all – eighty-nine incendiary, thirty high explosive ones. A ton and a half of death.

As the perspiring soldiers wheeled the infernal things on trucks before placing them in position, the setting sun sank behind the shed and stained the sky a deeper and more ominous red. My crew, clad in their leather jackets and fur helmets, were standing in groups on the landing ground. A siren sounded shrilly and they moved to the shed, entered the gondola and took up their posts. Gently guided by ropes the ship slid smoothly forward. The sounding of a second siren indicated that the ship was clear of its shed.

‘Hands off, ease the guides,’ I shouted. The men at the ropes let go.

Great Eddies of dust swept through the air as the final test to the mammoth propellers was given. An officer approached and told me all was ready, I stepped in, gave a signal, and mysteriously the ship soared upwards. We were on our way to London.

From my cabin, with its softly lit dials – everyone with a story to tell – its maps, its charts, and compass, I could hear the rhythmic throb of the engines; feel the languorous swing of the gondola as we rode smoothly through space. Over invaded Belgium we flew. Here it was that one of my crew at the helm reported that he had sighted what he thought to be a hostile airship approaching. For safety I altered course and steered in the direction of Ostend.

Often raiding Zeppelins, on their way out from Belgium to England, encountered enemy craft endeavouring to intercept their passage. But, as it afterwards turned out, this one was only Captain Lehmann, who was killed in an airship crash in America last year, on one of the other Zeppelins detailed to raid England. He had left Namur earlier, also with London as his aim, but over the Channel he had broken a propeller, which had pierced his gas-bag and forced him to return to his base.

He was on his way back when we saw him. None of the other ships reached London that night, but discharged their bombs on East Coast towns. On, on we sped. It was a beautiful night – a night of star spangled skies and gentle breezes, a night hard to reconcile with a purpose as grim as ours. And then the glimmer of water showed below and we knew we were over the sea. Tiny red specks winked at us. They were patrol boats keeping their ceaseless watch in the Channel, and we were looking down their funnels into the glowing heart of their stoke-hold furnaces. England!

We crossed the black ridge of the coast. Immediately from below anti-aircraft guns spat viciously. We could hear the shells screaming past us. We increased our altitude and our speed. Across the Thames estuary we raced, wheeling inland at Shoeburyness, over Southend, which I had raided the week before – and then, following the gleaming river, we made straight for the capital. Twenty minutes later we were over London. There below us its great expanse lay spread. I knew it all so well. I had spent several months there five years before. There seemed to have been little effort to dim the city. There were the old familiar landmarks – St. Paul’s, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace, dreaming in the light of the moon which had now risen.

I glanced at the clock. It was ten minutes to eleven. The quivering altimeter showed that our height was 10,000 feet. The air was keen, and we buttoned our jackets as we prepared to deal the first blow against the heart of your great and powerful nation.

Inside the gondola it was pitch dark save for the glowing pointers of the dials. The sliding shutters of the electric lamps with which each one of the crew was provided were drawn. There was tension as I leaned out of one of the gondola portholes and surveyed the lacework of lighted streets and squares. An icy wind lashed my face.

I mounted the bombing platform. My finger hovered on the button that electronically operated the bombing apparatus. Then I pressed it. We waited. Minutes seemed to pass before, above the humming song of the engines, there arose a shattering roar.

Was it fancy that there also leaped from far below the faint cries of tortured souls?

I pressed again. A cascade of orange sparks shot upwards, and a billow of incandescent smoke drifted slowly away to reveal a red gash of raging fire on the face of the wounded city.

One by one, every thirty seconds, the bombs moaned and burst. Flames sprang up like serpents goaded to attack. Taking one of the biggest fires, I was able by it to estimate my speed and my drift. Beside me my second in command carefully watched the result of every bomb and made rapid calculations at the navigation chart.

Suddenly from the depths great swords of light stabbed the sky. One caught the gleam of the aluminium of our gondola, passed it, retraced, caught it again, and then held us in its beam. Instantly the others chased across the sky, and we found ourselves moving through an endless sea of dazzling light. Inside the gondola it was brighter than sunlight. Every detail of the car was thrown in sharp relief. The crew at their posts looked like a set of actors grouped in the limelight without their make-up. And so began a game of hide and seek in the sky. The helmsman and I tried every way of eluding the searchlights, practising every trick of navigation.

Then came the bark of the batteries. Shells shrieked past us, above us, below us. There were glowing tracer shells which we had never seen before, but had heard all about – slim projectiles that tore a hole in the ship’s fabric and then burst into flame. It was this thought that sent us home quickly. We had been over London for an hour. Soon we left the thrusting searchlights behind. We could see ahead of us the sea, through which the moon had laid a silver path to guide us home. As we crossed the black ridge of the shore we were met with a further attack from the anti-aircraft guns at Burnham and Southminster. I think our gondola light, now alight and casting a feeble glow over the cabin, perhaps had betrayed us. I put it out. Shell after shell whizzed past, some of them the dreaded incendiary type. Some burst dangerously near. On, on we flew, and at last we were out of range and the firing died down.

Now a new menace threatened us – aeroplanes. We went in dread of these since your pilots had orders that if they failed to reach us with the machine-gun fire they were to climb above us and ram our gas-bags with their machines. Evidently the supreme sacrifice meant nothing to these brave men. One by one they came from the airfields that had been established round the coast to intercept returning raiders. My look-out thought he spotted one flying towards us. Higher we rose out of reach. The British aeroplanes were faster than we were, but they couldn’t reach our height limit.

Presently in the fading moonlight, we could see the waves beating against the Belgian coastline far below. We were feeling cold and hungry, exhausted and spent from the high-pitched hours of that night – rather like the remorseful reveller returning in the hour before the dawn. It was almost dawn. The first vague light was edging the horizon as we flew over invaded Belgium. We had been away ten hours. The first attack on London had been accomplished. Our bomb rack was empty. Behind us we could faintly make out the red glow of fire on the sky’s rim. It was ravaged London. And as we sank to the earth and the gondola bumped across the landing-ground at Brussels-Evere, the sun, rising in front of the Zeppelin sheds, smeared the sky with crimson streaks as though fingers dipped in blood had been drawn across the horizon.

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