2nd/3rd September 1916
This raid, the largest of the war (11 navy and three army airships), resulted in over 500 bombs being dropped and marks one of the most dramatic nights of the Zeppelin war.
Oberleutnant-zur-See Ernst Lehmann, commanding LZ.98, crossed Littlestone on the Kent coast at midnight. Flying on a north-west course, she circled south of Maidstone at about 12.45am before being fired on by AA guns at Southfleet and Dartford at 1.10am when she was caught in searchlights south-west of Gravesend. At 1.15am she dropped six incendiary bombs near the railway at Longfield followed by a high-explosive (HE) and 11 incendiaries close to the Gravesend branch line. Three HE bombs aimed at the Southfleet searchlight caused a wheat stack to burn and broke a number of windows in Church Street and at Cook’s Cottages, Redstreet. Moments later two HE bombs fell at Northfleet Green Farm; one failed to ignite but the other destroyed a coal shed, a stables and a pollard house. The guns lost her when she went behind a cloud and passed south of Gravesend, dropping an incendiary and an HE on the golf course, followed by another incendiary in the River Thames as she crossed to the Essex shore. There the AA guns at Tilbury and Fobbing opened fire while Lehmann dropped two incendiaries at Corringham, three HE at Fobbing and, at 1.30am, eight incendiaries at Vange, although none caused any damage. Another HE bomb dropped at Great Waltham at about 1.40am before LZ.98 crossed into Suffolk, where Lehmann dropped his last two bombs near Ipswich at 2.13am. One fell in a field near Rushmere and the other near Playford, destroying crops of oats and turnips. Lehmann went out to sea near Aldeburgh at about 2.35am. Unknown to Lehmann, Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson of 39 Squadron had been closing in to attack but lost LZ.98 in the clouds near Gravesend.
Army Zeppelin LZ.90 (commanded by Hauptmann La Quiante) crossed the Essex coast near Frinton just after 11.00pm and headed north-west. At 11.20pm she stopped her engines over Mistley, a village on the outskirts of Manningtree, where it appears she had a problem with her observation car, which fell to the ground. At 11.45pm LZ.90 moved off again and at Foxearth, west of Sudbury, she dropped two incendiaries before approaching Wixoe at about 12.30am where she unloaded her remaining bombs - 21 HE and 16 incendiary - on the unsuspecting village. No one was hurt but the bombs broke windows at the school, the school house and another house. Shortly afterwards the crew dropped the jettisoned observation car’s winch, which landed at Poslingford. LZ.90 then steered out across East Anglia and exited just north of Great Yarmouth at 1.45am.
The third army airship was a Schütte-Lanz, SL.11, commanded by Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm. She came inland at Foulness on the Essex coast at 10.40pm and followed a course across Essex and Hertfordshire to approach London from the north-west. Arriving near St. Albans at 1.10am, SL.11 dropped three HE and three incendiary bombs in fields near Bell Lane, London Colney, and St. Alban’s Road, South Mimms, with two more of each landing near a wood at North Mymms. Three bombs followed at Little Heath (two incendiaries at Boltons Park and an HE in Heath Road) then a single HE bomb in the grounds of Northaw House. Approaching Enfield, SL.11 dropped two incendiary bombs either side of the railway, just south of Crews Hill station, and then released a number of bombs which fell close to the Glasgow Stud Farm at Clayhill, killing three racehorses. An incendiary then fell in a field by The Ridgeway, followed by another in a field close to the Enfield Isolation Hospital and three in fields on Oak Lodge Farm, Southgate, before SL.11 headed westwards towards Hadley Wood where she dropped two incendiaries at about 1.45am in a field at Greenwood Farm on Beech Hill. Schramm then turned and set a course for north London. Meanwhile, Robinson of 39 Squadron, who had earlier tried to engage LZ.98 near Gravesend, had seen the fires caused by SL.11’s bombs and flew towards them to investigate.
At 1.58am, as Schramm approached North London, the searchlights at Finsbury Park and Victoria Park caught him and the London AA guns opened a fearsome storm of fire causing SL.11 to shy away to the north-east. Over Edmonton SL.11 dropped six HE bombs (of which two failed to detonate) but none caused damage. Two HE bombs exploded in the High Street at Ponders End, one damaged the road and seven houses, and the other damaged the road, shattered windows in 56 houses, smashed a water main and broke tram and telephone wires. The next six HE bombs fell on Enfield Highway slightly damaging 15 houses and a number of commercial greenhouses. Two HE bombs landed in Mr Burton’s a field at Turkey Street: one failed to detonate, the other damaged the backs of three houses. Then eight HE bombs landed on a market garden owned by Mr Hollington at Bulls Cross, damaging his crops, followed by one dropping by the bank of New River. The final bombs dropped harmlessly at Burnt Farm, Goff’s Oak, but by then SL.11 was doomed.
Lieutenant Robinson had caught up with SL.11 as she dropped her bombs over Enfield Highway and Turkey Street. His first two attacks failed but his third attack, using new explosive and incendiary bullets, ignited her hydrogen sending SL.11 crashing to earth as a raging inferno. The wreckage came to ground in a field at the village of Cuffley in Hertfordshire, the first German airship brought down over British soil. Schramm and his entire crew perished.
For more details on this raid see Parts 2 & 3
Casualties: 4 killed, 12 injured