23rd/24th September 1916
L.32, commanded by Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, approached the Kent coast with L.31. After coming inland at Dungeness at 10.50pm, she dropped six HE bombs, wrecking a holiday home and partially wrecking a house occupied by six people, but all escaped without injury. L.32 flew a wide circle around the area for an hour, probably dealing with an engine problem. At 11.45pm Peterson finally set a course intended for London, reaching Tunbridge Wells at 12.10am. Having turned north, 20 minutes later she dropped an incendiary bomb at Ide Hill, near Sevenoaks, and at 12.50am a searchlight at Crockenhill caught her even though the skies south of the Thames were misty. Peterson retaliated with seven HE bombs but the only damage was broken windows at neighbouring Swanley. Peterson continued on the northerly course, with London away to his left, and crossed the Thames east of Purfleet at about 1.00am. Having been protected to some extend by the mist south of the river, L.32 now pushed into clear skies, and into a hornet’s nest. As searchlights locked on the two guns (34 rounds) at Tunnel Farm, West Thurrock and the single gun at Belhus Park (10 rounds) opened fire at 1.04am. Peterson offloaded 32 HE and 27 incendiary bombs as he ran north, these bombs falling on largely open countryside between Aveley (9 HE, 6 incendiary), across South Ockendon (23 HE, 21 incendiary) to a position about 400 yards short of North Ockendon. The bombs broke windows and injured two horses. By then the AA guns at Tilbury (14 rounds), Shonks (17 rounds) and Fobbing (3 rounds)were also engaged – and pilots of No.39 Squadron were closing in. At a height of about 13,000 feet L.32 now headed north-west but was intercepted by 2nd Lieut. Frederick Sowrey in a BE2c aircraft. Sowrey made two spirited but unsuccessful attacks, but the third attack ‘caused the envelope to catch on fire in several places; in the centre and front’. The flaming mass of L.32 smashed into the ground at Snail’s Hall Farm, just south of Billericay. There were no survivors.
The third of the Zeppelins intent on London was L.33, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Alois Böcker. She came inland over Foulness, Essex, at 10.40pm. Heading west she dropped an incendiary at South Fambridge at 11.00pm and passed Billericay at 11.27pm, releasing a parachute flare near Brentwood eight minutes later. At 11.40pm, over Upminster Common, L.33 dropped four incendiary bombs that caused no damage, followed by six HE bombs at South Hornchurch, some of which landed at Suttons Farm airfield, home to a flight of No.39 Squadron. L.33 continued to Wanstead where she made some confused corrections, first turning south-east at 11.59pm then, seven minutes later, altering course to the south-west, passing between the AA guns at Beckton and North Woolwich. From there she steered north-west, approaching West Ham in London at 12.10am. Although the sky was misty in places, the guns and searchlights in this part of East London had now found their target and opened a fierce fusillade. At 12.11am, L.33 began dropping her main bomb load. A cluster fell on houses around St. Leonard’s Street near the junction with Empson Street, claiming the lives of six and injuring 11. Another HE bomb caused serious damage at the works of the North London Railway Company at Burdett Street. In Botolph Road an HE bomb severely damaged a Baptist chapel and inflicted lesser damage on many other houses in the locality. Moments later an HE bomb partially demolished ‘The Black Swan’ public house at 148 Bow Road and neighbouring properties, killing five and injuring four.
By 12.15am, L.33 was under intense AA fire and sustaining damage. An exploding shell struck a propeller sending shell fragments into one of the gas cells behind the forward engine gondola before slashing their way through four others. L.33 released water ballast to gain height and continued dropping bombs as she turned away from the east end of London. Flying away over Stratford Marsh, Böcker’s final bombs caused havoc at the British Petroleum Company’s works and at Judd’s Match Factory. Gradually losing height through leaking hydrogen and down to 9,000 feet, L.33 was attacked by the gun at Kelvedon Common, which also claimed a hit at 12.25am. The crew now began throwing disposable objects overboard to lighten the ship and keep her aloft while she came under repeated but unsuccessful attacks from 2nd Lieut. Alfred de Bathe Brandon of No.39 Squadron. Despite the best efforts of the crew, L.33 continued to lose height. At about 1.15am – at about the time L.32 was shot down – L.33 crossed the coast near West Mersea, Essex, but Böcker quickly realised he’d never nurse L.33 home so turned back and crash landed at Little Wigborough in Essex. The crew set fire to the remaining hydrogen before being arrested by the local police. One of the crew suffered a broken rib and others had burns and cuts, but no one was seriously injured. The skeleton of L.33 remained largely intact and proved a significant prize for British intelligence.
For more details on this raid see Parts 1 & 2
The remains of L.33 under guard at Little Wigborough, Essex.