Zeppelin raids, Gothas and 'Giants'

Britain's First Blitz - 1914 -1918

Ian Castle looks at the World War One air raids on Britain - the First Blitz

40 (3)

Country Durham

13 March 1918


Three Zeppelins — L.42, L.52 and L.56 — set out to attack the industrial north on 13 March but a changing weather forecast prompted a recall. L.52 and L.56 turned back but Kapitänleutnant Martin Dietrich, commanding L.42, did not. He had avoided bad weather over the North Sea and found himself in sight of the British coast when the recall order came through by wireless. The temptation was too great for Dietrich who decided to ignore the order and make an attack. The British authorities experienced considerable difficulties tracking the Zeppelin movements over the North Sea that night and as such they issued no air raid warning.


L.42 remained off the coast for about an hour before coming inland undetected to the north of Hartlepool at about 9.15pm. At a height of about 18,000 feet and with her engines switched off, she drifted silently on the wind towards West Hartlepool. In the town all the lights in the factories, at the docks and in the streets were alight providing a perfect target.


The first four HE bombs fell in fields near the Hartlepool Union Workhouse to the north-west of the town at about 9.20pm. The sound of these exploding bombs was the first anyone in the town knew of the raid.  The next bomb fell at Amberton Road, close to the tracks of the North Eastern Railway (NER), but only broke a few windows. With her engines now running again, L.42 headed towards the docks. As she crossed the railway tracks a bomb landed in the dock, followed by one that fell on the edge of No. 4 Timber Pond, carrying away part of the bank. Two bombs fell in Central Dock as the Hartlepool AA gun opened fire, causing L.42 to turn southwards. Two bombs that fell on the sea side of the dock entrance, close to Dockgate Cottages, broke a few windows, and these were followed by a bomb in the West Harbour and another that landed in mud by a graving dock. To the south of Coal Dock, two bombs landed about 20 yards apart in the NER sidings, damaging 12 or 15 coal trucks. Continuing to the south, L.42 now reached the tightly-packed streets of West Hartlepool.



In South Street a bomb destroyed an empty house, practically wrecked the Normanby Hall public house and damaged other houses. The next bomb, exploding on the pavement in Mainsforth Terrace, gouged a crater, knocked down part of wall close to the railway and smashed windows. The next four bombs all fell close together. The first, in Temperance Street, exploded on the pavement outside No. 23. The explosion blew in the front of the house, seriously damaged those on either side and caused lesser damage to most other houses in the street. Four people were killed and five injured. Two bombs exploded in Frederick Street, killing two people and injuring nine. One destroyed No. 27 and the other detonated in the road. Both Nos. 28 and 30 suffered serious damage and almost all the houses in the street suffered to some degree. The last bomb exploded in the roadway in Burbank Street close to No. 108, seriously damaging two houses and impacting on many more. One person died and five suffered injury.


L.42 continued southwards before passing out to sea near the mouth of the River Tees, under fire from the AA guns. The guns ceased firing at 9.34pm. The Hartlepool, Seaton Carew and Tees Mouth guns fired 34 rounds but they all appear to have underestimated the height of L.42. Two RFC squadrons, No. 36 and No. 76, flew 15 sorties. Only the crew of FE2d from No. 36 Squadron saw L. 42 and although they gave chase for about 40 miles out to sea they were never able to attain the Zeppelin’s height. They had to content themselves with opening a long-range machine gun fire at the homeward bound raider.  





Casualties:   8 killed, 39 injured


Damage: £14,280