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)


Casualties: 0 killed, 0 injured


Damage: £2

On the night of 13th/14th September, three navy Zeppelins set out for London but only one came inland and none reached the capital. There was some confusion at the time but it later became clear that the raider was L.13 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy. Thunderstorms and strong headwinds forced both L.11 and L.14 to turn back early.


Mathy appeared off the coast near Orfordness at about 11.10pm. Keeping out over the sea as he approached Felixstowe, a 6-pdr anti-aircraft gun there opened fire at 11.37pm with 12 rounds. Mathy turned back northwards before coming inland near Bawdsey at about 11.48pm, then turned south over Trimley, heading towards Harwich. Low cloud over the town hindered observation, but a couple of minutes before midnight the drone of her engines sounded over the harbour. The official War Office report then states that the cloud prevented the Harwich searchlights and guns from opening on the raider, who, according to the same report, did not know ‘where he was, so he made no attempt to attack Harwich, and went away northwards.’ However, in other reports made at the time, there is evidence of the Harwich defences engaging, a fact confirmed by Mathy.


Over Harwich, Mathy noted that six searchlights were probing the sky and a heavy bombardment followed. About five minutes later he reported L.13 hit when ‘a shell struck in the gangway almost vertically from below, pierced Cells 11 and 12, the fuel line and the radio power cable.’ In no position to attack Harwich now, Mathy steered away north-east along the Orwell before turning east. Seeing L.13 overhead, an RNAS mobile maxim gun on the Ipswich-Felixstowe road at Levington Heath then opened fire. Mathy, aware he was losing hydrogen, started releasing his bombs to lighten his ship - he dropped 17 high explosive (HE) and 29 incendiaries.


The first five HE bombs and two incendiaries landed in fields at Bucklesham. A fragment from one broke some crockery and dislodged a few bricks from a chimney at one house. Next, at Newbourne, an HE bomb and three incendiaries fell in a meadow and another HE bomb landed in a marsh, all without causing damage. Two HE and two incendiary bombs destroyed some of the crop in a mangel-wurzel field on a farm at Hemley, while six HE and two incendiary bombs fell in fields or marsh by the River Deben at Hemley Hall, where the blast smashed some windows. L.13 then crossed the river before releasing her last bombs, two HE and 20 incendiaries, on marshes near Sutton, without damage. Mathy then took L.13 back out to sea near Orfordness at about 12.25am.


With two emptying gas cells and a failed engine, L.13 had a testing return journey. Despite dumping much excess weight, she made a very heavy landing and underwent four days of repairs.


No aircraft were ordered up to intercept L.13 while she was over Britain.



13th/14th September 1915