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)

Kent, Sussex

16th/17th March 1917


This first Zeppelin raid since the loss of L.21 and L.34 in November 1916 saw five Navy Zeppelins setting course for London. Four of those taking part were altered ‘r-class’ models, with an engine removed, enabling them to attain greater heights, and one, L.42, was the first of the ‘s-class’, known to the British as ‘height-climbers’. This first raid by L.42 proved an anti-climax; with Strasser on board she had to return early with engine problems.


Although planning to attack London, strong winds at high altitude forced the raiders south with the first to come inland, L.39, appearing over Margate in Kent at 10.20pm. Flying at a great height and with a thick cloud layer starting at 3,000 feet and extending up to 9,000 feet it meant identification of targets was impossible for her commander, Kapitänleutnant Robert Koch. She followed a south-west course across Kent to the Sussex coast, dropping her first bomb on Hode Farm near Bekesbourne at 10.50pm where it caused minor damage to two cottages. Ten minutes later L.39 dropped five HE and a single incendiary bomb between Waltham and Sole Street without causing any damage. No more bombs were attributed to L.39 over land as she passed Ashford and Tenterden before reaching the coast at St. Leonard’s at 11.40pm. She flew westward along the coast as far as Pevensey Bay where she went out to sea. Strong winds forced her south across the English Channel to Dieppe. Battling the wind across France, L.39 passed to the north of Paris, but over Compiègne she appeared to stop around 5.30am. Now stationary at a height of about 10,000 feet, three batteries of French AA guns kept up a steady fire in the half-light of dawn and eventually they hit their target. L.39 crashed down to earth at about 5.55am with the loss of the entire crew.


Kapitänleutnant Herbert Ehrlich brought L.35 inland over Broadstairs, Kent, about 20 minutes after L.39. She initially took a south-west course and at 22.55pm dropped an HE bomb on Britton Farm at Ickham, a few miles east of Canterbury. South of the city, Ehrlich dropped another HE and an incendiary at Nackington. The incendiary landed on Sextries Farm and the HE on Winter’s Farm. None of these first three bombs caused any damage. At Ashford Ehrlich appears to have had a change of heart, circled around the town then headed back towards the east. At 11.35pm he released five HE bombs and an incendiary over the village of Crundale, close to






Waltham and Sole Street where L.39 had dropped bombs 35 minutes earlier. They brought down the ceiling of a cottage a quarter of a mile away. About nine miles on towards Dover, at Swingfield, L.35 dropped five more HE bombs, damaging ceilings and smashing windows at Stockham Farm and St. John’s Farm. Another three miles on and Ehrlich released four incendiary bombs over Hougham where the military had a post. The bombs all fell harmlessly in fields. The last two bombs, an HE and an incendiary, dropped harmlessly on Whinless Down just outside Dover where L.35 went out to sea at 12.15am. The thick cloud meant no AA guns opened fire. L.35 crossed into France near Calais but the strong winds prevented her reaching her home base at Ahlhorn near Bremen. Instead she managed to find a berth at Dresden, many miles to the south-east. Damaged as she entered the shed, L.35 remained out of action for three months.


Zeppelin L.40, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Erich Sommerfeldt, led a second wave, arriving over Herne Bay on the north Kent coast at about 1.00am. Heading south-west, Sommerfeldt dropped his first bomb 40 minutes later over Nackholt, a couple of miles east of Ashford. The blast of the HE bomb dislodged a few roof tiles. Flying southwards now, L.40 appeared over Romney Marsh at about 2.00am. Sommerfeldt released five HE and three incendiaries near the village of Newchurch where the total damage was two panes of broken glass in a farmhouse 500 yards away. A little further on L.40 dropped about 14 incendiaries near to Little Appledore Farm, but the wet ground prevented most from completely burning out. An HE bomb at Melon Farm, Ivychurch, resulted in the death of four sheep and more bombs fell between Old and New Romney breaking windows in four homes. L.40 went out to sea at New Romney at about 2.15am, crossed the French coast near Cap Gris Nez and battled her way back to her base at Ahlhorn.


The final raider, L.41 commanded by Hauptmann Kuno Manger, crossed the Sussex coast at Cliff End near Pett, south of Winchelsea at 1.20am. She immediately dropped eight HE (two fell in the sea) and two incendiary bombs. The concussion of the HE bombs damaged two unoccupied bungalows and also smashed doors and shattered windows at two farms.  Manger turned north-east now, heading towards Rye. Just to the east the town an emergency airfield had its flares burning which possibly drew L.41 in that direction. At Rye, Manger turned south-east, following the River Rother back to the sea. As he did so, at 1.40am, he dropped seven HE and six incendiaries over the area known as the Camber Marshes. One HE bomb landed about 400 yards from the airfield while two others and one incendiary landed on the right bank of the river between the town and the Rye Chemical Works. The others fell on the left bank near Rye Harbour. Two bungalows suffered slight damage and broken windows. L.41 went out to sea at Dungeness at 2.05am and crossed the French coast at Boulogne. She eventually reached Ahlhorn after a mission lasting almost 27 hours. The efforts of the four Zeppelins resulted in damage estimated at just £163.









Casualties: 0 killed,  0 injured


Damage: £163