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)

London, Beds., Kent, Essex, Herts., Northants., Hunts., Suffolk, Norfolk, Lincs., Worcs., Staffs.

19th/20th October 1917 (2)


Kapitänleutnant Eduard Prölss, commanding L.53, came inland over The Wash near Boston at 7.30pm. Although he attempted to push to the west, the winds meant that overall progress was south-west. At 9.08pm Prölss saw a ‘big city’ which thought was Birmingham but was actually Bedford. Lights were burning south of the town at the Elstow works of Saunderson & Mills as L.53 approached and dropped ten HE bombs. They fell in fields between Elstow and Kempston, straddling the tracks where the Midland Railway and a branch line crossed, missing an ammunition dump by 150 yards. Two of the bombs failed to detonate but concussion from the others smashed the glass roof at the Elstow works, injuring two men. Prölss continued trying to make ground to the west but at Wolverton he gave up and the wind then carried him to the south-east. At 9.40pm L.53 dropped nine HE and an incendiary near the village of Heath and Reach, just north of Leighton Buzzard. Other than a few broken windows the bombs caused no notable damage. With the wind carrying her to the south-east, L.53 passed north of London and crossed the Thames at Gravesend at 10.30pm. Near Maidstone Prölss observed flares burning below at Detling airfield and attempted to bomb it. All three HE bombs missed the target by a considerable distance. Two fell in the grounds of Milgate House at Bearsted, breaking windows and doors there and at two cottages nearby; they also killed a sheep. The third bomb landed at the village of Leeds in a field at Folly Farm damaging some crops in a field and smashing a few windows. L.53 passed out to sea between Folkestone and Dover at 11.30pm. Carried behind Allied lines in France, L.54 finally managed to push across the Western Front near Lunéville at around 3.00am.


Oberleutnant-zur-See Kurt Friemel brought L.52 inland over the Lincolnshire coast near Mablethorpe at 7.30pm. Encountering the high winds, despite the best efforts of her crew, L.52 headed south-west. At Gosberton, between Boston and Spalding, she released a 100kg HE bomb which caused no damage. She continued on the same course until reaching Northampton when her progress was to the south. At 9.30pm she was north of Aylesbury and must have descended below the wind because she then made progress to the east and dropped a 300kg HE bomb at Kensworth, which merely broke cottage windows. At 10.05pm L.53 passed south of Hertford, dropping eight HE bombs in fields just south of Bullock’s Lane, which caused serious damage to five cottages, slight damage to five more and injured a man.



Another five fell in fields about three miles south of the town but they were ineffective, as was an HE bomb that fell to the west of Hoddesdon in Highfield Wood. At 10.20 Friemel released 13 incendiary bombs as he approached Waltham Abbey but none caused any damage: three fell on Cheshunt marshes, three on Waltham marshes, five at the Royal Gunpowder Factory and two in Avey Lane. The wind continued to carry L.52 to the south-east and after crossing Kent she went out to sea near Dungeness at 11.15pm. Carried across France, L.52 managed to cross the Western Front near St. Dié at about 5.30am.  



Kapitänleutnant Hans Kurt Flemming, commanding L.55, came inland at 7.30pm over the Lincolnshire coast at Anderby. Battling the winds, L.55’s progress was to the south-west and, arriving near Holme, nine miles north of Huntingdon, Flemming released five 50kg HE and an incendiary, which all landed in open country close to where the railway branch line from Ramsey joined the main Great Northern Railway. The HE bombs caused no damage and the incendiary failed to ignite. Following the railway, at 9.05pm Flemming dropped 16 bombs between Hitchin and Hatfield. The first was an HE that fell at Holwell Bury, three miles north-west of Hitchin, which failed to cause any damage. A mile closer to the town an HE bomb dropped in a field in the parish of Snailswell, slightly damaging a pub, a cottage and breaking some telegraph wires. The next HE landed close to the railway and 80 yards north of Hitchin sewage works, breaking some telegraph wires, while another landed about 100 yards south-east of the junction between the main railway line and the Cambridge branch line, smashing some cottage windows, followed by two that fell in a field at Walsworth which also broke cottage windows. The next three HE bombs fell in fields just north-east of Stevenage without causing damage: two in a field at Rook’s Nest Farm and one in a field near Trott’s Hill Farm. At Bedwell Farm, south of Stevenage, three bombs demolished a farm building, injured a man, and damaged cottages. At Burleigh Farm, Langley, two HE bombs damaged buildings and, just north of Codicote, an HE and incendiary bomb landed harmlessly in fields east of a house known as The Node. The last of L.55’s bombs fell at Brocket Hall, about three miles north-west of Hatfield, but it caused no damage. She was then carried south-east by the wind, eventually going out to sea near Hastings at about 10.25pm. Once over France, Flemming experienced severe engine problems, struggled with navigation and lost the use of the radio. He eventually got L.55 back over Germany but, running out of fuel, he could not get back to his base and made an emergency landing at Tiefenort, where a storm wrecked her on the ground.  


For more see Parts 1, 3 & 4

Casualties & damage: See Part 1