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)

Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk

23rd/24th May 1917


This second raid by ‘height-climber’ Zeppelins again proved ineffective. Six Zeppelins set out hoping to reach London but the winds at high altitude were against them. Only four reached England: L.40, L.42, L.43 and L.45. None got even close to London.


L.40, commanded by Kptlt Erich Sommerfeldt, came inland at 12.18am over Kessingland on the Suffolk coast. Heading towards Norwich on a north-west course, at about 12.45am L.40 dropped a 300kg HE bomb near the village of Little Plumstead, about five miles east of the city. This resulted in some broken windows in two cottages and a greenhouse. Continuing on a course roughly to the north, L.40 dropped a fuel tank at Horstead and another at Worstead. Having passed North Walsham, at 1.00am Sommerfeldt dropped an HE bomb at Knapton that tore down telegraph wires for a distance of 50 yards. L.40 then passed out over the coast at Mundesley and was later heard dropping 14 bombs out at sea. Nearing home L.40 managed to climb into cloud and escape an attack by a Curtiss H-12 ‘Large America’ flying boat sent out from RNAS Yarmouth.


Kptlt Martin Dietrich commanding L.42 came inland over Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex at 12.20am and heading west passed Colchester before following a meandering course over Essex and Suffolk at a height of 18,700 feet. At 1.30am Dietrich dropped an incendiary about a mile outside Halstead without effect. About 35 minutes later he dropped an HE and an incendiary at Radwinter, both landing about 500 yards from the church but again without effect. Heading north L.42 approached Newmarket at about 2.30am and five minutes later, just west of Mildenhall, dropped an HE bomb on West Row Fen at least a quarter of a mile from the nearest cottage. Three minutes later another HE bomb burst harmlessly on a grass track just over a mile from Lakenheath. Continuing north, L.42 crossed into Norfolk and at 2.40am dropped five HE bombs at Hockwold. Two fell on a meadow owned by Frederick Rickard, smashing some windows and roof tiles at his house. Two more exploded on Charles Thompson’s wheat field. Two minutes later two HE bombs landed at Weeting Heath without causing damage. Moments later two HE fell at Cranwich, where one failed to detonate and the other exploded harmlessly, then an incendiary dropped at Ickburgh without burning.The final two bombs, both incendiaries, landed in fields at Hilborough at about 2.47am. Dietrich headed north to the coast and left Norfolk between Weybourne and Sheringham at 3.25am. L.42 flew into a heavy storm on the return flight, being struck by lightning three times, but she made it home safely.







L.45 came inland at about 1.00am and Kptlt Waldemar Kolle, commanding a Zeppelin over Britain for the first time, had a miserable night. He crossed the coast at Hollesley Bay in Suffolk and followed a north-west course largely dictated by the wind. He also encountered heavy rain and thunderstorms making accurate navigation impossible. An incendiary dropped at Banham in Norfolk was attributed to L.45. She dropped no more bombs until reaching Docking in north-west Norfolk. There L.45 released an incendiary and an HE bomb at about 2.20am, which caused minor damage to a ceiling and broke a window. After that L.45 crossed the coast over Brancaster Bay and set course for home.


The last Zeppelin to come inland, L.43 commanded by Kptlt Hermann Kraushaar, passed over the coast near Hollesley, Suffolk, at 2.20am. On a north-west course L.43 passed over Suffolk and into Norfolk where Kraushaar dropped five incendiary bombs over the village of Wretham at 3.05am followed five minutes later by another at Tottington. Continuing on the same course two more incendiaries dropped at Little Cressingham at 3.25am, but none of these eight firebombs caused any damage. Five minutes later L.43 dropped three HE bombs: one landed at Houghton-on-the-Hill (causing slight damage to crops) and two at neighbouring North Pickenham where they damaged roof tiles and smashed windows in one house. The next village in L.43’s path, Little Dunham, received six HE and three incendiary bombs at 3.35pm, which broke seven panes of glass in cottage windows. Five minutes later two incendiary bombs dropped at West Lexham but failed to burn. Another followed at Weasenham St. Peter but caused no damage. At about 3.45am L.43 dropped three HE bombs over Wellingham, where they damaged farm buildings, five cottages and the church, also causing the only casualty of the raid. The bombs killed a farm labourer who had gone out to warn his employer that Zeppelins were in the area. Kraushaar continued to rain his bombs down on these tiny Norfolk villages. A few minutes after Wellingham five HE and two incendiaries fell at South Raynham wrecking the interior of a cottage while the church, vicarage and 14 cottages suffered broken windows.Then three HE and two incendiaries dropped over East Raynham, breaking the windows in three large houses and seven cottages, smashing greenhouse windows, uprooting trees and dislodging roof tiles. The bombs also killed two horses in a meadow. With the sky now beginning to lighten, L.43 headed towards the coast, which it reached at 4.05am from where a mobile AA gun at Holkham fired 21 rounds without effect.  


A significant response from the RFC and RNAS saw aircraft fly 76 sorties searching for the raiders but due to the poor visibility only one made a sighting. One RNAS pilot, Flt sub-Lt H.D. Smith, did not return; it was presumed his aircraft came down in the sea after running out of fuel.









Casualties: 1 killed,  0 injured


Damage: £599