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:  70 killed,  113 injured


Damage: £53,832

This first airship raid of 1916 was the largest to date and had as its principal target, Liverpool. In all, nine naval Zeppelins took part, but bad weather over the North Sea and much fog and mist over Britain meant that all found it extremely difficult to plot their positions. Zeppelin commanders reported striking against Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham, Goole, Immingham and Great Yarmouth; in reality none of these places were bombed.


The first two to come inland were L.21 (Max Dietrich) and L.13 (Heinrich Mathy), crossing the coast north of Mundesley, Norfolk at 4.50pm. L.21 passed Nottingham and Derby (which Dietrich took to be Manchester) then turned towards Wolverhampton, which he mistook for Liverpool. He dropped his first bombs on Tipton at about 8.00pm. Three high-explosive (HE) bombs fell on Waterloo Street (one person killed) and Union Street (13 killed, 10 injured), followed by three incendiaries which landed in Bloomfield and Barnfield Roads.  Over Lower Bradley, near Bilston, five HE bombs landed on the canal towpath killing one person and mortally injuring another, and at Bloomfield three incendiaries fell on a brickworks but two failed to ignite. More bombs fell on Wednesbury at about 8.15pm. In King Street, three houses were destroyed and others damaged; 13 people were killed. In the same road another person was killed at the Crown Tube Works. And a bomb at the Mesty Croft Goods Yard killed one person and damaged railway trucks. At about 8.25pm, L.21 appeared over Walsall and flew across the northern part of the town from west to east, dropping seven HE and four incendiary. The incendiary bombs did no damage but the HE bombs badly damaged the Congregational Church in Wednesbury Road, killing a passer-by, Thomas Merrylees. The last of these HE bombs fell in Bradford Place. The blast shattered windows, injuring a man in the Science and Art Institute and killed two men in the street. Shrapnel from the bomb also mortally wounded a passenger in a passing tram; she was Mary Slater, mayoress of Walsall. L.21 then set course back to the coast, but dropped six final incendiary bombs on the Islip furnaces at Thrapston in Northamptonshire at about 9.15pm. All six fell harmlessly in fields. L.21 passed out over the coast south of Lowestoft at about 11.35pm.


31st January/1st February 1916 (Part 1)


Mathy came inland in L.13 close to L.21 but the two separated near Foulsham, Norfolk. L.13 crossed Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, and south of Stoke-on-Trent she dropped six HE bombs on Fenton Colliery at about 8.15pm, causing only minor damage. Mathy then appears to have found it difficult to plot his position due to fog and, after circling around Stoke, set a course towards the east coast. A little before 11.00pm Mathy sighted an operational blast furnace which he attacked; it was the Frodingham Iron and Steel Works at Scunthorpe. Some 16 HE and 48 incendiary bombs were later recovered, all missed their target but struck the Redbourne Iron Works nearby which, ironically, was in darkness. The bombs killed two men and caused slight damage to the engine and boiler house. Four workmen’s houses in Scunthorpe were demolished, killing a man and injuring seven people. L.13 passed out to sea at about 11.15pm.


The third Zeppelin to come inland, L.15 (Joachim Breithaupt), did so at about 5.50pm, in the same area as the previous raiders. At Swaffham she headed west. At the time British intelligence believed L.15 circled around Norfolk and Lincolnshire, but later interpretations suggest she flew on westwards and bombed Burton-on-Trent at about 8.45pm, attracted by fires caused by incendiary bombs dropped by L.20. Official reports suggest L.15 dropped 15 HE bombs on the town, at about 9.15pm. It is difficult to determine which Zeppelin dropped which bombs on Burton, but it seems likely that L.15 was responsible for those that struck the engine house at Bass’s Brewery, the sawmill at Allsopp’s Brewery  and the malthouse at Worthington’s Brewery. Charrington’s and Robinson’s Breweries were also hit, but without causing damage. The bombs wrecked nine houses and damaged others in Wellington (two killed) and Shobnall Streets (three killed) and many others injured. At the Christ Church Mission Room at the junction of Moor Street and Uxbridge Street a congregation was present when a bomb exploded outside, killing six of those in the building. L.15 then turned for home and may have dropped an incendiary at Holland Fen, near Boston, at about 10.30pm before crossing the Wash to King’s Lynn, then to Swaffham, Wymondham and out to sea at Corton, north of Lowestoft at 12.35am.

For more details on the raid see Parts 2 & 3

British air crew losses


RFC: 2 fatally injured

German losses:


Navy Zeppelin L.19

Casualties: 16-man crew drowned