25/11/1917 Negomano: Lettow-Vorbeck smashes the Portuguese #1917Live

Germany’s Lettow-Vorbeck is being pressed hard in East Africa. The Germans had sent a Zeppelin airship to bring much needed supplies to him, but it had to turn back after learning that its intended landing site had been overrun by the British. Today the Zeppelin arrives back in Bulgaria.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s supply situation is increasingly critical, with his army (mostly locally recruited Askaris) running low out of guns and ammunition. Shortage of medicine is also a severe problem, particularly of the quinine that prevents the European officers from succumbing to malaria. But today the Germans achieve a victory that will allow them to fight on.

Pressure from the British and South Africans has forced Lettow-Vorbeck to retreat his force across the border into Portuguese Mozambique. The Portuguese have made some preparations for conflict with Lettow-Vorbeck since their declaration of war on Germany last year. However they appear to have gravely underestimated their opponent. Lettow-Vorbeck attacks the Portuguese today at Negomano, smashing their force there and driving them from the field. In the process he captures a large quantity of arms and ammunition, as well as medical supplies.

South Africa’s Deventer is leading the British pursuit of Lettow-Vorbeck. He had hoped that the campaign was coming to an end, but the Germans’ unexpected victory means that the war in Africa will continue.

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German forces attack across the Rovuma river (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

Route of the L-59 Zeppelin on its unsuccessful mission (Historic Wings: Das Afrika Schiff)

map (Wikipedia: Battle of Ngomano)

23/11/1917 Germany’s Zeppelin safari aborted #1917Live

Germany has sent the L-59 Zeppelin on a mission from Bulgaria to German East Africa, to bring desperately needed supplies to Lettow-Vorbeck‘s embattled army. After crossing the Mediterranean the airship has flown south through British occupied Egypt. To avoid interception by British aircraft, it flies at maximum speed and zig zags along the Nile to throw pursuers off course.

The L-59 manages to avoid the British but the Afrika-Schiff cannot evade the elements. The cold desert nights freeze the crewmen but they also cool the hydrogen gas that keeps the L-59 aloft. In turbulent air this morning the Zeppelin nearly crashes but the crew manage to keep her in flight. Then by day the terrible heat of the Sahara wreaks its toil on the crew, making it difficult for them to concentrate or work, in some cases even leading to hallucinations. But the airship flies on, crossing from Egypt proper to the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan.

The L 59 is now more than half way on its journey but then it receives an unexpected message by wireless. The British have captured the intended landing site of the L-59 in German East Africa, forcing Lettow-Vorbeck’s men to retreat into the mountains. A Zeppelin landing there would be impossible. The L 59 is ordered to return to Bulgaria.

The Zeppelin’s volunteer crew beg their commander to continue the mission: they want the L 59 to fly on to crash land in the mountains, so that Lettow-Vorbeck will receive at least some of the supplies. Any of the crew who survive the crash-landing will also be able to join Lettow-Vorbeck’s army. But Captain Ludwig Bockholt is adamant that orders must be obeyed. The L 59 turns about and begins to retrace its steps.

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The L-59 in flight (Historic Wings: “Das Afrika-Schiff”)

21/11/1915 Germany’s Zeppelin safari #1917Live

German possessions in Africa have been overrun by the Allies. The one exception is in German East Africa, where German forces under Lettow-Vorbeck continue to resist.

Lettow-Vorbeck’s men are desperately short of medicine, ammunition and spare parts for their military equipment. British sea power makes it impossible for Germany to supply Lettow-Vorbeck by sea. But this is the 20th century and there are now other means of travel. Germany decides to send a Zeppelin on a mission to resupply their East African forces.

Today the L-59 departs from Bulgaria on the 5,500 kilometres journey to German East Africa. This will be a one way trip as the Germans in East Africa have no hydrogen to resupply the airship. The Zeppelin’s crew, all volunteers, will join Lettow-Vorbeck’s army and the L-59 itself is to be cannibalised for military equipment. As well as medical and military supplies, the L-59 carries Iron Cross decorations.

The mission is a dangerous one. The L-59, now nicknamed das Afrika-Schiff, will be travelling across British controlled territory. And no Zeppelin has ever made such a long trip without refuelling.

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Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck (Historic Wings: Das Afrika-Schiff)

L-59 (Historic Wings: Das Afrika-Schiff)

1/10/1916 A Zeppelin attack on London goes badly awry

Germany’s Zeppelin bombing attacks on Britain were meant to disrupt the country’s war industry’s and terrify the civilian population into submission. They have however been remarkably unsuccessful. The damage they have wrought has been minimal and British civilians are showing no great sign of giving in to panic. The Zeppelin bombings have also delivered a propaganda coup to Germany’s enemies, assisting them in portraying the Germans as savages intent on murdering innocent women and children in their homes.

The bombing raids have also become increasingly risky for the Zeppelins’ crews as British air defences improve. Yet the attacks continue. Tonight 11 Zeppelins set off to attack targets in England. Four get lost, leaving just seven to cross the English coast. One of these, the L-31, attempts to advance on London from the north, but it finds itself caught in a succession of searchlights and is then subjected to blasts of anti-aircraft fire.

The Germans give up on their plan to attack London and drop their bombs more or less randomly in Hertfordshire. But if they think this means they will be able to return home safely they are mistaken. A British night-fighter piloted by Lieutenant Wulstan Tempest intercepts the Zeppelin and is able to fire on the airship before it can climb to safety. The hydrogen gas in the Zeppelin’s air bags ignites, causing it to burn up as it falls to the earth, destroying an oak tree outside the village of Potters Bar. The inferno is visible in London, whose inhabitants rejoice to see the doom of one of the airships that have been tormenting them.

The crew of the Zeppelin are all killed by the crash.

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The Zeppelin Oak

3/9/1916 Germany’s largest Zeppelin raid yet ends in disaster

Germany continues to send its Zeppelins to bomb targets in Britain. Quite why they bother is another matter entirely. The Zeppelins are not bringing the British to their knees. Their bombs have caused some disquiet but they are not creating widespread devastation or much disruption.

Yesterday in the largest Zeppelin raid of the war so far, sixteen of the giant airships set off to attack London. Unfortunately they were unable to find their target and dropped their bombs more or less at random, killing four people and injuring another twelve. Property damage was minimal.

The Zeppelins are not able to make their escape scot-free. British anti-aircraft defences have become increasingly sophisticated. The Zeppelins attack by night, but the British have deployed searchlights to illuminate the gas giants, which are then targeted by anti-aircraft fire or British aeroplanes. In the small hours of the morning, the SL 11 airship is trying to make its way home when it is caught by searchlights. A British fighter plane attacks, setting fire to the airship. It turns into a giant ball of flame and crashes into the ground, killing its entire crew.

This is the first Zeppelin to be brought down over Britain. Leefe Robinson, the British fighter pilot is fêted for his feat. Now the British increasingly lose their fear of the German airships, while the Zeppelin crews fear that flying over Britain is a journey to their death.

image source (Jonathan Ware, Military Historian)

2/4/1916 Zeppelins over Scotland, Faversham blasted in industrial accident

German airships continue to attack Britain. Today for the first time they attack targets in Scotland. 4 Zeppelins set off on a night mission, though bad weather and engine trouble mean that only two reach Scotand. The Zeppelins bomb Leith and Edinburgh, killing 13 people and wounding several dozen. Property is also damaged. Yet although Zeppelin raids are causing some panic and outrage, they are not inflicting a level of damage that will be bringing Britain to its knees any time soon.

A far more devastating explosion happens today at a munitions factory in Kent. The Explosives Loading Company outside Faversham has been working at full capacity to produce the explosive materials used in shells and bombs. Today a fire breaks out in the factory. The fire brigade is alerted and workmen desperately try to remove the explosives from the building. Hpwever efforts to contain the fire are unavailing. The munitions are ignited and the factory is torn apart by an explosion. The blast is of such power that windows are shattered across the Thames estuary at Southend. 115 people lose their lives. Seven of the victims are so obliterated that no trace remains of their bodies.

image source (Guardian)

2/2/1916 The short-lived triumph of the L-19 Zeppelin

German Zeppelin L-19 is returning from a bombing raid over England. Its intended target was Liverpool but it got lost and ended up bombing Burton-on-Trent and Birmingham instead. On its way home it finds itself crossing the North Sea in the early hours of the morning. Spotting a British collier below, the Zeppelin moves to the attack, dropping some more bombs on the unfortunate ship. The collier is sunk, the first ship to ever be sunk by an airship.

The L-19’s crew do not have long to celebrate their success. Due to a navigation error, they find themselves flying low over the Netherlands. The Dutch do not take kindly to this violation of their neutrality and open fire on the Zeppelin, damaging it and forcing it back out to sea.

The L-19 crash-lands on the North Sea. A British trawler comes across the still floating Zeppelin. However, William Martin, its captain, declines to rescue the German crew, fearing that they will overpower his men and take over the ship. The trawler sails away, leaving the Germans to their doom; they all drown when the Zeppelin sinks beneath the waves.

image source (Wikipedia)

29/1/1916 Paris attacked – by Zeppelin

Germany’s Zeppelin airships have mainly been conducting bombing raids on Britain. The attacks were meant to so devastate the country that the British would be obliged to sue for peace. Results have however been disappointing, though they have greatly upset the British public.

Tonight the Germans send a Zeppelin to attack Paris. As with attacks on British targets, the bombing causes relatively little damage but a great deal of consternation among the Parisian public. The political and military authorities are subjected to a wave of outrage for allowing the attack to take place.

Although the actual damage inflicted by the Zeppelin is minimal, it may have achieved the purposes it was sent for. With the French elite now preoccupied with the capital’s air defence, their attention turns away from indications that the Germans are planning an attack on Verdun.

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Zeppelin bomb crater in Ménilmontant, Paris (Vergue)

8/9/1915 London’s most devastating Zeppelin attack yet

Germany’s Zeppelin airships have been bombing targets across England. The Kaiser has been wary of authorising attacks on London, for fear of killing or injuring his relatives in Buckingham Palace, but he has allowed attacks on London’s docklands. Zeppelin crews have interpreted this broadly to mean anywhere east of Charing Cross.

Tonight three Zeppelins set off to attack London. Two suffer engine trouble and have to turn back but the L13 reaches the British capital. It flies over the city, dropping bombs as it goes, causing much destruction in Bloomsbury, Holborn, Faringdon and the City. Then the L13 heads for home. British aircraft take off to try and intercept it but fail to do so.

The raid is the most destructive yet, killing 22 and injuring 87. The damage to Britain’s capital is valued at £530,787. The Zeppelin’s depredations cause outrage in London and lead to demands that more effective anti-aircraft defences are put in place.

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Searchlights (Great War London)

Bomb damage on Wood Street (Ian Castle – Zeppelins and the First Blitz)

7/6/1915 Germany loses a Zeppelin

Germany’s Zeppelins continue to attack Britain. After their first attack on London last week they turned their attention yesterday to Hull for their most devastating raid yet. Thus far the airships have been able to operate with impunity over Britain, with none of the Zeppelins being lost to enemy action.

Britain is nevertheless doing its best to combat the Zeppelin menace. As well as search lights and anti-aircraft guns in Britain itself, British aeroplanes are doing their best to intercept and destroy the airships. Some of these are based in Belgium, close to the path the Germans take from their bases to the British coast. Thus far they have had no success.

Tonight Flight Lieutenant Reginald Warneford is patrolling over Belgium when he sees a Zeppelin flying in from the Channel coast. He pursues the slower craft, but is initially repelled by its machine guns. Fearing that the Zeppelin will climb too high for him to catch it, he pretends to have given up the chase, but instead tracks the Zeppelin from a distance.

When the Zeppelin comes down close to the ground, preparing to land, Warneford seizes his chance. First he flies up high above the airship. Then he cuts his engine and dives down silently towards the unsuspecting German aircraft. When he is just 150 feet above the Zeppelin, Warneford releases his bombs on it.

Zeppelins are kept in the air by their great bag of hydrogen gas. Hydrogen is highly inflammable and when Warneford’s bombs explode the gas detonates. The result is a huge explosion, which rips the Zeppelin into two pieces which then fall to the earth like a flaming stone. Warneford’s aeroplane is so buffeted by the blast that it nearly disintegrates, but he manages to maintain control.

Warneford has to land to restart his engine. He is behind enemy lines but he is able to bring the aeroplane down in a field and effect necessary repairs before flying off safely. As the first man in history to bring down a Zeppelin he returns to a hero’s welcome.

image source (Wikipedia)