“Had another air raid last night… We didn’t bother to turn out on the alarm.” (1)
Ten Zeppelins raided Britain the night of October 1-2, two of them attacking London. (2) Fighters responded from the relatively new Royal Flying Corps base at Suttons’ Field (later RAF Hornchurch), to the northeast of London: Wulstan Tempest flew his BE2c to its maximum height to encounter the Zeppelins which travelled at 12,000 feet (over 3600 m). The little plane, made mostly of wood and canvas, threatened to stall at those heights, and, his fuel pump having malfunctioned, Tempest pumped his fuel manually, while steering his plane and at the right moment firing his guns. He hit the Zeppelin, and managed to fly away from its flaming bulk, almost crash landing on reaching Suttons’ Field. He had no navigation aids beyond a compass and a map, no radio contact, no parachute, and no protection from the elements. His grass landing field was illuminated by flares. (3)
Nineteen badly burned bodies of German airmen were found scattered around the wreckage; they must have jumped. An inquest was held, and the jury found that they had died of “injuries received while travelling in a hostile airship which was brought down by the anti-aircraft organization.” (4) Among them was Capitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy, who had successfully completed fourteen earlier raids and dropped about 34,000 kg (33 1/2 Imperial tons) of bombs.(5)
The Zeppelin hit the ground at Potter’s Bar, north of London, just outside the M25 ring road today. Part of it landed on what became known as the Zeppelin Oak; the symbolism of the British oak, damaged but still standing, was irresistible. (5)
Archie Wills says that “some of the boys saw one of the airships come down.” (1) The distance as the crow flies from Witley to Potter’s Bar is about 43 miles. I suppose it’s possible.
(1) Wills, Archie. Diary.October 2, 1916. 3: 53. Archie Wills Fonds, University of Victoria Archives. Copyright 2007, University of Victoria.
(2) The Globe. (1844-1936). October 3, 1916. 2. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(3) “The Zeppelin Busters,” in The RAF Hornchurch Project. http://www.rafhornchurch.thehumanjourney.net/History/Zeplinbusters.htm
(4) The Globe. (1844-1936). October 5, 1916. 4. Archive available from ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
(5) Morgan, Tom. “Decisions at Potters[sic] Bar.” One of the Great War Webpages at http://www.hellfirecorner.co.uk.
Copyright 2016. See “More about this project.”