Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The Zeppelin raid on Dover of 25 August 1915

The Zeppelin raid on Dover of 25 August 1915


The men of No.50 Squadron spent their first few weeks settling in and flying patrols out over the Dover Straits. Zeppelin raids took place over East Anglia and the Northeast, but no great airship came anywhere near Swingate Down.
Then, a little after 2am on the morning of 25 August a phone call came in from the Fire Brigade in Folkestone. Air engines could be heard over the sea to the east and, given the slow speed at which the engines seemed to be moving, they were almost certainly those of a Zeppelin. The squadron raced to its action stations. At 2.15am the Zeppelin passed over Folkestone harbour heading northeast. A searchlight near Dawkinge Wood managed to get its beam on the intruder, at which the anti aircraft guns of Folkestone opened fire. The sudden barrage of noise awoke the entire town and people poured into the streets to gaze upward at the ghostly white behemoth overhead. None of the exploding shells hit the Zeppelin, which then turned slightly south and moved out of range of the searchlight, causing the guns to fall silent. The unnamed man writing up the official record in the nightwatch book at Folkestone Fire Station thought that the Zeppelin “crew were probably endeavouring to baffle the gunners on the hills.”
In fact, the Zeppelin was doing nothing of the sort. The airship was LZ32 commanded by Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, who had spent some time that night lost. Peterson was a highly experienced commander who would undertake over 70 missions in Zeppelins. He had now identified the town beneath him as Folkestone and thus knew that the great port of Dover, one of his targets, was only a short distance away. He was now heading for Dover, the change in course having been made necessary by a shift in the wind at altitude.
Meanwhile, No.50 Squadron was in the air and making for the scene of action. When the searchlight went out they had to rely on the faint starlight for guidance. There was quite a lot of cloud about and most pilots lost the airship among the clouds. One B.E.2c, however, found the LZ32. The pilot flew alongside while his observer poured his entire stock of bullets into the great airship. The hail of fire had no discernable impact on the Zeppelin, which continued on its course to Dover. Arriving over Dover, Peterson dropped his bombs on the harbour, and ships anchored outside, hoping to hit the various naval ships moored there. He failed to hit a single one, though there were some near misses.
Next day an official communique was issued by the German government to the pressmen from neutral countries in Berlin. It read:
“During the night of August 24-25 several naval dirigibles attacked the southern portion of the East Coast of England. They dropped numerous bombs on the City and the South Eastern district of London and the batteries at the naval stations at Harwich and Folkestone, and numerous vessels moored in Dover Harbour. Everywhere very good results were observed.”
The attack on the City of London had been real enough. LZ31 had bombed a wide area, killing 9 people, injuring 40 and inflicting £130,000 of damage. The claimed damage on Folkestone and Dover was, however, imaginary.

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