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British ground defences were divided between the Royal Navy and the British Army at first, before the Army took full control in February 1916, and a variety of sub 4-inch (less than 102 mm) calibre guns were converted to anti-aircraft use. Searchlights were introduced, initially manned by police. By mid-1916, there were 271 anti-aircraft guns and 258 searchlights across England.
Aerial defences against Zeppelins were haphazard, and divided between the RNAS and the Royal Flying Corps (RFC), with the Navy engaging enemy airships approaching the coast while the RFC took responsibility once the enemy had crossed the coastline. The lack of an interrupter gear in early fighters meant the basic technique of downing them was to drop bombs on them (a technique which was to resurface in the Second World War). Initially the War Office also believed that the Zeppelins used a layer of inert gas to protect themselves from incendiary bullets, and discouraged the use of such ammunition in favour of bombs. The initial trials of incendiary bullets in mid-1915 were unimpressive. Incendiary ammunition also underwent several separate development tracks. The first bullet was designed by John Pomery, but by mid-1916, the RFC also had Brock, Buckingham and "Sparklet" incendiary cartridges. Ten home defence squadrons were organised from February 1916, with London's defences assigned to No. 19 RAS at Sutton's Farm and Hainault Farm (renamed No. 39 (Home Defence) Squadron in April 1916, who were also allocated North Weald Bassett airfield in August 1916). The actual number of aircraft varied: in February there were only eight squadrons and less than half the number of aircraft expected, and by June the number of squadrons had been cut to six and only No. 39 Squadron was at full strength and equipped with newer aircraft – BE12s with interrupter gear and Lewis guns firing a mix of explosive, incendiary and tracer rounds.
Raids continued in 1916. In December 1915, new Q-class airships were delivered to both the German Army and Navy as well as additional P-class Zeppelins. The Q-class simply added two more gas cells to the P-class, lengthening the airship to 585 feet (178 m), adding 100,000 cubic feet (2,800 m3) of gas, and improving both ceiling and bomb-load.
The first raid of 1916 was organised by the German Navy. Nine Zeppelins were sent to Liverpool over the night of 31 January – 1 February. A combination of poor weather, difficult navigation and mechanical problems scattered the aircraft across the English Midlands and several towns were bombed. A total of 61 people were reported killed and 101 injured by the raid. Fifteen of these fatalities occurred in the town of Tipton.
Despite ground fog, 22 aircraft were launched to find the Zeppelins but none succeeded. In attempting to land in the poor conditions, 16 aircraft suffered various degrees of damage and two pilots were killed. One airship, the L.19, crashed in the North Sea because of engine failure and damage from Dutch ground–fire; all 16 crew were lost. Further raids were curtailed by an extended period of poor weather and also by the withdrawal of the majority of Naval Zeppelins in an attempt to identify and resolve the recurrent mechanical failures. Three P-class Zeppelins did attack Hull on 5–6 March, causing significant property damage.
On 28–29 July, the first "Super Zeppelin", the 650 ft M-class L.31, appeared in English skies. Powered by six engines and capable of operating at 13,000 ft (4,000 m), (with another 5,000 ft (1,500 m) to its maximum ceiling), while carrying up to four tons of bombs. Part of a 10-Zeppelin raid that achieved very little, four returned home early and the rest wandered over a fog-shrouded landscape before giving up. Adverse weather dispersed the next raid on 30–31 July and again on 2–3 August. On 8–9 August, two M-class Zeppelins were part of a nine airship raid that did much damage to Hull. The sixth successful London raid was on 24–25 August 13 Navy Zeppelins were launched and Heinrich Mathy's L.31 reached London, flying above low cloud, 36 bombs were dropped in 10 minutes on West Ferry Road, Deptford Dry Dock, the station at Norway Street and homes in Greenwich, Eltham and Plumstead. Nine people were killed, 40 injured and £130,000 of damage was caused. L.31 suffered no damage in the attack but several weeks of repair-work was needed following a rough landing.
The biggest raid so far was launched on 2–3 September when 12 German Navy airships and four rigid airships from the German Army took part. A combination of rain and snowstorms scattered the airship while they were still over the North Sea. None of the naval airships reached London. Only the army's LZ.98 and the newly commissioned Schütte-Lanz SL.11 achieved their objective. SL.11 came in over Foulness with the intention of looping around and attacking the capital from the northwest. The airship dropped a few bombs over London Colney and South Mimms. At about 01:50 it was picked up by a searchlight over Hornsey and subjected to an intense but ineffective barrage. Sl.11 was lost in cloud over Wood Green but rediscovered by the searchlights at Waltham Abbey as it bombed Ponders End. At around 02:15, one of the three aircraft in the sky that night finally came into range – a BE2c piloted by Lt. William Leefe Robinson flying from Suttons Farm. Robinson fired three drums of ammunition from his Lewis gun, one on each of three passes. After emptying the third drum, the airship began burning from the stern and was quickly enveloped in flames. It fell to the ground near Cuffley. There were no survivors. Four naval Zeppelins which had regrouped over Hertfordshire saw the fate of SL.11 and quietly slipped away. For the first rigid airship downed on British soil and the first 'night fighter' victory Leefe Robinson received the Victoria Cross. The pieces of SL.11 were gathered up and sold by the Red Cross to raise money for wounded soldiers.
The loss of SL.11 ended the German Army's interest in raids on Britain. The German Navy remained aggressive and a 12-Zeppelin raid was launched on 23–24 September. Eight older airships, including Zeppelin L.22, bombed targets in the Midlands and Northeast, while four M-class Zeppelins (L.30, L.31, L.32, and L.33) attacked London. L.30 did not even cross the coast, dropping its bombs at sea.
L.22 approached Sheffield, dropping its bomb load on Burngreave, Attercliffe and Darnall, all suburbs of Sheffield, killing 28 people and injuring a further 19. Sheffield's defenses were few and disorganized, so L.22 returned to its base without incident.
L.31 approached London from the south, dropped a few bombs on Kenley and Mitcham and was picked up by a number of searchlights. Forty-one bombs were then dropped in rapid succession over Streatham, killing seven and wounding 27. More bombs were dropped on Brixton before crossing the river and dropping 10 bombs on Leyton, killing another eight people and injuring 30. L.31 then headed home. Also coming in from the south was L.32, running late due to engine problems, it dropped a few bombs on Sevenoaks and Swanley before crossing Purfleet at about 01:00. The Zeppelin then came under anti-aircraft fire as it dropped bombs on Aveley and South Ockendon. Shortly thereafter, at 01:10, a BE2c piloted by 2nd Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey engaged L.32. He fired three drums of incendiaries and succeeded in starting a blaze which quickly covered the entire airship. The Zeppelin crashed to earth at Snail's Hall Farm, Great Burstead. The entire crew was killed, with some, including the commander Oberleutnant-zur-See Werner Peterson, choosing to jump rather than burn to death.
L.33 dropped a few incendiaries over Upminster before losing its way and making a number of turns, heading over London and dropping bombs on Bromley at around midnight. As the bombs began to explode, the Zeppelin was hit by an anti-aircraft shell fired from the guns at either Beckton, Wanstead, or Victoria Park despite being at 13,000 feet (4,000 m). Dropping bombs now to shed weight, a large number fell on homes in Botolph Road and Bow Road. As the airship headed towards Chelmsford it continued to lose height, coming under fire at Kelvedon Hatch and briefly exchanging fire with a BE2c. Despite the efforts of the crew, L.33 was forced to the ground at around 01:15 in a field close to New Hall Cottages, Little Wigborough. The Zeppelin was set alight and the crew headed south before being arrested at Peldon by the police. A close inspection of the wreckage enabled the British to understand where their own rigid airship designs had been deficient. Furthermore, one 250 hp (190 kW) engine recovered from the wreck subsequently substituted for two (of four) 180 hp (130 kW) engines on a Vickers-built machine, the hitherto underpowered R.9.
The next raid came on 1 October 1916. Eleven Zeppelins were launched at targets in the Midlands and at London. As usual weather played a major role and only L.31 under the experienced Heinrich Mathy, on his 15th raid, reached London. Approaching from Suffolk, L.31 was picked up by the searchlights at Kelvedon Hatch around 21:45; turning away, the airship detoured over Harlow, Stevenage and Hatfield before cutting its engines and drifting with the wind over Hertford. As the airship neared Cheshunt at about 23:20 the engines were restarted and the airship was quickly picked up by six searchlights. Three aircraft of No. 39 Squadron were in the air and closed on L.31. Mathy ordered the dumping of bombs, (50 fell on Cheshunt), in order to gain altitude. A BE2c piloted by 2nd lieutenant Wulstan Tempest engaged the Zeppelin around 23:50; three bursts were sufficient to set L.31 ablaze and it crashed near Potters Bar with all 19 crew dying – although again many decided to jump rather than burn (including Mathy, whose body was found near the wreckage, embedded some four inches in the softened earth). Tempest had had to dive out of the way of the stricken airship and, overwrought, had crashed on landing, suffering minor injuries.
With the next raid on 27–28 November, the Zeppelins avoided London for targets in the Midlands. But again the aircraft and the incendiary bullet proved lethal – L.34 was shot down over the mouth of the Tees and L.21 was attacked by two aircraft and crashed into the sea off Lowestoft. There were no further raids in 1916 although the Navy lost three more craft, all on 28 December – SL.12 was destroyed at Ahlhorn by strong winds after sustaining damage on a poor landing, and at Tondern L.24 crashed into the shed while landing and the resulting fire destroyed both L.24 and the adjacent L.17.
There were 23 airship raids in 1916 in which 125 tons of ordnance were dropped, killing 293 people and injuring 691.
Other articles related to "1916 raids, 1916":
... before the Army took full control in February 1916, and a variety of sub 4-inch (less than 102 mm) calibre guns were converted to anti-aircraft use ... By mid-1916, there were 271 anti-aircraft guns and 258 searchlights across England ... first bullet was designed by John Pomery, but by mid-1916, the RFC also had Brock, Buckingham and "Sparklet" incendiary cartridges ...
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