A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on March 14, 1899. Given the outstanding success of the Zeppelin design, the term zeppelin in casual use came to refer to all rigid airships.
Zeppelins were operated by the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG (DELAG). DELAG, the first commercial airline, served scheduled flights before World War I. After the outbreak of the war, the German military made extensive use of Zeppelins as bombers and scouts.
The World War I defeat of Germany in 1918 halted the airship business temporarily. But under the guidance of Hugo Eckener, the successor of the deceased count, civilian zeppelins became popular in the 1920s. Their heyday was during the 1930s when the airships LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin and LZ 129 Hindenburg operated regular transatlantic flights from Germany to North America and Brazil. The Art Deco spire of the Empire State Building was originally designed to serve as a dirigible terminal for Zeppelins and other airships to dock. The Hindenburg disaster in 1937, along with political and economic issues, hastened the demise of the Zeppelin.
During World War I
Zeppelins were used as bombers during World War I, without notable success. At the beginning of the conflict the German command had high hopes for the craft, as they appeared to have compelling advantages over contemporary aircraft â€” they were almost as fast, carried many more guns, and had a greater bomb load capacity and enormously greater range and endurance. However, their great weakness was their vulnerability to gunfire, namely incendiary ammunition.
The German craft were operated by both the Army and Navy as two entirely separate divisions, at the beginning of the war the Army had nine craft (including three DELAG craft requisitioned from civilian ownership) and the Navy had four. All the craft were identified with the pre-war prefix LZ and a number, to avoid confusion between craft with the same number it is customary to use the prefix LZ for Naval craft and just L for Army craft (the SchÃ¼tte-Lanz and Parseval types are sometimes identified with the respective prefixes SL and PL). Before the war the Army had lost three zeppelins to accidents and the Navy two, although both Naval losses occurred in 1913 and accounted for the majority of experienced personnel. There were major differences in doctrine. The Army emphasised bombing from a low level and close support to ground forces, while the Navy had trained for reconnaissance.
The first offensive use of Zeppelins was just two days after the invasion of Belgium. A single craft, the L. VI, flying from Cologne was damaged by gunfire while heading towards Paris and made a forced landing near Cologne. Two more Zeppelins were shot down in August and one was captured by the French, L. VIII was accidentally fired upon by German troops and then deliberately by French soldiers before crashing in Badonviller Forest, the crew attempted to set the craft afire but were driven off by French cavalry. Their use against well-defended targets in daytime raids was a mistake and the High Command lost all confidence in the Zeppelin, leaving it to the Naval Air Service to make any further use of the craft.
At the beginning of the war, Captain Ernst A. Lehmann and Baron Gemmingen, Count Zeppelin's nephew, developed an observation car for use by Zeppelin dirigibles. The car was equipped with a wicker chair, chart table, electric lamp, compass, telephone, and lightning conductor. With the Zeppelin sometimes within, sometimes above the clouds and unable to see the ground, the observer in the hanging basket would relay orders on navigation and when and which bombs to drop. Defenders could hear the engines but their searchlights and artillery fire could not reach the airship. The LZ26's basket was lowered from the airship on a specially constructed tether 1000 metres long; other airships may have used one approximately 750 metres long. The tether was high-grade steel with a brass core insulated with rubber to act as the telephone cable.
The main use of the craft was in reconnaissance over the North Sea and the Baltic, where the endurance of the craft led German warships to a number of Allied vessels. Zeppelin patrolling had priority over any other airship activity. During the entire war around 1,200 scouting flights were made. During 1915 the German Navy had some 15 Zeppelins in commission and was able to have two or more patrolling continuously at any one time, almost regardless of weather. They kept the British ships from approaching Germany, spotted when and where the British were laying seamines, and later aided in the destruction of those mines. Zeppelins would sometimes land on the sea surface next to a minesweeper, bring aboard an officer and show him the lay of the mines. Before the widespread availability of incendiary ammunition made commerce raiding too risky, they would also land or hover close to a merchant ship suspected of carrying contraband, order all ship's hands to leave in boats, then inspect the ship, and either destroy it or take it back to Germany as prize.
The Naval and Army Air Services also directed a number of strategic raids against Britain, leading the way in bombing techniques and also forcing the British to bolster their anti-aircraft defences. The possibility of airship raids was approved by the Kaiser on January 19, 1915, although he excluded London as a target and further demanded that no attacks be made on historic or government buildings or museums. The nighttime raids were intended to target only military sites on the east coast and around the Thames estuary, but after blackouts became widespread, many bombs fell randomly in East Anglia.
The first attack was planned for January 13, 1915. Four Zeppelins were launched but bad weather forced all the craft to abandon the raid soon after launch. The first successful raid was on the night of January 19-20 1915, in which two Zeppelins, L.3 and L.4, were directed towards the Humber but, diverted by strong winds, dropped twenty-four 50 kg high explosive bombs and ineffective 3 kg incendiaries on Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King's Lynn and the surrounding villages. In all four people were killed, sixteen injured and monetary damage estimated at Â£7,740, although the public and media reaction were out of proportion to the death toll.
The Kaiser allowed the bombing of London 'docks' from February 1915, but no raids took place on London until May. The first two London raids failed owing to poor weather - L.8 crashed near Ghent on 26 February and a four airship raid by the Army ran into fog on March 17 and abandoned its efforts. One Army airship was damaged on landing and three more were lost in the next few weeks. With two Navy raids failing due to bad weather on April 14 and 15 it was decided to hold off further action until the more capable P-class Zeppelins were in service. The Army received its P-class Zeppelins first and undertook the first raids. Erich Linnarz commanded LZ.38 on a raid over Ipswich on April 29-30 and again on May 9-10, attacking Southend, and May 16-17, bombing Dover and Ramsgate, before returning to bomb Southend on May 26-27. In total these four raids killed six people and injured six, causing property damage estimated at Â£17,000. Twice RNAS aircraft tried to intercept LZ.38 but on both occasions the zeppelin was either able to outclimb the aircraft or already at too great an altitude for the aircraft to intercept - the BE2s took some fifty minutes to climb to 10,000 feet.
The Kaiser extended the, so far theoretical, ambit of the London raids in May 1915, allowing attacks anywhere east of the Tower of London. On May 31 Captain Linnarz again commanded LZ.38 on the first London raid; LZ.37 was also to be part of the raid but suffered structural damage early on and returned to Namur. Flying from Evere LZ.38 crossed the English coast near Margate at 21:42 before turning west once over Southend. The London police were warned of a incoming raid around 23:00; a few minutes later the small incendiaries began to fall. The devices were a simple metal canister filed with a mix of thermite, tar, and benzol; the exterior was wrapped in tarred rope and a simple fuse was fitted. The first device fell on a house at 16 Alkham Road, others were scattered around residential streets as the Zeppelin flew south over Stoke Newington and then Hoxton. Two incendiaries fell on Shoreditch Empire Music Hall and as LZ.38 turned southeast explosive bombs were dropped on Spitalfields and a whiskey distillery on Commercial Road. Turning northeast the remaining load was dropped on Stepney, Stratford and finally, around 23:30, five bombs fell on Leytonstone. LZ.38 then headed back towards Southend, crossing the coast near Foulness. In total some 120 devices were dropped, totalling 3,000 lb, in 91 incendiaries, 28 bombs, and two 'grenades'. Seven people were killed, 35 injured; forty-one fires were started, burning out seven properties, and damage was priced at Â£18,596. The RNAS had fifteen aircraft in the air, but only one even sighted the Zeppelin; no ground-based guns fired and no searchlights found the Zeppelin. This marked failure by the defences of the capital led to the British government implementing strong press restrictions on the reporting of air-raids.
The Naval airships also tried to raid London. L.10 attempted to reach the city on June 4, strong winds led the commander to misjudge his position and the bombs were dropped over Gravesend. L.9 was also diverted by the weather on June 6-7, attacking Hull instead of London and causing considerable damage. On the same night an Army raid of three Zeppelins also failed because of the weather; in an added blow, as the craft returned to Evere they coincided with a pre-planned raid by RNAS aircraft flying from Furnes, France. LZ.38 was destroyed on the ground while LZ.37 was intercepted in the air, R. A. J. Warneford in his Morane Parasol dropped six 20 lb Hales bombs on the zeppelin which caught fire and crashed into the convent school of St. Amansdsberg, killing two nuns and the entire crew of the Zeppelin except one man. Flight S/L Warneford won the Victoria Cross for his achievement. As a further consequence of the raid both the Army and Navy withdrew from all bases in Belgium, the vulnerability of such sites was now clear.
The short summer nights discouraged further raids for some months, after an ineffective attack by L.10 on Tyneside on June 15-16. In the same period the remaining Army Zeppelins were re-assigned to the Russian Front. The Navy returned to raids on Britain in August. On August 9-10 four Zeppelins were directed against London; none reached their target and one, L.12, was damaged by ground fire while near Dover and ditched into the sea off Zeebrugge. Despite eight attacks by RNAS aircraft the craft was towed into Ostend where it was abandoned and later dismantled. The four-Zeppelin raid was repeated on August 12-13; again only one craft made landfall, L.10 dropped its bombs over Harwich. A third four-Zeppelin raid tried again to reach London on August 17-18, two turned back with mechanical problems, one bombed Assford in the belief it was Woolwich, but L.10 became the first Navy airship to reach London. L.10 was also misnavigated, mistaking the reservoirs of the Lea Valley for the Thames, and consequently dropping the bombs over Walthamstow and Leytonstone. Ten people were killed, 48 injured, and property damage was estimated at Â£30,750 by the London Fire Brigade. A number of guns fired at L.10 and a few aircraft were launched (two Caudron G.3s crashed on landing after their search), but the Zeppelin suffered no damage in the raid (L.10 was destroyed a little over two weeks later in a thunderstorm over the North Sea, it crashed off Cuxhaven and the whole crew was killed).
Two Army Zeppelins successfully bombed London on September 7-8, SL.2 dropped bombs on the Isle of Dogs, Deptford, Greenwich and Woolwich. LZ.74 was forced to drop weight on its approach and scattered 39 bombs over Cheshunt, before heading on to London and dropped devices on Bermondsey, Rotherhithe and New Cross. Eighteen people were killed and 28 injured with property damage totalling Â£9,616. Fog and mist prevented any aircraft being launched but a number of anti-aircraft guns fired at LZ.74 with no effect.
The Navy attempted to follow up the Army's success the following night. three Zeppelins were directed against London and one against an ironworks at Skinningrove. L.11 turned back early with engine trouble and L.14 suffered engine trouble while over Norfolk, the bombs were dropped over East Dereham and the Zeppelin returned home. L.13 reached London, approaching over Golders Green and KapitÃ¤nleutnant Heinrich Mathy began the bombing around 22:40. Amongst the bomb-load was a 660 lb device, the largest yet carried by a significant margin. It was exploded on Bartholomew Close, did much property damage, gouged a crater eight feet deep and killed two men. The Zeppelin was repeatedly caught by searchlights and all twelve anti-aircraft emplacements in London were active - but every shell exploded too low and the falling shrapnel caused both damage and alarm on the ground. Three aircraft were in the air. None even saw the Zeppelin and one crashed on landing killing the pilot. The raid took twenty-two lives, injured 87 and the wavering line of destruction through central London caused damage estimated at Â£530,787.
After three more raids were scattered by the weather a five-Zeppelin raid was launched by the Navy on October 13, the "Theatreland Raid." Arriving over the Norfolk coast around 18:30 the Zeppelins encountered new ground defences installed since the September raid under the guidance of Sir Percy Scott. These new gun sites proved ineffectual. Indeed a 13-pounder near Broxbourne was actually put out of action by three bombs dropped from L.15. L.15 continued on to London and began bombing over Charing Cross, the first bombs striking the Lyceum Theatre and the corner of Exeter Street with Wellington Street killing seventeen and injuring twenty. Further bombs were dropped on Holborn, while as the airship neared Moorgate it was engaged by a new 75 mm cannon sited at the Honourable Artillery Company. L.15 quickly recognised this new threat and dumped ballast, dropped only three more bombs (one landing on Aldgate High Street causing much damage) before departing, having suffered some engine damage from the shells. L.13 dropped its bombs around Guildford and later near Woolwich. L.14 dropped bombs on Otterpool Army Camp, killing 14 soldiers and injuring 12, and later bombed Tonbridge and East Croydon, on its return path it almost collided with L.13 over Bromley. Both the other Zeppelins, L.16 and L.11, were even further off course, L.16 dropped up to fifty bombs on Hertford and L.11 scattered a few bombs over Norfolk before heading home. In total 71 people were killed and 128 injured. This was the last raid of 1915, as bad weather coincided with the new moon in both November and December 1915, and continued into January 1916.
There were twenty raids in 1915, in which 37 tons of bombs were dropped, killing 181 people and injuring 455.
Italy was the only country other than Germany to use lighter-than-air craft for bombing purposes. Italian airships were "semi-rigid dirigibles," they were different to the "rigid" Zeppelins in that they had a keel only, as opposed to an entire frame as favoured by the Germans. Their first bombing raid was on the 26th of May, 1915, three days after entering the war, when they crossed the Adriatic to attack Sebenico, which was attacked by a dirigible again the following day. On 8 June 1915, the CittÃ di Ferrara took off from an airfield in Pordenone to bomb the Whitehead Torpedo factory and the oil refinery at Fiume, killing one woman in Fiume and injuring several other people, but only causing slight damage. It then turned for home, but an Austro-Hungarian Naval Air Service flying boat L-48 shot it down over the Kvarner Gulf near the island of Lussino. Allegedly, this seems to have been the first airship ever shot down in a combat action.
British ground defenses 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) caliber guns were converted to anti-aircraft use. Searchlights were introduced, initially manned by police, but their inexperience led to a number of illuminated clouds being mistaken for attacking airships. In January 1916 a set of two defensive rings was proposed for London with 490 searchlights and 490 guns divided between them, this grand scheme was soon reduced and by mid-1916 there were nationally 271 anti-aircraft guns and 258 searchlights.
Aerial defenses against Zeppelins were haphazard and again divided, between the RNAS and RFC, with the Navy engaging enemy craft 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 to resurface in World War II). Initially the War Office also believed that the Zeppelins used a layer of inert gas to protect themselves against incendiary bullets and discouraged the use of such ammunition in favour of bombs. The initial trials of incendiary bullets in mid-1915 were unimpressive. The incendiary bullet 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 bullets. 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 and also given 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, by June the number of squadrons was cut to six and only No. 39 Squadron was at full strength and with newer aircraft - BE12s with interrupter gear and Lewis guns firing a mix of explosive, incendiary and tracer bullets.
Plaque commemorating a World War I Zeppelin raid on 61 Farringdon Road, London.
Raids continued in 1916. In December 1915 new Q-class airships were delivered to both the 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 craft to 585 feet, adding 100,000 cubic feet of gas, and improving both ceiling and bomb capacity.
The first raid of 1916 was organised by the Navy. Nine Zeppelins were targeted to Liverpool over the night of January 31-February 1. A combination of poor weather, difficult navigation and mechanical problems scattered the raid across the Midlands. Despite ground fog twenty-two aircraft were launched to find the Zeppelins, none succeeded and in attempting to land in the poor conditions sixteen aircraft suffered various degrees of damage and two pilots were killed. 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 remove the recurrent mechanical failures. Three P-class Zeppelins did attack Hull on March 5-6, causing significant property damage.
On the night of March 31-April 1 both services attempted raids. The three Army Zeppelins achieved nothing, two being forced to turn back over the sea and the third, LZ.90, reaching the East Anglian coast but turning back without dropping any bombs. The seven Navy craft were more successful, although none reached the stated target of London. L.9 and L.11 turned back early with mechanical problems. L.14 and L.16 both claimed to have reached the city but actually scattered their bombs on Essex. L.22 bombed Cleethorpes, a single bomb struck a church hall killing 32 men and injuring 48, all soldiers of the Manchester Regiment. L.13 was struck by anti-aircraft fire near Stowmarket, with damage to two gas cells the crew jettisoned all the bombs and a lot of equipment to allow the craft to make it safely home. L.15 was struck by anti-aircraft fire over Purfleet, a lucky shot damaged four gas cells. In addition a BE2c overflew the damaged Zeppelin a while later near Ingatestone and dropped almost fifty of the new Ranken darts, with little obvious effect. L.15 was losing height and despite efforts to lighten the craft it crashed into the sea some fifteen miles north of Margate. One crewman drowned but the remaining seventeen were rescued by the destroyer HMS Vulture. Attempts to recover the wreckage failed and the remains sunk.
Despite the poor results of the raid it was followed by four consecutive nights of attacks. These met with no success and the Commander-in Chief of the High Seas Fleet Peter Strasser issued some highly creative claims to justify continuing raids, claiming successful attacks on West India Docks, Surrey docks and Tilbury docks, including the destruction of a ship loaded with munitions causing great damage.
The next raid to come close London was on April 25-26 when five Army Zeppelins attempted a raid. Only LZ.97 made it within ten miles of the city, dropping its bombs on Chipping Ongar and a little later Barkingside. Two aircraft from No. 39 Squadron attempted to intercept, one, piloted by then-Captain Arthur Harris, came close but suffered a gun jam. With the demands of the war elsewhere and the shortening nights there were no further raids until late July.
On July 28-29 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 (with almost 5,000 ft to maximum ceiling in reserve) while carrying up to four tonnes of bombs. Part of a ten-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 of July 30-31 and again of August 2-3. On August 8-9 two M-class Zeppelins were part of a nine craft raid that did much damage to Hull. The sixth successful London raid was on August 24-25, thirteen Navy Zeppelins were launched and Heinrich Mathy's L.31 reached London, flying above low cloud thirty-six bombs were dropped in ten minutes on West Ferry Road, Deptford Dry Dock, the station at Norway Street and homes in Greenwich, Eltham and Plumstead. nine people were killed, forty injured and Â£130,000 of damage was done. L.31 suffered no damage in the attack but several weeks of repair-work was needed after a rough landing.
The biggest raid so far was launched on September 2-3, twelve Navy craft and four Army took part. A combination of rain and snowstorms scattered the craft while they were still over the North Sea. None of the Naval craft reached London. Only The Army LZ.98 and the newly commissioned SL.11 reached London. SL.11 came in over Foulness with the intention of looping around and attacking London from the north-west. The craft dropped a few bombs over London Colney and South Mimms and around 01:50 it was picked up by a searchlight over Hornsey and was 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 expended three drums of ammunition for 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 with no survivors. Four Naval Zeppelins which had regrouped over Hertfordshire saw the fate of SL.11 and quietly slipped away. For the first Zeppelin downed on British soil and the first 'night fighter' victory Leefe Robinson received the Victoria Cross. The remains of SL.11 was gathered up and sold in pieces by the Red Cross to raise money for wounded soldiers.
The loss of SL.11 ended the Army's interest in raids on Britain. The Navy remained aggressive and a twelve Zeppelin raid was launched on September 23-24, eight older craft bombing targets in the Midlands and four M-class Zeppelins (L.30, L.31, L.32, and L.33) attacking London. L.30 did not even cross the coast, dropping its bombs at sea.
L.31 approached London from the south, dropped a few bombs over Kenley and then Mitcham, being lost and found by a number of searchlights. Forty-one devices 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 ten bombs on Leyton, killing another eight people and injuring thirty. 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 over Sevenoaks and Swanley before crossing Purfleet around 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 craft. The Zeppelin crashed to earth at Snail's Hall Farm, Great Burstead, the entire crew was killed although some, including the commander Oberleunant-zur-Zee Werner Peterson, chose to jump rather than burn.
L.33 dropped a few incendiaries over Upminster before losing its way and making a number of turns before heading over London and dropping bombs on Bromley at around midnight. As the bombs began to explode the Zeppelin was struck by an anti-aircraft shell fired from the guns at either Beckton, Wanstead, or Victoria Park despite being at 13,000 feet. Dropping bombs now to shed weight a large number fell on homes in Botolph Road and Bow Road. As the craft headed towards Chelmsford it continued to lose height, coming under fire from the guns at Kelvedon Hatch at 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 October 1, 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 fifteenth raid, reached London. Approaching from Suffolk L.31 was picked up by the searchlights at Kelvedon Hatch around 21:45, turning away the craft detoured over Harlow, Stevenage and Hatfield before cutting its engines and drifting with the wind over Hertford. As the craft neared Cheshunt at about 23:20 the engines were restarted and the craft 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, fifty 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 nineteen crew dying - although again many decided to jump rather than burn (including Mathy, whose body was found nearby the wreckage, imbedded some four inches into the softened earth). Tempest had had to dive out of the way of the stricken craft and, over-wrought, crashed on landing, but only suffered minor injuries.
With the next raid on November 27-28 the Zeppelins avoided London for targets in the Midlands. But again the aircraft and 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 in the sea off Lowestoft. There were no further raids in 1916 although the Navy lost three more craft, all on December 28 - 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.
Anti-aircraft defenses were becoming tougher and new Zeppelins were introduced with increased operating altitude to 16,500 feet and a maximum ceiling of 21,000 feet. The first S-class Zeppelins entered service in February 1917. They were largely a modification of the M-class, sacrificing weight for improved altitude. The surviving M-class Zeppelins were converted to S-class, notably by a reduction in engines from six to five. To avoid searchlights, they flew above the clouds whenever possible, lowering an observer through them in a SpÃ¤hkorb to direct the bombing. The improved safety was counteracted by the extra strain on the airship crews with altitude sickness and the exposure to extreme cold and high altitude winds.
The first raid of 1917 did not occur until March 16-17 and the five high flying Zeppelins encountered very strong winds and none reached their targets. This experience was repeated on May 23-24. Two days later twenty-one Gotha bombers attempted a daylight raid on London. They were halted by heavy clouds but the effort led the Kaiser to pronounce that airship raids on London were past; under pressure he later relented to allow Zeppelin attacks under 'favourable circumstances'.
On June 16-17 another Zeppelin raid was attempted, only two out of six Zeppelins reached England in the face of strong winds. L.42 bombed Ramsgate, hitting a munitions store. While the month-old L.48 (commanded by KorvettenkapitÃ¤n Franz Eichler but with KorvettenkapitÃ¤n Viktor Schutze also aboard) suffered from both engine problems and compass malfunction was forced to drop to 13,000 feet where it was caught by four aircraft and destroyed, crashing near Theberton, Suffolk. This was the last Zeppelin raid to explicitly target London.
After ineffectual raids on Midlands and northern targets on August 21-22 and September 24-25 the last major Zeppelin raid was launched on October 19-20 with thirteen Zeppelins targeted at Sheffield, Manchester and Liverpool. Two Zeppelins did not launch and the remainder quickly found themselves embroiled in powerful headwinds which made navigation extremely inaccurate. L.45 was trying to reach Sheffield, instead it dropped bombs on Northampton and then London. Undetected and with no warning its bombs did great property damage - the first few fell on Hendon Aerodrome but the rest, dropped at random from 16,000 feet, struck in Piccadilly, Camberwell and Hither Green. L.45 then reduced altitude to try and escape the winds but was forced back into the air currents by a BE2e. The craft then had mechanical failures in three engines and was pushed by the wind out over France, eventually coming down near Sisteron, where the craft was set ablaze and the crew surrendered. L.44, L.49, and L.50 were also lost to anti-aircraft fire or the weather over France. L.55 was badly damaged on landing and was later scrapped.
There were no more raids in 1917, although the airships were not abandoned but refitted with new more powerful engines to counter any strong winds. On January 5, 1918 a fire at Ahlhorn destroyed four of the specialised double sheds along with four Zeppelins and one SchÃ¼tte-Lanz. There were only four raids in 1918, all against targets in the Midlands or northern England. The final raid on 5 August 1918 resulted in the loss of L.70 and the death of KorvettenkapitÃ¤n Peter Strasser, until January 1916 the commander of the German Naval Airship Department and since then the FÃ¼hrer der Luftschiffe.
The British had started attacks by bombers against the Zeppelin production lines and their sheds (Cologne and Dusseldorf) as early as September/October 1914. This was followed by the Cuxhaven Raid which included Zeppelins as its targets on Christmas Day 1914. In July 1918, the Tondern Raid by the RNAS destroyed two Zeppelins in their sheds.