The first German airship to be destroyed over British soil...

was not a Zeppelin

Terry Askew

The first German airship to be destroyed over British soil...
Schutte Lanz airship
Schutte Lanz airship
Schutte Lanz airship under construction
Schutte Lanz airship under construction
Leefe Robinson pictured at his airfielde
Leefe Robinson pictured at his airfielde
The first German airship to be destroyed over British soil...
The first German airship to be destroyed over British soil... | Bishops Stortford Museum Collection
Bishops Stortford Museum Collection

The first German airship to be destroyed over British soil – 3rd September 1916

This airship was not a ‘Zeppelin’ as is generally held, but was built by a rival German concern – Schutte-Lanz – which built similar craft, and heavier than air machines, from 1909 to 1917. The SL11 was only eight months old, when it set out on its last mission commanded by a Hauptmann, William Schrama. It was some 571 feet long and was propelled by four Maybach engines of 960 h.p. each.

Where it fell in Hertfordshire

Over Hertfordshire, having earlier bombed St Albans, it was intercepted by a Lt. William Leefe-Robinson of the 39th Home Guard Squadron who was flying a BE2C aircraft, which was a reconnaissance and light bomber, specially adapted for a night-fighter role and armed with machine guns, firing newly introduced incendiary bullets.

Leefe Robinson clawed his way to SL11’s altitude and attacked, causing the airship to burn very rapidly. It fell to ground in a field behind the Plough Inn in Cuffley accompanied by many, many, spectators who had assembled. It is reported that some were singing the National Anthem when the airship fell, and even one individual played the bagpipes.

The 15 enemy crew were all killed, and buried in Potters Bar until, much later, being re-interred in a special cemetery at Cannock Chase, dedicated to German war dead.

Leefe Robinson was born in India to coffee planter parents in 1895. In recognition of his bringing down the airship he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Later in the Great War he suffered through being a prisoner-of-war and lingering ill health caused him to succumb to Spanish flu in 1918 after repatriation.

Pieces of the SL11 were collected and are held in many places, including the Lowewood Museum in Hoddesdon.

This page was added on 01/05/2013.

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