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Remembered Today:

Gunners shoot down Zeppelin L15 - Well Hit



A query from a friend about anti-aircraft artillery in WW1 lead to a realisation that the first Zeppelin successfully shot down was actually the result of anti-aircraft fire from the Gunners. Zeppelin L15 was brought down on the night of 31st March / 1st April 1916, ahead of the action of William Leefe Robinson on the 2nd September 1916, for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.


At the start of the First World War there was no Anti-Aircraft organisation beyond a few guns and an awareness of the threat from German airships. On the declaration of war the Royal Navy was given responsibility for the defence of London. Fledgling Royal Garrison Artillery units, supported by searchlights manned by  Royal Engineers, were deployed to protect key sites, mainly naval facilities and armaments.


On the night of 19 / 20 January 1915, the first Zeppelin air raid on the United Kingdom occurred when two airships bombed King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth in Norfolk. London was bombed for the first time on 31st May 1915, and attacks continued across the UK. Each raid brought about further enhancements to air defences, including the deployment of more anti-aircraft guns of varying types and searchlights.


By February 1916 an Anti-Aircraft section had been established on the Home Defence Staff and responsibility for engaging all enemy aircraft over land had been allocated to the Army. London had 65 anti-aircraft  guns mounted for defence of the capital.


The first Zeppelin to be brought down by anti-aircraft fire from the Gunners is attributed to the Purfleet  Detachment, 3rd Company Essex and Sussex RGA (TF). The guns at Purfleet consisted of a 3 inch 20 cwt  and two 1 pounder Pom Pom ex naval guns. The 3 inch 20 cwt AA gun had an effective firing range of 16,000 feet (4,900 metres).




The guns were in place to defend 5 magazines, with Purfleet Camp and a munitions factory in close proximity.




On the evening of 31st March 1916, five Zeppelins crossed the North Sea to conduct a bombing raids,  L22 would attack Humberside, L13 / L14 / L15 / L16 targets in the South East. The Zeppelins were sighted as they crossed the coast,  the first bombs were dropped on a munitions factory at Stowmarket. This signalled  the start of the raid resulting in air defenses coming to full alert. 




On hearing the approach of a Zeppelin, Anti-Aircraft guns at Purfleet / Abbey Wood / Erith Marsh / Southern Outfall Plumstead Common and Plumstead Marsh opened fire and Searchlights lit up the sky.




As the L15 proceeded up the Thames, it was caught in the light beams.large.robert-hunt-first-zeppelin-air-raid-on-london-during-world-war-i-1915_i-G-46-4617-E5LFG00Z.jpg.bb8e52c48461cf465d236285cad33543.jpg


The Purfleet Gunners  were credited with hitting L15. This caused damage to four of the sixteen hydrogen shells, mainly in the centre of the airship, critically damaging the airship which began to lose height.


A contemporary report records;


"We received the alarm about nine o'clock. In less than three minutes we were at our posts and ready to fire. We picked the 'Zepp' up about 9:45 p.m., flying at about 15,000 feet, and coming over from the North East. Naturally we started to fire right away before searchlights had even picked her up, but we didn't hit her, although we got perilously near.

        "Very soon after we started, the gun at………… got busy and the searchlight too. It was a grand sight. She was lit up like a silver cigar, and we could see the shells bursting around her. Presently a shot from the gun caught the Zeppelin in the stern and a little flame shot out from the envelope, whether from our bursting shell or the balloonette I couldn't tell from our position. Anyhow, the explosion seemed to throw it round, and at the same time it dropped by the stern with nose in the air, of course we were busy with our gun, but the boys couldn't help making a slight pause to shout 'She's hit"


At 22:00 Zeppelin L15 signaled "Have been hit. Request Ostend keep watch on airship wave length L15"  Heading for home, the L15 dropped  jettison  its bombs over Raynham and Averly and the crew began to throw non- essential equipment into the Thames.


As it began to descend the stricken Zeppelin was attacked by a  BE 2C aircraft from 19 squadron RFC piloted by 2Lt Alfred de Bathe Brandon. Brandon attempted to destroy L15 by dropping  incendiary bombs, and Ranken explosive darts, however he was not successful.



L15's final signal was at 23:15 " Require immediate assistance between Thames and Ostend L15", after which the radio and other secret material was dropped overboard.


Just after midnight, L15 diched in the sea off Margate near the  Kentish Knock lightship. One member of the crew drowned, the remaining 16  were rescued by HMT Olivine, transferring the prisoners to HMS Vulture.




 Attempts were made to tow L15 to Margate, but the airship sank, resulting in parts of it subsequently being washed ashore where many claimed parts as souvenirs.






The prisoners form L15 were landed ashore and taken by train to Chatham where they were marched under a military guard to the detention barracks and subsequently interrogated by War Office officials.




The action was recognised by Field Marshall Viscount French in a signal congratulating the Gunners on their success.




The officer commanding the Purfleet Detachment, Captain John Harris wrote to  Sir Charles Wakefield, Lord Mayor of London to claim a reward of £500 which had been promised to the first gunners to shoot down a Zeppelin. In the end the War Office would not allow such an award, feeling that those involved were performing their duties. It was also concluded that " The success achieved was due to the concerted action of a team and not the individual skill of any member of it"


It was agreed that the Lord Mayor would instead commission a gold medal which would be presented to those serving in the units involved with the overall action.  The medal shows a 3inc 20 cwt gun, the date of the action, and the message WELL HIT. The individual recipients name is engraved on the medal. A total of 325 medals were presented.





Gunner units credited with being involved in the engagement:






3 Coy Essex & Sussex RGA (TF)

1 x 3 inch 20 cw

2 x 1 pdr Pom Pom



1 x 3 inch 20 cwt


5 Coy Cornwall RGA (TF)

2 x 6 pounder

Abbey Wood

Regular RGA

2 x 3 inch 20 cwt

Southern Outfall


1 x 13 pounder

Plumstead Common


1 x 3 inch 20 cwt

1 x 13 pounder

North Woolwich

Regular RGA

Glamorgan RGA (TF)

1 x 3 inch 5 cwt

Royal Arsenal Defences


1 x 3 inch 5 cwt

2 x 6 pounder

2 x 1 pdr Pom Pom


The searchlight units were drawn from the London Electrical Engineers RE (TF) and a detachment from the  Tyne Electrical Engineers RE (TF) who manned a searchlight at Erith.


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Thank you, This is interesting. I have Cpl  C. Brown and Gnr J. Young listed in the book.

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Currently on the market (no connection):


'The rare Wakefield Gold Medal for the destruction of Zeppelin L15, housed in its fitted presentation case, as awarded to Lieutenant W.H. Moffatt, Royal Garrison Artillery, formerly Royal Field Artillery, Territorial Force, who originally saw service at Gallipoli, but was then one of the gun crews who were involved in shooting down the Zeppelin L15 which was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire over London on the night of 31st March to 1st April 1916. He ultimately ended up with the Duke of Cornwall’s Battery and lived in St Austell’s in Cornwall.


The Lord Mayor of the City of London, Sir Charles Wakefield's Gold Medal, obverse centre Wakefield's arms within inscription 'Presented by the Lord Mayor Colonel Sir Charles Wakefield', reverse, gun and L15 above two scrolls reading 'Well Hit' and 'March 31st - April 1st 1916', reverse field inscribed with name of recipient ‘Lieut. W.H. Moffatt’, 9 carat gold hallmarks for Birmingham 1916. In original issued state, and housed in its original Mappin and Webb presentation case.


William Harold Moffatt saw service during the Great War initially as a Lieutenant with the Royal Field Artillery, Territorial Force, and was present at Gallipoli during 1915. Subsequently promoted to Lieutenant and temporary Captain, he transferred to the Royal Garrison Artillery, and saw home service, being a number of the gun crews who were involved in shooting down the Zeppelin L15 which was severely damaged by anti-aircraft fire over London on the night of 31st March to 1st April 1916, and plunged into the sea a mile from the Kentish Knock Lightship shortly after midnight. The 17 survivors were taken aboard H.M.S. Vulture, but not before being stripped naked by order of the ship's Captain.


The Lord Mayor of the City of London created the Sir Charles Wakefield Gold Medal. It was created and awarded as the result of a bounty offered by Sir Charles Wakefield to the first gun's crew to shoot down a Zeppelin on domestic soil. Due to the fact that a number of gun crews were involved in shooting down the L15, it was decided that the money would instead be spent on the production of gold medals to present to each individual member of the crews involved.

Moffat subsequently saw service with the Duke of Cornwall’s Battery, his home being located at St Austell’s in Cornwall, and he went on to be awarded the Silver War Badge on 28th September 1918.'



Lieut W H Moffatt, RGA.JPG

Edited by MAW
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This is great news, I can add his name to the addendum for the book.  

Thank you very much. I now have 254 named recipients of the medal. 

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