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Remembered Today:

Zeppelin L15

Andrew Hesketh

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I've just received the following e-mail:

"I found a posting on RootsWeb that you made about L15's attack and final demise in the Thames. Did you manage to find out anything else about the AA guns that helped bring it down? I am very interested in this incident as I have been given a framed piece of the material that made up the L15's hull. It is enscribed :


Brought down April 5th 1916

Off The Kentish Knock.

Bombed by Lt. Brandon ** ** (Two words I cannot make out !)

Anti Aircraft Guns.

Any further information you have would be grately appreciated."

I cannot help at all. Can anyone else?

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The commander of the L15 was Kapitanleutnant Joachim Breithaupt. On the 31st March 1916 (note date!), at 21.45 hours, the L15 received a direct hit from the AA gun at Purfleet, Essex.

The AA shell damaged four of the gas cells (numbers 9, 11, 12, and 16), and the L15 began to lose height - despite the crew chucking out everything, to lose weight.

While the L15 got closer to earth, it was attacked by 2Lt Alfred de Bathe Brandon RFC, 19 RA Sqn (Hainault Farm), in a BE 2C. Brandon climbed above the L15 and tried to destroy it by dropping incendiary bombs, and Ranken darts onto the top of the hull. He was not succesful.

But eventually the Zeppelin became too heavy to fly, and she came down in the sea off Margate at 00.15 (1st April) - close to the Kentish Knock lightship. One crew member, ObsigMt Willy Albrecht, was drowned. The rest of the crew (16 members in total) were rescued by the armed trawler Olivine (and then transferred to HMS Vulture).

The sodden, half-sunk remains of the L15 were then taken under tow but the airship broke up off Westgate and only small sections were hauled ashore, where parts were obviously liberated by souvenir hunters. Eventually the sea reclaimed what was left of the airship on the beach.

Please be so kind as to ask the owner to get in touch with me. I would very much like a photo of this small piece of Zeppelin history.

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Hi Dee,

Attached is a website with a small biography of Captain Brandon.


I have to admit I'm afraid that my information is always likely to be eclipsed by

Pete (aka Racing Teapots) !


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Thanks for the above.

Pete, I've passed this on and asked him to contact you.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hi Andrew,

Just found this short book for sale>

'The Story Of The WW1 Zeppelin Raid On Eldon 5TH/6TH APRIL 1916'

by Margaret Beith. 20 pages.

This covers Zeppelin L15.

Onl;y one record of the book on Abe.com !



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Hi Andrew,

Just found this short book for sale>

'The Story Of The WW1 Zeppelin Raid On Eldon 5th/6th April 1916'

by Margaret Beith. 20 pages.

This covers Zeppelin L15.

Only one record of the book on Abe.com !



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  • 3 years later...

Mrs. Beith's book is actually about L-16, not L-15!!

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When using Google it sems indeed so to be that pieces pretended to be from L15 are offered under one or another shape!

Further you find that Lord Mayor colonel Wajefield promised an award of £500 for him or those who could bring down as first a zeppelin which bombed London...

Howver in the case of L15 so many gunners crews, including the pilot(s ) involved , all claimed less or more to be responsable for bringing down the L15...

Lord Wakefield stood for a problem, he seems to have solved by a King Solomons judgment...

He let made 353 ,14 karat gold medals by Hallmark at Birmingham, which he offered at tyhose who made the claims, seen he dedided that not one person was involved, but that the downing was the result of many!

In each medal was than the name of the awarded person engraved!(In general the gunners name!)

Some links I found, as a sale by Sotheby are dating from 1999!(so not of value anymore)

But there are probably still a few for sale! (I saw prices as £835 and 1,200 USD !)

So if there are interested people, you can try it out!



(Added one of the photos on L15 drifting at sea)

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  • 1 month later...

The Wakefield medal is 0.325 AU, or 8 carat gold, not 14 carat.

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  • 2 years later...


Thank you for sharing this, the Wakefield medals are an interest of mine. Have long been looking for a full list of recipients, but there doesn't appear to be one.

Can't quite make out the engraving on this one - who is it to please?

Also, would be interested to know the newspaper and date of publication.



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  • 1 year later...
1285783874[/url]' post='1480053']


Thank you for sharing this, the Wakefield medals are an interest of mine. Have long been looking for a full list of recipients, but there doesn't appear to be one.

Can't quite make out the engraving on this one - who is it to please?

Also, would be interested to know the newspaper and date of publication.



I can add some information on the L15, which may be of interest to members of the Forum. My grandfather, then Captain (later Lt.Col.) Joseph Harris in the Royal Artillery Regiment, was awarded one of the Wakefield 9 carat gold medals when commanding the A.A. Battery at Purfleet on the night of 31st Mar/1st April 1916. I have inherited the medal which, naturally, is not for sale.RegardsPeter Harris

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  • 3 years later...


Am also interested in this Wakefield medal. I am member of Purfleet Heritage Museum. . Have so far compiled list of names of at least 30 recipients and am still looking.

Captain Joseph Harris With Family

Gunner James Richards Believe with Family in USA

Gunner Charles Bicheno R.A Museum Woolwich (Accession 2054)

Gunner Derbyshire Purfleet Museum

Gunner J Reynolds With Family (seen by Thurrock Museum)

Cpl Brown Poss Oxford Uni.

Sapper J Hogan Sale in 2000

Gunner J Young On Sale in Canada in 2010

Corporal H J Penfold Sale in 2002

Corporal A Pearce Sold

John J King

Gunner Robert Hearing

Gunner W Berrill Was for Sale in 2012

Sapper H M Earl Sold in 2004

Gunner Stanley Rolling

Sapper W R Hammant Sold 2015

Alfred de Bathe Brandon

Gunner Anderson

Sapper McCann On Antique Roadshow 2015 with Family

Gunner Paynter Aquired by me 2015

Lt G Greenway I.W.M. !

Gunner J Ridd Sold USA !

Bdr Delve Nat Army Museum 1985

Gunner Hosegood Sold 2015

Gunner Alfred Ireland WEB info

Cpl G M Dorkins Info ex `Leighway` Newsletter 2001

Gunner R L Dorkins ditto

Bdr W Phillips ditto

Gunner W D Tubbs ditto

Gunner W H Nethercoats ditto

Hope this is of interest


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Hi Eddie

Many thanks for photo, first time seen same, will try to enlarge. We are intending to hold exhib. next year for 100th Anniv. of the action because of the Purfleet connection, we have two of the medals and are hoping to put a nice collectiom of memorabilia together

Many thanks


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Bernard, if you are unable to the get the quality of picture required when enlarging, PM me e-mail address and I will forward a larger and higher resolution version.

ps The picture is from Vol 6 pg 258 of The Great War The Standard History of The All Europe Conflict edited by H W Wilson. There are other photographs of the captured officers Capt Breithaupt, Ober Lt Kuhne, a leading mechanic unamed and two unamed Warrant officers, also the L15 floating in the sea and on tow, and photo of Lt Brandon RFC


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Many thanks Eddie

If we don`t succeed I will be in touch.

PS have just found two more names !!!!!1


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ben I will do as requested

I would remove your email address from your post before you are inundated with spam.

Use the pm message system for this purpose


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  • 1 month later...

Some information at London Metropolitan Archives

Ref Code COL/SJ/05/003

Some names apparently, how many don`t know as havn`t seen file


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  • 2 months later...

sorry no pictures cant add them but thought it might be of interet

Airship bombing of Belfairs.

The end of L15

By S. Aylen

By the same author

Belfairs a history

Murder most foul at Belfairs

193 battery


Introduction Page 4

L15 5

Air raid 6

L15 gains some problems 12

The hunt begins 16

Troubles start 20

In for the final kill 24

L15 was going home 26

Medals for the victors 33

Kapitaenleutnant Joachim Breithaupt 34

The days following 36


On the night of the 31st of March 1916 Belfairs Park then Major Millars sporting plantation was bombed and as a result many golfers have been frustrated as their ball has gone down the bomb hole on the 14th fairway.

This is the story of how that hole got there and the end of L15 the first enemy aircraft brought down over Britain.

The bomb hole on the 14th Fairway Belfairs park golf course

Picture taken on the golf course opening day in 1926

Whilst writing the history of Belfair’s I showed an early draft to an old boy. I had put the bomb hole down to a Second World War bomb. This he thought was funny. Another lady told me of the day she was arrested for picking blackberries in the park and then went on to tell me about the night she heard the Germans and was sure I would be interested. A plane crashed in 1936 on the now site of Belfairs high school, the pilots, grandson when I was shown his log was very keen to show me the entry for April 1916. Metal detectors had turned up several German parts in the park. There are probably many more that went unrecorded. Various ponds in the Belfair’s area had after research been originally formed in 1916 was there a link?


L15 was not a Zeppelin as she had a plywood frame and was manufactured by Luftschiffbau Schutte-Lanz G.m.b.H., which employed a framework of laminated plywood instead of the aluminium alloy used in Zeppelins. Airships with an L were Schutte-Lanze and airships with LZ were Zeppelins.

The crew consisted of two officers and sixteen men

Kapitaenleutnant Joachim Breithaupt, Ober-leutnant Kuhne, and the rest of the crew were sailors who previously worked on the Hamburg-America and north German Lloyd shipping lines.

The crew of L15

The total weight-carrying capacity of the ship, including barometers, temperature and humidity measuring appliances and also the specific weight of the gas was about 30,800 pounds. At this weight the petrol comprised about 11,000 pounds, and bombs 3,410 pounds (28 explosive bombs of 110 pounds each and 15 incendiary bombs of 22 pounds each.

It was driven by 4 Maybach engines of 160 hp each

L15 over its home base of Nordholz (North wood)

Air raid

On the night of the 31st March/1st April 1916 L15 was part of a mass airship raid on Britain. This was to be one of the greatest in terms of civilian casualties. In Lincolnshire, East Suffolk, Ipswich and Essex, 223 bombs were dropped killing 48 and injuring 64 people. The L14 and L15 flew over Essex, dropping bombs in Colchester, Braintree, Stanford-le-Hope, Thameshaven and Blackmore

This was the third attack on Britain by L15 and they had also conducted 8 reconnaissance missions

L13, L9 and L11 leaving for the raid

The raid was originally planned for the 17th but engine reliability problems had cancelled that raid. The main bearings would overheat.

The 31st raid was to be carried out by seven airships, two (L9 and L11) had to abort the mission due to engine failure.

On the evening of the 30th March orders came through to North wood the airship base.

Assuming no change in weather raid will proceed tomorrow as planned.

Next morning the officers meet and although fine but misty the consensus was to proceed.

Kapitaenleutnant Breithaupt proceeded to the control gondola of L15 awaiting last minute weather reports.

The airships were walked from their hangers and the order Luftschiffe weg given.

By 11.00 all the airships were in the air heading for the coast.

L15 steered low over the Friesian islands then climbed through the heavy mist to 2,000 feet so was out of view of any royal navy ships.

As they waited for nightfall L15 dumped water ballast rose to 5,000 ft.

The bombs were armed already located in there racks

At 19.30 L15 passed over the outer British defence vessels

Heinrich Mathy (L13) crossed the coast at Saxmundham, he went no further than Stowmarket. There he dropped all of his bombs. He came under fire from the ground and suffered at least one hit.

Werner Peterson (L16) crossed the coast at Winterton and made his way to Bury St Edmunds where he dumped all of his bombs.

Alois Bocker (L14) scattered his bombs over a wide area hitting Sudbury, Braintree, Blackmore, Doddinghurst, Springfield, Stanford le Hope and Thameshaven.

Max Dietrich (L22) flew in a feint to the north, in doing so he hit a chapel in Cleethorpes that was being used as a temporary billet by the 3rd Manchesters, 25 of whose number were killed and 53 wounded.

Joachim Breithaupt (L15) had been the first to cross the coast.

At 7.45 hours he was between Cromer and Great Yarmouth about over Dunwich at a height of 7,200 feet. As he crossed over the coast they came under fire from the newly installed anti aircraft batteries, and the ship was lit up by the searchlights of the coastguard and shore batteries.

A propaganda photo of the time

This was a small surprise as previously often the only defence action the airships had encounters when crossing the coast was a few shotguns.

The British had been hard at work very rapidly improving the anti airship defences. After a previous raid by L15 on London Joachim had reported that although the defences had improved they were nothing to worry about.

A news paper reporter stated that many people had come out to catch a glimpse of the zeppelin as it appeared over the coast, search light picking it up in their beams. The parish constable had knocked on as many doors as possible warning of the threat and residents had to extinguish all lights and gather in one place. These gatherings turned into very good social occasions.

At around 20.30 the rest of the ballast was dropped and l15 rose to 10,000 ft.

In the gondola of L15

The visibility soon turned out to be not so good. They tried to take bearings and quickly became lost in the cloud. So L15 lowered a gondola to take bearings to establish their position.

As L15 flew over the land they attempted to check their position from time to time by dropping light bombs. Air navigation was not that good then for example one airship convinced they were bombing Harwich was bombing Portsmouth.

The light bombs illuminated the ground and a look at a map enabled them to find were they where.

Below on a farm the farmer recognised the dull drone sound of airship engines and alerted the military. It does question surely someone must had seen the light bombs. The problem was in the days previous there had been bad weather. Telephone and telegraph systems had been badly affected and many simply did not work.

It was also noted that as the airship passed over wooded areas the pheasants started to make a large racket and didn't stop until daylight.

In other raids airships had been tracked very accurate. This was done by blind people as their hearing was much better. Tracking by sight was very difficult as often the airships were invisible against the night sky the only visible reference was when stars could not be seen blotted out by the airship.

Revd Edward Reeve, Rector of the village of Stondon Massey, wrote of the events in his ‘notes for a parish history’: “With the moonless nights and the still weather which has succeeded the wintry storms a succession of air-craft raids began. On March 31 five “Zeppelin” airships visited the Eastern Counties. One of them was heard over Stondon in the direction of Woolwich at 10.20pm"

Under the other airships several towns rang their church bells to warn the residents. The airships could hear the bells and simply knowing they were therefore over a town dropped bombs towards the sound of the bells.

Unable to establish his position through the cloud Joachim could make out the Thames. L15 headed towards the Thames. Here they could establish their position and head to London, the target. The idea was to turn over the Thames and use it to guide them into central London and also allow them to be able to gain a safe height. (Above the range of the anti aircraft guns and the highest any intercepting aircraft could reach) However this was proving difficult, as they had already dropped most of their ballast. There was a suggestion that the engines were giving problems.

At about 10.45 hours, height 8,500 feet, the Thames with its characteristic windings clearly distinguishable below to the crew of L15, they started their turn.

An unknown airship caught in searchlights

As the warning came through of the approaching Zeppelins, John (unknown second name) part of the searchlight crew ran to his station at Clifford's Fort to answer the call to colours. It was he who was instrumental in locating the airship L15 as it made for the capital.

He and his crew picked up the great airship in the beam of their searchlight.

"It was like a great silver pencil in the dark night sky," John later recalled.

"Within seconds, it was at the centre of a cluster of lights."

Suddenly, from all sides, searchlights leaped out towards the airship, and as they flew over, a wild barrage from the anti-aircraft positions began. Some of the tracking information had got through so the search lights and gun crews were at alert. The Anti-Aircraft gunners of the 3rd Company, Essex and Suffolk Royal Garrison Artillery shells burst at what was noted by L15 as a good height right in their course. Therefore they attempted to rise to gain altitude to avoid the gunfire.

13 years later Joachim Breithaupt described flying high above as he followed the winding of the river Thames to his target.

We watched the beams of the search lights slashing into the sky like unsheathed swords looking for our airship… the ship rocked when a round came close and shrapnel filled the sky. How could the enemy fail to hit the huge target that was my airship? One hit from the incendiary shells and they would go up in flames with no chance of escape.

No airship carried parachutes, for it had been decided every extra ounce of payload would be given to bombs.

L15 gains some problems

The gunfire was far more than expected from previous experience. Suddenly the airship suffered shrapnel hits over Rainham by the guns at Purfleet, Abbey Wood, Erith Marsh, Southern Outfall, Plumstead Common and Plumstead Marsh.

John also recalled. The ack-ack gunners fastened onto the sinister target and scored direct hits. One shell destroyed gas cylinders.

People on the ground, who had observed the battle, cheered.

Despite bombs being dumped upon Rainham L15 failed to gain any reasonable altitude. This may had been due to engine problems.

At Purfleet the gunners at Tank hill commanded by Captain John Harris had scored a hit, which tore a large hole in the airship's flank. 4 of its 12 airbags had been punctured, mainly at the centre of the airship. The AA shell damaged four of the gas cells (numbers 9, 11, 12, and 16), (the numbering does not equal 12 but that’s how it was done)

Gunners at Tank hill

A newspaper correspondent who saw the fight between an airship and British gunners writes

“All lights were put out in the streets and all places of entertainment were closed. It was a calm clear and peaceful night and the half dozen searchlights which were turned to the sky presented a fine sight.

Presently the booming of guns bought hundreds of persons into the streets. Just before 10 o’clock I saw the searchlights pick up a Zeppelin. The crowd loudly applauded the work of the gunners and became very enthuastic when one shell seemed to burst right under the airship. The last I saw was a cloud of smoke which seemed to be discharged from the Zeppelin. Behind this cloud the raider disappeared”.

The reporter further added that motorbuses and tramcars ran as normal during the fight.

Eyewitnesses say they saw three airships, one of which when caught by the rays of searchlights emitted a cloud of thick vapour and tried to dart

away, but the searchlights were too quick. The ship emerged into a blaze of light, dived quickly, dared up again into the thin clouds, and lay snug therein, apparently thinking it had shaken off the pursuing beams and dropping bombs though its suggested that it was anxious to be relived of the weight. Off it went slowly, and many searchlights immediately concentrated on it and firing began. The first shots were excellently aimed and the airship darted into the cloud again. It rose almost perpendicular, and was not seen again

Another eye witness states.

The scene was most thrilling. The Zeppelin was of a larger type than usual. The night was starry and the huge glimmering ship attracted attention. Hundreds left their houses despite instructions. Searchlights illuminated the stem and stern. The shells of anti-aircraft guns were seen bursting round the Zeppelin, which turned and made for the coast evidently damaged

A photo taken by (supposedly) L15 over Purfleet

L15 dumped a large amount of water ballast that was properly what was described as the cloud of smoke. This was to gain height and the airship nosed up at a very acute angle.

L15 turned north to avoid the Thamesmouth defence zone. To escape the AA fire, losing height.

Aware of how low L15 was and to try and prevent the loss of height L15 bombs were jettisoned.

Revd Edward Reeve wrote. At 11.45 a Zeppelin dropped a series of bombs at the point where is the junction of Stondon with the parishes of Blackmore and Kelvedon Hatch: within easy distance of Soap House Farm. A machine-gun had been lately established at Kelvedon Hatch to watch for the raiders, and Capt. Hulton in charge claims to have hit the air-ship, causing it to drop the bombs hurriedly.”

Revd. Andrew Clark in Great Leighs, some fourteen miles north east of Blackmore, wrote, “11. 50 pm. several explosions in the south, followed by lights (probably searchlights)”

Note the times that are recorded in the above

Reeve continued, “Large numbers of persons from Brentwood and the surrounding district visited the spot next day, and the large craters caused by the bombs, some 15 feet in diameter and varying from 3 to 9 feet in depth, were to the astonishment of all. The whole saucer-like cavities were left entirely clean by the explosion, and one local builder Mr J T Gann remarked there was no trace anywhere of the large body of earth which had been scooped out by the force of the bomb. Clods torn from the craters were sprinkled to a distance of 60 yards. Nine of the thirteen holes were quickly found: and fortunately no life was lost or building injured. All had fallen in open fields. Our windows at Stondon Rectory were violently shaken and considerable alarm was naturally caused. We in the close neighbourhood have much for which to be deeply grateful to an over-ruling Providence.”

Five days later (6th April 1916) Reeve added, “Further enquiry shows that the bombs dropped on March 31st fell between the Soap House and the corner of Blackmore between the Church and Miss Barrett’s house. Two were dropped in the lane near the site of the old Blackmore Mill. The remaining holes were to be found in a straight-line across the fields to Miss Barrett’s at very short intervals. Many panes of glass were broken in the house by the concussion”.

In terms of location, the bombs were dropped over Hook End near Blackmore House, Mill Lane then fields not more than half a mile to the east of Blackmore village itself.

The hunt begins

Already in the air and on patrol were members of the Royal Flying Corps.

About to take off

At Brentwood Second Lieutenant Claude Aylward Ridley, flying a BE2c from Joyce Green fired 20 rounds towards the airship. He turned for a second attack and could not find the airship, which managed to evade the searchlight beams and disappear into the dark.

Second Lieutenant Claude Aylward Ridley

The Royal Flying Corps pilots could only intercept the airships if they were lit up by searchlights, it was that dark up there

L15 gun crew on the upper gun position

A Be2c aeroplane

Shortly before 22:00, when L15 was east of Brentwood. The airship was attacked by Second Lieutenant Alfred de Bath Brandon flying a BE2c from Hainault Farm. Making three separate attacks, Brandon used a box of explosive darts, incendiary bombs and his machine gun and apparently caused severe damage to L15.


Brandon attacks

From Brandon's report:

"I continued and circled in front of the Zeppelin, and turned round to get in its rear, and on going past there was a tremendous amount of machine-gun firing going on. At this point I switched off my lights, and continued in my direction for 2 or 3 hundred yards, and then turned and got in a direct line with the Zeppelin. I was then about 500 feet above it; I closed the throttle and volplaned towards the Zeppelin; the nose of my machine was pointed about quarter way from the rear. I then got out an incendiary bomb, and in trying to get it into the tube I had to take my eyes off the Zeppelin, and on looking up again I was astonished to find that in a very few seconds I would have passed the Zeppelin, so I quickly placed the incendiary bomb in my lap, and let off no. 2 and no. 3 lots of darts. I did not hear any report from this. I concluded that the Zeppelin was, in reality, coming towards me, so I opened up the engine again and turned completely round, and followed a southerly course, continuing for some considerable time, as I thought the Zeppelin had got a good start. In the meantime I turned on my lights again and I was at 8,000 feet for some time and saw nothing, and then dropped to 6,000 feet and cruised around for some considerable time without also seeing any sign of the Zeppelin".

Second Lieutenant Alfred de Bath Brandon

A Ranken dart (explosive dart)

The Ranken dart was a slender, drogue-stabilized, 1-lb bomb with a sharp nose and four, pivoting vanes. The idea was when the dart hit the airship's skin, the head would punch through while the vanes pivoted and snagged on the envelope this then fired the detonator.

The darts were dropped from a box holding 24 darts. They dropped at an angle so as not to hit the airplane.

The pilot would approach from around 200 to 700 ft. above the airship 400 ft. was best and slightly out of line with the airship of about 20 degrees.

The darts could be dropped on their own or all together.

An airship crew in the front gondola look out for attackers

Troubles start

At this point if L15's troubles were not bad enough the engines started to play up. Airships need forward motion to maintain their height and as the engines failed the airship slowed and lost height. In fact the airship was so low that Capt Hulton in charge of a machine gun post at Kelvedon Hatch claimed to have hit an airship. He originally claimed it was L14 but she would have been too high. Over Hanningfield unneeded heavy objects were dumped to assist in maintaining height. Even the Maxim machine guns were thrown overboard.

One of the recovered machine guns

Of the large amount of high explosive bombs, only 6 were kept for possible targets of opportunity, all the incendiary bombs went over the side. Also the camera (look at the earlier pictures).

Other items recovered later by the War office included the gondola heavily damaged and 3 fuel tanks full of machine gun holes.

All four engines were restarted and the crippled L15 headed back towards the Thames Joachim Breithaupt was determined to get home to Belgium.

Some reports claim that the anti aircraft fire broke a propeller but there is no further information on this

L15 then proceeded for an unknown reason in a large circle across Foulness

Robert Taylor Bull, of Burnham, recorded in his diary the following day, “A Zeppelin was brought down at Thameshaven”. On 1st April he wrote: “A Zepp went over last night about 9 … with usual noise”

Decision time: the shortest way to home and safety would be North East and back out over Britain on a similar route as they came in on, however this would be what would be expected and the British forces would be waiting. A crippled airship to be brought down was a major prize. East roughly up the Crouch estuary the Royal Flying Corps at Stow Maries, Canewdon Rochford will all be after him, no machine guns to drive off aircraft and a low height so they could easily get on top and set fire to the airship. Worse still was the gun battery at Foulness at the weapons proving ground. What would they have waiting? (The most modern anti aircraft guns?) In fact exactly where they had just circled.

If L15 turned south then east across Southend, dropping off the remaining bombs (the least defended route) and the British forces will be elsewhere looking for the airship.

An eyewitness recorded,

“It was about 12.15am on April 1st 1916 that she came across Essex from north east at a height of about 14000 feet."

L15 turned south over Rayleigh. Was the circling a feint to confuse?

L15's crew could not have known the least defended route home was the exact one they were taking.

L15 crossed Rayleigh and as 2 engines stopped the airship went into a wide left hand turn. If it was not wanted it was thrown overboard the airship still had a number of bombs. 6. These were now just dumped.

Mr Clayton the manager of Oakwood pumping station recorded Zeppelin very low over the pumping station travelling south.

L15s route, 5 of the remaining 6 bombs where exploded were the circles are.

What happened to the 6th is unknown.

A typical bomb of the type used

One bomb landed on Oakwood reservoir. The reservoir supplied Southend. This bomb completely crippled the water supply to Southend.

Oakwood reservoir, picture taken a month before

Flight magazine noted, just outside an ancient South East Town bombs were dropped straddling a lane. The damage was a number of glass panes and 3 hens were killed

All the fuel went except for enough for four hours flying. As engines failed they had thrown everything out, unbolted engine shrouds. Even exhaust manifolds had gone.

Across Belfairs Park a number of items have been found recently; a German luger pistol and an exhaust manifold from one of the Maybac engines.

L15 came to a halt at 11.55 over what is now the Elms public house at Leigh. In the darkness above at only 300 feet residents could hear the Germans swearing and shouting to try and get the giant airship going.

In for the final kill

The Royal Flying Corps took action. A single pilot who had managed to take off from Eastwood airfield in the dark conditions, (better known today as Southend) closed for the attack with flaming darts. He had taken off as L15 first circled Foulness and was waiting. Armed with Ranken darts. These darts were in clusters of 3 and were located in what was called a dropped box, inside the fuselage of the aircraft. Each box contained 24 darts. As the flying officer came into attack (his grandson after showing me his log asked, originally the pilot be not named but a number of years have now passed) L15 a sitting target, it could not have been easier.

Suddenly the pilot realised where he was. His mum and dad lived below. Strangely the log recalls. "Engaged airship with flaming darts failed to score a hit driven off by machines guns."

The machine guns had been thrown out over Hanningfield and were all recovered. Also a witness present at the Elms told me there was no gun firing.

BE2c 1164 was flown by Sub Lieutenant G L F Stevens.

Interestingly a resident had produced a shotgun but had no ammunition for it. A large crowd had gathered in a very short time below the airship and despite its size and very low height it was difficult to see in the darkness and cloud.

Strong words were exchanged. My witness had to be taken home, not the language a young girl should have been hearing!

Hammering banging and although in another language the swearing and shouting above.

L 15 started one engine and slowly moved, then a second and by the time it crossed Southend pier all four were running. L15 was going home. The airship as she stood motionless had rotated and headed southwest, turning over were today stands Thames Drive.

Charlie a local duck hunter of Leigh was asked in 1924

“What was the biggest bag you’ve ever had?” “A Zeppelin!” said he laconically. “Come over Southend in the 1914 war, went up tew London, dropped her owd bombs, and then I reckon she got hit, for she come back over Canvey Point right low. I laid out on Leigh Marsh with me big owd double eight-bore charged with swan shot, and this old airship, she come over me no more’n a gunshot high. So I let her have tew barrels right in the under-carriage where the bloody jerries was. I reckoned that ‘ud warm some of their backsides for ‘em! Didn’t do me no good though. One of our officers come down from Leigh next morning, April fools day and give me a rare flea in me ear. Towd me as how Jerries might ha’ dropped a bomb on Southend out of revenge, jest because I shot at ’em. Well, says I, yew soldier chaps hev got bigger guns than me; why didn’t yew shoot her down?

Charlie confirmed it was L15.

The guns on the Pier failed to engage L15 due to the surprise of it being there. The notification that it had halted over Leigh had failed to filter through anywhere. This was due to the collapse of the communication system that had happened over the previous days.

However a newspaper report of the time tells a different story.

A newspaper correspondent from a Thames coastal town says that eyewitnesses concur in asserting that the Zeppelin raider never previously met such a cannonade from anti aircraft guns it could clearly be seen caneering through the sky. Residents cheered as a concert of engagement occurred.

This could be explained by;

At Chalkwell park approx a mile from the Elms, word had got through to the newly installed anti-aircraft battery that a Zep was just down the road.

Years later the captain wrote

Several civilians had reported a Zeppelin halted over the Elms farm lime works, sent a runner to investigate and confirmed.

Awaited orders to engage.

Heard the Zeppelin start its engines and as it passed over a large tear could be seen in the side.

Order to engage finally came through and it had become lost from view and without search lights fired randomly out to river.

Another report from a south eastern coastal town states

The zeppelin came over in a wide arc clearly distinguishable at some speed. The evil raider was viewed for some time as it descended from view across the coast line many persons in the darkened streets roared abuse.

The pilot that failed to engage the airship returned to Southend airport at 02:41 after what was originally claimed an uneventful night sortie, Be2 1189 flown by Sub Lieutenant E P Hicks took over.

L15 was going home

On the Olivine, an armed deepwater trawler, part of the Nore defence flotilla sitting in the Thames, the radio operator Mr Whybrow took a message from headquarters

” Look out for damaged zeppelin flying low”

He went out on deck. On the ships bridge the lookout saw a light flashing in the sky higher than a ships mast. The skipper Lieutenant William Mackintosh Royal Navy Reserve weighed anchor.

L 15 was flying at full speed and gaining height, it was just below 2,000 feet. Turning out across the North Sea, the plywood frame of the airship was under tremendous strain with the central airbags missing.

Breithaupt aware his craft may not have long to last ordered all the crew to the top of the airship with only himself and two crew in the gondola. Suddenly the frame broke in two places and L15 buckled up and fell into the sea, shortly after midnight only half a mile from the Kentish Knock lightship. The rush of water into the gondola knocked Breithaupt unconscious one of the other two crew members lost all his teeth. The rest of the crew pulled them out the water.

On the Olivine and in a few minutes after getting under way the airship was spotted. It’s under structure in the water, the crew were calling for help. Mr Whybrow was dispatched in a dingy to rescue them.

The crew of L15 all had survived except the radio operator signaller ObsigMt Willy Albrecht t who drowned while trying to destroy the radio and codes one of the two crew in the gondola. Fearful that the crew of L15 would overpower the Olivine crew of 8, the captain of the Olivine made them strip.

The destroyer HMS Vulture arrived at 3.30 am and took off L15s crew. The destroyer took the crew to Southend pier. However other reports state the crew were taken to Chatham.

The hulk of L15 was taken in tow.

An unknown person wrote to his Mother

My dear Mother,

Am sending you an interesting souvenir of the War in the shape of a piece of the skin or envelope of Zeppelin L15 which sank near the Kentish Knock the other day. It was given me by the skipper of the trawler "Olivine" who tore it off her while she was floundering. The "Olivine" approached the Zeppelin and called on the crew to surrender, but the Captain of the Zepp shouted back "Nein", so the Capt. of the "Olivine" said he would be obliged to fire and sink the Zepp - the German Capt. told him to carry on. The "Olivine" then opened fire with her six pounder and after the fourteenth round the crew of the Zepp surrendered. The Zepp's crew were then made to strip to their vests, pants and socks and were then taken on board the trawler.

The morning of the 1st revealed L15 in the water

Captain Pells a South Shields pilot on the steamer Svantholm stated

"Saw L15 floating near Kentish Knock early in the morning. Earlier he had heard heavy firing in the air and the steamer rocked violently. He described the zeppelin as about 700 feet in length and broken in two having evidently been hit.

A German crawled along the envelope as it lay on the water and held his hands up as a sign of surrender. When boats from the patrol ships rowed up the heads of others were visible through the manhole in the forepart of the airship, thirty were in the stern 20ft above the water. The airship was floating buoyantly."

L15 under tow April 1st

Wreckage on the Beach

The half-sunk remains of the L15 were then taken under tow but the airship broke up off Westgate and only small sections were hauled ashore, where parts were obviously liberated by souvenir hunters. Eventually the sea reclaimed what was left of the airship on the beach.

The crew of L15 warrant officer under guard at Chatham

The crew of L15 leading mechanic under guard at Chatham

Neutral journalists were allowed to interview the crew of L15.

They all refused to state were L15 had left from for the raid.

They stated that when she became seriously damaged the commander tried to turn her back home but she gradually fell. For half an hour the airship retained her buoyancy and then the framework began to collapse and her altitude lessened until she was riding the sea

The crew disgarded their clothing and all weighty objects on board but the airships back was broken and salvation was impossible.

An officer named Kuhne told the reporters that he had only been married eight days and asked them to send a message to his young wife telling her that he was safe.

But Kuhne did not like to have his picture taken

In all official accounts the destruction of the airship is given as due to ground fire, Brandon receiving no recognition for his acts although it would seem they were the deciding factor in L15's destruction.

There are other versions of the last minutes of L15.

As the armed gunboats approached Joachim Breithaupt stood before all in the gondola with all his medals on. An unknown armed fishing boat machine gunned the hull of L15 to make her sink forcing the crew of L15 to surrender.

The official statement given out on the 2nd of April.

One of the zeppelins was bought down by gunfire. It fell into the sea and later sank. The crew were rescued and as prisoners taken to Chatham. This Zeppelin was L15 “during the night” an earlier official statement read a damaged Zeppelin was observed to come down off the Thames estuary. On being approached by one of our patrol vessels she surrenders. The crew was taken off and she was taken in tow, but subsequently broke up and sank."

As reported across the empire

There was a striking transformation scene in London on the Saturday forenoon. Half the population was listening or recounting its experiences on the previous evening when trains were stopped for several hours and numerous other precautions were taken to baffle the raiders. Many people were marooned in the west end of the city and could not reach their homes. The great topic was changed magically at 11 o'clock. When a rumour went speeding everywhere that a Zeppelin had been brought down. This report was taken at first as an April fool day joke but on the newspapers emphasising its official nature the result was a remarkable outburst of spontaneous delight in London for a long time.

The same unconcealed delight was felt in provinces especially in the eastern counties

Medals for the victors

A special medal, an unofficial one of gold awarded by Sir Charles Wakefield, Lord Mayor of London. Originally he had promised a significant fiscal reward for the first gun crew to shoot down a Zeppelin. However, in the event numerous gun crews put in a claim as being the one, which hit the Zeppelin, all having fired on it. As a result some three hundred medals were issued to various members of the gun crews and searchlight batteries involved, the large fiscal prize funding their manufacture.

The medal itself was in gold, and was designed to be worn on a watch chain rather than as an official award.

Richard James Richards

Richard was one of the gunners given a special medal. The medal resembles a large gold coin. On one side there is a depiction of an anti-aircraft gun with the following words encircling the coin: LI5 GUN JRICHARDS WELL HIT MARCH 31st - APRIL 1st 1916. There is a capital "R" raised up following the word "gun".

The other side has a depiction of a coat of arms with a shield, ribbon and a dragon on a pedestal above the shield. The words on that side are:



There were visits to John's unit (search lights) by men of such eminence as Sir John French and eventually John and a couple of his comrades went on parade to receive the beautiful commemorative gold medals.

John never talked much about his achievement, but he was proud of his medal, so much so that before he died he proudly kept it safely in a metal case, contrived from one of his wife's compacts.

Known receivers of the medal

Captain Joseph Harris

Gunner James Richards

Gunner Charles Bicheno

Gunner Derbyshire

Gunner J Reynolds

Cpl Brown

Sapper J Hogan

Gunner J Young

Corporal H J Penfold

Corporal A Pearce

John J King

Gunner Robert Hearing

Gunner W Berrill

Sapper H M Earl

Gunner Stanley Rolling

Sapper W R Hammant

Alfred de Bathe Brandon

Gunner Anderson

Sapper McCann

Gunner Paynter

Lt G Greenway

Gunner J Ridd

Bdr Delve

Gunner Hosegood

Gunner Alfred Ireland

Cpl G M Dorkins

Gunner R L Dorkins

Bombardier W Phillips

Gunner W D Tubbs

Gunner W H Nethercoats

Kapitaenleutnant Joachim Breithaupt of L15

Kapitaenleutnant Joachim Breithaupt has the Eisernes kreuz (iron cross) with the wound ribbon that can clearly be seen in the picture below. He appears very young for what he's been through to have these decorations.

"...For his bombing of London on 13 October [1915]...the Kaiser had awarded him the Pour Le Merite."

When questioned about his feelings on the killing of women and children apparently he said.

"You must not suppose that we set out to kill women and children, we have higher military aims. You would not find one officer in the German Army or Navy who would go to kill women and children. Such things happen accidentally in war"'

Kapitaenleutnant Joachim Breithaupt of L15.

Reported as photographed on Southend Pier

Time Line

If you read back through the story you can follow the time line that runs roughly like this

7.45 crosses coast

10.20 passed over Stondon Massey

10.45 Thameshaven

11.45 1150 Blackmore area.

10.00 (22.00) Brandon engages

21.00 Over Burnham

12.15 approaching Southend

11.55 Elms

3.30 HMS Vulture arrives.

It does not stack up. However at the being of March 1916 British summer time was introduced for the first time.

This was very different to today as the time moved 80 minutes not 60 and over 20 minutes a week.

If we add that in

7.45 crosses the coast agreed time from L15 and British military

10.20 The vicar at Stondon Massey has added the 60 minutes

10.45 The correct time for the public but the military record the time as 9.45 (21.45) as they did not change

10.00 Brandon engages, correct military time

11.45 1150 Blackmore area. Correct civilian time

21.00 Over Burnham this does not match any explanation.

12.15 approaching Southend 11.15 military time

11.55 Elms in military time

3.30 HMS Vulture arrives as published in the press in civilian time but because it’s the 1st of April the time moved on to 80 minutes so was 2.10 military time.

The days following

The war office issued the following on the 1st

The zeppelin reported by the admiralty to have fallen into the Thames was the L15. She was hit by gun fire while over the eastern counties, the shell striking the upper part of the ship near the tail. After being hit she quickly dropped to a lower altitude well down by the tail and finally came down in the sea off the coast of Kent

Owing to the damage to telephone wires caused by the recent storms it has not yet been possible to ascertain fully the casualties or damage caused

The war office issued the following at 7.40 on the 1st

A number of our aeroplanes went up to attack the raiders. Lieutenant Brandon RFC on rising to 6,000 ft at 9.45 pm as a Zeppelin about 3,000 ft above him. At 9,000 ft he got over it and attacked, dropping several bombs three of which he believed took effect. At 10.00 pm he got over the airship again and let two more bombs over her nose. His own machine was hit many times by machine gun bullets. This may have been the zeppelin that dropped the machine gun ammunition, petrol tanks and machinery, or possibly the one that came down in the Thames.

Berlin Sunday

L15 which according to reports was compelled to descend on the water of the river Thames. Searches by our naval forces have up to present not been productive of any result.

In Parliament on the 15th of May Mr Arthur Fell MP for Grimsby

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether the Great Yarmouth steam drifter YH 887, in the service of the Admiralty as a patrol boat, found the Zeppelin L15 damaged in the Thames estuary and made a rope fast to it and took on board the commander and four of the crew of the airship, and held on for an hour until a cruiser arrived; and, if so, will some recognition of an honorary nature be made of this service?

The Parliamentary secretary to the Admiralty Dr Macnamara replied

The drifter, YH 87, which is presumed to be the one referred to, was one of three patrol vessels to whom the Zeppelin surrendered. The conduct of officers and men of all three was all that could be desired, but the circumstances do not call for any exceptional recognition.

There was a lot of confusion and deliberate mis information and censoring. Many reporters mixed up reports.

The war office put on display items that had been recovered on the ground. The fuel tanks were originally claimed to have come from L14 and the war office stated definitely not from L15. They had been machining gunned from the underneath this appears to confirm that Capt Hulton did machine gun L15 from the ground.

L14 would had been well out of range and even very difficult to see.

Lt Brandon's attack was originally stated to be on L14.

To confuse more, the below map was printed a few days after.

If you look at the route of L15 on the map. This from Thameshaven has been the accepted route.

However if it followed this route the Olivine could not have been anywhere near the route due to sand banks, It had to be a few miles south. Therefore it would not have seen L15.

Kapitaenleutnant Joachim Breithaupt was known to keep accurate and very good records this he did until L15 received a hit, after that he stopped as he was too busy with other matters.

Then there is the question of the time line that doesn’t stack up.

L14 just by coincidence was also turning over Thameshaven at the same time as L15 and it's reported that L14 was also slightly damaged by the gun fire. L14 recorded that it gained height as it could see L15 in trouble. Turned north at the same time fearful of the same fate.

Reverend Reeve and Reverend Clarke record an airship at 11. 45 and 11.50 only L14 and L15 were over that area that night at the same time.

There are many unanswered questions and vague facts but I hope you enjoyed my interpretation of them.

As I live in Leigh.

As I live in Leigh it would be wrong not to mention those from Leigh who were involved.

Mr Whybrow Radio operator Olivine

Corporal G M Dorkins

Gunner R L Dorkins

Bombardier W Phillips

Gunner W D Tubbs

Gunner W H Nethercoate

A map of the routes of the Airships. Published 2 days after the event.

A cartoon from a local newspaper

Added information

From flight magazine

IN view of the decision of the Government not to allow details of place* visited by enemy aircraft to be published, we are, as before,giving to each one an index number. Eventually, when details are available, we shall give the respective information under these index numbers, which will facilitate easy reference to each particular raid.

The following announcements have been officially issued, the date after the index number indicating when the raid occurred :—

" X 2 6 " Raid. March 31st April 1st.

" War Office, April 1st, 1.25 a.m. "An air raid took place last night over the Eastern Counties, in which five Zeppelins are believed to have taken part. AH the

raiders crossed the coast at different places and times, and steered different courses. At present about ninety bombs are reported to have been dropped in various localities in the Eastern Counties, but the results are not known. It is further reported that hostile aircraft have visited the North-East Coast, but no details have yet been received."

"War Office, .

out the air raid last night were organised in two squadrons and one

detached ship.

" The two squadrons made the Eastern Counties their objective, while the detached ship raided the North-East coast." As far as is known at present, fifty four explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped in the Eastern Counties and twenty-two on the

North-East coast.

"War Office, Sunday, 7.40p.ru.

" The total casualties reported as a result of the Zeppelin raid on the night of March 31st -April 1st now amount to: Killed, 43; injured, 66. Nearly 200 explosive and incendiary bombs were dropped. A ltaptist chapel, three dwelling houses, and two cottages,were demolished, and a town hall, four dwelling-houses, 35 cottages

and a tramway-car shed partially wrecked, but no military damage was caused.

" A number of our aeroplanes went up to attack the raiders.

Lieutenant Brandon, K.F.C., on rising to 6,000 ft. at 9.45 p.m.,saw a Zeppelin about 3,000 ft. above him. At 9.000 ft. he got over it and attacked, dropping several bombs, three of which he believes took effect. At 10 p.m. he got over the airship again, and let off two more bombs over her nose. His own machine was hit many

times by machine-gun bullets. This may have been the Zeppelin which dropped the machine gun, ammunition, petrol tank, and machinery, or possibly that which came down off the Thames estuary."

German Version.

" Berlin, Sunday.

" During the night of March 3ist-April 1st one of our airship squadrons attacked London and the south coast of England. Bombs were freely dropped on the City between Tower Bridge and London Docks, the military camps in the north-western district of the City, the manufactories near Enfield, and the munition works at W'ath


" Another airship, after having successfully attacked a battery near Stowmarket, dropped a number of explosive and incendiary bombs on Lowestoft. A further battery was silenced near Cambridge. The extensive manufacturing works of the town were attacked, and bombs were finally dropped on the fortification works

and harbours on the Humber, whereby three batteries were reduced to silence. All the attacks were successful, and reliable observations from the airships discerned the presence of numerous fires and the collapse of buildings.

" In spite of violent bombment all the airships returned with the exception of ' L. 15,' which, according to a report, was compelled to descend in the water of the River Thames. Searches productive of any result." is officially stated that this account is absolutely false in even particular except that relating to the destruction of' L. 15."

From the Sphere a London news paper

From photographic material obtained before the L15 sunk the peculiar interest of the picture lies in the fact that it reveals the new streamline stern posed also by l17 but not hitherto seen as shown in the case of L15 the stern tapered off gently for about a quarter of the length of the envelope terminating in a point to this were fitted the tail planes and the very large horizontal rubber . this rudder plane was far bigger and was fitted in a new manner and probably increased the mobility of the airship when ascending and descending rapidly . For steering right and left there was a vertical rudder on top of the envelope. This arrangement of the steering gear was for simpler than the previous arrangement and no doubt the ship was an improvement on older types as she offered less resistance to air swing to her streamline shape

So that’s how I believe the14th Fairway at Belfairs golf course got it's slightly annoying. to golfers, bomb hole

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  • 1 year later...

Hello there, I'm new to the forum but as I'm now signed up I'll most likely use this a great deal now for research purposes. 

I know this is a (very) old thread, and I hate to perform the long lost art of necromancy - but does anybody know where I can obtain this booklet written by S. Aylen that Steve pasted in in the comment above? I'm covering the local account, but whilst a lot of what is mentioned here is verifiable; I cannot find any other sources for the part about L15 hovering over Leigh or dropping bombs over Rayleigh and Belfairs.

Its a long shot, but if anybody knows you would be a godsend, thank you.

Edited by JPSRose
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" Nice early Airship Trophy collectable:
Salvage Aluminum Trophy model
Imperial German Airship
L 15

" Very good original Condition Offered with a CD of images and research
Including the text of
The Airship Bombing of Belfairs by S. Aylen
NB: Auction is for Airship and CD ONLY


The CD of the text of Aylen's book may be a local history society product.




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4 hours ago, Kath said:


" Nice early Airship Trophy collectable:
Salvage Aluminum Trophy model
Imperial German Airship
L 15

" Very good original Condition Offered with a CD of images and research
Including the text of
The Airship Bombing of Belfairs by S. Aylen
NB: Auction is for Airship and CD ONLY


The CD of the text of Aylen's book may be a local history society product.




Thank you, its what I suspected to be honest which is going to make it incredibly difficult. I guess my best bet would be to contact the local history societies and see if they have any information (might try the golf course too to see if the lawn keepers there know anything.)

Although, having said that I have a funny feeling I know who this S. Aylen is but I run the risk of looking like a nutter if I send out correspondence to the wrong person! lol. Thanks for your help though Kath!

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  • 8 months later...

I have just come across this whisky label in my loft - it may have been my Father's or Mother's.   It purports to be a piece of L15.  See photos.

Is it of any interest or value to anyone?






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