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Remembered Today:

L33 Zeppelin - Kapitan Alois Bocker & Crew captured Sept 1916


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I've been reading up on Zeppelin raids recently and the story of the L33 has interested me. It was on it's first raid and was one of two Zeppelins downed on 24th Sept 1916 in Essex, L32 being the other. L33 raided London but was damaged by anti aircraft fire, got into trouble and was downed by the crew who then set fire to it to avoid the airship falling into British hands.

There's a fair bit on the web but nothing that goes in to any real details on the 21 (?) crew and Kapitan Alois Bocker and their fate as POWs. If anyone knows where they were imprisoned and when they were released or has any ideas on other sources of information please let me know. They're referred to as the only Germans combatants to set foot on British soil in WW1 in one of the links below:

http://www.essex.police.uk/offbeat/o_mu_20.php

http://www.historyhouse.co.uk/articles/zeppelins.html

http://www.geocities.com/abbertonroh/germans.htm

The section below from the Essex police site is probably the most interesting

Martin

The L33 commanded by Kapitan Alois Bocker, was on its first mission and bombed London causing the deaths of a number of civilians; but eventually it was hit by an anti-aircraft shell causing considerable damage. The Zeppelin turned over the Essex countryside and above Chelmsford was attacked by a squadron of night fighters from Hainault Farm. Notwithstanding several hits the Zeppelin managed to elude its attackers. Despite jettisoning guns and equipment from the stricken airship, Bocker realised his craft was doomed and would not make the journey across the North Sea to its base.

The airship continued to lose height and eventually crash landed near New Hall Cottages, Little Wigborough, much to the alarm of the inhabitants who witnessed the dying moments of the giant airship. Deciding to set the ship on fire, Bocker knocked on the doors of the cottages to warn the families of his intentions, However the terrified people refused to open the door and finally Bocker gave up and set fire to the Zeppelin. He then gathered his crew together and in a body they marched off down the lane toward Peldon.

Travelling on his bicycle in the opposite direction, attracted by the fire, was Special Constable Edgar Nicholas who was surprised by the sudden appearance of a body of men marching along a lane at that hour of the morning. He dismounted and flashlight in hand asked Bocker whether he had seen a Zeppelin crash.

Bocker in perfect English asked him how many miles it was to Colchester. Nicholas replied, "About six". He was thanked by Bocker and Nicholas in his subsequent report on the incident stated that he `at once recognised a foreign accent.' The Germans continued their march followed by Nicholas. As they approached Peldon they were joined by Special Constable Elijah Taylor and Sergeant Ernest Edwards from Hatfield Board Oak, who was enjoying a few days rest in the area.

The men considered their next move and eventually decided to escort the Germans to Peldon Post Office where they found the local constable, Pc 354 Charles Smith, who was busy trying to contact the military garrison at Colchester.

Pc Smith appears to have taken charge of the situation and formally arrested the German crew. Bocker asked Smith if he might use the telephone but the request was politely refused and he was told to march his men towards Mersea Island so they could be handed over to the military.

Pc Smith led the way assisted by Special Constables Fairhead, Clement Hyam, Charles King, Elijah Taylor, Joseph May, Horace Charles Meade, Harry Beade and Edgar Nicholas and on route they were met by a military detachment and the prisoners were formally handed over to them Pc Smith was rewarded for his prompt actions by being promoted in the field to the rank of sergeant by the Chief Constable, Captain Unett that same day and awarded the coveted Merit Star. Force orders dated the 24 September recorded the event thus;

‘PC Smith is promoted Sergeant and awarded the merit badge for coolness and judgement in handing over to the Military Authorities, the Commander and crew of a Zepplin….’

From that day he was known as ‘Zepp’ Smith and he died in 1977 at the grand old age of 94.

Sgt Edwards having handed over the prisoners to Smith, then decided to leave it to him and the special constables and returned home. This caused some raised eyebrows and Captain Unett sent a short, terse memo to the officer saying `it is understood you did not accompany the escort to Mersea Island. Why?' His two page reply appears to have saved him and he retired from the force in 1924.

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