ID: DJG_ZEP / Douglas J. Gurton

TitleThe End of Zeppelin L33
AbstractTHE END OF ZEPPELIN L33 (The Authentic account)

Zeppelin L33 was commanded by Kapitan - Leutenant Bocker.

During the daylight hours of Saturday September 23rd. 1916 the weather was ideally suited for an airship attack on London.

Three zeppelins, the L31, L32 and L33 were directed to the area North East of the capital.

The L33 was fired upon by a British Naval Vessel as she approached the British coast near Foulness. This defensive action was unsuccessful however and L33 continued on course.

About 10.4Opm L33 dropped incendiary flares over Upminster and bombs were dropped on Sutton's Farm Aerodrome, Hornchurch.

The attack continued for over an hour and was continued in a zig-zag pattern over Woolwich and West Ham.

It is generally agreed that this attack resulted in 11 persons being killed and 25 injured. The attack was not of course received passively. A considerable barrage of anti-aircraft fire was directed at L33 which resulted in several of her gas bags being punctured and a propeller being damaged.

Shortly after midnight L33 turned to the East and attempted a run for the coast as she was now losing gas at an alarming rate. While over Kelvedon common L33 was again fired upon and Bocker was obliged to order all the water ballast to be discharged in an attempt to gain height. Just West of Chelmsford L33 was attacked by a B.E.2c aeroplane piloted by 2nd. Lieutenant Alfred Brandon. Brandon zoomed in tor the attack only to have his Lewis gun leap out of its mounting and nearly falling overboard. He managed to re-establish his gun and continued his attack until a gun malfunction and temporary engine failure forced him to disengage.

Bocker and his crew were by now desperately worried by the amount of gas lost and all loose equipment was ordered to be jettisoned. (There is also an unconfirmed report that an unpopular crew member was threatened with an early quick descent.)

The residents of Broomfield were surprised to find metal bars and tools in their gardens. The villagers of Boreham were the fortunate recipients of a machine gun. All this action did not stop the craft sinking however and this resulted in both Wickham Bishops and Tiptree each receiving a machine gun.

About 1.15am Bocker identified the estuary at West Mersea almost by dangling his foot in it by now and it was obvious that he would never be able to reach his home base. Bocker unloaded his remaining bombs into the sea and then turned back inland towards Mersea.

The L33 crash landed just South of Wigborough Church coming to rest across two two fields and completely blocking the lane to the church.

Bocker was aware that, although damaged, his Zeppelin would be a rich prize indeed for the British. Accordingly he arranged for the craft to be burned. Before firing his flare pistol into the hydrogen filled Zeppelin, Bocker knocked on the door of a nearby cottage in order to evacuate the residents in view of the likelihood of a gigantic explosion. The occupants were however too scared to open the door to a party of German soldiers and remained inside.

The explosion of the airship was heard several miles away but fortunately there was only one slight casualty, a small dog which was tied to its kennel at the cottage had its hair singed.

Bocker then collected his crew together and commenced to march them towards Colchester.

Having travelled about half a mile they were met by Special Constable Edgar Nicholas, who, having heard the explosion, was on his way to investigate.

Nicholas ignored Booker's request to be taken to Colchester and started to march them towards Peldon. On the way they were met by Sergeant Edwards of the Metropolitan Police. Sergeant Edwards was in fact on leave from duty and lived nearby.

Together the two Policemen continued to march the commander and his crew towards Peldon.

Anticipating the need for reinforcements PC Charles Smith of Peldon had made his way to Peldon Post Office on hearing the Zeppelin explode and was attempting to put a call inrough to his superiors for instructions when the crew of the airship arrived. After some little time it became apparent that PC Smith was going to be unable to contact anyone else for help and attempts to call up a military unit at West Mersea were unsuccessful.

Alfred Wright then volounteered to ride off on his motorcycle to fetch help. He set off but regrettably was involved in a collision with another vehicle shortly after leaving the post office. Mr Wright broke both legs in this accident and died from his injuries two months later. The wreckage of the Zeppelin had to be cut through to allow his funeral to reach the church.

Eventually PC Smith was able to get a call through and was instructed to march the captured crew to the Strood at Mersea where he would be met by a Military escort.

This he did, unarmed, and with the help of a few special constables who had by now arrived on the scene.

For his coolness and judgement in dealing with this matter PC Smith was awarded the medal of merit and promoted to Sergeant with immediate effect by the Chief Constable.

The wreckage of the airship drew thousands of visitors in the following weeks and a sum in the region of £80.00 was collected from them in donations. This money was given to the Red Cross.

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Zeppelin L33 at Little Wigborough

AuthorDouglas J. Gurton
SourceMersea Museum / Cedric Gurton