Derby Evening Telegraph
1 February 2007
Maxwell Craven article: (reproduced with permission)
Ninety-one years ago today, a German Zeppelin, lost en route to Liverpool, mistakenly dropped its load of bombs on Derby, resulting in five deaths though comparatively little damage. Maxwell Craven recounts the events that occurred in the early hours of February 1, 1916.
On this day (February 1) in 1916, Derby was picking up the pieces after a Zeppelin, on course for Liverpool, dropped its bombs on the town. The raid occurred just after midnight in the early hours of February 1, claiming five lives along the way. One victim was a woman who died of a heart attack due to the shock.
Zeppelins, products of the company set up by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, were mainly under the control of the Imperial German Navy during the First World War. The rigid, fabric-covered crafts were filled with expandable bags of 1.126m cubic feet of hydrogen gas and powered by four Maybach engines. These gave a maximum speed of 60mph, a ceiling of 10,500ft and a range of 2,600 miles. A crew of about 20 men manned the airships.
The raid on Derby was carried out by an L14 type of Zeppelin, of the L10 class of 12, under the command of Captain Alois Boeker.
It was the second year in which these bombing raids had been carried out and the plan was to attack Liverpool and Birmingham.
So, on the night of January 31, nine surviving airships of the L10 class sallied forth from three bases to try to achieve just that. It was a clear night with little wind, essential for the Zeppelins.
It was just under 500 miles to Liverpool but not one of the force actually got nearer than Stoke. The L14 crossed the coast at Holkham, Norfolk, at 6.15pm but had only managed to reach Wisbech 45 minutes later. Zeppelins were slow and ponderous. By 10.15pm they were almost at Shrewsbury and began to turn back, eventually making it to Swadlincote by 11.45pm. They dropped one or two desultory bombs there but hardly mounted a convincing raid.
However, just after midnight on February 1, L14 was over Derby, where it dropped its remaining 21 high explosive bombs and four incendiaries at nine locations on the south side of the city. No-one knows the exact order of the raid, but from the spread of the targets – Royce’s in the south to the Locomotive Works of the Midland Railway in the north and the Etches Park gas works in the east – it suggests that L14 approached from the south, working roughly north along the Osmaston Road at about 8,000ft before bombing the Loco Works and then ending up at the gas works.
Derby received a warning about an impending raid just after 7pm and the authorities had taken steps to douse street lighting, halt tramcars and close businesses. Three airships did pass close by within half an hour, so the precautions may have been effective. But just before midnight, the measures were relaxed enough to make Captain Boeker believe he had reached Liverpool. He released his bombs.
The Royce’s bombs fell harmlessly, while three more fell on the Metalite lamp works on Graham Road.
Five more bombs landed on the Carriage and Wagon Works, three incendiaries hit Fletcher’s lace mill on Osmaston Road and four, possibly five, more incendiaries missed and landed, mostly harmlessly, in the road at Horton Street, one setting a house on fire.
On the corner of Bateman Street, in the garden of Litchurch Villa, another bomb landed harmlessly. Nine more hit the Loco Works and two more, plus an incendiary, hit the gas works, the latter without serious damage, having landed in an open area.
Quite a bit of damage was done at Metalite and the Carriage and Wagon works, but none at Fletcher’s, where the bombs landed in a courtyard. The worst damage was inflicted at the Loco Works, where three men were killed and two injured in the work’s yard, one of the latter subsequently dying. A Mrs Constantine, living nearby, also died of a heart attack during the raid.
Captain Boeker and his crew continued, having off-loaded all their ordnance, via Nottingham and Lincoln, recrossing the coast at 2.10am on February 1, heading for home and a debriefing at which they reported that they had bombed Liverpool.
The Zeppelin that bombed Derby, survived the war, but was sabotaged to stop her falling into the Allies’ hands.
Apparently, the control gondola of L14, with part of the ship’s keel still attached, was placed on display at the Berlin aviation museum in 1936. Unfortunately, the museum was destroyed by Allied bombing on the night of November 22-23, 1943 – wiping out the last relic of the only Zeppelin to have bombed Derby.
It is interesting to read the local newpaper accounts of the raid, written at the time:
Derby Daily Telegraph
3 February 1916
NO SIGNS OF PANIC
Reports from districts in Derbyshire received by the Press Association and other correspondence have been duly passed by the Press Bureau for publication. One place received warnings of the approach of Zeppelins soon after seven o'clock. In response to a chorus of hooters and buzzers, the tram cars stopped running and works closed down, with the result that in a short time the town was in a state of comparative darkness. This precaution was not in vain, for about eight o'clock a Zeppelin passed over the town from East to West, but dropped no missiles.
It passed on to a neighbouring town, where it unloaded a number of bombs, the explosions from which could easily be heard 12 miles away. No works were damaged but some workmen's cottages, offices, and a church hall showed evidence of the attentions they had received.
At ten o'clock the sound of distant firing, which had been heard off and on for two hours, came to an end, and the people thought that the raid was over for the night. Just before twelve o'clock the police were so far reassured that the tramcars, which had been stranded for hours, were sent home, and there was a return something like normal conditions, but afterwards one end of the town received some 15 bombs, many of which fell in streets and gardens, creating a good deal of alarm, but doing no great amount of damage.
The bombs were released in pairs or threes but the last discharge must have comprised five or six missiles. One of these killed three men the outright, causing terrible injuries. One old lady some distance away succumbed to heart failure.
The Zeppelin was distinctly seen by thousands of people.
MIDNIGHT LIGHTS UP
A “Daily Mail" correspondence in “one of the towns" furnishes the following account:–
There is a strong belief here that the Zeppelin raiders were badly handicapped by the fog and by the generally satisfactory manner in which the public observed the appeal to lower lights. Such successes as they enjoyed were probably do to certain exceptions to the latter rule of which the enemy took full advantage.
We received the first official warning that the Raiders might be expected soon after 7 o'clock. The public were notified by a discordant chorus of hooters and buzzers, and this hint was promptly all bade by the extinguishing of lights in workshops, in the streets, and in the shops and private houses. Just before 8 o'clock the 1st audible indication that the “Zeppe" work at hand was a serious explosion to the east of the town. They hit a roll of workmen's cottages, part of the offices, and a church.
Ten or fifteen minutes later there was an unmistakable sound of a Zeppelin passing over the town, but thanks to the ground fog and the darkened buildings and thoroughfares not a bomb was dropped. The Zeppelin went west, where twelve or fifteen minutes later destinations resounded. A large establishment owned by a firm having a well-known name was greatly damaged though it had nothing to do with munitions. The object aimed at was no doubt the station, which luckily escaped.
For an hour and a half explosions were heard at distances of from twelve to twenty miles from here. By ten o'clock people had gone all will going to bed. Just before twelve o'clock the danger was “officially" over, special constables were released and the tramway cars stopped for four hours proceeded to their depots.
It is also said that a good many works resumed, and that at one end of the town there was almost as much light as usual. Whether this fact attracted the attention of some stray Zeppelin is not known, but at 20 minutes past 12 the town was aroused by a couple of terrific explosions in this quarter. These were repeated five times at intervals of about two or three minutes, and then at twenty minutes past 12 the Zeppelin sailed away for the East. The last set of bombs was of a particularly vicious character.
Considering the quarter, the damage was not considerable. Three fell harmlessly around a great factory and others in a street. To fail in the garden of a private house; one failed to explode. One or more workshops were damaged or set on fire and a number of persons were injured.
Hundreds of persons slept undisturbed through the bombing, but many elderly people were seriously alarmed, and at least one woman succumbed to shock. She was a former well-known schoolmistress. The general opinion was that the raid was carried out in a confused sort of way.
GROPING BY SEARCHLIGHT
The “Times” correspondence gives the following details:–
When news was received of the approach of the zeppelins in Derbyshire the prearranged precautions were immediately put into effect. Ambulance men, doctors, and special constables were summoned, and everything possible was done to meet the emergency.
During the evening reports of bombs dropping were heard, but they were evidently at a considerably distance. Later the sound of a Zeppelin engine was distinctly heard.
It was pitch dark, but occasionally the presence of the Zeppelin was indicated by the use of its searchlight. The actual bombardment did not last for more than two or three minutes, during which time about 15 bombs were thrown.
For the most part little damage was done, but one bomb killed 3 men who were at work in a shared. Their bodies were so terribly mutilated that identification was next to impossible.
The Coroner’s officer was supplied with the names of three men who were supposed to be the victims, but it transpired later that two of the men named turned up to work as usual on the following night, and it was not until Wednesday morning, when the inquest was held, that identification was finally established.
Other bombs fell either in gardens or open spaces, and the only damage appears to have been to windows which were broken by the force of the explosion.
In this district the whole of the damage was restricted to an area of about half a mile and there was no panic of any description. A few bombs fell all so in the country districts in Derbyshire, and the village constable on the following day bought a bomb in triumph to his headquarters four miles away.
Derby Daily Telegraph
3 February 1916
THE ZEPPELIN RAID
A Derbyshire correspondent of the London “Daily Express" furnishes another account of the Zeppelin raid on Monday night. This states:
A town in this county was under the spell of the Zeppelin scare for nearly 5 hours.
It was at 7:20 pm that a prolonged chorus of hooters, sirens, and other signals warned the people that an airship was believed to be approaching, and this was accepted as a hint to all concerned to lower their lights or to extinguish them altogether. The works brought their operations to a standstill, the tram cars came to an abrupt stop, and the shops were closed.
About 8 o'clock explosions could be heard eight or ten miles away to the east. It was afterwards found that a Zeppelin had attempted to bomb some furnaces, but they were in no way damaged. Offices and a roll of workmen's cottages were hit, and the church was also damaged.
Just after 8 o'clock the Zeppelin arrived over ––, but though its motors could be plainly heard it dropped no bombs. It then went to town ten or twelve miles to the west, and distinct sounds of exploding bombs could be heard for some time afterwards.
It is said that this town suffered because it had not received an official warning, with the result that there had been no diminution of the normal lighting. A factory in no way concerned with the production of munitions was damaged.
Up to 10 o'clock–––, had escaped direct attack, though zeppelins could be heard at many distant points. At that hour the sounds ceased entirely, and the people began to flatter themselves that the danger had passed.
Just before 12 o'clock the official mind was so much at rest that the special constables were dismissed. The tram cars were sent home, certain works resumed their activities, and lights were turned up at one end of the town. How for this was responsible for what happened subsequently can only form the subject of conjecture.
At seven minutes past twelve this end of the town was visited by a Zeppelin, apparently on each way whole, and in less than twelve minutes five or six separate explosions occurred. Bombs were dropped two and three at a time. The Zeppelin then made its way to the east. It was distinctly seen during its stay over –– by thousands of people.
Most of the bombs fell at points where they were calculated to do the least damage. Several shops were wrecked at works, and one bomb killed three men and injured others. A woman 200 or 300 yards away died of heart failure.
It was noticed in rural districts that pheasants were much excited and disturbed.
A correspondent telegraphing from a town on the mid-east coast, says:–
It was about a quarter to eleven when, for the first time since the outbreak of war, the people of this district saw a Zeppelin overhead, and immediately afterwards there was a heavy explosion, a bomb having fallen in close proximity to a large building without hitting it.
The airship remained over the district nearly ten minutes, the noise of its engines being extremely loud. About twenty bombs were dropped. Three men all married were killed. One was a prominent local footballer. There were many narrow escapes.
One of the bombs fell near goods yard, injuring four civilians, but an engine-driver sat calmly looking on from his engine. Another bomb wrecked eight workmen’s dwellings, but without causing a single casualty. A pig belonging to one of the work men had its head chopped completely off.
Derby Daily Telegraph
3 February 1916
FIVE MORE ZEPPELIN VICTIMS
DEATH ROLL 59 AND 101 INJURED
CHURCH AND FACTORIES DAMAGED
GERMAN STORY “UTTERLY INACCURATE”
The War Office issued the following last night:–
The utterly in accurate report in the Berlin official telegram of February 1, which purported to describe the effects of the German air raid on the night of January 31, affords a further proof that the raiders were unable to ascertain their position or shape their course with any degree of certainty.
A number of cases of injury have been reported since the previous figures were issued, and there have been two or three more deaths.
The figures stand as follows:–
Killed: 33 men, 20 women, 6 children – Total 59
Injured: 51 men, 48 women, 2 children – Total 101
Total killed and injured: 84 men, 68 women, 8 children – Total 160
One church and a Congregational Chapel were badly damaged and a parish room wrecked.
Fourteen houses were demolished and a great number damaged, less seriously by the doors, window panes, etc., being blown out.
Some damage, not very serious, was caused to railway property into places.
Only two factories, neither being of military importance, and a brewery, were badly damaged and two or three other factories were slightly damaged.
The total number of bombs discovered up to the present exceeds 300. Many of them fell in rural places, where no damage was caused at all.
Derby Daily Telegraph
3 February 1916
INQUEST ON ANOTHER DERBYSHIRE VICTIM
“ ABOMINABLE OUTRAGES”
An inquest was held on Friday on another Derbyshire victim, a man aged 41, who leaves a widow and a large family. A witness said he was in a cabin where he was employed, about 20 minutes past eight on Monday night, when a bomb dropped, and was followed by several others. He heard a Zeppelin above, and several other bombs dropped further away. The machine then seemed to return in his direction, and he and another man, with the deceased in front, made for home. As they were going along one bomb dropped in front of them and another behind them. They were about eight yards away at the time. They ran back a short distance, and then returned and found deceased lying against a wall. He was asked if he was hurt, but made no reply. He afterwards complained of his back, and was carried to an hotel. Witness remained with him until he was taken to hospital.
Three more bombs were dropped whilst they were in the hotel. Deceased was against a church wall when they found him, and the bomb which injured him all so demolished a parish room. Deceased was about 20 yards away from the bomb which hurt him.
Another witness, who was with the last witness and deceased, also gave evidence. He said they were running alongside a church wall when a bomb dropped, deceased being a few yards ahead of him. He counted 11 or 12 bomb explosions altogether. He was the first to see deceased lying in a crouching position by the side of a wall, and he assisted in taking him to the hotel. They were running as they thought out of danger, but it appeared they ran into it. They were not leaving work altogether, as they were without their jackets.
A policeman said he was in his house when he heard an explosion. He went outside and saw a flash from the sky, and then heard the noise of an engine. He took his wife and family into the cellar, several other bombs dropping in the meantime. Later he met the last two witnesses carrying deceased to an hotel. He went with them, and examine the deceased. He had a wound on his right buttock, and had evidently lost a large quantity of blood. Deceased told him when bombs began to drop he started with others to go home, and on the way something hit him in the back and knocked him down. A piece of brick was knocked off the coping of the wall just where deceased was found.
A doctor who attended deceased at the hospital on Monday night said he was in a collapsed condition. Part of his intestines were protruding from a wound about 3 inches long on the right side of his back. An operation was performed, but deceased never rallied, and died the following afternoon.
The Coroner said this was another of those abominable outrages in which non-combatants were made to suffer by the common enemy He was quite sure they all sympathised with the widow and children of deceased.
The jury returned a verdict that “Deceased was killed by the explosion of a bomb dropped by a hostile aircraft.”
Derby Daily Telegraph
5 February, 1916
THE ZEPPELIN RAID INQUESTS ON DERBYSHIRE VICTIMS
NEED FOR LIGHTING CONTROL
An inquest was held today (Saturday) on the bodies of four victims of the Zeppelin raid in Derbyshire in the early part of the week. They were working together and three were killed instantaneously, whilst the fourth died three days later from the injuries he received.
The four-man of the deceased said that during Monday evening, as the result of an earlier warning, the lights were all out, but they were turned up again later. Some little time afterwards witness heard a couple of bombs drop in the distance. The lights were immediately put out again. There was a short interval, and then seven or eight bombs fell in quick succession. Witness thought about nine bombs fell altogether. Witness heard groans and found one man terribly injured, whilst three others were killed. Their bodies were terribly mangled and beyond all recognition. An ambulance was at once obtained and the injured man was removed to hospital, whilst the bodies of the dead men were conveyed to the mortuary. This witness was questioned at some length by a representative of the men's Trade Union as to who authorised the turning up of the lights. He said he ascertained at another department of the works that they had turned their lights up, and he did the same, in the belief that the other department had received a proper authority.
The Trade Union Representative: is there any authority to determine when lights shall be put down and when they may be put up again?–Witness: I cannot say.
The Trade Union representative said that in a neighbouring town where he came from no one was allowed to turn up lights except by permission of the Town Hall, and he suggested that it should be done in this particular locality. He was not anxious to apportion blame but to avoid a re-occurrence of this incident by systematic regulation of the lighting.
In answer to a solicitor representing the employers, witness said the light in his department was very little.
The next witness was a fellow-workmen of the deceased. All five of them, he said, were working together. Buzzers were blown earlier in the evening warning everyone that hostile aircraft was about. When the Zeppelins came later at night witness could hear its engines quite plainly, but could not see it. Hearing bombs far in the distance, witness and the deceased men immediately ran for safety, witness going in one direction and the deceased men in another. The deceased men hid under something, and a bomb dropped about half a dozen yards away. Witness was knocked down by the force of the explosion, but was not injured.
Other workmen gave corroborative evidence.
The Trade Union representative pressed his point as to the need for a central control in regard to lighting, especially as to advising people as to when it was safe to put the light up again. He elicited from the Chief Constable of the district that on the occasion in question, when he was consulted as to the turning up of the lights, he advised that it not be done, but this firm did not consult him. Lights were ordered out at half past seven, and they were not turned up at all until next day. The tram cars, which had remained stationary, were sent home after midnight, but without lights.
The jury found that the deceased were killed by a bomb from a German Zeppelin, and they added, by way of a rider to their verdict, an expression of opinion that in the present circumstances, and after hearing the evidence, it would be better if the Chief Constable had control of the whole district in regard to lighting, so that responsibility should not be divided.
The Coroner said he thought it was a very good suggestion and one that ought to be adopted. Some central authority should have absolute power to give the necessary orders as to lighting.
A leading resident expressed sympathy with the relatives of the victims of this outrage by the Apostles of Kultur1 and he promised that as far as possible the recommendation of the jury should be given effect to.
At the close of the inquests the jury handed in the following:–“the Jury express their sympathy with the relatives and friends of the four big teams of one of the most murderous and dastardly outrages the country has ever witnessed, and we hope that when the day of reckoning comes that England and her Allies will not forget these outrageous crimes that have been dealt out to their civil population"
1Wanganui Chronical, Vol LX, Issue 16796, 30 October 1916, Page 7
AN APOSTLE OF "KULTUR"
NEW YORK, October 27
Professor Muensterberg, in an extraordinary utterance, said the German ideal was not individual works, but service for the whole State. That was the true meaning of "kultur". He predicted an early peace, and then German "kultur" would conquer the whole globe, spread to all countries, and be a distinctive stamp on the next century. There would be Germanisation of the world after the war.
Derby Daily Telegraph
16 February, 1916
THE MIDLANDS ZEPPELIN RAID
INQUEST ON ANOTHER VICTIM
“MURDER" AGAINST THE KAISER AND CROWN PRINCE
JURY DECLINE TO ALTER VERDICT
An inquest on a victim of the recent Zeppelin raid over the Midland counties who had died in hospital was held today. Deceased, a domestic servant, was walking with her sweetheart along a towing path when a bomb dropped near them, killing the man out right and severely injuring the girl.
The jury found that death resulted from a bomb thrown from an enemy airship, and returned a verdict of “Wilful murder" against the Kaiser and Crown Prince as accessories before the fact.
The Coroner remarked that there was no method of service against the Kaiser or Crown Prince, nor was it possible to take proceedings against them.
The foreman of the jury enquired whether the verdict would not have weight at the end of the war.
The Coroner replied he could hold out no hope, and suggested that the jury should reconsider their verdict.
The Foreman said the jury were absolutely unanimous that the German Emperor and his son were guilty of murder, and declined to alter their verdict which the Coroner then recorded.
Derby Daily Telegraph
21 February 1916
THE ZEPPELIN RAID ON THE MIDLANDS
ANOTHER INQUEST STORY
BOMB ON A MISSION ROOM
The inquest was resumed to day in a midland town on the bodies of fourteen persons (two men, five women, three boys, and for girls), who met their deaths on the night of the air raid on January 31. Two of the women and two of the girls were killed outright in a mission room upon which a bomb fell, and the third woman died later. The killed included a lady missioner, the wife of a clergyman, and all so a sister of a well-known Colonial Governor.
In the case of the mission room victims, evidence was given by the vicar, who deposed that on the night of the raid the last service of a ten day's mission was being conducted. The explosion occurred at 8.30 and he was struck by a piece of bomb. The lady, who was preaching at the time, was killed instantly, also three members of the congregation. Witness first turned the gas off and then helped people out. One curious effect of the explosion was to blow off the door of the electric light switch board. The church and all lights with thereby turned on. These were extinguished without delay.
The husband of another victim stated that he was sitting in the meeting by the side of his wife. In the rush after the explosion he and his wife became separated. Later he found her injured in a neighbouring house, and she died on the Thursday following.
The Coroner next Dell with guests which occurred in a cottage property. Concerning that of a schoolgirl aged 10, the mother and her children were in the kitchen. She heard a terrible explosion from a bomb, which fell in the back garden and wrecked the rear portion of house. All the children were injured, and one so seriously that she expired next day.
The widow of a man killed in an adjoining house, the back portion of which also was wrecked, testified that on hearing the explosion her husband went into the garden and later she found him lying on the ground, killed by a second bomb, which demolished the house. She had just turned on the light when the explosion occurred.
Other evidence showed that a hosiery factory girl was killed as she was leaving a friend's house.
The husband of another victim Tim returned home to find his house blown to pieces, with his wife and children varied in the ruins. Calling his wife by name, she answered, and having located at the spot, he with help got her out alive, but his two children when reached were dead, as was all so a young lady visitor.
It was shown that a railway labourer with several others, after seeking shelter in various places and finally crouching under a loading dock, was killed and three others were injured.
The next case had a reference to a man killed while playing billiards in a saloon which was partially wrecked and in which were 50 people.
HISTORY OF THE WAR
The German official statement showed how the invaders had mistaken their route:
“On the night of January 31 one of our Naval airship squadrons dropped large quantities of explosive and incendiary bombs on docks, harbours, and factories in and near Liverpool and Birkenhead; on the iron foundries and smelting furnaces at Nottingham and Sheffield, and the great industrial works on the Humber, and near Great Yarmouth.
“Everywhere marked effects were observed in the gigantic explosions and serious conflagrations, on the Humber a battery was also silenced.
“Our airships were heavily fired on from all directions, but were not hit and safely returned."
This account was described by the British Press Bureau as “utterly in accurate," and as “affording further proof that the raiders were quite unable to ascertain their position, or to shape their course with any degree of certainty."
The raid on the Midlands finally demonstrated to the nation as a whole the need of a real and sustained attempt to obtain mastery of the air. Even the most unimaginative recognised that while it was possible for enemy aircraft to come in force and remain for twelve hours at a time over the heart of England, dealing desk indiscriminately, we could not regard our position as secure.
In an engine gondola of a Zeppelin
The advertisers were quick to capitalise on the event!