The Great Zeppelin raid in Wednesbury, the night of Jan 31st 1916

Posted on THOW on October 8, 2012

The great Zeppelin raid in Wednesbury
The night of Jan 31st 1916

This is an amazing story about Wednesbury at war. I have had to condense this story somewhat to post it here but the whole story can be read at the link below.

On January 31st, 1916, nine airships left their bases in Germany intending to make a statement about the Germans’ ability to raid the United Kingdom.
Their orders were to fly across the entire breadth of England en masse and bomb Liverpool..
Kapitänleutnant Max Dietrich, commanding the L 21, was the first to cross the North Sea, passing over the Norfolk coast at 5.50 p.m.
To the West he and his men could see a clear sunset, promising good weather. But inland mists and fogs were already forming around the heavily-populated areas, making ground observation difficult.
Dietrich, using a combination of calculation and observation whenever the clouds provided a gap through which he could see thought he saw Manchester below and decided not to drop any bombs, saving them and the surprise they would cause, for Liverpool.

He then saw twinkling lights & Dietrich concluded that he must be over Birkenhead. He ordered action stations and began his approach, intending to fly over Birkenhead, crossing the Mersey and so on to Liverpool itself.

At 9.00 p.m. on 31st January, 1916, the people of Liverpool who were out and about heard no droning engines to make them look upwards. There was no fear. There was no panic. There was no danger. because Dietrich’s calculations had been wrong, he was not over Liverpool.

His “Birkenhead” was Tipton!

His dark, featureless Mersey was an area of industrial wasteland and collieries known as Lea Brook.

And his jewel, his “Liverpool” was Wednesbury – our town.

Dietrich’s bombing run began.
Bombs fell on Tipton and Bradley and then the first bombs fell on Wednesbury.

They landed in the King Street area, near to a large factory.
A woman, Mrs. Smith, of 14, King Street, left her house to see what the noise was.
A little way down the street she saw fires and presumed an explosion at the factory.
She walked towards the fires but bombs began to fall behind her. She turned and hurried home, to find her house demolished and all her family killed.
The bodies of three members of her family – her husband Joseph, daughter Nellie aged 13 and son Thomas, 11, were quickly located.
The youngest girl Ina, just seven, was lying dead on the roof of the factory. Her body would not be found until the morning.

The first Wednesbury deaths had occurred.

The streetlights were out, people moved out into the street and saw the Zeppelin.
There it was, high above the burning Crown Tube Works at the end of Union.
They heard the engines begin to race and saw the machine swing towards them.

A householder ran out and opened the heavy doors to his cellar, which normally formed part of the pavement. “Down here, quick!” he shouted, and many took him up on his offer.
Others stayed out in the open to watch the Zeppelin.

Thomas Morris told later how when he reached his mother-in-law’s house in Union Street he found that it was one of those demolished and among the rubble he found five bodies – those of his wife, two of his children and his wife’s parents.

After leaving Wednesbury, flying the L21 Dietrich headed North for Walsall. The first bomb there landed on a Congregational church.
A preparation class of children from a local primary school was meeting in the church but no-one was injured.
Dietrich flew over the centre of Walsall and his final bomb, fell. He then headed back to base in Nordholz.

Was it all over? No!
In less than a quarter of an hour they would see another Zeppelin bombing Wednesbury.

About three miles to the South Kapitänleutnant Loewe consulted his maps.
Loewe had not been in contact with Dietrich in L21, but appears to have drawn the same mistaken conclusions as he flew over England.

He, too, believed he had located Liverpool!

Below him, he could see fires, still burning, convincing him that he had at last reached his target.
As people slept, Commander Loewe gave his orders.
Wednesbury was in for it again.

Loewe dropped his bombs in the same area as Dietrich, several falling on Wednesbury.
This second raider caused only minor damage and there were no casualties.
Because of the lateness of the hour, there were few witnesses and Loewe’s attack caused less of a sensation than Dietrich’s

For Loewe, for his crew and for L19, this would be the last flight. With engine difficulties the L19 came down in the North Sea.

The floating wreck was spotted by a British steam trawler , the “King Stephen,” whose captain refused to take them on board, fearing (as he said later) that they might overpower him and his men and force them to sail to a German port.
The airship sank, no survivers.

Sadly …Dietrich and L21, returned home safely, to raid again.

The raid on Wednesbury and the nearby towns was covered in the next evening’s newspapers.
There were photographs but due to censorship, no towns were named in the report.
It made no difference. Everyone in Wednesbury knew what had happened, and where.

Today, hardly anyone knows about that night,
The cast-iron lamp standards in King Street, peppered with shrapnel holes, were replaced at about the same time.
The simple little wooden memorial which used to be seen fixed to a wall in King Street, bearing the names of those killed, disappeared many years ago, when the houses in King Street were demolished.
Just one section of wall remains, its elderly bricks still bearing the scars of a bomb which fell nearby.

2003

The author of the above tried later to find the graves of the Wednesbury victims but there was no sign of any graves which mentioned the raid.
After a while with help from Local Authority’s Cemetery Department he was able to locate the site of the now-unmarked graves.

The Zeppelin victims lie in one anonymous section of a large grassed area.
Not far away are the graves of some Great War soldiers who died of wounds.
Of course, these men have Commonwealth War Graves Commission gravestones which are carefully tended.

The 13 Zeppelin victims – also victims of the war – have no memorial at all, apart from this one here below:

January 31st, 1916
Mary Ann Lee aged 59
Rachel Higgs aged 36
Frank Thompson Linney aged 36
Susan Howells aged 30
Matilda Mary Burt aged 10
Joseph Horton Smith, aged 37
Ina Smith, aged 7
Nellie Smith, aged 13
Thomas Horton Smith, aged 11
Mary Emma Evans aged 5
Edward Shilton aged 33
Betsy Shilton, aged 39
Albert Gordon Madeley aged 21

How very very sad.

The full story is here:
http://www.hellfire-corner.demon.co.uk/zeppelin.htm

———————————————————————————————

October 8, 2012

A little update on the previous post; I have just found some news about the L21 Zepplin that bombed Wednesbury.
It is reported that the L21 made 17 reconnaisance and 10 attack missions on England dropping 14,442 kg of bombs.

On the 28th November 1916 it was intercepted and destroyed of Lowestoft by fighter pilot Flt Lt Cadbury firing phosphor rounds.

I salute you Flt Lt Cadbury!

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One thought on “The Great Zeppelin raid in Wednesbury, the night of Jan 31st 1916

  1. it must have been a cahotic and stressfull experience time especially with the street lamps out i once met an elderly lady who witnessed the raids and she said she was very frightened but still a very intrigueing encounter in the darkest days of wednesburys history

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