I came across two accounts of Zeppelin raids over North Staffordshire, which are fully described in a newspaper account of late 1918. The Zeppelin was the brainchild of Count Ferdinard Zeppelin a German army officer who began developing his ideas on airships in 1897. The first Zeppelin flew on 2nd July 1900. The LZ-3 Zeppelin was accepted into army service in March 1909. By the start of the First World War the German Army had seven military Zeppelins.
The Zeppelin developed in 1914 could reach a maximum speed of 136 kph and reach a height of 4,250 metres. The Zeppelin had five machine-guns and could carry 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs) of bombs.
In January 1915, two Zeppelin navel airships 190 metres long, flew over the east coast of England and bombed great Yarmouth and King's Lynn. The first Zeppelin raid on London took place on 31st May 1915. The raid killed 28 people and injured 60 more.
The two raids over North Staffordshire occurred on January 31st 1916 and on the night of the 27th/28th November 1918.
On the first occasion North Staffs the district escaped without damage or injuries. On the second occasion 21 bombs were dropped and exploded as well as several duds. The damage was small and one person was injured.
January 31st 1916
The area was taken completely by surprise by the first raid. Few people thought that the airship could reach into the north or the Midlands. Lighting restrictions were not in force and the whole area including the steelworks at Etruria was a blaze of light, hidden by a slight ground mist. A number of airships reached the Midlands. One was over Walsall at 20.10 and another attacked Burton at 20.30. A zeppelin came up from the south and was seen over Trentham. It was attracted by the lights of the steelworks and dropped 6 bombs in rapid succession. (It was probably the one that my grandmother saw who was living in Ashford Street, Shelton in 1916). All the bombs fell on refuse heaps between the works and a colliery entrance. It made craters but did not cause any material damage. Thereafter the course of the Zeppelin is not known. It was heard in Hanley over Wolstanton and Madeley and then passed over the area. Other towns in Staffordshire suffered damage that night. Walsall was twice raised. The Wednesbury Congregational Chapel was completely damaged. Wednesbury, Tipton and Burton were also heavily attacked and the number of deaths in these towns was 12.13 and 14 receptively. At Burton a bomb fell on a mission hut killing the wife of the preacher as well as 4 members of the congregation.
November 27th-28th 1916
Monday the 27th November was a clear and dry night. At 10.45 a warning was received. The whole district was blacked out and air raid precautions were taken. Doctors and Red Cross Nurses were sent to their allocated stations. The Regular and Special police were in readiness for any emergency and the Fire Brigade wee on stand by. Information was received that the Zeppelin was seen coming from the direction of Biddulph and making for Kidsgrove, Goldenhill and Tunstall
A local gave an account of the raid
“I had been burning the mid night oil unaware of the air raid warning had been given, and had just reached my bedroom at a few minutes to One o’clock when I heard a deep, rumbling long sustained explosion. I concluded that a serious colliery explosion had happened, and I had gone to the next bedroom to see if anyone else had heard it when two more detonations occurred- shorter and sharper than the first. Obviously an air raid was occurring. After a brief interval another explosion ripped through the night- still nearer and accompanied by a rending sound. A few seconds and a series of two or three followed in such quick succession as almost to suggest machine gum fire except the firing I heard was of the heavy stuff
Then from the window I could see distant flashes – over in the direction of Chesterton- and every sound was following by a grinding and rending detonation. So the infernal artillery continued to half past one, when the Zeppelin, obviously coming closer to my point of vantage, dropped a bomb that shook every brick and window in the house. Yet the explosion was half a mile away. That was the last and saw of the raider. I counted 21 explosions.”
Bombardment of Tunstall
The first bomb fell on a spoil heap near the Birchenwood Colliery Kidsgrove: it did no damage. The second and third exploded on slag heaps not far from Goldendale Iron works. The third fell in a working class area of Tunstall in a working class district and there was done the main damage of the raid.
The bomb buried itself into soft ground forming the backyard of 6 Sun Street making a crater six feet deep and 7 to 8 yards wide sweeping away the sculleries and out houses of 2,4,6,8 Sun St wrecking those dwelling houses and doing damage more or less severe to many other houses in the locality as well as the Roman Catholic Church nearby. At Number 8 which was occupied by Mr and Mrs Cantliffe and their two children. Mr Cantliffe had just returned from work as a local pit and with his wife was having supper. He was hit in the chest and injured by flying fragments. His wife was uninjured, as were the other occupants of the house who were asleep at the time. The man was taken to the North Staffs Infirmary for treatment for a chest wound and he recovered quickly.
The doors and windows of nearby houses were torn from their framework and splintered windows were shattered and furniture was reduced to matchwood. There were fifteen houses in this row and all were considerably damaged. Back to Back with this row were another houses with their frontage in Bond St; and they suffered considerably, most of the windows were smashed and some having frameworks torn out. Masonry fell on the roofs of houses for some distance. The roof of the Roman Catholic Church was damaged by falling fragments, and the windows were blown out. At the Royal Albert Pottery many windows were damaged. After the explosion of bomb many of the people of the area were out in their night attire, and ready help was given to the people whose homes had been wrecked. Next day the Sun Street area of Tunstall presented a devastated aspect and for days afterwards became a spectacle for the curious.
From Tunstall the Zeppelins made across Bradwell Woods for Chesterton wee the burning mine hearths in the collieries attracted the raider and gave the enemy the impression of more important targets than mere heaps of ironstones in the process of calcimining. At any rate the airship heavily bombed and the explosions were heavily and numerous. Apart from an old shed, which collapsed from the concussion and a big crater formed in the mine works and on the ground not a scrap of damage. This bombardment was particularly futile. One of the last bombs fell behind Bradwell Lane in Wolstanton and the force of the explosion was felt with great intensity.
For some time the raider circled around and many residents saw the airship. Eventually the airship turned south east and was sighted over Blurton coming over Hartshill at 01.35 leaving the area shortly afterwards
Beside 21 bombs that exploded there was an array of duds. Several were discovered in the Chesterton. And two unexploded bombs at the entrance of the Stafford Coal and Iron works at Sideway and one at Fenton Hall. Both had harmlessly dug in.
The airship responsible for the raid was the LZ61
The LZ 61 took part in a total of ten raids on England during 1916. These included:
It was ordered to attack Liverpool, but problems with night navigation meant that instead it bombed Tipton, Bradley, Wednesbury, and Walsall: killing over 30 people - including Julia Slater, Walsall's Lady Mayoress.
It attacked Cleethorpes, dropping several bombs on the town just after midnight. One of which landed on the Alexandra Road Baptist Chapel, killing 31 soldiers of the 3rd Battalion the Manchester Regiment, who were billeted there One of the only British Army units to be directly engaged by enemy action on British soil during World War I.
It took part in the largest airship attack of the war with 13 other Naval airships and also four Army airships - 16 in total. During this raid the crew of the LZ 61 witnessed the downing of the SL 11, the first airship to be shot down over the British mainland.
It was unable to find its designated targets of Derby and Nottingham, and instead attacked Bolton, Lump, Rawtenstall, Ewood Bridge, Stonefold, Haslingden, Helmshore, Rossendale, Ramsbottom and Holcomb.
On November 27, 1916 LZ 61 began its last raid on England in the company of nine other Zeppelins. Crossing the coast north of Atwick, LZ 61 initially attacked Leeds but was repelled by anti-aircraft fire.
After bombing Sharton, Dodworth, Kidsgrove, Goldenhill, Tunstall, Chesterton, Fenton and Trentham it made out into the North Sea near Great Yarmouth. It was intercepted by three RNAS pilots: Flight Sub–Lieutenant Edward Laston Pulling; Flight–Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury; and Flight Sub–Lieutenant Gerard William Reginald Fane flying B.E. 2C aircraft. After exchanging fire with the three aircraft the LZ 61 burst into flames and crashed into the sea about eight miles (13 km) east of Lowestoft. Kurt Frankenburg commanded the Zeppelin. He and the 16 other members of the craft did not survive.