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Thrilling Deeds of British Airmen by  Eric Wood

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SOME ZEPPELIN STRAFERS

[208] ON the night of March 31st–April 1st, 1916, three Zeppelins sailed over the stormy wastes of the North Sea, reached the East Coast, and then separated, each to carry out the fell work assigned to it by those safe in far-off Germany. One of them, L15, in charge of Commander Breithaupt, headed for the Metropolis. Breithaupt, who had received the Iron Cross and the Order pour le Merite for a previous raid on London in September 1915, profiting by the knowledge gained on that occasion, set a course which he hoped would enable him to elude certain batteries of the land defences. His guide was Father Thames, and he steered his giant gas-bag so skilfully that he penetrated some considerable distance inland before he was discovered. Probably he and his crew were congratulating themselves upon their feat, and expecting to be able to reach their [209] objective before being discovered. They were, however, sadly disillusioned. Suddenly the inky darkness was pierced by two brilliant shafts of light which shot up and, with unerring aim, swathed the Zeppelin in a white effulgence which dazzled the crew.

Realizing that searchlights were the prelude to shrapnel, Breithaupt immediately took action. He released the bombs intended for London Town in order to lighten his craft and enable him to rise quickly out of range of the searchlights, and especially of the anti-aircraft guns which he knew would presently open fire.

Even as the first bomb crashed thunderously below, there came another sound from the earth, and a shell, followed quickly by others, went screaming up past the Zeppelin. A circle of bursting stars seemed to be made round the doomed airship, and one of them burst right on top of the envelope, near the tail, making a great hole in the fabric and causing the gas to escape in large quantities. The Zeppelin, despite the fact that her crew frantically loosed most of her bombs, began to fall. As she slowly descended, yet another [210] shell caught her, and Breithaupt, realizing that he was in sore straits, swung his monstrous craft round and tried to head her northward. If he hoped to give the slip to the search-lights, he was grievously disappointed, for the pencils of light seemed glued on to L15, never leaving her for a single second; and the batteries maintained a terrific fire. The marksmanship on that night was remarkably good, for yet another shell smashed one if not two of the propellers of the Zeppelin, and the watchers below saw that she was now pursuing an erratic course, evidently being quite out of control.

Meanwhile, ranging over the eastern counties, another raider was finding things rather uncomfortable. Her commander had endeavoured to elude the outer defences of London, but, unfortunately for him, the air-ship had been 'spotted' and very soon was under heavy bombardment from the batteries beneath. At the same time, above the roar of the airship's engines there came to her commander a sound which told him that not only had he land defences threatening him, [211] but that an aeroplane was also buzzing around!

The pilot of this particular plane was Second-Lieutenant A. de Bath Brandon, a young New Zealander who had taken his 'ticket' only a brief three weeks before, and was totally inexperienced in aerial fighting. The Germans, however, were to discover that British airmen are daring enough for anything; for Lieutenant Brandon, who had ascended from his station immediately news of the raiders had been received, catching sight of the Zeppelin flying 3000 feet above, steered boldly to the attack.

Now, it takes an aeroplane some minutes to climb 3000 feet, and in the meantime the pilot knew that it was not at all unlikely that the Zeppelin might jettison its cargo of bombs and, thus lightened, be able to escape scot-free. Lieutenant Brandon determined that this should not be; so, getting every ounce of power from his engine, and setting his machine to climb at her fastest, he rose higher and higher, until at last he was directly over the gas-bag. On the top of the envelope some of [212] the Zeppelin crew were ready for him with their machine-guns, while the airship's search-lights were sweeping the darkness in an effort to pick up the daring wasp that was so foolhardy as to attack the giant of the air.

Lieutenant Brandon, as soon as he was in position favourable to attack, let loose several bombs, some of which went whizzing past the envelope, while one at least struck home, but with what effect was uncertain.

What happened after that is not clear; but later that same night Lieutenant Brandon was engaged in another attack on a Zeppelin, and gave her the benefit of a couple more bombs, hitting her on the nose. It seems not at all unlikely that L15 which, as we have seen, had received a nasty mauling from the anti-aircraft batteries, was the identical Zeppelin which felt the force of these latter bombs. This much is certain, however: when day broke, L15 was discovered by the steam trawler Olivine (Lieutenant-Commander W. R. Mackintosh, R.N.R.) floating near the Knock Lightship with her back broken. Breithaupt and his crew surrendered, but not before they [213] had taken the precaution of placing a time-bomb which destroyed the airship while her captors were attempting to tow her into harbour.

It is significant of the German attitude in war, and of the kind of treatment that the Huns expect as a just recompense for their brutal crimes, that the prisoners were not a little surprised at the humane treatment they received! Commander Breithaupt, indeed, as though to palliate the crime of his crew, took upon himself all responsibility, saying that his men simply obeyed orders.

It has taken the Germans a long time to realize that Britons fight with clean hands, even against a foe who does not hesitate to use every means, foul or fair, in the pursuit of his villainous designs.

For his fine feat, Lieutenant Brandon received the D.S.O.

Following this raid, there were a number of other visits over various English counties by hostile airships; but we have no space to recount all the heroic deeds performed by British airmen in driving off the raiders. A [214] few incidents may, however, be recounted, as, for instance, the gallant attacks made by Flight-Lieutenants Vincent Nicholl, F. G. Darby Hards, and C. H. C. Smith, all of the Royal Naval Air Service.

On April 25th, 1916, an unknown number of airships visited Essex and Kent and, without having committed any damage, were returning to their base, when they were attacked by our airmen. Flight-Lieutenants Nicholl and Hards pursued one of them for sixty miles out to sea. Coming up with her they dived until they were within a few hundred feet of the airship, when they attacked her with darts and bombs, with what result did not transpire. Flight-Lieutenant Smith, also, chased another of the Zeppelins for fifty miles, hanging on to her relentlessly until it was useless to proceed any farther. He was returning to his base when he sighted a fleet of enemy warships accompanied by submarines. Naval airmen are ready for anything that ploughs the seas or sails through the air, and Lieutenant Smith promptly attacked the submarines, dropping his bombs with such accuracy that the undersea- [215] craft were very glad to clang down their hatches and submerge, without waiting for the gallant aviator to repeat the dose.

On July 31st other raiders appeared, and on this occasion scattered bombs over a wide area, but doing little material damage and fortunately without inflicting any casualties. It was during this raid that one of our aeroplanes, piloted by an officer whose name was not given, pursued a Zeppelin for thirty miles out to sea, and on coming within range attacked her with his machine-gun. Then hard luck came to him, for while he was still pulling the trigger of his gun the weapon broke and a portion of it crashed into him, stunning him so badly that for a while he was unable to control his machine, which began to drop. The rush of the cool air revived the gallant aviator, however, while the machine was still well above the water, and he succeeded in regaining control of it; but of the enemy he had hoped to ' strafe' there was no sign. He was therefore compelled to return to his station, feeling, no doubt, pretty sore at the scurvy trick that Fate had played him.


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THE DESTRUCTION OF A ZEPPELIN AT CUFFLEY.

[216] In another chapter we have told the story of the brilliant way in which Lieutenant Warneford destroyed a Zeppelin in flight, and this performance was repeated over British soil by Lieutenant W. L. Robinson on September 3rd, 1916. The moment was indeed a dramatic one, for this was the first aerial monster to be brought down in England, and the hundreds of thousands of people who witnessed the thrilling deed were fired with a righteous emotion born of their knowledge that the victim was engaged upon a dastardly attempt to murder their loved ones.

On September 5th, 1916, the London Gazette published the following announcement:

"H.M. the King has been graciously pleased to award the V.C. to the undermentioned officer:

"Lieutenant Wm. Leefe Robinson (Worcester Regt. and R.F.C.), for most conspicuous bravery.

"He attacked an enemy airship under circumstances of great difficulty and danger, and sent it crashing to the ground as a flaming wreck.

The Destruction of

a Zeppelin at Cuffley by Lieut. Robinson

[217] "He had been in the air for more than two hours, and had previously attacked another airship during his flight."

That is the bald official announcement, which goes into no details, and very wisely, because the enemy would give much to know the means whereby that airship and others which later met the same doom were destroyed. It is possible, however, to fill in a few items of interest which may tend to increase the admiration of British people for the man whom so many of them regard as their deliverer.

Of the Lieutenant himself it may be said that he was born at Tellidetta, South Coorg, South India, and had not turned twenty-one when he won his Victoria Cross. His father was Mr Horace Robinson, son of Mr W. C. Robinson, R.N., Chief Naval Constructor at Portsmouth Dockyard. The hero of the great raid was brought to England when he was six months old, but returned to India when he was seven years. At fourteen he was back in England, at St Bees School, Cumberland, later going to France and eventually entering Sandhurst. That was in August 1914, just after the war [218] broke out, and on December 16th of that year he was gazetted to the Worcestershire Regiment. Joining the Flying Corps soon afterward, he was in France as an observer from February 1915 to May 9th, on which date he was wounded in the arm by shrapnel while flying over Lille. Returning to England, after convalescence he went into training as a pilot, and took his 'ticket' on July 28th, 1915. Making a speciality of night flying, he saw much service and performed good work in connexion with the air-raids over England during the seven months preceding that 'one crowded hour of glorious life' when he brought down the giant foe. Seven months later, during the strenuous fighting which prepared the way for the great British advance beyond Arras, and which grew to proportions greater than those of any previous battles in the air, he developed motor trouble during a combat with the German champion Festner, and was forced to descend behind the enemy lines, where he was captured by a number of German soldiers.

So much for the man. Now for the details of his heroic deed.

[219] On September 2nd, 1916, Zeppelins came over to England in force, and an official report placed their number at thirteen and announced that the raid was the most formidable Zeppelin attack which had been made on Great Britain. Unfortunately for the raiders, they paid their visit just after the lighting precautions of London and certain other areas had been improved, and also at about the time when the defence organization generally had been perfected. The result of the new lighting arrangements was that the airships, "instead of steering a steady course as in the raids of the spring and last autumn, groped about in the darkness looking for a safe avenue of approach to their objectives."

With the airships which directed their attentions to the more eastern counties we are not concerned here, our main interest being connected with one of the three which were able to approach within reach of London. The first inkling that the people of the Metropolis and the surrounding district had of the presence of the raider was the crash of exploding bombs and the barking of the anti-aircraft guns. Where the bombs were falling the people wisely [220] kept within doors, remaining as calm as could be expected under such circumstances; but farther away spectators were to be found everywhere, peering up into the sky, and following the pencil lines of light at the ends of which the form of the airship was to be seen clearly outlined. The bursting shells made the sky beautiful, and many a cry and shout went up that the raider was hit. Then after a while there came a wonderful stillness, and the people of London stood waiting, spellbound, as though expecting something novel and tremendous to happen. They were not disappointed. The lines of light seemed to have become immovably focused upon the airship. A silence that seemed to last hours, but which was really only of a few moments' duration, and then the miracle happened: a light spurted along the airship, a light that could be seen for many miles, and yet which was as the feeble flickering of a guttering candle compared with the flare that almost immediately followed. The whole heavens were lighted up by a crimson glow, which made it possible to read—if there had [221] been anyone so nonchalant as to want to read!—even though the hour was between 2 and 3 in the morning. A moment's deathly silence, as though the watching crowds could scarcely realize what had happened, and then up rose such a cheering, such a shouting as surely has seldom been heard; for the people of London at last grasped the fact that some one, they knew not who, had performed a miracle, and had saved many of them from a tragic fate.

Meanwhile, the stricken airship was falling earthward, like a flaming dragon, nose downward. As though her flaming, blazing envelope were acting as a parachute, she fell slowly, and not rapidly as many expected; but she fell, nevertheless, and, as an eye-witness wrote, "when yet some 5000 feet up, the light, especially at the lower end, turned to a brilliant ruby, lightening away through crimson and pink to an incandescent white at the top, the following flames, above, being pale yellow."

As the monster came nearer to earth, the spectators in the immediate neighbourhood [222] heard a crackling as of exploding ammunition (the cases of which were later found making a track which indicated the path of the air-ship's drift); and then, with a final plunge, the raider dived to earth, falling near Hill Farm Cottage, outside Cuffley. Remarkable to relate, the storekeeper in that farm heard nothing! He was sleeping the sleep of the just, surely!

When at last the airship touched earth, and the flames were mounting upward, those who had witnessed the spectacle saw three coloured lights, suspended, as it were, from the dome of heaven itself, and they realized that somewhere up there the men who had braved the machine-guns of the aerial foe were hovering, as though looking down in triumph upon their fallen enemy.

And what had happened up there? How had this great work been done? Some day, perhaps, the world will know the story in its entirety; but, meantime, we must be content with the facts as they were allowed to be given by those who took part in the great achievement. And we cannot do better than round [223] off this story with the accounts of two officers, one of them the man who later was to receive the Victoria Cross for his personal part in the affair.

Lieutenant Robinson soon after the event said:

"I had been up something over an hour when I saw the first Zeppelin. She was flying high, and I followed her, climbing to get a position above. But there was a heavy fog, and she escaped me. I attacked her at long range, but she made off before I could see if I had done any damage. The next ship I saw I determined I would attack from the first position I found. I met her just after two o'clock. She was flying 10,000 feet. Soon she appeared to catch fire in her forward petrol tank. The flames spread rapidly along her body. She made off eastward on fire. In several minutes she dipped by the nose and dived slowly in flames to the earth. I was so pleased that in my excitement I pulled the 'joy-stick' and looped the loop several times. Then I showed my signal to stop firing and came back."

[224] Later still, when he was presented with a handsome cheque which had been promised to the airman who should first bring down a German air-ship over Britain, he made the following modest speech to the enthusiastic company assembled to do him honour:

"The thing that I had the good fortune to do is a thing which anybody in the Corps, you all know perfectly well, would have done if they had had the same good fortune that I had.

"I was not the only one to go up after that Zeppelin. You must know that in the case of every Zeppelin that has been over England or near England there have been many airmen who have gone up, and in far worse conditions than I had, I think, that night—in conditions that meant almost certain death.

"Many of them have met their death in chasing these inhuman murderers who have come over here.

"Men, friends of mine, have been maimed for life by going up just on the off-chance of 'strafing' them on absolutely impossible nights, nights when it has been exceedingly [225] difficult to land, misty nights, nights when you can't see the ground—you get up into the mists and can see nothing of earth. All these deeds I consider a hundred times more heroic than the thing I did.

"It was, I must impress upon you all, merely good fortune on my part. I feel a lot of honour and glory have already been given me, and I feel almost, I would not say criminal; I can't quite express my feelings on the subject, but I know I don't deserve all this kindness—all that you dear people have shown me.

"I just want to thank you, and am sorry English is such a poor language. If I could express myself as I could wish I should say a good bit more, but I simply cannot."

One of those other officers, to whom Lieutenant Robinson so handsomely referred, had also a story to tell, which throws a little more light upon the achievement of the hero of the occasion. That particular officer, who must be nameless, had gone up in a high-powered biplane, and had to climb to nearly 10,000 feet before he could engage the raider, which, harassed by two other aeroplanes, was [226] endeavouring to get away, at the same time rapping out a hot fire with its machine-guns. The airship, said the officer, "was travelling at top steed, first diving, and then ascending, and apparently Lieutenant Robinson, who was the officer piloting the biplane which had first attacked the raider, anticipated the manoeuvre.

"The commander of the airship threw out tremendous clouds of black smoke, which completely hid him from our view, and in which he managed to rise. A few seconds later we saw the airship a couple of thousand feet above us, and at the same altitude was Lieutenant Robinson, although a matter of, perhaps, half a mile away. Immediately Robinson headed his machine for the raider, and flying at a terrific speed, it appeared that he was going to charge the monster."

Then followed that brilliant spectacle of the sky, and, as the airship fell in flames, a second aerial monster approached the airmen, who were ready for it. Evidently the sight of the fate of his companion made the commander of this airship,decide to hurry off, for [227] he promptly and swiftly turned his craft round and "scurried off as fast as his engines would enable him to travel. At such a height and in the darkness it was impossible to pick him up."

All Britain was heartened by the brilliant achievement of Lieutenant Robinson, for until then there had been a feeling that our successes against raiding aircraft were more the result of good chance than anything else; the Cuffley episode proved that preparedness and skill had been brought to such a pitch that raiders could never again repeat their easy murders of the past.

To tell the stories of the 'strafing' of yet four more Zeppelins during raids on Britain would be to paraphrase the account of the one just given, for in every particular, so far as we are at present allowed to know, the deeds of Second-Lieutenants F. Sowrey and Alfred de Bath Brandon (both of the Royal Flying Corps), when two Zeppelins were brought down on September 24–25, were duplicates of the achievement of Lieutenant [228] Robinson. The Zeppelins were part of a force which visited England on the date named, and one of them, at least, was attacked by Lieutenants Sowrey and Brandon and other airmen, who chased her from the south of London as she headed north and then turned north-east. The airship, which was L32, was flying higher than any of her predecessors had flown over London. Such little details of the event as were allowed to leak out show that Lieutenant Sowrey, when he had climbed high enough, attacked the Zeppelin and was in turn attacked; the giant ship manoeuvred so that her machine-guns could be brought to bear upon the aviator, who by wonderful skill succeeded in obtaining a position so that, in the manner which is the close secret of the Flying Service, he was able to get in the blow that set the Zeppelin on fire from end to end and sent her swiftly to earth, a flaming wreck.

The second ship (L33) to meet disaster that night was so badly knocked about by the gun-fire of the London defences that, owing to loss of gas, she had to descend near the Essex coast, where the Germans blew up their [229] craft and then marched along the quiet country roads in quest of some one to whom they could surrender. A special constable met them, and they asked him the way to a certain town. One of the party then volunteered the astounding information: "Zeppelin engine exploded—we crew—prisoners of war."

No doubt that 'special' had about the funniest sensation running riot through his body, for naturally he did not know whether they were armed and would turn upon him. British to the backbone, however, he coolly took the twenty odd men under his care and piloted them toward the village post office, being presently joined by other specials, and here the prisoners were inspected. Eventually the whole of the crew were taken into custody by the military and removed to certain barracks.

The attempt on the part of the commander to blow up his airship was only partially successful, so that when the dawn came wondering spectators saw a tangled mass of wreckage close on 700 feet long and over threescore feet and ten in diameter. The [230] uninitiated would have supposed that such a wreck could prove of little use to anyone, but sufficient was left undamaged to enable the authorities to obtain a very fair idea of the construction of what was undoubtedly one of Germany's latest airships.

Thus by gun-fire and aeroplane had two more German raiders been accounted for, and, about a week later—on October 1st, to be precise—yet another Zeppelin met a flaming fate within a few miles of the Metropolis.

On the night in question, ten Zeppelins crossed the East Coast, and one of them which had London for her objective was commanded, as it was afterward discovered, by Commander Mathy, a pilot who had previously raided the City of our Empire, and had given an account of his experience to an American newspaper man. Just about midnight this Zeppelin was sighted approaching London, and, with searchlights piercing the skies and revealing her position to the artillery-men below, the defences of the Metropolis vigorously opened fire upon her. Hundreds of thousands of people were watching the [231] spectacle, and saw what they naturally did not understand at first. Shells from the anti-aircraft guns were throwing up a starry curtain of fire, through which the Zeppelin either could not pass or dared not for fear of what might happen. The searchlights were evidently baffling the crew in her, and many attempts were made to escape the white blaze of light focused upon her. For what seemed endless minutes—perhaps it was less than half an hour—the raider was held in the beams; then she eluded them for a brief while, during which the spectators watched open-mouthed, not knowing where she would next appear. With not a little relief they presently saw her again, caught by the search-lights, and once more the artillery boomed, the shells bursting apparently in close proximity to the great envelope.

And then, silence and darkness: the search-lights were shut off, the gun-fire ceased. The people of London and the surrounding district held their breath. Recollection of what had happened a few seconds after such a silence on the occasion of the destruction of the raider [232] at Cuffley came to the thousands who had been in the streets on that historic night, and men, women, and children waited with bated breath—expectant, hopeful.

They were not disappointed. Suddenly the intense darkness was broken by a curious yellow light, which quickly developed into a crimson blaze, illuminating the country for miles around.

A momentary hovering in mid-air, and then the airship, flaming from end to end, began to fall, those spectators who were near enough being able to see the white lines of her aluminium framework clear-cut in the reddish flame. Everybody knew what had happened: somewhere up there, while they had been watching and waiting in breathless anticipation, an airman had been at work in some mysterious but effective way; but it was not until some time later that they knew who the aviator was. His name was Second-Lieutenant Wulstan Joseph Tempest. He had been spending the evening with some friends, and had been called away to meet the invaders. He ascended 10,000 feet and waited in the [233] air for over two hours before the Zeppelin appeared. He promptly attacked, pursuing her until he was within striking range. Then he had struck, and struck home.

Immediately after the Zeppelin caught fire he had travelled the complete length of her, parallel with her all the time. More than once, in order to avoid colliding with the burning mass of his victim, he had to nose-dive. Eventually he landed in safety miles away from the place where he had first taken the air, and was driven back to his station in a motor to receive a fine ovation from his comrades. Later he was awarded the D.S.O.

Because it tells, as plainly as may be told, the nature of the experience of an aviator in his fight with a Zeppelin, an airman's account—it refers to the earlier days of aerial fighting—published in the Pall Mall Gazette may be quoted here.

"The pilot of the aeroplane has an instinctive feeling that a Zeppelin is somewhere near him. He cannot hear because of the noise of his own engine, and he cannot see because of the intensity of the darkness all around him. His [234] feeling is soon confirmed when he finds himself the focus of two, three, four, or more search-lights, and the anti-aircraft guns commence to fire. This is another deadly danger he has to contend with: there is as much chance, sometimes more, of our own anti-aircraft shells hitting him instead of the raiding airship.

"By means of his wireless key, however, he is able to communicate with his aerodrome, who immediately telephone to the guns to cease fire, but during the time that must necessarily elapse before this comes to pass he is in very grave danger. More so even than the airship, for one direct hit would not, in all probability, be sufficient to bring down an airship, but most certainly would destroy a frail and tiny aeroplane.

"The combat between the aeroplane and the Zeppelin might be compared to that between a British destroyer and the German Dreadnoughts in the recent Jutland battle. Dashing in with great rapidity and skill, the tiny one-gunned aeroplane fires its broadside, then makes off as fast as possible to get out [235] of range of the comparatively heavy-armed airship. From thence onward it develops into a fight for the upper position, for once above the Zeppelin the aeroplane pilot can use his bombs, and the broad back of the gas-bag offers a target which can hardly be missed.

"Again, some Zeppelins are not armed, as were the very earliest fighting craft, with a machine-gun above the envelope; thus the aeroplane has the Zepp at his mercy, and is out of danger himself. Should he be unable to climb above, the only other vulnerable spot is the stern; the airship machine-guns fire only fore and amidships, and cannot fire aft.

"In manoeuvring, the aeroplane has the great advantage of being remarkably quick in turning, climbing, and coming down. The Zeppelin, again, is very susceptible to flame and explosion of any kind; the gas in the envelope, a mixture of hydrogen and air, forms an extremely explosive mixture. The aeroplane, owing to the fabric of which it is com- [236] posed, and the petrol needed for propulsion, is to a certain degree inflammable, but not nearly to the same extent as the airship. Per contra, the airship possesses a distinct advantage in that it is able to shut off its engines, and to hover, which it is impossible for an aeroplane to do. Again, in the matter of speed in a forward direction, and, for that matter, backward also—for the Zeppelin's engines are reversible—the aeroplane holds the palm with an average speed of sixty miles per hour, to the airship's fifty.

"The combat finished, the aeroplane pilot has yet to make a landing, surely the most dangerous and tricky manoeuvre of the whole fight. The difficulties and dangers thus encountered are too obvious to need explanation, further than to say that the landing has to be effected in the dark, with only a blinding, dazzling electric ground-light for guidance."

Commander Mathy, the pilot who met his doom in the raid of October 1st, told a reporter; amongst other things, that he was not afraid of aeroplanes. "I think I could make it interesting for them, unless there was a [237] regular swarm." Well, Commander Mathy had things made interesting for him, and the continued destruction of Zeppelins when they have ventured over Britain is proof that those who have charge of the defences are not sitting twiddling their thumbs. No means of solving the problem have been left untried, no precautions have been neglected, as a batch of raiders discovered on November 27th, 1916, after a pause of some weeks in their activities. On that night a number of air-ships approached the North-East Coast, most carefully avoiding London, under the impression, no doubt, that by giving the Metropolis a wide berth they would be outside the range of effective defences.

They were disillusioned, however, and found that not only around London but also in other parts of the country there was danger for raiders.

Four of the five airships which took part in the raid attacked the North-East Coast, dropping bombs on Durham and Yorkshire, luckily with but little damage to life and property. In exactly the same way as Lieu- [238] tenants Robinson and Tempest had attacked their aerial foes, one of their comrades of the Royal Flying Corps—Lieutenant I. V. Pyott—drove into action with a raider on that November night. There was a short but none the less stern fight between the wasp and the hawk, and then the London scenes were re-enacted: the great airship caught fire, the flames spread through its whole length, and the blazing mass fell into the sea while the night watchers shouted themselves hoarse.

Boats were hastily put out to see if there were any survivors, but nothing was seen of the destroyed craft, not even when morning came: all that betokened the great event was a thick film of oil upon the surface of the waters.

While Lieutenant Pyott was engaged pushing home his attack, away down the coast other intrepid airmen were busy. The fifth airship had struck inland toward the Midlands, where she dropped several bombs. The raider, however, was destined not to escape. As she turned about and made off for the [239] coast the batteries bombarded her, aeroplanes pursued her, and she was apparently so severely mauled that she had to come to a standstill near the Norfolk coast to effect temporary repairs. When the grey fingers of the dawn began to creep into the eastern sky she was plainly visible, and was noticed to be travelling eastward, at a great height, with several Royal Naval Air Service machines in her wake. The fact that it was growing light gave the crew of this Zeppelin advantages which the raiders over London had not possessed, for the former could easily see the intrepid attackers approaching and turn machine-guns upon them. The aviators were not to be discouraged, however, and the people lining the coast were given an exhibition of aerial fighting at a height of 8000 feet.

It was a fight worth watching, too. Down below an armed trawler was bombarding the discomfited raider as she tried to shake off her persistent foes, who were firing at her as rapidly as possible. Three of the airmen—Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury and Sub-Lieutenants E. L. Pulling and G. W. R. Fane— [240] drove in as closely as possible, sweeping past the Zeppelin's machine-guns, rising above her, swooping down and performing amazing evolutions around her, all the time firing vigorously, and hitting her repeatedly, until at last the giant envelope caught fire, the flames roared their way along her whole length, and she went plunging into the sea.


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