Zeppelins in Birmingham?

Publicity Department, Central Recruiting Depot.
 Restoration by Adam Cuerden.
Library of Congress Prints and Photographs
Division Washington, D.C

On a foggy, frosty night of January 31 to February 1, 1916, Tipton, Bradley, Wednesbury and Walsall were bombed by Zeppelins in one of the heaviest air raids of the First World War. By the end of that terrible night, 35 local people were dead, including the Lady Mayoress of Walsall, Mary Julia Slater.

The L21 Zeppelin responsible is still one of the largest ‘combat aircraft’ to have ever flown.  On 31st of January Captain Max Deitrich of the L21 was planning to bomb Liverpool when he saw the lights of the Black country below.  Birmingham had almost certainly been spared as the council had prudently put a police order in place to ‘show no lights’.

Although more people would die in Zeppelin raids elsewhere in the UK, Birmingham and the West Midlands were fortunate – the effective black out, while increasing the risk of accidents on the roads, did appear to help prevent the Zeppelins finding their targets.  Elizabeth Cadbury living in Birmingham at the time wrote:

Public notice of air-raid precaution, 27th Jan 2015
(Birmingham Scrapbook Vol. 7 – see Sian Roberts p.29)

“…a perilous journey home in the dark…nearly annihilated by a huge waggon, also without lights, coming towards us on the wrong side of the road.”(MS 466/1/1/15/3/13 – see Sian Roberts p.30

Bombs did land on Austin Works at Longbridge, (which were lit at the time), Robin Hood Golf course and Manor Farm, Hall Green, in two further raids on 19th October 1917 and 12th April 1918.

The LZ61, tactically called L21 in hangar at Nordholz Airbase (1916)
 carried out a total of ten raids on England, and 17 reconnaissance
missions, including the one captained by Max Dietrich on 31st January
raid killing 35 people including Julia Slater, Walsall’s Lady Mayoress. 
Walsall Cenotaph now stands on the spot where the bomb that killed her landed

While the damage done by the Zeppelins in Birmingham and elsewhere in the country did little to slow munitions production, the air raids certainly brought terror and the real possibility of being killed by Germans in the UK.  It was used extensively in newspapers and posters to encourage men to join the army, and everyone to do their bit in the Defence of the Realm.

Useful links:

Extract from Lethbridge revealing how the Midlands helped thwart German bombers

Birmingham in the First World War,  J.P. Lethbridge (1994)

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