On 25 September 1916, Zeppelins L21 and L22 left their German base on the North Sea Coast. Both were tasked with bombing industrial targets in the North Midlands. L22 was specifically directed to attack Sheffield.
L22 was crewed by about 20 men, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Martin Dietrich. He had been an Airship Commander since October 1915 and in command of L22 since March 1916.
To navigate towards his target he would have set a compass course to steer based on forecast wind strength and direction. Although radio navigation was developing it was not always reliable. The crew were flying over the North Sea, in complete darkness, at 16,000 feet with no heating or oxygen.
Both Zeppelins crossed the English Coast at Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire between 9.45pm and 10.30pm, with L21 leading. They both appear to have set the same course towards Sheffield and it seems that L21 reached Sheffield first and triggered the air raid warning.
“The Zeps are here!”
At 10.56 p.m. as L21 approached the city, Captain Edward Clifton of 33 Squadron RFC took off from Coal Aston airfield to find the ‘Zep’. In the cloud and darkness of that night he returned to base disappointed, crashed his aircraft on landing, but survived.
L21 flew on into Lancashire but L22 made an appearance around the south-east of Sheffield and began bombing at 12.25 a.m.
The first bombs fell in Burngreave Cemetery and continued to fall as L22 made its way through the eastern side of Sheffield resulting in death, injury and destruction. Interestingly there appears to be little damage recorded to industry. However, production would have been interrupted as people took cover during the raid.
There was a great deal of anger expressed in the local press about the poor response by the anti-aircraft guns, describing it as ‘a fiasco’ and ‘shambolic.’ It is claimed that officers were attending a ball at the Grand Hotel in the City Centre and no order was given to engage L22!
A total of 28 deaths and 19 injuries were eventually recorded as a result of the 1916 Zeppelin raid on Sheffield. 89 homes were seriously damaged and 150 were classed as having ‘minor’ damage.