Zeppelin L.19 (LZ 54)
The airship
An airship or dirigible is a type of aerostat or "lighter-than-air aircraft" that can be steered and propelled through the air using rudders and propellers or other thrust mechanisms...

 L.19 (also known as the LZ 54) was a World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

, Zeppelin
A Zeppelin is a type of rigid airship pioneered by the German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the early 20th century. It was based on designs he had outlined in 1874 and detailed in 1893. His plans were reviewed by committee in 1894 and patented in the United States on 14 March 1899...

 of the German Kaiserliche Marine
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

(Imperial Navy). While returning from her first bombing raid on the United Kingdom in early-1916, she came down in the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

. Her crew survived the crash, but drowned after the crew of a British fishing vessel refused to rescue them; at the time, this was a widely–reported and notorious incident.


The L.19 was one of twenty–two P-class military Zeppelins built by Luftschiffbau Zeppelin
Luftschiffbau Zeppelin
Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH is a German company which, during the early 20th century, was a leader in the design and manufacture of rigid airships, specifically of the Zeppelin type. The company was founded by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin...

 for the German Army
German Army (German Empire)
The German Army was the name given the combined land forces of the German Empire, also known as the National Army , Imperial Army or Imperial German Army. The term "Deutsches Heer" is also used for the modern German Army, the land component of the German Bundeswehr...

 and Navy
Kaiserliche Marine
The Imperial German Navy was the German Navy created at the time of the formation of the German Empire. It existed between 1871 and 1919, growing out of the small Prussian Navy and Norddeutsche Bundesmarine, which primarily had the mission of coastal defense. Kaiser Wilhelm II greatly expanded...

. They were improved versions of the pre–war, M–class aircraft. They had a larger gas volume and more power, having four instead of three engines. These were initially 180 hp Maybach
Maybach-Motorenbau GmbH is a German luxury car manufacturer. It was founded in 1909 by Wilhelm Maybach and his son. The company was originally a subsidiary of Luftschiffbau Zeppelin GmbH and was itself known as Luftfahrzeug-Motorenbau GmbH until 1912.Today, the ultra-luxury car brand is owned by...

 C-X engines; later replaced with the 240 hp, Maybach HSLu. The Zeppelin had two gondolas, the forward one housed the control cabin and a single engine, the rear contained the other three engines. The P-class Zeppelins were around 10 miles per hour (16 km/h) faster than the earlier craft; they had a higher service–ceiling, over double the range and double the payload.

A bomb-load of 1600 kilograms (3,527.4 lb) could be carried and a number of MG 08 machine guns were mounted for aircraft defence. The number of guns varied – army Zeppelins carried more as they operated over land and enemy aircraft were a greater threat, navy Zeppelins carried fewer to save weight. The guns were mounted in the two gondolas under the airship, in a tail gun position and on a dorsal gun platform on the top of the envelope. This upper platform could accommodate three guns and their gunners.


The L.19 first flew on 27 November 1915. Her constructor's number was LZ 54. L.19 was a tactical number allocated by the German Navy. She completed 14 flights during her nine weeks of service. Several of these flights were patrols over the North Sea
North Sea
In the southwest, beyond the Straits of Dover, the North Sea becomes the English Channel connecting to the Atlantic Ocean. In the east, it connects to the Baltic Sea via the Skagerrak and Kattegat, narrow straits that separate Denmark from Norway and Sweden respectively...

, searching for Allied merchant and naval ships. Naval scouting was the main role of the navy's Zeppelin fleet and a total of 220 such flights were carried out during the war. The lack of aggressive activity by the German Navy meant the tactical need for such scouting was reduced. During the 1915–1916 winter the L.19 became well-known to neutral merchant ships in the North Sea due to her frequent patrols. On one occasion she touched down close to a Swedish
Sweden , officially the Kingdom of Sweden , is a Nordic country on the Scandinavian Peninsula in Northern Europe. Sweden borders with Norway and Finland and is connected to Denmark by a bridge-tunnel across the Öresund....

 ship to inspect her. The ship was allowed to proceed when her neutral status was established.

On another occasion, she and two other Zeppelins forestalled a British air raid by discovering, to the north of Terschelling
Terschelling is a municipality and an island in the northern Netherlands, one of the West Frisian Islands.Waddenislanders are known for their resourcefulness in using anything and everything that washes ashore. With few trees to use for timber, most of the farms and barns are built with masts...

, an approaching flotilla of three Royal Navy
Royal Navy
The Royal Navy is the naval warfare service branch of the British Armed Forces. Founded in the 16th century, it is the oldest service branch and is known as the Senior Service...

 Seaplane tender
Seaplane tender
A seaplane tender is a ship that provides facilities for operating seaplanes. These ships were the first aircraft carriers and appeared just before the First World War.-History:...

s, an apparent British attempt to repeat their successful Cuxhaven Raid
Cuxhaven Raid
The Cuxhaven Raid was a British ship-based air-raid on the German naval forces at Cuxhaven mounted on Christmas Day, 1914.Aircraft of the Royal Naval Air Service were carried to within striking distance by seaplane tenders of the Royal Navy, supported by both surface ships and submarines...

. The British were surprised when lowering the seaplanes into the sea. L.19 hit one of the ships with a bomb and radioed nearby German naval ships. The British abandoned the raid and retreated.

January 31/February 1 air raid

Commanded by Kapitänleutnant Odo Loewe, the L.19 left her base at Tondern (now Tønder
Tønder is a municipality in Region of Southern Denmark on the Jutland peninsula in south Denmark. The municipality covers an area of 1,278 km², and has a total population of 40,367...

 in Denmark) at noon on January 31, 1916, one of nine navy Zeppelins to raid England that night.The navy Zeppelins L.11, L.13, L.14, L.15, L.16, L.17, L.19, L.20 and L.21 This was part of a new, more aggressive strategy that had been brought to the German navy with the recent appointment of Reinhard Scheer
Reinhard Scheer
Reinhard Scheer was an Admiral in the German Kaiserliche Marine. Scheer joined the navy in 1879 as an officer cadet; he progressed through the ranks, commanding cruisers and battleships, as well as major staff positions on land. At the outbreak of World War I, Scheer was the commander of the II...

 as its commander-in-chief. The head of German naval airships, Fregattenkapitän Peter Strasser
Peter Strasser
Peter Strasser was chief commander of German Imperial Navy Zeppelins during World War I, the main force operating bombing campaigns from 1915 to 1917. He was killed when flying the war's last airship raid over Great Britain....

, was on board the L.11, leading the attack personally. He had orders to bomb targets of opportunity in central and southern England, reaching Liverpool
Liverpool is a city and metropolitan borough of Merseyside, England, along the eastern side of the Mersey Estuary. It was founded as a borough in 1207 and was granted city status in 1880...

 if possible.

The Zeppelins encountered thick fog in the North Sea, followed by rain clouds and snow off the English coast and the attacking force became dispersed; the nine airships crossed the English coast between 5:50pm and 7.20pm. The L.19 was the very last, crossing the coast near Sheringham
Sheringham is a seaside town in Norfolk, England, west of Cromer.The motto of the town, granted in 1953 to the Sheringham Urban District Council, is Mare Ditat Pinusque Decorat, Latin for "The sea enriches and the pine adorns"....

. At 10:45pm, she reached Burton on Trent, becoming the third raider to attack the town that night. She then proceeded south, dropping the remainder of her bomb load on several towns on the outskirts of Birmingham
Birmingham is a city and metropolitan borough in the West Midlands of England. It is the most populous British city outside the capital London, with a population of 1,036,900 , and lies at the heart of the West Midlands conurbation, the second most populous urban area in the United Kingdom with a...

. At 12.20am, a pub in Tipton
Tipton is a town in the Sandwell borough of the West Midlands, England, with a population of around 47,000. Tipton is located about halfway between Birmingham and Wolverhampton. It is a part of the West Midlands conurbation and is a part of the Black Country....

 was destroyed;The exact time was noted from a broken clock found in the debris. buildings were also damaged in nearby Walsall
Walsall is a large industrial town in the West Midlands of England. It is located northwest of Birmingham and east of Wolverhampton. Historically a part of Staffordshire, Walsall is a component area of the West Midlands conurbation and part of the Black Country.Walsall is the administrative...

 and Birchills
Birchills is a residential area of Walsall in the West Midlands of England.It is situated several hundred yards west of the town centre and is an established area containing many different housing types, though Victorian/Edwardian terraced houses and inter-war council houses are the most frequent...

. She caused no casualties aside from some farm animals, although bombs dropped three hours earlier by her sister-ship, the L.21
LZ 61 'L 21'
The LZ 61 was a World War I German Navy airship, allocated the tactical numbering L 21. It carried out a total of ten raids on England, and 17 reconnaissance missions.-Raids on England:...

, killed 35 people in the area, including the wife of the Mayor of Walsall; a total of 61 people were reported killed and 101 injured by the raid. Due to the extreme difficulties of navigating with primitive equipment, at night over a darkened countryside, the captain of the L.21 believed he had bombed Liverpool, in fact around 70 miles (112.7 km) away.

The L.19 made a slow, erratic return journey, doubling back several times; this was almost certainly due to engine trouble. The Zeppelin force had been newly fitted with Maybach HSLu engines. While lighter and more powerful than those they replaced, the new engines were proving unreliable – five of the nine airships had suffered engine failures during the raid. The L.19 sent several signals, asking for a position fix by radio-triangulation and reporting the results of her bombing. The last signal was heard from her at 4pm on the day after the raid when she was 22 miles (35.4 km) north of the Dutch
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...

 island of Ameland
Ameland is a municipality and one of the West Frisian Islands off the north coast of the Netherlands. It consists mostly of sand dunes. It is the third major island of the West Frisians. It neighbours islands Terschelling to the West and Schiermonnikoog to the East...

. She reported three out of four engines had failed and her Telefunken
Telefunken is a German radio and television apparatus company, founded in Berlin in 1903, as a joint venture of Siemens & Halske and the Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft...

 radio equipment was malfunctioning.

Around an hour later, the Zeppelin drifted low over the island and Dutch units on the ground opened fire on her. The Netherlands was a neutral country and Dutch forces had standing orders to fire on overflying, foreign aircraft.There was little risk of solid bullets creating a catastrophic fire in a hydrogen-filled Zeppelin (Zeppelins destroyed by fire were generally shot down by aircraft, specially armed with a mixture of explosive, tracer
Tracer ammunition
Tracer ammunition are bullets that are built with a small pyrotechnic charge in their base. Ignited by the burning powder, the phosphorus tail burns very brightly, making the projectile visible to the naked eye...

 and incendiary
Incendiary ammunition
-World War I:One of the first uses of incendiary ammunition occurred in World War I. At the time, phosphorus—the primary ingredient in the incendiary charge—ignited upon firing, leaving a trail of blue smoke. They were also known as 'smoke tracer' for this reason. The effective range of...

 ammunition) - see Lehmann, Chapter 6 http://hydrogencommerce.com/zepplins/zeppelin6.htm. However, heavy rifle or machine-gun fire from the ground could cause many punctures in the gas bags that, given enough time, would compromise the airship's ability to remain airborne. Several German Zeppelins were lost this way.
A south wind blew the L.19 offshore and, some time during the night of the 1st/2 February, the Zeppelin came down in the North Sea. Loewe dropped a bottle into the sea, with a report on his situation and with letters to his family; this was found a few weeks later by a yacht near Gothenburg
Gothenburg is the second-largest city in Sweden and the fifth-largest in the Nordic countries. Situated on the west coast of Sweden, the city proper has a population of 519,399, with 549,839 in the urban area and total of 937,015 inhabitants in the metropolitan area...

, Sweden. The German Navy put ships to sea that night to search for the L.19, but they only discovered one of her fuel-tanks, still containing fuel. This was likely dropped as a desperate measure to save weight and remain aloft.

The King Stephen Incident

The next morning, the floating wreck of the airship was discovered by a British steam fishing trawler, the King Stephen of 162 tons, commanded by William Martin (1869–1917). The vessel had sighted distress signals during the night and had spent several hours steaming towards them. Clinging to the wreck were the airship's 16 crewIn contemporary reports, the number of surviving Germans varies wildly, with some stating there were as many as 44. In a interview by the Daily Mail
Daily Mail
The Daily Mail is a British daily middle-market tabloid newspaper owned by the Daily Mail and General Trust. First published in 1896 by Lord Northcliffe, it is the United Kingdom's second biggest-selling daily newspaper after The Sun. Its sister paper The Mail on Sunday was launched in 1982...

, William Martin himself claimed there were 30 Germans on the Zeppelin, see New York Times, 5 Feb 1916.
The normal complement of a P-class Zeppelin was 18, but Zeppelins flying on air-raids often flew short-handed, with two or three of the least needed crew-members left behind in order to save weight.

The fishing-vessel approached and Kapitänleutnant Loewe, who spoke good English, asked for rescue. Martin refused. In a later newspaper interview he stated the nine crew of the King Stephen were unarmed and badly outnumbered, and would have little chance of resisting the German airmen if, after being rescued, they hijacked his vessel and sailed it to Germany An alternative explanation for his action, suggested by a 2005 BBC
The British Broadcasting Corporation is a British public service broadcaster. Its headquarters is at Broadcasting House in the City of Westminster, London. It is the largest broadcaster in the world, with about 23,000 staff...

 documentary on the incident, is that the King Stephen was in a zone in which fishing was prohibited by the British authorities, and that Martin feared that if he returned to a British port with a large number of German prisoners, attention might have been drawn to this and he would have been banned from fishing. Ignoring the Germans' pleas for help, promises of good conduct and even offers of money, Martin sailed King Stephen away. He later said he intended to search for a Royal Navy ship to report his discovery to. However, he met none and the encounter with the L.19 was only reported to the British authorities on his return to the King Stephen's home-port of Grimsby
Grimsby is a seaport on the Humber Estuary in Lincolnshire, England. It has been the administrative centre of the unitary authority area of North East Lincolnshire since 1996...


The weather was worsening as the King Stephen departed and the Zeppelin remained afloat for only a few hours. During this time, the L.19's crew threw a bottle with messages
Message in a bottle
A message in a bottle is a form of communication whereby a message is sealed in a container and released into the sea or ocean...

 into the sea. Discovered six months later by Swedish fishermen at Marstrand
Marstrand is a seaside locality situated in Kungälv Municipality, Västra Götaland County, Sweden. It had 1,432 inhabitants in 2005. It has held city privileges since 1200. The most striking feature about Marstrand is the 17th century fortress Carlsten, named after King Carl X Gustav of Sweden. The...

, the bottle contained personal last messages from the airmen to their families and a final report from Loewe.
Royal Navy ships made a search of the area but they found no trace of the Zeppelin or her crew. The body of one of the Germans washed ashore four months later at Løkken
Until January 1, 2007 Løkken-Vrå was a municipality in North Jutland County on the northwest coast of the island of Vendsyssel-Thy at the top of the Jutland peninsula in northern Denmark. The municipality covered an area of 181 km², and hads a total population of 8,828 . Its last mayor was Knud...

 in Denmark
Denmark is a Scandinavian country in Northern Europe. The countries of Denmark and Greenland, as well as the Faroe Islands, constitute the Kingdom of Denmark . It is the southernmost of the Nordic countries, southwest of Sweden and south of Norway, and bordered to the south by Germany. Denmark...

. In 1964, a journalist researching the incident checked Admiralty
The Admiralty was formerly the authority in the Kingdom of England, and later in the United Kingdom, responsible for the command of the Royal Navy...

 archives and interviewed two surviving members of the King Stephen's crew. This revealed that Martin had indeed been fishing in a forbidden zone and had initially given the naval authorities a false position for the Zeppelin in order to conceal this, making the Royal Navy search for the airship futile.
The incident received world-wide publicity and divided British public opinion. Captain Martin was condemned by many for leaving the German airmen to die.
Others, including Arthur Winnington-Ingram
Arthur Winnington-Ingram
Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram KCVO PC was Bishop of London from 1901 to 1939.-Early life and career:He was born in Worcestershire, the fourth son of the Revd Edward Winnington-Ingram and of Louisa...

, the Bishop of London
Bishop of London
The Bishop of London is the ordinary of the Church of England Diocese of London in the Province of Canterbury.The diocese covers 458 km² of 17 boroughs of Greater London north of the River Thames and a small part of the County of Surrey...

, praised Martin's action, for placing the safety of his crew first and not trusting the promises of the Germans. Some elements of the Allied press viewed the Germans' deaths as just "retribution" for their bombing of civilian targets. German airship crews, sometimes referred to as "baby killers" or "pirates" because of their bombing of civilians, were the subject of intense Allied propaganda and public hatred.

Martin was vilified by the German press, as was the Bishop of London
Arthur Winnington-Ingram
Arthur Foley Winnington-Ingram KCVO PC was Bishop of London from 1901 to 1939.-Early life and career:He was born in Worcestershire, the fourth son of the Revd Edward Winnington-Ingram and of Louisa...

 for supporting him. The encounter between the L.19 and the King Stephen also featured in German propaganda. The scene was recreated for a German propaganda film and illustrated by an anti-British medal, designed by Karl X. Goetz who also designed the well known Lusitania medal. The incident was still remembered 25 years later, when it was used in Nazi-era, anti-British propaganda.

The King Stephen never again sailed as a fishing vessel. After her return, she was taken over by the Royal Navy for use as a Q-ship
Q-ships, also known as Q-boats, Decoy Vessels, Special Service Ships, or Mystery Ships, were heavily armed merchant ships with concealed weaponry, designed to lure submarines into making surface attacks. This gave Q-ships the chance to open fire and sink them...

, under the command of Lieutenant Tom Phillips RNR. She was sunk 12 weeks later, on the 25 April 1916. An official German communiqué, reported by the New York Times, stated she had been sunk by one of the German vessels taking part in the Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft
Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft
The Bombardment of Yarmouth and Lowestoft was a naval battle fought during the First World War between the German Empire and the British Empire in the North Sea....

. The King Stephen, now fitted with a 3 pounder Hotchkiss gun
QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss
The QF 3 pounder Hotchkiss was a light 47-mm naval gun introduced in 1886 to defend against new small fast vessels such as torpedo boats, and later submarines...

, had fired on and pursued a surfaced U-boat, but then inadvertently steamed directly into the path of the returning German fleet. She was sunk by the torpedo boat SMS G41
SMS G41 was a Großes Torpedoboot 1913 class torpedo boat of the Deutschen Kaiserliche Marine during World War I, and the 17th ship of her class.-Construction:Built by Germaniawerft in Kiel, Germany, she was launched in April 1915...

 and her crew taken prisoner.

The King Stephen's name was notorious to the Germans and Lt. Phillips was charged with war crimes upon reaching Germany. However, the charges were dropped and he and his crew were treated as normal prisoners-of-war after a photograph of William Martin was published in a British newspaper and the Germans realized they held another man. William Martin himself died of heart-failure in Grimsby, slightly over a year after encountering the L.19, on the 24 February 1917. He had received a large numbers of letters, including both letters of support and, reportedly, hate-mail and death-threats.

In July 1939, an unexploded munition (described by a press report as an "Aerial Torpedo
Aerial torpedo
The aerial torpedo, airborne torpedo or air-dropped torpedo is a naval weapon, the torpedo, designed to be dropped into water from an aircraft after which it propels itself to the target. First used in World War I, air-dropped torpedoes were used extensively in World War II, and remain in limited...

) was discovered near Kidderminster
Kidderminster is a town, in the Wyre Forest district of Worcestershire, England. It is located approximately seventeen miles south-west of Birmingham city centre and approximately fifteen miles north of Worcester city centre. The 2001 census recorded a population of 55,182 in the town...

 during renovation work on a bridge. At the time, it was believed to have been dropped by the L.19.

One of the L.19 crew's bottles, together with its messages, are surviving relics of the incident; they were displayed as part of an exhibition at the National Maritime Museum
National Maritime Museum
The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England is the leading maritime museum of the United Kingdom and may be the largest museum of its kind in the world. The historic buildings forming part of the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage Site, it also incorporates the Royal Observatory, Greenwich,...

 in London in 2001. The Aeronauticum
Aeronauticum is the official German maritime aircraft museum - located in Nordholz . The museum has a large collection of aircraft that has been used by the German Marine/Navy. The name of the museum derives from the English word Aeronautics.-External links:*...

, the German naval aviation museum in Nordholz
Nordholz is a municipality in the district of Cuxhaven, in Lower Saxony, Germany. It is situated approx. 25 km north of Bremerhaven, and 12 km southwest of Cuxhaven.Nordholz belonged to the Prince-Archbishopric of Bremen, established in 1180...

, displays one of the King Stephen's lifebelts, as well as her Red Ensign
Red Ensign
The Red Ensign or "Red Duster" is a flag that originated in the early 17th century as a British ensign flown by the Royal Navy and later specifically by British merchantmen. The precise date of its first appearance is not known, but surviving receipts indicate that the Navy was paying to have such...

flag, taken from the vessel before she was sunk.


External links

  • http://www.zeppelin-museum.dk/D/german/historie/l-19/l-19.html German language page on the L.19. With Pictures and texts of the Germans' last messages.
  • http://www.luftschiffharry.de/faq8.htm German language page on the L.19
  • King Stephen, Fleetwood Online Archve of Trawlers
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