Zeppelin Raid, 23/24 April,1916
A little known or recorded incident took place on the night of Easter Monday, 1916. As was customary in those days of warfare, little was reported in the press at the time. One simple account related that a Zeppelin raid had taken place over Norfolk and Suffolk, causing injury to just 2 people, not even a mention of the racehorse that was killed!
A strike of six navy Zeppelins had been planned on London prior to a naval bombardment of Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft. Strong southerly winds forced them to seek targets further north, in Suffolk and Norfolk.
L16, captained by Oberleutnant zur See, Werner Peterson, (the same Zeppelin and Commander that had bombed Bury St. Edmunds on 31st March), crossed the coast at Trimingham, at 1015 pm and took a winding course southwest, dropping a small parachute with German illustrated newspapers attached over Kimberley.
Then via Attleborough and East Harling to Thetford, reaching there around 11:30 pm, where he circled for about 20 minutes before going on the Brandon reaching Mildenhall just after mid-night.
Circling just south of Cheveley he turned northeast and passed over Newmarket at 12:30 am. Being fired upon by two machine guns Peterson retaliated.
He dropped 18 high explosive bombs across the middle of the town in a line from the Racecourse side to Warren Hill Station. Several houses near St Mary’s Square were damaged and a stable on Bury Road was badly damaged, killing a racehorse (Coup de Main).
Witnesses related that the first bomb fell behind Houldsworth Terrace on Black Bear Lane, followed by another in Regent Street, in front of “The Wheatsheaf” and then another near the “Five Bells” in St. Mary’s Square. One bomb fell on Capt. Dewhurst’s Bedford Lodge Stables, killing one horse, Coup de Main.
The only human injury was caused by a bomb which fell at Reydon Lodge (near Warren Hill station), injuring Mr. Bailey, who was watching from a window and later had to have an arm amputated. The last HE bomb fell near the Bury Toll junction and an incendiary fell on the Limekilns training rounds. He then made off towards Bury St. Edmunds.
The article below points out that two Royal Navy Air Service lorries were at the “Rutland”. What is known by very few people is that Newmarket was the HQ for the Eastern Mobile Section of the Royal Navy Air Service with motorised transport carrying guns and searchlights. Sub stations were set up at King’s Lynn, Ipswich, Lowestoft, Chelmsford and Shingle Street (between Lowestoft and Ipswich). Lest you wonder what the Navy were doing inland, the defence of the UK against air attack was vested early in the war in the Royal Navy Air Service as the Royal Flying Corps had too few aircraft to spare in France and Belgium.
The equipment of these lorries was more of nuisance value than a real threat to the Zeppelins. 1 pounder guns and machine guns had insufficient range to seriously trouble the Zeppelins. About this time (1916) the RNAS were about to hand their task to the Royal Flying Corps. It is interesting that the anti-aircraft lorries, stationed in Newmarket, failed to make any impression on Oberleutnant Peterson, who simply retaliated to shots fired at him by dropping his bombs across the town.
Oberleutnant Peterson was to be killed on 24th September that year, when he was captain of Zeppelin L32, shot down by R.F.C Lieutenant Frederick Sowerby, crashing near Braintree. His was the only body of the 22 that was identified, the rest too badly burnt, he had jumped to his death rather than burn. Buried in Braintree initially, he was re-interred years later in the German Cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffs.
- “Zeppelin Blitz The German air raids on Great Britain during the 1st World War” -Neil R Storey and
- Zeppelin Onslaught – The forgotten blitz 1914-195″ (page 93) by Ian Castle