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Zeppelins over Croydon, 13/14 October 1915

Zeppelins raided London for two nights in September 1915. On the second of these raids, a Zeppelin was seen and heard heading over South Norwood with engines shut off. It reappeared in the direction of Elmers End. There were no public warnings as the authorities felt people would panic!

One only gathered that “something was on” from the sudden silence and comparative darkness that fell upon the streets, and one missed the more distant sound of the trains, which stopped during raids. (Croydon and the Great War)

© IWM (HO 10)
In the next month Croydon, Addiscombe and South Norwood would be hit hard by Zeppelins. A bombing raid by German Zeppelins L11, L13, L14, L15 and L16 on 13 October on Central London, followed by South London and Croydon, was the ‘most ambitious’ bombing raid so far (Cole & Cheeseman, 1984: 73). 198 of the 278 bombs dropped were incendiaries; though half didn’t ignite, the aim was to stretch the capacity of London with outbreaks of fires, hit bomb factories, supply lines and undermine morale. These five airships took the lives of 71 Londoners, with 128 injured. The picture shows bombed out buildings from the raid in Whitechapel.

There were 6 sorties from the Royal Flying Corp based at Joyce Green, Hainault Farm and Suttons Farm. Nine casualties were from Croydon; including three young boys from the same family and an elderly Belgian refugee reportedly died of shock.

The Croydon raid began just after 11.20pm on the 13 October, according to official reports 14 or 18 bombs were dropped on the area by zeppelins L13 and L14. The first bomb fell in Edridge Road with further

Leslie Park Road, Croydon

bombs falling on Beech House Road, Chatsworth Road, Oval Road, Cherry Orchard Road, Addiscombe Road, Leslie Park Rd (image), Albert Rd and Stretton Road. Observers thought the airships were following the railway line from Waddon through to Norwood Junction then going south east. Two houses were wrecked by 1 bomb. Baby boy pinned down but escaped injury. In the second bomb on Beech House Road, a house collapsed with a father and 3 sons (10, 14 and 15 years old) inside, all of the sons all died.

The raid was described in Croydon and the Great Warin which an observer heard what sounded like a stream of gas, then:

A few seconds later a flash from the sky, a sudden illumination of the whole neighbourhood, a deafening explosion and violent tremors of the ground showed that the German invaders had actually reached Croydon. Explosions followed in rapid and terrifying succession as the Zeppelin crossed over Addiscombe, passed south and east of the London, Brighton railway line and then throbbed away towards Woolwich.

Stretton Road, Croydon
Observers appeared to think that the Zeppelin knew where it was going and would come back via the same route. However, German reports suggest otherwise. The Museum of Croydon produced a schools’ resource on the attack, included in which is a Report from the commander of the L14 on this attack:

In order to attack the town from the West, firstly we steered South, then to the West and at 11.30 arrived at the attack. Over Croydon 3 explosive and 10 incendiary bombs were dropped and over the Southwest part of London, Battersea and Clapham, 18 explosive bombs, many big fires and good explosive effects were observed.
While travelling over the town the ship was lit up as bright as day by numerous searchlights, 26 were counted, and was shot at from all sides very heavily with explosive grenades, which exploded very near to the ship.
Sergeant Böcker Kapitanleutnant d. Res U. Kommandant L 14.

In actual fact, the Zeppelin were flying so high – 10,000 feet roughly – that it was difficult for them to know exactly where they were. The L14 dropped four bombs on Tunbridge Wells, which Bocker mistook for Croydon, then 18 bombs on Croydon believing it to be Battersea and Clapham district. Of course, this was not known at the time and would have been little consolation for those grieving the loss of loved ones or who had lost their homes.

Moore, H. Keatley (1920), Croydon and the Great War. The Official History of the War Work of the Borough and its Citizens from 1914 to 1919, Croydon: Public Library

Museum of Croydon, Zeppelin Resources

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