HOW ONE BATTLE WAS FOUGHT
“With you fellows I’d fetch the devil out of hell.”
I found this great article in the Pottsville Republican Newspaper October 17, 1914.
Rotterdam, October 7, 1914
Much of the war gets into the German press in the form of letters which officers and privates at the front send to their families. Written by men who describe what they actually see and feel some strange mixtures of sensations experienced and actually encountered, result. One of theses appears in the Koeinische Zeitung.
“From a wild French forest on the anniversary of the battle of the Sedan (Sept.2) the best greetings: During the last two days we have been at the extreme front, after we had been given a chance to rest up and get enough to eat. Our position is a dangerous one, being well advanced into the French lines, and we are obliged to fight off many attacks on the part of the enemy much superior in numbers.
“Yesterday we fought from early morning till late at night, opposing Alpine Chasseurs and Negroes, whose courage it would be foolish to question. The woods here are very extended and cover a ground which is much broken up. They are so dense that it is often you do not see the enemy, until you are within 50 or, even 30 pacers of him, and quite frequently we get so close to the blacks that we can look into their eyes.
“We are greatly indebted to the color of our uniform. The French are constantly at a disadvantage because of their red pants and blue coats. The Alpine chasseurs are fine fellows, and in German uniform they would make a good appearance. In the French hotel porter uniform nobody looks smart. The chasseurs wear red or blue knee breeches, ribbon puttees, long blue cutaway, and a blue cap. Prisoners without arms make an appearance of utter neglect. There are prisoners taken everyday, because the ordinary French soldier, is only too ready to throw up his arms, make “hands up” and shout “Pardon”
“It is now one in the afternoon and so far we have not been disturbed. The dead are buried and now we are lying under the trees enjoying a spell of quiet and peace of the forest. I have just finished reading the newspapers to my worthless, and most of them are taking all little noon nap. Everything about us is peaceful. The Forrest is fragrant with the smell of foliage and pine needles, and the sky laughs in a wonderful blue. It is hard to believe that this is a scene on which men are butchered, the scene of what I saw yesterday. But the dull thud and thunder of artillery in the distance reminds me of this”
TWO DAYS LATER THE LETTER IS CONTINUED
“We are out of our position, Yesterday we began another advance and attack on the enemy’s position. We are still in the forest and as far as I can judge from the map there are several kilometers of it yet, part brush part high overgrowth.
“This is a dangerous territory for us, because the alternating strips of high trees and new wood make it easy for our opponents in getting the best of us. The greatest caution is necessary and our advance is a matter and taking one foot of ground after another. We just advanced 200 meters and then down for cover. Bullets begin to chirp through the air. But of the enemy nothing is seen.
“When the trees are big enough fairly good cover is offered by them. Directly the fire opens the battle line halts and falls flat to the ground, every man waiting and looking for a target. There is no shooting done her with the German rifles except one has somebody on the sight. But often there is nothing to be done but to advance again, and to frighten the fellows with our “hurrahs”. Along the lines travel stentorian, “Fix Bayonets” and then comes the command “March” and the line springs to its feet, plunges forward and a nerve taking “hurrah” smashed through the forest. The enemy’s fire begins a veritable hail of lead. Some fall but onward crashes the German line.
“As soon as we reach the positions of the enemy his fire ceases and all take to flight. Our bullets follow them and then many a “red coat” lies on the floor of the forest. But our bullets do not find a mark long, we after him only to meet with another stand and terrific hail of lead. Again we fall to the ground for cover, and this time I felt a blow, a bullet had struck my cooking utensil. I owe my life to the quick fall to the ground. For another second and I would never had risen again. Another bullet hits the ground beside me, but never mind that. Up and at them –at the very hide of the fellows.
“We soon reach our goal-a trench of a slight elevation to the left from where a heavy fire has done much damage in our line. Many of us are down and others crawl to the rear to get their wounds attended to. Now fire. The crest of our trenches becomes our target. The rattle of musketry from both sides becomes deafening. One of us will have to give in, Fire, fire! We have learned how to shoot straight-the fire in the trench weakens! The trench itself is veiled now by a cloud of dust raised by our bullets.
“Advance, comes the command again, We are all impelled forward by the mad desire to get up at them, one hundred meters separate us from the enemy. Many sacrifices are demanded in the final charge. Again the enemy’s fire weakens-then almost ceases.
“Advance, shouts somebody. The fellows must be driven out of their trenches. Some of them already are leaving, but our bullets lay them low as they run. Another halt-another advance. Only fifty meters to the trench barbed wire entanglements block our progress.
“But the fellows in the trenches have lost faith in themselves. They desert their positions in masses=running scrambling, stumbling, falling-some in a manner that shows they will never rise again. We forget to take cover, standing we pour our fire into the groups of fleeing men. Good comrade’s fall-cry for help- bid you farewell with the last breath. Farewell good friends, we must advance.
“Soon we have disposed of the enemy, who has laid so low many of us. The barbed wire is hacked through with our bayonets. We reach the trench. It is filled with writhing, struggling bodies. We aimed well. In the ditch lies a kaleidoscopic mixture of bodies swathed in blue and red-and pale ones from which glassy eyes look into the azure sky.
“But on with the pursuit. Some of us remain behind to disarm the wounded so that they cannot fire on our backs. Many another sprawls, falling on the soft forest floor.
“The height is taken but the day is not yet done. Everywhere the French have taken prisoners to stem the tide of retreat. There is yet many a bloody encounter, but we get the enemy out of the forest, and once they reach the open our waiting artillery does the rest. Our share of the work is done; the gruesome forest and its experience are ours.
Most of us had lost their comrades in the mad rush through the trees and brushwood. Indescribable were the scenes which followed when we found one another still alive.
“So we take a rest and while doing this listen to the humming and whistling of our shells as they go over us on their way to a village in which the French have sought refuge. Soon the buildings are a flame and the French again on their way.
“You have done well.” Said our corps commander. “With you fellows I’d fetch the devil out of hell.”
Pottsville Republican, October 17, 1914
Monday, September 27, 2010
Sunday, September 12, 2010
QUARTER-MASTER TERLINE'S HEROIC SACRIFICE
Flight August 10, 1916
The Daily Telegraph Paris correspondent, writing on
Sunday, says :—
" No more heroic deed has been recorded in this war than
that of Sergeant-Major Marquart de Terline, who gave his life
to bring down an enemy aeroplane. His machine gun
jammed soon after an air fight began, whereupon he deliberately
drove straight at his adversary, rammed his
machine, and both aeroplanes dropped to earth with their
passengers dead. Terline, who was 24, and had formerly
served in the Cuirassiers, had been twice mentioned in
Despatches, and had received the Military Cross for bringing
down a Fokker. He has once or twice said, ' If ever I cannot
shoot, I shall just go straight for the Boche aeroplane.'
" The fight began at 4 a.m. on Thursday, when an Albatros,
driven by a well-known German aviator, a giant with red
hair, nicknamed by the French Arminius, appeared over the
lines, making for Chalons-sur-Marne. In a few moments
three French flying men were in the air after him in wild
pursuit at 80 m.p.h. In spite of an incessant fusilade the
enemy was apparently unhit, and he was nearing his own lines,
while munitions were giving out. The three Frenchmen
resolved on desperate tactics. They endeavoured to surround
the enemy, and, should firing fail, to bring him down in sheer
collision. Two of the Frenchmen accidentally ran into each
other, and both machines fell, the aviators eventually landing
safe and sound.
" Terline was left alone, still firing his machine gun, with
the Albatros, mounted by two men, a pilot and an observer.
Suddenly his gun jammed. The enemy was some 60 ft.
below him, nearing his own lines. Arminius was still firing
his machine gun, and also shot with a carbine. Suddenly
Terline came straight down and drove his machine into the
rudder of the Albatros. Both aeroplanes fell instantly in
collision, stuck to one another for some seconds, then parted
in mid-air, and crashed to the ground just behind the French
lines at 100 yards from one another. Sergeant-Major de
Terline and his two adversaries had, of course, been killed
almost instantly. Terline, whose heroic self-sacrifice had
been watched through glasses by several officers, had been
true to his word."
The Times correspondent at the British Headquarters
WE have already recorded the heroic deed in which
Quarter-Master Marquart de Tcrline, of the French Air Service,
when his machine-gun ammunition gave out, deliberately
rammed the German Albatros machine which he and two
brother pilots were chasing, rather than allow his quarry to
regain the enemy's lines. The story has been carried a step
further by the following account given to the Paris correspondent
of the Daily Telegraph by Flight-Sergt. R ,
one of the three pilots who took part in this air-flight. On
page 663 we reproduce a drawing depicting this tragic incident,
which must be classed amongst the outstanding deeds
of the war.
" We left at 4 a.m.," says Sergt. R , " an enemy
air scout having been signalled. There were three of us,
with Terline. I sighted the enemy 20 minutes later. I was
up about 3,700 yards, and 20 kilometres from our line. My
comrades were close by, and Terline and another first attacked.
The Kokker tried spirals to escape. Being just above him, I
came down beneath and behind, and at about 30 yards
opened fire with a machine gun. It was then that the
accident happened which misled Terline, and in which I had a unmiraculous
escape. Our third aeroplane, not seeing me,
came straight into my machine, and both aeroplanes, put out
of action, dropped. Terline thought we had been shot down,
and gave his life to avenge us.
" As for me, I was certain I was done for. My machine
was dropping with a corkscrew movement, the motor still
working, and the machine gun still firing. I was suspended
beneath by straps to my seat. How I escaped and how I
managed to stop the engine and the machine gun I have not
the slightest idea. In a few seconds I dropped from 3,700 to
800 yards, and could not work the controls. At last I
managed one, whereupon the aeroplane steadied and planed
'' I was not sure, owing to the mist, whether I was in
our own lines, and when on landing I saw soldiers running up
I was just about to set fire to my machine, but I shouted,
' Qui vive ? ' and the cheering answer came ' Francais.' I
asked what had happened in the fight.
" ' The Boche was brought down right enough,' they
answered, and it was only later, when telephoning to the
base, that we heard of Terline's heroic end."
BEING AN ORDINARY INCIDENT IN THE
ORDINARY LIFE OF AN ORDINARY PILOT.
A Low Strafe
THE clouds were hanging about six hundred feet, and there
was no wind to worry about when steering a compass course
in the clouds.
I had been back from leave for four days, and in that time
I had not flown at all as it had rained and blown hard all
the time. The day was an ideal one for a low bombing show.
My chief fear was that if, for some unforeseen circumstance,
I had a forced landing, I should have to come down complete
with bombs, and as I had not flown for nearly three weeks,
my judgment would be rusty, a crash might ensue and up
I should go again (in pieces). After lunch I felt a little
braver, so that I telephoned to the sheds, ordered my machine
with bombs in half an hour, and got myself into my tidiest
suit. When all was ready I got on board and ran up my
engine. The machine had been hardly used while I was
on leave, but the Clerget gave a good eleven fifty revs.,
running very sweetly. On our aerodrome we had to " taxi "
out along a track to get on to the only part which was good
enough for taking off and landing. I punctured a tyre while
taxi-ing, a frequent occurrence, which delayed me about ten
minutes. I got off at last and climbed straight up through
the clouds over the aerodrome. The clouds were 600 feet
to 1,300 feet, and above was blue sky and bright sunshine.
I steered east for about ten minutes by compass, •which I
calculated would bring me about two miles over into Hunland,
then shut ofl the engine, shoved the nose down, and
dived through the clouds for better or worse. The first sight
I had of the ground was from six hundred -feet, but I kept on
down for another hundred feet, as I knew the Hun gunners
•would have the exact range of the clouds. I opened out
the engine and circled round to try to pick up my bearings.
The ground below me, and in fact all round presented a barren,
wasted appearance, with absolutely no signs of life. A few
scattered shell holes spotted the ground underneath me ;
while about half a mile to the east I saw the walls of a wrecked
Any farm-house within about four miles of either side of
the lines usually keeps stores or men inside it. At the
moment 1 spotted the farm I heard the rat-tat-tat of a machine
gun. His chances of hitting me were small, as all the time
I had been looking round, the Camel was dodging about,
first on one wing tip, then on the other. I flew at the farm,
steering a zig-zag course all the way. I did a " split " turn
over the farm.and although I could see no men actually moving
about I knew it was a fortified post, because of trenches and
fortifications which had a knavish look. By this time I
began to feel that the sooner I was rid of my bombs the
better. I flew straight across the farm-house at about five
hundred feet, and pulled my bomb release four times quickly,
immediately afterwards " zooming " up on a climbing turn.
I heard zonc-zonc-zonc; the last bomb I did not hear.
I looked down at the farm and saw a cloud of smoke and debris,
but waited no longer to see any further damage, as things
would shortly be very unhealthy. I got up into the clouds,
and steered south-east for about ten minutes by which time
I judged I should be about eight miles over, and on the southern
section of our front. I came hurtling through the clouds,
straight on top of a main road with trees on either side. I
was almost too far East to 'be troubled by hate, unless
by bad luck I struck a town, and the main road presented
a deserted appearance. I turned and flew north up it, at
about 60 feet from the ground below the trees, as on all low
shows, the lower one flies the safer. Suddenly I met a convoy
of about twenty grey lorries coming
up the road towards me. Most of the lorries had open fronts
with two or three men on the front seats. We came straight
for each other, head to head, when, at about a hundred and
twenty yards range I opened fire with both my Vickers guns.
The lorries stopped all in a hurry. The driver of the Iront
lorry fell down in his seat, while the other two men jumped
down and fled for the ditch.
A few men jumped from the backs of the lorries into the
road, caught sight of the aeroplane flying between the trees
up and down the convoy, hesitated whether to run for it,
lie down or get back from whence they came. Sensible ones
lay down, pretending to be hit, foolish ones ran for the
ditch, presenting a good target as they ran ; while the most
foolish tried to clamber up to the lorries, presenting: a glorious
stationary target for my two Vickers guns. Some dropped
down under the lorries, others in the road, others in the
ditch. They must have had casualties, but to what extent
it was impossible to say as they all lay still, the shot and
Not a man moved, not a car moved within a minute of
my arrival. All the lorries were deserted and stationary in
the middle of the road. As there was no further object in
staying there, I flew up the road again. By bad luck, I only
met a few parties of odd men walking along the road. They
all performed the same antics, of rushing about, hesitating
where to go, in a panic, before lying down in the ditch or road.
Both of these places must have been extraordinarily damp
and cold after all the rain.
After another two miles of road, going in a north-west
direction, I judged that soon I should probably be running
across something unpleasant in the way of " hate," so,
discretion being the better part of valour, I pulled up into
the clouds, steered due west for about fifteen minutes, and
then came out five miles our side of the lines in country
I knew well. I " contour chased " (i.e., flew between trees)
all the way home, made a dud landing, a huge tea and an
enormous dinner. . • H. B.
A FULL DAY.
The Famous Zepplin Captain. Lt. Commander Henrich Mathy
This is a fasinating story told to the New York World MAgazine By Captain Mathy
THE ZEPPELIN CAPTAINS STORY
NEW YORK WORLD MAGAZINE OCTOBER 1915
THE following narrative has been published in the New
York World, and is the version given by Commander
Mathy, who was in charge of the airship which recently
visited London and scattered promiscuous murder
around amongst women, children and non-combatants, to
Mr. Karl von Wiegand, the World's correspondent in
Germany. We reprint the story, as a picturesque account
of what the narrator thinks (or the contrary) occurred.
As a journalistic effort it has considerable merit. As a
recital of facts anything more ludicrous can hardly be
imagined. We are prepared to accept the details of
what happened in the Zeppelin. If they are not facts, at
least they are painted with the brush of a consummate
artist; but if they are as accurate as the rest of the story,
well after reading the note of the Home Office
which prefaces Commander Mathy's little effort, let the
Zeppelin pilot speak for himself and be judged by facts
as we know them.
THE following is passed by the Home Office /or publication, with the
comment that it contains numerous statements which are quite
untrue, and one (to the effect that an anti-aircraft gun has been
placed under cover of St. Paul’s) which can only he characterized as
a falsehood apparently invented to excuse what German aircraft are
attempting to do.
London is a vast military centre and military-defended city in
every sense of the laws of war, written or unwritten, as applicable
to aerial warfare. Therefore property, from point of aerial attack,
so far concerns everything usable for military purposes, such as big
railway stations, banks, docks, shipyards, and industrial establishments.
If anyone believes London, is- not ' defended,' and pretty
well defended at that, he should have stood by my side in the front
gondola of my Zeppelin in my last attack on London a few nights
ago, and seen the red, angry flashes of scores of cannon belching
shrapnel at my craft."
So spoke Lieut.-Commander Mathy, of the Zeppelin aerial
cruiser squadron of the German Navy.
The day of battles in the air and attacks from the air, of which
romance writers have long dreamed prophetic, though, perhaps,
somewhat fantastic dreams, has come to stay. Only the future can
tell how much of the futuristic, impressionistic visions in the air
pictured by fictionists in their romances on the subject may come
true. Years ago anyone who would have believed Jutes Verne's
dreams would become more or less a reality would have been regarded
as being not entirely normal. Two years' training and service
in the big Zeppelin cruisers of Germany's airship fleet attached to
our Navy convinces me we are only at the dawn of day of war in
the air and from the air, and only at the beginning of a great era of
development of aerial crafts which will have great bearing on future
To-day I was so fortunate as to have an opportunity to talk with
the man in command of the latest aerial attack on London.
Mathy is commander of the L , one of Count Zeppelin's
latest, biggest, and fastest cruisers of Germany's aerial fleet, the
value of which as scouting craft for the navy has been much underestimated
abroad, and as fighting craft have, as Count Zeppelin told me in February, by no means reached their final development.
That, despite their size, they are not so easily hit and brought down
as has been the general impression is evident from the fact that the
Germans lost no Zeppelins in any of the numerous attacks on
England. Attacking under the cover of night, coming and going
with great speed, and disappearing within a few minutes, they are
like a vision in the night. The aero planes of England's flying
corps have so far proved no defense against the Zeppelin raids.
Mathy is a man of perhaps thirty-four years, with closely-cropped
hair, which gives him the appearance of an entirely bald, smooth faced
figure, slender and supple as a young woman. He was
formerly commander of a destroyer in the torpedo flotilla. Like
officers of German submarines I have met, he made the impression
of being all nerves, and those nerves of steel.
Mathy and his Zeppelin have participated in every attack made
on England from the air. His last, which was on the downtown
City of London, was his " century Zeppelin run," or hundredth
voyage in the air, counting his training and trial trips, he told
What I call luck has played a big part with me," he declared.
And Mathy has been lucky. Despite something which I cannot
mention, but which every superstitious believer in omens and signs
would regard as a very magnet of disaster and ill-luck, Mathy has
been lucky. The day before its destruction he was on a Zeppelin
which I saw burned and destroyed in the air above Johannistal two
years ago, and only missed that trip by some manie (?). He was
on a navy Zeppelin the day before the craft was wrecked in a storm
on the North Sea off Denmark two years ago, and in some way
missed the voyage on the fatal day.
As nothing in this war has appealed more to the popular imagination
or awakened greater interest than the war under sea and in the
air, I asked Mathy to tell me about his last attack on London. I
will so far as I can without disclosing what might touch upon
military secrets, and that is pretty much everything about a
Zeppelin. Even the secrets of Germany's famous submarines are
not guarded as closely or jealously as the Zeppelins. I have been
aboard one of the largest U boats and looked through the periscopes,
went through from stem to stern, but have never been able to get
within gunshot of one of the Zeppelin harbors. Even the officers
and crew of war Zeppelins have been carefully kept away from
correspondents, or, rather, the correspondents away from them.
I promised Mathy I wouldn't ask him any questions that would
get him into trouble with the Admiralty.
It was my hundredth Zeppelin cruise, counting my training
trips, and I was much interested in it because of that, and wondered
whether I would safely round out my century," said the commander
of the L . " I had taken my Zeppelin in safety to England and
back several times, and learned something of value each trip applicable
to the next time. The first time I took my Zeppelin to
England it was something akin to discovering a new country, and
my impressions were much more vivid than now. It and some of
the following were more or less experimental. We had much to
learn, despite all our practice and training. It was a new sort of
warfare, in which we had, more or less, to feel our way and study
aerial strategy, aerial tactics, and to learn to locate in darkness the
military points and objects we desired to attack.
We had to study the aerial currents above the North Sea and
England. What we have done to England so far is by no means
all that we can do now that we have learned many things we did
not know and are necessary to know. The Zeppelins had to be
their own scouts and information gatherers. Now, for the first time,
my instructions were to attack certain points in the downtown City of
London, such as railway stations, bridges, industrial establishments.
Strict orders to do everything possible to avoid hitting St. Paul's
and other churches, museums, Palace, Westminster Abbey,
Parliament, and, of course, residential districts.
I want to say there's not an officer or man in the aerial fleet
who doesn't feel it as deeply when he learns that women and
children and other non-combatants are killed, as does a gunner or
commander of big guns when he hears his shell didn't strike exactly
where he wanted it to, and resulted in the death and injury of noncombatants.
In fact, I would much rather stand on the bridge of
a torpedo-boat, fighting ship against ship, than attack a city from
the air, although not because the danger to me is much greater in
L e t me say that a Zeppelin voyage to England and back
depends largely on the weather and wind conditions. If very
favorable it can be made in less time with our new fast cruisers.
But you want to know about my last attack on London.
The weather stations and meteorological balloons attached to
the aerial service reported favorable conditions. The colder the
weather the more we can carry. The temperature was quite cool
when we started, with full magazine bombs which constitute
Zeppelin ammunition, and not much unlike shells fired from a ship
or siege artillery, which, after all, come through the air, too.
Soon we were out over the North Sea and moving upon
England through the air at a lively speed with a favorable wind.
Back of us were the receding shores of Germany, below us the
white-capped billows of the North Sea like a watery desert in
motion stretching out as far as we can see, without a sign of life
except a single fishing craft."
What was the principal emotion or impression up there on the
bridge of your Zeppelin ? " I asked the man who makes war from
My chief impression was speed, and we get very cold. Our
new Zeppelins are very much faster than a ship, and I always think
of the great difference in wind pressure as compared when I stood
on the bridge of my ship. Formerly when commanders' gondolas
on older Zeppelins were entirely open this was even more marked.
Our new ones have somewhat of a protection in the form of a
windbreak. But it's intensely cold 3,000 to 5,000 or more feet in
the air, moving at the speed. There is no chance to move about
much, of Course ; no way of warming pilots of aero planes, and
wearing thick felt boots. Despite that we get cold, very cold, especially
on the last trip. We ate before we started, then occasionally
took a pull at a Thermos bottle of hot coffee or tea."
" Nothing stronger, commander?" I broke in.
" No, absolutely nothing stronger."
Zeppelins have neither bar, kitchen nor dining-room. Zeppelins
are teetotalers. We have got to have clear heads up there, and cool
steady nerves, the nerves which spirits don't necessarily furnish.
And we can't while away our time between firing—for we call it
firing, too—and dodging shrapnel by smoking. A Zeppelin is the
strictest Sunday School institution ; there is no stink nor smoke.
Each man's pockets are his pantry, for he carries a snack. I take a
bottle of cognac, along with some first aid material, in case someone
gets hit." " N o doctor?" " No, we carry no doctor. If a shrapnel
ball hits any of us we bandage the wounded man as best we can,
and give him a drink of cognac, and he has to wait until we get
back. If we were brought down I guess there would be doctors
there, if we needed any, which would be unlikely. But to return to
In short, terse, staccato-like sentences Mathy told the story of the
attack. " As the sun sank in the west we were still a considerable
distance out over the North Sea. Below us it was rapidly getting
dark, but was still light up where we were. On one side or the
other was a Zeppelin, in grey war paint, like that of my craft, visible
in the waning light against the clear sky, gliding majestically
through the air. A low, mist-like fog hung over the spot in the
distance where England was. Stars came out and it grew colder.
We took another pull at our Thermos bottles and ate something. As
we neared the coast I set the elevating planes to go still higher in
order that our motors might not disclose our presence too soon.
I cannot tell you exactly the time or place we crossed the
coast-line, as that might be an advantage to the enemy. Men went
to the guns which fight off airmen should we be attacked, and the
others were each at his post. My lieutenant took his place at the
' firing apparatus,' which releases bombs and controls the speed or
rapidity with which they are dropped according to my orders from
the bridge on the front gondola. It is a cold, clear, star-lit night,
with no moon—one of those nights when distances and objects in
looking toward the sky are illusive, and it is difficult to get the range
on rapidly-moving objects, while our instruments tell us exactly how
high we are.
The mist disappeared, and in the distance we can see the
Thames river, which points the way to London. It is an indestructible
guide-post, and a sure road to the great city. The English can darken London as much as they like, they can never eradicate or cover up the Thames. It is our great orientation point
from which we can always get our bearings and pick up any point
in London we desire. That doesn't mean that we always come up
along the Thames, by any means. London is darkened, but was so
sufficiently lighted that on this night I saw a reflected glow in the
sky sixty kilometers away shortly before ten o'clock. I headed
straight for the glow in the sky, and then a point on the Thames, to
get my bearings for my objective attacks.
Soon the city was outlined, still and silent, below in the
distance. There were dark spots which stood out from the blur of
lights in the well-lit portions. The residential sections were not
much darkened. It was the dark spots I was after, and I bore
down upon them, as they marked the downtown portion of the
city. A large city seen at night from a great height is a fairy-like
picture. We were too high to see human beings in the streets
below. There was no sign of life, except in the distance moving
lights, which were probably railroad trains. All seems still and
quiet; no noise ascends from below that penetrates the sputtering
motors and whirring propellers. As if in the twinkling of an eye
all this changes. There is a sudden flash, and a narrow band of
brilliant light reaches out from below, and begins to feel around the
sky, a second, a third, a fourth, a fifth, until soon there are more
than a score of criss-crossing ribbons. As viewed from a Zeppelin,
it looks as if the city had suddenly come to life, waving its arms
around the sky, and sending out feelers for the danger that threatens.
But our impression was more, that they are tentacles seeking to drag
us to destruction.
London keeps a good watch on the sky. Our motors and
propellers soon revealed our presence. First one, then another and
another of those ribbons shooting out from the glaring, eye-like
searchlights, pick us up. Now from below comes an ominous sound
that penetrates the noise of our motors and propellers. There are
little red flashes and short bursts of fire which stand out prominently
against the black background. From north, from south, from right,
from left they appear, and following the flashes rolls up from below
the sound of guns.
It is a beautiful, impressive, but fleeting picture as seen from
above, probably no less interesting from below, the greyish, dim
outline of the Zeppelins gliding through the waving ribbons of light
and shrapnel cloudlets which hang thick. We can see thousand of
small lamps, and amidst these, especially in the black spots, the
baleful, gleaming, great eye-like searchlights, and constant red
flashes from many guns. But we have no time to admire ; our eyes
and mind must be concentrated on our work, for any moment we
may be plunged below a shapeless mass of wreckage and human
bodies shattered beyond recognition. You saw it at Johannisthal
two years ago. I had so little time to register impressions that I
have to think back now to give you a descriptive word picture of
the scene. When first the searchlight picks you up you see the first
flash of guns from below : your nerves get a little shock, but then
you steady down, and put your mind on what you are there for. I
picked up St. Paul's, and with that point of orientation laid a course
for the Bank of England.
There was a big searchlight in the immediate vicinity of
St. Paul's, and the English had placed a battery of guns under cover
of that church, as I could plainly see from the flashes as they
belched shrapnel at us. Perhaps from a military standpoint 1 would,
under the circumstances, have been justified in dropping bombs on
the battery, which was very near St. Paul's, but had neither the
desire nor the intention to do so, for fear possibly of damaging the
church. However, I don't think the English should use churches,
museums and similar buildings as a cover or protection for their
guns. Although we had been fired upon from all sides we had not
yet dropped a bomb. Above the Bank of England I shouted
through the speaking-tube connecting me with my lieutenant at the
firing apparatus, ' Fire slowly.' Now, mingling with the dim
thunder and vivid flash of the guns below, came the explosions and
burst of flames from our bombs. With the mind solely concentrated
on picking out places previously on the program for attack as being
factors having a military bearing on the preparation, concentration
or transportation of troops, or places of other military use, and
on stopping the Zeppelin and directing the firing, the comparatively
short time above London appeared much longer than it actually was.
We soon observed flames bursting forth from several places.
Over to what extent damage was done I could not determine.
Flashes from the Tower showed guns placed there which I had
already observed on a previous attack. They were keeping up a
lively fire. Maneuvering and arriving directly over Liverpool Street
Station, I shouted ' Rapid fire' through the tube, and bombs rained
down. There were a succession of detonations and bursts of fire,
and I could see that we had hit well and apparently done great
damage, which has been confirmed by reliable reports we have since
received. Flames burst forth from several places in that vicinity.
" Having dropped all my bombs I turned my ship for home.
My orders had been carried out, and carried out quickly. Despite
the bombardment of the sky we had not been hit. Several times I
leaned out and looked up and back at the dark outlines of my
Zeppelin, but she had no hole in her grey sides. In point of
damage done, and hitting objects which I had received instructions
to attack, it was my most successful trip in London or the vicinity.
Ascending or descending until we found a favorable wind current
we made a quick return."
How long were you over London ? " I asked the Lieutenant Commander,
or captain-lieutenant, as is that title in German, and
upon whose left breast was the Iron Cross of the First Class.
" The main attack was from 10.50 to 11, just ten minutes."
" Then the Zeppelin tactics of attack are to make a dash to
points to be bombarded and quickly get away ?"
"Yes ; attacks must be short and quick."
The carefulness with which the plans of attack are studied beforehand
developed during our talk. Mathy mentioned figures and
seemed to know to a yard how far it was from St. Paul's to the
Bank of England, thence the Tower and the different railway
stations, and how long it took his Zeppelin, given the velocity of the
wind and the revolutions of the propellers, to cover those distances.
He often referred to new instruments and apparatus in use in
Zeppelins for navigation, locating and measuring objects below, and
controlling dropping bombs. This gave me the impression that
there has been much research, experimenting and considerable
progress along those lines in recent months. There are a number
of interesting facts in connection with Zeppelins which, for obvious
reasons, I cannot include in this story, among others the number of
hours it now takes to make a dash to London and return. There is
good reason for assuming that in the latest Zeppelins there are
many improvements, that they are much faster, can carry more, and
go higher than formerly. Count Zeppelin told me in February that
those were three things he was working on.
Asked from what height he attacked London on the last raid, the
Zeppelin commander replied, " Sorry, but I don't want you to give
the English their range. They are doing well enough as it is, and
Holborn Viaduct, in the vicinity of Holborn station, we dropped
several bombs. From the Bank of England to the Tower was a
short distance. I tried to hit the bridge, and believe I was successful
Balfour said London was not a fortified city, and that its
defenses against aerial attack were poor," I ventured.
" We know there are several forts and batteries around the City
and outside, and had he stood by my side a few nights ago and
looked into those flashing guns, all over, he wouldn't say London
was not a militarily defended city, and perhaps not think so poorly
of its aerial defense."
When I asked how many bombs he carried and their size, Mathy
remarked that, much as he would like to oblige me, that was a
military question. "We carry two kinds of explosive bombs, and
similar shells and fire bombs for destruction by fire. I cannot tell
you their size, but they are of tremendous destructive force, as
probably you could convince yourself if you could see around
Liverpool Street Station. The number we carry depends largely
on the distance we intend covering, and the quantity of benzene for
the motors it is necessary to take." Mathy intimated that the new
Zeppelins have a considerably greater radius of action than
London and back. I asked the Zeppelin commander if he
had ever been attacked by aero planes on any of his raids on
I have never experienced a fight with an aero plane ; in fact,
have never been bothered by them. Men are always at my guns
watching for them, but so far none has attempted an attack. We
are pretty well prepared for them." He remarked, significantly :
I am not afraid of them, and think I could make it interesting
and take care of them unless, perhaps, there was a regular swarm.
So far as aero plane corps tor the defense of London could be
effective, it must be remembered that it takes some time for an
aero plane to screw itself up as high as we are, and by the time it
gets there we are gone. Then, too, a great difficulty is for the
aero plane to land at night, while we can stay up all night and longer,
if need be.
In my trips to and from Denmark I have observed Zeppelins out
as far as Copenhagen scouting for enemy ships. My impression is
that they have been of valuable service to the German Navy as
scouts, and this is confirmed by some things Mathy said.
What could a fleet of twenty-five or more Zeppelins do in an
attack on London ? " was my parting question to the commander.
If you mean an attack without consideration for anything or
anyone, that would be terrible, awful. Zeppelins then could stay
much higher than now, when we have to pick out certain points.
Such a fleet could probably cause more than a thousand fires, and
would mean the destruction of the greater part of London ; but I
don't think there is any danger of that. We have no wish to destroy
indiscriminately or to injure and kill women, children and other
Capitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy up until his death in
1916 was one of the most experienced airship captains of
He was a member of the German Naval Air Service.
He had flown over 14 combat flights during his career as a Zeppelin
He actually made the most successful single raid of a German Zeppelin,
the L-13 on London during the war.
Mathy was killed on October 1, 1916, while flying one of the new larger supper Zeppelin.