First Zeppelin shot down over Britain

By Alf Wilkinson, published 15th December 2015

2-3 September 1916

In the First World War Britain suddenly became vulnerable to aerial attack. Alf Wilkinson records a memorable turning-point in the battle against the Zeppelin menace.

On the night of the 2-3 September 1916 Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson became the first pilot to shoot down a Zeppelin raider over Britain. He was immediately acclaimed
as a hero and awarded the Victoria Cross. He was feted wherever he went, and received a bounty of £4,200 – an absolute fortune at the time. What was so special about Lieutenant Robinson’s action, and did he deserve a VC?

We are used to talking about the Blitz during the Second World War but in 1914 nothing like aerial bombing had taken place before. It was only a few years since Bleiriot had managed to cross the Channel, and the old idea of Britain as an ‘island fortress’ was still strongly held. And yet, soon after the start of the war, the German Navy had bombarded
east-coast ports – especially Hartlepool – inflicting casualties. Count von Zeppelin had been developing airships since 1900 and both the German Navy and Air Force had ordered some, seeing them primarily as airborne reconnaissance, although one did bomb Brussels in August 1914. The Kaiser was reluctant to order bombing of Britain, feeling that the reaction of neutral countries would have an impact on Germany especially...

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