Zeppelin attack

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On this day in 1916 Commander Heinrich Mathy and his crew climbed into the gondola of Zeppelin L31 and weighed off, heading for England.

His main target was London, but he concluded that an attack on the heavily-defended capital would be difficult because of the clear weather.

Instead he decided they would bomb the Dockyard at Portsmouth where, as Mathy pointed out to his crew, ‘nobody has ever visited and it is sure to be very interesting’.

Mathy attacked from the south. One of his crew members recorded: ‘Dozens of searchlight clusters find us and fix on us. An unearthly concert is unleashed conducted by Satan himself’, probably referring to anti-aircraft fire from Point battery and Whale Island as L31 came over the harbour.

A heavy bomb load of 8,125lb was dropped and Mathy, blinded by the searchlight, reported that ‘all bombs has fallen on the city and the Dockyard’. However, the bombs appear to have fallen harmlessly into the harbour.

Six days later L31 was attacked by a fighter pilot, Second-Lieutenant WJ Tempest over Potters Bar and the crew were burned alive.

Mathy chose to leap to his death from the plunging inferno and his body was found embedded in a field – from John Sadden’s The Portsmouth Book of Days.