I am a Tombstone Tourist: someone who loves to wander cemeteries. I find it akin to visiting a museum: an opportunity to enjoy rarely seen sculpture, intricate carvings, and amazing architecture, all in a tranquil outdoor setting. This blog is about cemetery culture, art, history, issues of death, and genealogy - subjects of current relevance. I usually find something that intrigues me and makes me want to dig deeper. Care to join me? Read on...
Friday, January 29, 2016
WWI Zeppelin Crew Left To Die In North Sea - 1916
is hell” so the old adage goes. Far too true for the 16 German soldiers that
survived the crash of a Zeppelin in the North Sea, only to be left to die by a
British skipper and his crew.
Capt. Odo Lowe
was January 31, 1916 when nine German zeppelins headed out to bomb the English
Midlands. Commanded by Captain Lieutenant Odo Lowe, the L-19, a German Imperial
Navy Zeppelin, was on her first bombing raid after having spent the previous
autumn as a scouting vessel over the North Sea.
surprise raid was one of the largest launched against Britain during WW1. It
was considered a success with the Germans dropping close to 400 bombs on the villages of Burton
on Trent, Birmingham and Tipton. The
L-19 caused no damage, unlike her sister ships, which killed more than 70
people and injured another 113.
on her return flight, engine problems began to develop for the L-19. With a malfunctioning
radio, and three of her four engines failing, the airship came under fire from
the Dutch as it drifted over Holland, a neutral country. The shooting
punctured the gas cells, and the airship crashed into the North Sea
during the night of February 1 – 2, 1916. Two crew members were killed, but 15
men and Captain Lowe survived.
Print of L-19 and King Stephen Fishing Vessel
next morning, February 2, the King
Stephen, a British fishing vessel, arrived at the wreckage site, after
following the L-19’s distress signals for most of the night. The trawler’s skipper, William Martin with his crew of nine men, waited until daylight before
approaching the broken zeppelin. There they discovered 16 German soldiers waiting on top of the sinking airship. Captain Lowe requested that his men be
rescued, but Martin refused to give aid.Instead
he sailed back to his homeport of Grimsby, Britain before reporting the downed
airship to authorities.
weather was growing worse as the airmen watched Martin’s vessel
disappear. Those that could wrote out short messages for their loved ones and placed
them in bottles to be thrown into the sea.
Lowe’s final note read:
"With fifteen men on
the top platform and backbone girder of the L 19, floating without gondolas in
approximately 3 degrees East longitude, I am attempting to send a last report.
Engine trouble three times repeated, a light wind on the return journey delayed
our return and, in the mist, carried us over Holland where I was received with
heavy rifle fire; the ship became heavy and simultaneously three engines broke
down. 2 February 1916, towards one o'clock, will apparently be our last hour.”
said later that he refused to rescue the airmen because he was afraid the Germans
would overpower his crew and take control of the boat.
Almost 50 years later a
remaining crewman reported that Martin had been fishing in prohibited waters
and knew if he’d returned with rescued soldiers, he would have had to report where
he had been, which would have resulted in his being banned from
fishing for breaking the law. Instead, the skipper gave Royal Navy authorities
false coordinates for the downed zeppelin so no one would ever know he'd been fishing illegally.
British, and the world, were divided on their sentiments. Some saw Martin’s act
of abandonment as necessary in order to protect his crew. Others saw it as an
act of retribution for the Germans having bombed civilian targets on January 31.
still others felt that Martin’s refusal to save the men had been unpardonably
cruel. The thought of leaving 16 helpless men to drowned in the North Sea –
enemy or not – did not sit well with the morality of British citizens.
German Propaganda medal
Germans used the incident for propaganda with an anti-British medal
designedshowing the men on the L-19 being abandoned to the sea.
English Postal Box
King Stephen never sailed again as a
fishing vessel. The British Navy took it over as a Q-ship, and the Germans sunk
it three months later. Captain William Martin died just over a year after the
incident of heart failure. During his last year, Martin continued to receive
letters and messages of support, along with death threats and hate mail.