The day German Zeppelin targeted Eldon

Some one hundred and one years ago this month, south-west Durham was to briefly confront at first hand the harsh reality of the ongoing conflict with the German nation.

Whilst north-eastern coastal settlements such as Whitby, Hartlepool and Scarborough had been heavily shelled from the sea in 1914, with significant casualties, a direct incursion into south-west Durham was a relatively rare event (although parts of East Anglia had suffered Zeppelin raids as early as
January 1915).

That said, in the early hours of 6th April 1916, the chugging sound of Zeppelin engines could be heard over County Durham.

The German airship, which arrived that night, was marine airship L16, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Werner Peterson, based at the Zeppelin base at Hage on the German North Sea coast.

When at 11.30pm on 5th April, Petersen made landfall over the north-east coast north of Hartlepool, he thought he was north of
Scarborough and planning a raid on Leeds.

He passed over Bishop Auckland, which he took to be Leeds, and was attracted by the burning fires of Randolph Colliery, which he assumed to be an industrial area.

He dropped twenty three bombs on the village of Evenwood, which destroyed fifteen cottages and damaged another seventy.

It is very odd to think Bishop Auckland could be mistaken for Leeds in this way, but this was long before the invention of radar, and Zeppelins had to fly very high to avoid anti-aircraft fire. One incendiary bullet hitting the hydrogen filled balloon could have completely destroyed the ship.

Having bombed Evenwood, Petersen turned homeward, passing over Eldon Lane School, where a bomb was dropped just outside the boundary wall.

Nearly all the glass panes on the west side of the school were destroyed; the school was subsequently closed for repairs and did not re-open until 12th April.

Seven bombs were dropped in the fields, between the school and Auckland Park; some close to the coke ovens.

A bomb landed on a house in Gibson Street, Close House, tragically killing the young son of a family living there.

Other bombs were dropped in the area around Eldon Colliery; although no significant damage was done to the Colliery, five people were injured.

L16 was to fly out over Seaham Harbour, pursued by defence aircraft using pilots from Cramlington and Beverley, but they were unable to locate the airship.

However this Zeppelin’s further operational capability was limited; after a total of 132 flights, many under the command of Werner Petersen, it was wrecked whilst attempting to land at Northolz, near Hamburg, on 19th October 2017.

Due to press censorship, there were no reports of the raids on Evenwood and Eldon in the local press.

A Home Office report did appear in the Times newspaper on Friday 7th April, incorrectly recording injuries to two men, one woman and a child.

The Times, the following day, also reported on the inquest into the sad death of the child.

The Coroner recorded a verdict that the child was killed by an incendiary bomb dropped by an enemy aircraft.

At the inquest, a police inspector reported that there was a hole in the roof of the Gibson Street property and another witness said he had
made several attempts to crawl along the floor and pull the child free, but was overcome by the fumes.

There was to be further threats from Zeppelins in the area.

The Eldon Lane School log, of the 3rd May 1916, stated that the children had not slept during the night and 109 were absent the next day not fit to do any work.

In June 1917 the German military stopped using Zeppelins for bombing, but not before over 1,500 people fell victim, either killed or injured, to this rather unusual terror from the sky.

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