On the night of 23rd September, in 1916 three Zeppelins targeted London. The last one to come inland, L31, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy, steered directly for the capital after crossing the coast near Rye, Kent at 11.00pm.
By 12.25am, they had reached Kenley, releasing four HE bombs which fell, evenly spaced over about 130 yards. Three bombs landed in the gardens of villas on Hall Rd and the fourth bomb landed at the junction of Hall Rd and Downs Court Rd, fracturing a gas main, bringing down telephone wires and causing damage to a lamp post and a post box. Two people were injured – a girl with leg and eye injuries and an elderly lady who was treated for shock.
The Croydon searchlight then caught L31, but Mathy dropped two parachute flares, momentarily blinding the searchlight crew, who lost the airship. They caught her again a few minutes later, and this time Croydon’s AA gun fired off a couple of rounds before another parachute flare allowed the Zeppelin to slip away unscathed.
After dropping four bombs on farms in Mitcham, Mathy commenced his main attack on Streatham, Brixton and then Kennington. He crossed the Thames and flew over Central London without dropping a single bomb, only re-commencing his attack along the Lea Bridge Rd in Leyton. From there Mathy set a course over Essex and Suffolk, crossing the coast near Great Yarmouth in Norfolk at about 2.15am.
I have tried to figure out the total number of casualties caused by L31 on this raid and I think it’s in the region of 34 dead (including 7 children) and 85 injured. Many buildings were destroyed and damaged.
Of the three Zeppelins which set out to raid London that night only Mathy’s returned safely to Germany. L31 was, however, shot down a week or so later.
Here is some rather sobering footage of the crash site of L31 on the 2nd October, 1916 at Potters Bar.