Fabric from a German airship, shot down over England on September 3, 1916

by Brian Stevenson
last updated May, 2016

On the afternoon of the September 2, 1916, sixteen German airships set out for England on what was to be the biggest air raid of the war. Among these was airship SL11. The airship carried a crew of 16 men, and was commanded by Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm. Ironically, he had been born in Old Charlton, Kent, and lived in England until the age of 15.

Schramm approached London from the North, arriving over the city at about 1:30 AM on September 3. The airship began dropping its bombs on Saint Albans. Searchlights from the ground lit up the airship, and anti-aircraft guns tried in vain to hit her.

British Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson was flying his BE2c biplane on patrol that night. He spotted the German airship, and attacked straight at her. Robinson emptied two drums of incendiary rounds into the top of the airship, to no effect. He then attacked the tail from below, and this final drum of ammunition set fire to the airship’s fabric shroud and hydrogen contents. The blazing airship crashed in a field in Cuffley, Hertfordshire, killing all of the crew.

SL11 was the first German airship to be shot down over England during World War I. Fragments of the fabric shroud were sold to raise funds for the war effort. A piece was obtained by James Adams, of Dunfermline, Scotland, who mounted it into a microscope slide (Figures 1-4).

Figure 1. Microscope slide prepared by James Adams, of “Linen from the envelope of the Zeppelin brought down at Cuffley near Enfield on 3rd Sept. 1916”.


Figure 2. The airship fabric, viewed between crossed polarizing filters, with a 3.5x objective lens.


Figure 3. Viewed with normal lighting, with a 3.5x objective lens.


Figure 4. SL11 was similar in appearance to this airship.


Figure 5. Lieutenant (later Captain) William Leefe Robinson in the seat of his BE2c biplane. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for shooting down the German airship.


Figure 6. A contemporary poster.



Captain William Leefe Robinson, V.C. (accessed May, 2016) http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/vc_w_l_robinson_page6

List of Schütte-Lanz airships explained (accessed May, 2016) http://everything.explained.today/List_of_Sch%C3%BCtte-Lanz_airships/