THIS newspaper has often featured the day in October 1940 when the Second World War came to Worcester as a lone German plane dropped two bombs on the Meco factory in Bromyard Road, killing seven people and injuring 50 more.

But what is rarely mentioned is an equally terrifying episode that occurred during the First World War when a gigantic German airship cruised the skies above Worcestershire launching incendiary and high explosive bombs with impunity.

The saga of Zeppelin L19 and the controversy surrounding her demise is being revisited again by aviation author Mike Mullins as he prepares his latest book Early Ballooning and Flying in Worcester. Mike’s interest covers the county’s connection with air travel during both war and peace, but not much compares with the story of L19.

Captained by Odo Loewe and with a crew of 15, the airship was one of nine Imperial German Navy Zeppelins that left the Danish base at Tondern at noon on January 31, 1916 tasked with bombing “targets of opportunity” in southern and central England.

L19 crossed the North Sea and arrived in England at about 6.20pm near Sheringham, Norfolk, but soon began suffering engine problems, which made her course erratic. After flying over Loughborough, the Zeppelin passed to the west of Birmingham, before wandering for some time above the Worcestershire countryside between Stourbridge, Kidderminster and Bromsgrove.

The huge lumbering object in the sky must have both frightened and fascinated people on the ground still living in a horse-drawn world. It was more than 530ft long (about one and a half football pitches) and 62ft wide and unknown to those below, it carried one and a half tons of high explosive bombs.

Many years later a bomb was unearthed in Worcester Road, Kidderminster, which must have been dropped by L19. The find was in July 1939, when workmen of Worcestershire Highways Department were erecting a coffer dam to repair the old iron bridge over the river.

The bomb was reported to weigh about 50lbs, and was about 2ft long, with fins. It was 14ft below the river bank and was live. It hadn’t exploded because it fell on soft ground.

During its foray in 1916, the Zeppelin dropped five HE bombs on Ocker Hill Colliery, near Tipton and then over Dudley dropped 17 incendiary bombs. One fell in the grain shed at the railway station causing minor damage, while the rest all fell in fields or in the grounds of Dudley Castle.

Shortly after, L 19 was back over Tipton where it dropped another 11 HE bombs; these caused considerable damage over the western part of the town, wrecking the Bush Inn amongst other buildings.

Loewe dropped his last three bombs, all HE, on Walsall. One that landed in the Birchills district, damaged St. Andrews church and the vicarage, while another in the Pleck district landed on a stable, killing farm animals.

Although the bombs dropped from L19 caused no loss of human life, those dropped earlier by its sister-ship L21, killed 35 people in the area. A total of 61 people were killed and 101 injured by the nine airships in the raid.

However there was trouble in store for L19. Still struggling with engine problems she set off slowly for home, but approaching the coast of neutral Holland, soldiers opened fire hitting the airship. The resultant loss of hydrogen caused L19 to descend and three of the four troubled engines broke down completely.

Then a southerly wind blew her back over the North Sea until she could remain airborne no longer. Having ditched in the sea, L19 sent out distress flares.

At about 7.30am the following morning a British trawler, the King Stephen, spotted the distress flares and came across the partially submerged wreckage of L19 with the crew of sixteen clinging on to the top of the airship. Hope of rescue rose as Loewe, the English-speaking German airship captain, hailed the King Stephen and asked for his crew to be taken aboard. The airship crew were armed, but they promised to surrender and even offered money.

Trawler captain William Martin faced a difficult decision. He was worried his small unarmed fishing crew would be overpowered if they attempted rescue and would be forced to sail to Germany where they would become prisoners.

So Martin refused to rescue the L19 crew and set sail back to Grimsby about 95 miles away, leaving the men clinging to the fabric of the airship. By the time he reported what he had seen it was too late. The Royal Navy launched a rescue but L19 had sunk without trace and with the loss of all on board. It was the end of the line for the Zeppelin that darkened the skies over Worcestershire.

PS: Captain Martin later admitted to being fishing illegally that day and gave the RN false co-ordinates, which hampered the subsequent search.