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Curtis Large America H12
Curtis H12 Flying Boat 8677

On this day 14 May 1917

Published: 14 May 2013

On this day 14 May 1917, Destruction of Zeppelin L.22 by Flying Boat

Report by Flight Lieutenant C J Galpin on the destruction of Zeppelin L.22 on 14 may 1917, addressed to the Commanding Officer RN Air Sation Great Yarmouth, dated 14 May 1917. (Air 1/660)

I have the honour to submit the following report on the patrol carried out on May 14th 1917 by Curtiss Flying Boat type H.12 No 8666. The crew of the boat consisted Flight Sub Lieutenent R Leckie (pilot) CPO Whatling (W/T observer), Air Mechanic J R Laycock (engineer) and myself. She was armed with three Lewis Guns with Brock, Pomeroy and Buckingham ammunition, four 100lb bombs, W/T apparatus, and carried 40 additional gallons of petrol in tins.

Weather was thick, the water being invisible from between 20 and 200ft, but at heights over 1500ft this low bank of cloud could be seen through giving a visibility of about a mile. Sky overcast, fog and rain to West and South. Wind SE about 10-15 mph. Twenty miles from the TEXEL these conditions disappeared and a clear visibility of 15 to 20 miles was obtained.

In accordance with your orders we left Yarmouth at 3:30am GMT and kept a course of 80deg until 4:45am to make Terschelling LV. At 4:15 I relieved Flt Sub Lt Leckie at the wheel, and when 80 miles from Yarmouth we ceased W/T communication to avoid discovery. At 4:48am we sighted a Zeppelin dead ahead about 10-15 miles away and end on. We were then cruising at 60 knots at 5,000ft and two minutes later passed the Terschelling LV on our port hand. We increased speed to 65 kts and 6,000ft. The Zeppelin appeared to be at about 3,000ft. We dropped three of the bombs to lighten ship at 5:00am and Flight Sub Lt Leckie took over the wheel again. CPO Watling went aft to the rear gun and I went forward to the two Lewis Guns mounted parallel in the bow. The Zeppelin turned North and then North East exposing her broadside and I conclude she was coming SW when we first saw her, and had now reched the limit of her patrol. We were then about two miles astern of her so increased speed to 75 kts descending to 5,00ft. She seemed as yet unaware of us probably owing to our background of dark fog and cloud; but when we came within half a mile of her she put her nose up and seemed to increase speed. We dived at her 90kts coming up slightly astern at 3,8000ft where we levelled out to 75kts. In this position we overhauled her on the starboard quarter about 20ft below the level of the gondolas. I opened fire with both guns at 50yds range and observed incendiary bullets entering the envelope on the starboard quarter slightly below the middle. After a few rounds the port gun jammed but the starboard gun fired nearly a complete tray before jammimg also. We were then 100ft from her and turned hard a starboard while I tried to clear the starboard gun. As we began to turn I thought I saw aslight glow inside the envelope and 15 seconds later when she came in sight on our other side she was hanging tail down at an angle of 45degrees with the lower half of her envelope thoroughly alight. Five or six seconds later the whole ship was a glowing mass and she fell vertically by the tail. CPO Whatling observing from the after hatch saw the number L22 painted under the nose before it was consumed. He also saw two of the crew jump out, one from the after gun position on top of the tail fin and one from the after gondola. They had no parachutes. When the airship had fallen to about 1000ft four large columns of water went up below in quick succession either from bombs or engines becoming detached from the framework. After 45 seconds from the first ignition the envelope was burnt off and the bare exoskeleton plunged into the sea, laving a mass of black ash on the surface from which a column of brown smoke  about 1500ft high sprang up and stood.

By this time we had completed our circle and so set a course of 260degrees for Yarmouth at 5:20am resuming W/T communication at 80 miles from the English Coast. The return journey was practically a continuous rainstrom. We made the Newarp LV and landed at Yarmouth at 7:50am. The action took place at 5:15am 4deg 35'E 53deg 25'N 18 miles to the NNW of the North end of Texel Island.

L22 was silvery grey in colour with a cross outlined on the upper surface. She flew an ensign below the rudder. Two gondolas were hung beneath the envelope and separate from it. The nose was very blunt, tail not so blunt. There were two gun positions on the top, one on the vertical fin immediately before the rudder and the other just abaft the nose. Her speed was certainly more than 50kts.

It was evident that we had 20-25kts greater speed than she, even though we did not open our engines right out during the whole attack. This combined with the complete surprise gave us an incalculable advantage. The enemy appears to have attempted to have have returned fire as we have a bullet hole in the left upper plane and another in hull amidships. I consider she was set alight before she fully realised the nature of the attack; but even under normal conditions this type of seaplane should prove superior in every way to a Zeppelin if one can judge from the large amounts of power we left untouched. She was also very handy and easily conned from the forward cockpit by signals to the pilot. She proved an exceptionally steady gun platform at all speeds and the parallel mounting proved thoroughly satisfactory.

I would submit to your notice that the success of the attack was due to the good judgment and skill of Flt Sub Lt Leckie and that CPO Whatling and Air Mechanic J R Laycock both showed considerable coolness and promptitude in attending to their duties during the action.


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