Plaque to commemorate shooting down Zeppelins by FAA aircrew
On a pleasant autumn day – 17th October – the Eastern Region Branch joined with the Great Yarmouth Local History and Archaeological Society (GYLAS) to commemorate the courage and airmanship displayed by Lieutenants Cadbury and Leckie RN when they shot down two Zeppelin airships of the German Navy. These were shown on a plaque placed on the then home of Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury at No.6 Carlton Place. They were both based at RNAS Great Yarmouth (opened 1913) and flew a variety of bi-planes from there by day and by night. The plaque was unveiled by our Chairman Rear Admiral Simon Charlier in the presence of about 60 on-lookers, and honoured guests, Messrs Justin and Leander Cadbury, the grandson and great grandson of Egbert. The Admiral went on to unveil a further plaque at the Old Naval Hospital (Nelson era) and then FAAOA members and some of GYLAS members enjoyed luncheon in the Imperial Hotel.
At the unveiling, the following citation was read:
“SIR EGBERT CADBURY
Egbert, known to his family as Bertie, was born on 20th April 1893. The First World War broke out whilst he was still an undergraduate, and fearing that the war would be over by Christmas and that he would miss it all, he rushed to enlist and joined the Royal Navy as an Able Seaman. Bertie volunteered for the Royal Naval Air Service, and after training as a pilot, joined the Royal Naval Air Station at Great Yarmouth in August 1915 as a Flight Sub Lieutenant. A few days later, on the 9th August, he flew his first mission against German Zeppelins.
The difficulties involved in attacking Zeppelins at this time were considerable. Finding the Zeppelins, catching up with them, and then being able to destroy them was a very big problem. The chance of even intercepting a Zeppelin was slight. Until very late into the war there was no properly established format or chain of command for enemy aircraft reporting. In addition, the Zeppelins usually flew over at night and high, and were almost unheard from the ground. There were only two searchlights along the whole of the East Anglian coastline. Thus, it all relied on a sighting, probably by a civilian, who would then need to tell a policeman, who in turn would cycle to a telephone – not always near at hand – and call the nearest Naval Air Station where they would ‘scramble’ an aircraft. The early aircraft were flimsy, had poor performance and range, and could not climb as high, nor as fast as the Zeppelins. The only armaments that the aircraft had were service rifles, shotguns, revolvers and “Ranken” darts. There was little chance of an aircraft shooting one down and as a result, in 1915, the Zeppelins made 20 raids, killing 207 civilians and injuring 573. Though not a single Zeppelin was shot down by an aircraft that year, one was shot down by gunfire from the ground.
On 27th October 1916, 10 Zeppelins took part in raids on the Midlands and the North. One of them, L21, returning from an attack on Macclesfield, went out to sea near Lowestoft, and was attacked by three BE2c aircraft from Great Yarmouth, piloted in turn by Bertie, Sub Lieutenant Fane, and Sub Lieutenant Pulling. Bertie and Fane attacked from under the stern, but Fane’s gun jammed. Bertie got under her and fired all his ammunition. Pulling attacked from the port, but saw the Zeppelin on fire where Bertie had shot at it. The airship, captained by Kapitan Deitrich Frankenberg, plunged into the sea off Lowestoft. Pulling was awarded a DSO, and Bertie and Fane, DSCs.
It was not until late 1917 that reliable tracer and incendiary bullets were provided based on phosphorous which ignited in air, and there was then a more realistic chance of setting fire to an airship. The hydrogen gas was contained in a number of low pressure separate chambers, so a simple bullet could pass through the airship without noticeable loss of inflation. However, the incendiary bullets did the trick. The old BE2 aircraft had by now been superseded by aircraft like the Sopwith Camel and the DeHavilland DH4; improved performance fighters with higher speeds and ceilings. The Vickers and Lewis guns had been similarly developed with better mountings in the aircraft.
At a charity event in Great Yarmouth on 5th August 1918. Cadbury was enjoying the music when at about 8.45pm, an orderly came in to tell him that he was wanted at HQ. Three Zeppelins had been spotted over the sea some 50 miles away. He dashed in his Ford to the airfield. Bertie saw that there was only one aircraft available with sufficient speed and climb, a DH4, and leapt into the pilot’s seat, with Lieutenant Leckie (also an experienced pilot) acting as Observer/Gunner. After leaving Yarmouth, they spotted the three Zeppelins at about 21.45pm some 40 miles away to the north east, flying in a “V” formation. The airships altered course, and Bertie gave pursuit climbing to 16,400 ft. with the Zeppelins flying above them at 17,000 ft. Leckie fired his Lewis machine gun at one of the Zeppelins, L70, and the explosive bullets blew a great hole in the fabric. Fire spread along the length of the airship and it plunged into the sea off North Norfolk. The other two turned back towards Germany at high speed. Bertie and Leckie attacked one of the remaining two, L65, but their gun had jammed. L70 was Germany’s latest airship. She was captained by Kapitan von Lossnitzer, but had on board the Chief of the Imperial German Naval Airship Service, Fregakapitan Peter Strasser. Bertie and Leckie were each awarded the DFC. 1
In all, over half of Germany’s total production of 120 airships was destroyed by our forces. L70 was the last such one to go down.
Bertie went on to become Managing Director of Cadbury Brothers. He was knighted and died in 1967. His eldest son, Peter, was a test pilot, and Douglas Bader was best man at Peter’s wedding. Lt. Leckie became an Air Marshal in the Royal Canadian Air Force.
1 In 1918 the Royal Air Force was formed from the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. The RAF did not have its own ranks at that time, so adopted those of the RFC. Bertie and Leckie therefore were technically, Major Cadbury and Captain Leckie, for the last few months of the war. However, they had joined the Royal Navy and continued to wear RN uniform.