Topic: BatzN - Zeppelin L43
North Sea, 4 May 1917
North Sea, an unusual action fought on 4 May 1917 in waters south-east of Rosyth, Scotland, in which a British naval force of two light cruisers and four destroyers avoided numerous enemy submarines and bombing attacks mounted by the five engined Zeppelin L43, flagship of the German Naval Airship Division. The surface force under Captain John Dumaresq (an Australian serving in the Royal Navy), who commanded HMAS Sydney and was also second-in-command of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, had been sent the previous day to sweep the channels between the mouths of the Forth and Humber estuaries.
Shortly after 10 a.m. a small vessel was sighted to the east of the course being steered by Dumaresq's ships, and a destroyer (Obdurate) detached to investigate this craft. At 10.25 an airship was spotted by the cruiser Dublin rapidly approaching from the east at a distance of about 27 kilometres. Both cruisers raced in the dirigible's direction and opened fire at extreme range. At this point Obdurate, having just reached the suspicious vessel, sighted two submarines-one of' which attacked her. The destroyer's captain responded by dropping several depth charges, but when he sighted the Zeppelin he, too, set off in pursuit of it. Before Obdurate had got within 6.5 kilometres, however, the German airship rose steeply and veered off to the south-east.
A remarkable photograph of the Zeppelin L43 attacking the HMAS Sydney.
[The photograph was taken by Able Seaman G Leahy, who lay on his back while HMAS Sydney was being bombed, 4 May 1917.]
Between 10.50 and 11.20 a.m. Dublin made three submarine sightings, and twice saw torpedo tracks indicating that she had been the target of unsuccessful attacks. Dumaresq, concluding that he was being lured into a prepared killing ground for enemy submarines, instructed Obdurate to finish checking the identity of the suspect vessel first sighted (which turned out to be an innocent Dutch fishing boat) while ordering his force to resume its original course. The sight of the British warships apparently retreating prompted the German airship to resume stalking them. Soon after midday Dumaresq ordered both cruisers to turn back on their course so as to engage the Zeppelin at a range of about 6,400 metres. This manoeuvre goaded the airship's captain into making a direct but high-level attack on the force.
The Zeppelin moved first against Dublin but its efforts to gain a bomb-dropping position were frustrated by the cruiser swerving sharply to starboard. An attempt to close on Obdurate was more successful and three bombs landed within ten metres of the destroyer, flinging shrapnel splinters onto her decks. Twenty minutes later L43 overflew the wildly zigzagging Sidney and dropped ten or twelve bombs, six of these in two salvos, but without scoring any hits. The warships were equally unsuccessful in hitting the airship with their high-angle guns, Dublin firing off 90 rounds and Sydney 69 rounds. Eventually both cruisers had expended their anti-aircraft ammunition, and L43 all its bombs, which brought the engagement to a fruitless end at about 2.30 p.m. During the last stage of the action the German captain apparently sought to summon another airship to his assistance, and in fact a second Zeppelin was sighted in the far distance to the north-east shortly before 1 p.m., but in the event did not approach and join in.
Extracted from the book produced by Chris Coulthard-Clark, Where Australians Fought - The Encyclopaedia of Australia's Battles, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1998, pp. 128-129.
Additional References cited by Chris Coulthard-Clark:
Arthur W . Jose, ( 1928), The Royal Australian Navy 1914-1918, Sydney: Angus & Robertson.
Battles where Australians fought, 1899-1920
Citation: Zeppelin L43, North Sea, May 4, 1917