Heinrich Mathy: Commander of German Zeppelin L31 during air raids on London and the Home Counties during WW1.

Heinrich Mathy was born on 4 April 1883 in Mannheim, Germany and became a household name in Britain during the Great War as the commander of Zeppelin L31.

Today, if you go to the Dolphin Tavern on Red Lion Street in London you will see a battered old clock on the wall. The clock does not work and for over 100 years the hands have been stuck at 10:40

L31

At 10:40 pm on 8 September 1915 German Zeppelin L31 commanded by Heinch Mathy was flying at 8,500 feet above London when Mathy gave the order to drop its load of high explosive bombs during which the Dolphin Tavern received a direct hit and three men were killed.

Dolphin

In the rubble was found the pub’s clock which had been battered beyond repair with its hands stuck at the exact time of the explosion (10:40). After the Dolphin Tavern was rebuilt after the war it was decided to put the clock back on the wall with its hands frozen in time.

The fate of Heinrich and the crew of L13.

On the night of 1 October 1916 Heinrich Mathy and the eighteen-men crew of L31 reached the outskirts of London where the Super Zeppelin was intercepted by British pilot Wulstan Tempest DSO, MC flying a B.E.SC.

L321 Zeppelin killer Wulstan Tempest

Wulstan Tempest

Tempest’s personal account of his engagement with L31

“At about 11:45pm I found myself over south-west London at the altitude of 14,000 feet. I was gazing towards the north-east of London where the fog was also heavy when I noticed all the searchlights in that quarter concentrated in an enormous pyramid.

Following them to the apex, I saw a small cigar-shaped object which I realised was a Zeppelin. It was about 15 miles away and heading straight for London.

I was having an unpleasant time, as to get to the Zeppelin I had to pass through a very heavy inferno of bursting shells from the AA {Anti-aircraft} guns below.

All at once it appeared the Zeppelin must have sighted me, for she dropped all her bombs in one volley, swung round, tilted up her nose and proceeded to race away, rapidly rising northwards.

I made after her at all speed at about 15,000 feet altitude. The AA fire was intense and I being about 5 miles behind the Zeppelin had an extremely uncomfortable time.

After firing three flares to alert the gunners below of my presence I closed in for the kill.

I dived straight at her, sending a burst straight into her as I came. I let her have another burst as I passed under her and then, banking my machine over, sat under her tail, and flying underneath her pumped lead into her for all I was worth. I could tracer bullets flying from her in all directions but I was too close under her for her to concentrate fire upon me.

As I was firing I noticed it began to go red inside like a Chinese lantern. The flame shot out of the front part of her and I realised she was on fire.

Then she shot up about 200 feet, paused, and came roaring straight down on me before I could get out of the way.

Tempest

I nose dived for all I was worth with the Zeppelin tearing after me and expected every minute to be engulfed in the flames.

I put my machine into a spin and just managed to corkscrew out of the way as she shot past me like a roaring furnace. I righten my machine and watched her hit the ground with a shower of sparks… I then started to feel very sick and giddy and exhausted, and had considerable difficulty in finding the way to the ground through the fog and landing. In doing so I crashed and cut my head after hitting my machine gun”

Later reports describe thousands of people cheering and jeering during the three minutes it took the blazing Zeppelin to hit the ground at Potters bar.

Aboard L31 Mathy and the 13 crew members had the choice of burning to death in the inferno or jumping to their deaths and it was said Heinrich Mathy wrapped a thick woollen scarf around his neck which was a present from his wife before he jumped.

He impression in the earth left by Heinrich Mathy s falling body

Indentation on the grass made by Heinrich Mathy’s body after hitting the ground at around 120 mph/200kms (terminal velocity)

Newspapers the following day reported, “The framework of the Zeppelin lay in the field in two enormous heaps, separated from each other by about a hundred yards. Most of the forepart hung suspended from a tree.”

Mthy

Crash site in Potters Bar.

A journalist named MacDonagh persuaded the police to allow him to view the bodies which had been taken to a barn and recalled, “The sergeant removed the covering from one of the bodies which lay apart from the others. The only disfigurement was a slight distortion of the face. It was that of a young man, clean shaven. He was heavily clad in a dark uniform and overcoat, with a thick muffler around his neck.

I knew who he was. At the office we knew who commanded Z31… It was the body was Heinrich Mathy”

Author: Alan Malcher

Military historian and defence commentator

4 thoughts on “Heinrich Mathy: Commander of German Zeppelin L31 during air raids on London and the Home Counties during WW1.”

  1. Hi Alan – just read your piece on Mathy. A couple of things – I hope you don’t mind. Mathy was commanding L 13 on 8 Sept. 1915, not L 31, when his bombs struck The Dolphin Tavern. As you rightly state, however, he had progressed to L 31 when he was shot down in October 1916. And early photos of the pub’s clock show that the hands stopped at 10.50, it is only in later years that the minute hand dropped down to 10.40. There is a photo of the clock in Frank Morison’s book ‘War on Great Cities’ published in 1937 showing the time as 10.50. Also, I have found no confirmation that the image of the impression in the ground was made by Mathy’s body.
    Ian Castle (www.IanCastleZeppelin.co.uk)

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    1. Many thanks Ian, this is obviously one of your fields and any response including constructive comments like yours are always welcome and I thank you for that. I have posted this to the blog to allow others to read the errors in the original text. Regards Alan

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      1. Thanks Alan, glad you didn’t mind the comments; I know it is easy to give offence and I really hoped I wouldn’t do that. I’m all for getting these stories out there for a wider audience. Best wishes, Ian

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