Zeppelin L 3 was the German Imperial Navy’s third airship. The factory designation was LZ 24 (Luftschiff Zeppelin 24). When World War One started, L 3 was the only airship in the navy. L 1 and L 2 both crashed in the fall of 1913. The Navy was in a dilemma. The Zeppelins were the obvious answer to the need for a reconnaissance asset in the North Sea. However the Zeppelins were not yet a mature system with regards to speed, range and reliability.
Despite protests from the Zeppelin factory the Navy had forced a number of changes on L 2 to improve the performance. These changes were to some extent the reason why L 2 had crashed. Thus the Navy was not in a position to demand performance enhancements on L 3 and the airship was built with the same specification as L 1 although with more powerful engines. The contract was signed on March 21 1914 and the Zeppelin was complete May 11 the same year.
Even though L 3 was far from ideal for naval operations, its history was actually typical for the navy usage of Zeppelins during the First World War. On August 11 1914 L 3 made a successful reconnaissance mission off the Dutch coast identifying Dutch battleships. It was the first time a Zeppelin carried out a specified mission during war. Shortly afterwards L 3 made another historical mission. On August 17 the airship conducted a long-range reconnaissance flight from Fuhlsbüttel past Hanstholm on the Danish west coast and on to Ryvingen in Norway. A flight of 300 nautical miles.
In 1915 Emperor Wilhelm II allowed the Navy Zeppelins to bomb military and industrial facilities along the British coast and in the area around the Thames but not in London itself. The decision was the result of a long debate between the Navy and the government. The Emperor was worried about the Royal family. The interservice rival between the Navy and the Army hindered an effective strategy and delayed the usage of Zeppelins as an offensive weapon.
L 3 took off from Fuhlsbüttel together with L 4 on January 19 at 11 am. L 6 was also part of the raiding force. It had started around 9:30 am from the new naval airship base in Nordholz. The idea was to approach England in daylight using the flight for reconnaissance over the North See. The attack was scheduled after the break of darkness in order to hide the Zeppelins from antiaircraft artillery and fighters. The date was selected due to the cold and clear weather of January and because of the declining moon. L 3 carried fuel for 30 hours, 8 110 lbs bombs, and 25 incendiaries. Hans Fritz was in charge of the 15 crew members. At 8:50 pm L 3 reached the English coast, the first Zeppelin ever to do so. Because of an increasing wind from the north Fritz decided to attack the area around Norfolk instead of Humber as planned. He navigated by dropping flares and observing the towns below. At 9:20 pm Fritz reached Great Yarmouth which housed a small naval base. L 3 dropped six 110 lbs bombs and seven incendiaries over the city. The attack lasted for 10 minutes, then L 3 headed for the sea. Next morning at 9:40 Fritz and his crew was back in Fuhlsbüttel.
Two days later The Times reported how the enemy airship had bombed a front yard and made a big hole in front of the tribune at the local racetrack. The article revealed, however, that L 3 almost hit the building housing the local militia and that bombs had been dropped in the vicinity of the gasworks. The material damage was limited but two persons were killed in the attack.
Although the mission doesn’t appear to be a success Fritz was continuously aware of his location and located his assigned target. Towards the end of the war larger and more advanced Zeppelins would cause more damage but the success was quite random and often without the crew knowing their position.
About a month later L 3 embarked on its last mission. Hans Fritz was commander again. L 3 departed from Fuhlsbüttel together with L 4 at 4 am on February 17. The German steamer Rubens was en route from Norway to Africa with supplies, and the airships’ mission was to ensure that the Royal Navy didn’t get in the way. One of L 3’s engines had failed right after the start from Fuhlsbüttel. This soon proved critical when the wind changed to a southern gale. Even with all engines running L 3 was underpowered. With only two engines running and a strong headwind the return flight was now very dubious. At 8:40 am Fritz reported that he would return to base. At that time he was 35 nautical miles west of Lyngvig on the Danish west coast. Around 1 pm Fritz sent another radio telegram asking for help from the Navy ships. When a second engine stopped functioning at 5 pm L 3 had only made 30 nautical miles to the south. Fritz was now at Esbjerg and he realised that he would not reach the airship base at Tønder. At 5:45 pm he put L 3 down on the beach of the Danish island Fanoe. Despite a hard landing the crew escaped uninjuried. Fritz first burned the ships’ papers and then set the ship on fire with a signal gun. The crew were detained in Odense for the rest of the war.
Two of the big propellers were salvaged from the wreckage and one of them is now on display at the Zeppelin Museum in Tønder.
Johannisthal from May 23 1914.
Fuhlsbüttel from June 1914.
Nordholz from September 25 1914.
Fuhlsbüttel from November 24 1914.
Nordholz from December 5 1914.
Fuhlsbüttel from December 23 1914.
Kptlt. Fritz from May 23 1914.
Oblt. z. S. v. Buttlar-Brandenfels from May 23 1914.
Lt. z. S. v. Lynckner from September 1914.