Zeppelin Airship L21 over Lancashire.

‹ Return to

Zeppelin Airship L21 over Lancashire

This building is in the village of Holcombe north of Bury, and it used to be the Post Office. The B&W image is from shortly after the events decribed below. You can still see the bomb damage to the stones and windowsills today.

We generally asssociate German air raids on Britain with the Second World War. Yet during WW1, while the south of England was bombed by aircraft, airships bombed civilians further north before proper air defences were organised.

There were two such air raids on Lancashire during WW1. The first in 1916 is described here, while the second – over Wigan in 1918 – was a story I first heard at school in the late 70’s from our headmaster, Norman Jones who was soon to retire. At school assembly one morning Mr Jones appealed to us boys not to play ‘Army’ in the playground (tree branches were machine guns, cakes of dried soil were hand grenades). He told us how, when he was our age, he saw a German Zeppelin airship bring death and destruction to his home town and told us that war was not a game, not something we should enjoy.

His words made an impression on us – that lunchtime in the school yard instead of playing Army we played Zeppelin Bombers over Wigan.


For details of air raids on the Bury area during WW2 please see here



Zeppelin LZ61 (tactical number L21) was commanded by Oberleutnant Kurt Frankenburg who was aged 29. On a clear evening the airship left its base at Nordholz north west of Hamburg along with 6 other airships, and made landfall south of Mablethorpe on the Lincolnshire coast at 2145. The airship was probably at a height of 8,000 feet but seems to have descended for the attack on Bolton. Frankenburg was heading for Derby, but his ship was pushed north by winds.

Passing over a country which was mostly blacked out, L21 hovered over Bacup, then sailed west, dropping bombs on Rawtenstall and Holcombe before moving on to Bolton. After the attack the airship moved north, then north east, dropped one last bomb at Bolton Abbey before crossing the coast again north of Whitby at 0305.


Below; Rawtenstall. The first of the bombs fell here, though no-one was injured by any of the explosive and incendiary bombs, all the casualties were in one street in Bolton. The circles roughly mark the places where bombs fell.

Below; The first bomb, an incendiary device, fell at Heightside House (the circle nearest the camera in the photo above). It failed to go off, and is now displayed in a museum in Rawtenstall. Heightside House is now a Nursing Home. Note the incorrect date on the case.


Below; LZ61 (L21) at its base in Germany. It was 179 metres long and nearly 20 metres in diameter.


Below; Leaving Rawtenstall, the airship turned south and dropped 2 bombs near Ewood Bridge and 6 here at Irwell Vale. The cottages on the left were damaged and the railway was blown out 200 metres to the right of this spot. Another bomb fell at the hamlet of Lumb.


Below; 5 explosive bombs were dropped on the village of Holcombe (see also the lead photo above). Oberleutnant Frankenburg circled the nearby town of Ramsbottom, dropping two bombs and another two on Greenmount before being drawn to the glow of Bolton’s foundries. So far 22 bombs had been dropped with no casualties.


Below; Over Bolton, Frankenburg released another 23 bombs, among the first being at the far end of this street. Photo by Richard Tierney.


Below; Half a dozen bombs fell on and around Kirk Street, destroying and damaging working class housing and killing 13 people; 5 men, 5 women, a 17 year old weaver called Miss Gregory, 5 year old Mary Ellen McDermott (her mother was killed, her father survived) and, along with her mother Mrs Irwin, a “two-year-old babe which was clasped tightly to her breast” according to the Bolton Chronicle. The people of Bolton rallied after the bombing and funds were raised to support those who had suffered in the attack.


Below; Kirk Street has long since gone, Bolton University now occupies the site of this tragedy. Photo by Richard Tierney.


Below; Turning north, Oberleutnant Frankenburg took his airship away from the town, dropping a few bombs in the vicinity of the Town Hall. An incendiary fell through the roof of a solicitors’ office in Mawdsley Street but the fire brigade responded before any serious damage was done. Photo by Richard Tierney.

Upon his return to Germany, Oberleutnant Frankenburg reported that he had succesfully bombed the city of Derby, which is over 60 miles to the south east of Bolton. Two months later, again commanding LZ61 (L21), he was shot down off Lowestoft while returning from a raid. All 17 men on board were killed.


Most details from “Zeppelins Over Lancashire” (1991) by Peter J C Smith. Mr Smith is the authority on these raids, so where details vary between sources, I have gone with Smith.

Map used courtesy of itraveluk

Image of Zeppelin LZ61 (commonly referred to as L21) from wikepedia commons

Photos of the Bolton sites used with kind permission of Richard Tierney who visited and photographed all the places where bombs fell in his town specifically for this presentation. Thanks again Richard.
Visit his stream here;
Richard was born (some years after the event!) in Darley Street, Bolton, which had been bombed by Zeppelin L21.

56 comments on “Zeppelin Airship L21 over Lancashire.
  1. Air Frame Photography says:

    Great story, well done on the research.

  2. Richard Tierney says:

    As always excellent Ian… well put together and researched… My Grandmother knew people killed in Kirk Street, she raced there after hearing the news…..

    I was born some considerable!!!! time later in Darley Street, the site of the first bomb dropped in the raid.

    Happy to have helped.

  3. *Psycho Delia* says:

    Wonderful shot and fascinating research.

  4. andyholmfirth says:

    Great detective work Ian.Looks like they came over Holmfirth or very close.

  5. Ian D B says:

    Thanks everyone.
    Yeah passed north of Sheffield, over the moors in an arc, passed just south of Todmorden and out to Bacup. Will have flown over your neck of the woods Andy.

  6. Benoit Foisy says:

    Thanks Ian for this impressive research – and thanks to the ones who helped you. I learn so many things concerning your great country with your "Iancyclopedia"! Your childhood’s testimony about your teacher, Mr. Jones, made me smile.

  7. mrrobertwade (wadey) says:

    Ian, you may find these interesting http://www.geograph.org.uk/search.php?i=29256336

  8. Ian D B says:

    Very interesting, great link, cheers.

    Thanks John.
    Stoodley Pike is visible from space.
    Lol, too kind Ben.

  9. crusader752 says:

    Great history and research Ian…must have been slightly surreal for those on the ground to see such a machine dispensing death and destruction, particularly back then when aerial warfare was something most people had no real knowlege of – let alone experience…all sort of ungentlemanly too!
    I love your ‘then and now’ work – very cleverly done! 🙁

  10. Ian D B says:

    Yes, the Germans were referred to as baby-killers, and in this instance they were, not that the British would not have done the same had they had a fleet of airships. But there is something very sinister and spooky about a Zeppelin sailing silently overhead in the dark and dropping bombs on people as they lay in their beds. Thanks Rob.

  11. Kingsdude/Dave says:

    Great set of photos and background history as ever Ian – amazing that a Zeppelin would travel so far and bomb almost on a random basis.

  12. bill_fawcett says:

    Brilliant piece of research, wonderful narrative and photographs! Still smiling at "we played ‘Zeppelin Bombers over Wigan’…." – typical kids!

  13. nondesigner59 says:

    Fantastic information.. Great work.

  14. mick cooke says:

    brilliant work ian and aload of great information must have done alot of research but crike ian it makes interesting reading as you always do a great job
    many thanks
    take care

  15. Testchamber says:

    Really interesting. Do you have any info on where bombs were dropped on Wigan etc.

  16. Ian D B says:

    Thank you. Yes, I’ll send you an email.

  17. Keartona says:

    Thes stories could easily get lost in the passage of time.

  18. Highy says:

    Great stuff Ian, well researched and thoughtfully put together. Love the playing Zeppelin bombers bit.

    Hard to imagine but for some folks the first aircraft they ever saw would have been one that bombed them, as you say very sinister indeed.

  19. Ian D B says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/27955898@N07] [http://www.flickr.com/photos/highy]
    Thanks both, and for the heads-up Al.

  20. f3liney says:

    A fascinating piece Ian.
    WW1 raids get such little coverage these days.
    I ditto your comment about it giving a sense of what a sinister thing it must have been for a rural community to have a modern monstrosity like that passing overhead dropping bombs indiscriminately.

  21. Gizzardtreedude says:

    Brilliant piece of work yet again. thoroughly interesting and presented just perfectly in word and vision

  22. gastephen says:

    Wonderful stuff, Ian. I liked your story about your playground games! Hard to imagine what it must have been like in those WWI air raids.

  23. RAZEL DAZEL says:

    Very interesting, a lot of work.
    Very well done.

  24. cgullz says:

    before i read the above, i just have to say holy smokes batman. and i thought you were tired! i’ll be back in a week when i have had a chance to give all the above information the justice in time it deserves.

  25. cgullz says:

    btw for the last couple of weeks i have been reading "Nightfighter" by Ken Delve, with the first chapter dedicated to WWI and the Zeppelin attacks. a bit hard going with lots of info and comparative info between the two ‘sides’, but some great accounts and insights into night ops.

  26. Through Collette's eyes says:

    Really interesting piece Ian especially when it’s so close to home – I had no idea!

  27. Air Frame Photography says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/angwickham] Im reading that book now as well….will go back and read that part again…

  28. cgullz says:

    [http://www.flickr.com/photos/tupperware_pilot] lol, my memory is shite so i will have to as well hahaa

  29. cgullz says:

    fantastic ready Ian – and who wouldn’t want to read all of it?! superbly conducted presentation, great research and images. looks like Richard had to dodge the showers for his cool wide and clear pix!
    making history relevant today: pretty much your work in a catchphrase, if i can say. .. seems you’ve been doing that since you were a wee lad in the schoolyard 😉

    re: the Ken Delve book, p 27 outlines how the Royal Naval Air Service pilots Edward Pulling and Egbert Cadbury made "concerted attacks" on L21 from their B.E 2c aircraft [very WWI looking biplanes for sure!], until it fell to the sea [Yarmouth area].
    an interesting aside is that the appendix notes that there were a total of 7 Zeppelins tasked with attacking York, Bolton and Sheffield that night [causing almost 40,000 pounds damage].

    i agree with you and [http://www.flickr.com/photos/highy] – sinister indeed. and darn scary.

  30. stopherjones says:

    Superb work Ian, good to have you back, these combined old and new photos really bring your stories to life, and the additional info and photos even more so.
    LOL at you going off to play Zeppelins 😉

  31. ~SheebaC says:

    – thank you, Ian … so much of this — unknown to me
    – yet, war is not a game
    – there is no such thing as a Holy War — regardless of who you are
    – blessed be the day when humans understand war solves nothing

    – a bit on the lighter side — my 90+ Mother said once, "if they want to fight, fine… put them all on a barge in the middle of the ocean.. they can fight there.."
    – she was a pistol !

  32. Chris D 93 says:

    WOW!! Very interesting read!!! Thank you!! 🙂

  33. bazylek100 says:

    Superb documentation! The lead photo itself is a striking combination.
    I’ve just recently read a book about air forces and their operations in the Great War. There is a chapter devoted in whole to the Zeppelin operations over England, but the dry facts and details presented in a rather boring way in the book do not come up to your immersive reportage enriched by the ‘then and now’ photos. Great research from you, Ian, and presented in a very interesting way.

  34. Stezzer says:

    Love the way you do these, and attach all the history with them. I’ve had time to go over what you’ve said at work but been unable to leave a comment until now. You’ve inspired me to try this but I think it will take a lot of effort from someone like me. Still, you are an inspiration and I love this, went big at the window sills for an extra wow factor ~ nice one ~_^

  35. rob of rochdale says:

    absolutely stunning pieceof research there Ian. Love that first photo!

  36. Neal. says:

    We have a building near us bombed by a Zep, not much left to see now though. Lots of interesting stuff here 🙂

  37. Billy Currie says:

    love seeing the photos blended, gives a very accurate picture. Loads of great info as well.

  38. hannes vosgerau | unknown711 says:

    Fascinating picture and series!

    This is my blog | hannesvosgerau.blogspot.com

  39. Tech Owl says:

    Fabulous compilation Ian – I know many people have said but you really have to put all this together in a book!!!

  40. het broertje van.. says:

    Brilliant Ian!!


  41. P.A.B. says:

    Always impressed by the knowledge and time you put into these peices Ian, I know others have mentioned books but have you ever exhibited or thought of exhibiting your work?

  42. PaulEBennett says:

    Thanks for taking such an effort to tell us this story.

  43. IANLAYZELLUK says:

    Clever Image.

  44. Dirk Bruin says:

    Very interesting story, nicely documented.

  45. Smallbrainfield says:

    Excellent stuff. Nice superimposed image.

  46. Fiona in Eden says:

    Fantastic concept and creation. Fascinating.

  47. Mike J Chapman says:

    Love the way you’ve combined the two images. Very effective and neatly done.

  48. davidbr04 says:

    i had no idea about any of these attacks so this is a real eye opener ,thank you for the research and photos ,brilliant stuff

  49. Ian D B says:

    Cheers Mike, it’s not easy to get precisely the same viewpoint and focal length the original photpgrapher used. Trial and error and lots of photos from the same spot!


    Sort of feedback I love to hear, thanks David!

  50. prajpix says:

    fantastic story and work!

  51. Ian D B says:

    The Soviets were well regarded in Britain (by the people if not by Churchill) because they took the Luftwaffe away.

    Partly because of that, post-war UK had a very different attitude to the USSR than was probably the case in the USA, British students even now might have Soviet posters up in their rooms. It is politically acceptable to be a Communist but not a Nazi. Which is illogical, Stalin was just as bad a bastard as Hitler, but so it goes.

    Interesting to read of your Dad’s war. Sounds really exciting – flying transporters over that sort of country, but I imagine a romantic view of it 70 years on would not be one shared by your Dad.

    Wars we had to fight….? Good question. I think Britain was dead right to defend the Falkland Islands against Argentina, an attack on sovereignty can’t be ignored. But otherwise, yeah I’m with you.

    My Dad served in the Royal Navy during WWII, he was on the Russian Convoys.

  52. Doug Ward says:

    When I was a very small child I overheard my Uncles talking quietly about my Grandfather.
    So ears flapping I listened from a distance.
    They where talking about when their father chased after a Zeppelin shooting at it with his Luger pistol that he had brought back from the Boar War.
    A few years went past so I asked Granddad was it true and all he did was chuckle.
    So I had it down as a story that lads make up about their dads.
    Now on reading this there’s an element of truth in what I heard as a very small boy way back in 1948.

  53. Dawn Evans-Tomkinson says:

    I have recently stumbled across this history. Bridget Irwin who died in the
    bombing holding Ellen Irwin was my Great-Grandma. I have subsequently found her grave and I am in the process of getting a headstone for it. Your research has helped me understand my family history. Thank you.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "Zeppelin Airship L21 over Lancashire."
  1. […] Zeppelin Airship L21 over Lancashire. | aircrashsites.co.uk […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *