The Potters Bar Air Crash of October 1916

The last two or three generations of British people have lived what might be described as a quiet life. A sense of safety is important to everyone, whether it’s in one’s home, the type of IT security provided by for its satisfied customers, or a nationwide sense of care. Britain’s recent ancestors certainly didn’t enjoy the level of guarantee that is now taken for granted.

During World War II, the security of British citizens was gravely endangered by the air raids of the Luftwaffe. The indiscriminate bombing of civilians became a deliberate British and German strategy in 1942, after two years of random tit-for-tat city bombings. The situation had deteriorated.

Most British people know about the horrific Blitz bombings of WWII, but are less aware that Britain was bombed during WWI. In particular, Zeppelins were used in raids over London. These large, steerable airships were surprisingly fast, reaching speeds of up to 103 km/h. Flown at high altitude, they were quite difficult to bring down, too, and were despised for the same type of random bombing that later occurred in WWII.

Since the flight path of these Zeppelins sometimes took them over Hertfordshire, there were isolated incidents in which the county was bombed. The Potters Bar Air Crash took place on October 1, 1916. The Zeppelin L-31 was part of an 11-airship raid on London and was caught in searchlights over Barnet before being attacked by Wulstan Joseph Tempest in his small biplane.

Completely ablaze, the stricken Zeppelin L-31 drifted on and eventually came down near Oakmere Park in Potters Bar. All its 19 crew were killed, though its captain, Lt. Heinrich Mathy, survived for a few minutes after leaping from the descending ship. He died from the fall rather than the flames. Heinrich Mathy was known in Britain as the most daring of all Zeppelin raiders.

For his trouble, pilot Wulstan Joseph Tempest was awarded a DSO (Distinguished Service Order). A street called Tempest Avenue was named after him and is situated near Oakmere Park.