At about 0200hrs on the morning of June 17th 1917 a Zeppelin crashed just outside the small village of Theberton in Suffolk.
As it descended the glow in the sky could be seen from 50 miles away. This was the German Zeppelin L48 and was the last to be shot down on British soil.
Commanded by Kapitanleutnant der Reserve Franz George Eichler it had just completed a night bombing sortie over Harwich and was believed to be heading east back home, however the airships compass had frozen and was giving incorrect readings and they were in fact heading north along the Suffolk coast.
After locating the airship with searchlights, the zeppelin sustained several attacks from various aircraft but it was Second Lieutenant Loudon Pierce Watkins in his BE12 who was credited with the final ‘kill’ by downing the airship, an act that saw him win the military cross.
It crashed in a ball of flames just a stones throw to the East from the cache location on farmland belonging to the owners of Theberton Hall Farm.The location is approximately N52 14.626 E001 34.722 (the co ordinates are provided for reference purposes only, so you can see where it is on Google Earth, please do not attempt to get to the crash site is it lies deep on private farmland and since a 2006 achealogical dig, probabily very little remains, if anything at all).
There were just 3 survivors from the crew of 19, all 3 jumping free of the wreckage as it crashed onto the sandy Suffolk soil. One local tale tells of one of the survivors, Heinrich Ellerkamm who was taken to a local house in Theberton and when the occupant was asked if she could take him indoors until the authorities arrived, her reply was “Not likely, lock the bugger in the shed”.
The 16 dead Germans were buried in Theberton churchyard but were exhumed in the 1960’s to be re-buried at the German cemetery in Cannock Chase. The memorial plaque over the road in the grave-yard extension still exists to this day and can be found at N52 14.251 E001 34.174. It reads amongst other brief details “who art thou judges another mans servant”.
Another surviving relic of L48 is a large section of the metal frame that is present in the church porch at St Peters in Theberton. Both of these locations are well worth a visit if you have time.
The cache location is likely to be quiet and peaceful when you visit with just the sound of the local wildlife and maybe the odd rumble of a tractor, but imagine if you will, that night in the summer of 1917 when the quiet night silence was broken by first the sound of lewis gun fire from the fighter planes overhead and then the sight of the gigantic fireball descending to the ground to crash with a huge explosion. The horrors of the Great War had well and truly landed on the doorstep of peaceful, rural Theberton.
The wreckage of the zeppelin was mainly removed from the site shortly afterwards but much archaeology from the crash was believed to be present which sparked a 3-4 day dig by a team from the Great War Archaeology Group in June 2006. A dig that turned up many new finds and grabbed much local media attention at the time.
The parking co ordinate is the church car park, please do not attempt to drive down church road as there really isn’t much space to park at the end. Walk down church road and note the path waypoint where you need to turn left towards the cache.