Edward Laston Pulling, Royal Naval Air Service pilot, awarded DSO for shooting down the Zeppelin L21 in 1916.

Chapter 5 – Edward Laston Pulling: Fengates Hero

Edward L. Pulling

by David and Amelia Holdstock

On the afternoon of 27th November 1916 ten Zeppelin airships, L13, L14, L16, L21, L22, L24, L30, L34, L35 and L36, took off from their base in Nordholz, Germany on a bombing mission over England. The L35 and L36 were on their maiden raids over England. The orders to attack the industrial English Midlands arrived at noon interrupting Kapitänleutnant Max Konrad Johannes Dietrich’s 46th birthday party. The first Zeppelin was to be in the air no later than 1 p.m. The celebrations were adjourned as the officers went to prepare their ships for take–off intent on continuing their celebrations on their return.

Ten minutes after take–off the L30, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Freiherr Treusch von Buttlar, suffered a burnt out crank bearing in the starboard aft engine and was forced to turn back at 7:10 p.m. when the engine failed completely.

The remaining nine Zeppelins split into two groups: the first group, of five, crossed the English coast between Scarborough and the Humber and the second group, of four, flew northwards and diverged towards the Tyne area.

Max Dietrich

Kapitänleutnant der Reserve Max Dietrich (left) with his watch officer Oberleutnant Christian von Nathusius.
P. Amesbury

Dietrich’s airship, L34, heading the four northern Zeppelins was the first of the group to cross the coast coming in over Black Halls Rocks at 11:30 p.m. and was picked up by the Hutton Henry searchlight.

Max Dietrich was an experienced and respected officer. He was born in Angermunde on 27th November 1870. He had joined the Naval Reserve on 10th January 1893 and promoted to the rank of Kapitänleutnant der Reserve on 11th October 1906. At the outbreak of war he found himself in New York. As captain of the Brandenburg he sailed back to Germany where he was awarded the Iron Cross 2nd Class to celebrate his safe return. On 15th September 1914, Dietrich joined the Kaiserlichen Marine and went on to serve as commander of Zeppelins L7, L18 and L21 before taking over L34 on 27th September 1916.

The L34 dropped thirteen high–explosive bombs near the light causing no damage. Not daring to venture further inland, Dietrich headed his ship back out to sea and took the opportunity to drop sixteen bombs on West Hartlepool causing considerable damage to houses, killing four people and injuring eleven.

Lt I V Pyott

Lt. Ian Vernon Pyott
Mrs N F Pyott

At about 11:20 pm. Lieutenant Ian Vernon Pyott, the pilot of a Royal Aircraft Factory BE 2C, No. 2738, from A Flight of No. 36 Squadron based at Seaton Carew, saw the airship over West Hartlepool as it was caught in the searchlight at Castle Eden. Dietrich had made the fatal mistake of flying at only 9,500 ft. Pyott flying near his maximum altitude commenced his attack firing into the tail of the airship as it tried to climb away from him. The German gunners returned his fire. Just as Pyott thought that the Zeppelin was outrunning him the L34 started to glow incandescently growing almost immediately into a fireball. The L34 fell into the sea at the mouth of the River Tees about one mile east of the Heugh lighthouse. The entire crew of the L34 perished in the flames.

The other three Zeppelins of the group having seen the destruction of the L34 turned for home. The L35, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Herbert Ehrlich, and the L24, commanded by Oberleutnant zur See Kurt Friemel, turned without dropping any bombs but the L36 turned and dropped all its bombs into the sea. The L36’s commander, Korvettenkapitän Viktor Schütze later reported that he gave up because the night was too light and that he had dropped his bombs to trim the ship as he had engine trouble.

Of the other group, L14, commanded by Hauptmann Kuno Manger, dropped forty–four bombs on Mappleton but did no damage. The sight of aeroplanes from Elsham by the crew may have induced the commander to return to base. However Hauptmann Manger, in his report, stated that he returned due to engine problems.

The L22, commanded by Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Hollender, was fired upon unexpectedly by anti–aircraft guns in the Howden area. Schrapnel caused severe damage to the gas cells. L22 became dangerously heavy and much fuel and spare parts were jettisoned to keep her in the air. Unable to reach Nordholz, Hollender was forced to head for Hage, the nearest airship base where, three tons overweight, L22 crash landed.

The L13, after dropping twenty–four bombs in open fields on Barmby Moor, flew as far as York where she was met by accurate anti–aircraft fire causing her to scatter her remaining bombs, two high–explosive and twenty–one incendiary, on the eastern outskirts of the city and then retreat. The bombs damaged some houses and injured two people.

L16 reached as far as Barnsley and Wakefield but attacked neither of these places. Of her thirty–nine bombs, most were dropped over the West Riding of Yorkshire but caused neither damage nor casualties. On her return journey she was turned away from York by anti–aircraft fire and she dropped her remaining bombs in the East Riding to no effect. The L16 was again under heavy fire as she left England just south of Scarborough.

Kapitänleutnant Kurt Frankenburg

Kapitänleutnant Kurt Frankenburg
Archiv: Marine-Luftschiffer Kameradscaft

Kapitänleutnant Kurt Frankenburg was born on 30th April 1887 at Marburg. He had joined the Navy on 3rd April 1907 and now, at the age of 29, was the commander of the remaining Zeppelin, L21. He had already brought the ship to England three times earlier in the year.

The L21 came over land at Atwick about 9:20pm but was forced to retreat to sea by Barmston’s guns. She was next seen farther north but became aware of aircraft in her vicinity so turned from her course to avoid them. Having evaded the aircraft she targeted Leeds but was turned southwards by heavy anti–aircraft fire. She dropped her first bombs on Sharton, where the L16 had bombed only one hour earlier. She next appeared over Barnsley but the town was under heavy blackout and escaped attack. The L21 did drop three bombs at Dodworth, two miles to the southwest.

Zeppelin L21

L21 berthed inside the Normann double shed at Nodrholz, 1916 Luftschiffhaus Zeppelin

The L21 then flew over Macclesfield but the whole Midland area was so darkened that her commander was baffled. After hovering over Macclesfield for a few minutes without dropping any bombs, L21 made off southwest towards the congested towns of the Potteries. There she dropped one bomb at Kidsgrove, three at Goldenhill and three at Tunstall. From over Tunstall, Frankenberg noticed a glare of lights to the west and promptly altered course and attacked the ironstone–burning hearths at Chesterton dropping sixteen high–explosive and seven incendiary bombs causing no casualties and no damage other than the breaking of glass. Bombs were next dropped on burning waste–heaps in collieries between Fenton and Trentham but again no damage or injury was caused.

At 1:30 a.m. she steered towards Yarmouth where she was seen by two RNAS aeroplanes north of Peterbourough. Skilful handling of the airship ensured escape although there was an exchange of fire at long range. After shaking off the aircraft L21 resumed an easterly course but was attacked again near East Dereham by Flight Lieutenant W.R. Gaynor who had been attracted to the Zeppelin by a careless light from the airship. His engine failed before he could shoot and L21 made good her escape at full speed. At 6:05 a.m. she appeared over Yarmouth. She was fired upon by anti–aircraft guns and as she passed out along the coast she came under fire again.

Dawn was breaking and L21 was being tracked by military and naval aircraft.

It was three Royal Naval Air Service pilots, Flight–Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury, flying RAF BE 2C, No. 8265 , Flight Sub–Lieutenant Gerard William Reginald Fane, flying RAF BE 2C No. 8421 and Flight Sub–Lieutenant Edward Laston Pulling, flying RAF BE 2C, No. 8626 who found her.

The L21 was making her way out into the North Sea, heading for home when the three RNAS pilots closed in. Flight–Lieutenant Cadbury started the attack and at a distance of 700 ft emptied all his Lewis gun ammunition, four drums, into the Zeppelin but his efforts had no immediate effect.

Lt E Cadbury

Egbert Cadbury’s Aero Club Certificate 1343
Peter Cadbury

Flight–Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury, heir to his father’s famous chocolate empire, was born at Selly Oak, Birmingham, on 20th April 1893. He had a good education obtaining an honours degree in Economics at Trinity College, Cambridge. At the outbreak of war Cadbury entered the Royal Navy as an able seaman.

On 1st June 1915 he took to the air for the first time and was granted the Royal Aero Club Certificate 1343 on 19th June 1915. On the 10th July 1915, Cadbury was commissioned and posted to the air station at Great Yarmouth where he experienced action against German aircraft and Zeppelins.

Flight Sub–Lieutenant Fane took up the attack. He approached within 100 ft but his gun jammed, the oil having frozen in the cold air.

FSL Gerard Fane

Flight Sub-Lieutenant G W R Fane
Amalgamated Press Ltd

Flight Sub–Lieutenant Gerard William Reginald Fane was born in London on 7th August 1898. He joined the RNAS on 22nd July 1915 and after learning to fly at Eastchurch was posted to Great Yarmouth. On 5th November 1915 he was commissioned as Flight Sub–Lieutenant. He was an excellent aerobatic pilot, and an experienced night–flyer. His youthful appearance earned him the nickname of “Boy Fane”. His log book already recorded several anti–Zeppelin patrols prior to him meeting the L21.

Flight Sub–Lieutenant Pulling now came up to within 50 ft and fired two rounds. He was himself under constant machine–gun fire from the Zeppelin. On firing the second round his gun also jammed. As he turned away to clear the obstruction L21 burst into flames and, in the words of Edward Pulling, within a few seconds became a fiery furnace. The crew of the L21’s machine guns maintained unceasing fire on Flight Sub–Lieutenant Pulling until they were consumed by the flames. The L21 fell into the sea about eight miles east of Lowestoft and disappeared leaving only an oily patch on the surface of the water. There were no survivors.

Flight Sub–Lieutenant Edward Laston Pulling was born 22nd July 1890 in Sidcup to George and Adeline Pulling. His father died when he was a boy and on the 23rd September 1902 he entered St. Anne’s School, Redhill. He left school on 19th December 1905 and joined the staff of the Reigate Post Office as a learner. He soon made himself proficient as a sorter and telegraphist. He devoted all his spare time to mathematics and science taking up wireless telegraphy as a hobby with an objective. For sometime he lived at 42 Fengates Road, Redhill, where he made and fitted up a wireless installation station.

He left the Post Office, joined the Government wireless service and was stationed on the East Coast. He was held in high regard by his superior officers who considered him an expert operator.

When war broke out in 1914 he was deemed too valuable to the Government and would not release him for active service. However, on the 21st August 1915 he obtained a commission in the Royal Naval Air Service and in January 1916 he was posted to the RNAS station at Lowestoft.

On 24th April 1916 at 11.50 p.m. whilst flying RAF BE 2C, No. 1166, he chased a Zeppelin but was unable to catch it as it was flying too high. When he returned to base, he landed short of the runway, carried away the telephone wires and completely wrecked the aeroplane. Edward was slightly injured.

On the night of 2nd/3rd August 1916 whilst flying RAF BE 2C, No. 8418 he attacked a Zeppelin with machine gun fire seriously damaging it. The Captain in Charge considered his conduct worthy of special mention having made a most determined attack upon the airship in spite of difficulties with his machine gun.

For this action Flight Sub–Lieutenant E.L. Pulling was awarded the Distinguished Service Order and Flight–Lieutenant E. Cadbury, and Flight Sub–Lieutenant G.W.R. Fane were both awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

On 31st December 1916 Pulling was promoted to the rank of Flight Lieutenant.

RAF BE2

Royal Aircraft Factory BE 2C
GWR Fane

Tragedy struck on Friday, 2nd March 1917. Flight Sub–Lieutenant John E Northrop flew to Burgh Castle delivering another airman for duty. On landing Northrop asked Pulling if he would “loop him”. Pulling agreed without a second thought and they took off in RAF BE 2C, No. 8626. At 2000 ft Pulling put the aircraft into a dive to achieve sufficient speed for the loop. He pulled back on the stick and as the aircraft reached the top of the manoeuvre the internal drift wire in the starboard lower wing broke. The wing gave way causing the plane to fall in a spin and finally crash in the middle of Denes aerodrome. Both Pulling and Northrop were killed. The funeral of the two airmen was held the following Monday at the local parish church, with over 2000 in attendance. Both men are buried in Great Yarmouth (Caister) Cemetery.

Egbert Cadbury survived the war, and in 1919 joined his father’s associate company J S Fry and Sons Ltd becoming managing director in two years. During World War II he served as an Air Commodore for the City of Bristol Squadron. He was knighted in 1957 for his public services. He retired as vice–chairman of the Cadbury empire in 1962 and died peacefully at his Bristol home in 1967.

Gerard Fane also survived the war and continued to serve in the RAF until 4th August 1921. He led a full life until his death in 1979.

FSL E Pulling and FL E Cadbury

Flight Sub-Lieutenant E L Pulling with Flight-Lieutenant E Cadbury
Peter Cadbury

Extract from the London Gazette of 5th December 1916.

DISTINGUISHED SERVICE ORDER

PULLING, EDWARD LASTON, Flight Sub–Lieut RNAS.

In recognition of the skill and gallantry which he displayed on the morning of 28th November 1916, in pursuing out to sea, attacking at close range and destroying a Zeppelin which had been engaged on a raid on England. F.S.L. Pulling was exposed to machine–gun fire throughout the attack.