Robinson’s Action Report (Sept. 2nd/3rd 1916).
I have the honour to make the following report on night patrol,
made by me on the night of the 2nd/3rd instant. I went up
at 11.08 pm on the night of the 2nd, with instructions to
patrol between Sutton’s farm and Joyce Green. i climbed
to 10,000 feet in 53 minutes. I counted what I thought were
ten sets of flares, there were clouds below me, but on the
whole, it was a beautiful clear night.
I saw nothing until about 1.10 am, when two searclights picked
out a Zeppelin southeast of Woolwich. The clouds had collected
in this quarter and the searchlights had some difficulty in
keeping with the aircraft. By this time I had managed to climb
to climb to 12,900 feet and I made in the direction of the
Zeppelin, which was being fired on by a few anti-aircraft
guns, hoping to cut it off its way eastward.
I slowly gained on it for ten minutes, I judged it to be
200 feet below me and I sacrificed speed in order to keep
my height. it went behind some clouds, avoided the searchlights,
and I lost sight of it. after fifteen minutes of fruitless
search I returned to my patrol.
I managed to pick up and distinguish my flares again. at
about 1.50 am, I noticed a red glow in the northeast of London.
taking it to be an outbreak of fire I went in that direction.
At about 2.05 am a Zeppelin was picked up by a searchlight
over the north, northeast of London (as far as I could judge).
Remembering my last failure, I sacrificed height (I was still
at 12,100 feet) for speed and made nose down for the Zeppelin.
i saw shells bursting and night tracer shells flying around
it. when I drew closer, I noticed that the anti-aircraft fire
was too high or too low, also a good many rose 800 feet behind
- a few tracers went right over. I could hear the bursts when
about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin.
I flew about 800 feet below it from bow to stern and distributed
one drum along (alternate new Brock and Pomeroy) seemed to
have no effect,. I then got behind it (by this time i was
very close 500 feet or less below) and concentrated one drum
on one part underneath.
I was then at a height of 11,500 feet, when attacking the
Zeppelin. i had hardly finished the drum when I saw the part
fired at glow. in a few seconds the whole rear part was blazing.
when the third drum was fired there were no searchlights on
the Zeppelin and no AA was firing. I quickly got out of the
way of the falling blazing Zeppelin, and being very excited
fired off a few red Very lights and dropped a parachute flare.
Having very little oil or petrol left I returned to Sutton’s
farm, landing at 2.45 am. On landing I found that I had shot
away the machine gun wire guard, the rear part of the centre
section and had pierced the rear main spar several times.
A Letter from Leefe Robinson to his
October 22nd 1916.
My Darling Mother and Father
I do really feel ashamed for not writing to you darling old
people before, but still there it is - you know what I am.
Busy! Heavens for the last seven weeks I have done enough
to last a lifetime. it has been a wonderful time for me. I
won’t say much about the ‘strafing’ of Zep
L11 for two reasons, to begin with most of it is strictly
secret and secondly I’m really tired of the subject
and telling people about it, that I feel as if I never want
to mention it again, so I will say only a few words about
when the colossal thing actually burst into flames of course
it was a glorious sight wonderful! it literally lit up all
the sky around and me as well of course. i saw my machine
as in the firelight and sat still half dazed at the wonderful
sight before me, not realising to the least degree the wonderful
thing that had happened!
My feelings? Can I describe my feelings? I hardly know how
I felt. as I watched the huge mass gradually turn on end,
and as it seemed to me slowly sink, one glowing, blazing mass,
I gradually realised what I had done and grew wild with excitement.
When I had cooled down a bit, I did what I think most people
would not think to do, and that was thanked God with all my
heart. You know mother and father I’m not what is popularly
known as a religious person, but on an occasion such as that
one must realise a little how one does trust in providence.
I felt an overwhelming feeling of thankfulness, so was it
strange that I should pause to think for a moment after the
first ‘blast’ of excitement as it were, was over
and thank from the bottom of my heart, that supreme power
that rules and guides our destinies.
When I reached the ground once more, I was greeted with ‘was
it you Robin’ etc etc. ‘Yes I’ve strafed
the beggar this time’ I said, whereupon the whole flight
set up a yell and carried me out of my machine to the office
cheering like mad.
Talking of cheering. People who have heard thousands of people
cheering before say they have heard nothing like it. When
Sowrey and Tempest brought down their Zepps I had the opportunity
of hearing something like it, although they say it wasn’t
as grand as mine, which could be heard twenty and even thirty
miles outside London. It swelled and sank, first one quarter
of London, then another. thousands one might say millions
of throats giving vent to thousands of feelings.
I would give anything for you dear people to have heard it.
A moment before dead silence (for the guns had ceased fire
at it) then this outburst, the relief, the thanks, the gratitude
of millions of people. All the sirens, hooters and whistles
of steam engines, boats on the river and munition and other
works all joined in and literally filled the air, and the
cause of it all, little me sitting in my little aeroplane
above 13,000 feet of darkness!!, it’s wonderful!
And to think that I should be chosen to be the recipient
of the thanks of all England (for that’s what it amounts
to!) Dear old ‘G’ who will be with you when you
receive this will tell you something of the letters and telegrams
I have received. The day after I was awarded the V.C I received
thirty-seven telegrams, which includes one from my colonel
and one from General Henderson, who is of course the boss
of the whole R.F.C.
I have had tons of interviews too; amongst which are those
I have had with the Grand Duke Michael of Russia, Lord Curzon,
General Sir David Henderson and heaps of others. when I went
to Windsor to get my V.C the King was awfully nice, asked
me all about you dear people and grandfather etc and showed
me some awfully interesting photographs taken from the air
over the German lines.
‘G’ will tell you all about the four days leave
I had at Southbourne with her. Oh, I could go on writing for
a month of Sundays, but I must cut thins short. I have of
course had hundreds of invitations most of which I have had
to refuse owing to duty.
I went up to Newcastle for a day and was entertained by the
Lord Mayor who gave a dinner in my honour, where i was presented
with a cheque for two thousand pounds by Colonel Cowen of
Newcastle. They wanted to make the whole thing a grand public
function, but H.Q wouldn’t let them, for which I was
very thankful. I’ve had endless small presents; some
of the nicest are paintings of the burning Zepp. By the by,
about five artists have offered to paint my portrait for the
As I dare say you have seen in the papers, babies, flowers
and hats have been named after me, also poems and prose have
been dedicated to me, oh, it’s too much! I am recognised
wherever I go about town, whether in uniform or mufti, the
City Police salute me, the waiters, hall porters and pages
in hotels and restaurants all bow and scrape, visitors turn
round and stare. Oh it’s too thick!
But the most glorious thing is that Sowrey, dear old boy,
and Tempest, sweet soul, the two zepp strafers who have been
awarded the D.S.O’s are both in my flight!! Some flight
- five officers, of which there are two D.S.O’s and
a V.C and three zepps to our credit - some record!
Well you darlings I’ll close now or else I’ll
go babbling on all night and I’m really tired. I’ll
just tell you I’m not at present at Hornchurch, I’m
somewhere else in England on a secret mission but I’m
going back to dear old Sutton’s farm again.
Well, do forgive me for not writing before.
Ever your living son - Billy
Excerpt from Lieutenant Sowrey’s
Action Report (23rd/24th Sept. 1916)
The weather was fine and clear with a few thin clouds at
3,000 feet. At 4,000 feet I passed another machine going in
a northerly direction, I was then flying south. I continued
climbing as hard as possible and at 12.10 am noticed an enemy
airship in a southerly direction. It appeared to be over Woolwich.
I made for the airship at once, but before I reached it the
searchlights lost it.
I was at this time at 8,000 feet, there was a certain amount
of gunfire, but it was not intense. I continued climbing and
reached a height of 13,000 feet. at 12.45 am I noticed a enemy
airship in an easterly direction. I at once made in this direction
and manoeuvred into position underneath it.
The airship was now well lighted by searchlights, but there
was no sign of gunfire. I could distinctly see the propellers
revolving as the airship manoeuvred to avoid the searchlight
beams. I fired at it. The first two drums of ammunition had
apparently no effect, but the third caused the envelope to
catch fire in several places, in the centre and front. All
firing, was traversing fire along the envelope. Ammunition
was loaded with a mixture of Brock, Pommeroy and tracer.
I watched the burning airship strike the ground then proceeded
to find my flares. I landed back at Sutton’s farm. My
machine was Be2c No. 4112. after seeing the Zeppelin had caught
fire, I fired a red Very light.
Transcript of a 1997 Interview by
Sowrey’s son Air Marshall Sir Frederick Sowrey recalling
his fathers deeds.
He often spoke about the difficulties of night flying at
that particular time; they were in fact the very first night
fighters. There was no cockpit lighting for instruments; he
had a torch hanging around his neck on a lanyard with the
battery tucked into is tunic pocket. he talked about the difficulties
in finding the landing ground after a patrol, no aids as such,
no radio, just visual, looking over the side to identify certain
landmarks by moonlight if it was a clear night or looking
out for the flare path.
Pilots were very much on their own. They operated at altitudes,
where these days you would use oxygen and the cold was very
intense. for this, the pilot’s pay was the princely
sum of ten shillings a day.
He was elated when he had shot down a Zeppelin, as was his
friend Bill Robinson, who had done the same earlier in the
month. At twenty three years of age, he was embodied with
the spirit of emulating his fellow pilot. My father, Robinson
and Tempest all belonged to the same flight in No. 39 Squadron;
in fact they broke the back of the German airship campaign.
the effect of their better L class airships being shot down
in flames, in sight and sound of the previously dispirited
population of London, did two things; it lifted the morale
of Londoners sky high, and it made the German Naval Airship
Service think twice about the kind of losses it could sustain
in a protracted campaign.
He was very appreciative of his ground crew, and insisted
that when the photographs of himself were taken by his aircraft,
the morning after the Zeppelin was shot down, the crew were
photographed as well. they looked a bit embarrassed about
being in the limelight, but he wanted them to share some of
the glory, which he had achieved, to rub off on them as well.
He often talked about his great friend Bill Robinson; relationships
in the First World War were very different to what they were
later on. People didn’t have the inhibitions in expressing
their friendships, men would walk arm in arm, as some of the
pictures of the time show, five or six Royal Flying Corps
officers walking in a line. He received many hundreds of letters
and poems from well wishers thanking him for what he had done;
he wisely kept all these for the future, and they are now
kept at the RAF Museum, Hendon, where they can be seen by
Excerpt from Lieutenant Tempest’s
Action Report (Oct 1st/2nd 1916)
As I drew up to the Zeppelin, to my relief I found that I
was quite free from Anti-Aircraft fire, for the nearest shells
were bursting some three miles away. the Zeppelin was nearly
12,700 feet high and climbing rapidly. I therefore started
to dive at her, for though I felt I had a slight advantage
in speed, she was climbing like a rocket and leaving me standing.
I accordingly gave a tremendous pump at my petrol tank and
dived straight at her, firing a burst into her as I came.
I let her have another burst as I passed under her and then
banking my machine over, sat on her tail, and flying along
underneath, pumped lead into her for all I was worth. I could
see tracer bullets flying from her in all directions, but
I was too close under them for them to concentrate on me.
As I was firing I noticed her go red inside, like an enormous
Chinese lantern, then a flame shot out of the front part of
her, and I realised she was on fire. She then shot up about
200 feet, paused, and then came roaring straight down on me
before I had time to get out of the way. I nose-dived for
all I was worth with the Zepp tearing after me, and i expected
any minute to be engulfed in flames.
I put my machine into a spin, and just managed to corkscrew
out of the way in time as she shot passed me, roaring like
a furnace. i righted my machine and watched her hit the ground
in a shower of sparks. I then proceeded to fire off dozens
of green Very lights, in the exuberance of my feelings.
I glanced at my watch and I saw it was about 12.10 am. i
then commenced to feel very sick, giddy and exhausted, and
had considerable difficulty in finding my way to the ground
through the fog; in landing I crashed and cut my head on my
Entry in Station Diary. April 30th
During the last month, a determined drive has been made by
the station commander to make the station a pleasanter and
more attractive place. Roads and paths were cleared up and
edges whitewashed, grass verges and lawns were cut. A number
of bulbs, plants and rose trees were planted, and every squadron
and section was given tools to cultivate their own part of
In consequence, the main road to headquarters and the ground
around the hangars and workshops are gay with spring flowers
and should be gayer still when thesummer comes.
Signal from 11 Group HQ to Hornchurch
and other airfields. June 4th 1940
Air Officer Commanding sends the following message to pilots
and all personnel of the Fighter Stations, Sector Stations
and Forward Airfields.
The admiralty reports that the Dunkirk operations were completed
During the last two weeks our Fighter Squadrons operating
over France hav eshot down a total of 527 German bombers and
fighters, 371 of which have been confirmed as destroyed, for
a loss of 80 of our pilots.
By their successes in air combat our squadrons have protected
the Army during retreat, have enabled the Navy to embark the
army from Dunkirk and the beaches, and also protected our
bombers and reconnaissance aircraft and established moral
ascendancy over the German bombers and fighters.
The Air Officer Commanding congratulates the pilots on their
magnificent fighting and highly commends the technical and
administrative personnel whose work made it possible for the
pilots to succeed.
It is hoped that we shall now be given a short respite in
which to re-organise, refit and train new pilots in order
to inflict yet heavier casualties on the German fighters and
bombers when they attack this country and coastwise shipping.