Destroying Zeppelins in The Great War - Article No 1

This is the first in a series of articles taken from Nigel Parker’s book Gott Strafe England -The German Air Assault Against Great Britain 1914–1918. Volume 3


The aerial attacks against Great Britain by airships and aircraft in the Great War were a new development in the history of British warfare. Previously, it had been the British armies that had crossed the seas to do the fighting in foreign lands, but now, for the first time, the enemy was spreading death and destruction on the homeland at will. Initially, there was no obvious and practical means of countering this threat, so what were the reasons for this development and how was the problem solved?
This is the first in a series of articles taken from Nigel Parker’s book Gott Strafe England –The German Air Assault Against Great Britain 1914–1918. Volume 3 in which we will describe the various types of weapons the Allies produced during the First World War in their attempts to counter the scourge of the Zeppelin’s.
The perceived threat from the airships flying over Britain and dropping their bombs on the undefended country weighed heavily on people’s minds and a variety of suggestions were submitted to the War Office for consideration. 
Zeppelin L12
Zeppelin L 12 Having been badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire during operations against England on 10 August 1915 the airship was forced to ditch in the English Channel off Ostend, Belgium, which was at the time under German occupation. Taken in tow the airship was eventually partially hauled up onto an Ostend dock but caught fire soon after and was completely destroyed.
Zeppelin over London - ref Nigel Parker

The Ranken Dart

Probably one of the better known of the devices developed for destroying airships, if not particularly successful in that as with all the devices designed to free fall onto the enemy airship, the attacking aircraft needed to be above the airship along with some sort of rudimentary bomb sight if there was to be any hope of hitting the quarry. With the slow rate of climb of the aircraft of the time coupled with the ability of an airship to jettison large quantities of ballast and climb rapidly away the chances of success was very small.
The Ranken Dart was developed by Lt Col Francis Ranken RAF in 1915 and consisted of a steel pointed tube filled with black powder and an igniter. Slipped inside the rear of the tube was a slightly smaller tube that had three spring-loaded arms attached and at the end a small rubber drogue parachute to stabilise the dart while in flight. When the dart struck the outer envelope of the airship, the idea was that the front explosive container would penetrate the envelope while the three arms of the rear section would snag outside and as the two parts of the dart separated it would initiate the igniter, similar in principal to that found in a party cracker, setting off the explosive charge and igniting the escaping hydrogen gas.
The darts were stored in flight in a container containing 24 darts which could be dropped individually or as a salvo.
Anti Zeppelin Ranken Dart
A sketch from an instruction manual issued to 4th Army on the design of the Ranken Dart.
Anti Zeppelin Ranken Dart
Ranken darts were dropped from aeroplanes onto airships. Once the dart had pierced the skin of the airship, three sprung arms held it in place. The explosive contents of the dart then ignited the flammable airship gases. Photo: Museum of Army Flying, Middle Wallop.

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