The Theberton Zeppelin.

“who art thou that judges another mans servant”

At about 02.00 hrs on the morning of June 17th 1917 a Zeppelin crashed just outside the small village of Theberton near Leiston in Suffolk. As it descended the glow in the sky could be seen for miles around, some accounts state up to a distance of 50 miles. This Zeppelin was L48 although to be precise it should be considered as being LZ95

(LZ = Luft Zeppelin), as it was the ninety fifth example of the type of the production line. However it was frequent for the German Navy to acquire such ships and then re-designate them with the number according to the delivery schedule. Therefore LZ95 was the Navy’s forty eighth Zeppelin and so became the L48. She was an example of the new “Height Climber” Zeppelins where everything possible including most or all the armament had been stripped back to increase operational altitude. The aluminium structure had been so refined and reduced that under certain conditions these Height Climbers could bend with appearance of a giant cucumber. Their size was immense having a total capacity volume of 55,800 square metres and an overall length of 196.5 Metres. L48 had her maiden flight still under manufacturer’s hands (as LZ95) on 22nd May 1917. Her first operational sortie was 17th June; it was during this sortie that she was destroyed. Illustrating just how Zeppelins no longer had the rule of the skies, in fact they had not had such freedom for over a near now. The inventions of Buckingham/Brock/ Pomeroy incendiary bullets had really been instrumental in their attrition rate and consequent demise in Zeppelin crew morale. Numerous quotations exist from various Zeppelin crew members who were all pre-occupied with death by burning or having to make the decision to jump. The fact that Zeppelins always crossed the coast in multiples, and that when one caught light due to being shot down it was clearly visible to these other crews must have been terrifying.

 

The combat.

Previously L48 had approached the English coast at a height of 13,000 feet; she was part of a force of four airships sent to attack London that night. L48 drifted over Orford Ness at about 02.00hrs. On board that night was KorvettenKapitan Schutze who was Kommodore of the North Sea Airship Division. From here she rounded Wickham Market. Bombs were dropped around Harwich with one being dropped over Martlesham. Once the bombs had been released the ship believed it was heading East back for home. However the compass had frozen and was giving an incorrect reading in fact L48 was heading north along the coast. At this point Anti Aircraft guns opened up both on coastal emplacements and including several on ships out at sea. Searchlights flicked on and wavered about the sky finally coning in on L48, seemingly supporting her in the night sky. Once held in search lights it was imperative for L48 to get out of the area, for two reasons: firstly AA fire could be directed far more accurately as the gunners could see the actual target…and any night flying defence fighters would see the Zeppelin from up to 40 miles away in the right weather conditions. In L48`s circumstance that it just what happened. A number of airborne pilots and crews had spotted her pinpointed by search lights and bursts of AA fire. Flying a BE2c (A8896) from the Armament Experimental Station at Orfordness Lt EW Clarke was the first to attack. Between Orfordness and Harwich he fired a total of four drums of Lewis gun ammunition from 11,000 feet at the airship which was still 2,000 feet higher. However there seemed to be no effect at all for this expenditure of ammunition. The second aeroplane to attack at this time was  an FE2b B401 crewed by Lt FD Holder (Pilot) and Sgt S Ashby  also from the AES, this crew also fired  four drums of Lewis ammunition, and an additional thirty rounds from a fifth drum when suddenly their gun jammed. As this happened they were approximately five miles from Leiston and frustratingly within 300 yards range of their target. Previously they had seen their sparking fizzling tracers whizz away through the dark night sky, like thousands of cigarette ends all flicked at the same time, streaking away being frustratingly absorbed into the giant shape of the invader. However they had finally achieved success: it could be seen now that a small fire had started in the stern end very near the tail, a small glow initially, but one that slowly gained in size. Captain RHMS Saundby in DH2 A5058 managed to fire two and a half drums at the target, now there began to be a really serious blaze in the rear section of the airship. L48 tail section now began to take on the classic “Chinese Lantern” effect as it was illuminated from within” (Saundby was later awarded the Military Cross for his part in this action and retired from the RAF in 1946 with the rank of Air Vice Marshall)  As the airship fell it was finally chased by Lt P Watkins in BE12 6610 from 37 (HD) Sqn (A Flight) at Goldhanger, he fired another two drums from 2000 down to 1000 feet, and then another from 500feet. It was Watkins who would be credited with the final “Kill” of L48

All Pilots used standard 0.303 rounds both ball and tracer. The credit given to Watkins for shooting down L48 was purely arbitrary and probably the result of higher authority wanting such credit to go to the Home Defence organisation. Like wise numerous local tales of heroics sprang up:- L48 was shot down by one pilot single handedly, he was so keen to get airborne he was still in his pyjamas, and the method used to bring the airship down was by flying above it and throwing grenades down onto it. With the latter fact there could be some confusion with the case of Sub Lieutenant Warneford who on 6th June 1915 did actually succeed in destroying Zeppelin LZ37 over Ghent in Belgium……by dropping several small bombs on it. For this action Warneford was awarded the Victoria Cross. However despite reassuring the British public to some degree, they needed Home Front Zeppelin victories. The names of pilots and crews who brought down the likes of the Cuffley  Schutte Lanz and later Zeppelins over England would become phenomenal celebrities.

 

The impact of the wreckage

As she fell in flames initially the airship nosed downwards, shortly before impact she would assume a tilted up angle as the stern section became less airworthy and lost both its gas and supporting envelope fabric. Now truly ablaze and falling, the inner structure could be seen as burning fabric fell away. Several of the crew witnessed Eichler remove his thick leather coat and start to take off his overalls (He like all the crew believed they were over the sea, and would shortly be swimming for their lives) Shortly afterwards KorvettenKapitan Viktor Schutze the Flag Officer in the Gondola clutched the edge of the map table in terror as he heard hideous screams and cries from the burning sections of the airship. Eventually the stern crashed into the ground at a 60 degree angle compacting and buckling as it sent up a huge shower of sparks and flaming fabric shreds. This angled impact smashed the rear section of the gondola, hopefully finally putting those burning crewmen in this area out of their misery. Heavier sections such as the engines were snapped from their mountings and crashed down through the burning superstructure into the soft sandy soil of Holly Tree Farm. As the engines fell through the complex structure of white hot metal the massive wooden propeller blades caused flurries of sparks and debris to rise up until each blade splintered and shattered against something more resistant. As the structure settled Ellerkamm, Miethe and Uecker lost no time in jumping down from the damaged gondola. As the three escaped they watched as the flames sprang up and consumed all the envelope fabric from the nose section. The heat was now so intense that metal covering of the gondola they had been in a few seconds before (and that their colleagues were still in) was now beginning to melt. If there was still anyone else alive within the gondola area at this time, they were destined to die in this intense fire. Some of the heavier buried sections later required intensive labour to extract them from where they had embedded themselves in the sand. Several photographs show rigs and pulleys for lifting present at the impact point. It is possible that several quite large engine associated sections may still remain buried in situ. It is rumoured that during her descent one engine detached and splashed down into the reed beds of what is now Minsmere wild life reserve. One can almost imagine the mournful cries of distressed waterfowl as the a huge Maybach engine splashed down in the marsh. However Woodbridge Museum has something else that fell from the wreckage, perhaps one of the most poignant artefacts: a sailor’s style cloth hat complete with embroidered head band. Such poignant reminders of the tragic loss of life can still be found at the crash site today. On Friday 14th April 2006 a metal detecting survey revealed the crushed remains of a button that had once been sewn onto one of the crew overalls. It took between three and five minutes from first combat for L48 to impact the ground, so slowly did she fall. However the position of the fire in the rear quarters and slow descent probably allow for the survivors, of which any were unusual in such incidents.

 

The crew of L48 who were killed were:-

Franz Georg Eichler

Heinrich Ahrens

Wilhelm Betz

Walter Dippmann

Wilhelm Gluckel

Paul Hannemann

Heinrich Herbst

Franz Konig

Wilhelm Meyer

Karl Milich

Michael Neunzig

Karl Floger

Paul Suchlich

Viktor Schutze

Herman Van Stockum

Paul Westphal.

 

Of her 19 man crew some records state three, some that two survived and some that there was only one survivor. (We must consider that more of the crew may have been alive when located at the scene but may have died within several hours etc of discovery) Further research seems to add confusion but also verify the last point:- in stating that one of the survivors actually died on November 11th 1918 “Armistice Day” or is this simply another local legend, or the product of wishful appropriate and rather vengeful thinking.

 

The survivors were:-

Heinrich Ellerkamm (said to be wandering around dazed after the crash)

Wilhelm Uecker

Otto Miethe

Note: - It is believed to be Ellerkamm who was the crew member taken to a local house in Theberton. When the door opened and the occupant asked if she could look after him until the arrival of the authorities, her reply was “Not likely lock the bugger in the shed”

 

However the following morning the scorched grass surrounded pile of wreckage was searched for bodies. Not an easy or pleasant job given the twisted mixed up mass of wires and structure that needed to be searched. From this eventually were extracted sixteen bodies in various stages of heat subjection, the more severe were almost carbonized. They were laid out in the field just beneath the towering marrow shaped superstructure of the nose section.  What to some degree is certain is that 16 bodies were buried in St Peters Church at Theberton, in the mid 1960`s these were exhumed and re-buried at the German cemetery in Cannock Chase Staffordshire. The memorial over the road in the grave-yard extension to St Peters to the dead crew still remains to this day. It reads amongst other brief details “who art thou that judges another mans servant”. Numerous photographs were taken the following morning, some were taken as aerial shots by the RFC, but some of the most graphic were taken and published by J.S.Waddell a local photographer at Leiston. Also in the porch at this church resides a fairly substantial section of L48 in a glass fronted wooden case along with a brief history of the event. Numerous other artefacts are retained by local people handed down through the generations. Many pieces of this Zeppelin were made into keepsake souvenir brooches some having brass crosses attached to them, other things made were more practical i.e. eggcups etc. However the most common related items are the post cards manufactured by local and national photographers etc. Zeppelin related postcards throughout the entire Period of World War One probably number over 120 different varieties. One such postcard can be seen in the Lion Inn at Theberton, made more even interesting than usual by the fact that Sgt Ashby the gunner in the Fe2b who helped shoot down L48 has actually signed it.

 

The impact point today.

Today this lies on land owned and managed by Theberton Hall Farm. Little has really changed in the passing 90 years since L48 drifted down in flames; apart from the grubbing out of the middle hedgerow and that the surrounding trees are now far more mature. One tree was still clearly identifiable on site, when compared to 1917 photographs. This was a mushroom shaped canopy oak tree on the southern side of the field. The field where L48 came to rest is of a “D” shaped configuration, this once had a middle hedge against which the wreckage rested, but as stated this has long been grubbed out. The soil is typical to the district with sandy friable texture with masses of flint bearing regions. Sandy acidic soils are normally poor preservers of aluminium alloys therefore on the metal detecting survey it was surprising to locate so much that was in good condition. However sandy soils do have a slight counteractive advantage over some soils in that moisture and agro-chemicals leach away far faster from artefacts. Numerous aluminium structural fragments as well as electrical chrome plated copper alloy items were recovered. Due to the consistency of the soil, and evidence from 1917 photographs it is believed that there is great potential for buried remains to still be present here. For example the engines appear to have punched some four feet into the soil; one would normally expect sections of shattered casing etc to remain here when the engines were extracted. It is doubtful if the recovery teams at the time would have made effort to clear every “engine well”, and if there are residues of oil existing some of the parts may well be in extremely good condition. Surface debris can be visibly seen extending over an area of some 25 metres. Whilst in the middle of this defined area metal detectors are continually registering targets. Due to the soil being vitrified by the heat, having high levels of aluminium degradation as well as heat produced pollutants in it these factors may have given rise to the very sparse crop growth noted in the precise area. Two artefacts of great interest recovered during the survey were a fired British 0.303 calibre round that had been fired. This was found right in the centre of the impact point and although near impossible to determine a date of such standard ball rounds it seems more than likely that this came down in the wreckage and can be attributed to one of the airborne attackers that night. The other item was a battered button from one of the Zeppelin crew tunics (possibly an Officer) this still retains its fixing loop and around the back section has the words “Extra-Fein”. Such a marking was used by the producer of German transport tunic buttons, and we feel 100% certain of the attribution of this artefact.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schedule of small finds from crash site of Zeppelin L48 at Theberton.

Metal detecting search conducted on Friday 14th April 2006

Site Comments :- This site is on a slight scarp and the soils are highly acidic sands containing small flints. Therefore it was very surprising to recover aluminium and copper alloy artefacts in very good states of preservation. This may be attributable to the fast leaching away of agro-chemicals, but as a rule sandy soils are not normally good preservers of the majority of metals and their alloys or organic materials

Definite Zeppelin attributed artefacts are outlined in bold font

Find

Composition

Condition

 Identification / Comments

Conserved Status

No1

Aluminium

Fair

Large once molten globule

Cleaned and conserved

No 2

Aluminium

Fair

Riveted structure

Cleaned and conserved

No 3

Aluminium

Good

Cast sheeting

Cleaned and conserved

No 4

Aluminium

Good

Cast sheeting

Cleaned and conserved

No 5

Aluminium

Good

Cast sheeting

Cleaned and conserved

No 6

Aluminium

Good

Circular pierced sheet

Cleaned and conserved

No7

Aluminium

Fair

4 fabric grommets

Cleaned and conserved

No 8

Aluminium

Good

Oblong pierced sheeting

Cleaned and conserved

No 9

Aluminium

Poor

sheeting

Cleaned and conserved

No 10

Aluminium

Good

Small tube stamped “Dunlop”

Cleaned and conserved

No 11

Aluminium

Good

Small triangular snippet

Cleaned and conserved

No 12

Aluminium

Good

7 pieces of geodetic structure

Cleaned and conserved

No 13

Aluminium

Poor

7 once molten fragments

Cleaned and conserved

No 14

Aluminium

Good

Crushed rivet support

Cleaned and conserved

No 15

Aluminium

Good

3 rivet heads

Cleaned and conserved

No 16

Lead

Fair

Section of radiator

Cleaned and conserved

No 17

Lead

Fair

12 pieces of lead dross, possible originating from radiator assembly, but left in situ

Left in situ

No 18

Copper

Good

Section of tubing

Cleaned and conserved

No 19

Copper / Lead

Good

Fired 0.303 standard bullet (Not Brock/ Pomeroy or Buckingham incendiary type. Given situation of find it is likely to be WW1 in origin.

Cleaned and conserved

No 20

Copper/Nickel

Good

6 electrical components

Cleaned and conserved

No 21

Copper/Nickel

Good

Large clasp

Cleaned and conserved

No 22

Copper

Good

Butterfly nut with “3” on it

Cleaned and conserved

No 23

Copper / Steel

Good / Fair

Two small “brake shoes”

Cleaned and conserved

No 24

 

Copper

Good

9 tiny grippers ( Boot lace  / fabric fasteners /clasps?)

Cleaned and conserved

No 25

Copper

Good

7 tiny loops

Cleaned and conserved

No 26

Copper

Poor

15th Century Hans Krauwinckel Jetton

Presented to Landowner

No 27

Copper

Very Poor

Unidentified coin possibly George 1st Half Penny

Cleaned and conserved

No 28

Copper

Good

Button back “Extra Fein” this was a marking stamp for German buttons

Cleaned and conserved

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The excavation of L48 the “Theberton Zeppelin”

(21st, and 26th-28th June 2006)

 

After several months of research and planning finally on Wednesday 21st June 2006 Jeff and I arrived at the Lion Inn at Theberton in Suffolk. We then walked down the road to examine the church of St Peter (noting its fine Norman architectural features) as well as the huge framed section of L48 in the porch. From here we went over the road to where the sixteen bodies recovered from L48 were originally buried. There is a marker present where the bodies were removed from in the early 1960`s for re interring at Cannock Chase. Then we decided to go to Theberton Hall Farm.  After an initial discussion of policies and plans to Mr and Mrs Hart (Landowners) we all set off along the winding track, past ponds and marshlands, and then along the line of some ancient Poplar trees. Then we came out into an open area, following the grass lined track up a steep gradient and then parked up. Noticeable was the peace and tranquillity of the setting!! Not what one somehow felt was quite right from a place linked with such death and destruction. The wind wavered the bulky billowing canopies of local trees, and a pair of scythe winged Marsh Harriers lazily quartered the local reed beds. As the wind swept across the pale green feathery  tipped barley, we stood and looked across to a small line of deciduous trees. It was hard to imagine that in the area between us and these trees L48 one of the “Height Climbers” and proud product of the Zeppelin Company had ended her days. Since the crash curiosity has not decreased and we all carried this capacity as much as the Post Edwardian spectators who had walked up and stopped at the same spot 89 years before. As I looked downwards by the edge of this field I saw a single red poppy fluttering in the breeze…. a sort of symbolic sentinel…….how appropriate.

 

The Initial site search and minor excavations on Wednesday 21st June 2006.

The field in question is of a “D” shaped configuration; although in 1917 it was bisected by a mature deciduous based hedge. This hedge present in 1917 was later grubbed out and removed. It was thanks to Neil who managed to locate the feint darker crop mark created by the hedge base soils. This crop mark consisted of a wavy line across the field composed of higher growth crop by some 40-60mm, which was clearly a slightly darker green than surrounding crop. This was vitally important as L48 had crashed next to this hedge and it was an ideal marker point, to counteract the rapid crop growth since the last survey. Therefore we placed a ranging pole where this crop mark joined the track way, and another some 50 metres out into the field

Surrounding the area of this field positioned ranging pole a metal detector search commenced conducted by four metal detectorists along with the use of a “Hoard Hunter” deep seeking detector. Despite the fact that the impact spot was reasonably well ascertained, the crop was proving to be a major inhibiting feature. Fragments of L48 :- However over twenty fragments of L48 were located in this period ranging from once molten alloy pieces, to structural sections, and copper alloy eyelets , and fasteners. Firstly we attempted strimming it back, but despite valiant efforts this proved not to be practical. At about this period we were joined by John and Sarah from the BBC, who had come to assess the site: to see finds and look at filming requirements. It was jointly decided to hire some local small plant in the form of a mini Komatsu digger, again despite greatly improving the search terrain it was not quite up to the job. The job in question being the stripping of 2-3 inches of topsoil from 200 square metres of cropped land. However metal detection carried on. At this stage we hand cleared an area approximately four square metres, detecting showed plenty of top soil located alloy fragments and one 50mm section of copper alloy pipe. Glass:-Several fragments of 0.5mm thick flat glass were also located here, possibly instrument face glass. Distributed in all areas of this test area were globules of once molten aluminium, therefore one assumes the team are not far away from the actual point of impact and burning of L48. Heat fractured flints:-This claim was further strengthened by two pieces of extreme heat fractured flints recovered from this area.

Note: - Additional finds: - two pieces of unstratified mica bearing pottery fabric were recovered from this area, with a date range from Late Roman to early Norman.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soil type and stratification identified

In one corner of this scrape we decided to conduct a deeper exploratory sontage (test pit), this went down some 18 inches. Clearly illustrating the depth of topsoil, (which was a mix of glacial pebbles, abraded flints and dark sand mix) to be approximately nine inches. Contained within the top soil from about 4 -7 inches were numerous compressed stalk deposits from previous cereal harvests, none appearing older than three years.  Below the topsoil was a softer particulate of yellow / orange iron oxide stained sand typical to this region. It must be noted that this solitary deeper test pit did not show any indication of a layer of heat subjection or corroded alloy at any given depth. Despite a concentration of topsoil debris, to some degree this result must be due to agricultural spreading of surface debris beyond the perimeter of burnt impact area. One would expect such a burned layer to be identifiable, once the precise impact area is established. As L48 was indeed a “surface burn out” without great levels of soil penetration, and given that the soil is sand based: has agricultural activity destroyed this burned layer? Despite this it is still expected once operations are underway to locate the “engine wells” where the massive Maybach engines penetrated the sand to approximately 5 or more feet in depth, and perhaps areas where bulkier heavy sections of structure also penetrated. Carbon Inclusions:- Since this four square metre sectioned transposed across the area of the now missing hedge it was interesting to note the level of carbon inclusions in the soil in this area. These were sized from 2mm to 3.5cm and were not evidence of stubble burning of previous cereal crops, but possibly attributable to fire damage as a result of L48, but also one must consider when the hedge was later removed was the resultant debris burned in situ?

 

Detector survey on partially skimmed and flattened crop area (200 Square Metres)

A detector search on the now partially scraped and crop flattened area revealed numerous targets of corroded alloy.

Button:- The principle result from this being the second finding of a Zeppelin crew member’s button. The find was located on the western side of the cleared area. This was a complete button although the copper alloy loop fastener which was corroded (a rather crystalline appearing break indicating heat subjection advancing the corrosion) broke away upon examination. Fortunately this was later recovered. The button is of two piece copper alloy sheet structure, once being plated with either chromium or silver. It shows external fire damage with blackened areas, interestingly the fire damaged areas are the zones on which the coating metal has best survived. The reverse of the button has a lenticular shaped vertical depression (behind the loop fastener) in which the smallest traces of aluminium oxide (Blue -grey powder) were identifiable. The frontal design of the button is domed featuring an imperial crown surmounting a rope twist anchor. The fields around and in this design are etched with horizontal fine lines. The outer edge of the button is decorated with a barley sugar rope twist design in which some of the original plating is also preserved. The words “Extra Fein” feature on the reverse. As known from previous research “Extra Fein” is the makers stamp of German button manufacturers who supplied tunic / uniform buttons to the German armed forces and various transport organisations i.e. steamship crews etc. Note this stamp is widely evident on WW2 German military style buttons too. The button is slightly smaller in diameter than the previous button find being 21.5mm across, based on this diameter it is almost certainly a tunic cuff located example. This is a superb find, being of a personal nature and has now been cleaned and conserved.

 

Conclusion: - After the finding of the button a few more fragments of alloy were located. Shortly after this it was decided that the site was as best prepared as we could achieve in the time: therefore it was agreed to recommence complete surface crop/topsoil removal on Monday 26th June.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Monday 26th June 2006.

Unfortunately the day dawned as one of a rather grey drizzly nature. However not put off at all Jeff, Dave and I all ventured back into deepest Suffolk, our quest to assist in the excavation of any artefacts remaining from the Zeppelin L48. Arriving outside the Lion Inn at Theberton, we contacted our colleagues who were already on site. Parking up below the Poplar trees at Theberton Hall Farm we once again trudged up the soggy sand rutted track. This was no easy task as thousands of tiny froglets were migrating from adjacent ponds to the nearby marsh land, and care had to be taken not to crush these tiny travellers. Arriving upon the crest of the hill the fine rain had now created droplets that fell and streamed from our hats. Firstly we had to continue the work from last Wednesday, this involved removing approximately three inches of topsoil from an area some 200 square metres in size. For this task we now had employed a much larger specification soil digger from Tobin the local plant hire company. This was done just to assess any markings that may be visible in the soil, although not stratified as this top soil is annually ploughed, soil disturbances from greater depths can often be evident even at this stage. Areas of burning that occur on the topsoil, also simply get moved around and mixed in with agricultural activity but still leave tangible traces. It also evenly prepares the ground for metal detecting. The area we had chosen had numerous signals in a very dense frequency (mainly non –ferrous with several ferrous based signals). Initially it was decided to cut a single trench on the Eastern side of the cleared area, some 20 metres in length by some 2.5metres in width; this was completed to a depth of some 9 inches. Once this trench had been prepared and cleaned up we detected the newly revealed surface. Signals were still evident but not at such a great frequency as they had been on skimmed topsoil. The main artefacts recovered were once molten globules, twisted and crumpled sheeting, copper alloy fasteners, eyelets and the ever present powdery traces of blue/white aluminium oxide. Already at this stage the frequency of targets indicated we had located the impact point. It was decided from this point to conduct three more trenches of the same specification proceeding with a 2.5metre space each of them. The second and third trenches were cut through an area of dense targets, but both of these showed a decrease in metallic finds once they had been cut and prepared. Trench 1 was mainly backfilled with the soils removed from trench 2 at this time. These trenches were completed in an attempt to locate any soil disturbance without possibly removing all the surrounding strata. We made an attempt to identify a specific area of metallic fragments, however in practical terms this was not possible as the finds were so dense and evenly distributed. No defined areas or boundaries could be established. Notable finds from this area included a Sheffield EPNS dessert or sugar spoon (which may have been associated with the recovery teams), several shards of glass which included one from a Victorian lemonade style green glass bottle.

All the excavated soil that was removed from the site was also carefully checked both visually and with the aid of metal detectors. Items recovered from these areas showed an increase in copper alloy circular eyelets and fasteners. Several very corroded steel components were also found, all of these had oxide deposits that had leached into surrounding sand particulate and incorporated it into the corrosion material. Included in these ferrous finds were three nails of the type used for fastening horse shoes. Trenches 2, 3 and 4 were each extended by 3 metres northwards, to ensure we were not missing any features. By the afternoon we decided to amalgamate trench No 3 and 4. Finds throughout were still numerous but still could not be interpreted to pinpoint areas of defined concentration. The site was subjected to Geophysics and the use of a Hoard Hunter type metal detection unit; neither gave a result that identified deeply buried wreckage. The Geophysics identified areas of minor disturbance with the probability of a Prehistoric ditch running from East to West bisecting our search area. With the latter feature, it may have been associated with the increasing number of Mesolithic worked flints and cores that were found over the excavation site. Once the area of trench 3 and 4 had been cleared to a depth of some nine inches it was “cleaned up” and a small “Sontage” positioned in the South East corner. This was one metre square to an approximate depth of  0.3metre. As this was being executed small pieces of crumbling aluminium oxide were evident in the side walls. The site now consisted of trenches 3 and 4 combined cleared down to a depth of 9 inches, with the Eastern side of the excavation remaining just a block with the top 3-4 inches having been cleared. The West side of the entire dig area (i.e. Trenches 3 and 4 area) revealed signs of geological deposition with ragged circular areas of clay combined with small flints and small “pebble like” chalk inclusions. To the untrained eye these could have appeared as evidence of soil disruption, i.e. traces where larger objects had penetrated, later been extracted and a foreign infill had been used, however they were determined as purely geological. This was verified by a metre square Sontage in one that revealed a total lack of metallic finds or oil staining from a shattered engine etc. Another confusing and sometimes misleading factor that should be noted: - is when, in such areas as this with mixed soil types:- the digger bucket inadvertently does not “dump” all its contents particularly in fine soils extraction. Therefore the excavator becomes responsible for creating soil variations and then the bucket grinds these misplaced soils into the surface making them appear as disturbances. This also applies to the dispersal of “Daz” (Aluminium Oxide powder) within the excavation, as always great care should be taken in assessing results. Several areas of carbon inclusions were also noted deriving from the burning of the aforementioned dividing hedge. However it is worthy to note that just after the Zeppelin crashed a local farmer planted a cross of poplar trees over the spot. Just before the Second World War the then farmer was not so inclined to remember Germans in this manner and cut them down. Therefore if the resulting foliage and trunks were burned in situ, some of the larger carbon and burned wood sections may well derive from these poplars and not the once existing dividing hedge. Indeed several darker patches (having the appearance of postholes) and containing friable material as well as clearly identifiable decayed root matrix could indicate that we had uncovered the remains of several Poplar tree root pan positions.

 

 

 

Tuesday 27th June 2006.

Fortunately the weather was a lot drier resulting in the excavated area drying out extremely quickly. An additional area was cleared to the west of trench 4 but revealed only small parts mainly corroded aluminium alloy. This was slightly disappointing as this was the area where the two earlier button finds had originated from. Throughout today the BBC Timewatch film crew were joined by Suffolk Radio, East Anglian Daily Times and BBC Look East, each conducting interviews and taking photographs of individuals and the excavation team at work throughout the day. BBC Look East broadcast Live and at 6.30 in the evening which several team members who returned home were able to watch……………it was true we had really been the first people to just dig a Zeppelin!!! Later it was decided to combine (trenches 3 and 4) the area that had already been excavated, with trench 2 to a depth of 9 inches. The removed top soil was again searched methodically and a number of airframe fragments were located. In the Southwest section of this area another 1 square metre but shallower (8 inches depth) Sontage was created, but revealed nothing of note.

Note:- a significant number of worked flints and about 6 fragments of pottery were located in this area mainly (Grey-black and brown fabrics) and these were duly recorded. In addition a small broken “ribbed” section of copper alloy was located. Resembling some of the Saxon bound wire series wrist clasps, although it was not definitely attributed to the Saxon period at the time.

We were informed a local farmer had in the 1950`s experienced problems with ploughing up large sections of L48. He removed them later digging or utilising an existing hole to throw them in. Most farms had a dump pit (some still do) for household and agricultural debris, however due to the close proximity of a small but deep brook to the East this was investigated. Mr Hart confirmed that sometime ago he dredged the brook, and found no evidence of debris, neither did our investigation. The excavation was further enhanced by the presence of leading Zeppelin expert and author Ray Rimell. Ray is the author of the “dirigible enthusiasts bible” otherwise the book known as “Zeppelin”. This work was extensively consulted before and during the actual excavation. Two of my colleagues and friends also attended this day Simon Parry and Guy Smith. Guy completed an accurate GPS survey of the site. From this and given the size of the tail and rear section debris field his results plotted the mid impact area to be some 15-20feet from the area we had already excavated. In addition Guy brought along a 0.5metre section of framework, attributed to L48 that had been purchased in a Brighton antique shop.  Naturally this led to a new area of excavation to the South. This revealed an area that was top soil rich in fragments but as soon as we had cleared the topsoil the fragments became far less evident. We pulled back this new slightly deeper excavated area to the original area of trenches 2, 3 and 4, removing several more inches of soil. Whilst this was done a small area of discoloration was found with powdery traces and lumps of aluminium alloy. These were the deepest located fragments of the entire excavation, and caused some interest. However with scraping and further checking they soon disappeared. These fragments were found at a depth of 15-16inches. Once the announcement had been aired on Suffolk Radio several local people came up to the excavation and watched in awe, sadly not at the piles of Zeppelin wreckage, but certainly at the piles of soil that had been excavated. However once shown the “Finds Tray” everyone was fascinated with the fragments of L48 that had been retrieved. At 18.00hrs on this day some of the persons involved had to leave the excavation permanently due to other obligations. Before I departed I picked the “Lone Sentinel” poppy and placed it right in the centre of our excavation. A small team of archaeologists remained on site and would continue into the next day

 

 

 

 

Conclusion. Assessing the completed task confirms that the overall pre-established aims of the excavation were indeed met, and in some cases surpassed. We must now begin the task of assessing and assimilating the data we have collected, this keeps the venture alive and ongoing, whilst fulfilling our obligations in providing an information source for future researchers. The site has now been intensively examined and archaeology from all periods has been identified, collected and recorded. From the evidence of photographs taken at the time one could clearly not only see, but also establish strong evidence for larger sections (i.e. engine cars and some framework etc) as to having penetrated the soil to several feet. Why did we therefore not see evidence of soil disturbance from where the larger parts especially engines had embedded themselves? Even though these as we knew had been removed, traces from such singular extractions from the soil should have been in evidence. One answer might have been that in 1917 the recovery crews instead of recovering each buried item individually, they alternatively removed them by systematically digging out a much larger area, perhaps to ensure they missed no scrap of technology for analysis. If this is so then one may pose the question of how did the underlying geology (particularly the outcrops of clay and chalk inclusions) remain intact then? We have evidence in the form of a farmer on this land removing large sections of Zeppelin from the site as they were interfering with the ploughing. If true then it would seem that large sections did indeed remain buried until snagged up by the plough in the 1950`s. One must also consider: could this wreckage removal in the 1950`s have led to the extraction of all the larger items that we believed should still have been present today? Therefore we have photographic evidence and word of mouth to reinforce the evidence of wreckage that penetrated the ground to some depth. The use of global positioning gave a near match for the area using photographic overlays of the area we had excavated as being the impact point (in fact it was some 15-20 feet away, but we excavated this area as well, with little results, apart from top soil located fragments). One may draw the conclusion that we did not excavate the precise area, but we did, photographic and material evidence as well as GPS tells us that we have conducted an accurate excavation. However one must consider every possibility:-perhaps the engines fell some distance back, and during recovery were surrounded by relocated wreckage during clearing up operations giving the impression that they were central to the impact point. On the topic of wreckage relocation there are only two entrances to this field from which the wreckage could be transported through, later detecting surveys of these areas may prove productive. We may have missed the areas of soil disturbance by as little as a metre or two. Or perhaps our interpretation of the photographs is inaccurate; did the engines smash up just denting the surface to a few feet, ( after all it was June when it crashed, and as we know the ground was hard in June 2006) giving the appearance of much deeper penetration? Surely traces of oil would be evident from the smashed engine sumps? Or is the sandy particulate nature of the soil a good absorber of such and over nearly a century such evidence has simply leached away. Judging by similar terrain and soil condition excavations for Second World War aircraft, oil has normally always been present and one must consider that these are only 22 to 27 years younger than L48. Due to the extensive crop growth and lack of detailed locational evidence it really was impractical to search by any methods for any trace of where the 1950`s farmer disposed of his debris. Therefore until we gather more evidence for its location we can but imagine: - that in the unstratified layers of this modern midden sections of L48 rest aside broken stout bottles, still sealed bottles of partially used Heinz salad cream all smothered in pinkish grey ash from the fire grate. Almost all the experienced aviation archaeologists remarked upon the lack of burning evidence in the soil / sand (it was hot enough to melt aluminium!!) It would seem from the evidence and we are sure of the site accuracy that L48 simply drifted down very slowly and almost gently rested, as her tail section twisted sideways the heat began to “concertina” the wreckage, and the engines simply fell upon a mattress of compacted metal preventing ground penetration. We utilised a wide variety of modern scientific methods to pinpoint the impact area of L48 and I remain convinced of our accuracy. Some crash site archaeology illustrates that some sites do not conform to the normal findings one would expect and L48 is one of these. However from experience I know how unusual and fickle the results from aviation archaeology can be………. Just a few feet from where we excavated does there remain a giant propeller boss, embedded in an area of oil streaked and compacted soils? Its rusted surfaces  slowly staining the surrounding clay and sand a darkish brown having remained undisturbed for nearly a century? Do the worms slide their sand encrusted bodies past the crumpled remains of one of Imperial Germanys finest war machines? Although it’s a great loss for twenty first century archaeology sadly I don’t think they do.

 

Soil types and geological information from the excavation.

The topsoil is dark brown grey and is of a very sandy particulate texture extending on an average some 9 inches in depth. Contained within this are numerous flints both spherical nodules, abraded and plough fractured varieties.  Below this is a layer of compact orange yellow coarse sand. Beneath this is a layer of orange clay that contains possible “Glacial Erratics” in the form of small rounded boulders of hard pinkish sandstone. Areas of this sub clay occasionally erupt through the coarse compact sandy layer above in rough circular or elliptical spreads. These are unique in that they contain both rounded flints and small smooth pebbles of chalk. These chalk “pebbles” only seem to be distributed in these patches and are not spread uniformly through the deeper clay levels. Therefore it would seem that they are of glacial origin.

 

The site now in late June 2006.

All is now quiet, the soil placed back and flattened in the excavation area. The Hares enjoy the tranquillity and lollop in a carefree manner up the grassy track ways. Instead of the hum and chug of modern day heavy excavators and dump trucks, the only sounds are from Green Woodpeckers and the solitary passing Oystercatcher. A large section of the field is now bare stripped of its Barley crop, surrounding this patch are threadlike tracks of flattened crops where detectorists just double checked, or photographers stood to get a better angle. A single course of flattened crop based track way leads to this bare patch. Within three weeks the site will be harvested further reducing the evidence of the excavation; probably within a month afterwards it will be ploughed and seeded removing all surface visible traces of the dig all together. With the topsoil and subsoils placed back in the best possible order after next year it is doubtful if even a slight soil change will be noticeable. However in the future if anyone does re-excavate they may notice the soil disturbance, even find spade or mattock marks in the clay zones, perhaps be able to de-lineate where the sontages were dug but that’s probably the extent of the evidence we have left. All at Theberton resumes normality once again after our big event, just as normality resumed after an even bigger event 89 years before.

 

 

 

The site in the future.

With permission of the landowners the site may be subject to a series of metal detector searches, conducted to continue the recovery of artefacts, (full reports of these would be produced after each survey). Further research may enlighten us as to the location of the site where the larger items removed in the 1950`s were deposited.

 

With thanks.

Such a magnificent achievement, indeed the first ever archaeological survey of a Zeppelin crash –site could never have been undertaken without much hard work and effort from many parties involved:- archaeologists, metal detectorists, Geophysics operators, plant operators, diggers, and researchers. This involvement ranges from the BBC Timewatch and BBC Suffolk teams, East Anglian Daily Times reporters, Suffolk Radio from being critically involved in organising to being instrumental in recording and giving publicity to the proceeds as they were undertaken. Of particular note and deserving of great thanks is the company of Tobin plant hire, it would be difficult to find a more dedicated, polite and efficient team. However it is to Mr and Mrs Hart the current landowners that the greatest thanks of all must be awarded, without their permission to go ahead this huge project could never have born such fruit and historically valuable and delicate artefacts would perhaps have been consigned and eventually lost in the sandy soils of Suffolk forever.

 

Afterthoughts.

As I sit here conserving and preparing artefacts from L48 for photography, I keep returning to the tunic buttons. Superb little relics of an event nearly one hundred years ago now, but archaeologically just as important are the blue powdery corroding array of relics before me. However it’s always to the buttons I return, rotating each in my fingers studying the marks and signs of burning. So long ago the crew could never have guessed nor indeed would they want to: that someone born 45 years after the crash and their resultant deaths would be handling some of their tunic buttons recovered over 89 years later. I look down at my own clothing buttons, will someone be examining them in 89 years, like the Zeppelin crew I just don’t know….how can you? The excavation of L48 in combining metal detecting and archaeological practices / procedures has produced some incredible results, and similar co-operation should be encouraged wherever possible.

 

Time is a strange and mystical path, but along whose course we must never forget that our excitement and desire to discover and fulfil today is often cast from the terrible suffering and loss of yesterday.