This is the story of the first Zeppelin dirigible being shot down. The pilot was actually born in India but his family was living in Canada at the start of WWI. What the news story doesn’t mention is that Warneford died on June 17th, before this story was published. He was ferrying an airplane with American journalist, Henry Newman, as a passenger. A wing on the airplane collapsed and the journalist was killed instantly. Warneford was taken to a hospital but died soon after. He was buried in London with his ceremony attended by thousands of mourners..
THE FAIRPORT HERALD
Wednesday, June 23, 1915
CANADIAN IS HERO IN ZEPPELIN FIGHT
Warneford Gets Victoria Cross For Exploit In Air.
FIRST TO BEAT BIG AIRSHIP
In Great Battle In Skies Youthful British Aviator Destroys Huge German Dirigible–His Machine Turns Somersault and Falls Within Foe’s Lines, but He Escapes.
Surpassing in his exploit all the imageries of Jules Verne or H. G. Wells and providing one of the real romances of the war, Sublieutenant Reginald Alexander John Warneford, a Canadian, is the first man to destroy a Zeppelin in flight. And the feat is regarded as all the remarkable, since the aviator less than four months ago made his first voyage into the air.
For all time Warneford has become a national hero and his lone battle in the skies will take a place alongside the most brilliant tales in British military history. His V. C. was the first ever given for the conquest of one of the monster air craft which are throwing the women and children of London and the eastern coast of England into panic.
It was about half past 2 o’clock in the morning when Warneford was returning from a raid over German supply depots north of Brussels that he descried far off to the west, between Brussels and Ghent, what seemed to him to be an airship flying low over the ground.
Swift Race Upward.
Swiftly shifting his elevating planes, the young officer fed more fuel to his motors and began a rapid upward spiral. It was only a few minutes before the great Dreadnought of the skies loomed large below him, and its crew at the same time sighted him. Then began a struggle for positions.
It was a battle of a David and a Goliath, or, to make a more apt simile, a wasp and an eagle, with victory for the little, buzzing, quick darting destroyer of the air.
As the dirigible’s stern was lowered she shot as though from a giant catapult almost perpendicularly into the air. Her engines, aided by her buoyancy, made her ascent much more rapid than that of the tiny aeroplane, but Sublieutenant Warneford had the advantage of time, and at the end of twenty minutes he had maneuvered to a point almost directly above the Zeppelin and to a height of more than 6,000 feet.
While still climbing to a good tactical position the young aviator saw the puff-puff of the machine gun mounted atop the dirigible, and above the droning of his motor he heard the whir of the bullets singing past his ears. Then glancing earthward at the vast bulk of his antagonist directly below him, he released the trigger holding a bomb. It tore through the Zeppelin’s envelope. Only a wisp of smoke followed.
Won With Last Bomb.
The aviator released bomb after bomb. Only minor explosions resulted. But with the last missile in his rack he reached his target.
When this bomb was dropped Sublieutenant Warneford was only a few hundred feet above the dirigible. A terrific explosion followed and a burst of flame spread instantly from bow to stern of the Zeppelin.
Caught in the whirlpool of air currents caused by the explosion, the aeroplane turned completely over and started a dash to earth. Hanging head downward, with his flaming victim crashing earthward below him, the aviator fought for control of his machine. After a drop of 2,000 feet he succeeded in swinging the machine into a loop and then to an even keel. But he had to descend, and he landed in an open field within the German lines.
After a moment’s pause to obtain his bearings and before a German detachment half a mile off could train their rifles on him. Warneford had recovered his breath. Hr set his propeller in motion again and was winging his way swiftly to the British headquarters.
Fall a Tangled Mass.
The Zeppelin fell a tangle mass of ruins across an orphanage near Ghent, its frame blackened and twisted, its crew of twenty-eight men dead beneath it, together with two nuns, two children and a man dead wher they were crushed in the orphanage, the Grand Beguinage de St. Elisabeth, one of the best known convents in Belgium. The burning mass set fire to the buildings which were inhabited not only by nuns but by a large number of Belgium women and children refugees. Terrible scenes followed. The man who was killed lost his life attempting to rescue his child, who also was killed.
It is beloved in London that the Zeppelin was returning from the east coast of England, where it had killed five and wounded forty persons.
Sublieutenant Warneford learned to fly last winter at the royal naval air station at Hendon, near London, under Commander John Cyril Porte, formerly of the Wanamaker transatlantic expedition. He took his certificate from the Royal Aero club as a pilot on Feb 15 last.