The doom

A thick smoke pours from the huge building and the

sounds coming from its burning insides resemble

the roar of a wounded animal. Flames are rapidly

consuming more than a four millions of cubic feet of

hydrogen of the two airships inside, and the glare of

the fire competes with the sun, which is just about to

start climbing over the horizon to shine on another

day of the war ...

The Zeppelin base in Tondern was a thorn in the side of

Britons during the WWI. It had been under construction

since September 1914 with the first two hangars

completed during March 1915. From then on airships

took off from there to raid Great Britain. The largest of

the three hangars was completed on January 17, 1916,

and named Toska, while its two smaller predecessors

were named Toni and Tobias. All the names therefore

began with the letters TO, as did Tondern. Toska was

of directly gargantuan proportions. It measured 730

ft long, 220 ft wide and 130 ft high. The base was a

tempting target, but it remained out of range of

Britons. However, the development of naval aviation

and the emergence of the aircraft carrier HMS Furious

offered a new option: an attack from the sea.

The first suggestion for such action came from

W/Cdr Richard Davis and after his plan was approved

by the Royal Navy supreme, Admiral David R. Beatty,

the airmen quickly set about preparing before the

“old-school battlewagon commander” changed his

mind. The operation, designated F.5, was scheduled

for May, and the attack was to be carried out by two

flights of Camels. Capt. William Jackson was to lead

Capt. William Dickson and Lt. Norman Williams, while

the second flight was to be led by Capt. Bernard

A. Smart, Capt. Thomas Thyne, Lt. Samuel Dawson

and Lt. Walter Yeulett. The standard bomb load of four

20 lb Cooper Mark II-A bombs, was replaced by two

June 2023

Text: Richard Plos

Illustration: Adam Tooby

49 lb Mark IIIs for this mission, and the pilots practiced

attacks on targets, which were drawn on the ground.

At the end of May 1918, HMS Furious sailed with

seven 2F.1 Camels on board, but shortly afterwards

a German U-boat appeared, and so she returned to

the port. She set sail again on June 18, but the fleet

was spotted by a pair of German floatplanes. HMS

Furious launched some Camels, which shot down one

enemy, but the other escaped. As they were detected,

another return was logical. HMS Furious than sailed

for a third attempt on June 27. The code was changed

to F.6 and rolling, but the weather was against.

At midnight on June 28 a storm broke and there was

no choice but to return for a third time. The fourth

time attempt started at noon on July 17, 1918, and by

midnight the HMS Furious was as close to the Danish

coast as she could get. But before the F.7 operation

could begin, the storm came again. Instead of

returning, the command decided to cruise well away

from the Danish coast, and at dusk, under overcast

skies, HMS Furious set off again for the Danish coast.

At 0315 the first of seven Camels took off. The target

was some 80 miles away, so the return leg was at

the limit of the Camel’s range. The backup plan was

to land in Denmark and to get to internment. Thyne

suffered an engine failure shortly after take-off and

had to return, so six Camels continued to the target.

An hour and twenty minutes after take-off, Jackson

saw the silhouettes of the hangars ...

At the Tondern base, the sky was clear at the time.

Kptlt. von Buttlar-Brandenfels was looking from the

window of his house just a half a mile away from the

base. In the Toska hangar, both his L 53 and the more

modern L 60 of Kptlt. Hans Flemming were resting.

Each of these airships was filled with approximately

two millions of cubic feet of hydrogen and several

tons of bombs were also prepared on trolleys in the

hangar. The first flight hit Toska with at least three

bombs and all hell broke loose inside. A frantic von

Buttlar-Brandenfels rode his bicycle to the base after

the first explosions. There, he could only watch the

doom of his airship through the open giant doors

(which were at either end of the hangar). The brave

soldiers, despite the flames, got to the bomb carts and

pulled them out before they could explode!

The second flight appeared on the scene ten minutes

later and flying from the opposite direction, i.e., from

the east. Smart hit Tobias with one bomb. A dirigible

balloon inside burned up, while the second Smart’s

bomb hit a wagon full of hydrogen cylinders but did

not explode. In Adam Tooby’s painting for the new

1/48 scale Sopwith 2F.1 kit, Smart’s Camel just

overflies the burning Toska seconds after he himself

set the Tobias on fire.

Three of six pilots decided on plan B and headed

for Denmark after the mission was accomplished,

but three remaining, Smart, Dickson and Yeulett, set

the course for return. Unfortunately, Yeulett ran out

of fuel and his body was washed up on the Danish

coast a few days later. He was the only casualty

of the whole event on both sides. Yeulett was just

19 years old and due to his poor performance during

practicing prior to L.6 operation, Davies cut him off

the lineup. However, in the interim before operation

L.7, young pilot improved and was taken in, which

proved fatal. Only Smart and Dickson made it back.

Both landed on the water and were lifted from the

sea as were their Camels. The raid marked the end of

the base. It continued to serve only as an emergency

landing strip, and when the borders changed after the

war, Tondern became the Danish Tønder...

INFO Eduard