Probably the most eventful moment in the history of the viaduct was the first world war Zeppelin bombing.
On Monday 31 January 1916, Kapitanleutnant Franz Stabbert and 17 crew travelled across the North Sea in Zeppelin L-20, along with a fleet of eight other airships, with Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester as their targets. Due to bad weather, basic navigation and mechanical problems some of the airships became lost or had to turn back. Extensive thick fog combined with poor navigational equipment meant that the zeppelins had very little idea where they were.
The Glow of Bennerley Ironworks
Kapitanleutnant Franz Stabbert, it is thought, was attracted to the glow coming from Bennerley ironworks and at 8.20 pm the L-20 loomed over Ilkeston. Here he dropped seven high explosive bombs, one of which fell just to the south of the viaduct on the Midland Railway line at Bennerley Junction. Shrapnel marks can still be seen on the viaduct. The Railway line was damaged along with a signal box and a cattle shed. As a result of the raids in the Ilkeston area, two men and a cow were killed.
Eye Witness Account from Awsworth
The stories of the bombing raid have passed down through generations. On that eventful night, Jessie Harrison lived with her parents, Eliza and William Harrison at No 5 Barlows Cottage, Awsworth. As a three year old girl, Jessie was awakened by a strange noise. She went to the window and saw a colossal, cigar like white shape fly through the night sky. Whilst looking through the window, Jessie accidentally set fire to the curtains with a candle. The story of seeing the Zeppelin and getting into trouble for igniting the curtains had a huge impact on someone so young. She retold the story throughout her life and the tale was passed down through her family.
Iron Cross made from Shrapnel
Jessie’s father, William Harrison retrieved some of the shrapnel from the bomb which fell to the south of the viaduct. William Harrison worked in one of the local pits and he gave the shrapnel to the blacksmith at the mine who fashioned the metal into a German Iron Cross. This cross was engraved with the words Air Raid, Bennerley, 31/1/16 and the “souvenir” was kept on the chain to his pocket fob watch.
Zeppelin L20 ditches in Norway
Airship crews were regarded as elite troops in Germany. . It certainly took guts to do what the crews of the zeppelins did – to get into a highly flammable ‘balloon’ and fly it across the North Sea knowing that if you were hit you would have very little chance of survival. On the L20’s second bombing mission, high winds carried the L20 miles off course and the craft ended up ditching into Hafrsfjord near Stavanger in Norway. Stabbert was captured and taken prisoner.
Zeppelin LZ 93 Shot Down
Stabbert escaped after six months of internment and he returned to flying Zeppelins. On 19th October 1917, the French army artillery shot down Stabbert’s Zeppelin LZ93 which was en route to England for another bombing raid. Stabbert and his crew were all killed in the attack and he was photographed in front of the wreckage.