February 17

This Day in History

World War I

Feb 17, 1915:

Zeppelin L-4 crashes into North Sea

After encountering a severe snowstorm on the evening of February 17, 1915, the German zeppelin L-4 crash-lands in the North Sea near the Danish coastal town of Varde.

The zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in 1900. Although a French inventor had built a power-driven airship several decades before, Zeppelin's rigid dirigible, with its steel framework, was by far the largest airship ever constructed.

The L-4's captain, Count Platen-Hallermund, and a crew of 14 men had completed a routine scouting mission off the Norwegian coast in search of Allied merchant vessels and were returning to their base in Hamburg, Germany, when the snowstorm flared up, bombarding the airship with gale-force winds.

Unable to control the zeppelin in the face of such strong winds, the crew steered toward the Danish coast for an emergency landing, but was unable to reach the shore before crashing into the North Sea. The Danish coast guard rescued 11 members of the crew who had abandoned ship and jumped into the sea prior to the crash; they were brought to Odense as prisoners to be interrogated. Four members of the crew were believed drowned and their bodies were never recovered.

One month earlier, the L-4 had taken part in the first-ever air raid on Britain in January 1915, when it and two other zeppelins dropped bombs on the towns of Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn on the eastern coast of England. Four civilians were killed in the raid, two in each town. Zeppelins would continue to wreak destruction on Germany's enemies throughout the next several years of war--by May 1916, 550 British civilians had been killed by aerial bombs.

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