History in the Headlines: London’s World War I Zeppelin Terror:
The British also began to target the zeppelins’ major vulnerability, their highly flammable hydrogen. By mid-1916, they had developed airplanes that could reach higher altitudes and fire both explosive bullets, which could tear large holes into a zeppelin’s outer skin and allow oxygen to pour into the hydrogen chambers, and incendiary bullets, which could light the volatile gaseous cocktail on fire.
The new defenses were in place on September 2, 1916, when the Germans launched their largest raid of the war with a fleet of 16 airships heading to London. The searchlights scouring the skies caught one of the silver zeppelins sparkling in their beams, and Royal Flying Corps pilot William Leefe Robinson soared over 11,000 feet and closed in upon his prey. He raked the zeppelin with bullets that punctured the leviathan like harpoons. Suddenly, the mighty airship ignited like a torch, and the fireball fell from the sky like a shooting star that could be seen for 100 miles around. Londoners cheered and sang patriotic tunes as the incinerated zeppelin plummeted to earth.
The tide had been turned. Other British pilots achieved similar successes in shooting down airships. Strasser ordered his fleet to fly at higher altitudes, but crews began to suffer from the frigid temperatures and became incapacitated from oxygen deprivation...