The Zeppelin was a rigid, "lighter-than-air" manned aircraft developed by German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in the latter part of the 1800s. The design was finalized by 1895 and the style born into aviation history using the classic "cigar" shape which was tapered at both ends and powered by propeller-driving engines suspended in individual nacelles under the aircraft. The "Zeppelin", as it came to be known, grew in popularity with the masses for its unique appearance and travel range. Internally, the fabric shell housed a line of light alloy structure (duralumin) and contained cells usually filled with hydrogen or helium. The filling provided the vessel with its required lighter-than-air quality. A compartment was typically affixed to the underside of the design - either to ferry passengers from one destination to another or to provide military personnel with unfettered views of a region ahead from a bird's eye perspective. The first Zeppelin to ferry passengers was LZ.6 in 1909 while the first German Zeppelin was accepted for service that same year in March. The first German Zeppelin to bomb England in World War 1 (1914-1918) was L.3 and L.4 at Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn respectively, this on January 15th/16th, 1915.
At the start of World War 1, some 21 Zeppelins were in circulation to which the German military operated 14 between its Army and Navy branches and further examples were confiscated from DELAG, the world's first airliner company. Zeppelin designs were evolved considerably in the lead up to war and proved valuable in the opening stages of the conflict due to their operating altitudes and endurance. For the German military, the Zeppelin served for scouting and reconnaissance while others were eventually graduated to an early, albeit cruse, form of strategic bombing as fixed-wing aircraft still lacked the required ranges to reach Britain across the North Sea.
The L.10 served as one such German military Zeppelin. She exhibited the traditional tapered cigar shape with stabilizing fins added to her aft section. Power was served through 4 x Maybach C-X series engines of 210 horsepower each which provided the airship with a maximum speed of 57 miles per hour and an operational range of 2,700 miles. Operating ceilings ranged up to 10,500 feet. These qualifications were adequate in the early part of the war where the airship could essentially out-climb an enemy interceptor. Dimensions included a running length of 536 feet, 6 inches, a diameter of 61 feet, 4 inches and a height of 79 feet, 4 inches - certainly a large and visible target. Maximum take-off weight was listed at 35,000lbs. Her typical operating crew was eighteen personnel and defense was through a collection of three or four machine guns. Her complete bomb load was 5,840lbs.
First flight of L.10 was recorded on May 13th, 1915. L.10 served as her tactical designation while she carried the production designation of "LZ-40".
L.10 served with the German Naval Airship Division and represented one of the early (and improved) "P-class" Zeppelin forms. She was involved in several air raids against Britain during her wartime career including one such mission on June 4th, 1915. On this sortie, the vessel was misguided by strong winds which sent her in the direction of Gravesend (east of London) where she ended up dropping her bombs. Such results proved all too common for airship raids and led to much random bombing, usually over civilian populations.
As night time hours decreased over the summer months of 1915, airship raids were, in turn, curtailed to a certain extent - they presented obvious tempting targets in daylight hours. L.10 returned to Britain, this time at Tyneside, between June 15th/16th, to engage targets but, again, results were poor. On August 12th/13th, L.10 was involved in a four-strong airship raid over Harwich with better results - L.10 being the only airship to reach the intended target area. In an attack on the Lea Valley reservoirs on August 17th/18th, 1915, L.10 was once again put off course and ended attacking Leyton and Walthamstow resulting in the deaths of 10 persons with 48 injuries despite a threat from British interception aircraft and ground-based anti-aircraft fire.
The service career of L.10 came to an abrupt end when, on September 3rd, 1915, the aircraft was struck by lightning in a storm over the North Sea. The vessel was forced to crash land which claimed the lives of all of her 19-man crew near Cuxhaven. Such ended the flying career of German Zeppelin L.10.
In all, L.10 completed eight reconnaissance sorties over the North Sea and participated in five bombing missions against Britain. In these missions, she dropped a total of 1,984lbs (9,900kg) of ordnance.
From a military standpoint, strategic bombing using Zeppelins led to very mixed results. They largely served a psychological purpose to showcase enemy civilians that no place was safe from the reach of the Germans, especially London. Bombing was rather indiscriminant and rarely led to the defined target being struck and night time results proved much poorer due to visibility - largely reliant on maps, memory and visual references. Conversely, interceptors and ground-based cannon fire found it difficult - if not impossible - to locate and engage enemy airships in the dark. Airship pilots had the added advantage of quick climbing and losing any attackers in clouds should the sky provide them - early aircraft required up to one hour to reach the required engagement altitudes. Where German Zeppelins proved their worth was in over-the-horizon reconnaissance, particularly of the North Sea, where airship commanders could work in unison with surface naval forces in locating enemy warships, convoys or minefields. Indeed, a large percentage of missions involved simple reconnaissance over strategic bombing of targets. The age of the wartime airship was further curtailed with the widespread adoption of incendiary ammunition which held a tendency to ignite the highly flammable hydrogen being used in German airships like the L.10.
The only combined German Army/Navy air raid involving airships against London was on September 2nd/3rd, 1916 and this involved six Zeppelins. However, poor weather limited effectiveness of the raid and SL.11 lost to an intercepting British BE.2c. As losses mounted, the German Army gave up use of Zeppelins in February of 1917 while Navy use lingered on due to their usefulness in the reconnaissance role - ultimately enlisted some total 73 airships for service.