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100 years ago: Eccles submariner helps shoot down German Zeppelin

The German Zeppelin raids on Great Britain during World War One not only caused the deaths of 557 civilians and injured 1,358 people but caused widespread panic throughout the country as these silent killing machines became dubbed, ‘baby-killers’ by the general public.

The shooting down of one of these Zeppelins was met with great joy as they were then seen as the ultimate terror in warfare.

In May 1916 an Eccles submariner called William McKnight, 24, whose sisters lived at 89 Trafford Road, Eccles wrote to them to tell them that his submarine E31 had a hand in bringinging down a Zeppelin, the L7 off the east coast of Dennmark.

The Zeppelin L7 was initially brought down by British cruiser fire from HMS Phaeton and HMS Galatea off Horns Riff.

The E31 delivered the final blows to the stricken Zeppelin which killed eleven of its crew.

They rescued a further seven members of the crew and took them as prisoners on their submarine, ironically they could have saved more if a pasing German cruiser hadn’t attemptesd to sink the submarine.

William McKnights report of the the sinking are as you can imagine full of the gung-ho spirit at the time and are worth reading.

““Last week was the most exciting week I have ever had in my life, we had the luck of the devil with us.

“Our boat, a submarine, brought down and destroyed a Zeppelin and we brought seven of the crew back with us.

“After we had polished off the Zeppelin we made for our base so that we could get rid of the prisoners, and were sailing merrily along in the middle of the night when we espied a fast German cruiser, not a hundred yards away, making to cut us in halves.

“Owing to our officers giving the correct order at the correct second they were spoiled in their attempt to ram us. Our boat altered course, our bows swung round and the two boats stopped side by side with not twenty yards between us.

“The next thing we had to do was to jump down the conning tower, close the hatch and dive the boat.

“During the couple of minutes it took to do that, the cruiser was blazing shells at us, but owing to their rotten gunnery we managed to get down, and only one of the shells hit us, and that wasn’t in a vital place.

“The people who understand the thing properly cannot make out how we managed to get clear away. But there it is. The job’s a good one. Britain still rules the waves, so its not a bit of use worrying is it?

“The Zeppelin men may be brave men when they are sailing over dear old England on a dark night dropping bombs on women and children, but after we had blown them out of their old sausage machine they were glad to beg and plead with us to save their lives.

“We killed 11 during the ‘argument’ and brought seven back for ‘curios’.”

William McKnight though only a young man, had been in the Royal Navy for seven years and in the early days of the war took part in the battle of the Chilian coast whilst on H.M.S. Suffolk, whose sister ship, the H.M.S. Good Hope, was sunk with the H.M.S. Monmouth.

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SalfordOnline.com's Local History Editor and Senior Reporter.