The Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (“German Air Force”), known before October 1916 as Die Fliegertruppen des deutschen Kaiserreiches (“Imperial German Flying Corps”), or simply Die Fliegertruppen, was the air arm of the German Army (of which it remained an integral part) during World War I (1914–1918). In English language sources it is usually referred to as the “Imperial German Air Service”, although that is not a literal translation of either name. German naval aviators remained an integral part of the Imperial German Navy (Kaiserliche Marine). Both military branches, the army and navy, operated conventional aircraft, balloons and Zeppelins.
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Officers of the Luftstreitkräfte
Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy
(1883-1916) Heinrich Mathy born 4th April, 1883 at Mannheim, Germany, died 2nd January, 1916 at Potters Bar, England.
Kapitanleutnant Heinrich Mathy achieved a rare accolade during the Great War; he was one of very few Germans whose names were household words in Britain. During the “Zeppelin Scourge” of 1915 and 1916, Mathy was known and feared as the most daring and audacious of all the Zeppelin raiders.
Born on 4th April, 1883 in Mannheim, Mathy decided, while still a boy, that he wished to make his career in the German Navy. He was an exceptional cadet and achieved command of his own ship earlier than was usual in those days.
Having been selected for a possible Naval Staff role, he spent two years at the “Marine Akademie” and it was during his two summers there, 1913 and 1914, that he was able to fly in Count Fedinand von Zeppelin’s dirigible airships.
At the beginning of 1915, Mathy was tranferred to airships at the insistence of Peter Strasser, ( Fuhrer der Luftschiffer – Leader of airships) and took part in his first raid on England a few days later, on 13th January, being forced to turn back on this occasion because of bad weather. Later, however, he flew on several raids over England, usually over Northern England. On 8th September, 1915, Mathy’s L13 italic) caused great damage by fire to the central area of London itself, and further damage was caused when Mathy returned to the capital on the night of 13th/14th October.
By the following Summer, Mathy, in command of the new ship, L31 was ready for more attacks on London. He attacked on the night of 24th/25th August, 1916, again causing considerable damage. The L31 was damaged on landing on this occasion and while it was grounded for repairs, news came in that the British had, for the first time, managed to shoot down an airship by using incendiary bullets.
As more airships crashed to earth in flames in the following weeks, Mathy must have known that the days of the airship as a terror-weapon were numbered. He wrote:
“It is only a question of time before we join the rest. Everyone admits that they feel it. Our nerves are ruined by mistreatment. If anyone should say that he was not haunted by visions of burning airships, then he would be a braggart.”
Mathy and his crew “joined the rest” when L31 attacked London for the last time on the night of 1st/2nd October, 1916, to be shot down in flames by 2/Lieut. W. J. Tempest. The ship fell just oustide Potters Bar, to the North of London. Mathy’s body was found some way from the wreckage of the ship, half-embedded in the corner of a field. Obviously, his last act had been to leap clear of the falling inferno rather than wait for the crash. According to some accounts, he lived for a few minutes after striking the earth.
Originally buried at Potters Bar, the bodies of Mathy and his crew were moved in the early 60s to Cannock Chase in Staffordshire, where a new cemetery had been constructed for the burial of all Germans from both World Wars who died on British soil. He lies buried there with his crew, near the entrance, along with the commanders and crews of the other three airships which were shot down over England.