WWI Spider Web: anti-Zeppelin patrols off the East coast

20 Jun 2012

SMHS reporter has mixed feelings towards spider-webs. The reporter is endeared to those that adorn bushes and trees on sunny autumn mornings, dew-drenched and sparkling in the sunlight however, is less keen on those that stretch invisibly across the reporter's front path… a trap!
The Germans in WW1 also suffered from invisible spider-webs - something SMHS member Dave Dimer, covered in June's talk on the anti U-boat and anti-zeppelin patrols off the East coast and related operations 1917-1918.

Navigation was harder in those days! The German U-boats heading through the southern North Sea to cause trouble for Allied merchant vessels further west had to pass through the 100 mile gap between Harwich and the Hook of Holland, they often passed in the vicinity of the North Hinder Lightship using it as a navigational aid.

During WW1 at Felixstowe the flying-boat was developed - it was ideal for anti U-boat patrols. A system was devised whereby a representation of a spider-web, centred on the North Hinder Lightship, 60 miles in diameter, each radial arm 30 miles long and circumferential threads at 10, 20 and 30 miles provided the blue-print for the flying boat patrols. Each seaplane could search a quarter of this web in one patrol, it took twice that time for a U-boat to pass through the web - much of this period had to be spent on the surface for ventilation and recharging the batteries. Bombs could be dropped on the vulnerable U-boats and several met their end in this way. A delay of detonation rather than explosion on impact enabled U-boats that were diving to be claimed to a depth of 60-80ft.

Dave also covered anti-zeppelin patrols, German countermeasures, ‘Scarecrow Patrols' and we were all delighted to hear about the airship station at Polegate - because we really do like a bit of Sussex Military History!

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