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The Saturday Strangeness

Dave Haste
By Dave Haste Last edited 115 months ago
The Saturday Strangeness
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10. Scareships

Just previous to the First World War, as Germany prepared to release the Zeppelin air ships, a spate of phantom airship sightings took grip on the world. London was just one city in the UK to become besieged by the mysterious aircraft that had no definitive origin. Were they the first UFOs? How did such craft seem to vanish or escape pursuit? Here's a chronicle pertaining to the capital:

  • 9th May 1909 – 11pm: A mystery object with flashing lights was seen over London. The craft had two searching spotlights and was estimated as travelling at 210mph!
  • 13th May 1909 – 11:10pm: A Mr Graham and a Mr Bond were returning from Teddington, to Richmond, southwest London when they heard a buzzing noise. They observed a 250-foot long ship creeping along the surface of the grass of Ham Common and liaised with two strange-looking pilots who gave them a pipe!
  • 14th May 1909 – 3:30am: Two railway shunters working in Tottenham saw a craft shaped like a policeman's truncheon that headed towards Downhill Park. The object was unlighted and moved without sound. A similar ship had been observed in the US some fifteen years previously.
  • 25th February 1913: Prime Minister Mr Asquith met aviator Claude Graeme-White to discuss the air-scare.
  • 24th August 1914 – 7:30pm: An object resembling an enemy airship was seen by observers at Hendon Aerodrome. At 8:45pm, possibly the same or a very similar ship was seen over the mouth of the Thames.
  • 28th August 1914 – 1:15am: A surgical radiographer from Brixton heard the mystery whirring noise of propellers and saw two strong beams of light search in the background.
  • 5th September 1914 – 9:05pm: The police patrolling the River Thames by boat close to Woolwich Arsenal said a huge egg-shaped object passed over their boats.
  • 8th September 1914 – 7:15pm: Two peculiar and very large phantom airships were seen over Brixton. An aircraft was sent out to investigate the sighting but found no sign of the craft.
  • 27th September 1914 – 2am: An airship was seen over Bromley.
  • 7th November 1914 – 7pm: Police officers watched a huge airship over London.
  • 1st February 1915: Five Zeppelin ships headed over London and then seemed to vanish. Other ships were also reported in winds so strong that such ships should have found it impossible to take to the air. In the previous year there had been over 500 reports of phantom airships in the UK.
  • September 1915: Rumours circulated that an airship crashed on Hampstead Heath, with one witness bringing horses to carry away the wreckage. Amidst sinister rumours and paranoia, two more airships were sighted over London in this month, both disappearing before the eyes of pilots.
  • Although 'real' Zeppelins were often reported across the UK, several reports concerned craft of unknown origin. Were these some of the earliest recorded UFO sightings? In many cases such ships, often perceived as spy ships, travelled at great speeds and also vanished without trace; and although they were reported in vast numbers, such ships were never proven to be of earthly origin.

    By Neil Arnold

    Sources: Nigel Watson – The Scareship Mystery 2000. Image taken from larksflem’s Flickr Photostream under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 license.

    Last Updated 21 July 2007

    guest

    Hey, cool! I'm doing a history PhD which involves the phantom airship scares in a small way. I'm Australian but am currently in London for research, which is why I've been reading Londonist ... so, small world :) I have some posts on my blog which discuss phantom airships, for instance The Scareship Age.

    I also have a catalogue of British scareship sightings from 1909 and 1913, though London is under-represented in my sources for some reason.

    Brett