Airship Crash at Cuffley

Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson

By Nicholas Blatchley

Memorial to Lieutenant Robinson, Cuffley
Derek Revell
Airship Crash site, Cuffley
Derek Revell
Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, V.C.
Worcestershire Regiment (29th/36th of Foot) web site

In 1916, one of the most dramatic air-battles of the First World War ended in a field in Cuffley.

Though less devastating than the Blitz of the 1940s, the German Zeppelins and other airships terrorised south-east England with their bombing raids, and were widely believed by the public to be unstoppable.

The Night of the Attack

On the night of 2nd/3rd September 1916, a fleet of sixteen airships embarked on the biggest raid so far.  Among the pilots scrambled to counter this was Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, originally with the Worcestershire Regiment, but now fighting with the Royal Flying Corps, soon to become the Royal Air Force.

Flying an obsolete B.E.2c, Lieutenant Robinson encountered a Schütte-Lanz airship, the SL 11, over north London and engaged it in a David and Goliath encounter.  Attacking from beneath, Robinson strafed the ship with machine-gun fire.  The SL 11 burst into flames and crashed in a field behind the Plough Inn, Cuffley, killing all sixteen men on board.

The Effect on Public Morale

Robinson’s actions, which earned him the VC, had an enormous effect on public morale, demonstrating graphically that the mighty German airships could be destroyed by a determined pilot in a tiny, rickety plane.


Unfortunately, Lieutenant Robinson didn’t live long to enjoy his fame.  Shot down in April 1917 by a German squadron led by Manfred von Richthofen, the ‘Red Baron’, he spent the rest of the war in a prisoner-of-war camp, despite numerous attempts to escape.  Following his release, he died of Spanish Flu.

A monument was erected to him in Cuffley, close to the site of the crash.



Website of Derek Revell, great-great nephew of Lieutenant Robinson:
Website of the Worcestershire Regiment (29th/36th of Foot):

This page was added on 25/08/2010.

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  • An item was shown on the BBC programe Antiques Road Show 7/1/2018 , it was a Metal Dress Ring, made from the debri of the shot down German Air Ship over Cuffley. It was dated 2016 stamped Cuffley and with 3 initials.

    By David Ranger (07/01/2018)
  • Apologies for the typo – I’m not sure how that crept in, as I’m well acquainted with German, unless it was an error in my source material. Many thanks for the explanation of the serial number.

    By Nicholas Blatchley (12/11/2013)
  • I know German is regarded as a difficult language, but please correct the spelling of the airship’s maker to Schütte-Lanz. I must also say that it was SL 11, not “a SL 11”, as that is a serial number not a type number. Please don’t just add this to the foot of the item but make the correction to the main text.

    By Allan Lupton (08/11/2013)
  • Is anyone interested in commemorating the centenery of the Cuffley airship crash on September 3rd 2016? It is actually a Saturday as in 1916…….please get in touch.

    By Alex Kaye (20/06/2013)
  • My grandfather, Frederick George Milsted, was one of the searchlight operators who kept the airship lit up for Lieutenant Robinson.

    By Jan Pearson (28/05/2012)