Story of pilot who shot down Zeppelin bomber over Hartlepool to hit screens
The extraordinary tale of the pilot who shot down a Zeppelin bomber as it targeted Hartlepool will be told on television tonight.
As the 100th anniversary of bombing approaches, Inside Out presenter Chris Jackson meets the relatives of two men who were involved in the dramatic events of November 27, 1916. One man was a hero and the other one never returned home.
The BBC Tees and Inside Out North East and Cumbria show will tell of how Second Lieutenant Ian Pyott was just 20 years old when, as the solo pilot of a bi-plane, he shot down the Zeppelin L34.
He was born in South Africa but went to school in Scotland and had been determined to join the Royal Flying Corps for many years.
Pyott was thrilled to be part of Number 36 squadron, based in Seaton Crew and his military records reveal that he had qualified as a pilot just three months before he set out on his mission.
Hermann Pufahl was one of the crew on board the Zeppelin bomber which had set off from Nordholz in Germany to bomb the coastal port of Hartlepool.
Chris meets Pylott’s niece Jean Yearsley who now lives in Solihull.
Jean knew very little about her uncle’s heroic actions on the night of November 27, 1916 as he very rarely spoke about it.
Chris also travelled to Germany to meet Hermann’s grandson Hans-Günter Gardow and great-granddaughter Marika Genge who live near Berlin.
Chris and Jean visit Hartlepool to meet Mark Simmons from Hartlepool Museums, who has gained access to the once-secret files in the National Archives in order to find out more about what happened that night.
Mark reveals that Pyott had been so keen to join the Royal Flying Corps that he had offered to pay for his own training, something that Pyott’s family had never known before.
To get a sense of what life would have been like for Pyott on that cold dark night, Chris shows Jean the “Biggles Biplane” a working replica of the BE2c bi-plane that Ian flew.
Steve Slater, co-owner of the plane, describes how Ian would have had to juggle control of the aircraft with firing the gun as he flew solo over the skies of Hartlepool.
Slater describes the difficulty that Pyott would have had in manoeuvring his bi-plane that night: “The Zeppelin could climb faster than it (the bi-plane) so he had to sneak up on the Zeppelin and get into position underneath it without them seeing.
"It takes a very long time and it’s very hard on the engine, its full power climbing for about an hour.”
Pyott chased the Zeppelin across the skies above Hartlepool and was finally successful in shooting it down using revolutionary exploding bullets which caused the airship to crash in flames in the North Sea just off the coast of the town.
Playing Jean a recording from one of Pyott’s colleagues describing his actions brings an emotional reaction: “He never spoke about it.
"He just said I was in the war and that was it.
"To hear what he actually did is wonderful.”
Chris reveals that Pufahl had been based near Hamburg and joined the crew of the L34 airship which was captained by Max Dietrich, the uncle of the singer and actress Marlene Dietrich. Dietrich had been due to celebrate his 46th birthday when he and Pufahl received orders to launch the attack on Hartlepool.
Pufahl’s great grand-daughter describes how he had been married just three years before he died and had a daughter and a baby son: “He’d only been married for three years.
"Their daughter was born in the summer of 1914."A year later there was a son, he was only a year old when his father died so we know very little about Hermann.”
All the crew of the Zeppelin died that night.
Five bodies were subsequently recovered but it was impossible to identify them.
Pyott was awarded a Distinguished Service Order for his actions and there is a tribute to him on the sea front at Seaton Carew.
Seeing the tribute for the first time, his niece Jean said: “What a wonderful tribute isn’t it? I don’t think the family even knew it existed. It’s incredible.”
The programme will go out tonight at 7.30pm on BBC One in the North East and Cumbria and West Midlands
It will also be available on the BBC One HD Channel (England) and on the BBC I-player.
Tomorrow, on BBC Tees Breakfast, presenters Neil Green and Amy Oakden will look at the impact of the Zeppelin raid on Hartlepool and speaking to Jean to get her reaction to the Inside Out film and the achievements of her uncle.