13 June 1917 – London’s Burning

After two abortive attempts, the Germans finally carried out a successful air raid on London with their Gothas. 20 aircraft set off, but two quickly turned back with engine problems.

As they approached England one Gotha left the formation and headed towards Margate. At 1043am it was spotted by the AA gun at St.Peter’s which opened fire at the lone Gotha. It then dropped five bombs, two of which failed to explode, but the others injured four civilians, and caused minor damage including broken windows.

The main formation continued across the Thames Estuary, and at 10.50 approached Foulness Island. At this point, place three more aeroplanes left the main formation, and headed for Shoeburyness, where two of them dropped six bombs which slightly injured two civihans but caused no damage. The third flew up the Thames to Greenwich but did not drop any bombs.

The remaining 14 Gothas, headed for London in a tight formation (remarkable enough to be pictured in the Official History). The attack began at 1135. Bombs fell on East Ham, Royal Albert Dock, and Islington.

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Royal Hospital, Chelsea

The raiders then turned to the City, bombing in two separate formations which converged for the main attack on the City, where, in two minutes, seventy-two bombs fell within a radius of a mile from Liverpool Street station. The total casualties were 162 killed and 432 injured, the greatest inflicted in any one bombing attack on England during the war.

The casualties may have been higher but for the actions of PC Albert Smith. When workers in a factory in Central Street tried to run out when they heard approaching bombs he forced them back inside and closed the door. Moments later the bombs exploded in the street claiming PC Smith amongst its victims

The most tragic happening of the morning took place in Upper North Street Schools at Poplar. A 50kg bomb passed through the roof and three floors of the school to the ground floor. In its passage through the building, during which two children were killed, half of the bomb was torn away, but the remainder exploded among 64 children. Sixteen of them were killed and thirty more, together with two men and two women, were injured. Another bomb, of similar weight, which passed through the five floors of the Cowper Street Foundation School, City Road, failed to explode.

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The ground floor classroom at Poplar

The response from the air services was predictably ineffectual. 94 aircraft of the RFC and RNAS flew defence sorties but there was no coordination and aircraft flew alone. Only 11 of these aircraft managed to get within firing range but none were able to damage any of the raiding Gothas. Captain Con William Eric Cole-Hamilton and Cecil Horace Case Keevil, from 35 Training Squadron attacked three Gothas ‘straggling over Ilford’, in their Bristol F2b Fighter (A7135). They were shot up by defensive machine gun fire and Keevil was killed. Keevil had recently transferred to the RFC after being badly wounded on the Somme in 1916.

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