Over night German bombers carried out what turned out to be the last raid on British soil during the war. It was also the largest, with 41 aircraft, a mixture of Gothas and Giants setting out.
A heavy barrage put up by the guns in Kent, Essex and along the River Thames appears to have deterred many of the raiders who dropped their bombs in Kent and Essex. In the end barely half of the bombers reached London.
Bombers arrived over Essex around 2310 and by 0030 had dropped 36 bombs causing some minor damage but no casualties. Around 2350 one of the Gothas got into difficulties and crashed landed near near St. Osyth.
At around 2300 the first of 46 bombs fell in Kent. A large number of buildings were damaged mainly in Dover and Faversham and three people were also injured in Faversham. Early on, one of the raiders was attacked by a Sopwith Camel (D6423) piloted by Major Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand from 112 Squadron RAF and crashed in flames.
This Gotha had taken off at 9.30 p.m. and had come in over Ramsgate, heading south, at about 11 p.m. Fifteen minutes later Major Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand, officer commanding No.112 Squadron at Throwley, took off in Sopwith Camel D6433 ‘Makhabane II’. Having gained height over the aerodrome he was making his first run along his patrol line to Warden Point on the Isle of Sheppey at 8500 feet when, at 11.23 p.m., he saw the Gotha flying west over Faversham 200 feet higher up, its exhaust flames clearly visible from more than 400 yards.
As Brand approached the bomber its front gun opened up at 50 yards’ range, firing high and to the left. He retaliated with two 20 round bursts which stopped the bomber’s starboard engine. It then banked steeply and dived away to the north-east, making desperate S-turns as he followed, gradually closing the distance to 25 yards. There was no fire from the rear gunner, and Brand aimed three 25 round bursts, causing the bomber to burst into flames and then fall to pieces. Although his face and moustache, along with the nose of his aircraft, were scortched by the flames, he followed the main wreckage down to 3000 feet before, at 11.36 p.m., watching it come to earth near the Harty Emergency Landing Ground on the Isle of Sheppey.
The Gotha in fact crashed near a farm close to the sea wall between Harty and Leysdown-on-Sea, about 1½ miles east of Harty Ferry, and was totally destroyed. The bodies of the three crewmen were discovered near the farm. Two of these had fallen into marshy ground and were deeply embedded in the mud, while the third man’s head had struck a wall and was shattered like an egg shell. All three were removed to a local aviation establishment, prior to burial on 23 May in the churchyard of St Thomas the Apostle at Harty. The wreck was subsequently allocated the number AB 9 by the RAF.
The remaining bombers started to reach London where they were more successful, killing 49, injuring 177 and causing widespread damage to property. Manor Park, Lower Sydenham, Walthamstow, Poplar, Tottenham and Bethnal Green were badly hit. A second group then dropped its bombs after 0000, and caused further extensive damage and loss of life.
Another Gotha was attacked by Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey from 141 Squadron RAF (who had shot down Zeppelin L.32 in September 1916). and then later attacked again by a Bristol Fighter from 112 Squadron RAF crewed by Lieutenants Edward Eric Turner and Henry Balfour Barwise. The Gotha crashed between Frinsted and Harrietsham in Kent.
Another Gotha was intercepted over Hainault by a Bristol Fighter from 39 Squadron RAF. The official report stated:
This Gotha came in over the Latchingdon Peninsular at 11.30 p.m., flying in a south-westerly direction. Meanwhile, at 10.56 hours Bristol Fighter C4636 ‘Devil in the Dark’ of No.39 Squadron at North Weald had taken off. Crewed by Lieutenant k the gunner, they had been flying at 11,000 feet for just over an hour when, five minutes after midnight, north of Hainault and near the souhern extremity of his ‘B’ patrol line, Arkell picked up the twin exhausts of a Gotha 1000 feet lower. He dived down and began closing from 200 yards under its tail, giving Stagg the opportunity to fire half a drum. He then zoomed up to deliver a long burst from his forward firing Vickers guns, levelling off to offer Stagg another chance.
The Gotha started to dive, making flat turns, with both its gunners firing as the opportunity arose, and Arkell delivered several more bursts. He then moved in much closer, sitting under its tail and able to make out all its details, while Stagg fired two more drums. He zoomed up once more for another long burst from the Vickers, and in all fired 350 rounds. The fight was then down to 3000 feet, with the Gotha still descending. At 1500 feet Arkell once more positioned underneath, and a final burst from Stagg set the Gotha’s starboard engine on fire. The bomber spun for about 1½ turns and hit the ground off Roman Road, East Ham, bursting into flames at 0.20 a.m.
The Gotha had actually come down about 200 yards from the Royal Albert Dock, by the north bank of the River Thames, the wreckage being spread over 100 yards of a bean field between Roman Road and Beckton Road. The crew jumped to their deaths before the crippled bomber hit the ground, and the body of the pilot was found on an allotment in Brooks Avenue, about half a mile north-east of the crash site. The observer was discovered in a ditch 300 yards south of the wrecked Gotha, while the gunner fell a quarter of a mile south in the next field, on the bank of a ditch. The wreck was subsequently allocated the number AB 6 by the RAF.
For more detail on the raid, see Ian Castle’s website.