Category Archives: Air Raids

20 May 1918 – Final lap

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.

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13 April 1918 – 60-64

Overnight, what turned out to be the last Zeppelin attack of any consequence took place. Five airships, the L60, L61, L62, L63 and L64 set off to bomb various targets.

The L60 was overland only about an hour, and her commander believed he had reached Leeds, but his attack was made south of the Humber, where 34 bombs fell, without inflicting damage.

The L64 approached Lincoln, but did not attack the city which was in darkness and therefore probably escaped notice. At Skellingthorpe and Doddington, however, lights were showing and fourteen bombs fell damaging an engine shed and the railway track at Skellingthorpe. Four other bombs fell south of Lincoln, without effect.

The L63 also reached Lincoln and was engaged by the Brauncewall gun. In response the L63 dropped a number of bombs in the area without effect before going out to sea again.

L61 got as far as Wigan after a two hour flight. No air-raid warning had been issued to the town and the blast furnaces of the Wigan Coal and Iron Company were in full blaze. 27 bombs were dropped in the area killing seven, injuring 17 and causing considerable damage to property. Looking back, Wigan was probably a little unlucky, as the commander would probably have attacked Liverpool instead had he not thought he was over Sheffield. .

L62 eventually reached the Birmingham area having flown from Norfolk. on the way L62 dropped bombs near Wisbech and east of the aerodrome at Tydd St. Mary. A pilot who was patrolling the area climbed after the airship, which he described as ‘sitting’ over the aerodrome at 18,000 feet while she dropped her bombs, but she soon eluded him, and steered a course for Coventry. As she approached the city she was fired on, and she dropped bombs on Coventry and Birmingham, all of which fell without causing any major damage. The L62 then turned east, and at this point, Lieutenant Cecil Henry Noble-Campbell of 38 Home Defence Squadron, spotted the ship and followed for about an hour. He had a brief machine-gun duel with the ship. He failed to get a hit but was wounded in the head by a fragment from his propellor whic was shattered, and made a forced landing at Coventry.

There is some dispute as to how this happened. Subsequently the RAF hierarchy issued a press statement which said that Noble-Campbell’s aircraft had been brought down by fire from the L62, and this was the first incident of its type.  Noble Campbell’s squadron commander disagreed with this report.  He believed that the most likely cause was a shell fragment from an anti-aircraft gun.

Poor weather prevented a large scale response, and none of the other twenty pilots who got up saw anything.

17 February 1918 – Single

The attack yesterday was followed today by another raid, this time by a single Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI (R25). However, the confusion and damage was such that at the time it was thought that there were multiple raiders. The noise of the aircrafts engines was heard over a wide area contributed to this.

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R25 preparing for a raid

The Giant approached London from the south-east and dropped nineteen 50-kg. bombs between Lee and St. Pancras railway station.

The main damage was inflicted by the last six bombs dropped which all fell near St Pancras station. Damaged was caused to the Midland Hotel and the booking office. 20 people sheltering there were killed and twenty-two injured. One other person was killed elsewhere.

Sixty-nine pilots, twenty-two them in Sopwith ‘Camels’, patrolled, but only three of them came in contact with the bomber but soon lost it. One of these got off fifty rounds, but to no avail. The confusion led to a large number of AA guns firing, often at RFC aircraft. No hits were recorded.

16 February 1918 – Y1K

Today, five Giants (Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI) set off to bomb London. Of these only two reached London. One of these (R39) dropped the first 1000kg bomb on any target in England. The bomb hit the Chelsea Hospital around 2215. An officer of the hospital staff was killed with his wife, her sister, and two children. Three other children were taken alive from the debris. Neighbouring buildings were also damaged.

Chelsea Hospital after the bomb8ng

The other (R12) approached Woolwich but was got tangled in the balloon barrage in the area. The pilot managed to free the aircraft but in the process two 300kg bombs were shaken free. They fell on Woolwich killing seven people, injuring two, and damaging several buildings including the Garrison Church. Relieved to be still flying, the crew jettisoned the remaining eight 50kg bombs and turned for home.

The remaining three aircraft (R25, R33, and R36) were forced to turn back due to high winds and dropped their bombs on Dover causing only minor damage.

AA guns and 60 aircraft attempted to intercept the raid but none of them got close. All five bombers retuned safely, despite one of them losing three of its four engines.

29 January 1918 – They might be giants

Following last night’s raid, four ‘Giant’ Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI set off this evening on another attempt to raid London. One was forced to turn back early with engine trouble.

The first raider (R39) arrived at around 2200 over the Blackwater in Essex. Fifteen minutes later it was intercepted by Captain Arthur Dennis, 37 Squadron RFC, in a BE12b.

The BE12b was a night fighter version of the BE12, itself a single-seater version of the now ancient Be2. The BE12b had the 200hp Hispano-Suiza engine also used in the SE5a and was fitted with overwing Lewis Guns rather than synchronized Vickers Guns.

The R39

Dennis opened fire as the ‘Giant’ took evasive action while returning fire. Dennis jammed his gun but got it working again. Whilst trying to reload the drum, the rough slipstream from the Giant’s engines threw his BE12b out of control. By the time Dennis regained control he had lost sight of the Giant.

R39 flew westwards eventually dropping bombs on south-west London around 2330. None of these caused much damage. R39 then crossed over the Thames, dropped bombs on Syon Park without effect and then dropped bombs on Brentford, killing eight people, and damaging many properties. Two men were killed and 5 injured at the Metropolitan Water Board’s works at Kew Bridge six HE bombs exploded, killing two men, injuring another and damaging a reservoir, pumping station and boiler house. The final bombs fell on Chiswick where they damaged 99 houses. Before R39 reached the coast, three other RFC pilots engaged her but she escaped.

Giant R26 arrived at 2244 near Walton-on-the-Naze in Essex. However by this point the aircraft had only two fully functioning engines ando so was flying slowly and losing height. At around midnight the bombs were dropped to help gain height. These fell harmlessly on Rawreth and Rayleigh. By 0020am the aircraft was back out at sea.

R25 arrived over Foulness around 2250 and headed west. The aircraft was picked up by searchlights, and a number of British fighters attacked. At around 2325 a bullet put one of the engines out of action but the crew continued a reduced speed. Shortly after this, they encountered a balloon apron and at this point the aircraft dumped all its bombs over Wanstead and turned back. All 20 HE bombs landed within 300 yards of each other at Redbridge Lane but no significant damage was caused. The R25 limped home and on inspection found 85 bullet holes in the aircraft.

80 sorties were flow in defence and 8,132 rounds of Anti-Aircraft fire to little effect.

28 January 1918

After a long winter break, German raiders returned to Britain this evening. Bad weather did not seem to put them off, but 6 of the raiders were forced to turn back, leaving seven Gothas and one ‘Giant’ Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI to make the attack.

Records are unclear about exactly what happened, but it appears that the Giant and three or four Gothas bombed London while the rest attacked towns in Kent. Between 2025 and 2135, bombs fell on Ramsgate, Richborough, Sheerness and Margate. The only significant damage occurred at Sheerness where various ships were damaged in the docks and other buildings were wrecked injuring five, one of whom later died.

The first Gotha reached London shortly before 2100 and the raid continued until shortly after 2200. 39 bombs were recorded destroying many buildings, killing 28 and injuring 77. 14 of these were killed during a stampede to get into the air raid shelter at Bishopsgate Goods Station when the warning maroons were mistaken for bombs.

The Giant finally appeared over London at around 0015. It had already survived an encounter with a Bristol F2b from 39 Squadron RFC (C4638 with 2nd Lieutenant John Gorbell Goodyear and 1st Class Air Mechanic WT Merchant) – the Bristol had had to retire with a holed engine and wounded observer. 5 bombs were dropped one of which smashed down through the pavement lights of Odhams Printing Works, which was an approved air raid shelter, and exploded in the basement killing 38 and injuring 85.

The last of the Gothas was intercepted by two Sopwith Camels from 44 Squadron and shot down. It crashed at Wickford killing all three crew members. Four more crashed on landing, with one complete crew killed. At least some of this was likely due to RFC and RNAS action. 103 sorties were flown and five close encounters were recorded. The anti-aircraft guns fired 14,722 rounds against the eight raiders.

17 January 1918 – Home Defence

Continued Gotha raids in December 1917 had spooked public opinion and, as a consequence, the War Cabinet. The War Cabinet therefore commissioned Viscount French, Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces to report on the state of air defences in London. Today he delivered his report.

In examining the Zeppelin attacks, he concluded that:

“The Zeppelin menace cannot be said to have disappeared. Great improvements have been made in the speed, radius of action, and climbing power of the latest type of Zeppelins, while their visibility has been reduced by camouflaging the underparts of the envelope with black dope. The return of warm weather will probably be the signal for renewed Zeppelin raids, but in view of the recent increases in the defences of London and the south-east of England it is probable that they will direct their attacks on the north-east coast or Midlands. “

On countering the daylight aeroplane raids, he indicated that the reorganization of the gun and aeroplane defences, together with the re-equipment of the defence squadrons with better fighting aircraft, had forced the enemy to give up daylight raids in favour of night attacks.

This, however, created different problems of defence. New improved fighting aeroplanes had been produced and fifty had been delivered to the eight squadrons in the south-east of England. However, only expert pilots could fly these unstable single-seater fighters in the dark and it would take time for the new pilots to become proficient in night-fighting.

The need to provide antiaircraft gun protection for widely dispersed vulnerable points in London and the south-eastern areas made it difficult to arrange an adequate zone for the operation of the large number of Royal Flying Corps squadrons placed between London and the East Coast. The anti-aircraft scheme of fire was based chiefly on sound and it was, of course, impossible, when firing at sound, to distinguish friend from foe.

French noted that, to increase the areas reserved for aeroplane operations, modifications in the disposition of the fixed guns would be necessary. At this point, however it was difficult to determine the ultimate relative value of guns and aeroplanes as weapons of defence, and consequently whether such modifications will even be justified.

French then highlighted the importance of the searchlight. The small 60-m. searchlights supplied for home defence had been effective against the old-type airships, but had proved to be useless against the latest type Zeppelins and against the high-flying aeroplanes. A few 150cm. lights had been obtained from a French firm, and it was expected that deliveries of a considerable number of British-made 120cm. searchlights would begin in the near future. A new type of carbon which would greatly increase the range of the lights was also being manufactured, and sound locators which would enable the lights to be trained on an audible, but invisible, target were being distributed, as were parachute flares to be fired from the anti-aircraft guns. These improvements, he said, “will, it is hoped, have the effect of turning the scale in favour of the illumination of the target. It remains to be seen whether the guns or the aeroplanes will derive the greatest advantage.”

Of the balloon aprons there are three in operation and it is hoped to complete the remainder, up to the authorized total of twenty, at the rate of four each month. The aprons could ascend to a height of 8,000 feet, but the provision of larger-type Caquot balloons would enable them to be raised to 10,000 feet. Their main effect was a moral one, but they tended to keep enemy pilots at heights which made it impossible for them to drop bombs with accuracy of aim.

In addition to these various measures, three hundred Lewis guns had been installed at vulnerable points to keep enemy aircraft from descending below heights at which anti-aircraft gun-fire ceased to be effective, and arrangements had been made to equip with high-angle mountings the machine-guns with the Home Defence Garrison and with Field Army troops.

Finally, to help to establish the height and movements of enemy aircraft, wireless-fitted aeroplanes patrolled given areas: the observers signalled their information to receiving stations which were in direct telephonic communication with the area head-quarters.