Category Archives: Air Raids

Today, Lord French put forward a new scheme for the defence of London to the War Office based on a plan by Lieutenant-Colonel Simon. THis involved the the construction of a ring of gun stations round London to meet the bombing formations with heavy bursts of gun-fire about twenty-five miles from the capital with the idea of breaking up the formations to enable the home defence pilots to engage the raiders in detachments or individually. Lord French pointed out how difficult it was for the Royal Flying Corps pilots to deal with large formations of Gotha type aeroplanes well equipped for defence:

“Isolated attacks by aeroplanes on these unbroken formations are, it is clear, a useless sacrifice. …The task of our Royal Flying Corps units would be rendered much easier if the enemy formation could be broken up and use made of our superior power of manoeuvre to deal with the enemy in detail.

Simultaneous attack, by aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns, is not possible, but combined tactics in which the guns are assigned the definite role of breaking up the enemy formation, while the aeroplanes, having gained their height, are waiting to attack the enemy as he emerges in detached groups from the zone covered by gun fire, are it is considered not only possible, but essential to success.”

He asked therefore for enough guns to provide a barrage arc covering London from attack from any direction from the north, by way of the east, to the south. The time would come when the enemy bombers would make their approach to London from the west, and as guns became available Lord French asked that the circle should be completed to ensure protection from every direction. He estimated that a total of 1 10 guns would be necessary for the first part of the scheme, and eighty more to make the circle complete.

Lord French was told, in reply, that the reallotment of anti-aircraft guns for home defence would be laid before the War Cabinet, but that, meanwhile, he should consider taking guns from places less likely to be attacked. In the end the scheme was never fully implemented as the War Cabinet decided to adhere to their decision of December 1916, that the deliveries of 3-inch 20 cwt. guns must go to arm merchant vessels. Lord French was informed on the 9 August. He then attempted to build up the eastern gun barrier, withdrawing 10 guns from other stations around London, and 24 from the provinces.

19 July 1917 – Smuts Committee initial report

“The War Cabinet at their last meeting held on the 11th July 1917, decided (Minute 3) ‘That the Prime Minister and General Smuts in consultation with representatives of the Admiralty, General Staff and Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief Home Forces, with other such experts as they ‘may desire should examine i. The defence arrangements for Home Defence against air raids. ii. The air organization generally and the direction of aerial operations.’

2. We regard the first subject for our examination as the more pressing and we deal with it accordingly in this first report, so far as the defence of the metropolitan area is concerned.

The second subject of our inquiry is the more important and will consequently require more extensive and deliberate examination. We propose to deal with it in a subsequent report.

3. London occupies a peculiar position in the Empire of which it is the nerve centre, and we consider, in the circumstances, that its defence demands exceptional measures. It is probable that the air raids on London will increase to such an extent in the next twelve months that London might through aerial warfare become part of the battle front. We think, therefore, that it is necessary to take special precautions, so far as the defence of London is concerned, and so far as this may be done without undue prejudice to operations in the Field and on the High Seas, as the fighting forces must, as a matter of general principle have the first call upon our output of aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.

4. The arrangements for Home Defence, including that of the London area, against hostile air raids, have been undergoing a continual and rapid transformation, which, together with other causes, has militated against efficiency. In the first instance, attacks were made by Zeppelins at night and our defences were so organized as to deal with this form of attack. Anti-aircraft guns, singly or in pairs, or in large numbers, were placed at convenient points, and aeroplanes of no great power or speed were disposed at suitable centres.

After some modification, the original dispositions were found to be adequate to meet night attacks by Zeppelins. We have, however, now to meet attacks of an entirely different character, which take the form of invasions by squadrons of aeroplanes in formation and our arrangements for defence are accordingly being adapted to meet this development.

One cannot, however, entirely preclude the possibility of a repetition of Zeppelin attacks, and it would consequently be unwise to abandon the earlier defence arrangements. Additions to these arrangements are, however, necessitated by the new ‘formation attack’ by day. The defence against Zeppelins was effectually carried out, not only by individual anti-aircraft guns, but also by single aeroplanes fitted with special armament.

As operations were conducted by night, there was no question of formation either for attack or defence. Now, however, that the attack is made by day by large enemy units in formation, one or two anti-aircraft guns firing from any particular point cannot hope to cause serious damage, and generally have no other effect than that of frightening the enemy pilots, while the defending aircraft, unless they can also operate in formation, are liable to very serious risk and cannot do much more than hover round the outskirts of the enemy formation. An attack in formation could, we think, only be properly met by a barrage fire from guns concentrated in batteries at suitable points in front of the area to be defended, or by flights or squadrons whose object is, by concentrated attack, to break up the hostile formation and destroy individual machines after they have been scattered out of their formation.

5. The relevance of these remarks is well illustrated by what happened in the air raid over London on Saturday, 7th July. The enemy machines attacked in definite formation which they maintained throughout the raid. In our view they should have been met and repelled by a heavy barrage of gun-fire before they reached London. Instead of this they were only subjected to a sporadic gun-fire in the London area which did them no observable damage. As regards aeroplanes on that occasion, we actually disposed of a larger number of first-class machines than the enemy, but our machines were distributed among a number of stations and some of them came in in driblets from various training centres.

Our machines were not in formation when in the air, and even when they attempted to concentrate they did not come under a unified command in the air, nor have they been trained so to fight. The result was that their very spasmodic or guerrilla attacks failed to make an impression on the solid formation of the enemy, and the damage that was done by our superior numbers of first-class R.F.C. machines was comparatively negligible.

We have investigated the circumstances in some detail and are informed that the reasons why greater results were not achieved were that some of our pilots were not accustomed to the new machines they were flying, that certain machines were not used because of missing spare parts, and a certain amount of shells that were fired were useless on account of defective fuses. These defects should, and can be remedied with all possible speed, but it is to the general arrangements and organization that we wish to refer more fully.

6. Four separate agencies contribute to the defence of the London area against air raid: (a) Royal Naval Air Service, which is not under the Home Command, but works under the direction of the senior naval officers in the naval districts, but in co-operation as far as possible, with the Home Defences.

There seems to be a general agreement among those whom we have consulted that for the limited purpose of the defence of London, the present division of command in this respect should not be disturbed.

The principal function of the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons is to deal with enemy raiders on their return journey, as they recross the Channel. They did so very effectively on the occasion of the last raid, and after consideration of all the circumstances, we are disposed to think that the above squadrons should continue to operate under separate Naval Commands, but in close co-operation with the Home Defence.

(b) The Observation Corps (distinct from the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service), which consists of a number of observers round London, mostly infantry soldiers, often elderly and not specially qualified for the duties they have to perform. This Corps is directly under orders of the Field-Marshal Commanding Home Defences.

(c) Various incomplete units or single machines of the Royal Flying Corps allocated to Home Defence, under the Command of Colonel Higgins.

(d) The anti-aircraft guns of the London area under the command of Colonel Simon.

7. The last three agencies operate separately under orders of the Home Defence head-quarters which is the only connecting link between them. This system appears to us to involve too great a dispersal of Command when dealing with a problem like the air defence of the London area, which is not only of very far-reaching military and political importance, but also constitutes a well marked, distinct task, separable from other problems of Home Defence, which accordingly calls for a corresponding concentration of executive command.

Our first recommendation therefore is that:

Subject to the control of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief of the Home Forces a senior officer of first-rate ability and practical air experience should be placed in executive Command of the air defence of the London area including the above services (b) (c) (d) of paragraph 6 above, and that this officer should be assisted by a small but competent staff, who should be specially charged with the duty of working out all plans for London Air Defences.

This officer would take his instructions from the Field-Marshal and would in turn issue his orders to the Observation Corps, the Officer Commanding the anti-aircraft guns, and the various Air Units. The unity of command which is essential to any warlike operation, whether of an offensive or defensive character, would be thus achieved. We think that this officer should be appointed without delay so that he may at once set to work to deal with the various pressing problems connected with London air defence, some of which are referred to below.

In view of the possibility of the recurrence of Zeppelin attack, as well as for other reasons, we think it would be inadvisable to remove the anti- aircraft guns from their present stations in the London area. In our view, the best defensive use of anti-aircraft guns against hostile aeroplanes attacking by day, would be for them to put up a barrage in front of and covering London, and our second recommendation accordingly is that:

Immediate attention should be given to the question of the numbers and disposition of anti-aircraft guns to put up such a defensive barrage.

It is true that there is at present said to be an insufficiency of guns for this purpose but, as stated in paragraph 3 above, we regard the defence of London as so important as to call for exceptional measures, and special endeavours should therefore be made to provide an adequate number of guns for this purpose. 8. A more pressing problem, in our opinion, is the provision and organization of a sufficient number of air units, trained to fight in formation, and their proper disposition to dispel any air attack on London. At present the only reliable unit formed for this purpose is the squadron specially detailed a week ago from the Western front. Three other units are in process of formation, but they neither have the necessary number of machines nor have the pilots the required training for fighting in forma- tion. We understand that an additional squadron, complete in point of numbers, will be furnished almost immediately and posted to the North- East of London. Another squadron to be disposed to the South-East should be complete in numbers in three or four weeks. Both of these will, however, require to be properly trained to manoeuvre in formation in suitable units. Our third recommendation therefore is that:

The completion and training of these three additional squadrons, successively, be pushed on as rapidly as possible and that, in the meantime, the return of the first unit to France should not be sanctioned until the air defence of London is reasonably secure.

9. In the course of our investigation, we considered the point whether our present type of fighting machine is the best to cope with the slower but more powerful Gotha raiders. In regard to this we make no recommendations and leave the problem for the further consideration and study of the experts of the Air Board, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Ministry of Munitions.

10. The question of the provision of sufficient aircraft for defence purposes and for the formation of a reserve is one which, in our view, requires careful and immediate consideration. The enemy may possibly adopt the ruse of sending a small number of machines well in advance of his main attack in order to lure our squadrons into the air; the main enemy force may then appear on the scene and find himself unchecked, owing to the fact that our machines in coping with the advanced patrols had exhausted their petrol, and our pilots, their energy. We are advised that, theoretically, for our machines in the air to descend, refill with petrol, and reascend to the proper height, would take some 45 minutes, but in practice other factors would supervene and the actual time taken would be considerably longer. The result might well be that the main enemy force would meet with practically no opposition, and after doing the maximum amount of damage, might return to its base with immunity and intact. In view of such a situation, which might well arise at any time, we submit that it might be advisable to avoid sending up more units than are necessary onthefirstwarningofacomingraid. Suchacontingencywethinkmust be contemplated and to meet it reserves should be kept in hand. We accordingly recommend that:

The air defence units for the London area should he sufficient not only to cope with feints, but to meet the real attack or a possible second attack follow- ing close on a first attack.

The formation and retention of such a reserve is only in accordance with the general and elementary principles of warfare.

II. We believe that if prompt effect is given to the above recommendations, subject always to the adequate and reasonable provision of aircraft for naval and military operations by land and sea, a fair measure of security for the London area from hostile raids may be obtained until, at any rate, some unforeseen development takes place.”

10 July 1917 – Home defence

Following the daylight attack on 7 July the War Cabinet have once again been considering home defence. Firstl, they have reversed their decision not to give warnings and now it is planned that warnings of five minutes at the circumference of a circle with a radius of ten miles from Charing Cross will be given.

To do this, the warning would have to be given when the enemy aircraft were crossing a line twenty-two miles from Charing Cross. There was, however, no line of observers at that distance, the existing line of the London defences being closer in, at an average of sixteen miles from the centre. The idea of establishing observation posts farther out was considered, but abandoned. Instead ,the existing stations of the Medway defences were used together with some of the new gun stations which were set up as a result of the reorganisation of the defences. They formed an incomplete ring, at a distance of twenty to twenty-five miles, from the north-west, by the north and east, to the south of London. Now all that needs to be sorted is how the warning will be given.

In addition to this, 46 Squadron RFC has been ordered home for home defence. This decision was the subject of much debate within the War Cabinet with Sir John French arguing the inadequacy of his forces against massed raids and Sir Douglas Haig outlining the risks to the British offensive. In the end a compromise was reached as only one rather than two squadrons were ordered home.

The idea of carrying out retaliatory raids on Mannheim was also abandoned.


8 July 1917 – London hit again

Today, just a couple of days after 56 and 66 Squadrons RFC had returned to the front, 22 Gothas made a raid on the capital. One of the aircraft, in an apparent diversion, bombed Margate around 0930 and then flew off. Later German evidence suggests the aircraft was defective and dropped the bombs to lessen the load on the way home.

The rest flew on to London and attacked from the North and Northwest despite AA fire . The total casualties were 54 killed and 190 injured, including 10 killed and 55 injured by AA fire.IMG_1096.PNG

The raid once again demonstrated the futility of an unorganized defence. 78 pilots from the RFC and seventeen from the RNAS took the air from home defence and training squadrons, from acceptance parks, and from coast stations.

The aeroplanes flown were of twenty-one types, many of them of little fighting value, but there were about 30 more modern Camels, SE5s and Strutters. 36 pilots got close but individual attacks reduced the chances of success.

A Sopwith two-seater of 37 Home Defence Squadron was shot down, the pilot. Lieutenant John Edward Rostron Young was killed and his observer Air Mechanic Clifford Charles Taylor was seriously wounded. Captain John Palethorpe was in the action again in his DH4 but was hit in the hip and forced to land. Second Lieutenant Wilfred Graham Salmon from 63 Training Squadron in a Sopwith Pup was also killed

One of the Gothas was found, flying low down near the North Foreland apparently in trouble, by Second Lieutenant Frederick Arthur Darien Grace and Second Lieutenant George Murray from 50 Home Defence Squadron in their Armstrong-Whitworth two-seater and was shot down in the sea. Two of the crew climbed on the wings. Grace fired all his Very lights in the hope that he would attract attention to the plight of the enemy but had to leave due to shortage of petrol. When the area was searched later there was no sign of the Gotha or its occupants. This was the only Gotha shot down, though four more were damaged on landing.

The raid, in broad daylight, caused much consternation amongst he public and the War Cabinet met this afternoon to discuss the matter. They agreed that two squadrons should be withdrawn from France for Home defence and that he RFC should conduct retaliatory raids on Mannheim. Douglas Haig immediately agreed to the temporary transfer of Squadrons but stated that the retaliatory bombing would weaken his air strength too much and that this would but the planned operations in jeopardy.

4 July 1917 – Back again

The Germans resumed their daylight bombing of England today with two attacks.
At 0700 eighteen Gothas appeared over Harwich.

Coincidentally Captain John Palethorpe, from the RFC testing squadron at Martlesham Heath, was in the air in a DH4 and je attacked at once. Unfortunately his front gun jammed and then his observer air Mechanic James Oliver Jessop, was shot through the heart and killed, and the pilot had to break off the fight and land. He went up again with a new observer but by then the raid was over.

At this point the bombing squadron divided into two. Four Gothas attacked Harwich. Nineteen bombs fell on Harwich doing little damage to the town or ships in the harbour, However, three naval ratings were killed at the nearby RNAS Balloon station at Shotley. Ships in the Harbour opened fire but to no effect.

The remaining Gothas moved on to Felixstowe, 2 bombs fell on a camp of the 3rd Suffolks and killed five soldiers and wounded ten. Other than that damage to the town was superficial from the other bombs dropped.

However, the squadron moved on the attack the Felixstowe seaplane base only two bombs hit but the damage was considerable. Six naval ratings and three civilian workmen were killed and eighteen ratings and one workman injured. A flying-boat was destroyed by fire and another damaged, and the telephone system was put out of action.

The anti-aircraft guns of the Harwich defences were in action for nineteen minutes and fired 135 rounds, but no hits were made. Eighty-three airraft went up from the coastal stations but none found the enemy.

Over in France. 66 Squadron in Calais received the communication too late and missed the returning bombers. Twenty naval pilots from Dunkirk were in the air some time before those of 66 Squadron, and five of them, in Sopwith Camels found and attacked sixteen bombers around 0830. They reported that they had shot one down in flames, but the German records do not show any Gothas lost on this day.

Palethorpe was subsequently awarded the Military Cross.

22 June 1917 – “A Military object of the first importance”

Such is the demand for Reprisals against Germany following the bombing of London on 13 June 1917 that all kinds of barmy ideas are being considered. Today Alfred Mond, First Commissioner of Works made the following suggestion to the War Cabinet:

I beg to submit that in the consideration of Air Raid Reprisals against Germany, the following idea, suggested to me by Sir Lionel Earle, should receive consideration; . namely, that an attempt be made to set alight during the dry summer weather, the Black Forest at various points. I would point out that the Black Forest is not far situated from the Front, and theta t was possible to raid Freiburg, which is practically on the outskirts of the Forest, it is evidently possible to attack the Forest itself.

The Black Forest, which I know intimately, consists of very large stretches of pine timber; there is practically no undergrowth, but there are large accumulations of pine needles and cones, which are easily inflammable. This is, perhaps, the most important timber supply for the German army on the Western Front. Its total or partial destruction would, therefore, be a military object of the first importance.

I would submit that this object might be achieved by dropping large numbers of incendiary bombs in different localities from aeroplanes, Special attention being directed to the methods by which the tops of the trees can be set on fire.

Our Canadian officers, at present engaged in timber cutting in the French Forests, will have a large experience of forest fires in Canada, and if they were consulted, they could probably give expert advice on the technical execution of this scheme.

The scheme would bear reprisal of real military value and at the same time would destroy valuable assets of Germany and, If successful, would create very great impressions in Germany as well as satisfying public opinion here.

17 June 1917 – Another one bites the dust

Following the successful aircraft raid. On 13 June, another Zeppelin raid was made overnight with the same result as the raid on

Four Zeppelins set off to bomb England, but with only four hours of darkness, it was obvious that the airships would be unable to penetrate very far inland. In the event they encountered head winds and only two reached the coast.

The L42 appeared over the North Foreland at 0205 and bombed Ramsgate, Manston, and Garlinge. One bomb exploded in a naval ammunition store near the Clock Tower in Ramsgate Harbour and great military damage was caused. The buildings of the naval base were destroyed and many thousands of windows throughout the town were shattered. Two men and a woman were killed and seven men, seven women, and two children were injured.

During the attack the Zeppelin was caught by search light but lost again, apparently due to the fact that the underside of the L42 was painted black. A number of Naval pilots went up to intercept. Flight Sub- Lieutenant George Henry Bittles, in a seaplane, engaged the L42 at 11,000 feet when she was thirty miles east of Lowestoft, but her nose went up rapidly and the seaplane was soon outdistanced. Flight Lieutenant Egbert Cadbury, in a Sopwith Pup also caught up with the L42 at 15,000 feet and at once attacked. However, a petrol-pipe fracture hampered the plane’s climbing ability and the Zeppelin was able to get away. Another flying boat chased and the at 16,000 feet, found herself alone and out of harm’s way and, although a flying-boat took up the L42 but was unable to catch up.

The L48 was first seen about forty miles north-east of Harwich at 1134, but did not actually come inland until 0200, having struggled with engine problems and a frozen compass. L48 then attacked Harwich but was driven off by anti-aircraft fire.

Two aircraft took off from the RFC’s Orfordness Experimental Station shortly before 0200. Lieutenant Ernest William Clarke in a BE2c fired four drums at long range as he was unable to get above 11,000 feet. Lieutenant Frank Douglas Holder flying a FE2b with Sergeant Sydney Ashby as his observer made a number of attacks, but Holder’s front gun jammed and so did Ashby’s while firing his fifth drum.


London Pierce Watkins

At 0328 near Theberton, Captain Robert Henry Magnus Spencer Saundby, RFC also from the Orfordness  Station in a DH2 and Lieutenant Loudon Pierce Watkins, 37 Home Defence Squadron RFC in a BE12 made further attacks.  Saundby fired off three drums and Watkins fired off three as well. At that point the L48 burst into flames and crashed into a field at Holly Tree Farm. Remarkably, three of the crew survived, albeit badly injured – Heinrich Ellerkamm, Wilhelm Uecker and Otto Miethe.

Captain Franz Georg Eichler, and the commander of the Naval Airship Division, Korvettenkapitän Viktor Schütze, who was also on board were both killed. Other crew members killed were Heinrich Ahrens, Wilhelm Betz, Walter Dippmann, Wilhelm Gluckel, Paul Hannemann, Heinrich Herbst, Franz Konig, Wilhelm Meyer, Karl Milich, Michael Neunzig, Karl Floger, Paul Suchlich, Herman Van Stockum and Paul Westphal.


The wreckage of L48

Watkins was credited with the victory and later awarded the Military Cross.

An excavation of the crash site was carried out in 2006.