Category Archives: Air Raids

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.


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.

10 January 1918 – Loud Warnings

Today the Commissioner for Police in London announced changes in the public warnings to be issued in the event of an air raid.

The debate has long been raging on the ways of informing the public to take shelter without at the same time causing undue panic. However, the Government’s hand has been forced by the raid on 18 December 1917, which developed too quickly for police officers with their Take Cover placards to be deployed. Instead Maroons (sound bombs) were fired to warn the public of the attack.

Of course this let the cat out of the bag, and public opinion was very clearly in favour of this type of warning that the Government had no choice but to give in.

Nevertheless, the Government has limited their use. The announcement made today stated that the maroons would be fired, when necessary, up to 2300 but they would not be used after that hour if the Commissioner of Police believed that he had sufficient time to mobilize officers to issue the warning by placard.

Unsurprisingly, this did not last long and in February the time was extended to midnight and in March the restriction was removed altogether.

5 January 1918 – Zeppelin Disaster

German Zeppelins have not visited Britain since October 1917, when heavy losses put a hold on the programme. Today, atny attempts to resume the bombing suffered a serious setback when 5 Zeppelins were destroyed.

This afternoon 5 airships were in the sheds at Ahlhorn – Zeppelins L46, L47, L51, and L58, and the Schütte-Lanz SL20. Two cleaners were at work in the after car in the L51 and six civilian employees were making repairs to the Schütte -Lanz, Other than this, the sheds were empty. Most of the 1000 airship and ground personnel were in the adjacent barracks.

Suddenly a series of explosions were heard and the sheds burst into flames, The flames spread rapidly, and within a minute the five airships and three of the four sheds which contained them had been destroyed. Fifteen men were killed, thirty seriously injured, and 104 slightly injured.

The initial reaction was that the disaster had been caused by a British air attack. Once that was ruled out, rumours of sabotage and traitors spread. An official investigation found that the fire had started in the double shed housing the L47 and L51. The two cleaners in the latter ship, who escaped with burns, testified that a fire followed a dull report in front of the car in which they were working.

The official report was that the disaster had been due to an accident, and the suggestion was put forward that a piece of roofing, made loose by the winter storms, had fallen and damaged a fuel tank, and that the fire was possibly started by sparks thrown off from bracing wires as they were struck by the falling piece of roof.

The exact cause of the explosion remains a mystery. At the time many never accepted the official explanation and believed that the destruction resulted from an act of sabotage.