Category Archives: Home Front

24 September 1917 – They’re back

After a gap of three weeks, Kaghohl 3 returned to England with 16 Gothas. Of these, three turned back early with engine problems, three battled through to London, six bombed the area around Dover and four dropped bombs over south Essex and Kent.

The first attack occurred over Dover around 1915, where the six Gothas dropped 42 bombs. A number of houses were destroyed and five people were killed and 11 injured.

The four Gothas that roamed over Essex and Kent failed to cause much damage either. Between 2000 and 2030 bombs fell on various town and villages causing minor damage. The only serious damage occurred when at about 2030 eleven bombs dropped at the army camp at Leybourne, about seven miles south west of Chatham, killing two soldiers of the Lincolnshire Yeomanry and destroying various buildings.

The first Gotha reached London at 2005. Eight bombs fell on East London and a number of building suffered serious damage and one person was injured.

The next Gotha attacked north London causing minor damage. It then flew westwards and dropped more bombs, again casusing minor damage. The bomber then turned east and headed towards the centre of London. The next bomb landed in Bloomsbury, outside the Bedford Hotel, killing 13 and injuring 22. The Gotha then flew east dropping more bombs alog the way causing significnant damage to the Royal Academy of Arts.

The third Gotha to bomb London bombed the northwest around 2040. Minor damage tO property resulted, but a boy was killed and two others injured.

30 RFC aircraft took off to oppose the raid but none sighted any of the Gothas.

The British were also using a new defensive tactic for the first time. Colonel Simon and Captain ARF Kingscote had developed a scheme which placed a series of ‘curtains’ of shell bursts in the path of raiding aeroplanes. The scheme gave screensbursts about 2,500 feet from top to bottom. The screens could be ordered for five different heights, varying between 17,000 and 5,000 feet.

The map used by the anti-aircraft gunners was divided into numbered squares, and as the enemy aeroplanes were shown, according to sound-plotting, to be about to enter a particular square, the controlling officer directed vertical barrage fire on the face of that square. As the bombers passed from square to square in the barrage zones, they would be met by successive barrage screens. If, however, a target was found by a searchlight beam, the barrage fire would cease and guns would attack the target directly.

The British reported that the new barrage forced some of the Gothas to turn back from London in the face of this new intense AA fire. One Gotha was claimed shot down in the Thames, but in rality all the bombers got back, although one was wrecked on landing, possibly as a result of an AA hit.


4 September 1917 – It’s on

Last night’s attack on Chatham proved that night raiding could be successful and tonight the first night time attack on London was attempted. Eleven Gothas set out, though two turned back early with engine problems. Five eventually attacked London while the other four attacked targets in Kent, Suffolk and Essex. At the time of course, the number was exaggerated with the Official History noting that 26 raiders were estimated.

The first attack was on Suffolk at around 2225pm, where some minor damage but no casualties resulted. At 2238pm seven bombs fell on Margate, casuing extensive damage to uildings in the town but fortunately only injuries to five men and three women. In Dover, there was also property damage but this time there were three dead and seven injured. The fourth raider dropped eleven bombs near Tiptree, Essex, but only a few broken windows resulted.

The remaining 5 Gothas attacked London in three waves beginning at 2300, 0030 and 0050. 57 bombs in total were dropped, five of which did not explode, and the casualties were 8 men, 7 women, and 1 child killed, and 25 men, 1 constable, 23 women, and 7 children injured.

About 40 AA guns opened fire but the searchlights found it hard to hold the raiders in the bright moonlight. The commander of the gun at Borstal was convinced that they hit a Gotha which was flying on the Kent side of the river and that the aeroplane was destroyed. However, no wreckage was found despite the river being dredged. German records show, however, that one Gotha was lost during the raid, though the circumstances are unknown so it is possible that the AA fire caused enough damage for the aircraft to crash in the sea on the way home.

3 September 1917 – Totally unsuitable

After the mini raid last night, a more serious attempt was made on Chatham Docks tonight.

At 2235 two aeroplanes crossed the coast at Westgate and dropped two bombs at Margate, and five on St. Peters causing minor damage.

One Gotha then retired out to sea, ,but the other continued up the Thames Estuary and was joined by one or more Gothas which flew over Eastchurch at 2300.

Ten minutes later bombs began to fall in Chatham. 26 in all were dropped, but two did most of the damage when they hit the drill hall at the naval barracks in which several hundred men were sleeping. 130 naval ratings were killed and a further 88 wounded. The remaining bombs which fell on the town destroyed a house and damaged property and, in addition, killed a naval rating and a woman, and caused injury to three men (including one naval rating and one soldier), three women, and two children.

None of the enemy aeroplanes was visible from Chatham at any time and no anti-aircraft guns came into action: seven rounds were fired at one of the bombers on its way out at Herne Bay.

The anti-aircraft guns in Sheppey fired on the enemy aero- planes, which were momentarily seen from time to time without the aid of searchlights. One bomber was caught, fleetingly, in the beam of the Whitstable light, but had passed into darkness again when seven rounds had been fired.

16 RFC planes went up though none of their pilots saw anything of the raiders. The combination of bright moonlight and dark clear sky made the task of the search- light personnel difficult and the beams of the lights had little power.


Christopher Brand

Despite this failure, the night did in fact prove instructive. The pilots from 44 Squadron, whose role was to repel day raiders got fed up sitting on the ground during the attack. They were grounded because contemporary opinion considered that the unstable Sopwith Camel, quick to respond to the controls, was entirely unsuited for night work.


Gilbert Murlis-Green

45 Squadron’s CO, Major Gilbert Ware Murlis-Green, sought, and was given, permission to try the ‘Camels’ at night. Three pilots ( Murlis-Green, Captain Christopher Joseph Quintin Brand, and Lieutenant Charles Chaplin Banks) took off.


Charles Chaplin Banks

They got into the air safely, and although were unable to find the enemy, patrolled for forty minutes, and then made good landings. The news spread at once and other day-fighting pilots began to practise night flying. By a coincidence, while the pilots of No. 44 Squadron were in the air demonstrating that unstable single-seater fighters could be flown at night, two pilots in France, also in Camels, were making the same discovery.

2 September – Blame it on the Moonlight

The loss of a number of Gothas had led the Germans to abandon daylight raids over England by aircraft. However, tonight saw the first moonlight raid by the Gothas of Kagohl 4. The normal raiders Kagohl 3 were off getting night-flying training. Kagohl 4 normally carried out raids on the coastal areas of France but some aircraft diverted to attack Dover (British sources claim two, the German only one).

The raid was over rapidly before any searchlights or guns could get into action. At 2305, fourteen bombs fell on the town. Two of these (one of which failed to explode) were converted 9.84-inch trench-mortar shells, weighing 91 kg., Conisderable damage to properties was caused but despite this only one person was killed and 10 injured.

Two aircraft went up from RFC Dover but neither was fast enough to have any impact.

22 August 1917 – Last daylight raid

Before the Zeppelinlast night’s raid had even returned home from last night’s raid, a Squadron of Gotham set off on a mission to bomb England. Losses on the raid of xxxx meant that there were only 15 aircraft.

Four of them turned back with engine trouble, but the others came in over Margate about 1040 and, after dropping five bombs, continued south-west. Defensive aeroplanes from Manston were already approaching their height and so the Gothas turned south-east and attacked Ramsgate with thirty-four bombs.

Seven of these fell on hospitals and some of the others on shop and house property. They killed eight men (2 soldiers) and one child, and injured twelve men (9 soldiers), two women, and seven children.

The anti-aircraft gun-fire with which they were met when they appeared was accurate and the aeroplanes came up and pursued the bombers as they turned for Ramsgate. Two of the raiders were quickly brought down by gun-fire, one of them falling in the sea, and the other, in flames, between Westgate and Ramsgate.

From the Gotha which fell in the sea, a member of the crew was rescued and it was learned from him that the intention of the raiders was to separate after striking the coast near the North Foreland. One detachment was to continue up the Thames Estuary to bomb Sheerness, and the other southwards to attack Dover. The accuracy of the gun-fire and the presence of British aeroplanes brought about a change of plan, and the bombers, after the attack on Ramsgate, went out to sea again, pursued by naval aircraft, and recrossed the coast at Deal.

Under vigorous gun-fire they went on to Dover, where they arrived about 1110 and six of them dropped nine bombs which seriously damaged seven private houses, an inn, and a school. The casualties were two soldiers and one woman killed, and five soldiers injured.

135 aircraft went up to attack. One Gotha was shot down in the sea, possibly by gunfire but more likely by Flight Sub-Lieutenant J. Drake. The Gothas were continuously attacked over Dover, and across the sea to the Belgian Coast, by naval and Royal Flying Corps pilots, but without further losses.

The severity of the defence convinced the Germans that daylight raids were now too risky and they now switched to night raids. Despite this a small number of bombers never numbering more than 30, had forced the British to invest precious resources in Home a Defence, both in guns and men and in aircraft and pilots – keeping them from serving at the front where they were sorely needed.


21 August 1917 – “Hot Air”

This evening, eight naval Zeppelins set out from the north German sheds – the L35, L.41, L42, L44, L45, L46, L47 and L51 with the intention of raiding the English Midlands. The airships, keeping well together, approached the Yorkshire coast until they came within sixty miles of the Humber, where they dispersed and cruised about for three hours.


The L41 returning home

Eventually the L41 attempted an attack on Hull, crossing the coast soon after midnight. However the searchlights and heavy anti- aircraft gun-fire made the L41 turn back and drop the bombs randomly. Hedon suffered damage with a Methodist Chapel destroyed, and some other minor damage to property. In addition, one man was injured.

British records of the time suggest that no other bombs fell overland. At the time, however, the German Admiralty issued a lengthy report of the raid, in which it was claimed that the Zeppelin fleet had bombed Hull, warships in the Humber, and various industrial establishments. This was assumed at the time to be propaganda.

However, German records of the raid suggest that the crews genuinely believed that they had attacked Hull with 11000 kg of bombs. This is reported in the Official History (Volume 5, p56). The Official History also notes a packet of reports to which it was judged no credence could be attached at the time. In this packet, labelled Hot Air, are messages which show that an airship passed over Pontefract and was later reported near Rochdale in Lancashire, while from Doncaster came news of bombs heard exploding in the distance.

Two of the twenty pilots who went up to attack the L.41 saw her, but they could not get near enough to engage her. One of them while flying at 15,000 feet estimated that the L.41 was some 5,000 feet higher still and, although he pursued her twenty miles out to sea and fired bursts at long range, he could not get near enough for effective attack.

The Zeppelins tended to fly at around 20,000ft, mainly to ensure that they were out reach of British Aircraft, which at this point in the war they were. However, flying height made accurate navigation and precision bombing impossible. It’s possible that the bombs fell in uninhabited areas and were not detected.

18 August 1917 – High winds foil raid

The weather proved more effective than British patrols in foiling raids by German Gothas today.

This morning 28 Gothas from Kagohl 3 set out from Belgium. However, clear skies in Belgium were matched by a rain swept England. While crossing the English Channel it became clear that the winds were too strong and the cloud cover too heavy for any reasonable chance of success.

The formation turned North with the intention of of making a wide circle over the North Sea to take them back to the Belgian coast near the Dutch frontier, but
the strength of the wind increased and the Gothas began to straggle.

One of them, running for home direct, came down on the beach near Zeebrugge. Most of the others passed over the Dutch island of Schouwen, where six bombs were dropped about 1130. They then turned south-west again and were last seen about twenty strong, flying in the direction of Zeebrugge.

Two aircraft got lost over Holland, and were shot down by Dutch gunners near the German frontier. The crews, uninjured, were taken prisoner, and the Gothas were destroyed. A number of other aircraft were damaged on landing.