Category Archives: Home Front

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.

13 February 1918 – Comic Brand

Today, Lieutenant Quintin Brand was promoted to Major and put in command of 112 Squadron RFC. 112 where had been a Flight Commander.

The squadron had been formed on 30 July 1917 at Throwley Aerodrome in Kent for air defence duties in the London area. It was originally equipped with Sopwith Pups but is now in the process of converting to Sopwith Camels specially configured for night fighting.

These Camels were commonly referred to as the Sopwith Comic (the name was also given to the night version of the Sopwith Strutter). The main differences was that the Vickers guns and the charactistic hump were removed and replaced with two overwing Lewis Guns – the primary reason for this was to reduce the chances of the pilot being blinded by muzzle flashes at night, particularly where incendiary ammunition was used.

As a consequence of this arrangement, the pilot’s seat was set 30cm further back to allow the Lewis Guns to be reloaded. The space was filled with an additional fuel tank to increase the range.

Whether these changes were a detriment or improvement to performance seems to be a matter of dispute. On the one hand the Lewis guns were much lighter than the Vickers, but on the other the streamlining of the aircraft was adversely impacted by the guns.

Weather on the Western Front was once again poor.

Back in England, 66 Training Squadron based at Yatesbury were practicing formation flying in their RE8s.

2nd Lieutenant John Thomas Gibson and Lieutenant Frederick Cumber Baxter in A3742 attempted a left turn, but the pilot made an error and the aircaft went into a spin. It was too near to the ground for the pilot to recover and they crashed.

Both were badly injured and Gibson died of his wounds later the same day. Baxter hung on but eventually sucumbed on 20 February.

7 February 1918 – Accidents will happen

William Reginald Sanborn

Out on the Western Front the weather was poor, with mist, rain and strong winds hampering most operations. Nevertheless the RFC suffered casualties.

2nd Lieutenant William Reginald Sanborn was killed at the Central Flying School at Upavaon when the engine of his Avro 504a (A1986) exploded in mid air. The aircraft was destroyed and Sanborn was killed. Sanborn was a Canadian who had been a Private with the Canadian Army Medical Corps and transferred to the RFC. He had been appointed as a flying officer on 23 January 1918. Typical of the time, news of his appointment did not appear in the London Gazette until 25 February 1918. For more information on Sanborn see here.


Jack Pitt

The same day, 2nd Lieutenant Jack Pitt with 46 Training Squadron RFC was killed when his DH4 (A7748) stalled shortly after take off at Catterick. The aircraft nosedived sharply and crashed. Pitt was killed instantly.

31 January 1918 – Sent to Coventry

Today in Parliament William Anderson MP asked the Under-Secretary of State for War

“whether he has now received a Report as to the circumstances in which aeroplanes circled over Coventry and dropped leaflets containing an article which had appeared in a London newspaper; who authorised these proceedings and who paid for the leaflets; and whether the use of Government aeroplanes for this purpose was sanctioned by the War Office?”

Sir James MacPherson answered:

“The distribution of these leaflets from aeroplanes was made at the suggestion in his private capacity of an officer serving in London who is also member of this House. He paid for the leaflets at his sole expense, the newspaper making no contribution to the cost. The use of Government aeroplanes was authorised by the authorities of the Royal Flying Corps, but special flights were not made for the purpose. They were distributed during a testing trip.”

The leaflets in question had been dropped on Coventry on 2 and 3 December. Coventry was at the time an important centre for aircraft production and on 26 November 1917, 50,000 industrial workers throughout the city had gone out on strike essentially over management’s refusal to recognise and negotiate with shop stewards. Mediation attempts failed and then came the leaflets.

A simple message was dropped on 2 December saying:

“Make the Machines! We will Fly them!
Aeroplanes are going to Win the War!


The following day appeared a reprint of an article ‘What the Coventry strike means’ written by Boyd Cable in The Times – a nom-de-plume of a RFC officer, Captain Edward Andrew Ewart, He set out the effect of the strike in terms of its effects on the battlefield:

“We know that the Germans are straining every nerve to equal or exceed our aeroplane production this winter. If they can beat us in this, next year their machines will be able fly constantly over our lines, reconnoitre, photograph, gain full knowledge of troop movements, locate battery positions, and by air observation direct the fire of their guns on our trenches, our communications, our batteries, and our ammunition dumps […] it will mean that we in the line next year must expect find flights of Germans regularly patrolling for anything up to 50 miles behind our lines (as we now do behind theirs), reconnoitring, swooping down and pouring machine-gun fire on men in billets or rest-camps or marching on the roads, bombing day after day towns and villages and railheads and ammunition dumps (as we now bomb theirs). Our attacks will have to be made without the enormous advantage we have held all this year of superior counter-battery work; our infantry will go over the top in the face of a tornado of shell-fire because our airmen will have lost the power to fly over the enemy batteries and direct our guns’ fire on them and silence them, will have to fight through in the teeth of the murderous fire of thousands of machine-guns secure in their concrete pill-boxes because of the same loss of our artillery, observation and destroying power […] All this must happen if we lose our present air superiority, and we must lose our air superiority if the present strike continues.”

In a later exchange, Major H. K. Newton, the Deputy Assistant Director of Supplies and Transport for Eastern Command was named as the member of the house who had paid for the leaflets. Given that Coventry wasn’t in his area of command this seems difficult to beleive. It seems likely that Ewart was behind the whole thing as, whilst he was indeed an RFC officer, he was not a pilot and in fact worked in the Aircraft Production Department’s Propaganda Branch who’s main aim was to raise morale amongst workers by demonstrating the value of their products to the conduct of the war.

As to the identity of the pilots carrying out the drop, they were never identified but they are likely to have been pilots from nearly Radford Aerodrome which had been taken over by the RFC as No 1 Aircraft Acceptance Park.

The following day the strikers went back to work, though whether the leaflets had any impact in this is hard to say.

More detail on this incident is available on Airminded,

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.