Category Archives: Home Front

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.

Advertisements

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.

23 March 1918 – Radio direction finding

Away from the war, the RNAS has still found time to experiment in improving aircraft technology. At RNAS Cranwell, a team has been working on the development of airborne radio direction finding.

The process has already been used by ground stations established in England and France to detect and track the direction of Zeppelins and bombers, but the question is whether it’s possible to use the same system for an aircraft to navigate by.

Essentially the system is the same, in that the radio operator will attempt to establish his bearings by distance from a number of radio beacons. These were set up south of England in February 1918 at Poldhu, Ipswich, Chelmsford, Stonehaven and Horsea Island. It was decided not to test the system in France in case the technology fell into enemy hands.

img_1455

The rotating coils

At the same time, a suitable transmitter was designed for a Handley Page 0/400 and personnel trained in its operation. The transmitter consisted of a rotating coil which enabled the bearings to joe taken without turning the aircraft. At this time the size of the coils (5 feet tall) meant only a large aircraft such as the Handley Page was suitable.

Today the first test flight took place, with Squadron Commander Harold Frederick Towler, successfully navigating a flight from RNAS Cranwell to the Air Station at Stonehenge.

Despite this early success, the system never really advanced much further during the war. The unreliability of the aircraft and the need for specialist crews hampered development and the military authorities were reluctant to introduce the concept unless it would provide a decisive advantage.

For more on this see pages 378-383 of Observers and Navigators: And other non-pilot aircrew in the RFC, RNAS and RAF.

14 March 1918 – Pages in his Diary

2nd Lieutenant Cecil Edward Gregory joined No. 1 Officer Cadet Wing of the Royal Flying Corps on 9 October 1917 for “…basic military training during a two-month course which included drill, physical training, military law, map reading and signalling using Morse code”.

Next, he moved to No. 2 School of Aeronautics in Oxford on 30 November 1917 “…to begin a two-month course of military training and ground instruction. The topics covered included aviation theory, navigation, map reading, wireless signalling using Morse code, photography and artillery and infantry co-operation. The students were also taught the working of aero engines and instruments and basic rigging”.

On 24 January 1918 he was promoted from Cadet to 2nd Lieutenant.

Today he began his flying training at Yatesbury Aerodrome, near Marlborough, in Wiltshire with 19 Training Squadron. Yatesbury was a training centre for reconnaissance pilots.

Gregory’s first flight was an air experience trip in a BE2e (8646). His first entry in his flying log book records it thus.

The main purpose of this entry is to highlight Andrew Sheard’s new blog “Greg’s war” which features the log book and diary entries of 2nd Lieutenant Gregory as well as other background material to give a first hand account of training and combat.

5 March 1918 – A near miss

E2C45CAC-72DD-435D-A534-CF56B9674376C61B60A4-156D-41F5-983C-25A1721D930D

The vicarage at Grantham and the pilot of this aircraft both had a lucky escape today.

Based at 50 Training Squadron at Spittlegate to the south east of Grantham, this Armstrong Whitworth FK3 was one of nearly 500 used in training squadrons, as the aircraft was considered unsuitable for combat operations in France.

The pilot, 2nd Lieutenant Donald Woods Mason had previously served with the Army Service Corps before transferring to the RFC in August 1917. He was appointed a Flying officer at the beginning of March so clearly was not a very experienced flyer.

Likely his inexperience contributed to the crash, as it was apparently caused by Mason losing too much height when coming into land at the airfield. Luckily for Mason he survived the crash.

Further north in Lincolnshire, at RFC Scampton, 2nd Lieutenant Alfred Curley from 11 Training Squadron RFC was less lucky. He stalled his Sopwith Camel (B7281) on approach to the airfield and crashed into the ground. The aircraft burst into flames and Curley was killed.

4 March 1918 – Manchester India

Today’s Manchester Guardian reports that the Manchester Chamber of Commerce has presented a Sopwith Camel. Now, the model of presenting aeroplanes was a well established one at this point and many business groups, individuals and Governments around the Empire had already done so.

This one was unusual however, as the aircraft was being presented by the Chamber to the Indian Government in recognition of India’s contribution to the war effort. A delegation was taken from Manchester’s Midland Hotel, where they had enjoyed luncheon, to the Athletic Ground in Fallowfield, just a short distance away.

There the new Sopwith Camel, appropriately named Manchester India was presented. Even more appropriately, there to “accept” the aircraft on behalf of the Indian Government was 2nd Lieutenant Hardit Singh Malik the first Indian pilot to serve with the RFC. Malik was currently serving with 141 Home Defence Squadron.

The following newsreel footage shows Malik and the aircraft.

27 February 1918 – Mixed messages

Lord John French, as Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, wrote another report back in January 1918 on the defence of London for the War Cabinet which they considered today.

Sir Henry Wilson, who had succeeded Sir William Robertson as Chief of the Imperial General Staff a few days before, wrote an accompanying memorandum, in which he recommended that, in view of the importance of maintaining the morale of the capital of the Empire, home defence requirements for anti-aircraft guns should be given precedence over the demands of the British Expeditionary Force.

On the other hand, because of the great importance of superiority in the air in the battle which it was anticipated would begin before long on the Western front, the Royal Flying Corps in France should continue to have precedence over home defence for aeroplanes.

These recommendations received the approval of the War Cabinet.