Tag Archives: Gotha

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.

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22 December 1917 – A damp squib

In what turned out to be the final raid of 1917, a half-heated attempt to bomb the Kent coast took place around 1745 this evening. The raid consisted of one Gotha and two Zeppelin-Staaken R.VI “Giant” aircraft.

The Gotha flew over Westgate and, 15 minutes later, landed in a field at Margate, where the seven crew set fire to their aeroplane and surrendered to the police. Their explanation was that one of the Gotha’s engines had gone out of action and that the aeroplane had become almost unmanageable in the gusty wind. They dropped their bombs in the sea before reaching England to lighten the craft, but when that made no difference they were forced to land.

The two ‘Giant’ aeroplanes (Rfa500 and Rfa501) carried a total bomb load of 2,000 kg each, but none of these fell on land. Some of them were heard exploding in the sea between Ramsgate and Sandwich.

Eighteen RFC aircraft went up in search of the attackers but none saw anything of the enemy.

6 December 1917 –  “A complete failure”?

German Gothas carried out their first raid since 1 November on England. The raid was notable for the first large scale use of a new incendiary bomb (392 out of 420). The raid also took place later than usual, as the raiders arrived in the early hours of the morning between 0200 and 0430.

The raid caused over £100,000 worth of damage, killed 8 and injured 28.

Sheerness was attacked first at 0218. In all 24 bombs hit the town killing four people, injuring 12 and wrecking various buildings. Around 0335 three bombs hit Dover causing minor damage. Margate suffered three separate attacks killing one woman, injuring another, and damaging houses.

Other bombs fell at Manston airfield, Garlinge, Graveney,  Whitstable, Herne Bay, Ramsgate, Darenth, West Thurrock, and Purfleet causing only minor damage.

Six Gothas reached London, and 267 bombs were dropped all over the capital. 108 of these fell south of the Thames killing one and injuring five. North of the Thames, three major fires were started near Liverpool Street Station, Whitechapel Road and at Henry Street, causing major damage.

RFC units flew 34 sorties but without intercepting any of the raiders. However, the AA guns were more successful. One Gotha, was hit over Canvey Island and made a forced landing on a golf course close to Rochford airfield. The crew survived but the aircraft was accidently set on fire and destroyed by an inspecting British officer. Another Gotha, crash landed at Sturry near Canterbury. The crew destroyed their aircraft before surrendering. Another Gotha failed to return and was presumed lost over the sea. Three more were damaged when they crashed on landing in Belgium.

Later German documents suggest that, despite the extensive damage, the raid was considered a failure. Major Freiherr von Biilow wrote:

“The bomb was a complete failure. During two night raids on England, on the 31st of October and the 6th of December, 1917, large numbers of these bombs were dropped, both times with no success. The sound idea of creating panic and disorder by numbers of fires came to nothing owing to the inadequacy of the material employed.”

29th October 1917 – Turkey Shoot

Poor weather today, led to the abandonment of a mass Gotha raid on London and instead three experienced crews were sent off to bomb the sought coast of England. Two turned back due to high winds and poor visibility and bombed Calais instead.

One aircraft did reach England, but with high winds and clouds, it appears that it caused all sorts of panic as at least 10 aircraft were reported by observer posts. Eleven bombs in all were dropped on Rawreth, Rayleigh, Hockley, and Burnham. Some very minor damage was caused, but at the end of it all the only casualty of the raid was a turkey killed in Hockley.

The Gotha flew over Southminster at 2255 and headed out to sea. AA guns at Barton’s Point on the Isle of Sheppey opened fire at around the same time, but as the Gotha was too far away their target must have been the Home Defence aircraft (from 37 and 39 Squadrons) which were up at the time. None of these were able to locate the raider who flew home without mishap.

1 October 1917 – Gothas again

For the fourth night in a row German bombers arrived over England. 18 Gothas set out but only 12 made it to England.

Gothas arrived over the Kent coast at about 1900 and 19 minutes later dropped bombs over Sandwich, Richborough, Kingsgate, and Broadstairs. Various buildings were damaged but fortunately no casualties resulted.

In Essex, the sound of aircraft was detected by the Harwich garrison and at 1940 the garrison opened fire with over 200 rounds forcing the Gothas away to the south. Most of the bombs fell in the sea or in open fields and little damage was caused.

Around 2000 the first Gothas reached London. In all 29 bombs fell on the capital. 26 HE and 3 incendiary bombs fell. A large number of houses suffered minor damage, though only a few were destroyed. 10 people were killed and 32 injured.

The barrage fire of the AA guns proved partially effective and appears to have succeeded in driving a number of the raiders off. There was, however, a downside to the AA fire; falling shells killed a woman and injured 13 others.

The RFC sent up 18 aircraft to intercept the raiders but the misty conditions made observation difficult. Only one pilot caught a glimpse of the Gothas but was unable to make an attack.

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.

24 September 1917 – die Rache

Throughout September, DH4s from RNAS Squadrons based at Dunkirk have been attempting to disrupt German bomber squadrons targeting England by bombing their aerodromes. The Germans have finally had enough and this evening they attacked the RNAS depot at St. Pol.

Luckily for the Germans, bombs hit the pump-house, which supplied the water for the fire mains. It put the fire mains out of action and when the engine repair-shed was set on fire there was no way to put it out.

About a thousand men were organized to save material from the various buildings, but great damage was caused anyway. The engine repair-shop, saw-mill, machine-shop, spare engineshop, engine packing-shed, and the drawing and records offices were all destroyed.

In the engine packing-shed one hundred and forty engines were lost (83 130hp Clerget; 10 110hp Clerget; 37 80hp Le Rhone; 5 150hp BR1; 1 200hp B.H.P.; 1 90hp Rolls-Royce; 1 250hp Rolls-Royce; and 2 275 hip Rolls-Royce.

Given the shortage of supply of engines, there has been a great focus on salvaging and repairing old engines for reuse. This is a major blow to the RNASs operational capacity.

Despite all the damage, luckily no one was seriously injured.