Tag Archives: Gotha

19 July 1917 – Smuts Committee initial report

“The War Cabinet at their last meeting held on the 11th July 1917, decided (Minute 3) ‘That the Prime Minister and General Smuts in consultation with representatives of the Admiralty, General Staff and Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief Home Forces, with other such experts as they ‘may desire should examine i. The defence arrangements for Home Defence against air raids. ii. The air organization generally and the direction of aerial operations.’

2. We regard the first subject for our examination as the more pressing and we deal with it accordingly in this first report, so far as the defence of the metropolitan area is concerned.

The second subject of our inquiry is the more important and will consequently require more extensive and deliberate examination. We propose to deal with it in a subsequent report.

3. London occupies a peculiar position in the Empire of which it is the nerve centre, and we consider, in the circumstances, that its defence demands exceptional measures. It is probable that the air raids on London will increase to such an extent in the next twelve months that London might through aerial warfare become part of the battle front. We think, therefore, that it is necessary to take special precautions, so far as the defence of London is concerned, and so far as this may be done without undue prejudice to operations in the Field and on the High Seas, as the fighting forces must, as a matter of general principle have the first call upon our output of aircraft and anti-aircraft guns.

4. The arrangements for Home Defence, including that of the London area, against hostile air raids, have been undergoing a continual and rapid transformation, which, together with other causes, has militated against efficiency. In the first instance, attacks were made by Zeppelins at night and our defences were so organized as to deal with this form of attack. Anti-aircraft guns, singly or in pairs, or in large numbers, were placed at convenient points, and aeroplanes of no great power or speed were disposed at suitable centres.

After some modification, the original dispositions were found to be adequate to meet night attacks by Zeppelins. We have, however, now to meet attacks of an entirely different character, which take the form of invasions by squadrons of aeroplanes in formation and our arrangements for defence are accordingly being adapted to meet this development.

One cannot, however, entirely preclude the possibility of a repetition of Zeppelin attacks, and it would consequently be unwise to abandon the earlier defence arrangements. Additions to these arrangements are, however, necessitated by the new ‘formation attack’ by day. The defence against Zeppelins was effectually carried out, not only by individual anti-aircraft guns, but also by single aeroplanes fitted with special armament.

As operations were conducted by night, there was no question of formation either for attack or defence. Now, however, that the attack is made by day by large enemy units in formation, one or two anti-aircraft guns firing from any particular point cannot hope to cause serious damage, and generally have no other effect than that of frightening the enemy pilots, while the defending aircraft, unless they can also operate in formation, are liable to very serious risk and cannot do much more than hover round the outskirts of the enemy formation. An attack in formation could, we think, only be properly met by a barrage fire from guns concentrated in batteries at suitable points in front of the area to be defended, or by flights or squadrons whose object is, by concentrated attack, to break up the hostile formation and destroy individual machines after they have been scattered out of their formation.

5. The relevance of these remarks is well illustrated by what happened in the air raid over London on Saturday, 7th July. The enemy machines attacked in definite formation which they maintained throughout the raid. In our view they should have been met and repelled by a heavy barrage of gun-fire before they reached London. Instead of this they were only subjected to a sporadic gun-fire in the London area which did them no observable damage. As regards aeroplanes on that occasion, we actually disposed of a larger number of first-class machines than the enemy, but our machines were distributed among a number of stations and some of them came in in driblets from various training centres.

Our machines were not in formation when in the air, and even when they attempted to concentrate they did not come under a unified command in the air, nor have they been trained so to fight. The result was that their very spasmodic or guerrilla attacks failed to make an impression on the solid formation of the enemy, and the damage that was done by our superior numbers of first-class R.F.C. machines was comparatively negligible.

We have investigated the circumstances in some detail and are informed that the reasons why greater results were not achieved were that some of our pilots were not accustomed to the new machines they were flying, that certain machines were not used because of missing spare parts, and a certain amount of shells that were fired were useless on account of defective fuses. These defects should, and can be remedied with all possible speed, but it is to the general arrangements and organization that we wish to refer more fully.

6. Four separate agencies contribute to the defence of the London area against air raid: (a) Royal Naval Air Service, which is not under the Home Command, but works under the direction of the senior naval officers in the naval districts, but in co-operation as far as possible, with the Home Defences.

There seems to be a general agreement among those whom we have consulted that for the limited purpose of the defence of London, the present division of command in this respect should not be disturbed.

The principal function of the Royal Naval Air Service Squadrons is to deal with enemy raiders on their return journey, as they recross the Channel. They did so very effectively on the occasion of the last raid, and after consideration of all the circumstances, we are disposed to think that the above squadrons should continue to operate under separate Naval Commands, but in close co-operation with the Home Defence.

(b) The Observation Corps (distinct from the Royal Flying Corps or Royal Naval Air Service), which consists of a number of observers round London, mostly infantry soldiers, often elderly and not specially qualified for the duties they have to perform. This Corps is directly under orders of the Field-Marshal Commanding Home Defences.

(c) Various incomplete units or single machines of the Royal Flying Corps allocated to Home Defence, under the Command of Colonel Higgins.

(d) The anti-aircraft guns of the London area under the command of Colonel Simon.

7. The last three agencies operate separately under orders of the Home Defence head-quarters which is the only connecting link between them. This system appears to us to involve too great a dispersal of Command when dealing with a problem like the air defence of the London area, which is not only of very far-reaching military and political importance, but also constitutes a well marked, distinct task, separable from other problems of Home Defence, which accordingly calls for a corresponding concentration of executive command.

Our first recommendation therefore is that:

Subject to the control of the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief of the Home Forces a senior officer of first-rate ability and practical air experience should be placed in executive Command of the air defence of the London area including the above services (b) (c) (d) of paragraph 6 above, and that this officer should be assisted by a small but competent staff, who should be specially charged with the duty of working out all plans for London Air Defences.

This officer would take his instructions from the Field-Marshal and would in turn issue his orders to the Observation Corps, the Officer Commanding the anti-aircraft guns, and the various Air Units. The unity of command which is essential to any warlike operation, whether of an offensive or defensive character, would be thus achieved. We think that this officer should be appointed without delay so that he may at once set to work to deal with the various pressing problems connected with London air defence, some of which are referred to below.

In view of the possibility of the recurrence of Zeppelin attack, as well as for other reasons, we think it would be inadvisable to remove the anti- aircraft guns from their present stations in the London area. In our view, the best defensive use of anti-aircraft guns against hostile aeroplanes attacking by day, would be for them to put up a barrage in front of and covering London, and our second recommendation accordingly is that:

Immediate attention should be given to the question of the numbers and disposition of anti-aircraft guns to put up such a defensive barrage.

It is true that there is at present said to be an insufficiency of guns for this purpose but, as stated in paragraph 3 above, we regard the defence of London as so important as to call for exceptional measures, and special endeavours should therefore be made to provide an adequate number of guns for this purpose. 8. A more pressing problem, in our opinion, is the provision and organization of a sufficient number of air units, trained to fight in formation, and their proper disposition to dispel any air attack on London. At present the only reliable unit formed for this purpose is the squadron specially detailed a week ago from the Western front. Three other units are in process of formation, but they neither have the necessary number of machines nor have the pilots the required training for fighting in forma- tion. We understand that an additional squadron, complete in point of numbers, will be furnished almost immediately and posted to the North- East of London. Another squadron to be disposed to the South-East should be complete in numbers in three or four weeks. Both of these will, however, require to be properly trained to manoeuvre in formation in suitable units. Our third recommendation therefore is that:

The completion and training of these three additional squadrons, successively, be pushed on as rapidly as possible and that, in the meantime, the return of the first unit to France should not be sanctioned until the air defence of London is reasonably secure.

9. In the course of our investigation, we considered the point whether our present type of fighting machine is the best to cope with the slower but more powerful Gotha raiders. In regard to this we make no recommendations and leave the problem for the further consideration and study of the experts of the Air Board, the Admiralty, the War Office, and the Ministry of Munitions.

10. The question of the provision of sufficient aircraft for defence purposes and for the formation of a reserve is one which, in our view, requires careful and immediate consideration. The enemy may possibly adopt the ruse of sending a small number of machines well in advance of his main attack in order to lure our squadrons into the air; the main enemy force may then appear on the scene and find himself unchecked, owing to the fact that our machines in coping with the advanced patrols had exhausted their petrol, and our pilots, their energy. We are advised that, theoretically, for our machines in the air to descend, refill with petrol, and reascend to the proper height, would take some 45 minutes, but in practice other factors would supervene and the actual time taken would be considerably longer. The result might well be that the main enemy force would meet with practically no opposition, and after doing the maximum amount of damage, might return to its base with immunity and intact. In view of such a situation, which might well arise at any time, we submit that it might be advisable to avoid sending up more units than are necessary onthefirstwarningofacomingraid. Suchacontingencywethinkmust be contemplated and to meet it reserves should be kept in hand. We accordingly recommend that:

The air defence units for the London area should he sufficient not only to cope with feints, but to meet the real attack or a possible second attack follow- ing close on a first attack.

The formation and retention of such a reserve is only in accordance with the general and elementary principles of warfare.

II. We believe that if prompt effect is given to the above recommendations, subject always to the adequate and reasonable provision of aircraft for naval and military operations by land and sea, a fair measure of security for the London area from hostile raids may be obtained until, at any rate, some unforeseen development takes place.”

13 June 1917 – London’s Burning

After two abortive attempts, the Germans finally carried out a successful air raid on London with their Gothas. 20 aircraft set off, but two quickly turned back with engine problems.

As they approached England one Gotha left the formation and headed towards Margate. At 1043am it was spotted by the AA gun at St.Peter’s which opened fire at the lone Gotha. It then dropped five bombs, two of which failed to explode, but the others injured four civilians, and caused minor damage including broken windows.

The main formation continued across the Thames Estuary, and at 10.50 approached Foulness Island. At this point, place three more aeroplanes left the main formation, and headed for Shoeburyness, where two of them dropped six bombs which slightly injured two civihans but caused no damage. The third flew up the Thames to Greenwich but did not drop any bombs.

The remaining 14 Gothas, headed for London in a tight formation (remarkable enough to be pictured in the Official History). The attack began at 1135. Bombs fell on East Ham, Royal Albert Dock, and Islington.

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Royal Hospital, Chelsea

The raiders then turned to the City, bombing in two separate formations which converged for the main attack on the City, where, in two minutes, seventy-two bombs fell within a radius of a mile from Liverpool Street station. The total casualties were 162 killed and 432 injured, the greatest inflicted in any one bombing attack on England during the war.

The casualties may have been higher but for the actions of PC Albert Smith. When workers in a factory in Central Street tried to run out when they heard approaching bombs he forced them back inside and closed the door. Moments later the bombs exploded in the street claiming PC Smith amongst its victims

The most tragic happening of the morning took place in Upper North Street Schools at Poplar. A 50kg bomb passed through the roof and three floors of the school to the ground floor. In its passage through the building, during which two children were killed, half of the bomb was torn away, but the remainder exploded among 64 children. Sixteen of them were killed and thirty more, together with two men and two women, were injured. Another bomb, of similar weight, which passed through the five floors of the Cowper Street Foundation School, City Road, failed to explode.

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The ground floor classroom at Poplar

The response from the air services was predictably ineffectual. 94 aircraft of the RFC and RNAS flew defence sorties but there was no coordination and aircraft flew alone. Only 11 of these aircraft managed to get within firing range but none were able to damage any of the raiding Gothas. Captain Con William Eric Cole-Hamilton and Cecil Horace Case Keevil, from 35 Training Squadron attacked three Gothas ‘straggling over Ilford’, in their Bristol F2b Fighter (A7135). They were shot up by defensive machine gun fire and Keevil was killed. Keevil had recently transferred to the RFC after being badly wounded on the Somme in 1916.