Tag Archives: london

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.


5 August 1917 – Ashmore in charge

Following Smuts preliminary report on home defence, it was recommended that a senior officer of air experience should be placed in executive command, under the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, of the defences of the London area.


Edward Bailey Ashmore

Today, Brigadier-General Edward Bailey Ashmore was appointed. His command embraced the whole area considered to be liable to aeroplane attack and was, therefore, much wider than the term ‘London Air Defence Area’ implies. It included:

(i) the whole of the anti-aircraft fixed defences (guns and lights) in the anti-aircraft commands of London, Harwich, Thames and Medway, and Dover, with the Eastern Command detached defences.

(ii) such anti-aircraft mobile batteries as were placed at his disposal. These included the mobile brigade and the anti-aircraft mobile batteries then in the Harwich and Dover anti-aircraft defence commands.

(iii) such Royal Flying Corps home defence units as were placed at his disposal. When the command began these were the home defence squadrons, Nos. 51, 75, 37, 39, 50, and 78. Others were added later.

(iv) the aircraft observation posts under the Commandant, Observer Corps, Royal Defence Corps, in the warning districts roughly east of the line, Grantham—Portsmouth.

Today, Lord French put forward a new scheme for the defence of London to the War Office based on a plan by Lieutenant-Colonel Simon. THis involved the the construction of a ring of gun stations round London to meet the bombing formations with heavy bursts of gun-fire about twenty-five miles from the capital with the idea of breaking up the formations to enable the home defence pilots to engage the raiders in detachments or individually. Lord French pointed out how difficult it was for the Royal Flying Corps pilots to deal with large formations of Gotha type aeroplanes well equipped for defence:

“Isolated attacks by aeroplanes on these unbroken formations are, it is clear, a useless sacrifice. …The task of our Royal Flying Corps units would be rendered much easier if the enemy formation could be broken up and use made of our superior power of manoeuvre to deal with the enemy in detail.

Simultaneous attack, by aeroplanes and anti-aircraft guns, is not possible, but combined tactics in which the guns are assigned the definite role of breaking up the enemy formation, while the aeroplanes, having gained their height, are waiting to attack the enemy as he emerges in detached groups from the zone covered by gun fire, are it is considered not only possible, but essential to success.”

He asked therefore for enough guns to provide a barrage arc covering London from attack from any direction from the north, by way of the east, to the south. The time would come when the enemy bombers would make their approach to London from the west, and as guns became available Lord French asked that the circle should be completed to ensure protection from every direction. He estimated that a total of 1 10 guns would be necessary for the first part of the scheme, and eighty more to make the circle complete.

Lord French was told, in reply, that the reallotment of anti-aircraft guns for home defence would be laid before the War Cabinet, but that, meanwhile, he should consider taking guns from places less likely to be attacked. In the end the scheme was never fully implemented as the War Cabinet decided to adhere to their decision of December 1916, that the deliveries of 3-inch 20 cwt. guns must go to arm merchant vessels. Lord French was informed on the 9 August. He then attempted to build up the eastern gun barrier, withdrawing 10 guns from other stations around London, and 24 from the provinces.

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.”

8 July 1917 – London hit again

Today, just a couple of days after 56 and 66 Squadrons RFC had returned to the front, 22 Gothas made a raid on the capital. One of the aircraft, in an apparent diversion, bombed Margate around 0930 and then flew off. Later German evidence suggests the aircraft was defective and dropped the bombs to lessen the load on the way home.

The rest flew on to London and attacked from the North and Northwest despite AA fire . The total casualties were 54 killed and 190 injured, including 10 killed and 55 injured by AA fire.IMG_1096.PNG

The raid once again demonstrated the futility of an unorganized defence. 78 pilots from the RFC and seventeen from the RNAS took the air from home defence and training squadrons, from acceptance parks, and from coast stations.

The aeroplanes flown were of twenty-one types, many of them of little fighting value, but there were about 30 more modern Camels, SE5s and Strutters. 36 pilots got close but individual attacks reduced the chances of success.

A Sopwith two-seater of 37 Home Defence Squadron was shot down, the pilot. Lieutenant John Edward Rostron Young was killed and his observer Air Mechanic Clifford Charles Taylor was seriously wounded. Captain John Palethorpe was in the action again in his DH4 but was hit in the hip and forced to land. Second Lieutenant Wilfred Graham Salmon from 63 Training Squadron in a Sopwith Pup was also killed

One of the Gothas was found, flying low down near the North Foreland apparently in trouble, by Second Lieutenant Frederick Arthur Darien Grace and Second Lieutenant George Murray from 50 Home Defence Squadron in their Armstrong-Whitworth two-seater and was shot down in the sea. Two of the crew climbed on the wings. Grace fired all his Very lights in the hope that he would attract attention to the plight of the enemy but had to leave due to shortage of petrol. When the area was searched later there was no sign of the Gotha or its occupants. This was the only Gotha shot down, though four more were damaged on landing.

The raid, in broad daylight, caused much consternation amongst he public and the War Cabinet met this afternoon to discuss the matter. They agreed that two squadrons should be withdrawn from France for Home defence and that he RFC should conduct retaliatory raids on Mannheim. Douglas Haig immediately agreed to the temporary transfer of Squadrons but stated that the retaliatory bombing would weaken his air strength too much and that this would but the planned operations in jeopardy.

12 September – Percy Scott

Following the Zeppelin raids on London on 8/9 and 9/10 September, the public are up in arms about the defence of London. Today the Admiralty announced that Admiral Sir Percy Scott is now commander of the London defences.

At the same time, less publicly, the issue of overall responsibility for home defence, came up again. The whole issue had first come up in May 1915. At that point the Admiralty had decided to ask the War Office to relieve them of the responsibility for home air defence and the request had been formally put forward on the 18th of June 1915. The ultimate decision was a matter for the Government, but meanwhile representatives of the two departments met to explore the problems of a possible transfer. The War Office were keen on the principle, but lukewarm on the reality as they had no early prospect of having the material and personnel to do it.

At a second conference in July 1915, the War Office stated that the Army might be in a position to meet home defence air requirements by January 1916, but this left the question of other anti-aircraft defences unanswered. Unfortunately no decision was made and the matter was left to drift.

With the appointment of Sir Percy, the War Office asked again. The Admiralty put off the decision again by stating that investigations of the Paris defences had revealed that maybe aircraft were not all that important as a defence. A further conference has been fixed for November.

8 September 1915 – They’re back

Overnight three German Army airships attacked London.

Zeppelin LZ77, commanded by Hauptmann Alfred Horn, came in over Clacton at about 10.40pm and then meandered around Essex and Suffolk until 1.30am. A number of bombs were dropped and some minor damage was caused before LZ77 finally departed over Lowestoft at about 2.20am.

Schütte-Lanz 2 had more success coming inland at the mouth of the River Crouch at about 10.50pm. Reaching Leytonstone at about 11.40pm, her commander, Hauptmann Richard von Wobeser, turned south. At 11.45pm he dropped seven incendiary and one HE bomb on the Isle of Dogs, destroying 8, 9 and 10 Gaverick Street, and injuring 11 people. He then hit the John Evelyn, a sailing barge moored at Snowden’s Wharf. The master and mate of the barge suffered horrific burns.

SL.2 then crossed the Thames and dropped further bombs across south-east London. Five members of the Beechey family were killed at 34 Hughes Fields, Deptford. Minor damage was caused in Greenwich and Woolwich. At 11.54pm, a 6-pdr gun at Woolwich Arsenal fired three rounds at SL.2, and the 13-pdr across the Thames at Royal Albert Dock fired once, all without effect. SL.2 then departed.

At the same time LZ.74, commanded by Hauptmann Friedrich George appeared in the area. Believing he was over Leyton, George released 45 bombs while he was actually over Cheshunt and damaged buildings, a section of railway track and a great number of greenhouses at the market gardens and nurseries in the locality.


The LZ.74 then appeared over the City and dropped the remains 33 bombs. An HE bomb landed on 181 Ilderton Road, Rotherhithe, killing six and injuring five. Another bomb injured three in Sharratt Street before a HE bomb hit 32 Childeric Road, Deptford and killed three members of the Suckling family. Seconds later, another HE bomb dropped on 66 Clifton Hill, killing Frederick and Emma Dann and injuring Janet, their 16-year-old daughter, as well as 73-year-old Tamer Marchant.

George then steered LZ.74 southwards until he reached Bromley, then he turned, passing close to Chislehurst before heading back to the coast, crossing the Thames at Purfleet at about 12.55am where she briefly came under anti-aircraft fire.

Misty weather on the east coast meant only two RNAS aircraft took to the sky to oppose the raid at 2.15am and 2.30am respectively. Neither was able to locate any of the airships. Flight commander R.J. Hope Vere escaped injury when his BE2c suffered engine failure and crash landed near Trimley in Suffolk.