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1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

Air Raids

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Air-raiding by airships, and still more by aeroplanes, was carried out during the World War in most of its geographical areas. German bombers were particularly active in France, and many towns near the Rhine suffered severely in later times from the aeroplanes of the British Independent Air Force. But nowhere can the history of the continual see-saw of success between raiding and air defence during the war be studied better than in the German raids carried out over England in general and against London in particular. Their story during 1914-5, 1916, 1 9 17 and 1918 will here be narrated.

1 1914-1915

2 1916

3 1917

4 1918

5 Conclusion

1914-1915

Directly Great Britain came into the war, the German High Command began to encourage their public with prophecies of the havoc the Zeppelins were about to work in England. Disillusionment came quickly. The experience of some of the smaller airships, attempting to work by day over Belgium and Lorraine, was by no means encouraging. Three were destroyed at once, and it became evident that for airships to fly low in daylight over enemy territory was to invite certain disaster. Hence it was that, although reconnaissances over the North Sea towards England were begun by airships, the first actual attacks were made by aeroplanes.

In Dec. 1914 a couple of bombs were dropped in the sea off Dover, and three days later, on Dec. 24, the first German projectile hit English soil. A small bomb fell near the Castle at Dover and broke some glass. Both these aeroplane attacks were in the nature of a surprise, and the defences, such as they were in those days, could take no action. On the following day a seaplane dropped a few bombs at Sheerness, without effect. This time both the ground and aerial defences took action; but British aeroplanes came in for most of the anti-aircraft fire from the ground. A few half-hearted attacks by aeroplanes and seaplanes made during 1915 were ineffective, except that two women were killed at Margate in September.

The barren honours of the first attacks having fallen to the aeroplane, it was left to the lighter-than-air machines to cause the first serious damage and loss. In the evening of Jan. 19 1915, two naval airships approached the coast of the eastern counties between Yarmouth and Cromer. They separated and dropped bombs on both towns. One of the raiders went out to sea again at once; the other, handled with greater boldness, proceeded to King's Lynn, dropping bombs as it went. Four people were killed, including two women, and the material damage was estimated at L7,000 or L.8,000.

On April 14 the redoubtable Mathy, boldest and ablest of all German air commanders, began his activities over England. Commanding L9, a new and improved type of naval airship, he made a considerable tour over the North. On this occasion he was not particularly successful, most of the bombs falling harmlessly in open country. At Walsall, however, he succeeded in singeing the hair of a woman who was washing a little girl by the fireside. The following night L9 returned, accompanied by two other ships, and caused some damage in Suffolk. The next four raids were on a similar scale. Bury St. Edmunds was bombed in moonlight from a height of some 3,000 ft., the airship trusting to patches of fog to escape. Southend, always a favourite " fortress " for attack, suffered twice, three people being killed. On May 17 Capt. Linnarz, very active about this time in command of one of the military airships, while over Ramsgate descried the lights of London, more than 50 miles away, for the first time; but his orders forbade him to go inland, and this most tempting of targets had to be left for another occasion.

The opportunity soon came. On the night of May 31 1915 Linnarz succeeded in bringing his ship over the metropolis, in reply, so the Germans alleged, for a bombardment of Ludwigshafen. This raid was carried out in full moonlight, a fact that shows how much there was to learn at the time in the art of air defence. The great size of the thickly populated area of London makes it an ideal target for promiscuous bombing. There was on this night only one raider, armed with an inefficient type of bomb, but 41 people were killed or injured, and more than £18,000 worth of damage was caused. The bombs all hit the eastern part of London north of the river; one of them fell into a tank at John Walker's whisky distillery in Whitechapel. Fortunately the tank contained water only.

Further raids in Yorkshire and Kent on June 4 had little result, but two nights later Mathy again attacked the north, this time doing much more harm than before. He found Hull, came down low over it, and killed 24 people, besides wrecking some 40 houses. The people of Hull, exasperated by this experience, broke out and smashed up a number of shops supposed to be German, but a better revenge was in store, for another airship, LZ37, that attempted to raid on the same night was totally destroyed by Lt. Warnef®rd while it was returning home near Ghent, and fell in flames, one member only of the crew escaping alive. The first serious military damage in England was done by a single ship that raided the north on June 15. Some works in Yarrow were hit, 18 men killed and a number injured.

In commenting on the first raid on London on May 31, the Press had to come to the conclusion that it was in the nature of a trial trip, and this view was justified by the series of nine organized raids that took place in the latter part of 1915. The series opened inauspiciously for the Germans, a Zeppelin engaged in bombing Dover being hit by a new 3-in. gun that had just been mounted there. She struggled across the Channel, losing gas rapidly, and fell into the sea near Ostend, where she was finished off by bombing aeroplanes.

London was reached on four nights during this period. Twice the results attained serious proportions. On Sept. 8 Mathy, now in command of L13, an improved type of Zeppelin, came in over the Wash, steered straight on London and bombed the City deliberately and with considerable success. Fires broke out in many places, and the damage done amounted to more than 500,- 000. Mathy also took part in the raid of Oct. 13, when his ship bombed Woolwich. On this occasion the casualties were 71 killed and 128 wounded. These losses were severe enough, but they were nothing to what the German public was led to believe; it was during this time that many of the airship commanders began lying freely, and " bombing " places they never went near.

The anti-aircraft defences had not yet been able to take the measure of the attack, and the good shooting of the Dover gun, mentioned above, was the solitary success that can be claimed for the ground defences up to the end of 191 5. A few aeroplanes had been allotted to home defence, but they were quite unsuited for their task on account of their poor climbing power and their inefficient armament. The pilots, also, had but little training, and night landing grounds were few and very far between, so that ascents during 1915 for the attack of airships led in nearly all cases to fatal or serious injury to British pilots, and the attempt was looked on as a forlorn hope.

1916

The defences could do no better in the early raids of 1916. Nine Zeppelins manoeuvred over the Midlands on the last night of January, one getting nearly to Shrewsbury. Seventy people were killed. Out of 16 British aeroplanes that went up in pursuit, 8 crashed on landing. A month later 2 airships were able to sit over Hull and bomb it from a low height, without any interference from the defence. From this time, however, defence took an upward turn; the change for the better began to show about the beginning of April 1916 during the very next series of raids. L15, one of the five ships that attacked on March 31 1916, in attempting to reach Woolwich, was hit by the gun at Purfleet .; it was then attacked in the air by Lt. Brandon, eventually falling into the sea off the coast of Essex. Mathy's ship was hit by a shell on the same night, but he managed to struggle home.

A wholesome dread of defended areas now began to be observable in the German tactics. For instance, during the last raid of this April series, Hull was undoubtedly saved from further bombing by some new guns just installed there.

Fifteen airship flights were made over England and Scotland during this April period. Edinburgh was bombed with little effect; nothing came over London, although some bombs were dropped as near as Waltham Abbey. British losses were 84 killed during the series.

Further raids at the end of April were organized in conjunction with the naval bombardment of Lowestoft and Yarmouth, the whole operation being timed to coincide with the rebellion in Ireland. A large number of airships took part, but the result was small. London was saved from bombing by its defences on April 25. One Zeppelin ran out of petrol and was eventually destroyed on the coast of Norway.

The shortness of the summer nights prevented further raids until the end of July, when four attacks were delivered, indicating an ever-increasing respect for the defences. Twenty flights over England produced infinitesimal results, if we except the loss, at Hull, of 10 lives. An abortive raid on Harwich was followed on Aug. 24 by an attack on London by Mathy, now in command of L3r, a new Super-Zeppelin; he showed his usual dash, skilfully avoiding the defences by making use of clouds. He threw several 240-lb. bombs, the largest then known; they caused a few casualties and considerable damage in southeast London and round about Blackheath. The raid of Sept. 2 was carried out by 14 ships and was a determined attempt on London. The metropolis was undoubtedly saved by the brilliant action of Lt. Robinson of the R.F.C., who did not hesitate to attack the military airship SL1r, although she was under very heavy gunfire at. the time. As he fired his third drum of ammunition into her, she burst into flames and fell, a burning mass, near Cuffley. The sight of this disaster was too much for the other commanders, who turned tail and made the best of their way home. British casualties included only three killed.

The next series of raids, begun on Sept. 23 1916, was of great importance. The German command were not deterred by previous losses from again risking their best airships and pilots in the attack of London. They conceived, not unreasonably, that if London could be terrorized, they might touch the moral of the British Government, and so produce an appreciable effect on the conduct of the war. On Sept. 23 1916 the weather conditions over the North Sea were favourable for raiding. Eleven airships left German sheds, nine crossed the British coasts, and the main attack was directed on London by three of the newest Super-Zeppelins, coming in from the east and southeast.

Having crossed the Essex coast shortly before i i P.M., L33 was over east London ten minutes after midnight. Here she dropped twenty bombs. London, however, was no longer the helpless mass of former days. The searchlights continually lit up the hull of the airship, which was at 12,000 ft.; she was badly holed by the guns, one of her engines was damaged, and she began to lose gas and fly clumsily. To add to her miseries, Brandon of the R.F.C. now brought his machine close up to her. For twenty minutes he stuck to her, pumping bullets into the fabric. As she laboured back towards the North Sea, the crew threw out everything they could lay their hands on, including the machine-guns. Her commander crossed the coast at Mersea Island, going out due east. But the certainty that his ship would fall into the sea was too much for him; he turned her about and came to earth three miles inland at Wigborough, near Colchester. A specimen of the latest type of Zeppelin thus fell nearly intact into British hands.

Mathy meanwhile brought his ship L31 in company with L32 up the English Channel and, turning in over the Kent coast, made straight for south London. On the way he dropped a few trial bombs to test his sighting. Approaching the defences, he handled his ship with great skill and succeeded in blinding some of the British searchlights, that were picking him up, by throwing out powerful illuminating flares. He passed straight over the centre of London, crossing the Thames near London Bridge. South London and the extreme north suffered severely; but, for some reason, Mathy threw no bombs in the central districts, where he could have done most damage. He got clear away this time, and went out to sea by Yarmouth. The handling of the companion ship, L32, was not of nearly so bold a character. Her commander began to hesitate: as soon as he had crossed the coast of Kent, and he spent an hour circling about Romney Marshes. When eventually he started N. for London his courage again failed, and he kept edging off to the E. so as to avoid the central defences. His caution could not save him. As he crossed the Thames near Dartford he was picked up by lights and attacked by guns. In order to rise he dropped most of his bombs in open country. His efforts were of no avail. Brandon, who was still in the air, describes the ill-fated ship as being "hosed with a stream of fire." This was the attack delivered by Lt. Sowrey, also of the R.F.C., who succeeded in setting the ship on fire in several places; she fell in a mass of flames at Billericay, in Essex. The British casualties on this night were 41 killed, including one aeroplane pilot. The enemy would hardly see in this an adequate return for the loss of two new airships with their crews.

On the night of Sept. 25 four ships raided the north, bombing Sheffield, where 29 people were killed, and narrowly missed Manchester. Two other ships, whose commanders had already become noted for their caution, came up to the Norfolk coast but would not cross it. Mathy, on this occasion, took his ship on an entirely new line. Passing through the Straits of Dover, he flew up the Channel as far as the Isle of Wight, where he turned N. and went straight over Portsmouth. He dropped no bombs on the fortress or dockyard. Near Hastings he went to sea again on what was to be his last voyage to Germany.

Yet another serious attempt to bomb London was made on the night of Oct. 1. Eleven ships started from Germany. Three of them made an innocuous tour over Lincolnshire. Mathy in L31 came in over Lowestoft about 8 P.M. and as usual steered an excellent course on London. Soon after passing Chelmsford, however, he found that the outer defences on that side of the capital were ready for him. A searchlight picked him up. He therefore turned and steered N.E. for some 15 minutes. Turning again he flew S.W., in order to get into position for his favourite dash down wind over the city. After drifting a few moments towards Ware, he set his engines going and started for north London at full speed. Suddenly a heavy gunfire was opened on him, and he decided to abandon his attempt. He threw out all his bombs, at the same moment executing a very remarkable right-hand turn that must nearly have broken the back of his ship. The pursuing aeroplanes were close upon him. He did all that was humanly possible to save his ship. He tried flying towards the W. on a zigzag course, rising and falling, in order to escape from the lights that continually held him, and from pilots who would not be shaken off. An airship once caught in such toils has little chance of escape. The end came quickly. Lt. Tempest came up to the ship at 12,700 ft. and brought her down in flames at Potter's Bar. Thus perished Mathy, the bravest and most skilful, as well as the most successful, of all the German commanders. The fall of Mathy's ship had an immediate effect on three other raiders, who all made a sharp turn for home the moment they saw it. After his victory, Tempest crashed on landing at North Weald Bassett, but was unhurt. During the whole of this great raid the only British loss was one man killed. The defence of London had now definitely got the better of the lighter-than-air attack; after this period no German airship ever flew intentionally over the metropolis.

Deterred by the victory of the London defences, the German command turned their attention to the north for the final effort of 1916. They met with no better success. Of the ten ships that left Germany in the course of Nov. 27, eight came over land. One was destroyed on the coast near Hartlepool before midnight by Pyott of the R.F.C. She fell blazing into the sea. Although the pilot dived away at once to avoid the flaming mass, his face was scorched by the heat as she fell.

Another raider, L21, after a remarkable journey right across England to Cheshire, was caught in the early morning just as it was growing light, when she was leaving the coast at Yarmouth. Three British naval aeroplanes came up with her. Cadbury attacked first, but exhausted all his ammunition; his experience was destined to be useful to him on a subsequent occasion. Another pilot then tried, but his gun was frozen up and jammed. The third pilot, Pulling, then went right in to within 60 ft. of the ship, under a heavy fire from her machine-guns, and succeeded in setting her alight. It is a curious fact that machine-gun fire was kept up from the gondolas for a considerable time after the hull had begun to burn. She fell into the sea from 8,000 ft. and sank at once.

Other raiders, seeing the disaster near Hartlepool, turned for home again without attacking. Those who came in over land found that the ground defences were very different from what they had expected. The guns and lights were successful in keeping the raiders off their targets. The British losses were one man and three women killed.

During 1916 eighteen raids were made on England by aeroplanes and seaplanes. They were nearly all of the " tip and run " variety, and consisted in coming over the coastline, dropping a few bombs haphazard and getting away as soon as possible. The attacks were delivered with no apparent military purpose, and they had practically no effect.

The first aeroplane attack on London was made on Nov. 28 1916 by a single machine; the weather was misty and the first intimation was the fall of six small bombs between Brompton Road and Victoria station. The raiding machine had an engine failure on the return journey and was forced to land within the Allied lines near Boulogne. Lt. Ilges, the pilot, had set out to take photographs and bomb the Admiralty.

Before the beginning of 1917 the defences had quite definitely beaten the attack, so far as concerned operations by airships against London. Over the rest of England the airship commanders were tending more and more to avoid defended places, consequently the damage they could do was limited to objectives of secondary importance. It is a significant fact that of the nine Zeppelin commanders who attacked in Jan. 1916 three had been killed and two others taken prisoner, their five ships being destroyed by the action of the defences, before the end of the year.

1917

The three airship raids of the first half of 1917, carried out under the conditions indicated above, produced little result other than the loss of two of the raiders, one being shot down while on the way home by a French gun near Compiegne, the other being destroyed by one of the defending aeroplanes near Harwich. On the night of May 6-7 a single German aeroplane appeared over the East End of London, and dropped a few small bombs. The attack, in itself, was unimportant, but it afforded an indication of what might come later.

Before the end of 1916 it had become evident to the German command that, if effective bombing was to be kept up on targets that were worth attacking, it would be necessary to try new methods. Early in 1917, therefore, they began equipping a squadron with special machines suitable for bombing England systematically. This formation, known as the 3rd Bombing Squadron, was distributed in aerodromes about Ghent, roughly 170 m. from London. The new machines, of the Gotha type, were capable of flying with a full load of bombs at 12,000 ft. and over. They carried a crew of three, pilot and two machine gunners. In May 1917 the squadron was ready for action, and as soon as the weather became favourable the attacks were to begin. The raids, with the exception of two minor attacks on Harwich, were aimed at London, but on the first two occasions unsuitable weather caused a failure, and the bombs were unloaded in other places.

The first attempt on London came on May 25 1917. The 3rd Bombing Squadron, 16 machines strong, left Belgium early in the afternoon and made the Essex coast about 5 P.M. On the Continent the sky was generally clear but there were thick banks of cloud over Essex. The task of navigating to London was found too difficult and the leader had to give up the attempt. He therefore turned S. over Essex and crossed the Thames about Gravesend, afterwards making a course S.E. Bombs were dropped on the Canadian camp at Shorncliffe, where there were loo casualties. The worst effect was produced in Folkestone itself. One bomb fell in a crowded street and killed 33 people, mostly women who were out shopping. Over England the opposition to the raid was entirely without effect, but one raider was brought down in the sea by a British machine working from Dunkirk.

The second unsuccessful attempt was made on June 5; 18 machines, practically the full strength of the 3rd Squadron at that time, left the Ghent aerodromes about 2 P.M. They made the Essex coast as on the previous occasion, but this time they turned S. earlier. They bombed Sheerness with some effect, the town and dockyard both being hit several times. The guns at Sheerness succeeded in hitting one of the raiders, which fell into the river off Barton's Point. A large number of machines went up in pursuit. They were nearly all too slow and climbed too badly to do any good.

The third attempt on London was more successful. The whole of the 3rd Squadron started in the morning of June 13, taking the same course across the North Sea as before. A few machines were detached to bomb Margate and Shoeburyness. Probably this was done to confuse the defence arrangements. The main formation of 14 machines held on N. of the river to London, which was reached a little before noon. A few bombs were dropped in the East End and near the Royal Albert Docks; then, at a signal from the leader, the formation loosed 72 bombs over a small area having Liverpool Street station as its centre. The station itself was hit by three bombs. The casualties were severe - 159 killed and 424 injured. One roo-lb. bomb hit a school in Poplar. On striking the building the bomb was torn in half before the fuse acted, and only half the charge exploded; even so, 17 of the children were killed. A few isolated attacks were made on the raiders without success. One machine got into touch with the enemy over Ilford, but the observer, Capt. Keevil, was killed and the pilot's gun jammed. Such gunfire as was brought to bear in the London area was badly directed and had no effect.

The next raid on London on July 7 was also successful. Twenty-four machines started; they were first seen well out to sea soon after 9 in the morning, flying at about io,000 feet. Coming up to the coast, two machines were detached, as on the previous occasion, in order to attack Margate, where a couple of houses were wrecked. The main body of 22 machines, flying in diamond formation, crossed the Essex coast near the mouth of the Crouch river about 9..4.5 A.M., and they came on towards London, gradually climbing, until they were about 13,000 ft. over Brentwood. The coui se of the raid ran by Enfield, where the formation turned S., over Edmonton and Tottenham. On the way to the City, St. Pancras and Shoreditch were bombed. The City itself received 26 bombs, one of them starting a small fire in the General Post Office.

The German formation was well handled in the way of making it a difficult target for the anti-aircraft guns. The machines flew in two divisions, which drew apart as they came under fire. The majority of the shell fired into the brown of the enemy burst harmlessly in the interval thus left. Individual machines flew with a switchback movement, alternately diving and climbing in order to make the task of prediction at the guns more difficult. The antiaircraft guns fired a very large number of rounds, but produced no effect at all on the enemy. The aeroplane defences again showed a lamentable lack of plan. Eighty-seven machines went up, of all sorts and sizes. A few were efficient fighting machines. Many of them, for all the good they could do, need never have left the ground. No scheme existed by which a combined attack could be delivered. In consequence, the enemy were quite well able to beat off such isolated, though gallant, attacks as were made. They brought down two machines. All that the British pilots were able to accomplish was to finish off one lame duck, a machine that was in difficulties from engine trouble. It fell into the sea off the coast of Essex and the crew were drowned.

The failure of the defensive arrangements, or rather the complete lack of efficient arrangements, began to cause considerable agitation in the public mind. The Germans were touching the nerve centre, and the British Government found it necessary to order a complete reorganization. The London Air Defences were to be formed as a separate command. It was to include all the means of defence, both from the ground and in the air. General Ashmore was brought from France to take charge. On the formation of this new command several distinct problems presented themselves. Night raids on London by airships, although not very likely, were still possible; it was obvious that night raiding by aeroplanes would have to be faced. But the most threatening danger lay, for the moment, in day raiding by aeroplanes in force. To meet this, a line of guns was established to the E. of London some 20 m. out; and inside this line strong patrols of aeroplanes, working in formation, were organized. Careful plans were laid to ensure that the guns and aeroplanes would really cooperate and not interfere with each other.

A system of signals and directing arrows on the ground was installed to assist the pilots in finding the enemy. Outer patrols of aeroplanes near the coast could deal with the homeward journey of the raiders.

The new arrangements were soon tested; on Aug. 12 a party of nine Gothas made the land near Harwich. After following the coast to the Blackwater, they turned inland for London. The communication system of the defence control worked well, and the squadrons immediately defending London were at the required height in plenty of time to meet the enemy formation. The German commander, however, would not face the defences of London itself, and turned his formation about before they reached the outer line of guns. A number of bombs were unloaded on Southend as the enemy made off, and 32 people were killed. The Germans were pursued out to sea, but an exasperating series of gun-jams robbed the British pilots of success, and the only bag was one Gotha that was flying badly and was brought down in the sea by a naval machine.

An attempt on Aug. 18 was frustrated by bad weather. Many of the German machines were blown over Holland, where some of the pilots, thinking they were over England, dropped bombs!

An abortive attack on the Midlands by eight airships on the night of Aug. 21 was followed by the last day attack on England on Aug. 22, when Capt. Kleine, commander of the 3rd Squadron, started out with 13 Gothas to bomb Sheerness and Dover. A number of naval machines turned the Sheerness bombers from their objective, and the German formation, harassed by the British pilots, wheeled south by Ramsgate. Here the anti-aircraft guns, working with great accuracy, shot down two of the raiders. A third was shot down off Dover.

The increased efficiency of the defences, both in machines and guns, decided the Germans to abandon day attacks, and they turned their attention to raiding with aeroplanes by night. Practically no answer had been found at the time to this form of attack, which had been carried on for more than a year on the western front in France. Searchlight staffs, in their then state of training, found great difficulty in picking up or holding an aeroplane in their beams. Gunfire, which could only be aimed roughly in the direction of the enemy, was so inaccurate as to be negligible. It was not thought possible to fly during darkness fast scout machines of sufficient climb and performance. Furthermore, it must be remembered that a pilot in the air at night can only see another machine when he is close to it, and that the noise of his own engine deafens him to other sounds. At the time there was no way in which the pilot could receive information from the ground. For these reasons it seemed difficult to find any means on which to base plans of defence against night aeroplane raiding.

The first group of night attacks came in the beginning of Sept. 1917, and one of these reached London itself. The raid on Sept. 2 was a quick affair at Dover and of little importance. On the following night, Sept. 3-4, about io:30, hostile aeroplanes were reported near the North Foreland, and warnings were sent out by the central control a few minutes later when it was clear that they were coming up the Thames. Unfortunately there was serious telephone delay in getting the warning out at Chatham, and before cover could be taken a bomb had fallen on a drill hall in which a large number of naval ratings were asleep. No fewer than 130 were killed and 88 wounded.

Although on this night the defence was ineffective, certain points emerged which gave hope for the future. Three stouthearted pilots went up in Camels, fast scout machines, and found that it was by no means impossible to handle them at night. In fact, being small and light, they were even easier to land than heavier machines, which would run on longer on the ground. The idea also was evolved of barrage fire, a curtain of bursting shell to be put up in the path of the raiders.

The last raid of this moon period, on Sept. 4, reached London. The attacking machines, between 20 and 30 in number, began to come up to the coast soon after io P.M. While isolated attacks were made on Dover and Margate the majority of the raiders made for London. The barrage fire, organized since the previous night, turned some of the pilots, but io raiders reached the metropolitan area, and bombs were dropped in widely separated localities. The City, Paddington, Stratford, Hornsey, Holloway and Regent's Park, all suffered. One bomb narrowly missed Cleopatra's Needle. Considering the magnitude of the raid, the damage caused was small, and the total casualties for the night included only nine killed.

Favourable weather and good moon conditions at the end of Sept. and beginning of Oct. 1917 produced a sustained series of raids, opening on the night of Sept. 24th with an attack on London by aeroplanes, in conjunction with an airship raid on Hull and the north.

The first aeroplanes were reported approaching Kent as early as 7 P.M., and by 8:io P.M. some 21 machines in seven groups had come over the coasts of Kent, Essex and Suffolk. Dover was heavily attacked, the gas-works were hit and several houses were damaged. Nine at least of the pilots attempted to attack London itself, but considerable improvement had by this time been effected in putting up barrage fire, which was successful in turning back all but three of the attackers. Of these three, one dropped bombs about Deptford and Poplar, doing but little damage; the other two passed right over London from north to south. A bomb dropped in Southampton Row killed 13 people who had not taken proper cover; others fell near the Ritz Hotel and into the river opposite the Houses of Parliament. Although 27 English machines went up they failed to find any of the enemy; the gunfire brought down one of the Gothas, which fell in the river near Sheerness.

The attack on the north was carried out by io airships under Capt. Strasser. After concentrating off Flamborough Head six of them came over land. Although Hull was found, the raid had very little success. This was partly owing to the cloudy weather that prevailed. But the main reason for the failure is traceable to the gradual improvement of the defences, which had driven the airships higher and higher on each successive raid. On this occasion none of them flew under 16,000 ft. while over the land. At this height the difficulties of navigation are greatly increased and the probability of successful bombing diminishes.

On the following night, Sept. 25, io aeroplanes attacked. Of the three that approached London, one was turned off by the barrage fire; the other two, coming in from the S., did a little damage in Camberwell, Southwark, and Bermondsey, where nine people were killed. The barrage fire at Dover was particularly successful on this night, and the attack on that place completely failed.

The attacks were continued on the 28th, when some 20 machines came over; the night was cloudy and a few only approached London; they were all kept off by the barrage fire.

The barrage was again singularly effective on the following night, Sept. 29. Out of the 18 or 19 machines that came over only four penetrated far enough to bomb London. Of the remainder a large number were turned back by the fire put up by the outer ring of London guns. The Dover guns again did well, keeping off attack and bringing one of the enemy down in flames. Thirty defending pilots went up on this night; none of them found the enemy, although one was so close to a German machine that the anti-aircraft guns had to stop firing on it.

On the next night, Sept. 30, the German pilots showed more pluck; of 25 that attacked, eight got over London and bombed places as far apart as Highgate, Edmonton and Woolwich. Considering their numbers, they were singularly unlucky in the results: six people were injured and the damage was under £8,000.

The last raid of the series on Oct. i was made by about 18 machines; a few penetrated the defences and dropped bombs. One attacked Highbury, damaging a large number of houses; another bombed Hyde Park and the neighbourhood. One bomb fell into the Serpentine, killing most of the fish there. Only one British pilot saw anything of the hostile machines.

During these raids a large proportion of the attackers had been turned before reaching their target. The defences had done fairly well, but they were still far from complete. The outer ring of guns was not installed on the W. of London, and it was plain that the German pilots were feeling round by the N. for this gap.

The barrage fire was expensive in ammunition and there was a doubt if the supply could be kept up. Doubts had even arisen as to the use of the barrage - one Cabinet minister describing it as " self-bombardment." A few casualties from the gunfire were inevitable until people realized that even the lightest cover would protect them from the fragments of high-explosive shell. In spite of casualties, however, it was plain that the public looked upon the barrage fire as a comfort. It is significant that a Christmas fund got up by the Star newspaper for the men working at the guns had to be closed down from over-subscription.

Progress had already been made in night flying, on fast machines, but the defending squadrons had not nearly reached the necessary efficiency in machines or pilots.

The " Aprons," a new defence devised after the raid of Sept. 5, were only beginning to be installed. These were screens of wire that could be raised to io,000 ft. by Caquot balloons, and were designed to limit the range of heights in which the defending pilots would have to seek the bombers. The Central Control as organized in Sept. 1917 could give no information t6 pilots when once they had been sent on their patrols, but schemes to rectify this had already been initiated. On the whole, although the attack at this time had the best of it, there were reasonable hopes that this condition would not last much longer.

The airship raid of the night Oct. 19-20 1917, which became known in London as the " silent raid," has points of special interest. The weather conditions were the dominating feature both as regards the attack and the defence.

Eleven airships met on the evening of the 19th off the Yorkshire coast for an attack on the industrial centres of the Midlands.

To avoid gunfire and aeroplane attack while over England, the ships flew at an immense height, well over 16,000 ft. At this altitude the efficiency of the crew is much impaired by height sickness and the intense cold. Another and fatal condition was produced by the weather. Near the ground the air was misty and there was very little wind, but at the height of the airships a strong gale was blowing from the N., and in this the Zeppelins drifted blindly S., the navigators being prevented by the ground mists from correcting their course. One airship passed over London without recognizing it and dropped a few heavy bombs; one of 50 kgm. fell in Piccadilly outside Swan & Edgar's shop and caused some casualties. Owing to the peculiar conditions of the night, sound carried very badly, and this ship crossed London unheard. Eight other airships, in the course of their southern drift, passed, without knowing it, within easy reach of the metropolis.

Realizing that, on account of the ground mists, searchlights would have no chance of lighting up a high Zeppelin, the defence ordered them to remain covered unless an airship could be heard. The London public were inclined to complain that the usual display of lights and barrage fire was lacking. The lights, had they been turned on, must have produced the worst results. They could not light up the enemy, but they would be sufficient to show the attackers where London was, and to enable them to correct their course for drift. As it was, London was saved from a combined attack and the raid ended in disaster to the attackers.

One airship only returned to Germany in the usual way; six got back after flying over Holland or across the Allied lines. The remaining four were destroyed during the following day on French territory.

Aeroplane raiding was resumed during the moon period at the end of October. An attempt on the 29th failed on account of bad weather; another on the 31st was carried out by 24 machines. Considering that a good many of them got over London, the effect was small - one woman killed and damage to the extent of about £23,000.

The weather in Dec. 1917 was generally unfavourable for long-distance raiding, and only three attempts were made on London. The defences showed steady improvement. Two Gothas were brought down by anti-aircraft gunfire during a raid in the early morning of Dec. 6 on which occasion the Germans lost a third machine in the sea on the way home. On the night of the 18th, improvements in the searchlight control and the special training of the night-flying pilots began to mak e themselves felt. Twenty-seven defending machines of the best performance went up, and three combats took place.

As a result, one of the Gothas was so damaged that it fell into the sea off Folkestone and was destroyed. On this night the new " Giant " aeroplane came over London for the first time. It dropped one S oo-kgm. bomb in Lyall Street, near Eaton Square, making a large crater but doing little serious damage. The whole raid, however, cost London more than £300,000 in damage.

On Dec. 22 the last raid of the year was frustrated by unfavourable weather; one Gotha was forced by engine trouble to descend near Margate, where it was destroyed by the crew.

1918

In the five aeroplane raids of the first quarter of 1918 there was a tendency to replace the smaller Gotha machines by the new " Giants." A Gotha was destroyed by a defending aeroplane on Jan. 28. During this raid a bomb dropped by a Giant fell on a building in Long Acre that was being used as an air-raid shelter, and 38 people were killed.

On the following night, Jan. 29, one of the Giant machines was pursued half round London by four of the defending scouts. The reason for its escape is curious. The British pilots saw over their sights a machine they imagined to be of Gotha size. The actual machine, being a Giant and very much larger, was therefore a good deal farther off than they thought, and they were firing at too long a range to be effective. The crew of the Giant became panic-stricken and were within an ace of landing when the British machines drew off.

Three Giants, unaccompanied by any smaller machines, attacked on Feb. 16; the only one that penetrated to Lon don demolished a house in Chelsea Hospital with a 30o-kgm. bomb.

The raid of March 7 1918 was remarkable as being the only occasion on which aeroplanes attacked London in the absence of any moonlight. The navigators of the attacking Giants were helped by a bright aurora. This made the night unusually light, and gave a constant bearing of fair accuracy to the pole. Warrington Crescent was badly hit, most of the houses being wrecked.

To turn to the airships, the disaster of Oct. 19-20 1917 was followed by the destruction of four more ships by explosion in their sheds, and raiding was not resumed until the nights of March 12 and 13 1918. Both these raids were made at an immense height, and although Hull and West Hartlepool were bombed, the damage did not amount to much. The casualties comprised nine killed on the two nights.

Five airships of the newest and largest type, under Capt. Strasser, attacked the Midlands on the night of April 12. Although more than seven tons of bombs were dropped in the neighbourhood of big towns, the result was very small, and only five people were killed.

The end of the airship raiding came on Aug. 5-6 1918. Five ships came up to the coast of Norfolk, no bombs were dropped on land, but L70, the latest word in airship construction, was destroyed, with Capt. Strasser on board, by Major Cadbury, flying a DH4 machine.

In the great aeroplane raid of May 19 1918 the Germans made their maximum effort in this form of attack; between 30 and 40 Gothas of the 3rd Bombing Squadron took part, with at least two Giant machines. Thirteen of the raiders managed to get over London. The casualties included 49 killed, and (130,000 worth of damage was done in the London area alone. But the defence had by now made very real progress. Eighty-four aeroplanes, nearly all of excellent performance, went up in pursuit, and all landed safely. The anti-aircraft guns fired upwards of 30,000 rounds. The plans worked well in that the defending pilots were assisted instead of being hampered by the gunfire and searchlights. The Germans lost seven machines-three shot down in air combat, three destroyed by gunfire, and one from engine failure.

This success of the defence was final, and London was saved from further bombing. The Germans turned their attention to Paris, which now sustained a long series of raids.

A new system of defence control was in course of being installed in London at this time, but it did not come into full operation until Aug., and it was therefore never tested in an actual raid. It provided a method by which the defence commander could follow the course of raiding machines, and could instantly transmit information and orders to the pilots in the air by wireless telephone. It was calculated that this system would increase the power of the defence at least fourfold.

A proof of the efficiency of defence by aeroplanes, assisted by a good organization on the ground, was furnished by a squadron, manned by pilots trained in the London methods, that was sent to France in June 1918 to cope with night bombing near the line. In a very short time they accounted for 26 German machines, and they practically stopped bombing in their area, with no loss to themselves.

Conclusion

We have now traced the way in which raiding and defence grew up together, and the eventual success of adequately equipped and organized defences. In addition to casualties-I,413 killed, 3,407 injured in all-and damage, the German raids on England produced. actual results by no means negligible. A night raid stopped munition work over a large area. In order to establish a defence, men and material were kept hack from France. This was particularly felt in the case of aeroplanes and pilots. Two hundred aeroplanes of the best performance and 200 highly trained pilots were available about London at a time when they would have been of the utmost value on the western front. The moral effect of raiding is found to depend not so much on actual damage as on the success or illsuccess of defensive measures. In London, the barrage, the aprons," and the aeroplane defence did much to allay fears that had arisen when there was apparently no answer to the attacks. (E. B. A.)


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These files are public domain.

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Air Raids'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/bri/a/air-raids.html. 1910.

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