Germany’s aerial bombing campaign against Great Britain in the First World War, with London as its primary target, was the first sustained strategic bombing campaign in history. These raids, using airships, bomber aircraft, and seaplanes, ran from December 1914 to August 1918 and resulted in almost 5,000 casualties. (1914-1918 Online)
Whilst the Zeppelin raids of 1915 announced aerial warfare to the people of Britiain, they were soon replaced as the key enemy aerial threat by the Gotha GV bomber. Designed for long-range service, the Gotha was used by the Luftsreitkrafe (Imperial German Air Service) mainly as a night bomber.
It was the Gotha which rained down havoc on British streets with several disastrous bombing raids in London in the summer of 1917, including the bombing of Upper North Street School in Poplar, London, which killed 18 children. These raids were the first strategic aerial bombing raids in history.
What was the Gotha?
The Gotha was for the time, a highly advanced bi-plane (two sets of wings, one above the other) which could travel long distances and carry a large bomb-load. It could fly higher (15,000 feet) than any of Britain’s planes which gave it an immediate military advantage.
The Gotha measured 24m (the length of 2 buses) from wingtip to wingtip and was 12.5m long. It had a top speed of 140kmph (87mph) and could fly 800km (500 miles) before it had to be refuelled. The Gotha had a crew of 3 who operated the plane and manned the 2 (some variants had 3) machine guns from open cockpits. The bomb payload (500kg) was carried externally and released electronically.
The Gotha Bomber was produced in the autumn of 1916 when the limitations of the Zeppelin as a raider had become obvious. The German High Command ordered that 30 Gotha bombers were to be ready for a daylight raid on London on February 1st, 1917, but the machines were not ready until May. The first daylight raid on London was carried out by 14 Gothas on June 13th, 1917. On July 7th, 22 Gothas raided London. Night raids began in August of 1917 and continued until May 1918 when they were abandoned because of the increasingly heavy losses. At peak employment, in April 1918, 36 G.Vs were in service. (Will Boucher)
Defence against the Gotha
Air raid precautions began as a national response to the Zeppelin threat. With the Gotha raids, precautions were advanced and took advantage of developments in artillery and searchlight technology. In addition, one of the major disadvantages of the Gotha was their poor performance in bad weather…the pilot needed clear visibility to fly and the planes were often victims to high winds and rain. The Gotha threat diminished as defence improved, in particular making daylight raids too risky for the Germans.
Up to 1918 our air defence strategy consisted of:
- Royal Flying Corps and Royal Naval Air Service defence squadrons
- Coastal Anti-Aircraft batteries
- Mobile (train and ship mounted) anti-aircraft guns
- Listening Stations
- Alerts and alarms for civilians
- Civilian air raid shelters
Germany’s aerial campaign against Britain caused 4,743 casualties (1,394 killed and 3,349 injured) of which 2,603 occurred in London (667 killed and 1,936 injured). Estimates of material damage stand at about £2.9 million with around £2.2 million of that inflicted on London. Still, the raids failed to break the morale of the people. In fact, rather than demand the government sue for peace, as Germany had hoped, the raids led civilians to clamour for reprisal raids against German towns and cities. The raids did, however, fulfill some of their aims. War production reduced dramatically before, during, and after these attacks and Home Defence requirements kept large numbers of men, anti-aircraft guns, and searchlights in Britain, along with sixteen valuable squadrons of the Royal Flying Corps (Royal Air Force from April 1918). Britain also gained from the experience. The integrated defence system in place by 1918 formed the basis for that employed successfully when German aircraft returned to British skies in 1940. (1914-1918 Online)
Gotha Bomber c1917 – Wikimedia