Zeppelin raids, Gothas and 'Giants'

Britain's First Blitz - 1914 -1918

Ian Castle looks at the World War One air raids on Britain - the First Blitz

40 (3)

Kent, Essex

12th August 1917


Strong winds prevented an attack on London so the Gotha bombers of Kagohl 3 chose instead to attack Chatham, a naval base on the north Kent coast. The raid appears to have been a last minute decision and only 13 Gothas were available. Of these, engine problems caused two to turn back early.


Prior to the attack on Chatham, one Gotha broke away from the formation and at 5.40pm approached Margate where it dropped four bombs. The first fell harmlessly in the sea off Queen’s Promenade and the second wrecked an unoccupied house on Surrey Road. Of the other two, one fell in the grounds of Laleham House School on Lower Northdown Road, blowing out all the doors and windows at the back and damaging parts of the interior. The other dropped in the grounds of Surrey House School in Laleham Road, smashing windows there and at 30 other houses in the vicinity. One woman was slightly injured. AA guns opened fire on the Gotha, getting off 132 rounds, and a number of RNAS aircraft set off in pursuit, harrying the lone raider back to Belgium where it crash landed near Ostend.


The main formation appeared off the mouth of the Blackwater at 5.30pm, having been pushed north by the wind, and climbed to 15,000 feet as they headed towards the Thames Estuary. Ten minutes earlier the first defence aircraft took off from Rochford and Manston, followed in the next ten minutes by aircraft from a number of other airfields. Kagohl 3 reached Rochford at 5.50pm where they dropped two bombs on the RFC airfield but failed to inflict any damage although the bombs injured two men. Another fell close to the nearby railway but again without damage. The defence aircraft that took off from Rochford 30 minutes earlier were still climbing to the raider’s altitude but with the wind slowing the Gothas and the sight of British aircraft in pursuit, the formation abandoned their plan over Canvey Island and turned back, intending to drop their bombs on the area around Southend instead.



Five bombs fell at Leigh. One, which failed to detonate, went sideways through a house on Lord Roberts Avenue and buried itself six feet below the foundations. One that exploded on the pavement in Cliffsea Grove caused damage to seven houses but no one was injured. Seven bombs fell in Westcliff but only four detonated, causing minimal damage. Of these, two exploded in fields, one on a tennis court near Imperial Avenue and one in a garden in Crowstone Road North.


The 17 bombs that fell in Southend were more deadly even though nine of them failed to explode. A woman in High Street, near the Midland railway Station, was injured and a bomb exploding in Milton Avenue killed a man and a woman and smashed a water main. Other bombs demolished a house at 12 Guildford Road, killing three people and injuring three more, and one in Lovelace Gardens destroyed a house, killing a woman and child. The worst incident took place in Victoria Avenue, which led towards the main Great Eastern Railway station. Many day-trippers from London were on their way back to the station for the journey home when a 50kg HE bomb exploded amongst them leaving bodies strewn in all directions. The exact number is hard to work out from contemporary reports but may be as high as 25 killed.


The Gothas remained overland as far as Shoeburyness, dropping two final bombs at Little Wakering and Bournes Green, neither of which exploded, before going out to sea at about 6.00pm. RFC aircraft of 61 Squadron from Rochester pursued them for 40 to 50 miles as did aircraft from 112 Squadron, and those from the Testing Squadron at Martlesham Heath and the RNAS. One of the RNAS pilots, Flt sub-Lt Harold Kerby, had the only success of the day, shooting down one of the returning Gothas over the sea.


Six AA guns of the Thames and Medway garrison fired off 130 rounds, one regular crew at the Shoeburyness experimental range fired 36 and four hastily assembled crews at the Shoeburyness gunnery school got off 120 rounds, all without success.











Casualties:  33 killed,   46 injured


Damage: £9,600