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)

London, Essex, Kent

13th June 1917


This third attempt on London by Kagohl 3 finally met with success. Although 20 Gothas took off from the Ghent airfields, two quickly turned back with engine problems. As they approached south-east England one Gotha left the formation and headed towards Margate on the Kent coast. At 10.43am the AA gun at St.Peter’s opened fire at the lone Gotha estimated to be flying at 14,000 feet, soon joined by the Hengrove AA gun. As the Gotha approached Margate, it dropped the first of five 50kg HE bombs. The first landed to the west of the railway station and the second, which failed to explode, fell to the east of the station damaging some telegraph wires. The next also failed to explode when it landed in the garden at 12 Poet’s Corner. Of the last two bombs, one exploded in an allotment near Dane Park and the other on Park Crescent Road at the junction with Addiscombe Road where it damaged a water main. The bombs caused no major damage, but the police reported broken windows in 120 houses and shops and at a mineral water factory and a few at a laundry. In addition one man (a special constable), a woman and two children suffered minor injuries. There is a suggestion that one more bomb fell and this may have fallen near Devonshire Gardens as the Gotha headed back out to sea.


As the main formation approached Foulness on the Essex coast at about 10.50am, three more Gothas detached. One crossed the Thames estuary to the Kent side and headed towards Greenwich on what appears to have been a photo-reconnaissance mission. The other two headed for Shoeburyness. A bomb dropped on the village of Barling but failed to detonate while four fell in the vicinity of Shoeburyness causing minor injuries to a man and a child, breaking windows and damaging ceilings in a number of houses. A final bomb dropped harmlessly in the sea. The remaining 14 Gothas continued across Essex towards London.


From Romford at 11.24am the first of the AA guns defending London opened fire. A few minutes later a few bombs fell on East Ham where two that landed in Alexandra Road damaged 42 houses, killed four people and injured another 11. Just to the south, a single bomb that landed at the Royal Albert Docks damaged some buildings, vans and a railway truck, killing 8 men working there and injuring nine others. Closer to central London a bomb exploded in Islington, outside 35 Woodville Road where it killed five and injured the same number. As the formation reached Regent’s Park it turned back and headed towards the City of London, the heart of the capital.









In the middle of a bright and sunny working day the 14 Gothas of Kagohl 3 began unloading their bombs, 72 of which dropped within a one mile radius of Liverpool Street Station while Londoners stared disbelieving into the sky. Three bombs fell on the station where one blew apart a passenger carriage on a train that was just about to leave and another struck carriages being used by army doctors. Casualties reached 16 killed and 15 injured. In Central Street, off Old Street, bombs that fell on the road killed 12 and injured 11 others. The total could have been higher. Workers in a factory in Central Street tried to run out when they heard approaching bombs but a policeman, PC Alfred Smith, forced them back inside and closed the door. Moments later the bombs exploded in the street claiming PC Smith amongst its victims.


At the brass foundry of R. Barrett & Sons in Beech Court off Beech Street, a bomb killed 8 men working on the roof and injured 10 others. Of two bombs that fell in Fenchurch Street, one at No. 65, a mix of offices, shops and dwellings, killed 19 people while injuring 13. In Aldgate High Street by the junction with Minories, a bomb struck premises occupied by the Albion House Clothing Co. Ltd. killing 13 and injuring 21. In Paternoster Square a bomb exploded in the roadway gouging a crater five feet deep, killing a boy and injuring 22. While at the Royal Mint on Tower Hill, close to the Tower of London, a bomb struck a building housing repair shops where four men died and another 30 people suffered injuries. On the south side of the Thames a bomb caused serious damage at 118 Southwark Street, killing three and injuring 24 at premises occupied by tea merchants British and Bennington’s Ltd. The response by the London Fire Brigade was hindered when two of their fire stations, one in Commercial Road and the other in Tabernacle Street, were also bombed.


Numerous dramatic and tragic stories emerged from the few minutes of horror that descended on London that summer’s morning, inevitable when you consider the extent of the casualties with 162 killed and 426 injured, the highest total for any air raid on Britain in the First World War. Shocking as this level of casualties was, there was one incident above all others that left an indelible on London.


After bombing the City, the Gothas headed east. Those still carrying bombs dropped them on East London. One 50kg bomb struck the Upper North Street School in Poplar. The three storeys of the building were packed with children at their lessons.  Two children were killed as the bomb split in two and made its way down through the building before it exploded on the ground floor amongst two classes of 64 infants aged five and six. When desperate rescuers had finished their work 16 of the infants were dead and 30 other children and four teachers bore injuries.


Although 94 aircraft of the RFC and RNAS flew defence sorties, only 11 of these aircraft managed to get within firing range but they were unable to successfully engage any of the raiding Gothas.











Casualties:  162 killed,   432 injured


Damage: £129,498