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, Kent

17 February 1918


Despite having only one serviceable ‘Giant’ available on 17 February, the commander of Rfa 501 ordered it to attack London alone. R.25 appeared off the Kent coast at about 9.45pm and initially followed the course of the Thames Estuary. The sound of its engines attracted AA gunfire from both the Kent and Essex sides of the river, some of it way out of range, and the first RFC sorties took off at 9.50pm.


As the river narrowed, R.25 veered from one shore to the other before dropping a sighting incendiary over Slade Green near Dartford at about 10.40pm. Approaching the south-eastern outskirts of London, the first HE bomb exploded in the back garden of a house in Newstead Road, Lee, severely damaging the rear of the house. Two more dropped close together at Hither Green. One exploded in the grounds of St. Swithun’s Church, damaging both the vicarage and the church, and the other on the pavement in Hither Green Lane, fracturing gas, water and electricity supplies and damaging buildings in the area. In Thornford Road, on the corner of Lewisham Park, a bomb exploded damaging a house and injuring two men. R.25 now followed a gently curving course that would ultimately lead to St. Pancras station in London, along which the crew released bombs at regular intervals.


The next bomb demolished the rear of 7 Vicar’s Hill, Lewisham, but the occupants all escaped unhurt; the blast damaged many other houses in the street and in neighbouring roads. In Waller Road, New Cross, a bomb fell in the back garden of No. 160 causing significant damage to the rear of the house. In Pennethorne Road, Peckham, another exploded behind Nos. 23 and 25, demolishing the back additions of both houses, smashing windows and damaging the roofs in most other properties in the street and causing serious damage in Kincaid Road. Approaching Camberwell, the next bomb detonated in Trafalgar Road, damaging the premises of a metal manufacturer and smashed windows in 31 houses there and more windows in 11 houses and a pub in Glengall Road. Two bombs followed in Southwark. In Searles Road, the first exploded in the street, killing a soldier and injuring three people while causing significant damage to a school and five houses. The second bomb exploded in a foundry yard in Bear Lane causing severe damage to the premises, which extended to 11 other properties there and in Dolben Street.


Continuing on the same line, R.25 crossed the Thames by Blackfriars Bridge at 10.55pm and dropped the next bomb, which failed to explode. It smashed down through five floors of St. Dunstan’s House at 133 to 137 New Fetter Lane, belonging to the Cambridge University Press, causing much damage but no casualties. Seconds later a bomb exploded in Doughty Mews off Guilford Street, Holborn, severely damaging the premises of a welding business and all the other buildings in the narrow mews suffered, which included a number of stables killing two horses. Damage extended to buildings in the surrounding roads: Guilford Street, Millman Street and Doughty Street.


The crew of R.25 now clearly saw a worthwhile target dead ahead — St. Pancras Station. With great accuracy five bombs landed within 50 yards of each other around the station and adjoining Midland Grand Hotel, and a sixth bomb landed a short distance away in Midland Road by the wall of Somers Town Goods Station. Two of the bombs landed at the front of the station, two struck pinnacles on the hotel’s tower (one caused damage but failed to explode) and one exploded close to an archway leading through to the booking hall. Some time later, on completion of their difficult task, the emergency teams had recovered 20 bodies and helped 22 people suffering injury.


Turning away to the north-east, R.25 dropped a final bomb (12kg HE) in the grounds of a YMCA Training Centre situated between Mildmay Park and Newington Green Road. The bomb failed to explode as R.25 headed home.


The RFC flew 69 sorties as they attempted to intercept R.25 but only three aircraft were able to make attacks before they lost the target. All were unsuccessful. Remarkably, this raid by one German aircraft lured the AA guns into firing 7,375 rounds, with many of the guns positioned miles from the route of R.25. A significant number of these rounds were aimed at Home Defence aircraft who had strayed over the gun zones and whose identification lights were invisible at the height they were flying. The crew of R.25 reported this wild response to their flight when they safely reached home.


Casualties:   21 killed,  32 injured


Damage: £39,898