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, Essex

18th December 1917


Rudolph Kleine, the commander of Kagohl 3, now re-named Bombengeschwader 3 der OHL (Bogohl 3), was shot down and killed on 12 December. The command of the squadron passed to Richard Walter. Less than a week later Walter ordered a raid on England. Thirteen Gothas came inland, joined by a single ‘Giant’ of Rfa 501.


Nine HE bombs fell on Essex at about 6.20pm. Four fell in fields west of the village of Hutton, followed moments later by five that fell at Shenfield. Although all fell in the open they fatally injured a woman. About ten minutes later a Gotha approached Corringham and dropped four HE bombs around the Kynoch’s explosive works. One of the bombs destroyed a hut there injuring three men inside. A final HE bomb fell in Essex at about 7.30pm, in a field at Woodham Ferrers.


The Thanet area of Kent suffered three separate attacks, the first at 6.05pm. In the St. Peter’s district of Broadstairs, five bombs gouged craters on open ground close to the railway line, before five more fell in Margate following a line from Glencoe Road to Helena Avenue. The bombs smashed windows in Glencoe Road and damaged a house in Lister Road. Two more HE bombs fell south-east of Garlinge in the Twenties area smashing windows in 12 cottages. A second raid developed over Margate at 6.22pm. About 16 HE bombs fell between the harbour and Danes Park causing significant damage in the area around the Addington Road and extending into neighbouring streets. A final attack on Margate took place at 7.57pm when three HE bombs fell on the seafront demolishing a cottage and office at the Clifton Baths and damaging 43 other houses and shops in the area. Damage in the town was estimated at about £12,000.


Elsewhere in Kent a Gotha passed to the east of Canterbury at 6.20pm, dropping nine HE and seven incendiary bombs. Four of the HE fell near Westbere, an HE and an incendiary fell in fields at Littlebourne, three incendiaries fell on the RFC aerodrome at Bekesbourne, followed by three incendiaries and three HE bombs close by. The last HE bomb exploded in a field at Patrixbourne. None of the 16 bombs caused any damage. The Gotha then turned for home, dropping two HE bombs in fields about a mile north of Deal before passing out to sea. A Gotha returning from London dropped a final bomb on Kent at 8.20pm, which landed in Chetney Marshes north of Iwade.

Over London the first attack took place at about 7.15pm when three bombs fell in Kentish Town damaging 20 houses and injuring a man in Caversham Road. A few minutes later two bombs fell near Charing Cross where one, close to Cleopatra’s Needle, killed four people and injured one. Crossing the Thames three HE bombs fell in Lambeth and caused some damage, particularly at 187 Westminster Bridge Road, which resulted in injuries to one man. Bombs in York Street and Walworth Road, Walworth, inflicted serious damage and then two bombs were released over Bermondsey at about 7.25pm. At the same time another Gotha also dropped six bombs over Bermondsey where three people in Spa Road were killed and 15 injured but the second Gotha had been attacked by an RFC pilot and eventually crashed in the sea off Folkestone: two of the crew were rescued but one died. At 7.19pm an attack commenced over Aldersgate Street where an HE and an incendiary dropped, demolishing two shops and damaging nine other buildings, followed by an incendiary that set fire to 91 Farringdon Road, killing one man and injuring another. Around Kings Cross five HE and an incendiary fell damaging around 125 properties in Kings Cross Road, Wicklow Road, Lorenzo Road, Southampton Road, Pentonville Road and Great Percy Street that resulted in the deaths of two children and left 22 people injured. At about the same time four HE bombs fell in Clerkenwell damaging 68 properties and killing a man. About 10 minutes later a 50kg HE bomb caused serious damage to a railway arch and tracks at Hackney Downs as well as smashing windows in 10 houses in Amhurst Terrace. Between 8.00 and 8.20pm nine HE bombs fell in the area between Goswell Road and Chancery Lane causing limited damage. One of the bombs, outside 109 Farringdon Road, killed one man and injured six other people, while one in Upper Smith Street, near Goswell Road, injured two and damaged 53 houses in the surrounding streets. At 8.15pm a single HE bomb landed in Hare Court, Temple, and 15 minutes later two single HE bombs exploded. One, falling in Provence Street, Islington, damaged 75 houses in three streets, and one south of the Thames in Halesworth Road, Lewisham, caused considerable damage to a single house.


Behind the Gothas a single ‘Giant’ arrived over London at around 9.00pm and began its bombing run from Belgravia, through Pimlico to Westminster. Notable amongst the 22 incendiary bombs was a single HE bomb weighing 300kgs, the first of that type dropped over London from an aeroplane. It exploded opposite 2 Lyall Street digging a huge crater in the street, smashing a gas main, two water mains and a main sewer, and damaged houses nearby, including the Russian Embassy. Elsewhere a number of small fires broke out along the route, some buildings experienced minor damage and a glass roof over platforms at Victoria Station was smashed. Crossing the Thames the ‘Giant’ dropped five incendiaries on Lambeth, four falling around Lambeth Palace, the London home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The next four incendiaries fell around Southwark Cathedral after which the ‘Giant’ crossed the Thames again, dropping an incendiary at Billingsgate Fish Market before the final two incendiaries fell in Whitechapel causing limited damage.


The RFC had 47 aircraft in the air to oppose the raid but their only success was the Gotha that came down in the sea off Folkestone. The AA guns fired 10,052 rounds. Whether they were responsible for any of the seven Gothas that made crash landings back in Belgium is not known.  



Casualties:   14 killed,  83 injured


Damage: £238,861