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

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19th March 1916


On 19th March SFA1 planned another of their Sunday daytime seaplane raids on Kent coastal towns. This one proved the most lethal to date. The attacking force comprised six aircraft: four Friedrichshafen FF33s, a Hansa-Brandenburg NW and a Gotha Ursinus WD, although it is possible only four or five of the aircraft dropped bombs on land.


At 1.57pm the first of three incoming aircraft appeared over the Admiralty harbour at Dover at a height estimated between 5,000 and 6,000ft where one dropped the first bomb, followed by three that fell on Northfall Meadow, close to Dover Castle. One smashed into a hut housing men of the 5th battalion Royal Fusiliers. The blast killed two soldiers, Frank Roseberry and Walter Venables, mortally wounded two more and injured another 11. Turning near the castle, the raider then dropped bombs in Castle Street, followed by bombs along Folkestone Road. One destroyed tram tracks and the blast sent a cyclist, Miss Edith Stoker, aged 23, smashing into a shop doorway at 131 Folkestone Road. She died in hospital. That bomb also killed 7-year-old Francis Hall who was on his way to Sunday School. Two more bombs fell in Folkestone Road causing much damage. The raider then turned back towards the harbour, dropping a bomb in Northampton Street that killed 47-year-old Mrs Jane James and injured two other women. The final bombs landed at the harbour, one in Wellington Dock and two in the Commercial harbour.  


By now a second aircraft had begun bombing Dover. At Eastbrook Place a bomb hit an orphanage run by the Sisters of St. Vincent. The children rushed down to the basement when the first bombs exploded in the town and the only casualty was one of the Sisters, falling roof tiles cutting her arms. Further bombs fell close together in Church Street, King Street, Russell Street and at the corner of Woolcomber and Trevanion Streets, causing varying amounts of damage. The final bombs fell near the harbour: two in East Cliff and three in the sea.





Casualties: 14 killed,  26 injured


Damage: £3,809

Two of the three raiders then followed a course north towards Deal where one aircraft dropped nine bombs on a line from south to north. The first three fell close together, one wrecking Woodbine Cottage in Victoria Road and the other two fell in a neighbouring garden destroying two chicken houses, killing a chicken and blasting tree branches up into the telephone lines. The rest dropped between High Street and West Street, one exploding by the graveyard wall of St. George’s Church, but there were no personal injuries.


Then, at about 2.12am, two other German aircraft, approaching Ramsgate from different directions, began dropping 14 high-explosive bombs over the town. One bomb landed in the road close to St. Luke’s church with devastating effect. The bomb landed on a car causing the petrol tank to explode. It tossed the driver, 49-year-old Harry Divers, up into the air killing him instantly. The blast also killed four children and mortally wounded another, aged between four and 12, on their way to Sunday School, and a 23-year-old woman, Mrs G.M. Bishop, died two days later from her injuries. Another bomb landed on a stable close by from where the blast smashed dozens of windows.


Nine bombs fell around the gasworks without causing significant damage and one fell on the home and shop of a hairdresser, Mr T. Desormeaux, in Chatham Street. Mr Desormeaux and his family rushed outside when they heard explosions, just as a bomb hit the roof causing considerable damage to the upper storey, but they all escaped injury.  Another bomb struck the Chatham House School used as a hospital for wounded soldiers by the Canadian Army. The bomb smashed through the roof but there were no injuries. Another bomb damaged the premises of W.P. Blackburn, Upholsterer and Undertaker at 71-73 King Street


The final bomb of the raid was a single HE bomb dropped on Margate. It landed on a house at 29-30 Fort Crescent, Cliftonville used as headquarters of the 9th Provisional Cyclist Company, damaging the roof and dislodging chimneys.


The attack had stirred up a response and the RFC and RNAS had 26 aircraft in the air, from Dover, Eastchurch, Grain and Westgate. There was also a FE2b being ferried to France that successfully joined in the engagement. Two of the German raiders, a FF 33 and the Hansa-Brandenburg, were brought down on the return flight, both forced to land at sea. One made repairs and managed to fly back to Zeebrugge while the other had to be recovered by German vessels and towed into port.