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

19/20 May 1918 (part 1)


After an absence of ten weeks, Kagohl 3 and the ‘Giant’ squadron returned to attack London. In all 41 aircraft set out, making it the largest air raid of the war. It was the first test in the defence of London for the pilots of the recently amalgamated Royal Air Force. The heavy barrage put up by the guns in Kent, Essex and all along the River Thames deterred many of the raiders from pushing through to London and it appears that perhaps only 18 battled their way through to the capital. Faced by this storm of over 30,000 AA shells and with 86 aircraft of the RAF patrolling the skies, the rest dropped their bombs over Kent and Essex before turning back.


In Essex, 36 bombs dropped between 11.10pm and 12.30am by an estimated seven aircraft. The first two fell at Wallasey Island and Potton Island at 11.10pm, followed by a single bomb at Southend at 11.20pm that failed to explode, then one at Wennington at 11.27pm, followed three minutes later by four at Shoeburyness. Most fell harmlessly in fields or marshes but bombs damaged one house in the town. At the same time, two bombs fell on farmland at both Beauchamp Roding and Berners Roding, followed ten minutes later by two bombs in a field at Bulpham and one at Stapleford Abbotts that smashed windows at a farmhouse. At 11.52pm a single bomb exploded in the marshes at Canewdon and bombs fell on open ground at South Fambridge at 11.50pm and again at 12.15am but only damaged a shed. At 12.10am a single bomb exploded on open ground on Foulness Island. The last bombs recorded in Essex were near Burnham-on-Crouch, where bombs dropped on farmland at midnight and again at 12.30am, damaging crops and a farmhouse. Shortly before 11.50pm a Gotha got into difficulties while at low level, released its six bombs over marshes near St. Osyth and crashed landed near the village.


Of the 46 bombs estimated to have fallen on Kent, the first landed west of Herne at about 11.00pm, damaging three cottages and an outhouse. Two Gothas dropped bombs at Margate. Of these, four fell around Northdown at 11.00pm, damaging St. Mary’s Church, smashing the windows at The Wheatsheaf public house, smashing 21 windows at Northdown House and a window at the gamekeeper’s house. Two more exploded on Margate beach at 11.29pm without damage. At 11.15pm four 50kg bombs fell without effect at Murston and five minutes later one exploded in a cornfield at Monkton, while another at Acol smashed windows. Three bombs near Detling did no damage, but at the same time at Davington an explosion smashed glass and damaged a door at the parish church. Five bombs exploded at Stanford and Saltwood, near Westenhanger, with the only damage being smashed windows at the first village.


At about 11.30pm, a bomb dropped at the corner of Norman and Saxon roads in Faversham, damaging a house, injuring three people and smashing windows in 77 other properties. Moments later a bomb exploded in a marsh at Graveney, but the crew of the Gotha were in trouble. Attacked by a pilot of No.112 Squadron, the Gotha crashed on the Isle of Sheppey near Harty. At about 11.45 single bombs fell at both St. James’s on the Isle of Grain and at Higham, both without effect. Three attacks took place on the Dover area. The first at about 11.40pm saw four bombs strike the town. One failed to detonate but the others — two in Priory Hill and one in Widred Road — caused widespread chaos and damage to almost 220 houses. About half an hour later six bombs dropped at Guston near to sheds on the airfield but they inflicted no damage. The final Gotha to attack the Dover area did so at about 1.05am when six bombs exploded harmlessly in fields at St. Margaret’s. Elsewhere, three bombs exploded near to Rochester — two in fields on Borstal Court Farm and one near the golf course — where a few windows were broken.    


The first Gothas to reach the wider London area dropped the first 20 HE bombs between 11.30 and 11.40pm. Seven bombs fell at Bexley where one at 109 High Street killed a man and injured four people, At Manor Park, a single 100kg bomb killed four people in Seventh Avenue, injured six and damaged 50 houses. At Lower Sydenham, in Sydenham Road, a bomb killed 18 and injured 14 (17 of the casualties were soldiers killed in their billets), also damaging 48 houses and at Richards Place, Walthamstow, a bomb caused damage to 100 houses and injured six people. In Poplar, a 300kg bomb exploded at 240 St. Leonard’s Road completely demolishing 17 houses, killing one person, injuring six and inflicting damage on 360 other houses. Other bombs falling in Poplar, in Joshua Street, Barchester Street and Morris Road had a widespread impact, with four houses demolished and 332 damaged. Two bombs fell in Catford; in Inchmary Road 22 houses suffered damage and in Sangley Road a bomb killed a man, injured a woman while damaging 44 houses. Other bombs fell in Sidcup and Hockendon, only smashing a few windows at the latter place.


Between 11.45 and 11.50pm another nine bombs fell on London. In Tottenham, one at the junction of Beaconsfield and Grove Park roads damaged 160 houses and injured a man, and in Bethnal Green the explosion of a bomb in Corfield Street killed three, injured 16, seriously damaged 18 houses and caused lesser damage to 206 others. Another bomb in Bethnal Green inflicted severe damage on the factory of a pharmaceutical company, Allen and Hanburys. In King Street, St. James’s, near Pall Mall, a bomb injured one man and damaged 10 buildings, while in Undercliff Road, Lewisham, two women suffered injury when an explosion damaged 43 houses. Three bombs exploded in Bromley; one, in Bromley Crescent, killed a man, injured seven people and damaged 38 houses, while the other two damaged 12 others. The final bomb of this batch exploded in Lawrence Avenue, Manor Park, causing much damage to property and injuries to four men, a woman and a child.


For more details about this raid see Part 2






Casualties:    49 killed,  177 injured


Damage: £177,317