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

28th/29th January 1918


After a break of 41 days Germany resumed raiding Britain on 28 January. Bad weather meant that of the 13 Gothas and two ‘Giants’ that set out, only seven Gothas and one ‘Giant’ made the attack. Records are contradictory as to how many Gothas bombed London — it could be three or four — while the others dropped their bombs on towns in Kent. The ‘Giant’ also reached London.


In Kent, seven 50kg bombs dropped on Ramsgate at about 8.20pm - in High Street, South Eastern Road, Ellington Park, Dundonald Road, Crescent Road and two in Picton Road. The bombs caused serious damage to nine houses and lesser damage to 107 others (mainly roofs and windows) with the cost of that damage estimated at £2,600, but there were no casualties.  


At 8.25pm another Gotha dropped seven HE bombs over Richborough. Two fell in a marsh, four in an orchard and one in a meadow on King’s End Farm, damaging a fruit tree and smashing windows in a cottage. The Dockyard town of Sheerness came under attack at 9.05pm when five bombs dropped at the docks damaging the destroyer HMS Violet as well as the lighter Winkle and the steam vessel Swale, wrecking steam launch No. 121 and sinking a custom’s boat and a cutter. A bomb near the Admiral Superintendent’s Office smashed many windows and at the Gun Wharf a bomb demolished explosives stores while partly demolishing workshops and a wall between the Gun Wharf and the Dockyard. Other offices and storerooms suffered damage and the blast damaged windows in the town. Five men were injured, one, Charles Hibbins, a stoker on Torpedo Boat 19, later died. Thirty minutes later a Gotha passed over Margate and dropped a single 50kg bomb on a playing field on Laleham Road smashing windows in nine houses.  


The first Gotha to reach London commenced bombing shortly before 9.00pm. Five bombs fell on Stepney (two killed, two injured, six houses demolished, many others damaged and a school gymnasium wrecked) and single bombs on Poplar (two killed, 10 houses seriously damaged and 22 to a lesser extent) and at Limehouse (three killed, 14 injured, 10 houses damaged). Across London at about the same time, five bombs fell close to the Thames near Vauxhall Bridge. Two of these exploded in Wandsworth Road killing three men and injuring 10 other people. The bombs caused much damage at Lennox Buildings and Clare Cottages, demolished a retort house at the gas works, severely damaged one house and caused slight damage 70 others.

Another attack developed at 9.15pm with a single bomb dropping on Gore Road, South Hackney, which damaged eight houses. Five minutes later two bombs dropped in Holborn, injuring two men in Parker Street and causing considerable damage to a printer’s works in Newton Street. Just west of St. Pancras station the Gotha dropped two more bombs, causing serious damage to two properties in Ossulston Street where two children suffered injury, and also to a railway coal station nearby. The last three bombs of this attack fell in Camden Town where they caused material damage but there were no more casualties.


The last Gotha commenced its attack near Kilburn shortly before 10.00pm, dropping three bombs fell along Belsize Road close to a railway line. These bombs killed two people and injured two, wrecked the Princess of Wales pub and damaged 118 houses. Three other bombs, in St. George’s Road, Mortimer Crescent and Greville Road, damaged seven houses. On its homeward route across Essex two Sopwith Camels of No. 44 Squadron intercepted it and shot it down. It crashed at Wickford; all three crew died.


The final attack of the night commenced over Bethnal Green at 12.15am when ‘Giant’ R.12 released five bombs. In Florida Street one man died and four people suffered injury, as did three in Nelson Street and nine in Maidstone Street. The bombs also caused great damage with 329 houses suffering to a greater or lesser extent. Heading south, R.12 crossed the Thames near Tower Bridge then turned west to re-cross the river by Waterloo Bridge. Bombs fell on Savoy Hill, Covent Garden Flower Market and Long Acre. Here the greatest tragedy of the raid occurred. Odhams Printing Works in Long Acre was an approved air raid shelter but, missing the building, the bomb smashed down through the pavement lights to explode in the basement bringing down much of the huge building. The final tally recorded 38 dead and 85 injured, with the last bodies only recovered in March. R.12 continued on its course, dropping bombs in Bedford Place and Hatton Garden, then one in Long Lane in the City, which demolished two floors of a cold storage warehouse. The penultimate bomb damaged the bottling store of Truman’s Brewery in Spitalfields before the final bomb exploded close to where R.12 had begun its raid. It landed close to the railway between Cheshire Street and Pedley Street in Shoreditch. The bomb injured one man and damaged the tracks and 70 houses close by.  


Besides the Gotha shot down over Essex, another four crashed back in Belgium and at least one of these crews was killed. The RFC flew 97 sorties while the RNAS put up six aircraft; it was the most flown on any night by British defence aircraft. There are reports of five close encounters with Gothas and one Bristol Fighter of No. 39 Squadron made an emergency landing after enemy bullets pierced its petrol tank. Another pilot, flying a No. 78 Squadron Sopwith Camel, suffered a hit from the anti-aircraft guns that stopped his engine. He almost made it back intact but hit telegraph wires near Hornchurch. The pilot, thrown clear, escaped injury but his aircraft was a burning wreck. As well as this response from the RFC and RNAS, the anti-aircraft guns fired 14,722 rounds against the eight raiders.




Casualties:   67 killed,  166 injured


Damage: £187,350