Page:EB1922 - Volume 30.djvu/130

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believe; it was during this time that many of the airship commanders began lying freely, and "bombing" places they never went near.

The anti-aircraft defences had not yet been able to take the measure of the attack, and the good shooting of the Dover gun, mentioned above, was the solitary success that can be claimed for the ground defences up to the end of 1915. A few aeroplanes had been allotted to home defence, but they were quite unsuited for their task on account of their poor climbing power and their inefficient armament. The pilots, also, had but little training, and night landing grounds were few and very far between, so that ascents during 1915 for the attack of airships led in nearly all cases to fatal or serious injury to British pilots, and the attempt was looked on as a forlorn hope. . The defences could do no better in the early raids of 1916. Nine Zeppelins manoeuvred over the Midlands on the last night of January, one getting nearly to Shrewsbury. Seventy people were killed. Out of 16 British aeroplanes that went up in pursuit, 8 crashed on landing. A month later 2 airships were able to sit over Hull and bomb it from a low height, without any interference from the defence. From this time, however, defence took an upward turn; the change for the better began to show about the beginning of April 1916 during the very next series of raids. Li5, one of the five ships that attacked on March 31 1916, in attempting to reach Woolwich, was hit by the gun at Purfleet; it was then attacked in the air by Lt. Brandon, event- ually falling into the sea off the coast of Essex. Mathy's ship was hit by a shell on the same night, but he managed to struggle home. A wholesome dread of defended areas now began to be ob- servable in the German tactics. For instance, during the last raid of this April series, Hull was undoubtedly saved from further bombing by some new guns just installed there. Fifteen airship flights were made over England and Scotland during this April period. Edinburgh was bombed with little effect; nothing came over London, although some bombs were dropped as near as Waltham Abbey. British losses were 84 killed during the series. Further raids at the end of April were organized in con- junction with the naval bombardment of Lowestoft and Yar- mouth, the whole operation being timed to coincide with the rebellion in Ireland. A large number of airships took part, but the result was small. London was saved from bombing by its defences on April 25. One Zeppelin ran out of petrol and was eventually destroyed on the coast of Norway. The shortness of the summer nights prevented further raids until the end of July, when four attacks were delivered, in- dicating an ever-increasing respect for the defences. Twenty flights over England produced infinitesimal results, if we except the loss, at Hull, of 10 lives. An abortive raid on Harwich was followed on Aug. 24 by an attack on London by M^athy, now in command of LJI, a new Super-Zeppelin; he showed his usual dash, skilfully avoiding the defences by making use of clouds. He threw several 24o-lb. bombs, the largest then known; they caused a few casualties and considerable damage in southeast London and round about Blackheath. The raid of Sept. 2 was carried out by 14 ships and was a determined attempt on Lon- don. The metropolis was undoubtedly saved by the brilliant action of Lt. Robinson of the R.F.C., who did not hesitate to attack the military airship SLu, although she was under very heavy gunfire at the time. As he fired his third drum of ammu- nition into her, she burst into flames and fell, a burning mass, near Cuffley. The sight of this disaster was too much for the other commanders, who turned tail and made the best of their way home. British casualties included only three killed. The next series of raids, begun on Sept. 23 1916, was of great importance. The German command were not deterred by previous losses from again risking their best airships and pilots in the attack of London. They conceived, not unreasonably, that if London could be terrorized, they might touch the moral of the British Government, and so produce an appreciable effect on the conduct of the war. On Sept. 23 igi6 the weather condi- tions over the North Sea were favourable for raiding. Eleven airships left German sheds, nine crossed the British coasts, and the main attack was directed on London by three of the newest Super-Zeppelins, coming in from the east and south-east. Having crossed the Essex coast shortly before n P.M., L33 was over east London ten minutes after midnight. Here she dropped twenty bombs. London, however, was no longer the helpless mass of former days. The searchlights continually lit up the hull of the airship, which was at 12,000 ft.; she was badly holed by the guns, one of her engines was damaged, and she began to lose gas and fly clumsily. To add to her miseries, Brandon of the R.F.C. now brought his machine close up to her. For twenty minutes he stuck to her, pumping bullets into the fabric. As she laboured back towards the North Sea, the crew threw out everything they could lay their hands on, includ- ing the machine-guns. Her commander crossed the coast at Mersea Island, going out due east. But the certainty that his ship would fall into the sea was too much for him; he turned her about and came to earth three miles inland at Wigborough, near Colchester. A specimen of the latest type of Zeppelin thus fell nearly intact into British hands. Mathy meanwhile brought his ship L3i in company with L32 up the English Channel and, turning in over the Kent coast, made straight for south London. On the way he dropped a few trial bombs to test his sighting. Approaching the defences, he handled his ship with great skill and succeeded in blinding some of the British searchlights, that were picking him up, by throwing out powerful illuminating flares. He passed straight over the centre of London, crossing the Thames near London Bridge. South London and the extreme north suffered severely; but, for some reason, Mathy threw no bombs in the central districts, where he could have done most damage. He got clear away this time, and went out to sea by Yarmouth. The handling of the companion ship, L32, was not of nearly so bold a character. Her commander began to hesitate as soon as he had crossed the coast of Kent, and he spent an hour circling about Romney Marshes. When eventually he started N. for London his courage again failed, and he kept edging off to the E. so as to avoid the central defences. His caution could not save him. As he crossed the Thames near Dartford he was picked up by lights and attacked by guns. In order to rise he dropped most of his bombs in open country. His efforts were of no avail. Brandon, who was still in the air, describes the ill-fated ship as being " hosed with a stream of fire." This was the attack delivered by Lt. Sowrey, also of the R.F.C. , who succeeded in setting the ship on fire in several places; she fell in a mass of flames at Billericay, in Essex. The British casualties on this night were 41 killed, including one aeroplane pilot. The enemy would hardly see in this an ade- quate return for the loss of two new airships with their crews. On the night of Sept. 25 four ships raided the north, bombing Sheffield, where 29 people were killed, and narrowly missed Manchester. Two other ships, whose commanders had already become noted for their caution, came up to the Norfolk coast but would not cross it. Mathy, on this occasion, took his ship on an entirely new line. Passing through the Straits of Dover, he flew up the Channel as far as the Isle of Wight, where he turned N. and went straight over Portsmouth. He dropped no bombs on the fortress or dockyard. Near Hastings he went to sea again on what was to be his last voyage to Germany. Yet another serious attempt to bomb London was made on the night of Oct. i. Eleven ships started from Germany. Three of them made an innocuous tour over Lincolnshire. Mathy in L3i came in over Lowestoft about 8 P.M. and as usual steered an excellent course on London. Soon after passing Chelmsford, however, he found that the outer defences on that side of the capital were ready for him. A searchlight picked him up. He therefore turned and steered N.E. for some 15 minutes. Turning again he flew S.W., in order to get into position for his favourite dash down wind over the city. After drifting a few moments towards Ware, he set his engines going and started for north London at full speed. Suddenly a heavy gunfire was opened on him, and he decided to abandon his attempt. He threw out all his bombs, at the same moment executing a very