Page:EB1922 - Volume 30.djvu/131

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page needs to be proofread.
97
AIR RAIDS


remarkable right-hand turn that must nearly have broken the back of his ship. The pursuing aeroplanes were close upon him. He did all that was humanly possible to save his ship. He tried flying towards the W. on a zigzag course, rising and falling, in order to escape from the lights that continually held him, and from pilots who would not be shaken off. An airship once caught in such toils has little chance of escape. The end came quickly. Lt. Tempest came up to the ship at 12,70x3 ft. and brought her down in flames at Potter's Bar. Thus perished Mathy, the bravest and most skilful, as well as the most successful, of all the German commanders. The fall of Mathy's ship had an immediate effect on three other raiders, who all made a sharp turn for home the moment they saw it. After his victory, Tempest crashed on landing at North Weald Bassett, but was unhurt. During the whole of this great raid the only British loss was one man killed. The defence of London had now definitely got the better of the lighter-than-air attack; after this period no German airship ever flew intentionally over the metropolis.

Deterred by the victory of the London defences, the German command turned their attention to the north for the final effort of 1916. They met with no better success. Of the ten ships that left Germany in the course of Nov. 27, eight came over land. One was destroyed on the coast near Hartlepool before midnight by Pyott of the R.F.C. She fell blazing into the sea. Although the pilot dived away at once to avoid the flaming mass, his face was scorched by the heat as she fell. Another raider, 1,2 1, after a remarkable journey right across England to Cheshire, was caught in the early morning just as it was growing light, when she was leaving the coast at Yarmouth. Three British naval aeroplanes came up with her. Cadbury attacked first, but exhausted all his ammunition; his experience was destined to be useful to him on a subsequent occasion. Another pilot then tried, but his gun was frozen up and jammed. The third pilot, Pulling, then went right in to within 60 ft. of the ship, under a heavy fire from her machine-guns, and succeeded in setting her alight. It is a curious fact that machine-gun fire was kept up from the gondolas for a considerable time after the hull had begun to burn. ShefellintotheseafromS,oooft.andsankatonce. Other raiders, seeing the disaster near Hartlepool, turned for home again without attacking. Those who came in over land found that the ground defences were very different from what they had expected. The guns and lights were successful in keep- ing the raiders off their targets. The British losses were one man and three women killed. During 1916 eighteen raids were made on England by aero- planes and seaplanes. They were nearly all of the " tip and run " variety, and consisted in coming over the coastline, dropping a few bombs haphazard and getting away as soon as possible. The attacks were delivered with no apparent military purpose, and they had practically no effect. The first aeroplane attack on London was made on Nov. 281916 by a single machine; the weather was misty and the first intima- tion was the fall of six small bombs between Brompton Road and Victoria station. The raiding machine had an engine failure on the return journey and was forced to land within the Allied lines near Boulogne. Lt. Ilges, the pilot, had set out to take photographs and bomb the Admiralty. Before the beginning of 1917 the defences had quite definitely beaten the attack, so far as concerned operations by airships against London. Over the rest of England the airship com- manders were tending more and more to avoid defended places, consequently the damage they could do was limited to objectives of secondary importance. It is a significant fact that of the nine Zeppelin commanders who attacked in Jan. 1916 three had been killed and two others taken prisoner, their five ships being destroyed by the action of the defences, before the end of the year. . The three airship raids of the first half of 1917, carried out under the conditions indicated above, produced little re- sult other than the loss of two of the raiders, one being shot down while on the way home by a French gun near Compiegne, the other being destroyed by one of the defending aeroplanes near Harwich. On the night of May 6-7 a single German aeroplane appeared over the East End of London, and dropped a few small bombs. The attack, in itself, was unimportant, but it afforded an indication of what might come later. Before the end of 1916 it had become evident to the German command that, if effective bombing was to be kept up on targets that were worth attacking, it would be necessary to try new methods. Early in 1917, therefore, they began equipping a squadron with special machines suitable for bombing England systematically. This formation, known as the 3rd Bombing Squadron, was distributed in aerodromes about Ghent, roughly 170 m. from London. The new machines, of the Gotha type, were capable of flying with a full load of bombs at 12,000 ft. and over. They carried a crew of three, pilot and two machine gunners. In May 1917 the squadron was ready for action, and as soon as the weather became favourable the attacks were to begin. The raids, with the exception of two minor attacks on Harwich, were aimed at London, but on the first two occasions unsuitable weather caused a failure, and the bombs were un- loaded in other places. The first attempt on London came on May 25 1917, The 3rd Bombing Squadron, 16 machines strong, left Belgium early in the afternoon and made the Essex coast about 5 P.M. On the Continent the sky was generally clear but there were thick banks of cloud over Essex. The task of navigating to London was found too difficult and the leader had to give up the attempt. He therefore turned S. over Essex and crossed the Thames about Gravesend, afterwards making a course S.E. Bombs were dropped on the Canadian camp at Shorncliffe, where there were 100 casualties. The worst effect was produced in Folkestone itself. One bomb fell in a crowded street and killed 33 people, mostly women who were out shopping. Over England the opposition to the raid was entirely without effect, but one raider was brought down in the sea by a British machine working from Dunkirk. The second unsuccessful attempt was made on June 5; 18 machines, practically the full strength of the 3rd Squadron at that time, left the Ghent aerodromes about 2 P.M. They made the Essex coast as on the previous occasion, but this time they turned S. earlier. They bombed Sheerness with some effect, the town and dockyard both being hit several times. The guns at Sheerness succeeded in hitting one of the raiders, which fell into the river off Barton's Point. A large number of machines went up in pursuit. They were nearly all too slow and climbed too badly to do any good. The third attempt on London was more successful. The whole of the 3rd Squadron started in the morning of June 13, taking the same course across the North Sea as before. A few machines were detached to bomb Margate and Shoebury- ness. Probably this was done to confuse the defence arrange- ments. The main formation of 14 machines held on N. of the river to London, which was reached a little before noon. A few bombs were dropped in the East End and near the Royal Albert Docks; then, at a signal from the leader, the formation loosed 72 bombs over a small area having Liverpool Street station as its centre. The station itself was hit by three bombs. The casualties were severe 159 killed and 424 injured. One ico-lb. bomb hit a school in Poplar. On striking the building the bomb was torn in half before the fuse acted, and only half the charge exploded; even so, 17 of the children were killed. A few isolated attacks were made on the raiders without success. One machine got into touch with the enemy over Ilford, but the observer, Capt. Keevil, was killed and the pilot's gun jammed. Such gunfire as was brought to bear in the London area was badly directed and had no effect. The next raid on London on July 7 was also successful. Twenty-four machines started; they were first seen well out to sea soon after 9 in the morning, flying at about 10,000 feet. Coming up to the coast, two machines were detached, as on the previous occasion, in order to attack Margate, where a couple of houses were wrecked. The main body of 22 machines, flying in diamond formation, crossed the Essex coast near the mouth of the Crouch river about 9.45 A.M., and they came on towards London,