Page:EB1922 - Volume 30.djvu/133

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99
AIR RAIDS


weather that prevailed. But the main reason for the failure is traceable to the gradual improvement of the defences, which had driven the airships higher and higher on each successive raid. On this occasion none of them flew under 16,000 ft. while over the land. At this height the difficulties of navigation are greatly increased and the probability of successful bombing diminishes. On the following night, Sept. 25, 10 aeroplanes attacked. Of the three that approached London, one was turned off by the barrage fire; the other two, coming in from the S., did a little damage in Camberwell, Southwark, and Bermondsey, where nine people were killed. The barrage fire at Dover was particularly successful on this night, and the attack on that place completely failed. The attacks were continued on the 28th, when some 20 machines came over; the night was cloudy and a few only ap- proached London; they were all kept off by the barrage fire. The barrage was again singularly effective on the following night, Sept. 29. Out of the 18 or 19 machines that came over only four penetrated far enough to bomb London. Of the remainder a large number were turned back by the fire put up by the outer ring of London guns. The Dover guns again did well, keeping off attack and bringing one of the enemy down in flames. Thirty defending pilots went up on this night; none of them found the enemy, although one was so close to a German machine that the anti-aircraft guns had to stop firing on it. On the next night, Sept. 30, the German pilots showed more pluck; of 25 that attacked, eight got over London and bombed places as far apart as Highgate, Edmonton and Woolwich. Considering their numbers, they were singularly unlucky in the results: six people were injured and the damage was under 8,000. The last raid of the series on Oct. i was made by about 18 machines; a few penetrated the defences and dropped bombs. One attacked Highbury, damaging a large number of houses; another bombed Hyde Park and the neighbourhood. One bomb fell into the Serpentine, killing most of the fish there. Only one British pilot saw anything of the hostile machines. During these raids a large proportion of the attackers had been turned before reaching their target. The defences had done fairly well, but they were still far from complete. The outer ring of guns was not installed on the W. of London, and it was plain that the German pilots were feeling round by the N. for this gap. The barrage fire was expensive in ammunition and there was a doubt if the supply could be kept up. Doubts had even arisen as to the use of the barrage one Cabinet minister describing it as " self -bombardment." A few casualties from the gunfire were inevitable until people realized that even the lightest cover would protect them from the fragments of high-explosive shell. In spite of casualties, however, it was plain that the public looked upon the barrage fire as a comfort. It is significant that a Christmas fund got up by the Star newspaper for the men working at the guns had to be closed down from over-subscription. Progress had already been made in night flying, on fast machines, but the defending squadrons had not nearly reached the necessary efficiency in machines or pilots. The " Aprons," a new defence devised after the raid of Sept. 5, were only beginning to be installed. These were screens of wire that could be raised to 10,000 ft. by Caquot balloons, and were designed to limit the range of heights in which the defending pilots would have to seek the bombers. The Central Control as organized in Sept. 1917 could give no information to pilots when once they had been sent on their patrols, but schemes to rectify this had already been initiated. On the whole, although the attack at this time had the best of it, there were reasonable hopes that this condition would not last much longer. The airship raid of the night Oct. 19-20 1917, which be- came known in London as the " silent raid," has points of special interest. The weather conditions were the dominating feature both as regards the attack and the defence. Eleven airships met on the evening of the 1 9th off the York- shire coast for an attack on the industrial centres of the Midlands. To avoid gunfire and aeroplane attack while over England, the ships flew at an immense height, well over 16,000 ft. At this altitude the efficiency of the crew is much impaired by height sickness and the intense cold. Another and fatal condition was produced by the weather. Near the ground the air was misty and there was very little wind, but at the height of the airships a strong gale was blowing from the N., and in this the Zeppelins drifted blindly S., the navigators being prevented by the ground mists from correcting their course. One airship passed over London without recognizing it and dropped a few heavy bombs; one of 50 kgm. fell in Piccadilly outside Swan & Edgar's shop and caused some casualties. Owing to the peculiar conditions of the night, sound carried very badly, and this ship crossed London unheard. Eight other airships, in the course of their southern drift, passed, without knowing it, within easy reach of the metropolis. Realizing that, on account of the ground mists, searchlights would have no chance of lighting up a high Zeppelin, the defence ordered them to remain covered unless an airship could be heard. The London public were inclined to complain that the usual display of lights and barrage fire was lacking. The lights, had they been turned on, must have produced the worst results. They could not light up the enemy, but they would be sufficient to show the attackers where London was, and to enable them to correct their course for drift. As it was, London was saved from a combined attack and the raid ended in disaster to the attackers. One airship only returned to Germany in the usual way; six got back after flying over Holland or across the Allied lines. The remaining four were destroyed during the following day on French territory. Aeroplane raiding was resumed during the moon period at the end of October. An attempt on the 2gth failed on account of bad weather; another on the 3ist was carried out by 24 machines. Considering that a good many of them got over London, the effect was small one woman killed and damage to the extent of about 23,000. The weather in Dec. 1917 was generally unfavourable for long-distance raiding, and only three attempts were made on London. The defences, showed steady improvement. Two Gothas were brought down by anti-aircraft gunfire during a raid in the early morning of Dec. 6 on which occasion the Germans lost a third machine in the sea on the way home. On the night of the i8th, improvements in the searchlight control and the special training of the night-flying pilots began to make themselves felt. Twenty-seven defending machines of the best performance went up, and three combats took place. As a result, one of the Gothas was so damaged that it fell into the sea off Folkestone and was destroyed. On this night the new " Giant " aeroplane came over London for the first time. It dropped one 3oo-kgm. bomb in Lyall Street, near Eaton Square, making a large crater but doing little serious damage. The whole raid, however, cost London more than 300,000 in damage. On Dec. 22 the last raid of the ye9r was frustrated by un- favourable weather; one Gotha was forced by engine trouble to descend near Margate, where it was destroyed by the crew. . In the five aeroplane raids of the first quarter of 1918 there was a tendency to replace the smaller Gotha machines by the new " Giants." A Gotha was destroyed by a defending aeroplane on Jan. 28. During this raid a bomb dropped by a Giant fell on a building in Long Acre that was being used as an air-raid shelter, and 38 people were killed. On the following night, Jan. 29, one of the Giant machines was pursued half round London by four of the defending scouts. The reason for its escape is curious. The British pi- lots saw over their sights a machine they imagined to be of Gotha size. The actual machine, being a Giant and very much larger, was therefore a good deal farther off than they thought, and they were firing at too long a range to be effective. The crew of the Giant became panic-stricken and were within an ace of landing when the British machines drew off. Three Giants, unaccompanied by any smaller machines, attacked on Feb. 16; the only one that penetrated to Lon-