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The War in the Air: Volume 5—A History of the RFC, RAF & RNAS against German Air Raids, in Egypt, Sudan, Palestine. Mesopotamia, Macedonia and over the Mediterranean and Near-Eastern Waters, 1917-18

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The War in the Air: Volume 5—A History of the RFC, RAF & RNAS against German Air Raids, in Egypt, Sudan, Palestine. Mesopotamia, Macedonia and over the Mediterranean and Near-Eastern Waters, 1917-18
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Author(s): H. A. Jones
Date Published: 2019/08
Page Count: 496
Softcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-823-5
Hardcover ISBN-13: 978-1-78282-822-8

Giant bombers and the war in the air around the world

The fifth volume of this substantial and definitive history of air warfare during the First World War, as seen from the British and Imperial perspective, principally concerns the lesser theatres of this global conflict far from the trenches, mud and wire of the Western Front in Europe. The first section, however, covers the air war closer to home as the Germans continued their haphazard bombing-raids on the British Isles. Although Zeppelin raids persisted, by this point in the conflict the Germans had developed and operationally introduced the giant Gotha bombers and the activities of these raiders together with the efforts of the fighter pilots of the RFC to bring them down make fascinating reading. The war was also being fought against Germany’s ally, Ottoman Turkey in the Middle East. In this volume the contribution of aircraft in the Palestine Campaign, in the Sudan (particularly in the Darfur region), in Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) and in the Balkans— particularly concerning the Macedonian Campaign—is described in detail. These ‘side-show theatres’ of the First World War are perennially of interest to students of the wider conflict and Jones’ extraordinarily thorough research has rarely been surpassed for its accuracy and detail which is enhanced by many anecdotes about and from combatants on both sides of the conflict.

Leonaur editions are newly typeset and are not facsimiles; each title is available in softcover and hardback with dustjacket.

In 1917, up to the date of the Zeppelin raid on the 23rd/24th of May, there had been no more than spasmodic attacks by heavier-than-air craft. An aeroplane had bombed Broadstairs in the 1st of March, another Westgate on the 16th, another Dover on the 17th, and a seaplane had attacked Broadstairs again on the 5th of April. Soon after midnight on the 6th/7th of May an aeroplane had appeared over London and had dropped five bombs between Hackney and Holloway, but this attack, like the others, was of the ‘tip-and-run’ kind to which we had become accustomed. In the afternoon of the 25th of May, however, the day after the night-raiding Zeppelins had struggled homeward across the North Sea, a squadron of bombing aeroplanes appeared against the sky to create a new anxiety.
The story of the development of this bombing squadron must be told. It will be recalled that a military aeroplane unit, to be used for the bombing of England, had been formed near Ostend in November 1914. (Volume 3) The Germans hoped at the time that Calais would become available as a base from which the unit could operate, but as Calais was never captured, and because the technical qualities of the contemporary aeroplanes did not permit of effective operations being made against England from a Belgian base, the squadron had been moved to Metz in the spring of 1915. This squadron, which to conceal its purpose had originally been called the ‘Ostend Carrier-Pigeon Squadron’, served for a brief time on the Eastern front and then became the parent squadron of various units, including the ‘Metz Carrier-Pigeon Squadron’.
In July 1915 the ‘Ostend Carrier-Pigeon Squadron’ was reconstituted at its original aerodrome at Ghistelles, the duties assigned to it being bombing, patrol work, and the provision of escorts for Zeppelins returning from attacks on England. In December 1915 the squadron was renamed Battle Squadron No. 1, and its establishment was laid down as six Flights of six aeroplanes each. (The Squadron was usually known as Bogohl 1; Bombengeschwader Oherste Heeresleitung.) It operated under the directions of German General Headquarters (OHL) which intended to use the squadron for attacks on England as soon as suitable aeroplanes became available, but in the heavy fighting on the Western front which took place in 1916 this intention was forgotten. Between February and June, the squadron operated on the Verdun front and, during July and August, in the Somme area.
At the end of August 1916, the squadron was reorganised. Half (Flights 1, 4, and 6) remained on the Somme front, while the remainder (Flights 2, 3, and 5) went to Romania and, later, appeared on the Salonika front. It was the half-squadron left behind on the Somme which, with picked personnel, ultimately became the Englandgeschwader (Bombing Squadron No. 3). The unit which went to Romania retained its identity as Bombing Squadron No. 1 up to the end of the war. It left the Salonika front for Belgium in May 1917 and began a bombing campaign against the Allied back areas on the Western front.
It was the production of the twin-engined Gotha (type G.IV) in the autumn of 1916, when the limitations of the Zeppelin as a raiding weapon were becoming clear, which brought the question of bombing England by aeroplane within the realm of practical discussion. The G.IV was a biplane of 75 feet wing span and 42 feet in length. It was fitted with two Mercedes engines of 260 horsepower driving pusher airscrews, carried a crew of three, and was armed with three machine guns, one of which could fire through a ‘tunnel’ to attack fighting aeroplanes coming up under the tail. Six 50-kg. bombs could be carried, by day, and it was said that, so loaded, the Gotha had a ceiling of 18,000 feet, to which it could climb in one hour. Actually, the greatest height reached, on the first daylight attack, was a little over 16,000 ft. Its speed was stated to be, in still air, about 80 miles per hour. For night attacks, when a lower ceiling, say about 10,000 feet, sufficed, a greater load of bombs, up to a total of about 500-kg., could be carried.
The general officer commanding the German military air service, in a memorandum issued in the autumn of 1916, said: ‘Since an airship raid on London has become impossible, the air service is required to make a raid with aeroplanes as soon as practicable’, and he went on to point out that thirty aeroplanes of the Gotha G.IV type would be ready by the 1st of February 1917. Eighteen aeroplanes could carry as great a weight of bombs as three airships, and, ‘so far’, he said, ‘three airships have never reached London simultaneously’. (Die Lufwacht, May 1927.)
The preparations for the new campaign, which were very detailed, were covered by the code word Türkenkreuz. The squadron was commanded by Hauptmann Brandenburg and its aerodromes were at St. Denis Westrem (Flights 13 and 14) and Gontrode (Headquarters and Flights 15 and 16).
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