I am indebted to John Penny for producing this paper using original research material listed in the bibliography, but with additional notes on losses from British, Dutch and Belgian records and newspapers.
It details the history of Kagohl3 the Gotha-equipped heavy bombing unit established to carry out bombing raids on Britain, including details of the Gotha bombers they used, their airfields and personnel together with a complete list of aircraft and personnel losses.
(Kagohl 3 - from 3 April 1917)
(Boghol 3 - from 18 December 1917)
(Rfa 501 - from 23 September 1917)
Between the outbreak of war on 4 August 1914 and the start of the German Army's strategic bombing campaign against England by the Gotha G.IV heavy bombers of Kagohl 3 on 25 May 1917 the German Navy had flown against objectives in Britain on 32 occasions using airships, and dispatched either seaplanes or landplanes at least 34 times to attack mainly coastal targets and shipping off the English south-east coast. By contrast the Army's Luftschiffertruppe had flown their airships against Britain on only 15 occasions, while the Fliegertruppe pilots seem to have made just three attempts at flying single-engined aeroplanes across the English Channel to bomb objectives in England.
The first Fliegertruppe aeroplane to attempt to bomb England?
During the day two Gotha LE Taube monoplanes belonging to Feldflieger-Abteilung Nr.9 took off from a Belgian airfield to attack Dover, but due to the squally weather and poor visibility one crew returned early. Nevertheless the other aircraft, which was flown by Leutnant der Reserve Karl Caspar of the Dragoner-Regiment Nr.5, with Oberleutnant Roos of the 75. Infanterie-Regiment as observer, continued with the mission. After flying their Gotha Taube LE 2 down the coast to Calais they claimed to have crossed the English Channel and dropped two high explosive bombs north of Dover, before returning via Calais and landing back at base after a flight which had lasted for 5½ hours.
However, the German claim could not be verified as the Dover area was overcast all day and no reports were received of bombs having been dropped anywhere in England. To further confuse the issue certain German newspapers began elaborating the story by reporting that Casper had informed friends in Cassel that the raid had taken place in early November, and that 15 bombs had in fact been dropped on Dover close to the coast works. These, it was stated, had caused an enormous explosion which must have resulted in serious damage, while a further two bombs were said to have been released over Calais during the return flight.
Karl Caspar had been born at Netra, near Eschwege in Hessen-Nassau, on 4 August 1883. Although he went on to work as a clerk, in 1910 he began training as a pilot and on 27 March 1911, following a flight in an Etrich-Rumpler Taube at Johannisthal aerodrome near Berlin, was awarded Fédération Aéronautique Internationale pilot's certificate No.77. During late 1911 he founded his own aircraft manufacturing concern, the Zentrale für Aviatik at Hamburg-Fuhlsbüttel aerodrome, and began building Etrich- Rumpler Taube monoplanes. Then, in 1913 the concern was renamed the Hansa Flugzeugwerke, merging shortly before the outbreak of war with the Brandenburgische Flugzeugwerke of Igo Etrich, becoming the Hansa und Brandenburgische Flugzeugwerke AG.
As an Army reservist Caspar was posted to FFA 9 on 2 August 1914, and on 5 August both he and Oberleutnant Roos were listed on the unit's strength. In December 1914 Caspar was transferred to the Brieftauben-Abteilung Ostende based at Ghistelles (Gistel) aerodrome in Belgium, a unit which although specially formed to attack England, went on to be used for other purposes. As a result he took part in a number of missions against Liége, Brussels, and Paris.
In February 1916 Caspar was recorded at Armee Flug-Park Nr.8, and he remained there until 17 March 1916 when he was transferred to Feldflieger-Abteilung Nr.58 on the Eastern Front. However, as Karl Caspar was still a partner in the Hansa und Brandenburgische Flugzeugwerke concern, for two weeks, starting on 24 March, he took leave, probably in order to oversee the dissolution of his partnership, after which his Hamburg factory was renamed the Hanseatische Flugzeugwerke Karl Caspar AG. Consequently, in order to take charge of the works, he was officially discharged from the Army in May 1916.
The next two years was spent mainly in license-building other companies' aircraft, although a twin-engined fighter prototype designed by Caspar appeared in late 1918, by which time Generaldirektor Dr. h.c. Karl Caspar was employing some 6000 workers and had its own flying training school. Before end of the First World War Caspar's company also acquired the ex-Fokker factory at Travemünde, eventually closing the Hamburg works and transferring its activities there, where in 1921, the Caspar Werke AG was formed. During the next seven years it produced a wide variety of aircraft types, along with various consumer goods, but in 1928 the orders dried up and the bankrupt concern was closed. Karl Caspar finally passed away on 22 June 1954 at Frankfurt am Main.
FFA 9 was formed on 1 August 1914 with personnel from the 1./Flieger-Bataillon Nr.3 (Köln). On the outbreak of war it was assigned to the 1. Armee, and on 5 August was located on the Aachen-Forst aerodrome. It then transferred to Belgium before being re- designated Flieger-Abteilug 9 on 11 January 1917.
The first Fliegertruppe aeroplane to drop bombs on England
Oberleutnant Freiherr Dietrich von Kanne (of the 13. Infanterie-Regiment, born 30/3/85 at Breitenhaupt), was a proficient aerial photographer and observer who served with Feldflieger-Abteilung Nr.41, based in the Chateau de Pélichy alongside their aerodrome at Gits, about five kilometers north of Roeselare in Belgium.
The 'German Wireless News' from Berlin reported that he had bombed Calais on 15 April 1915, and seven bombs were later confirmed by the French as having been dropped that morning. However, von Kanne became known as 'Der Flieger über London' following an hour long flight over England made the following day in an Albatros B II piloted Offizierstellvertreter Karl Ritter (born 22/7/92 at Frankfurt am Main), upon return from which he claimed to had dropped bombs on Greenwich near London. Although for this achievement both men were subsequently awarded the Iron Cross First Class, in reality their ten bombs, a mixture of high explosives and incendiaries, had actually fallen in the vicinity of Faversham and Sittingbourne in Kent.
The demise of von Kanne and Ritter
Dietrich von Kanne and Karl Ritter died together on Easter Monday, 24 April 1916 as shortly after carrying out a reconnaissance mission above the front near Ypres they were intercepted by British fighters and shot down over Roeselare. Both men died in the ensuing crash near FFA 41's home aerodrome and, following the funeral service in Roeselare on 27 April, von Kanne's body was taken by train to Germany for burial in the family cemetery.
FFA 41 was formed on 13 September 1914 with personnel from 2./Flieger-Bataillon Nr. 3 (Hannover). Its last stop in Germany prior to deployment in Belgium under the 4. Armee was at Aachen, where it was recorded on 28 October. After traveling via Gent the unit arrived at Staden airfield in West Flanders on 30 October 1914, but was noted at nearby Gits on 20 November. RFC Communiqué No.30 (9 February to 4 March 1916) stated that Gits aerodrome was disbanded and that everything had been moved to Beveren. Finally, following the October 1916 re-organization and expansion of the Fliegertruppe, which was henceforth known as the Luftstreitkräfte, FAA 41 was re- designated Flieger-Abteilung (A) 258 on 15 November 1916.
The first Luftstreitkräfte aeroplane to drop bombs on England at night
Offizierstellvertreter Rudolf Klimke (pilot, born 8/11/1890 at Merseburg) and Oberleutnant Walther Leon (observer) of Flieger-Abteilung Nr.19 based at Handzame, near Ostend, made a night attacked on London in an Albatros C.VII dropping five 12.5 kilogramme high explosive bombs between Hackney and Holloway at around 01.00 hrs.
Tacit approval had been given by their commanding officer, although not of the Army High Command which later delivered a formal reprimand, as preparations were under way to attack London using the Gotha G.IVs of Kagohl 3, and was concerned that the British might have been alerted and would be increasing their defences.Klimke & Leon
Both Klimke and Leon were later transferred to Kasta 13 within Kagohl 3, and together undertook several attacks on England. Klimke who, by September 1916 had been posted to FA 55 prior to transfer to Kasta 13, was flying a Gotha G.IV belonging to that unit on the morning of 7 July 1917 when he and Leon, along with their gunner Vizefeldwebel Keintrup, claimed to have shot a Sopwith fighter down over London. However, by September 1917 Klimke had joined the fighter unit Jasta 27, and was still serving with it when wounded in action on 21 September 1918, by which time he had been credited with 17 victories, and two further unconfirmed. He died on 18 March 1986, aged 95, and is buried at Bueckeburg.
Walther Leon also left Kasta 13 after a relatively short time and is recorded as being the Abteilungsführer of FA 19 from November 1917 until the end of World War One.
FA 19 had been formed on 11 January 1917 by re-designating Feldflieger-Abteilung Nr. 50.
In October 1916 the German Army had reorganized its air arm into a separate branch known as the Luftstreitkräfte, or Combat Air Force. Generalleutnant Ernst von Höppner, who had been appointed Kommandierender General der Luftstreitkräfte (Kogenluft), the General Officer Commanding Air Forces, was keen advocate of strategic bombing and had for some time recognized that its future lay not with the airship, but rather with the large twin-engined aeroplanes, designated G-Types, which were then being developed by several firms in Germany to carry out long range bombing far behind enemy lines. Experiments carried out in 1916 had shown that the most suitable of these was the Gotha G.IV, constructed by the Gothaer Waggonfabrik, which, as far as speed, rate of climb, manoeuvrability, range, and load carrying capacity, went as far as possible to meet the requirements for air raids on England.
Generalleutnant von Höppner believed that eighteen of these aircraft could be as destructive as three of the vulnerable Zeppelin airships. As he was keen to put his theory to the test he immediately advised the Obersten Heeresleitung (OHL), the German Army's High Command, that aeroplane attacks on London would be carried out as soon as possible. Code named 'Türkenkreuz', or 'Turk's Cross', this top secret operation was to be undertaken using the thirty or so Gotha G.IVs which were scheduled for delivery by 1 February 1917.
The Gothas were to be flown by some of the most experienced bomber crews available, many of whom were then serving with Kampfgeschwader der Obersten Heeresleitung Nr. 1 (Kagohl 1), which was directly descended from the OHL's original bomber unit the Fliegerkorps der OHL, which had been formed on 27 November 1914. In June 1916 Kagohl 1 had been divided into two parts, with Halbgeschwader Nr.2 being dispatched to the Macedonian Front and Halbgeschwader Nr.1 ordered to undertake tactical bombing missions in the Somme area of the Western Front, over which it operated until November 1916 when it was transferred to Ghistelles aerodrome near Ostend. From there it undertook attacks on Calais and Dunkirk, along with the important airfield at nearby St Pol-du-Mer. However, the real reason for the move was that Halbgeschwader Nr.1 had been selected to provide the nucleus of a new formation to undertake attacks on England.
The Gothas were designed to be flown by a crew of three, the observer, who was also the commander of the aircraft, his pilot, and the rear gunner, although occasionally a fourth man was carried. In preparation for their new role, by Christmas 1916 many potential observers, who were normally career officers with some experience of fighting with the infantry, had been sent north to naval air stations, including those on the islands of Borkum, Helgoland and Sylt. There they learnt the techniques of navigating over the open ocean from airmen who were well practiced in the art. Meanwhile, pilots were being recruited from soldiers of all ranks who had shown exceptional talent while converting to twin-engined G-type aircraft of various types at the Kampfgeschwader-Schule which, in January 1917, had been specially formed for the purpose at Paderborn in Prussia.
The third member of the Gotha's crew was the rear gunner who was normally a non-commissioned officer, although at times trainee observers took their place in order to give them combat experience prior to handing them command of their own aircraft. For defensive purposes the Gothas normally carried two Parabellum LMG 14 7.92 mm machine guns, one mounted in the front to be operated by the observer, and the other the responsibility of the gunner, who was sometimes required to operate a second rear gun. The gunner's turret was installed just behind the pilot and a clever design feature, the so called 'Gotha Tunnel' which consisted of a hollowed out section of the aircraft's rear fuselage running from the gunner's position back to the tail, also made it possible for him to fire upon fighters attempting to attack from below.
The Gotha crews were also the pioneers of battle formation flying, and the comradeship and collective protection of twenty or more bombers in tight formation was to be a big factor in maintaining the morale and efficiency of Kagohl 3. For daylight operations 'sky' camouflage was generally used on the G.IVs, and this consisted of an overall scheme of bluish-white/whitish blue. In addition to their individual serial numbers, all the aircraft carried the standardized Iron Cross national insignia on their wings, fuselage and tail fin, while most were also emblazoned in one fashion or another to suit the particular taste of their crews. The usual markings consisted of the oversized initials of the observer and his pilot, but some were even more decorative and, apart from boosting crew morale, these served the very practical purpose of identifying individual Gothas while in flight.
In November 1916 the first two Gotha IVs (G.IV 401/16 and G.IV 402/16) were delivered to Kagohl 2 at Freiburg in southern Germany for frontline evaluation over their sector of the Western Front. This was because it was the only combat unit operating its predecessor, the Gotha G.III. However, it soon became evident that a number of modifications were necessary and the incorporation of these, coupled with material procurement problems, conspired to delay the delivery of the first production machines to Halbgeschwader Nr.1. So, with just a single Gotha G.III trainer on strength (G.III 398/16) it was impossible for the unit to instigate a proper operational training programme until March 1917 when the first Gotha IV finally arrived at Ghistelles.
The Gothas were each equipped with the Goerz telescopic bombsight, one of the first fully fledged precision instruments to see combat, and one which enabled the Germans to deliver attacks with unprecedented accuracy under favourable conditions.
Two bomb types were initially employed, the 12.5 kilogramme and the 50 kilogramme, both high explosive weapons, while later 100 kilogramme high explosives were introduced. The smallest of the weapons was a thick walled anti-personnel device which ejected about 1400 splinters upon bursting, while the 50 and 100 kilogramme bombs had thin walls and carried a large proportion of explosives in order to produce a powerful pressure-wave destructive effect. Developed by the Goerz company on behalf of the Luftstreitkräfte's Prüfanstalt und Werft (P.u.W.) evaluation centre, they were both streamlined and are generally considered to have been the prototypes of modern aircraft bombs. Although the 12.5 kilogramme weapons proved to be around 90% reliable, during actual attacks about a third of the 50 kilogramme bombs failed to detonate, while another 10% exploded prematurely, thereby seriously weakening the overall potential of each raid.
The Gotha G.IV's could lift 300 kilogrammes of bombs to the normal daylight attack altitudes were between 3800 and 5100 meters, depending on type of materials used in the construction, the quality of the fuel available and the equipment carried. The higher the Gothas could fly the better protected against anti-aircraft fire and fighter attack. Their bomb loads varied, but typically consisted of six 50 kilogramme, or eight 12.5 kilogramme and four 50 kilogramme P.u.W. high explosives. No wireless apparatus was carried, the only form of communication between aircraft in flight was by a pre-arranged code involving the firing coloured signal flares.
Following the recommendation of Oberstleutnant Hermann von der Lieth -Thomsen, von Höppner's Chief of Staff, the man personally selected to lead the attacks on England was 34 year old Hauptmann Ernst Brandenburg, a career officer and Iron Cross holder who'd received a severe wound while serving in trenches. Like many other soldiers left unfit for the front line he joined the army's air service, and in November 1915 became a reconnaissance aircraft observer. An able organizer and administrator he adapted well to his new role, and on 5 March 1917 was officially appointed to command the new 'England Geschwader'.
In spite of the airfield Ghistelles being far too close to the front line for safety, Halbgeschwader Nr.1 remained there for some weeks as the three new aerodromes from which missions against England were to be mounted were still under construction. All were located some forty miles behind the front line in close proximity to the Belgian city of Ghent. A little over four miles to the south-west was Sint Denijs-Westrem, and to the east was Gontrode which had a hanger previously used for airships that was so vast that it dwarfed the aircraft housed there, while Mariakerke was just to the north-west. In addition, the airfields at Maria Aalter and Ghistelles, between Ghent and the Belgian coast, were designated as Emergency Landing Grounds, while Thielt was also used at times by crews in trouble. By the end of March work on the new aerodromes was advanced enough for Halbgeschwader Nr.1 to transfer from Ghistelles to Gontrode and the formation of the Kagohl 3, the new 'England Geschwader' to begin on 3 April.
Kagohl 3 began its daylight attacks on England towards the end of May 1917, but by late August the strong British defences had forced a switch to night raiding. A new type, the Gotha G.V, equipped for both day and night flying, was to open Kagohl 3's night bombing campaign in early September. The first production machines had in fact reached Kagohl 3 in August, although the performance of the new variant was little better than that of the G.IV, its flying qualities were better thanks to the arrangement of the undercarriage and the placing of the petrol tank, eliminating particular dangers in the event of a forced landing. In order to provide an effective night camouflage, after the first aircraft dozen or so G.Vs had been delivered, the Gotha factory began finishing the aircraft in dark green and covering them with painted polygons of irregular shape and size, which were finished in dark shades of mauve, green, blue, brown, and perhaps black.
Flying under the cover of darkness the Gothas needed less speed to evade the British air defences, and consequently at night up to 500 kilogrammes of bombs were routinely carried, (typically 5 x 50 kilogramme and 2 x 100 kilogramme), rather than the 300 kilogrammes normally loaded aboard aircraft operating in the daytime. On average the night flying Gotha G.Vs approached their objectives at altitudes of between 2000 and 2500 meters, although by the time the last moonlight raid was carried out in May 1918 the maximum altitude reached by some of the aircraft was only 1200 to 1700 meters.
In addition, in late September 1917 reinforcements in the form of Riesenflugzeug-Abteilung 501 (Rfa 501), with its multi-engined Staaken R-planes, moved to the Ghent area for operations against England. The unit had been officially formed at Porubanok, near Vilna (now Vilnius in Lithuania), on 3 April 1916 for operations on the Eastern Front, but in mid-1917 had transferred to Döberitz and Staaken in Berlin to train with the new Staaken R.VI Giant bombers. On 22 September 1917, the first of Rfa 501's R-planes arrived at Sint Denijs-Westrem, while Ghistelles near Ostend was to be used for emergency purposes.
Re-titled Riesenflieger-Abteilung 501 the following day, the R-planes later moved to Gontrode before, on 7 March 1918, transferring to Scheldewindeke, an aerodrome located to the south-east of Ghent, which was equipped with a specially constructed concrete apron. Although 30 year old Hptm. Richard von Bentivegni has commanded Rfa 501 since November 1916, for purposes of co-ordination the unit was placed under the operational control of Kagohl 3, as both units received their orders directly from the OHL.
An R-plane normally carried bomb loads of between 600 and 1000 kilogrammes, and typically had a crew of seven, the commander, a first pilot, a second pilot, a wireless operator and three flight mechanics (a fuel attendant in the cockpit and one in each engine nacelle), they also acted as gunners. Staaken R.IV (four engines), V (five engines) and VI bombers (four engines) were to be used to attack England, and the new R.Vs were provided with bomb racks for eighteen 100 kilogramme bombs in three rows of six each, although the 300 and 1000 kilogramme P.u.W. high explosive bombs had to be carried semi-externally. Both of these were thin walled weapons containing a large a large proportion of explosive which produced a powerful pressure-wave destructive effect.
The nocturnal bombing campaign against England continued until the third week of May 1918, and out of the last nine raids on England, five had been flown exclusively by the R-planes of Rfa 501. While Boghol 3 was either grounded by bad weather, or attacking targets in France, the R-planes were maintaining pressure on England and tying down a vast defensive system out of all proportions to the relatively small effort expended by the attack force. In fact between late January and mid-May 1918 only half a dozen R-plane bombers and a few Zeppelin airships had operated against Britain.
Nevertheless, good weather over the North Sea coincided with a period of relative quiet at the front in late June, and so Hptm. Brandenburg made the Gothas of Bogohl 3 ready for a flight to England on 1 July 1918. However, the OHL withdraw approval for the attack only a short time before they were due to start. Another such attack was planned for the night of 31 July, but again it was cancelled without explanation and the crews ordered to bomb Etaples on the French coast instead.
Meanwhile, by April 1918 a new type of incendiary bomb, known as the B-1E, had been developed by the Griesheim-Elektron company. Named after the Elektron alloy (86% magnesium, 13% aluminium, and 1% copper) from which the casings were they were light, but strong enough not to shatter on impact. The Elektronbrandbombe proved to have none of the flaws of its predecessors and, with a weight of just 1 kilogramme, the weapons could be dropped in their thousands over the target, and burned at such a high temperature that they were extremely difficult to extinguish.
As soon as sufficient bombs had been stockpiled, the new weapons were to be unleashed in two overwhelming incendiary attacks. The Fire Plan called for Bogohl 3 to carry out a massive incendiary raid on London aiming to engulf the Capital in flames, the like of which had not been seen since the Great Fire of London some 250 years earlier. Simultaneously three other bomber units, Bogohls 1, 2 and 4, would bomb Paris. The OHL had decided that every R-plane and Gotha fit to fly was to attack its designated target, return to base, reload and take off again, raining down incendiaries on London and Paris over and over again, until every aircraft had been shot down, or the surviving aircrews were too exhausted to fly.
Bogohls 1, 2 and 4 had already been drawn forward to the Ham area in preparation for the attacks on Paris, while at Sint Denijs-Westrem, Gontrode and Scheldewindeke Bogohl 3 and Rfa 501 were also at readiness. Tens of thousands of Elektron bombs were stored in stockpiles at or near the bomber's bases, ready for the onslaught to begin. The order to launch the Fire Plan was issued twice, in August 1918, and again in early September, and twice countermanded at short notice.
Finally, on 23 September 36 Gothas from Bogohl 3 were prepared to attack London, while 45 from other units stood by to bomb Paris. Thousands of Elektron incendiaries were loaded on to the aircraft but half an hour before the commencement of the attack General Ludendorff, the supreme commander of the German army, forbade the use of the bombs. The reason was that on 8 August 1918 the British had cracked the German salient on the Somme with over 400 tanks. OHL then realized that the war was lost as its troops wavered, straggled, and surrendered by the thousand. Consequently, the Fire Raids would only boomerang when it became necessary to negotiate for an armistice.
So it was that Kogenluft then ordered that the manufacturing of Elektron bombs was to cease, and only those already in production completed. Delivery to Bogohl 3 was cancelled, and the entire stock of those already produced and being made, was to be delivered to the Air Force Depot North at Maubeuge.
In October 1918 the Allied advance in Flanders forced the evacuation of the aerodromes in the Ghent area. Consequently, Bogohl 3 fell back to Evere, near Brussels, and the unused Elektron incendiaries were dumped into the river Schelde. On 30 October a final raid was made on a British supply depot at Menin, but some 48 hours after the signing of the Armistce on 11 November the Gothas were turned over to a commission of British officers. Hptm. Brandenburg and his airmen then left Evere by truck convoy, finally arriving at Frankfurt-an-der-Oder where Bogohl 3 had completed disbanding by the end of November. Rfa 501 lasted a little longer, and it was not until early 1919 that it had been disbanded at Düsseldorf.