Operation Türkenkreuz was the name given to a series of aerial bombing attacks on England that took place towards the end of World War One using Gotha IV and Gotha V bombers. The attack was an attempt by the Germans to demoralise the population of London but it took place too late in the war to have and significant impact.
The Gotha bomber, Germany’s equivalent of the British Handley Page bomber, was used to target civilians around London and so earned the attacks the title of the ‘Gotha Raids’. According to many, they brought home the war and gave civilians more of an insight into the horrors being suffered by the men fighting in trenches on the Western Front.
The Germans named the raids Operation Türkenkreuz. Originally, raids had taken place using Zeppelins in 1916 but these had been halted as too many ships were being lost to British fighters. Now Hauptmann Ernest Brandenburg was being tasked with organising raids by Gotha bombers in spring 1917, with the advanced aircraft making it possible to fly 500 miles at around 80 mph in goof weather. Based near Ghent in Belgium, the plans could easily make a round trip to London within this range.
The first raid of the operation took place on the 25th May 1917 with 23 Gotha IV’s taking part, although two had to return home due to mechanical issues. As the remaining 21 advanced towards London the weather closed in and the flight commander decided it was too dangerous to continue. Instead, they attack on their secondary target - Folkstone in Kent and the nearby army barracks in Shorncliffe. Both were significant nearer so avoided the weather and provided them with a chance of attacking and retreating before the Royal Naval Air Service or Royal Flying Corps could respond. In total, 95 people including 18 soldiers were killed and 195 were injured. However, on the return journey thee planes encountered Sopwith Pups and one Gotha IV was shot down.
The following raid rook place on 5th June when Sheerness was attacked. Located on the Isle of Sheppey, Sheerness had little importance except in terms of German propaganda. However, propaganda was boosted even further on 13th June when the Gotha bombers were able to successfully bomb London during the day. In total, 162 people were killed and 432 were injured. This raid successfully brought the war home, particularly as 46 of those killed were children at a junior school in East London. This went down in history as the single most deadly aerial raid of World War One and he number of civilian casualties caused stress and panic to spread around the UK.
The 21 Gotha bombers that took part returned without a hitch - while the RFC had put 92 aircraft into the air, their rate of climb was so slow that they could not engage the enemy. This highlighted how unprepared Britain was for a raid on their homeland and forced civilians and the military alike to begin taking a home threat seriously.
The next attack took place on 17th July in London. This time the civilians took cover and so kept the deaths down to 54 and the injuries down to 190. The RFC was also better prepared and managed to shoot down one Gotha IV and damage three.
Daylight raids continued to take place throughout August but the RFC increasingly took great precautions. As such, Operation Türkenkreuz was soon changed to nigh raids. This did help to protect the Gotha bombers but it also made it hard for them to navigate and land, particularly in bad weather. Landing in particular was very dangerous as the fuel was kept in the engine compartment of the bomber so a crash landing could result in instant death.
The largest raid of the operation took place on 19th May 1918 and was carried out by the new Gotha V bombers, which featured fuel carried in the fuselage and had a machine gun attached to its bottom to cover attacks from below. In total, 38 Gotha V’s attacked London but sic were lost to RFC fighters and one crash landed. With a loss of 20 per cent, the raids had to be called off so the Gotha bombers could concentrate on supporting the German troops on the Western Front.
Operation Türkenkreuz was responsible for a total of 22 raids against English targets, with the Germans losing 61 aircraft in the process but dropping almost 85,000 kg of bombs. While nothing in comparison to what the Germans achieved in terms of casualties on the Western Front, the raids did succeed in having a strong psychological impact on British civilians, who no longer felt they were safe.
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