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On this day 25 December 1914

Published: 25 Dec 2012

First bombing raid by ship-borne aircraft. (Cuxhaven)

Seven ship-borne seaplanes (Three Short Improved Type 74 Folders, two Short Type 81 Folders and two Short Type 135 Folders), from the seaplane carriers HMS ENGADINE, RIVIERA and EMPRESS attack the double airship shed on a turntable at Cuxhaven - the first bombing raid by ship-borne aircraft.

The three channel steamers had been converted to carry aircraft; they were covered by cruisers and destroyers of the Harwich Force. The flying-off position was 12 miles north of Heligoland and seven of the nine seaplanes embarked took off early on Christams morning. The raid was actually a failure, due to low cloud and thick fog inshore but it was a valuable reconnaissance mission. Three of the seven planes returned successfully to their carriers. The crews of another three were picked up by the submarine E11 while the seventh airplane landed safely alongside a Dutch trawler.

Admiralty Memorandum on the Combined operations by HM Ships and Naval Seaplanes on 25 December 1914

On 25th December 1914, an air reconnaissance of the Heligoland Bight, including Cuxhaven, Heligoland and Wilhelmshaven, was made by naval seaplanes, and the opportunity was taken at the same time of attacking with bombs, points of military importance. The reconnaissance involved combined operations by light cruisers, destroyers and seaplane carriers under Commodore Reginald Y Tyrwhitt CB and submarines acting under the orders of Commodore Roger Keyes CB MVO.
The vessels detailed for the operations arrived at their rendezvous before daylight and as soon as the light was sufficient the seaplanes were hoisted out and despatched. The following Air Service officers and observers took part in the reconnaissance
Flight Commander (now Squadron Commander) Douglas Austin Oliver
Flight Commander Francis Esme Theodors Hewlett
Flight Commander Robert Peel Ross
Flight Commander Cecil Francis Kilner
Flight Lieutenant (now Flight Commander) Arnold John Miley
Flight Lieutenant Charles Humphrey Kingsman Edmonds
Flight Sub-Lieutenant (now Flight Lieutenant) Vivian Gaskell Blackburn
Lieutenant Erskine Childers RNVR
CPO Mechanic James W Bell
CPO Mechanic Gilbert H W Budds
Seaplane Carriers were commanded by
Squadron Commander Cecil J L'Estrange Malone
Flight Commander Edmund D M Robertson
Flight Commander Frederick W Bowhill

At the beginning of the flight the weather was clear but on nearing the land the seaplnaes met with thick weather, and were compelled to fly low, thus becoming exposed to aheavy fire at short range from ships and shore batteries. Several machines were hit, but all remained in the air for over three hours, and succeeded in obtaining valuable information regarding the disposition of the enemy's ships and defences. Bombs were dropped on military points. In the meanwhile German submarines, seaplanes and Zeppelins delivered a combined attack upon the light cruisers, destroyers and seaplane carriers but were driven off.
Flight Commanders Kilner and Ross and Flight Lieutenant Edmonds regained their ships. Flight Commander Oliver, Flight Lieutenant Miley and Flight Sub-Lieutenant Blackburn became short of fuel and were compelled to descend near submarine E11 which with other submarine vessels was watching inshore to assist any seaplane that might be in difficulties. Lieutenant Commander Martin E Nasmith, commanding E11 although attacked by an airship, succeeded, by his coolness and resource in rescuing the three pilots. Flight Commander Hewitt after a flight of 3 1/2 hours was compelled to descend on account of engine trouble, but was rescued by a Dutch trawler, landed in Holland, and returned safely to England.
An expression of their Lordships appreciation has been conveyed to Commodore Keyes, Commodore Tyrwhitt and to Captain Sueter (Director of the Air Department) for their share in the combined operations which resulted in this successful reconnaissance.

For their part in the Cuxhaven Raid, Chief Petty Officer Mechanic James William Bell No. M489 and Chief Petty Officer Mechanic Gilbert Howard William Budds No. 271764 were awarded the DSM. Captain Cecil Francis Kilner RMLI (Flight Commander) and Lieutenant Charles Humphrey Kingsman Edmonds, RN (Flight Lieutenant) were awarded the DSO.

The bombing attacks made by the Germans on HMS Empress, described in the following report, were the first air attacks on a British warship.

Report by Lieutenant F W Bowhill, Commanding Officer HMS Empress on the Raid on Cuxhaven on Christmas Day 1914

I have the honour to submit the following report on the operations carried out by HM Ship under my command 25 inst.
On arrival at the Rendezvous No2, Seaplane No815 was hoisted out first, No812 next and No814 last; the times being 5 minutes for the first seaplane, 6 minutes for the second and 8 minutes for the third machine. All the machines carried an observer and three bombs being manned as follows:-
No815 Flight Commander Douglas Oliver & CPO Budds
No812 Flight Lieutenant Reg Bone & Air Mech Waters
No824 Flight Sub-Lt Gaskell-Blackburn & CPO Bell
Through engine trouble (in connection with which the pilot's report is enclosed) No812 failed to start, and was hoisted in again.
Whilst making for rendezvouz No4, I dropped astern not being able to steam so fast as the other two ships and I was then subjected to a systematic attack by two German seaplanes and one Zeppelin (No. L6) as follows:-
The first seaplane attacked from the starboard bow, at a height of about 2,000ft after flying close to the Zeppelin (which was on the starboard beam) and commenced operations by dropping a star bomb; this signal, I presume, meaning "am about to attack". The attack was made as follows:-
[From starboard bow. Diagram not reproduced.]
The aviator dropped three pairs of bombs (six in all), but made very bad shooting, the bombs dropped from 200 to 300 yards away on our starboard bow; smoke black and yellowish; size of bombs about 10lbs each.
The second seaplane attacked from the port bow at a height of about 1,000ft, dropping two fairly large bombs.
[Diagram not reproduced.]
This attack was nearly successful, one bomb dropping 20ft away on the port beam and shaking the ship severely, and the other 40ft off the starboard beam. The smoke was black and yellowish.
The method of defence of defence adopted was to arm the gun's crews with rifles, and volleys were fired at the seaplanes, a few picked shots keeping up independent firing. As far as could be judged, the seaplanes were undamaged. I continuously kept on altering my course throughout the attacks.
The Zeppelin attacked by rising to about 5,000ft on the starboard beam and coming over towards me. When nearly overhead she dived to about 2,000ft, and then manoeuvred to get directly above me, slowing down, and heading in the same direction as myself.
She dropped two tracer bombs in order to obtain range, and these were follwed by three bombs of apparently 100lbs each. The first one struck the water about 50yds off the port quarter, and gave out a greenish smoke; the second fell 50yds and the third 100yds astern. Fortunately both failed to detonate. She then opened fire with a mitrailleuse, and apparently fired three belts. The shooting, however, was indifferent. My method of defence was to watch her position carefully as she manoeuvred into position directly overhead. I then went hard over. I could see her rudders put over to follow me, and directly her head started to turn I put my helm over the other way. I continually repeated this manoeuvre, which seemed to worry her, for she was never on a steady course, and I think it put her off her aim; otherwise I feel to see how she could have missed us.
A continual rifle fire was kept up at her, and though, of course, no damage could be seen, I think that she must have been hit in several places, for she sheered off and went on the port quarter. As soon as my after 12 pounders would bear, I fired eight shots at her, and one, I think, went very close, as she sheered right off and did not worry me again.
I consider that had an anti-aircraft gun been on board we could not have failed to bring her down, as the target was so large, and that any ship so fitted would always bring a Zeppelin down in daytime, should she attack.
While manoeuvring for position she took advantage of every cloud.
I think that the above account proves that a Zeppelin attack can be beaten off by continuous rifle fire, particularly so when at close range, the rifle fire having been kept up the whole time that she was overhead.
The types of seaplanes used in the attack were as follows:-
The first machine numbered No.26, was apparently "Arrow" type, and had black and white longitudinal stripes all along the lower planes. The second seaplane had no number visible; was apparently an "Albatross", and was marked with black and white stripes, in a similar manner to the first machine.
The Zeppelin was numbered L6, and dropped her bombs from the central car; the bombs being apparently lowered through a hole in the centre of this car.

I regret to state that our two machines failed to return. (note: the crews were picked up by submarine E11.)
On the return journey I had some difficulty keeping up with the fleet, and also had a lot of trouble keeping steam, as the coal supplied at Chatham was of an inferior quality, necessitating the employment of all the engine-room ratings for the whole time. The air mechanics also assisted the stokers.

Image of Double airship shed on a turntable at Cuxhaven courtesy IWM Non commercial licence


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