Key point: The bombers did significant damage to Britain, but it was not enough.
On May 25, 1917, a fleet of 21 bombers lumbered in a line at 12,000 feet over the English coast. The biplanes, each carrying 13 bombs, had wingspans exceeding 70 feet, immense for World War I aircraft. German military leaders called the planes Gothas, hoping the name would add an element of terror to English citizens in their homes below.
Earlier that day the Gothas, a top-secret weapon carefully concealed at Belgian airfields, had taken off and headed toward England, about 175 miles away. The super-bombers were led by Ernst Brandenburg, personally selected to head Kagohl 3, the elite of Kaiser Wilhelm’s bombing squadrons organized for raids on England. The target was London. Because the British weren’t expecting these newly designed warplanes, they were not prepared to spot their arrival or to stop them.
Ironically, in the spring of 1917, British residents believed the battle for the skies over their country was already won. They had been able to sleep soundly in their beds for about eight consecutive months with no German Zeppelins daring the North Sea with their deadly bombs. The Gothas now heading toward London had a much greater potential for causing damage than the Zeppelins, which could muster only small bomb loads.
The German Gotha
Although no other bomber, German or Allied, cradled more than two 112-pound bombs, the Gotha was capable of carrying more than 10 times that amount and dropping them with remarkable accuracy by using a high-tech Goerz bombsight.
Twin engines gave these bombers a top speed of 88 miles per hour and a ceiling of 16,000 feet, well above the reach of most defensive fighters then based in England. Because the Gothas flew so high, tanks of liquid oxygen were available if needed by crewmembers. The aircraft’s many unique features convinced German leaders that the Gotha was a plane capable of winning the war.