Can we talk about the Raid on Cuxhaven!!?

Wild_Bill_Kelso

Staff Sergeant
1,127
484
Mar 18, 2022
I just discovered this. Flying boats launched from ships, bombing a German military harbor, then counterattacked by Zeppelins... in 1914!!!? Holy cow!

1662088176915.jpeg


Fairey-Campania.jpg


Cuxhaven-25.12.14-Impression.jpg


iJYMyPCal9VMQTMkRKfl0p50gf.jpg


and all on Christmas Day no less.

This is so totally bonkers (and brilliant!) it deserves discussion !


 

nuuumannn

Major
9,761
8,344
Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
Yup, The RNAS had a whole campaign dedication to the destruction of German airships. Before the war, airship hysteria was a major factor in defence planning in Britain and the threat of airship air raids resulted in near panic among the civilian population. We tend not to go too deeply into it because of the ineffectiveness of the German raids and the fate of the rigid airship, but they were a serious threat, even if it was largely imagined. The navy, whose political representative was one very young but quite insightful Winston Churchill (the relationship is thus, he was First Lord of the Admiralty, the political representative of the navy in parliament, the Brits didn't allow military personnel in politics, something about Cromwell, so even though Churchill had never served in the navy, he was its civil head. His military equal was Sir John 'Jackie' Fisher as First Sea Lord, with whom Churchill had a good relationship, until they didn't...) was deemed chief defender of the Realm, so on Churchill's behest the RNAS launched a campaign to suppress German airships in their home bases. Airship raids were launched against sheds and facilities in Germany from France and Belgium pretty much within weeks of the war beginning, resulting in the destruction of airships and sheds. This was the first strategic bombing campaign. Other than the Cuxhaven raid, the most notable was the very first aircraft carrier launched air strike in history, the Tondern raid of July 1918 where Sopwith Camels launched from HMS Furious bombed the airship sheds at Tondern, now Tonder in Denmark.


Most notable pilot from those early anti-airship raids, who flew a Sopwith Tabloid and bombed airship sheds.


This gives a very detailed and lengthy look at the campaign in 1914.


The RNAS was quite advanced in its thinking for the day, arguably more so than the equivalent army controlled RFC and much of what we know and understand about aircraft carrier operations was pioneered by the service during the Great War. The Dardanelles campaign had a whole lot of naval firsts spurred by the RNAS, but they are almost entirely overlooked because of the failures at Gallipoli and the outcome of the campaign in general, but it was ground breaking stuff. The first examples of using aeroplanes for aerial naval artillery spotting, weeks after the first aerial photographic recon sorties on the Western Front, naval gunfire was directed by photographic evidence taken by aeroplanes, the first sinkings of enemy vessels using air launched torpedoes, the list goes on. Go beyond the Gallipoli campaign and examine the air and naval activity, fascinating stuff.
 

nuuumannn

Major
9,761
8,344
Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
Fascinating. I love this era.

I like your enthusiasm!

Do you know of any other zeppelin vs ship battles such as after Cuxhaven?

Of course there was the Tondern raid, but no others where ships struck at land bases. Zeppelins were intercepted by ship launched aircraft; this guy shot down L 23 in a Sopwith Pup launched from the cruiser HMS Yarmouth.


Stuart Culley shot down a Zeppelin from a Sopwith Ship's Camel launched from a lighter towed by a destroyer. Mention of it in here:


This is what Culley launched from; these guys had balls of steel.

51783960861_8a0af85d05_b.jpg
DSC_0269

His Camel was on display at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth.
 

buffnut453

1st Lieutenant
6,951
9,861
Jul 25, 2007
Utah, USA
There's a common tendency to write off First World War aviation as being ineffectual - stick-and-string aircraft, hand-dropped bombs etc. However, those perceptions belie the reality.

Within the limitations of the technology at the time, every concept in modern air fighting doctrine was present and being conducted during WW1: OCA, DCA, CAS, counter-shipping, long-range strategic, ISR. Aircraft could communicate with ground forces to rapidly provide targeting information on the enemy. Air-to-ground coordination integrated CAS with friendly ground forces.

It truly was a fascinating time of incredible technological development. Yes, aircraft speeds didn't increase very much...but they still more than doubled from 1914-1918. New weapons, new sighting mechanisms....I could go on and on. But I won't. :)
 

Wild_Bill_Kelso

Staff Sergeant
1,127
484
Mar 18, 2022
There's a common tendency to write off First World War aviation as being ineffectual - stick-and-string aircraft, hand-dropped bombs etc. However, those perceptions belie the reality.

Within the limitations of the technology at the time, every concept in modern air fighting doctrine was present and being conducted during WW1: OCA, DCA, CAS, counter-shipping, long-range strategic, ISR. Aircraft could communicate with ground forces to rapidly provide targeting information on the enemy. Air-to-ground coordination integrated CAS with friendly ground forces.

It truly was a fascinating time of incredible technological development. Yes, aircraft speeds didn't increase very much...but they still more than doubled from 1914-1918. New weapons, new sighting mechanisms....I could go on and on. But I won't. :)

Don't let me stop you.

I think a viable analogy would be the current state of technology of drones. Many drones in use in battlefields today such as over Ukraine right now are fairly simple, even crude as flying machines; and their main use is for observation and striking with small ordinance. And yet, even a little commercial drone dropping grenades can be quite effective. They are slow and not yet super agile, but there isn't much defense against them at the moment. This to me is fairly similar to say, 1914-1915. Soon we will see drones that can attack other drones more effectively, I suspect. Who will make the first F.E.2b or Fokker E1 of drone warfare?

But just like tank and APC columns in 2022 are vulnerable to drones spotting them (and then getting hit by artillery) or attack from above because their air defenses are too simple or not calibrated for the threat, (and artillery similarly is very exposed to drones), so too in 1914-15 armies were highly vulnerable to observation and attack from the sky. Aircraft were very high technology for the post Victorian armies of the day, shockingly so. And though they didn't fly 300 mph let alone Mach 2, they could wreak real havoc and were certainly a game changer. An army in the 1860s-1890s could gain an advantage by the use of observation balloons for spotting, but by 1914 an army that lacked aircraft and substantial air defenses was at a major disadvantage, IMO.
 

Wild_Bill_Kelso

Staff Sergeant
1,127
484
Mar 18, 2022
I like your enthusiasm!



Of course there was the Tondern raid, but no others where ships struck at land bases. Zeppelins were intercepted by ship launched aircraft; this guy shot down L 23 in a Sopwith Pup launched from the cruiser HMS Yarmouth.


Stuart Culley shot down a Zeppelin from a Sopwith Ship's Camel launched from a lighter towed by a destroyer. Mention of it in here:


This is what Culley launched from; these guys had balls of steel.

View attachment 685085 DSC_0269

His Camel was on display at the Imperial War Museum, Lambeth.

This is brilliant. It really drives home that these are basically STOL aircraft!!

Do you have specific examples or more data about the use of aerial torpedos during WWI or incidents of Zeppelin attacks against maritime targets?
 

nuuumannn

Major
9,761
8,344
Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
And what might have been if WW1 had gone on a bit longer.

Nice to see my research being put to good use. I prepared a few articles on this subject for Cross + Cockade and made use of Jack Bruce's collection when I worked in DoRIS at Hendon. It shows that someone's read my wee niche research project.


 

nuuumannn

Major
9,761
8,344
Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
This is brilliant. It really drives home that these are basically STOL aircraft!!

Do you have specific examples or more data about the use of aerial torpedos during WWI or incidents of Zeppelin attacks against maritime targets?

One guy you should read about is Fredrick Rutland, who was a brave man and had a fascinating career, known as "Rutland of Jutland" for his role in carrying out aerial reconnaissance of the German fleet on the eve of the battle. He was attached to the seaplane tender squadron at Rosyth in Scotland, home to Beatty's battlecruiser squadron and based at East Fortune airfield in East Lothian on the Firth of Forth. He did the pioneering flights when the idea of placing platforms on gun turrets was first put into practise on the cruiser HMS Yarmouth. He also attended a meeting of the head admirals at Rosyth about placing aeroplanes on ships, where he said to them he could fly a Sopwith Pup off a ship's platform in less than 15 feet. The admirals present were sceptical, so he arranged for them to head to the docks and meet him aboard HMS Manxman, equipped with a hangar and a flying off deck. He had 15 feet marked off on the flying off deck and jumped in the Pup, easily getting airborne before the 15 foot marker. Nothing like an active demonstration to make a point. He also made the first take-offs from the destroyer towed lighter and went on to command HMS Furious' flying squadron, based at East fortune once Edwin Dunning lost his life landing on Furious' flying off deck. He went to Japan with the British Naval Mission in 1921 and got himself lost in the country's culture. Once relations between Japan and Great Britain soured, he was accused of being a spy. Tragically he took his own life in 1949.


There are plenty of good books to seek to find out more about naval aviation in the Great War, so get out your credit card! The late Derek Layman wrote one of the best.

Naval Aviation in the First World War by Layman - The Nostalgic Picture Library


The following is a passage from an article I had published in Aeroplane Monthly some years back on the use of ship based aircraft during the Dardanelles campaign. It mentions the Cuxhafen raid as its leader commanded the seaplane tender from whence the torpedo attacks were launched.

"The Dardanelles campaign saw the first use of torpedo carrying aeroplanes in combat and although the Short 184 was a cumbersome seaplane of limited flexibility, the type remarkably managed success. Specifically tasked with providing a unique offensive aerial element to the fleet in the Aegean Sea, the seaplane tender HMS Ben-my-Chree arrived on 12 June 1915. A former Isle of Man tramp steamer, Ben-my-Chree retained her Manx name, meaning 'Woman-of-my-heart' in RN service and was modified by the incorporating of aviation facilities in a large rectangular hangar at her superstructure's after end.

Commanded by Cdr Cecil J.L'Estrange Malone, experienced in aerial warfare as he had commanded the RNAS Christmas Day attack against the airship sheds at Nordholz, near Cuxhafen, Germany, Ben-my-Chree carried a handful of Short 184s, 830s and Sopwith Schneiders. Since the 830s proved unsuitable however, throughout the campaign, L'Estrange Malone's ship primarily operated an air complement of three torpedo carrying 184s and three Schneiders.

On arrival in the Aegean, trial torpedo launches with the Shorts were carried out, while the Schneiders were sent on armed reconnaissance patrols. Operating both types was fraught with mishap, as on many occasions, floats were holed from taxying into submerged objects. It was also found that in the warm local conditions, the 184s could not carry a torpedo and a second crew member aloft, therefore when carrying torpedoes, they were flown as single-seaters.

12 July was the date set for the first torpedo attack, piloted by Flt Lt George B. Dacre in Short No.184 and Flt Cdr Charles H.K. Edmonds, another Cuxhafen raid veteran, in No.842 against ships at anchor in Smyrna Harbour. Unexpectedly, the 14-inch Mark X torpedoes were ripped from their brackets mounted between the seaplanes' twin floats as they took off. The first attempted torpedo air strike in history came to a premature end as it was about to begin.

It wasn't for another month before another attack was attempted. At dawn on 12 August, Edmonds got airborne without losing his torpedo and flew towards the Sea of Marmara, with Flt sub-Lt John T. Bankes-Price airborne in Schneider No.1560 watching from afar. Edmonds' report of the attack;

"Approaching Injeh Burnu, I glided down and fired my torpedo at the steamer from a height of 15 feet and a range of some 800 yards, with the sun astern of me. I noticed some flashes from [a] tug, so presumed she was firing at me and therefore kept on a westerly course, climbing rapidly. Looking back, I observed the track of the torpedo, which struck the ship abreast of the main mast, the starboard side. The explosion sent a column of water and large fragments of the ship almost as high as her mast head. The ship was about 8,000 tons displacement, painted black, with one funnel and four masts. She was lying close to the land, so cannot sink very far, but the force of the explosion was such that it is impossible for her to be of further use to the enemy."

Unbeknownst to Edmonds, the ship had been abandoned, since it had been previously attacked by the submarine HMS E.14. After retrieving its seaplanes, Ben-my-Chree steamed westward for fear of a retaliatory attack; the ship was considered a precious asset and never sailed alone, being accompanied by a destroyer escort throughout the campaign.

A week later on the 17th​, a second torpedo attack opportunity was taken, this time at Ak Bashi Liman near Chanak, where supplies to the Turkish armies were being off-loaded by sea. This time, Dacre, whose Short refused to take-off after two attempts on 12 August, joined Edmonds in the air, but not before taking 15 minutes to get airborne due to his 225 hp Sunbeam engine giving trouble again. Once more, Edmonds launched his torpedo from 800 yards and it struck one of three steamers anchored together, which was destroyed by fire.

Once airborne, Dacre had an adventurous time of it, as his unreliable engine spluttered on his way to the target area and he was forced to alight on the sea. After repairs, which enabled him to start the machine, Dacre spotted a tug moored alongside a jetty and taxied to a firing position. After launching his torpedo, he turned and taxied away. On looking back he saw the tug erupt into flame, but found himself under rifle fire as he attempted to take off. After a three-mile dash through the strait, bouncing along the water's surface, he was at last able to get airborne, all the while under fire. His engine promptly died in flight with a bang however, and he had to glide back toward the awaiting tender, where celebrations had already begun.

Dacre's Boy's Own episode was the last time that Ben-my-Chree's torpedo bombers went into action. In his report, L'Estrange Malone portentously wrote; "One cannot help looking on this operation as being the forerunner of a line of development, which will tend to revolutionize warfare." The three successful sinkings earned Dacre the DSO and Edmonds a bar to his earned at Cuxhafen."

52332372449_fc0ec9cd56_h.jpg
Short 184

I used this picture in my article. "Armed with a 14 inch Mk.X torpedo between its floats, Short No.184 is being swung outboard of the seaplane tender HMS Ben-my-Chree. The exact date of this image is not known by the author, but No.184 was Flt Lt George Dacre's aeroplane, in which he suffered numerous engine failures during his torpedo sorties, but importantly sank a Turkish tug from the surface of the water on 17 August 1915."

As for Zeppelin attacks against maritime targets, one of the German Naval Airship Service's primary role was reconnaissance for the fleet, which was another reason why the RNAS was so keen on destroying their facilities ashore. This meant that airships did get airborne when the German fleets headed out to sea. Attacks against British shore targets were imprecise, although in the first air raids by German airships, the harbour facilities where warships were based at Great Yarmouth were attacked, but only damage to the town was done. A great read is The Zeppelin in combat by Douglas H Robinson.


A neat wee encapsulation of the British raids against airship facilities is Osprey's book:


This is a good read as a starting point.
 

BlackSheep

Senior Airman
438
453
May 31, 2018
I just discovered this. Flying boats launched from ships, bombing a German military harbor, then counterattacked by Zeppelins... in 1914!!!? Holy cow!

View attachment 684943

View attachment 684944

View attachment 684945

View attachment 684946

and all on Christmas Day no less.

This is so totally bonkers (and brilliant!) it deserves discussion !


Sounds like an episode of the Wild, Wild West. Did the zeppelins manage to deploy any steampunk jet skis or perhaps a bicycle powered heat seeking missile?
 

nuuumannn

Major
9,761
8,344
Oct 12, 2011
Nelson
Did the zeppelins manage to deploy any steampunk jet skis or perhaps a bicycle powered heat seeking missile?

Not quite, but, believe it or not, something not far removed from that kind'a steam punk thing! The aircraft manufacturer Siemens Schuckert devised an air launched torpedo that was supposed to be carried by airships called, not surprisingly the Torpedogleitbomb, which in its big airship shed on the outskirts of Berlin, a dummy device was test dropped within the big building, before being slung under an airship and trial dropped...


The last time I was in Berlin I went to the site of the airship shed, just for kicks. It's very near Karlshorst, where the official surrender of the German armed forces took place on 8 May 1945, so I couldn't resist taking a stroll...

The site of the airship shed today, not much to see here, certainly no hint at the odd stuff that went on during the war...

48557523432_b2baf27a0d_b.jpg
Europe 343

A display board showing the shed back in the day...

48557386261_c1e9a54d7a_b.jpg
Europe 344

Some old concrete aeroplane hangars. This was Flugplatz Biesdorf.

48557381606_a2c790e1fb_b.jpg
Europe 340

The building at Karlshorst just across the field from the aerodrome.

48557382271_702bd28963_b.jpg
Europe 321
 

Nick Beale

Recruit
2
2
Jul 18, 2022
www.ghostbombers.com
I just discovered this. Flying boats launched from ships, bombing a German military harbor, then counterattacked by Zeppelins... in 1914!!!? Holy cow!

View attachment 684943

View attachment 684944

View attachment 684945

View attachment 684946

and all on Christmas Day no less.

This is so totally bonkers (and brilliant!) it deserves discussion !


There's a whole book devoted to this: The Cuxhaven Raid by R.D. Layman (Conway Maritime Press, 1985) ISBN 10: 0851773273 / ISBN 13: 9780851773278

Secondhand copies can still be found online and not at silly prices, e.g. 0851773273 - Cuxhaven Raid by Layman, R D - AbeBooks
 

Wild_Bill_Kelso

Staff Sergeant
1,127
484
Mar 18, 2022

Users who are viewing this thread