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Staaken R. VI



In all, 4,822 men, women and children were killed and 1,413 wounded in the airship and bomber air raids on the United Kingdom during the First World War – a small number by the standards of what would follow a generation later, but the psychological effect on the civilian population was huge.

It has been said that the construction of the German airship fleet cost around five times the value of the material damage done by them but the other costs are harder to quantify. The blackout damaged production in the war effort and panic among civilians grew to such an extent that the government was forced to deploy over 10,000 men, hundreds of much needed guns and twelve squadrons of aircraft to defend Britain.

The Gothas carried out twenty-two raids on Britain, dropping 84,740kg of bombs for the loss of sixty-one aircraft. The Staaken R. VIs dropped 27,190kg of bombs.

On the evening of Sunday, 19 May 1918, Hauptmann Ernst Brandenburg, Commander of Bombengeschwader 3, who was planning yet another raid on London, assembled a force of thirty-eight Gotha GV bombers, three Staaken R. VI Giant bombers and two Rumpler CV II reconnaissance aircraft. The latter, smaller aircraft were to fly ahead of the main force to observe weather conditions. They had orders to drop the few bombs they were able to carry on to Dover as an alternative target if London could not be reached. The main force comprised the 14th, 15th, 17th and 18th flights of Bombengeschwader 3 which was stationed in Belgium.

As Hauptmann Richard von Bentivegni, Commanding Officer of Riesenflugzeug Abteilung 501 (Rfa 501), prepared his remaining three Giants (the surviving aircraft from a raid on 9 May) weather conditions were favourable. This was the first evening of many which seemed suitable for air raids, with the coastline free of fog locally and an anticyclone extending over England. The barometer was rising slowly and stood at 30.27 inches. Surface winds were eight to ten miles per hour from the east-north-east and at 10,000 feet the wind was ten miles per hour from the southwest. Despite patches of mist inland, which interfered with searchlights, the visibility was good. Brandenburg and his officers could not have hoped for better conditions.

Later that evening an aircraft was heard circling off North Foreland on the coast of Kent. British observers were puzzled as it hovered in the moonlit sky without heading inland. The intruder left a flare burning brightly over the sea and as its drone faded away, German bombers were already heading towards the coast. The flare had been a signal to tell them that the weather was clear.

London’s defenders were alerted of the impending raid. “The first warning reached London at 10:42pm,” noted the historian Major Raymond H. Fredette. “From that hour, German aircraft kept coming in at half-minute intervals until long past midnight. Hundreds of observer reports jammed the telephone lines at the defence sub-commands and the Horse Guards. An ominous roar filled the warm night air throughout Kent and Essex. The bombers’ courses crossed and recrossed as some passed out to sea, and still more came in. Unlike other nights, when the raids had been made by only a few elusive Giants, British airmen found the skies swarming with Germans.”


No less than eighty-four pilots of the recently formed Royal Air Force flew out to meet the threat. 2 One of these men was Major Quentin Brand MC, CO of what was now 112 Squadron RAF. Brand took off in his Sopwith Camel, serial number D6423 and with the name Makhabane II, alone in complete darkness, without the aid of flares, climbing to patrol the area.

Attracted by the searchlights which scanned the skies between Canterbury and Faversham, he made contact with a lone Gotha, first spotting it at 23.23 hours. Flying in over Sandwich at 23.00 hours, the raider had been west of Canterbury ten minutes later. Following the Stour Valley south-west towards Chilham the aircraft came under fire near Canterbury. To avoid the guns of Godmersham and Wye, it turned northwest and was over Faversham, flying west-north-west, when it had been intercepted by Major Brand.

Brand quickly moved in for the kill, subsequently describing what followed in his combat report: “I arrived over the vicinity still climbing, my height being something in the region of 7,000 feet. The concentration of lights above (about four in number) was searching just north east of me and, while looking in their direction, something passing above and to my left caught my attention. It proved to be a twin-engine machine about 500 feet or so above me.

“I turned to engage the enemy aircraft (whose identity was perfectly definite) by approaching from his rear and below his own height. His rear gunner opened fire, I immediately returned his fire and a subsequent burst apparently put his starboard engine out of order.

“The aircraft did a rapid turn with nose well down and passed beneath me. I turned keeping it in sight and got to very close quarters. (He was going downwards rapidly.) Soon after opening fire the aircraft burst into flames, which also enveloped my own machine for an instant.”

Within days of this combat Brand was awarded the Distinguished Service Order “for conspicuous gallantry”. Its announcement provides additional detail on the engagement:

“While on patrol at night he encountered an enemy aeroplane at a height of 8,700 feet. He at once attacked the enemy, firing two bursts of twenty rounds each, which put the enemy’s right engine out of action. Closing to a range of twenty-five yards he fired a further three bursts of twenty-five rounds’ each, and as a result the enemy machine caught fire and fell in names to the ground.

“Captain Brand showed great courage and skill in manoeuvring his machine during the encounter, and when the enemy aeroplane burst into flames he was so close that the flames enveloped his machine, scorching his face. This officer has shown, great determination and perseverance during the past nine months when on anti-aeroplane patrols at night, and his example of unassuming gallantry and skill has raised his squadron to a very high state of efficiency.”


Brand noted that his victim fell to earth at 23.26 hours – this was confirmed by other pilots flying in the vicinity. His victory had been achieved only eleven minutes after taking off from Throwley, one-and-a-half miles east of Harty Ferry on the Isle of Sheppey. The aircraft’s final moments were seen from as far away as the keep at Dover Castle and Foreness Point. Prior to this action it had dropped a 50kg bomb at Faversham and one at Davington, causing damage to doors, roofs and windows.

An incendiary was dropped at Graveney Marshes, which failed to ignite and other bombs were believed to have fallen in the Swale. The aircraft was totally destroyed. Despite this a barograph found in the wreckage indicated that the ill-fated Gotha had set out at 21.30 hours and flew over Britain at an altitude of 3,100 metres. The instrument recorded the crash as being 23.36 hours.

Forschungsmitarbeiter Mitch Williamson is a technical writer with an interest in military and naval affairs. He has published articles in Cross & Cockade International and Wartime magazines. He was research associate for the Bio-history Cross in the Sky, a book about Charles ‘Moth’ Eaton’s career, in collaboration with the flier’s son, Dr Charles S. Eaton. He also assisted in picture research for John Burton’s Fortnight of Infamy. Mitch is now publishing on the WWW various specialist websites combined with custom website design work. He enjoys working and supporting his local C3 Church. “Curate and Compile“
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