One of the most famous German aircraft of the First World War was the twin-engined Gotha bomber built by the Gothaer Waggonfabrik Company. The origins of the company went way back before the war, when one of the first aircraft they built was of Taube (Dove) design and given the designation LE.3. Originally built for the civilian market, a number of these aircraft saw service as scouts at the beginning of the First World War after being requisitioned by the German Army. Powered by a 100-hp Mercedes D.I engine, the LE.3 had a wingspan of 47 ft 7 in, a fuselage length of 32 ft 9½ in, a top speed of 60 mph and a climb rate of 2,000 feet per minute. Only a small number of these aircraft were built.
Another of Gotha’s aircraft that saw service at the beginning of the war was the LD.1a, which was developed from the civilian version, the LD.1. Manufactured specifically as an unarmed scouting and reconnaissance aircraft, the LD.1a was powered by a 100-hp Oberursel U.I engine, giving the aircraft a top speed of 71 mph. The aircraft had a wingspan of 47 ft 7 in, and a fuselage length of 24 ft 4 in. An unknown number were built.
Gotha also introduced a seaplane version of the reconnaissance aircraft, the WD.1. It was fitted with twin floats, with a small single float mounted under the tail section. Powered by a 100-hp Gnôme engine, the WD.1 had a wingspan of 46 ft 3½ in, a fuselage length of 33 ft 9½ in, a top speed of 61 mph and a maximum operating ceiling of 8,200 feet. Five WD.1s were supplied to the German Navy.
The development of the Gotha LD.2 in August 1914 brought another unarmed reconnaissance aircraft to the Gotha stable. Although similar in design and with almost the same specifications, it was powered by a 100-hp Mercedes engine with the radiators fixed either side of the fuselage, just in front of the cockpit. A small number were built and were used for a very short time at the Front, before being replaced by an improved model, the LD.6a. Just prior to the appearance of the LD.6a, Gotha produced a diminutive scout aircraft, the Gotha LD.5, which was almost half the size of the other models. Powered by a 100-hp Oberursel U.I engine, the aircraft was intended to be a fast reconnaissance model, but after testing it was realised that there were a number of stability problems and it was not a practical or viable proposition. Only one was built.
The LD.6a, on the other hand, was a standard size, long-distance reconnaissance aircraft, capable of carrying a small bomb load. It had balanced tail surfaces and was of the traditional wood and fabric construction. It was powered by a 150-hp Benz Bz.III engine that had the radiators mounted either side of the fuselage in front of the observer’s cockpit. The LD.6a had a wingspan of 40 ft 8½ in, a fuselage length of 27 ft 7 in and a top speed of 78 mph.
At the beginning of March 1915, the last of the LD series was produced, the Gotha LD.7. Like all the previous LD models, this too was designed specifically for reconnaissance duties. Its specifications were almost identical to that of the LD.6a, with the exception of the engine, which was a 120-hp Mercedes D.II. An unknown number were produced, but it is thought that they numbered less than twenty.
A second seaplane version appeared during 1915, the Gotha WD.2. It was very similar in design to the LD.6a, and eleven of them were supplied to the Navy. The WD.2 was fitted with a 150-hp Benz Bz.III engine, which gave the aircraft a top speed of 70 mph and an operating ceiling of 9,840 feet. It had a wingspan of 51 ft 2½ in, a length of 34 ft 5½ in and carried no armament.
One version of the WD.2, however, was sent to Turkey, and was one of the first reconnaissance aircraft to be fitted with a machine gun, which was mounted on top of the centre section. To operate the gun, the observer had to stand up in his cockpit. A limited number were sent.
A radical new design, the Gotha WD.3, appeared in July 1915. It was a twin-boomed aircraft with a central nacelle that housed not only the 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine with a pusher airscrew, but also contained cockpits for the pilot and observer. The observer’s position was in the extreme front of the nacelle and was fitted with a manually operated Parabellum machine gun. The WD.3 was also one of the first seaplanes to have a radio transmitter installed. With a wingspan of 51 ft 2½ in and a wing area of 583 square feet, the aircraft presented an unusual sight. A number of problems were discovered during tests and only one was built.
Another experimental seaplane was built at around the same time, the Gotha WD.5. This model was not a new variation, but a modified WD.2. The 150-hp Benz III engine was replaced with a 160-hp Mercedes engine that had the two narrow strip radiators attached to the front centre-section struts. This model was sent to the Haltenau Naval Air Station for tests, but was declined as a reconnaissance aircraft. The Commanding Officer, Kapitänleutnant Langfield, decided that he would keep the aircraft and use it as his personal transport.
A unique design by Oskar Ursinus was developed by Gotha at the beginning of 1915, the Gotha Ursinus GUH G.I. This was a landplane forerunner of what was to be a seaplane the following year. The design was unique, inasmuch as the fuselage was raised above both wings and engines. The aircraft carried a crew of three: pilot, observer and gunner. The gunner’s position in the nose of the aircraft gave him an uninterrupted field of fire. The engines, two 150-hp Benz Bz.IIIs, were mounted so close together that the tips of the propellers were almost touching. The idea was that, should there be an engine failure on one of the engines during asymmetric flight, control of the aircraft could be maintained easily. Several of the land version models were built, but information on them is almost non-existent.
At the end of 1915, a twin-engined torpedo seaplane was built and designated the Gotha WD.7. Powered by two 120-hp Mercedes D.II engines, the WD.7 had a wingspan of 52 ft 6 in, a fuselage length of 37 ft 1 in, and a height of 11 ft 9½ in. It had a top speed of 85 mph and an operating ceiling of 13,120 feet. Eight of the aircraft were built and assigned to flying schools for training pilots and observers prior to their moving on to larger operational aircraft.
Another aircraft appeared at the same time, the Gotha WD.8. This, in reality, was a single-engined version of the WD.7, and was fitted with a 250-hp Maybach Mb.IV engine which gave the aircraft a top speed of 81 mph and an operating ceiling of 14,760 feet. It had been designed as an armed reconnaissance aircraft and was fitted with a manually operated Parabellum machine gun in the observer’s rear cockpit. Only one was built.
In February 1916, Gotha constructed another armed reconnaissance seaplane, the Gotha WD.9. Only one of these aircraft was supplied to the German Navy and that was fitted with a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine. A similar version, fitted with a 150-hp Benz engine, was supplied to the Turkish Government. The aircraft had a wingspan of 49 ft 2½ in, a fuselage length of 32 ft 2 in, a height of 12 ft 5½ in and a top speed of 85 mph. Both aircraft carried a manually operated Parabellum machine gun in the observer’s rear cockpit.
With the relative success of the WD.7 model, Gotha produced another twin-engined torpedo-carrying reconnaissance aircraft, the Gotha WD.11. This model was considerably bigger and had a wingspan of 73 ft 10½ in, a fuselage length of 44 ft 1 in and a height of 15 ft 2 in. It was powered by two 160-hp Mercedes D.III engines, which drove two pusher airscrews and gave a top speed of 75 mph with a climb rate of nearly 300 feet per minute. The WD.11 carried one torpedo and had a manually operated Parabellum machine gun mounted in the observer’s cockpit in the nose. Thirteen of these models were delivered to the German Navy.
Gotha continued to build seaplanes, and in 1916 produced the WD.12. This was an unarmed reconnaissance aircraft powered by a 160-hp Mercedes D.III engine, with a fuselage length of 32 ft 9½ in, a top speed of 88 mph and a flight endurance of 5½ hours. Only one WD.12 was supplied to the German Navy, although six were supplied to Turkey.
The seaplane version of the Gotha Ursinus GUH, the UWD appeared in 1916. It was almost identical, except that it was powered by two 160-hp Mercedes D.III engines and the undercarriage was replaced with floats. Only one of this model was built, and was not as successful as the land version.
The first of the prototype Gotha bombers appeared in 1916, the G.II and G.III. Both versions were identical externally and in specifications, the only difference being internal ones. They had a wingspan of 77 ft 9½ in, a fuselage length of 38 ft 8 in and a wing area of 967 square feet. They were powered by two 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engines, which gave a top speed of 92.5 mph. Only a small number were built and flown on the Western Front, one unit being Boghol III based at Ghent, Belgium.
In September 1916 the first Gotha bomber appeared, the Gotha G.IV. Trials had earlier been carried out with the G.II and G.III, and the results that came back brought about the development of the bomber. There was one very unusual feature incorporated into the Gotha G.IV, known as the ‘sting in the tail’. The rear gunner’s position in the aircraft enabled him not only to fire upwards and backwards, but downwards as well. This was achieved by the gunner firing through a specially designed tunnel in the bottom of the fuselage. This defensive method was extremely effective, as a number of Allied fighter pilots were to find out to their cost.
The G.IV bomber arrived just as the German military hierarchy were about to phase out the use of Zeppelins for bombing raids. The Zeppelin had serious limitations. Because of their size they were easily spotted, they were slower and when hit with incendiary bullets invariably caught fire dramatically, unlike the Gotha G.IV.
In April 1917, thirty of the G.IV bombers were delivered to No. 3 Heavy Bomber Squadron, based at St Denis Westrem and Gontrode, which was under the command of Hauptmann Ernst Brandenburg. The first series of raids, carried out between 25 May and 22 August 1917, were relatively successful and the squadron suffered very few casualties. One of the reasons for their success was that the Gotha G.IV’s Mercedes engines meant it was able to operate at a height of 15,000 feet. This allowed them to drop their bombs and, because of the inadequate British early warning system, be on their way back before Home Defence fighters could scramble and reach the Gotha’s operating height.
The Gotha G.IV had a wingspan of 77 ft 9½ in, a fuselage length of 38 ft 11 in and a wing area of 966 square feet. Powered by two six-cylinder, in-line, water-cooled 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engines, the G.IVa had a top speed of 87 mph with an operating ceiling of 21,320 feet and a range of 350 miles. Its armament consisted of two manually operated Parabellum machine guns mounted in the front and rear cockpits, and a bomb load that varied from 660 lb to 1,100 lb depending on the mission and whether it was a daylight or night time raid. The Gotha G.V, which followed shortly afterwards, was almost identical.
Another export model was the Gotha WD.13, an armed patrol seaplane which was an upgraded version of the WD.9. Although the German Navy carried out a series of trials with this aircraft, none were acquired; in 1917, however, the Turkish Government purchased over eight of the aircraft. Powered by a 150-hp Benz Bz.III engine, which gave the aircraft a top speed of 82 mph, it was armed with a manually operated Parabellum machine gun fitted in the observer’s rear cockpit.
Of all the seaplanes designed by Gotha, only the WD.11 and the WD.14 were built with production numbers in mind. Thirteen WD.11 reconnaissance seaplanes were built, while sixty-nine models of the WD.14, which had been designed and developed as an attack torpedo aircraft, were produced. Developed from the WD.7 and WD.11 prototypes, the WD.14 had a wingspan of 83 ft 8 in, a fuselage length of 47 ft 4 in, and a height of 16 ft 5 in. It was powered by two 200-hp Benz Bz.IV engines which were mounted on the lower wings
The fuselage of the WD.14 consisted of a basic, rectangular braced box girder, made up of spruce longerons and spacers. The torpedo was slung beneath the fuselage and between the floats. The pilot’s cockpit and the torpedo-man’s cockpit were one and the same, and were situated under the wings. It was of a side-by-side configuration, with access available to the nose cockpit for the torpedo-man to enable him to aim and release the torpedo. Once the torpedo had been released, the torpedo-man’s role reverted to that of gunner. There were two manually operated Parabellum machine guns mounted in the rear and nose cockpits.
Torpedo attacks using the WD.14 were carried out, but because the aircraft was substantially underpowered, the weight of the torpedo and the armament carried made it an extremely difficult aircraft to handle and only some of the top pilots were able to use it to its full capability. The attacks bore no fruit, and so the decision was made to use the aircraft for long-range reconnaissance missions over the North Sea in place of vulnerable airships. In place of the torpedo, jettisonable fuel tanks were fitted which enabled the aircraft to stay aloft for up to ten hours. Initially they were reasonably successful; then it was discovered that in the event of one of the engines failing, the WD.14 was unable to fly on one engine, and having to carry out emergency landings on rough seas proved disastrous. The aircraft were relegated to the role of minesweepers, but even at that they proved to be inadequate and ended up escorting coastal convoys.
Toward the end of 1917, another variation of an earlier model appeared, the Gotha WD.15. Derived from the WD.12, the WD.15 was an enlarged version with a plywood covered fuselage and fin. Only two of the aircraft were built, and both were powered by a 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engine. The aircraft had a wingspan of 56 ft 5 in, a fuselage length of 36 ft 9 in, a top speed of 95 mph and an operating ceiling of 13,780 feet. These two WD.15s were the last single-engined aircraft that Gotha delivered to the German Navy.
The results acquired from using the Gotha WD.14 as a long range reconnaissance aircraft were put to use with the development of the Gotha WD.20. Only three of these aircraft were constructed and they were developed purely as long-range reconnaissance aircraft with additional fuel tanks in place of the torpedo carried by previous aircraft. The WD.20 had a wingspan of 73 ft 8½ in, a fuselage length of 47 ft 5 in, a top speed of 80 mph and a flight endurance of 10 hours. Its only armament were two manually operated Parabellum machine guns, one mounted in the nose, the other in the observer’s cockpit just aft of the wings.
As the production of the G.V bomber series came to an end, a number of modified versions suddenly appeared. The G.Vb was a modified version of the G.Va, and was fitted with additional wheels on the undercarriage and a compound tail assembly. It was powered by two 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engines that drove two pusher airscrews, giving the aircraft a top speed of 84 mph. A small number were built, but they were not successful. This was followed by a prototype model, the G.VI, probably the world’s first asymmetric aircraft.
The G.VI’s fuselage was offset to the portside and had a 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engine mounted in the nose which drove a tractor airscrew. Another 260-hp Mercedes D.IVa engine, driving a pusher airscrew, was mounted in a nacelle in the starboard housing. A number of test flights were made but the aircraft crashed attempting to land and was destroyed. No more were made.
At the same time as the G.IV was making its test flights, another prototype came off the production line, the Gotha G.VII. This was a small twin-engined aircraft that had been developed for ultra-long-range photo-reconnaissance missions. When a special photographic unit, named the Reihenbildzug was formed, four of these aircraft were supplied. A month later, a production model based on the G.VII prototype was launched. The G.VII production model bore little or no resemblance to the prototype and was supplied to the military at the end of 1918, too late to make any significant difference to the outcome of the war. With a wingspan of 63 ft 3 in, a fuselage length of 31 ft 7½ in, and a wing area of 689 square feet, the G.VII had ailerons at all four wingtips and slightly swept wings compensated for the removal of the nose section.
Another version of the G.VII, the G.VIII, was built. The only difference was a longer wingspan of 71 ft 3½ in. There were a further two models built, the Gotha G.IX, which was built by LVG, and the Gotha G.X. The G.X was another twin-engined photo-reconnaissance aircraft but was powered by two 180-hp BMW (Bavarian Motor Werke) engines. Little is known about either aircraft as no details were made available.
Later, in 1918, a long-range reconnaissance aircraft was built, the Gotha WD.22. Similar in design and construction to the WD.14, the WD.22 was powered by four engines, two 160-hp Mercedes and two 100-hp Mercedes D.Is. The engines were mounted in tandem in twin nacelles, the two forward engines driving tractor airscrews and the two rear engines pusher airscrews. With a wingspan of 85 ft 3½ in, a fuselage length of 47 ft 3 in, a wing area of 1,588 square feet and a top speed of 82 mph, the WD.22 promised a lot but delivered very little.
Not to be deterred, Gotha, in 1918, came up with three of the largest aircraft built during the First World War, the Gotha WD.27. They were so large that they came into the category of the R aircraft, the Riesen-Seeflugzeug (Giant Seaplane). With a wingspan of 101 ft 8½ in, a fuselage length of 57 ft 9 in and a wing area of 2,084 square feet, the WD.27 was a giant of a seaplane. It was powered by four 160-hp Mercedes D.III engines, which were mounted in tandem in twin nacelles that turned spinnered pusher and tractor airscrews. The giant aircraft had a top speed of 84 mph.