3rd/4th September 1917
After a short period of retraining, Kleine (see 7th July raid) felt ready to launch his first night raid on Britain and, having chosen the Chatham naval base as his target, he called for volunteers. Five Gothas, including Kleine’s, prepared to head for England. Gone was the formation flying of the daylight raids, now individual Gothas took off five minutes apart to avoid flying into each other in the darkness.
The first Gotha appears to have experienced engine problem. It turned over Westgate and, crossing Thanet, dropped seven bombs along a country lane south of Margate, between East Northdown Farm and the hamlet of Reading Street (along what is now Reading Street Road). The bombs broke windows in eight houses. The rest of the force were heard passing Herne bay, Whitstable and Eastchurch on the Isle of Sheppey, as they progressed towards Chatham.
The first Gotha appears to have overshot the town with two bombs falling at 11.10pm, one on marshland just over 30 yards from a gasometer at Rochester gas works and one in the garden of the Old Parsonage at Frindsbury Church. Two minutes later, however, four bombs landed close to the Royal Naval Barracks at Chatham, two with devastating effect. They fell on a glass-roofed drill hall where at least 700 naval ratings were sleeping in hammocks. The explosion sent lethal shards of jagged glass scything through the hall, claiming the lives of 130 men and injuring over 90; the most casualties in Britain caused by bombs on a single target during the war.
Two bombs fell on open ground in the Royal Naval Dockyard followed by three along the Inner Lines, where they caused considerable damage to Trinity School and injured five people near the Sally Port, one of whom later died. Three bombs fell in the garden of Government House where they gouged craters but did not inflict any damage. Three exploded on the Great Lines, two of them between 200 and 300 yards from the Royal Naval Hospital, which broke numerous windows in Marlborough Road. At 2 Church Terrace, Luton, a bomb destroyed the house, seriously damaging those on either side, killed a woman and injured two others. South of the Naval complex, eight bombs fell on the town of Chatham, causing
considerable damage to two houses in New Road and New Road Avenue, slight damage to the Town Hall gardens and two properties in High Street.
Close to the railway station a bomb smashed windows at a drill hall, injuring a boy, but others that exploded in Webbs’ timber yard and close to the Sailor’s Home failed to cause any damage. Other bombs fell at Sheerness without causing significant damage, at Royal Naval Recreation Ground, the Royal Naval Balloon Ground and close to the shore between Sheerness and West Minster, with one of those missing the Sheppey gas works by 75 yards. Two other bombs fell a distance from the main attack, south of Capston, between Upper Shawstead and Hempstead where they damaged hop poles.
Heading back along the north Kent coast, the Gothas came under AA fire from three guns of the 9th AA Mobile Battery and five guns of the Thames and Medway garrison. The Gothas dropped one more bomb at 12.17am, before finally going out to sea. It failed to explode when it hit the ground at Callis Court, between St. Peter’s, Broadstairs, and the North Foreland.
The RFC had 16 aircraft in the air but six of these were airborne on an exercise prior to the raid developing adding to the confusion. Only two took off from an airfield in Kent in response to the attack but none of the defence aircraft saw the Gothas. No RNAS aircraft went up and the searchlights struggled to find any of the raiders in the very bright moonlight.
Casualties: 132 killed, 96 injured
Memorial to the Naval ratings killed in the raid on Chatham in September 1917