Cuxhaven Raid in Consideration
Operations against German Zeppelins formed the major focus of Royal Navy carrier operations in the North Sea during World War I. In large part this was because of the perception of both the Admiralty and the Grand Fleet’s commander, Sir John Jellicoe, of the danger Zeppelins posed to the fleet and these airships’ effectiveness, even though at the outbreak of war, the German Navy possessed but a single operational unit and that number had risen to only four by the end of 1914. As the number of German airships grew and particularly after they began a bombing campaign against the British Isles, the pressure on the Royal Navy to take action increased. Given the limitations of carrier floatplanes versus airships—they were incapable of rising to the altitudes of the Zeppelins or of carrying weapons sufficient to destroy them in the air—the British solution was to strike at them in their bases. These operations became a major feature of the operations of the Harwich Force, led by Reginald Tyrwhitt, and its aircraft carriers during the first two years of the war. They also were seen as temptations to the High Seas Fleet, offered the opportunity to cut off and destroy a weak squadron of the Royal Navy, to come out and be trapped into facing the might of the Grand Fleet.
Cuxhaven was the target for the first attempts. The attack plan was for three seaplane carriers, each embarking three seaplanes, to enter the Heligoland Bight escorted by cruisers and destroyers from the Harwich Force. Once within range the carriers would launch their aircraft to attack the Cuxhaven Zeppelin sheds, then await their return. Tyrwhitt took Harwich Force to sea on October 24, 1914, but heavy weather forced its return. Bad weather aborted a further attempt in October and two in November. The next attack was scheduled for December 25, with Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty’s Battle Cruiser Force providing heavy cover. This time the weather cooperated and the seaplane carriers reached their launch point. Seven of the nine floatplanes succeeded in taking off, starting at 7:00 am, and headed for Cuxhaven. Fog over the target proved to be the main impediment to British success. A case of mistaken identity caused by fog on the river earlier in the morning made the German fleet jittery. Fog caused the pilots to lose their way and forced them to descend to fix their positions, only to be driven off by antiaircraft fire. Low on fuel, the British pilots attacked whatever targets they could find, and then turned back toward the carriers. One pilot actually succeeded in dropping his bombs on the base at Cuxhaven, without causing any damage, but he most probably was lost and hit his target by accident. Only two floatplanes reached their parent ships, the others came down and were located and recovered by Harwich Force destroyers and submarines. Tyrwhitt ordered Harwich Force to retire at 11:45 am, the submarines withdrew after nightfall, and the raid was over.
The Cuxhaven Raid completely failed in its objective. Nevertheless, it served as a model for a series of eight similar operations between March and July 1915, all of which failed, entirely due to the inadequacies of contemporary aircraft and available navigational equipment in the face of North Sea weather conditions. When Tyrwhitt resumed the campaign in January 1916 matters did not improve. Four operations up to May 4, 1916, resulted in but a single Sopwith Baby reaching its objective, during the final raid on Tondern, where its two bombs missed their target. The Germans, however, did lose the Zeppelin L7, sent to locate Tyrwhitt’s force, which was hit by gunfire from two of the Harwich Force’s cruisers, brought down, and destroyed by the submarine E31’s deck gun. A hiatus followed in these operations until the arrival of the newly-reconstructed carrier Furious and, equally important, more reliable aircraft in the form of Sopwith Camels, encouraged planning for fresh attacks on Zeppelin bases. In June 1918 two attempts were made to use the Furious to attack the airship sheds at Tondern but both were aborted by weather conditions.
The third mission departed Rosyth on July 17. The Furious was escorted by five light cruisers and an escort of destroyers, and the Grand Fleet provided cover with the five battleships of the 1st Battle Squadron with more cruisers and destroyers. The Furious embarked seven Sopwith Camels, which it launched in two flights starting at 3:00 am on July 19. Six of the seven aircraft found the base (one had to abort due to engine failure) and bombed the sheds, destroying the airships L54 and L60.Two of the attackers successfully returned to the fleet, three made forced landings in Denmark and were interned, and one drowned, presumably because he force landed in the sea. The base never became effective again and the attack was a spectacular demonstration of the potential of carrier aviation and its advances during the war.
NEC JACTANTIA NEC METU ("zonder woorden, zonder vrees")
Avatar: Francesco Baracca, Italiaanse aas uit Wereldoorlog I
2013:Canadian Citizen’s Memorial Campaign in Sicily.