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Mace M, Ed., Jul-2013. A Goldfish for Christmas, Britain at War Issue 75

Mace M, Ed., Jul-2013. A Goldfish for Christmas, Britain at War Issue 75

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Published by: Foro Militar General on Jun 28, 2013
Copyright:Traditional Copyright: All rights reserved


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JULY 2013
A Goldfishfor Christmas
In the Second World War,a club was formed as atribute to aircrew who hadjumped by parachute froman aircraft into the water, orwhose aircraft crashed inthe water, and whose liveswere saved by a life jacket,inflatable dinghy, or similardevice. This was the GoldfishClub. In subsequent yearsmembership was extended tocivilians and back-dated to theFirst World War. One of thesenew members of the club waspulled from the sea on25 December 1914.This is his story.
s the soldiers of France, Belgiumand Britain dug in across northernFrance and Flanders to holdback the might of the Kaiser’s armies,the people in Britain waited for theGerman airships to bombard the citiesand towns of the UK. Often as big as alarge warship and capable of carryinga significant bomb-load over longdistances, the German rigid airships,such as the Zeppelins, cast a shadow of fear across Britain.
These great airships could not be shotout of the sky as the flyers of Royal NavalAir Service (RNAS) had learnt. Before thewar they had tried machine-guns, rifleswith incendiary rounds, small-calibrecannon, shotguns firing chain shot,flare pistols and rifle grenades. Nonehad much effect. The outbreak of war encouraged even more ingenious, thoughequally ineffective, ideas in the form of explosive darts, rockets and even the“Fiery Grapnel”, which was an air-to-air missile equipped with anchor-like hooksto fasten it to an airship’s outer fabric asits explosives ignited.It was true that the airships werevulnerable to aerial bombing but, despitethe enormous size of the Zeppelins,they were actually difficult targets for anaeroplane to hit in those early days of aviation. The airships also had a greater rate of climb than contemporary aircraftwhich made it difficult for the aeroplanesto gain a high advantage which wouldenable them to bomb the airship.
TheZeppelins, though, could be bombedwhen they were stationary on the ground.Albeit that the feared bombing raids
One of the seven Royal NavalAir Service aircraft that participated in the“Christmas Raid”, the attack on the Cuxhavenairship base on 25 December 1914. This160 hp Short Admiralty Type 81 seaplane,RNAS serial number 119, was flown by FlightCommander Robert Ross and operated fromHMS
. Ross found the mouth of the River Elbe at 07.40 hours, and, from aheight of 2,000 feet, spotted eight anchoredmerchant ships and what he believed wasa hospital ship, “one of which fired at me,but the shot passed below”. As with all theaircraft involved, Ross failed to locate theairship base, but eventually regained histender and was recovered.
(All images courtesyof the Fleet Air Arm Museum unless statedotherwise)
The seaplane tender HMS
pictured at anchor. Launchedon 23 September 1911 by William Denny& Brothers,
had been built tooperate on the Folkestone-Boulogne route.Requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914,
was converted for its new role bythe construction of cranes and a hangar aftof the funnels. She was capable of operatingfour Short 184 floatplanes, though there wasno flight deck, the aircraft being lowered ontothe sea for takeoff and recovered again fromthe sea after landing.
pictured in 1915with a Sopwith Schneider seaplane beingtransferred from the deck of the Royal Navysubmarine HMS
. At the Battle of Jutlandin 1916, one of 
’s seaplanes, pilotedby Lieutenant Frederick S. Rutland, carried outan aerial reconnaissance of the German fleet.This was the first time that a heavier-than-airaircraft had carried out a reconnaissance of anenemy fleet in action. HMS
survivedthe First World War, but, having returnedto civilian use, and renamed SS
,she was sunk on 17 December 1941, off Corregidor Island in the Philippines, havingstruck a mine that is believed to have beenlaid by the Japanese submarine
One of those who participated in theCuxhaven raid – Flight Commander DouglasA. Oliver. Along with his observer, Chief PettyOfficer Budds, Oliver formed the crew of the Short Admiralty Type 74 seaplane serialnumber 815, one of three aircraft deployedfrom HMS
actually taken place in 1913 and in 1914an old cruiser, HMS
, had beenconverted into a seaplane carrier. Though
was sunk in October 1914, theRoyal Navy had already requisitionedtwo cross-Channel passenger packets,
, and work ontheir conversion to carriers had begunat Chatham dockyard. Another packet,
, had also been commissioned atChatham as an air service transport andsupply vessel, followed shortly afterwardsby the merchantman
Princess Victoria.
 Britain was building the first carrier fleet innaval history.*The plans for a raid against the mainZeppelin base near Cuxhaven were firstconsidered towards the end of October 1914.
This plan called for a strong navalforce to accompany the seaplane carriersinto the Heligoland Bight from where theywould be able to launch their aircraft.Just two days after the first planningmeeting, a large force left Harwich in theearly hours of 24 October. The carrier force penetrated the Heligoland Bightundetected but heavy fog and rainprevented the seaplanes from taking off.The mission was aborted.upon the UK had yet to materialise,during the early months of the First WorldWar the German airships were being usedeffectively for reconnaissance over theNorth Sea. The First Lord of the Admiralty,Winston Churchill, was not the kind of man to sit and watch the Germans takecontrol of the air over the sea, or to waitfor the airships to start attacking Britain.“Only offensive action could help us,” hewrote. “I decided immediately to strike,by bombing from aeroplanes, at theZeppelin sheds wherever these giganticstructures could be found in Germany.”
 Churchill was good at articulating suchgrand ideas; it was always up to others toturn them into practical reality.The main problem which facedthe RNAS in implementing Churchill’sobjective of attacking the Zeppelins onthe ground was that Britain possessed noaircraft which had sufficient range to reachthe airship bases in northern and centralGermany from either the UK or fromAllied-held territory on the Continent.This meant that the aircraft would have tobe transported by sea to within strikingdistance of the Zeppelin sheds.Tests with carrying, deploying andrecovering seaplanes from ships had
JULY 2013
which the bomb could be suspendedfrom its rack. At this time, no-one knewanything about this type of bomb but thisdid not deter Bell and he set to work. Theworkshop was located in the bow of theship and, since the bomb, an unknown
“Don’t worry. If itgoes off, you’ll know nothing about it”!
The target of the Cuxhaven raid,the twin revolving airship shed at Nordholznear Cuxhaven, as it looked later in the war.Its 1914 appearance has been somewhataltered by the addition of protuberances toaccommodate the larger airships that enteredservice as the war progressed.
A highly stylized artist’sdepiction of the attack on Cuxhaven thatappeared in a French newspaper at the time.Following the raid,
Flight Magazine 
notedthat “the Cuxhaven raid marks the firstemployment of the seaplanes of the Naval AirService in an attack on the enemy’s harboursfrom the sea, and, apart altogether from theresults achieved, is an occasion of historicalmoment. Not only so, but for the first timein history a naval attack has been deliveredsimultaneously above, on, and from below thesurface of the water.”
On the left of this shot isanother of the pilots from the “ChristmasRaid”, Flight Commander Cecil F. Kilner. Heflew Short Type 135 No.136, with LieutenantRobert Erskine Childers as his observer,during the raid. Although their flight was notsuccessful as a bombing mission, they made anumber of important observations that day.
Further attempts were scheduled butcancelled due to worsening weather inthe North Sea. The seaplanes could onlyget airborne from a very calm sea anddoubts about the practicality of attackingfrom the North Sea in winter were beingraised. Then, in mid-December, Germanwarships bombarded Hartlepool, Whitbyand Scarborough. The bombardmentcaused a national outcry and raised fearsof a Zeppelin raid to even greater heights.There was now an even greater impetus to the Cuxhavenraid, backed also bythe belief that such araid might induce theGerman Navy to bringon a major fleet action,the prospect of which theRoyal Navy relished.The next attempt on the Cuxhavensheds was scheduled for 25 December,and would be remembered as the“Christmas Raid”. For the attack,
was to carry three AdmiraltyType 74 Folder seaplanes,
wouldhave two Admiralty Type 135s and oneType 74, and
three Type 74s.The term ‘shed’ did not do theCuxhaven structure justice. It weighed4,000 tons and was mounted on a largeturntable that could be turned into theprevailing wind so that the Zeppelinsinside were not trapped by wind blowingacross the door of the shed. The twoZeppelins which it housed representedexactly half of the German naval fleetsuitable for operations over the North Seaat that time. The other two were based atHamburg.
On Christmas Eve theships and aircraft weremade ready to sail thatevening. In Sheernessharbour, 21-year-oldChief Petty Officer (Mechanic) James Bell was preparing hisShort Brothers Admiralty Type 74 for theraid but was faced with a tricky problem.As chief mechanic of 
he had tosupervise the bombing-up of the aircraft.The problem Bell had to solve was thatthe 20lb bombs being used were notfitted with any device to attach them tothe aircraft bomb-racks.Eventually, unable to think of any other solution, Bell decidedthat the most practical ideawould be to drill a hole in eachbomb to take an eyebolt from

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