Fabric from German Gotha
brought down 1918 at Harrietsham nr Maidstone, Kent


The fabric below came from this Gotha GV 979 / 16 from BG 3/17.  The crew was Vfw Albrecht Sachtler, pilot, Lieutenant  Joachim Flathow, observer, and gunner Uffz Hermann Tasche.  The pilot and observer died but the gunner survived and became a prisoner of war.   Their machine had large white letters "FST" on the fuselage, standing for "Flathow/Sachtler/Tasche," which can be seen in the photo of the wreckage above.   Apparently, the observer, Lieutenant Flathow, was in charge.   The aircraft crashed between Frinsted and Harrietsham at 00.45 am on the night of 19-20 May, 1918.  This piece of fabric measures 10.25”x 5.25” with a 1” or 25 mm wide rib tape.    Note the green color on the left edge. 

The victory was shared between 143 squadron flying the SE5a and 141 squadron flying the Bristol Fighter.   The Gotha was first attacked by Major Frederick Sowrey in SE5a C1804, the commanding officer of No. 143, but he could not press home his attack as both of his guns jammed.  The Gotha was then attacked by a Brisfit, number C851, flown by Lt. Edward Eric Turner (nicknamed "Bum") and observer Lt. H.B.  Barwise; Turner is shown in the photograph to the right.  The Gotha had almost reached the coast when it attempted to land at Harrietsham airfield but crashed in the attempt, only the rear gunner surviving.  Turner and Barwise had gotten tangled-up in the bomber's slipstream and there was initial confusion as to whether or not they deserved credit, until the surviving gunner settled the matter and explained that they had, indeed, caused the fatal damage; each received the Distinguished Flying Cross (London Gazette of 11 June 1918).   

Originally Biggin Hill was used for early wireless experiments, but was then established in 1917 as part of the inner patrol zone of the London Air Defense Area. No. 141 Squadron, R.F.C., was posted in with Bristol Fighters, each of which sported a bright red cockerel painted on the fuselage. At this time Zeppelin attacks were falling off, and raids by the German Gotha bombers were increasing. Before the end of World War One Biggin was able to claim at least one of these raiders.  A comprehensive report can be found in "The Air Defense Of Britain 1914 - 18" by Cole and Cheesman, published by Putnams.

The following account comes from the web site "Sittingbourne Remembers" at http://www.pigstrough.co.uk/ww1/Zom.htm:

About one hundred air raid warnings were received at Sittingbourne during World War One. Local Anti-Aircraft batteries were strengthened in 1917. One known locally as "Screaming Lizzy" was situated at Lower Halstow and was "a terror to the Huns".

The last big raid to pass over the town on Whit Sunday 1918 (19/05/18) by several German Gotha's, produced the most terrific barrage from the ground defenses the town had ever seen. Two of the German bombers were brought down in the area. One fell in flames at Harty, killing its three crew members, the other came down at Frinsted. Two of its crew also perished, but one survived with only a broken arm (this fact was not reported at the time?). The local news paper reported : "The first of these duels occurred about an hour after the raid had been in progress,and probably this machine was caught while on its way to London. It was engaged by a daring aviation officer while at a great height. The British airman attacked his opponent so fiercely that the German was forced down to a lower height, and ultimately, to the joy of the onlookers, the Gotha burst into flames, seemed to break in two and came down piecemeal, all aflame.The wrecked machine and the three occupants fell by a farm. Two of the Germans fell into marshy ground and their bodies deeply embedded in the mud. The third man's head struck a wall and was shattered like an egg shell. All three bodies were removed to a local aviation establishment. The fall of the burning Gotha was seen for miles around".

The second Gotha was surrounded by British fighters later the same day. It had been on a successful raid in London and was attacked whilst trying to return to its base across the channel.    One fighter attacked the Gotha from below, wounding both pilot and observer, but it managed to shake of its pursuers.  Later the same aircraft was looking for a Flarepath at Frinstead so that it could land safely. However this was unknown to the British Fighter that spotted it over Throwley and it was attacked again, it plunged to the ground between Frinsted and Harrietsham just after 00.45.

(identical photo of aircraft wreckage repeated here)

"FST" on the fuselage, standing for Flothow/Sachtler/Tasche

The following Wednesday the Military funerals of the dead German aviators took place in two local Cemeteries: Harty and Frinstead. British pilots who were involved in the action over the fields of Kent were in attendance and the German airmen were buried with full military honours.  Losses at this time were so great for the German war machine that they soon stopped their raids altogether.

Cannock Chase German Cemetery

I have since discovered the identity of the German pilot buried at Frinstead. He was Albrecht Sachtler, born in Alexisbad, Saxony-Anhalt Germany in 1896. The observer, who was in charge of the aircraft was Lieutenant Joachim Flothow  who also died. The rear gunner was gunner Uffz Hermann Tasche who survived and was taken prisoner. During the early 1960's I believe the bodies of all five aviators were moved to the German War Cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.

Another account is given in The Sky On Fire: The First Battle of Britain, Major Raymond H. Fredette, USAF, pages 208-209: 

On Whit-Sunday evening, 19 May, an aircraft was heard circling off the North Fore]and on the Kent coast. British observers were puzzled as it hovered in the moonlit sky without flying inland. The mysterious machine left a flare burning brightly over the sea, and its drone faded away. The lull was brief, for German bombers were already winging their way towards England. The flickering light was a signal telling them that the weather to the west was clear.

The first warning reached London at 10:42 P.M. From that hour, German aircraft kept coming in at Ave-minute intervals until long past midnight. Hundreds of observer reports jammed the telephone lines at the defense 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. Captain Brand, one of the pilots who had made the first night flight in a Sopwith Camel with Murlis-Green, came across one incoming Gotha. He was patrolling out of Throwley aerodrome when he was attracted by searchlights, probing between Canterbury and Faversham.

‘I arrived over this vicinity still climbing...’ Brand wrote in his report. ‘I turned to engage the enemy aircraft.... 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. He was going downwards rapidly. Soon after my opening fire the aircraft burst into flames, which also enveloped my own machine for an instant. The aircraft fell to earth in pieces over the south-east side of the Isle of Sheppey.’223

Another Gotha flew a ‘perfect course’ up the Thames to London, eluding the Sheerness defenses and some searchlights at Tilbury. After unloading on Rotherhithe and Peckham, the raider was set upon by Major F. Sowrey, the commander of 143 Squadron. He fired two drums of tracers before his guns jammed. The bomber flew on, but with the pilot wounded. A Bristol Fighter from 141 Squadron later attacked the same Gotha. Blazing away at close quarters, the two crews engaged each other in furious combat. The German pilot side slipped sharply, seeking to upset the fighter with his slipstream. He again managed to break away, this time with a shot-up engine.

The limping Gotha had nearly reached the coast when it turned back. Flying low over the aerodrome at Harrietsham, the Germans fired distress signals. They attempted to land and crashed. Only the rear-gunner survived. Nursing a broken arm, the sergeant told his captors that a large fire was raging in London.

The prisoner also settled the counterclaims for the victory. He confirmed that it was the ‘Brisfit’ which had made the fatal attack. Lieutenant Edward E. Turner was given one of the Gotha’s machine-guns, and his observer, Lieutenant Henry B. Barwise, a propeller. Both airmen received the D.F.C. and a black cross from the downed bomber was tacked up in the squadron mess. The ‘kill’ was the first for Biggin Hill aerodrome. The squadrons stationed there during World War II destroyed some 1,400 German aircraft, a record unequalled by any other fighter station.

Thomas Genth surmises that gunner Uffz. Hermann Tasche was in the crew of MOROTAS, giving his initials (TAS) to the aircraft.  MOROTAS is seen here on 11th November 1917.   He provided the photo below of this accident, which Tasche would have had to survive to crash again in FTS on the night of 19 May 1918.  Mr. Genth points out that the crew and the Belgian couple living in the farmhouse were reportedly killed but wonders if this really was the case.

223 Ashmore, Edward   B., Air Defense, (London: Longmans, Green, 1929), page 87