Thursday, 14 December 2017

Air Defences at Croydon

In January 1916, as the aerodrome opened for use, an observation point was established in central Croydon. There were numerous reports of suspected signalling to the enemy Zeppelins during the raids of October 1915. Several volunteer observers and police officers were stationed on the Clock Tower of the Town Hall with a direct phone line and motor car ready to convey police at any point. 
An ordinance map of district was arranged with observation posts marked out in semi circles across district. The observers looked out for light, fires etc. The Nottingham Road station (South Croydon?) was also used as a listening station. The observation post was first used on 31 January 1916 and from 17 June 1917 was continually manned due to daytime raids; from September weather readings taken too.


Poster, 1915 - IWM PST17052



The training squadron did take off from Croydon Aerodrome in the massive daytime raids on London of 13 June and 7 July 1917.  In air raids on 13 June 15 machines of Gotha type raided East End and killed 104 people, injuring 423. 7 July largest squadron like flock of black birds over Addiscombe and across Crystal Palace to City of London.

Ron, one of our volunteers, has placed the use of Anti-aircraft Defences in context. We don't know whether barrage balloons were used across Croydon but some urban areas did use them as it forced planes to fly higher and be less accurate. Anti-aircraft guns were adapted from field and naval weapons for angle fire and mobility. They were first used in Serbia in 1915. The Germans were the first to form Anti-aircraft gun units. After the summer raids of 1917, air defences were installed around Croydon. 

One Anti-aircraft gun in Gonville Road Thornton Heath had a firing French gun installed, known as the “cough drop” because of its dry coughing sound. The favoured gun, at first, was a water cooled heavy machine gun invented by Hiram Maxim, known as the 'Pom Pom'. However, there were very few of those available. A much heavier gun was installed at at Elmers End. 

Search lights were established and one hundred searchline beams were counted across Croydon skies. An idea of how they looked is captured in the famous 'Far Better to face the Bullets' poster from 1915.

On 23 July public air raid warnings came into force for the first time. Two maroons were fired in quick succession from every police station in the raid area. The raids that had been previously silent now became orgies of noise. In September 1917 raids became nightly affairs and were frequent at times of full moon until May 1918. 

There were very few air raid shelters at Croydon. The basement of Town Hall was very crowded otherwise churches, libraries, business premises were used. There was one dug out in Ashburton estate Addiscombe. There had been very little preparation for a air raids before the war and the response to the German bombardment was reactive and lessons would be learnt before another war. 

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