The Iconic Gotha Bomber
When the subject of German World War One bombers comes up, most people think of the Gotha series of bombers. The reputation of this type aircraft may a bit more impressive than the actual operational record. Even though it had many flaws the aircraft has become legendary. When I drew this series of profiles I became aware of the subtle changes in the airframe and control surfaces as the type evolved to meet problems discovered in operational use. I plan on revisiting the subject with more examples of a fascinating plane.
Gotha Bombers of 1916
The Gotha G.II series was a heavy bomber used by the Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Air Service) during World War I.
The Gotha G.II was an entirely new biplane designed by Hans Burkhard, who had previously reworked Oskar Ursinus's design for the G.I to make it suitable for mass-production. Burkhard abandoned the G.I's unorthodox configuration in favor of a more conventional design with the fuselage mounted on the bottom wing rather than the top.
The Gotha G.III was a heavy bomber used by the Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Air Service) during World War I. It succeeded the G.II in production and differed primarily in the choice of power plant. The eight-cylinder Mercedes D.IV, which had proven highly susceptible to crankshaft failure, was replaced by the new six-cylinder 260 hp (190 kW) Mercedes D.IVa engine. The G.III also featured a reinforced fuselage with an extra 0.312 in (7.92 mm) Parabellum MG14 machine gun firing through a ventral trapdoor. The G.III was also the first bomber to have a tail gun with a potential 360° arc of fire.
Most of the 25 G.III aircraft produced were delivered to Kagohl 1, operating in the Balkans out of Hudova. Combat service of the G.III was limited but effective. Its most notable accomplishment came in September 1916, when a formation of G.III aircraft destroyed the railway bridge over the Danube River at Cernavoda(, Romania. It also saw use by Kagohl 2 on the Western Front, operating from Freiburg. Following the delivery of the G.IIIs to this unit, its commander complained to Berlin about the performance of the aircraft, not because they were too slow, but because they were outrunning their escort fighters. In September 1917, all surviving aircraft were withdrawn from combat and relegated to training units.
Gotha Bombers of 1917
The Gotha G.IV was a heavy bomber used by the Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Air Service) during World War I. Experience with the G.III showed that the rear gunner could not efficiently operate both the dorsal and ventral positions. Hans Burkhard's ultimate solution was the "Gotha tunnel," a trough connecting an aperture in the upper decking with a large opening extending across the bottom of the rear fuselage. The Gotha tunnel allowed a gunner at the dorsal position to depress his gun into the aperture and fire through the fuselage at targets below and behind the bomber. A ventral 0.312 in (7.92 mm) machine gun could still be mounted, and there was even a provision for a fourth machine gun on a post between the pilot's and bombardier's cockpits, although this was rarely carried due to the weight penalty it imposed on the bomb load.
The G.IV introduced other changes. The fuselage was fully skinned in plywood, eliminating the partial fabric covering of the G.III. Although it was not the reason for this modification, it was noted at the time that the plywood skinning enabled the fuselage to float for some time in the event of a water landing. Furthermore, complaints of poor lateral control, particularly on landing, led to the addition of ailerons on the lower wing.
The Gotha Bomber was produced in the autumn of 1916 when the limitations of the Zeppelin as a raider had become obvious. The German High Command ordered that 30 Gotha bombers were to be ready for a daylight raid on London on February 1st, 1917, but the machines were not ready until May. The first daylight raid on London was carried out by 14 Gothas on June 13th, 1917. On July 7th, 22 Gothas raided London. Night raids began in August of 1917 and continued until May 1918 when they were abandoned because of the increasingly heavy losses. At peak employment, in April 1918, 36 G.Vs were in service.
Operational use of the G.IV demonstrated that the incorporation of the fuel tanks into the engine nacelles was a mistake. In a crash landing the tanks could rupture and spill fuel onto the hot engines. This posed a serious problem because landing accidents caused 75% of operational losses. Gothaer produced the G.V, which housed its fuel tanks in the center of the fuselage. The smaller engine nacelles were mounted on struts above the lower wing.