The German Gotha V bomber was the Imperial German Army Air Service’s equivalent of the RNAS/RFC’s Handley Page O/400 bomber. The Gotha V entered service in August 1917 and was a heavy bomber that could cover a much greater distance than fighters and deliver a bomb load to specifc military targets or to civilian targets.
As its title would suggest, the Gotha V (GV) was the fifth variant of the bomber. The IV had suffered from one major defect – its fuel tanks were built into the engine nacelles/compartment. Most operational losses of the GIV came when the large aircraft landed. Landing accounted for 75% of Gotha IV losses. When they did crashland, the remaining fuel in the engine compartments would ignite as the fuel would invariably spill onto the very hot engines. The Gotha V was redesigned so that its fuel tanks were built into its fuselage.
The Gotha V carried its bomb load externally on bomb racks. Another innovation over the Gotha IV was the fact that the Gotha V was fitted with a machine gun in its floor. This gave it cover from any attack from below, which had been a blindspot on the Gotha IV. Allied fighter pilots quickly realised that they could attack a Gotha IV from below with little danger to themsleves. As such, it was a large, slow moving and inviting target. The GV, armed with a Parabellum G14 machine gun in its ‘belly, made this form of attack more dangerous. In total, the GV was equipped with three Parabellum G14 machine guns, with two sited so that they gave cover from above and the sides.
However, these were the only improvements over the Gotha IV. The new variant’s Mercedes engines were designed to give the aircraft more power – especailly as it was 1000 lbs heavier than the Gotha IV – with a top speed of 87 mph and a range of over 500 miles. This proved not to be the case. The Allied blockade of Germany’s ports had taken a hold. Germany found external supplies very difficult to acquire and fuel was one of them. The Gotha V needed a certain quality fuel for its engines to work to the capacity they were built for. This was not the case and inferior quality fuel only gave the Gotha V the same engine power as the Gotha IV, which had not been the planned desire. The increased weight of the Gotha V combined with the same powered engines meant that it could only be used at a low altitude, which made it vulnerable to attack. A new tailplane gave the Gotha Va slightly more stability when in flight. The next GV variant, the GVb, carried an larger payload but the issue of poor quality fuel had not been overcome as by 1918 the Allied blockade had hit Germany very hard in all areas.
The GV took part in the largest aerial attack on England on May 19th 1918. As the last raid of ‘Operation Türkenkreuz’, 38 GV’s attacked London. However, while earlier raids on London had been successful (and had mainly involved GIV’s), this one was not. Nearly 20% of all the aircraft in the raid were destroyed – six in combat and one during landing. Such an attrition rate was not acceptable to the German High Command and after this attack, the GV’s and remaining GIV’s were ordered to be used in support of German ground forces on the Western Front.
When World War One ended in November 1918, all remaining Gotha bombers were handed over to the Allies as part of the terms of the armistice.