Air Raid on the Royal Naval Barracks
From Chatham News 1960
THE 1917 AIR RAID ON RN BARRACKS
Letter from “Ack Ack” in Chatham News 9 12 1960
“”...As one serving on the anti aircraft defences at that time, I don’t think I shall be endangering national security now with an explanation.
Warning had been given that a practice raid by one of our aircraft touring the district was to take place. Searchlights were to track and guns were to fire blank rounds.
Some little while after zero hour a message was circulated that the enemy had been reported off North Foreland and the order was ‘Cancel practice – action stations’.
About 10 minutes later this was rescinded – ‘Resume Practice Raid’.
Shortly afterwards the NF message was repeated: ‘Action Stations’ again, and in a few minutes the unmistakable sound of enemy aircraft coming up from the direction of the Swale was heard. Whitstable, Faversham and Sittingbourne searchlights in turn were unable to illuminate the target and consequently guns remained silent.
On to the Medway Towns which were circled with uncanny accuracy; many people crossing the Lines from theatres and the pictures (who had screened notices of the practice) were astounded to see bombs dropping but no guns firing.
The disaster at the Drill Shed was due, unfortunately, I understand, to the fact that a large draft of men was temporarily accommodated in the Shed. Bombs shattered the roof, glass splinters of which were responsible for the wholesale slaughter.
There was no confusion in the defences; messages were positive and quickly circulated, but obviously it was not possible to warn the public of the quick change in the situation.
It was subsequently decided to fire at ‘Sound’ if the target was not visible in searchlight beam.
Was this coincidence or was it planned in the knowledge of ‘practice raid’? Maybe. I can only say that I took some part in apprehending a suspected spy near the searchlight which stood where the Naval Memorial now stands not very long after the raid...”