The Gotha G.IV series of heavy biplane bombers served the German Air Service of World War 1 (1914-1918) and proved a critical component to its air war initiative. The G-series stemmed from the original G.1 of early 1915 which was produced by Gothaer Waggonfabrik and totaled 20 units. The G.II followed with eleven examples all its own in March of 1916 and the G.III continued to improve the line through twenty-five additional examples during 1916 - these ended their days as trainers from 1917 onward.
The G.IV was a further evolution of the G-series line intended to further improve certain aspects of the bomber. The fabric skinning construction method employed in earlier forms gave way to a more modern plywood skinning method and ailerons were added to the lower wing section to help improve control. Perhaps the most notable of the revisions became a tunnel added to the fuselage which was intended to improve access between the dorsal gun position and the rear underside of the aircraft - the dorsal machine gunner could now engage through this opening below or a second 7.92mm machine gun could be fitted as a ventral gun position. This vastly improved the defensive perimeter about the aircraft - particularly along its more vulnerable reaches.
Design of the G.IV was attributed to Hans Burkhard.
A first flight of the large bomber was recorded in 1916. The aircraft retained much of the form and function of the preceding G-series aircraft. It utilized a multi-bay, equal-span biplane wing assembly with parallel struts. Its undercarriage was fixed during flight and sported multiple bicycle-style wheel elements. The engine pair was held outboard of the fuselage which freed the fuselage for crew positions, defensive machine gun positions and fuel. The tail unit employed a typical single-finned approach with low-set horizontal planes. The standard operating crew numbered three. The aircraft generally carried two-to-three 7.92mm Parabellum LMG 14 series machine guns and could support up to 1,100 pounds of drop ordnance. Power was through a pair of Mercedes D.IVa engines outputting 260 horsepower each. Performance included a maximum speed of 85 miles per hour, a service ceiling up to 16,400 feet and a mission endurance window of about six hours.
The initial German Air Service procurement order was for thirty-five of these massive aircraft but this was later increased to fifty airframes due to the ongoing need for strategic bombing sorties. Production began in 1916 and ended in 1917 with 230 total examples completed. Other companies such as LVG and Siemens-Schuckert Werke also entered the production effort. Service entry of the G.IV model was in March of 1917 and these platforms gave good service on the whole. German wartime ally Austro-Hungary also took on a stock of the type (about 30 units) and fielded these with local engines and machine guns. Gotha bombers were particularly useful in the long-distance assaults on London proper to help demoralize British support at home - sorties originally handled by high-flying, slow-moving Zeppelins until their weaknesses shown through.
However, German fortunes in the war ultimately changed and November of 1918 brought about the official Armistice and German defeat. Those G.IVs in service were immediately taken over scrapped to remove any future war-making capability from the German Empire. At least one example was taken on by the Polish Air Force and put into local service where it held a short operational life that lasted until mid-1920. This example did see operational service in the Polish war against the Soviet Union (1919-1921).
The Dutch became the only other operator of note and this was an aircraft captured during August 1917 after it had crash-landed. Though repaired, the aircraft crashed (again) on its test flight and was written off after the war had concluded.
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