Monday, January 19, 2015

World War I: The First Zeppelin Raid on Britan

Early Zeppelins
In January of 1915 the average British citizen read about the battles slogging on in France and Belgium in the daily papers with interest, doubtless worried for the well-being of their loved ones who were across the channel and, maybe, the future of the Empire. But the artillery and machine gun fire existed only in their imagination. Like the specters of an M. R. James Christmas ghost story, the horrors of war described by the papers haunted their nighttime hours and lurked at the edges of their minds in idle moments. That was until January 19, 1915 when the monstrosity of war became all too real.

In 1909 Count Zeppelin had started the world's first national airline. Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft (DELAG) was founded to promote the airship as a means of travel and potential military platform. Zeppelin airships operated like flying cruise ships, offering twenty well-healed passengers at a time a new-fangled pleasure cruise aboard a faddish, innovation. But travel by airship was a dicey affair. Occasionally a trip ended in unscheduled stop when inclement weather drove the huge aircraft into the ground. Zeppelin slowly improved its design and service and, by the outbreak of the war in August of 1914, the company's airships had carried over 10000 paying passengers on over 1500 flights. As war ravaged the European countryside, the German Army and Navy equipped themselves with Zeppelin's M Class airships, capable of carrying a payload of 20100 lbs. and travelling at a (then amazing) speed of 52 mph.

Early in the war, German war planners imagined the possibility of bombing London, but technology and logistics prevented their realizing this plan. Being filled with hydrogen, the airships tended to burst into flames when hit by ground-fire. It's also important to remember that in 1914 the bomb (as we understand it) hadn't been developed. Early raiders dropped artillery shells on their targets. On the August 5, 1914 a Zeppelin bombed the city of Liege, but it was damaged by small arms fire and destroyed after a crash landing near Bonn. On the March 20, 1914 two Zeppelins successfully bombed Paris, dropping 4000 lbs. of explosives, killing one, and injuring eight.

Zeppelin (at "The Fat Boy"): "I wants to to make your flesh creep!"
John Bull: "Right-O!"
Punch, November 4, 1914
The first raids on Britain would come on the night of January 19, 1915 when two Zeppelins dropped bombs on Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King's Lynn, and the surrounding villages killing four, injuring sixteen. The Kaiser authorized raids on the London docks on February 12, 1915, but the raids were delayed until April 19 and 30th when the German Army received new P Class airships. Raids were conducted on Ipswich, Southendon, Dover, and Ramsgate in April and May killing six, injuring six, and on the last day of May the first raid against London proper resulted in 120 bombs being dropped in a line from Stoke Newington southward to Stepney and then northward toward Leytonstone.

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