First Bombing Raid By Germany

On the morning of 19 January 1915, no soul in Britain would have imagined to be attacked by a monster in the sky. However, on this day, that notion was shattered. To say that the UK was caught off guard would be an understatement. Edinburgh, Gravesend, Sunderland, the Midlands and the Home Counties were among several areas suffering from Zeppelin attacks. By the end of May 1916, German Zeppelins had destroyed at least 550 British people. When an invasion was coming, the government sought to alert people and to keep them safe. This included streetlights that were dimmed to make it harder for people to be shot, whistles were sounded to raise the alarm, searchlights helped gunners identify airships or planes and shoot them while they were around, and as they cycled through the streets, police yelled warnings.

The United Kingdom had no aerial defense capability worthy of its name at the start of the First World War. In order to protect the whole world, Britain had only thirty guns, all but five of which were deemed 'of questionable value'. So the reaction was insignificant and unsuccessful when the attack on German planes eventually appeared over Britain. The Royal Flying Corps had joined the British Expeditionary Force into Europe from the fledgling air forces of Britain, leaving the Royal Naval Air Service to protect the country as best it could. That assignment was not an easy one. Aerial attacks steadily escalated through 1915 from the first raid in December 1914, resulting in highly damaging assaults on London in September and October. London, however, was not the only recipient of German bombs, with the indiscriminate death and devastation contained in this new theatre of war, the Home Front, still witnessed by counties from Northumberland to Kent. And when the previously unimagined terror of bombs dropping from the sky began, the British population was initially left undefended and largely exposed as people were killed in the streets or lay in their beds asleep. The face of war had changed forever and, in the autumn of 1915, those attacks on London eventually forced the government to undertake a more productive defense against air attack. This would benefit my IA by providing stories on what people thought of massive large scale weapons of war and how they reacted to these attacks.

The threat of immediate Zeppelin raids on London and other major British cities and towns loomed large in the summer of 1914, as Europe teetered on the verge of war. The aerial defenses of Britain were insignificant, although a total of eleven airships were assembled by the German armed forces. Winston S. Churchill, the First Lord of the Admiralty, assumed responsibility for London's defense, which translated into defense against the Zeppelin attack. His resources were small, but he believed the best means of defense was to strike. As such, the Royal Navy Air Service (RNAS) conducted four separate ground-breaking airstrikes on Zeppelin bases in Germany in the final four months of 1914, making them the first-ever strategic bombing raids in Britain: Düsseldorf/Cologne (September), Düsseldorf/Cologne again (October), Friedrichshafen (November) and Cuxhaven (September) (December). The raids produced mixed results, but they all display proof of great courage, creativity, improvisation, and bravery, coming so early in the history of military aviation.

By analyzing how nations counterattacked these massive weapons of war, we can see how much of a priority it was for them to care about and destroy these ships. This would prove and provide evidence as to how much of a threat people believed these weapons were. We can also look at the effect of these attacks to determine how people viewed and interpreted these attacks and whether or not they should be worried about them.


Airships were used until the 1930s from about 1900. The Zeppelin was a type of airship made up of a metal frame loaded with hydrogen gas, propelled by engines hanging from its underside connected to a 'gondola' (people-carrying compartment). The original designer, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, was named after this type of airship. The first aerial threat came from Zeppelins, German airships. Zeppelins could turn their engines off at 11,000 feet, floating quietly to carry out surprise attacks. The national outrage and government humiliation is triggered by consecutive adverse Zeppelin attacks in 1915 and 1916.

At the start, zeppelins were used as luxurious transport. Since the start of the First World War, the military saw their willingness to bomb distant enemy cities. At first, the airship crew dropped hand-held bombs on to objectives below, and so they were not very successful. Instead, people and offices surrounding could quickly be struck.

At the outbreak of the First World War, aerial bombing was not anything many individuals felt was a plausible prospect. Planes had only been created ten years earlier and had been used mainly for luxury, not to cause damage. There were very restricted means and methods of defending against aerial attack. In 1915, with the first strike reaching London on 31 May, the first Zeppelin attacks were launched. Seven civilians were killed and 35 wounded in the first air raid, which targeted Stoke Newington, Hackney and Stratford. As Londoners were, for the first time, exposed to death from the sky, the original fascination in Zeppelins turned to rage and terror. The Zeppelin attacks erupted at night, creating fear among the local population. The means and tactics of attack were not sophisticated; they literally dropped explosive explosives and grenades over London from the Zeppelin.

Zeppelins were hard to target because they were flying higher than they could hit British anti-aircraft guns. Heavy winds and hard to steer were also buffeted by them. They will burst into flames if taken down, since hydrogen is extremely flammable. Winston Churchill joked that the Zeppelins were 'enormous gasoline and explosive gas bladders,' but they nevertheless did a lot of harm.

Civilians in Britain had been largely untouched by conflict until the 20th century. British coasts were scarcely touched by previous foreign conflicts. It was the First World War that would change all that. Historians have characterized it as a 'total war,' a world war that on a large scale affected both civilians and the armed forces.

While the British public was accustomed to reading news of the army taking part in distant conflicts abroad, a new experience of war was brought on by the introduction of air raids on British territory. In their own houses, women and children being targeted were seen as much more horrible than the usual pattern of war in which men would go out to battle the enemy. As a convincing reason for men to sign up, the bombings have provided fuel for government propaganda.

The Germans conducted bombing raids from the sea and sky on Britain in 1914. Suddenly, people on the Home Front were at risk, as were troops on the Front Line. The German military claimed that by bombing vital targets including factories and railway lines, they could use Zeppelin airships to help fight the war. By slowing down the production of munitions and stopping soldiers from going to the Front Line, this would create difficulties for the British army. The Zeppelins were quickly replaced by the much more advanced, and much more dangerous, Gotha and Giant bombers that flew together in formation and attacked British cities in daytime. On 13 June 1917, 162 civilians were killed during a single raid on London and Kent, including 18 children at an East End school.

However, the Zeppelin attacks really didn't do much overall. In October 1915, the St Catherine's Hill area of Guildford was bombed by Zeppelins, killing a swan and doing only slight damage. Despite this, a nearby insurance provider began providing cover to persons against damage or hurt incurred by an air attack. The weakness and comparatively slow speed of the Zeppelins to explosive shells resulted in the accelerated production of heavier-than-air machines. In 1918, vast quantities of aircraft were used by both sides, not only for reconnaissance, but as fighter air cover and as bombers. The battle in the air, and the threat it posed to civilians' lives, had been part of the war of the 20th century. Both Britain and Germany continued to build airships for passenger services after the war, providing a much more luxurious, convenient service than could be offered by early aircraft. However, this type of air travel in Britain was debunked by the spectacular crash and fire of the R101 in 1930.


The British had been concerned about their loved ones serving in the war, before the air raids. Kids, women and the aged at home were still at risk. By the end of the war, German air strikes had killed nearly 1,500 British people and wounded over 3,400. So to say that people were not worried would not be true. Although it was unlikely for the average citizens to die in a zeplin air raid, feelings of security during war time dwindled.

On 13 June 1917, the worst raid in terms of losses happened when 20 Gotha GI.V bombers targeted London; 162 were killed and 432 were wounded. The deaths of schoolchildren were especially traumatic: a bomb targeted Upper North Street School in Poplar, killing 18 young children. A further daylight raid on 7 July resulted in 57 civilian deaths, causing widespread outrage and media stories about the lack of warning and the lack of adequate defenses.

Civilian casualties were very low relative to the slaughter on the Western Front (where the overall daily death toll for UK servicemen was 486). They were, therefore, far smaller than the 60,595 UK civilians who died in World War II. However, in terms of the implementation of defensive measures, the effect of air raids, especially in 1916-17, was notable.

The 1917-18 aerial mission was intended to weaken the British people's morale. Since there was no sustained national effort to bring the war to a stop, it failed in this regard. The raids, however, had a huge effect on behaviour. The bombings not only sparked indignation, but also generated terror in parts of London that were regularly bombed. It took time for people to figure out the threats and ways to protect themselves without an alert system that gave civilians enough time to escape to shelters and delays in setting up anti-aircraft batteries and fighter defenses.

The possibility of being killed or injured was very slim for most Londoners, and the precaution of sleeping in the Underground was taken for those living in high-risk areas or forms of accommodation that provided no protection from explosives. The effect was exacerbated by the excitement of the raids, the use of modern equipment and the fact that people, including small children, were taken directly into the firing line.

Nevertheless, Zeppelins, negating territorial obstacles like the English Channel, were the harbinger of widespread strategic bombardment. When Germany surrendered without being occupied, a new opportunity was visualized by airmen and policymakers. Strategic bombing formed the basis for hypotheses of air supremacy and the air forces' raison d'être between wars. Finally, in the Great War, Zeppelins helped implement the doctrine that air power is fundamentally military in the eyes of people.

07 July 2022
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