Civilians during World War One discovered that it wasn’t just soldiers who were in danger. For the first time in history, civilians were subjected to air raids. The majority of these raids were directed at Great Britain, although Paris and other locations also faced bombardment.
The bombardments began in January 1915, and London was first attacked in May. The purpose of the raids was to demoralize the enemy. Zeppelins move slowly and quietly, so raids were conducted at night, and they were indeed frightening to residents.
The zeppelins carried hand grenades and incendiary bombs, released through a trap door in the craft.
After a three-ton bomb killed six English children in September 1915, zeppelins earned the nickname “baby killers”.
By 1916, London and other cities had enforced blackouts, making it more difficult for zeppelins to find their targets. The following year, antiaircraft guns and searchlights were installed. In September 1916, the first zeppelin was shot down over London, bursting into flame as it was struck by bullets. The blaze could be seen for more than 100 miles.
Before 1917, airplanes were employed to shoot down the airships. To compensate, the Germans developed zeppelins called Height Climbers that could reach 16,000-20,000 feet, but these posed their own problems. The crew was exposed to cold and low-oxygen levels, and cabins weren’t pressurized.
Throughout the course of the war, there were 51 raids on Britain with 556 people killed and more than 1,300 injured. Zeppelins were used until the end of the war, but in 1917 were replaced by airplane raids.
Like the zeppelin raids, air bombing was meant to demoralize and possibly push Britain out of the war.
Airplanes carried larger payloads (more than a thousand pounds) and were able to attack during the day.
The British responded by sending their own aircraft after the enemy bombers. Eventually, the Germans returned to night bombings. Unable to see targets because of the blackouts, pilots navigated using radio stations on the ground to calculate their positions.
On the ground, systems were put into place in Allied nations to warn civilians to take cover, but occasionally shelters were breeched.
Air raids over Britain were conducted during a one-year period, May 1917-May 1918, killing 857 and injuring 2,508.
Other Air Raid Facts
Here are some miscellaneous facts about the German air raids:
- Zeppelins were first used for reconnaissance.
- Test bombardments were carried out over occupied Belgium.
- The raids on Britain caused millions of dollars in damage.
- The first zeppelin shot down in the war was over Belgium in June 1915. An airplane dropped bombs on its roof from 13,000 feet, causing the airship to explode.
- Paris was first attacked in March 1915.
- The Germans used 115 zeppelins during the war. Causality rates for crews were 40%.
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