Most of us know of the London Blitz in the early part of World War II. In September 1940, Britain’s cities, and London in particular, were subjected to almost nightly bombing by Hitler’s Luftwaffe.
Hundreds of bombers dropping thousands of tonnes of incendiary, and high-explosive bombs on the city. But London was also bombed from the air some 25 years before. In early 1915, 100 years ago, just months after the start of WWI, Germany’s Zeppelins paid the UK capitol a visit.
Zeppelins, rigid cigar shaped airships, were designed and built by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, a German army officer. Built with a light aluminium frame and fabric covering, the airship had sixteen gas tanks filled with hydrogen, making it lighter than air.
The original idea for these revolutionary new airships was originally formulated in 1874. By 1893 detailed plans were completed and the Zeppelin was patented in Germany in 1895. In 1899 it was patented in the US. The first Zeppelin flew from Lake Constance, Germany in 1900 with five passengers on board.
From then on, although airships were being built by different companies, any type of rigid airship was generally termed a Zeppelin. The first commercial flight took place in 1910, launched by the Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-AG, becoming the world’s first commercial airline.
Airships, up to mid 1914, had carried over 10,000 people on 1,500 flights. Then came the war, and Germany’s Zeppelins were put to other uses.
With the success of Zeppelins in the early days of commercial air travel, their use as a weapon of war was widely discussed in Britain on the outset of World War I. None-the-less, no defensive measures were implemented. Something the British Government was to regret within a few short months.
During the early days of the war, airships were used extensively by Germany to spot targets for artillery, and bombing missions. The German High Command also decided to attack UK shores. The night of January 19 1915, saw the first of these attacks on the east coast, designed to lower British civilian morale, and bring the war to an early conclusion.
On May 31, just 11 months after the beginning of the war, the first Zeppelin attack on London killed seven people, and injured 35. In the four raids when Zeppelins bombed London, they dropped just under 300 bombs, and killed nearly 500 people.
It wasn’t until the night of 2nd September, 1916, that an aircraft of the British Royal Flying Corp, piloted by William Leefe Robinson, shot down the first Zeppelin over Britain. Being hit by a mix of incendiary and high explosive shells, the airship eventually burst into flames and fell to earth. Flying Officer Leefe Robinson was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest medal for gallantry.
Images care of: By Huhu Uet [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
By Adolf Bock (:File:L23 kapert Bark Royal.jpg) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A British expat who has lived on this Island of Tenerife for over twelve years.A full time freelance writer, most of my time is spent article writing. I also write on D2C, Writedge, and wherever takes my fancy. For fun I try to increase my portfolio of short stories, with a view to eventually getting them published.