Zepplins Bomb London - History

Zepplins Bomb London - History

On the night of September 8th, the German Zeppelin L-13 bombed central London. The Zeppelin was commanded by Commander Heinrich Mathy. Math's bombs killed 32 civilians and caused 500,000 pounds of damage.

Zeppelin’s first raid on London

The Blitz and Battle of Britain are infamous in British history as the first time Britain had been heavily bombed from the air. But what is little known is that one of the first bombing raids that took place over the British Isles was during World War One.

In May 1915 a German Zeppelin airship took off from Germany and made its way to London, where it dropped bombs over the north of the city. It was the first time that London had ever been attacked from the air.

Britain had already been at war for around 10 months when the bombing took place. Some had anticipated that Germany would launch bombing attacks on the capital as soon as the war started, but the Germans had to adapt and develop their zeppelin fleet so that they could be used for bomb raids. In addition it is believed that Kaiser Wilhelm hesitated at attacking Britain from the air since he had such close connections with the British royal family, and thought that the war would not continue for very long. But as the war continued he finally approved the bombings.

The Germans used two types of airships to bomb London – the Zeppelin and the Schütte-Lanz. The Zeppelin was made of aluminium and linen and was filled with hydrogen to make it float. Underneath the giant balloon, a ‘gondola’ capsule hung containing the control room, engines, propellers, bombs and crew.The Schütte-Lanzwas similar to the Zeppelin but was made of wood.

As the first attack took place on London, Winston Churchill, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, was responsible for defending London.

There was no anti-aircraft weaponry available at that time, but small gun posts were placed around London and a fleet of aircraft were kept on call should the Zeppelins arrive.

The German’s first Zeppelin raid on London was commanded by Hauptman Erich Linnarz. The aircraft carried around 120 bombs weighing about 1.5 tonnes. The first bombs fell on the North London suburb of Stoke Newington.

The Germans had no specific targets but had just been told to bomb London. Dalston, Hoxton, Shoreditch, Spitalfields, Whitechapel, Stepney, Stratford and Leytonstone were all hit during that first raid. Around 35 people were injured and seven people were killed, the History Extra reports.

The Zeppelin had largely remained unnoticed since it was a night time raid and local police only had a few minutes warning that it was over London.

Around 15 aircraft were ordered to find and destroy the Zeppelin, but only one pilot found it and his aircraft experienced engine failure before he could attack. While the survived its first bombing raid, just a week later British bombers attacked the air base where it was stored and destroyed it.

Zeppelin Airship Attacks On London: Mapped

A plaque on Farringdon Road marks the site of one Zeppelin attack.

A quarter of a century before the Blitz, London was terrorised by another aerial menace: gigantic airships, or Zeppelins, larger than an upended Gherkin building.

From 1915-1917, German airships unleashed hundreds of explosives and incendiaries on London. These first ever air raids on the city are now largely forgotten in the popular imagination, perhaps because of the much greater damage and death toll from the Second World War. But for Londoners of the time, the attacks were unprecedented, unexpected and lethal.

Around 200 people lost their lives in these night raids, and millions of pounds of damage was inflicted on the capital (not to mention the losses in coastal towns, which also suffered greatly). The first attack came on 31 May 1915. Number 16 Alkham Road in Stoke Newington carries the unenviable distinction of sustaining London's first ever aerial bomb damage. No one was seriously injured. From there, however, the airship looped south over Hackney and round past Stratford, killing seven and injuring 35. The population and emergency services were caught by surprise in what must rank as one of the most terrifying nights in our city's history.

Notes on map: Rough flight paths are shown as coloured lines, with separate craft from the same evening shown in the same colour. Only a small selection of impact sites are shown. For the full details, see the Sources section below.

Further attacks followed. The airships flew at such a height that the ponderous air force fighters of the time were often unable to climb to the defence. Even when British pilots could engage with the enemy, the airships proved remarkably resilient to gunfire. When, finally, tactical and technical advances allowed British planes to engage, the Zeppelin crews stood no chance. Without parachutes, they were faced with the terrible decision of death by fire or fall. The airship threat soon disappeared after a number of missions were gunned down. The final attack came on 19 October 1917. Flying higher than normal, the craft once again took the capital by surprise, killing 33 people.

Today, little evidence remains of these first ever aerial assaults on London. Three plaques mark sites of explosions (see map) and shrapnel marks can be found here and there. Perhaps the most poignant memory is the old clock in the Dolphin pub (Red Lion Street), whose hands remain fixed at the hour of the blast which partly demolished the bar.

The map above is based largely on public data presented in the excellent Osprey book London 1914-17: The Zeppelin Menace, by Ian Castle. For anyone interested in discovering more about the attacks, this book meticulously plots almost every incident based on government records at the National Record Office. The map above takes the rough routes of the attacking craft and plots only a selection of the impact sites. You really need to get hold of the book to find out more. Another good account is given in First Blitz, by Neil Hanson, which also goes on to describe the follow-on attacks from the first heavy bombers. And a note for pedants: although German airships were (and still are) popularly known as Zeppelins, this is a trade name. Other 'brands' of airship also saw service.

Liked this? See also our map of V2 rocket impact sites from World War Two. On more peaceful terms, see our photos from an airship ride over the capital.

The 'silent Zeppelin raid' that killed 32 people in London

One killed seven people on landing in a street in Piccadilly. Ten more died when buildings were hit in Camberwell.

The final bomb landed in Hither Green, south-east London, killing 15 people and destroying homes.

The attack was carried out by a German Zeppelin at the height of World War One, having failed in its original mission.

It would go down in history as the "silent raid".

The Zeppelin was among a group of 11 new types that had the ability to go higher than ever before - some 20,000ft.

Its mission was to bomb industrial areas in the north of England. However, gale force winds and freezing temperatures meant none of the 11 would reach the destination.

With its engines switched off the craft - known as L45 - was blown high over the capital.

Speaking to the BBC in 1964, executive officer on board at the time of the raid, Karl Schuz, said the temperature on the L45 that night was -8 degrees Celsius.

He said the crew suffered "height sickness" which caused "early fatigue, loss of conscious and the functions of the brain were no longer exact and reliable".

Describing the raid, he said: "We saw some lights - afterwards darkness. We tried to get wireless bearings from Germany but we couldn't obtain them.

"Now we saw a searchlight, two searchlights - I counted twenty. And that we guessed it must be London. But no shot, we were unseen, and we could see the Thames.

"Now, running before the wind with a full speed, and we must drop our bombs."

"A Zeppelin flying over London held the same ability to mesmerize as would a UFO appearing over the city today," aviation historian Ian Castle said.

L45 was 650ft (200m) long. Compare that to the similarly-shaped "Gherkin" skyscraper standing today which is 590ft (180m) tall.

"Words like terror, beauty, fascination, excitement, horror and fear appear equally in contemporary eyewitness accounts," Mr Castle added.

Anti-aircraft guns could be used to bring a Zeppelin down, but on the night of 19 October the guns remained silent as the aircraft passed unnoticed above the clouds.

A Commons hearing about the raid later, would hear that the L45 had been flying out of range of anti-aircraft weapons and firing on it would have given away the position of Britain's defences.

The 300lb (135kg) bomb that fell on Hither Green was the final one to drop on London.

A nearby police officer told an inquest he had heard a "whistling noise" before the massive explosion.

One family, the Kingstons, was virtually wiped out.

At the moment the bomb crashed down, Mary Kingston, a widow, was away briefly from the family home.

The seven children she left behind, aged three to 18, were killed along with her nephew who had been visiting that night.

Days later, the 15 victims were buried in two graves - one for Catholics and the other for Protestants.

A memorial paid for by public subscription was erected. However, over time it weathered and the names partially disappeared.

A new headstone has since been created and it will be officially unveiled on Saturday at Brockley & Ladywell Cemetery.

The Zeppelin Raiders

T he year of 1915 was marked by the heavy attacks on London and other British cities by raiding German Zeppelins. It was the first time in history that this type of warfare on helpless civilians was perpetrated, and there was little to be done about these giant gasbags, since practically nothing had been accomplished toward developing a high-angle anti-aircraft gun, and the existing aeroplanes were not capable of rapid climb. There was no radar, and all the Germans had to do was to take off from their sheds in occupied Belgium, climb to a favourable wind level late in the afternoon, and cut their engines. The wind would carry them in silence over the North Sea, so they generally arrived over Britain in the early darkness. Once they had released their racks of high explosives, they simply soared to a greater height and turned their noses for home.

As may be surmised, the prospects were not cheerful. For months the Allies had suffered reverse after reverse. The British still remembered Mons, as they were to remember Dunkirk a quarter of a century later. They had won at Neuve-Chapelle, but at what a cost! The Germans had staged their first poison-gas attack, and the British were still searching for a reliable gas mask.

This new atrocity, only tersely announced, aroused fresh suspicions. At home they had experienced the general blackout for the first time. Raiding Zeppelins, blackouts, and censorship? What next? The Germans must be at the Channel ports! What could be believed? If the gas attack at Ypres was censored, how much could be credited concerning the reported damage inflicted by the Zeppelin raids? What was to stop the Germans from bombing London clean off the map or drenching the chief cities with his poison gas?


By June of that year the British were as near morale disintegration as they have ever been. Fortunately confidence was restored by a schoolboyish youngster, Reginald Alexander John Warneford. The searching finger of Fate could not have selected a more British candidate for the hero's role of this early war drama.

Reg Warneford was a lively composite of the Commonwealth of Nations. His parents were cheery Yorkshire types who rattled about the Empire on various missions and pretexts, and Reg was born in India, educated at the English College in Simla, at Stratford on Avon Grammar School in England, and at an unnamed lyceum in Canada. Although his formal education was devoted to the arts and classics, Reg appears to have shown a marked preference for motor cycles, odorous chemical experiments, and mountain climbing.

When the news of the war reached him in Canada he broke out of the lyceum and raced for England. First he joined the much-publicized Sportsmen's Battalion, an infantry unit made up of well-known sporting and athletic figures, but the Sportsmen's Battalion was slack in unfurling its battle flags, and Reggie discovered that headlined athletes are usually physically attuned only to sport -not war. Fearing the conflict would end before the athletes were whipped into combat condition, he put in for an immediate transfer to the Royal Naval Air Service. He made a good selection, for by June 1915, less than eleven months after the opening of hostilities, he was a Flight Sub-Lieutenant with No. 1 Squadron at Dunkirk.

Half a dozen solo flights on a Morane Parasol, and young Warneford was tabbed for honour and glory. It must be admitted that World War I seemed to be designed for men who wanted fast action. Like Warneford, most flyers were afraid it would peter out any minute-and they'd all have to go back to school or work again.

First Raid over London

On the evening of May 21, 1915, Hauptmann Karl Linnarz, a noted Zeppelin commander, carried out the first successful raid on London. He had taken off from an airship base located at Evere just north of Brussels, gained operating altitude over his field, and then allowed a friendly breeze to drift him in silence over the British Capital.

London watched the inadequate defences go into action. The searchlights lanced the skies but were unable to pick up the raider. The ineffective pom-poms grunted and growled but only showered the suburbs with jagged shrapnel. A few Home Defence flyers took off to do battle, but as usual nothing happened. The warning sirens shrieked and died down. The pungent smoke pall seeped across the Thames, and hurriedly organized rescue teams clambered through the wreckage, cursing a government that had failed to anticipate this form of warfare.

However, at a secluded airstrip across the Channel something new had been added, a special anti-airship Squadron at Dunkirk. A hundred feet below the homeward-bound Zeppelin-dramatically highlighted by the yellow-blue exhausts of its four Maybach engines- cruised a tiny high-wing monoplane flaunting the new red, white, and blue of the British service. A series of smudged flame flicks spat out from the oval cockpit below the centre-section cutout. Gunfire! They were single shots of desperation from a cumbersome shoulder weapon, but alarming and disconcerting, nevertheless. After all, LZ.38's ballonets were filled with hydrogen, and it took only a single bullet to produce a spark.

Hauptmann Linnarz rushed to his control board and bellowed for emergency measures. As soon as his gasbag had lifted to safety he became the militant Prussian once more. He took a neatly engraved calling card from his wallet and on it scrawled: "You English! We have come and we will come again soon to kill or cure! Linnarz." He snatched a weighted message streamer from a flag locker and inserted the card and message in the stitched pocket. "See that this is dropped as near the Dunkirk aerodrome as possible. We will fly over it on crossing the coast line."

Four thousand feet below. Lieutenant R.H. Mulock of No. I Naval cut his gasping Le Rhône engine and eased into a gentle glide. He'd given it a try, but the little Morane Parasol was unequal to the task.

"There's no use trying to swat one wasp with a wisp of straw," Mulock later reported to his C.O., Commander Spenser Grey. "A wise man would pour a kettle of hot water down the hole and scuttle the lot. That's what we've got to do. Blast them out of their bloody sheds." From that night on. No. I Naval planned a new strategy and, to add a dash of personal competition and squadron animosity to the proceedings, a wandering navy artificer beachcombing along the Dunkirk dunes the next day came across Hauptmann Linnarz's insulting message. He turned it over to Commander Grey, and the boys at No. I Naval accepted the challenge.

When the Royal Naval Air Service first took over its base at Dunkirk, Spenser Grey decided to disperse the few machines allotted to him. Dunkirk was too obvious a target, but Furnes, just across the French-Belgian border, was less conspicuous.

One three-ship flight under Lieutenant J. P. Wilson was therefore accommodated in three single canvas hangars set on the edge of a lush meadow, and there Wilson and Sub-Lieutenants Mills and Reg Warneford made up the duty roster.

Their mounts were stripped- down versions of the French Morane-Saulnier observation planes. The high wing was given a sharper angle of attack for climbing, one seat was covered over, and a primitive form of bomb rack was bolted beneath the fuselage. Because of its weird wing arrangement, the British pilots had long dubbed it the Parasol. This Morane machine was as flighty as its name, tricky on the controls and devilish to land. It was relatively fast as a single-seater and powered with an 80-h.p. Rhone engine. Other than the six so-called fire bombs and a light carbine borrowed from the Belgian Army, she carried no offensive armament.

The Night of June 6-7

On the afternoon of June 6 Wilson's Furnes flight reported to Dunkirk, where Spenser Grey had set up a council of war. The C.O. explained Mulock's abortive brush with the Zeppelin that had bombed London and impressed his flight leaders with the obvious impossibility of engaging Zeps in the air. Then Grey fluttered Linnarz's message streamer and belligerent calling card.

"The man who dropped this challenge played merry hell over London less than a week ago. Mulock did his best, but this Hun Linnarz returned to his shed at Evere unscathed."

"You are sure this calling-card bloke and his gasbag are located at Evere?" Wilson broke in.

"That, we know. Keep thinking along those lines, Wilson. Just one night attack might be very useful." It was pretty obvious what Spenser Grey and J. P. Wilson were considering.

On the way back to Furnes young Warneford explained to Wilson that be had never been off the ground at night, but Wilson insisted they were taking off as soon after midnight as possible.

True to his word. Lieutenant Wilson had his flight ready and waiting on the oil-stained turf by midnight, the racks were glutted with fire bombs, and the Belgian carbines rested in the brass prongs beside the cockpits.

Warneford was flagged off first, and before he realized what he had signed up for his Morane was well off the ground. He stared wide-eyed and then peered, trying to find the small grouping of instruments. A length of scarlet worsted knotted to a centre-section strut was flicking insistently at his nose, and he quickly realized this very primitive indicator was warning him that he was already in a dangerous sideslip. Gradually his eyes became accustomed to the yellow-grey nothingness below his Triplex windscreen, and he fixed his gaze on the white needle of the altimeter. He was already at 3,000 feet.

He looked around for some evidence of Wilson and Mills. There was nothing anywhere but the exaggerated roar of the Le Rhône and the drip-drip-drip of condensation off the centre-section that needled his cheeks like a fretsaw blade. Below hissed a poisonous glow that he had never encountered before-it was the blue-yellow flame of his exhaust. His indistinct compass float, dancing in a small window placed, in the bulge of the centre-section, showed something that looked like the letter W. Encouraged by this, he risked a turn, hoping to pick up his flight mates.

He circled and circled for some minutes, but no sign of Wilson or Mills rewarded his patient patrol. Meanwhile he was becoming adjusted to his strange experience and as the area remained fairly clear he wondered whether, regardless of his failure to contact his flight leader and companions, he might make himself useful. He had about decided to search for the Berchem-

Sainte-Agathe airship shed, which he remembered was located just west of Brussels, when something caught his eye a few miles to the north. He blinked and looked again. That something was emitting the same blue-yellow flame as his Le Rhône. If that was Wilson and Mills, what the devil were they doing up there toward Ostend? And what in heaven's name was that long black mass floating above them?

Wilson and Mills had made immediate contact with each other and soon cleared the fog around Fames to head east for Brussels, 75 miles away. On finding clear sides, Wilson decider to fly direct for Evere on the north side of the old Flemish city, and together they hit their objective on the nose. Circling the shed area once, Wilson went in first, mainly to start a fire and give Mills a pathfinder target. He released three of his bombs but only created a billowing smoke pall. By then the German defence gunners woke up and began plastering the sky with high-angle gun explosive, at which point Wilson discovered his last three bombs had become hung up in the primitive rack. Young Mills finally went in. Parasol wings fluttering, to dare the ground fire and pulled his bomb plug. All six of his 20-pounders slid clear, and he was rewarded with a gigantic explosion that illuminated the sky for miles around. Wilson, who had conceived and planned the raid, had to return with little to show for his effort.

Two weeks later British Intelligence, working out of Antwerp, reported that Hauptmann Linnarz's LZ.38 -- the same airship that had first bombed London -- had gone up in flames during the raid on Evere. Thus the R.N.A.S. scored revenge for that caustic calling card.

That same night the LZ.37, commanded by Oberleutnant von de Haegen, had been ordered to carry out a routine patrol stretching from Ghent to Le Havre. There was nothing particularly offensive about the flight, for it was originated mainly to give a number of airship designers, specialists, and technicians from the Zeppelin factory first-hand knowledge of the various problems experienced by the crews on active service.

The LZ.37 was 521 feet in length and her eighteen main gas ballonets carried 953,000 cubic feet of hydrogen. She was powered by four new 210-h.p. Maybach engines and manned by a select crew of twenty-eight highly skilled airshipmen. For defence her designers had provided four machine-gun posts built into the out- board engine gondolas. These positions provided good visibility, a fairly wide arc of fire, and complete defence along both sides of the airship.

Unequal Midnight Duel

After Warneford had been flying north for a few minutes he stared in amazement at what he had stumbled onto-a Zeppelin that seemed half a mile long! He had to twist his head from west to east to take in its leviathan proportions. From its underside were hung several glistening observation cars, and the gleam from fantail exhausts indicated that the rubberized covering was daubed a yellow-ochre colour. Warneford wondered what the devil kept a thing that big in the air at all. But there was no time for reflection as the Zeppelin's machine guns opened up and the slugs clattered through the frail wings of Morane Parasol No. 3253.

Warneford wisely heeled over and cleared off out of range. He glanced around and saw that the fog was breaking up below and he could see the Ostend-Bruges Canal. The big gasbag was apparently headed for Ghent. The observation cars seemed twice as large as his Parasol fuselage.

Then, to his amazement, the big snub-nosed gasbag shifted course and came roaring on toward him. Two more streams of tracer-flickering machine-gun fire snapped from the forward gondolas and converged only a few yards from the Parasol. He gave the Le Rhône all she could gulp and tried to climb, but the crisscrossing tracers pencilled in a definite warning, and he had to peel off and dive. He sat and studied the situation and wondered what his carbine would do if he could hit something particularly touchy. After all, hydrogen burns.

He flailed the little Morane back and took the carbine from its prongs. Manoeuvring to a point under the mighty elevator and ladder framework, he gripped the control stick between his knees, and then, sublimely confident that he had not been. seen, he began triggering off a few .303 shells at the massive target above and ahead. the first clip of cartridges was soon spent and nothing untoward had happened.

For the next few minutes he stalked the LZ.37 and popped away with his carbine, but it was like aiming at a cyclone-propelled haystack with an air rifle. Whenever he came within range or within view, the German gunners sprayed the sky about him with generous bursts of Parabellum fire, and time after time the impudent young Englishman was driven off.

Warneford's Pursuit

Von de Haegen then played it safe and dumped some water ballast over Assebroek and left Warneford still potting away impotently at 7,000 feet. From there the Zep commander upped his speed and roared away for Ghent.

Warneford realized what had happened but refused to admit defeat. Instead he settled back to keep the Zeppelin within view and gain some valuable height.

It was a race for safety for the LZ.37, and while von de Haegen maintained his altitude Warneford was helpless but this was not an ordinary mission. The German commander began to worry about his V.I.P. passengers when he should have concentrated on maintaining his safe tactical procedure.

By 2.25 a.m. the Morane Parasol pilot, still stalking and trying to get. above the Zeppelin, was delighted to see the big airship suddenly nose down and apparently head for a break in the 7,000-foot cloud layer that spread toward Ghent. He had browbeaten his plane up to 11,000 feet, hoping he might get into a position where he could use his fire bombs, since he had expended all his carbine ammunition. Now the LZ.37 was actually below him and for the first time he realized that the upper cover was painted what seemed to be a dark green and that there was nothing resembling a gun turret on the top that could harass him. The other guns were in the underside gondolas and he was shielded from them by the bulging sides of the main framework.

She looked so big as he moved into position for his run-in, he felt he could make a landing on her topside. The ground smear that was Ghent lay below and slightly to the east when the gnat-like Morane nosed down for the 500-foot top panel of the LZ.37. He must have chuckled to himself as his wheels passed over the high elevator and rudder structure.


One . .. two . . .three! he counted as the Morane jerked with the release of each bomb.

He said later that be had fully expected the Zeppelin to explode immediately when his first bomb pierced the envelope.

Four . . . five! He continued to count, and then a gigantic explosion ripped through the upper panel covering, baring the indistinct details of the framework.

Completely spellbound, he continued his run-in until the little Morane was swept up on a savage belch of flaming concussion. It whipped over with a violence that would have catapulted Warneford out of his cockpit had it not been for his safety belt. He gasped in astonishment, rammed the stick forward, and tried to get her into a dive. Chunks of burning framework hurtled by as he gradually floundered out of the aerial convulsion and streaked down through a great pall of choking smoke. The next few minutes were devoted to skimming clear of the debris, getting back on even keel, and frantically adjusting his air and gas mixture to overcome a series of warning pops from his Le Rhône.

A few seconds later the doomed airship fell on the convent of Saint Elizabeth in the Mont-Saint-Amand suburb of Ghent. One nun was killed outright and several women were badly burned, but the helmsman of the Zeppelin had a most remarkable escape. According to eye-witnesses, he actually jumped clear of the tumbling wreckage at about 200 feet, landed on the root of the convent, crashed through it as though it had been made of matchwood, and landed in a unoccupied bed. He suffered only minor injuries and was the only crew member or passenger of the ill-fated LZ.37 to live.

Warneford's Escape

At 7,000 feet above this widespread carnage Warneford sat waiting for his wings to part company with the fuselage. The Le Rhône snorted its wrath and contempt, and quit cold! The gleaming wooden prop wig-wagged to a halt as he calculated that he was at least 35 miles inside the German lines. There was nothing else to do but accept the bitter inevitable and go down. In spite of the darkness and the lack of ground flares, the young flyer landed the battered machine safely in an open field that was shielded on one side by a long patch of woods. There was a darkened farmhouse nearby, but no one appeared to question his unscheduled arrival.

His first impulse was to destroy the plane but an investigation of the tank disclosed there was ample fuel to get him back across the line to Furnes, and further probing indicated that his violent acrobatics had broken the fuel line. He figured there was still a chance to escape. A quick search through his pockets produced a cigarette holder. The outer end was just what he needed, so he broke it off, fitted it to form a journal at the original break, and bound it secure with strips of a linen handkerchief. An experimental tug on the prop assured him that sufficient fuel was reaching the carburettor, so he decided to start the engine himself. The Le Rhône, of course, was still warm, and after two complete revolutions of the prop to suck in petrol he cut in the switch and snapped her over. The engine caught immediately and it was something of a scramble to get into the cockpit, but he managed it and roared away.

Approaching the coast again, he encountered more fog so he tooled up and down until he found a hole and dropped through. At 3.30 a.m. he checked in at Cai Gris-Nez, 10 miles below Calais, where he picked up more fuel and called his squadron headquarters at Dunkirk.

He sat out the bad weather and finally returned to Furnes at 10:30 a.m. By that time the jubilant news was widely known and within hours his name was ringing from one end of the Empire to the other. All that week his photograph was flashed on hundreds of theatre screens to the delight of cheering audiences.

That afternoon, in keeping with the traditions of the Silent Service, Commanding Officer Spenser Grey of No. I Naval Squadron posted a notice which read:

Though weather has been extremely unsettled, our pilots have been active and busy

The next day King George V recognized Warneford's victory by awarding him the Victoria Cross, and the French government followed that decoration with their Cross of the Legion of Honour.

England tightened its belt from that day on and took a brighter view of the Zeppelin menace. Many more raiders would come and more devastation would be wrought, but now there was assurance that some young Britisher would mount the sky and take them on. Many more Zeppelins were destroyed before the Kaiser capitulated, and many other young men - Leefe-Robinson, Tempest, Cadbury, Sowrey, Leckie and Pyott - came along to take up Warneford's torch. All of them were great names in those days.

But Flight Lieutenant R. A. J. Warneford lived only ten more days to enjoy the laurels of his victory. He went to Paris on June 17 to receive his Legion of Honour and after the ceremony was ordered to pick up a new Farman biplane at the Buc aerodrome outside the French capital. The machine was brand new - so new in fact that much of its standard equipment had not been fitted - but most important, there were no safety belts in either seat.

An enthusiastic American newspaperman named Needham had asked to go along to Furnes, where he planned to write a story about Warneford and his Zeppelin victory. Warneford cheerfully agreed and they climbed in the biplane and took off. Almost immediately, for some unknown reason, the Farman pitched and bucked and both Warneford and Needham were thrown out in mid-air and killed. And so ended the brief but illustrious record of the first British airman to destroy a German zeppelin in the air.


Following the Warneford Zeppelin triumph, there were dozens of fabulous reports of other gasbag conquests. One of the most fantastic that persisted for weeks was that Roland Garros, the French ace, had tried to down a Zeppelin over Paris with his new gun, but when he failed with ordinary gunfire he boldly rammed the raider, flying his Morane Bullet straight through the massive framework and coming out the other side, leaving a jagged outline of his machine. After that, the Zeppelin folded in the middle and dropped in a French cornfield. There was, of course, nothing to the report, but faked photographs of this astounding adventure were on sale all over France for several weeks. The myth of the Allied pilot who flew through a Zeppelin persisted for some time, but no more Zeppelins were downed for more than a year when a B.E.2c pilot of No. 39 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps, Lieutenant W. Leefe-Robinson, repeated Warneford's performance. In this case, however, he scored his victory on the evening of September 2-3, 1916, in sight of a million pairs of British eyes, and piled up the wreckage for all to see near the little village of Cuffley in Middlesex, whereas Warneford's action took place over the other side of the North Sea. Strictly speaking, the airship brought down was not a Zeppelin. It was a dirigible of the old Schutte- Lanz type. It had a maximum speed of about 60 miles an hour, but for purposes of fuel conservation this speed was seldom used the cruising speed of 40 miles per hour was more usual. Its maximum altitude, by jettisoning its war load, was about 15,000 feet.

Leefe-Robinson was also born in India of British parents, in 1895, and when the family returned to Britain he was educated at St. Bee's School in Cumberland, a small academy that produced three Victoria Cross winners. After considerable travelling in France and Russia he entered Sandhurst military college in August 1914. The following December he was gazetted to the Worcester Regiment, but by March 1915 had transferred to the Royal Flying Corps where he served as an observer. On May 9 he was wounded in the right arm on a patrol near Lille, and when he had recovered he was posted to a flight training school at Farnborough, England, and took his ticket the following September. He was eventually assigned to No. 39 Squadron, a Home Defence unit located at Sutton's Farm.

By this time, while no longer in dread of the Zeppelins, the people of Britain were looking askance at the anti- aircraft defences the politicians and War Office martinets were bragging about. The Zeppelins were again raiding Britain almost nightly, and the civilian casualty roll mounted. Month after month passed and no one bad emulated Reg Warneford's feat. In truth, the gasbag invaders were enjoying some immunity, but by the same token they were not scoring on important military points.

As in World War II these raids, although spectacular and damaging from the point of view of the general population, were not seriously hindering the over-all war effort.

The population was suffering mainly from sleepless nights. Then on September 3, 1916, in full view of the Metropolis a giant raider fell in a roaring mass of flame. It struck the ground at Coffley, Middlesex, and the entire crew of sixteen died as millions of Londoners cheered the unknown hero who had sent it to its fate. In an hour all roads leading to Cuffley were thronged with the curious who rushed to see the remains of the first raider shot down on English soil.

Shortly after eleven o'clock on September 2 the Maybach engines of these dirigibles, were first heard over the keeping countryside. It was a beautifully clear night with few clouds floating across the sky. The stars looked down with cool aloofness. Gradually the higher-pitched notes of the Home Defence B.E.2c's screeched across the skies in search of the raiders. Just after one o'clock a probing searchlight picked out a long, glowing pencil of light as it approached Woolwich Arsenal. There was no mistaking it, and other searchlights swept across the war-stricken sky and joined the first. Lieutenant Leefe-Robinson saw the dirigible held aloft on a tripod of blinding silver, and, although he was in danger of being hit by his own shells, he raced in to the attack.

This is his story as he scrawled it on a sheet of patrol report paper:

From: Lieutenant Leefe-Robinson,
Sutton's Farm.
To: The Officer Commanding
No. 39 H. D. Squadron.
I have the honour to make the following report on night patrol made by me on the night of the 2-3 instant. I went up at about 11.08 p.m. on the night of the second with instructions to patrol between Sutton's Farm and Joyce Green.

I climbed to 10,000 feet in fifty-three minutes. I counted what I thought were ten sets of flares - there were a few clouds below me, but on the whole it was a beautifully clear night. I saw nothing until 1.10 a.m., when two searchlights picked up a Zeppelin S.E. of Woolwich. The clouds had collected in this quarter and the searchlights had some difficulty in keeping on the airship. By this time I had managed to climb to 12,000 feet and I made in the direction of the Zeppelin - which was being fired on by a few anti-aircraft guns - hoping to cut it off on its way eastward. I very slowly gained on it for about ten minutes. I judged it to be about 800 feet below me and I sacrificed some speed in order to keep the height. It went behind some clouds, avoiding the searchlight, and I lost sight of it. After fifteen minutes of fruitless search I returned to my patrol.

I managed to pick up and distinguish my flares again. At about 1.50 a.m. I noticed a red glow in the N.E. of London. Taking it to be an outbreak of fire, I went in that direction. At 2.05 a Zeppelin was picked up by the searchlights over N.N.E. London (as far as I could judge).

Remembering my last failure, I sacrificed height (I was at about 12,900 feet) for speed and nosed down in the direction of the Zeppelin. I saw shells bursting and night tracers flying around it. When I drew closer I noticed that the anti- aircraft aim was too high or too low also a good many shells burst about 800 feet behind-a few tracers went right over. I could hear the bursts when about 3,000 feet from the Zeppelin. I flew about 800 feet below it from bow to stem and distributed one drum among it (alternate New Brock and Pomeroy). It seemed to have no effect I therefore moved to one side and gave them another drum along the side - also without effect. I then got behind it and by this time I was very close - 500 feet or less below, and concentrated one drum on one part (underneath rear). I was then at a height of 11,500 feet when attacking the Zeppelin.

I had hardly finished the drum before I saw the part fired at, glow. In a few seconds the whole rear part was blazing. When the third drum was fired, there were no searchlights on the Zeppelin, and no and-aircraft was firing. I quickly got out of the way of the falling, blazing Zeppelin and, being very excited, fired off a few red Very lights and dropped a parachute flare.

Having little oil or petrol left, I returned to Sutton's Farm, landing at 2.45 a.m. On landing, I found the Zeppelin gunners had shot away the machine-gun wire guard, the rear part of my centre section, and had pierced the main spar several times.

I have the honour to be, sir,
Your obedient servant,
(Signed) W. Leefe-Robinson, Lieutenant
No. 39 Squadron, R.F.C.

Once again the hero of the hour did not long survive his victory. On April 5, 1917, Leefe-Robinson was posted to No. 48 Squadron, the first R.F.C. outfit to fly the new Bristol Fighter. Flying as a flight commander (captain), he saw his six-plane flight attacked by a Fokker circus. Instead of breaking up and flying as fighter scouts, Leefe- Robinson's flight tried to fly the old two-seater Lufbery circle (nose to tail) formation and were badly cut up. It was the first and last time that the Bristol Fighter was so misused. Leefe-Robinson's engine was damaged and he had to land in enemy territory, where he was taken prisoner, spending most of the war in various German prisons including the infamous Holzminden, where for a time he was kept in solitary confinement. His health became undermined - he was hardly the rugged physical type - and shortly after being returned to his home in England fell a victim to one of the influenza epidemics. This courageous young man who gave London its most dramatic war spectacle made no spectacular exit himself. He died in bed on January 31, 1918.

Summary of Zeppelin Raids

London was the principal objective of the First World War Zeppelin raids, and between 1915 and 1918 no less than 208 airship sorties were carried out against Britain, a total of 5,907 bombs were dropped, 528 people were killed (mostly civilians), and more than 1,000 were wounded. The peak of the Zeppelin's threat was during 1915 and 1916, for during those two years 168 sorties were carried out against Great Britain, killing 115 people and wounding 324 in London. In the rest of England, 361 were killed and 692 wounded. In 1917 and 1918 the airship threat practically came to an end only thirty sorties were made in 1917, and ten in the last year of the war. The explanation is that Great Britain greatly improved her anti-aircraft gunnery, searchlights, and her warning system. A seldom-published item of interest is that many of the ground observers employed along the British east coast to detect the oncoming airships and aircraft were blind people, selected because of their acute hearing. It was probably the most rewarding task any such afflicted person has undertaken.

Late 1916

After Leefe-Robinson's success against S.L.II the Home Defence squadrons seemed to be inspired. On September 23, 1916, eleven airships, including three new super-Zeppelins, left their sheds in Belgium and headed for the Essex coast.

About midnight L.33 was over East London and had dropped twenty bombs. This time, however, the defence reacted fast and almost immediately L.33 was caught on a cone of searchlights and was riddled by the ground guns. One of her engines was damaged and she began to fly a very erratic course, and to add to her miseries a Lieutenant A. G. Brandon of the R.F.C. hove out of the night and for twenty minutes slugged her with machine-gun fire. As she laboured her way back to the North Sea the crew jettisoned everything that could be tossed overboard, but she never reached the Belgian coast line and was lost in the sea.

The famous Commander Mathy, aboard L.31 in company with L.32, crossed the English Channel and cruised over toward Kent, flying boldly on to the centre of London. Mathy dumped bombs on northern London and escaped. The L.32, however, was not so bold and spent some time circling the Romney marshes and finally crossed the Thames at Dartford, where it was picked up by searchlights. At this point Lieutenant Frederick Sowrey attacked with a machine gun and sent it down in flames near the village of Billericay. He had to be content with the Distinguished Service Order.

The bold Captain Mathy lived a charmed life. He seemed bullet-proof, and night after night, weather permitting, he would invade Britain from one direction or the other. He did not always float over to drop bombs sometimes he would simply drift about making an important reconnaissance. One never knew whether he would come to London from the industrial north or appear suddenly over the Isle of Wight and fly inland from the English Channel.

On board the L.31 on the night of October 1, 1916, Mathy led a formation of eleven dirigibles and this time he first appeared over Lowestoft on the east coast at about eight o'clock and as usual steered a deliberate course for London. Soon after passing Chelmsford, he discovered that the outer London defences were ready for him, so he turned north-east until the furor died down. Then with a quick decision he turned south-west with the idea of getting into position for another dash across London. After drifting quietly in the vicinity of Ware, he started his engines again and headed for the northern fringes of the capital.

The ground defences had been just as wary, and the minute his engines opened up, the guns below responded and Mathy had to turn away, but unfortunately for him Second Lieutenant W. J. Tempest had struggled up to 12,700 feet while stalking the Mathy airship. He attacked resolutely in the face of heavy gondola machine-gun fire, and the L.31 went down in flames, piling up on the outskirts of Potters Bar. This was the last time a German dirigible attempted to attack London, After that the Germans gave their attention to the industrial areas in the north.

Then on the evening of November 27, 1916, eight dirigibles reached the British coast line, one being immediately destroyed on the coast near Hartlepool by Captain J. V. Pyott of the R.F.C. Another raider, L.21, was caught by anti-aircraft fire as she was leaving the coast of Yarmouth. This airship broke up at 8,000 feet and fell into the sea and sank at once.

The next year, 1917, on September 24 Captain Peter Strasser led a ten-airship raid against northern England, and Hull was successfully bombed. On October 19-20 of the same year a true "silent raid" was carried out when eleven airships rendezvoused over the Yorkshire coast for an attack on the industrial centres of the Midlands. It turned out to be the most disastrous experience of the airship war. While over Britain the Zeppelins flew at well over 16,000 feet and at this level the efficient of the crews was apparently impaired by altitude sickness and intense cold, and the weather conspired to outwit them.

Near the ground the air was misty and there was little wind, but at 16,000 feet a strong gale was blowing in from the north and the Zeppelins drifted blindly south. One airship passed over London without recognising the city, but somehow dropped a 50-kg. bomb, which fell in Piccadilly Road and caused some casualties.

The London ground-defense officials played a cat-and- mouse game with Captain Strasser's dirigibles. Realising their searchlights could not pierce the low mist, they kept them doused, and the raiders floundered helplessly, unable to find the British metropolis. The raid ended in almost total disaster. Only one airship managed to get back to Germany over the usual route. Six had to risk the neutrality of Holland or cross the Allied battle-lines in France. The remaining four were destroyed the next day by gunfire as they floated about France.

This tragic climax provided one of the heart-rending incidents of World War 1. As these four doomed aircraft drifted for hours over hostile territory, French and British observers listened to wireless appeals to their bases begging for advice, air protection, and for some reliable information as to their whereabouts. These messages and appeals were monitored and later transcribed and printed for general distribution. Several years later a Hollywood studio wrote much of them into a war film based on the Zeppelin raids.

Airship raiding was not resumed until the night of March 12-13, 1918, but the attack was ill-planned and made from such a height that the damage was negligible. The end of the Zeppelin as a raider occurred on August 5-6 when five dirigibles flew up the coast of Norfolk. No bombs were dropped on any land target, but the L.70, the latest in airship construction, was destroyed by the ground forces.

German airship hits central London

On September 8, 1915, a German Zeppelin commanded by Heinrich Mathy, one of the great airship commanders of World War I, hits Aldersgate in central London, killing 22 people and causing 򣔀,000 worth of damage.

The Zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in 1900. Although a French inventor had built a power-driven airship several decades before, the von Zeppelin-designed rigid dirigible, with its steel framework, was by far the largest airship ever constructed. However, in the case of the zeppelin, size was exchanged for safety, as the heavy steel-framed airships were vulnerable to explosion because they had to be lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas instead of non-flammable helium gas.

The Germans enjoyed great success with the Zeppelin over the course of 1915 and 1916, terrorizing the skies over the British Isles. The first Zeppelin attack on London came on May 31, 1915 it killed 28 people and wounded 60 more. By May 1916, the Germans had killed a total of 550 Britons with aerial bombing.

One of the best-known Zeppelin pilots was Heinrich Mathy, born in 1883 in Mannheim, Germany. Flying his famed airship L13 on September 8, 1915, Mathy dropped his bombs on the Aldersgate area of central London, causing great damage by fire and killing 22 people.

The following summer, Mathy piloted a new Zeppelin, the L31 in more attacks on London on the night of August 24-25, 1916. His ship was damaged upon landing while he was waiting for repairs to be made, Mathy received word that the British had managed for the first time to shoot down a Zeppelin, using incendiary bullets. Shortly after that, Mathy wrote pessimistically: “It is only a question of time before we join the rest. Everyone admits that they feel it. Our nerves are ruined by mistreatment. If anyone should say that he was not haunted by visions of burning airships, then he would be a braggart.” True to his prediction, Mathy’s L31 was shot down during a raid on London on the night of October 1-2, 1916. He is buried in Staffordshire, in a cemetery constructed for the burial of Germans killed on British soil during both World Wars.

5) The first bombs dropped on London landed in Stoke Newington

Zeppelin LZ.38 approached London at a height approaching two miles, and was not attempting to hit specific targets – the purpose was simply to bomb London while keeping to a line east of the Tower of London.

The first bomb, an incendiary, landed on 16 Alkham Road, the home of Albert Lovell, a 39-year-old clerk, and his family, setting fire to the upper floor of the house. Mr Lovell alerted the fire brigade, who extinguished the blaze before it caused too much damage.

Hackney Borough Council erected a plaque in the 1990s to commemorate this first bomb, but unfortunately placed it near the corner of Nevill Road and Osterley Road – more than half a mile away. It also shows the wrong date. Plans are today underway to rectify this.

German Zepplins Bomb the US East Coast During World War I

I don't know enough to comment on the feasibility of such a raid succeeding, so I'll focus on the American reaction.

I'd imagine we'd be pretty angry and out for blood. German-Americans get treated even worse (if that's possible) than OTL. There might be panic on the home front (and expect lots of false reports of zeppelin sightings), but it won't seriously effect the war effort. I expect Versailles gets harsher (as the Americans are less wedded to the 14 Points, especially if Wilson somehow gets killed), and the US gets a share of the reparations. Memory of getting bombed may make the US less isolationist post-war, or it might reinforce the "we stuck our nose where we didn't belong and look what happened." Personally, I'd expect it to make us less isolationist, but it could really go either way (and to some extent it would Americans are not a monolithic bloc with all the same opinions, after all).

If WW2 still happens, expect more fake zeppelin sightings, and liberal use of zeppelins in American propaganda posters, even if the Germans never actually build a single zeppelin, as it will be a memorable association with "Hun treachery."

The Zeppelin That Bombed London and Changed the World

Crude as it was, the Zeppelin that struck London in June 1915 changed the world by bringing faraway wars home. But has airpower ever won a war?

Clive Irving


LONDON — Death from above began here, 100 years ago. It arrived with a low, barely discernible droning in the night sky. A huge leviathan moved darkly above the city, in brief shafts of moonlight its shadow was cast against the lowest clouds. This was the new face of war, bringing a terror unknown before.

On June 1, 1915, the London newspapers reported a trail of indiscriminate bombing that had left 28 people dead and 60 injured. The first to die was a three-year-old girl from horrific burns.

German Zeppelin airships had crossed the English Channel and began a bombing campaign that lasted for three years. For the first time in the history of modern war a civilian population far away from the military battlefields found itself suddenly a regular target. There had already been a few small raids on other cities in Europe but London was the greatest metropolis in Europe and the German high command realized that it was virtually defenseless from air attack—there were only 16 guns allocated to air defense, half of them useless.

Politicians were outraged at the killing of the innocents. And almost immediately there was a response from the Germans that will seem only too familiar today: that the intended targets were military, that navigational errors had confused the choice of targets, that in total war mistakes happen, and people had better get used to it.

From the beginning the Germans understood that the actual physical damage of aerial bombardment would be relatively small and its impact on the British military effort would be minimal but they believed that the psychological consequences on the population would be far greater—a belief that has consistently underpinned the doctrines of air power ever since.

Today the airship seems a crude and primitive machine. The first Zeppelins were more than 530 feet long, a spidery frame of aluminum covered with linen, kept aloft by bladders filled with hydrogen and moved by small propellers slung beneath. Crews were similarly slung beneath in small gondolas. They were barely able to reach 50 mph, considerably less in a headwind. But the beast carried a large bomb load, far larger than any airplane of the time could lift—as much 1.5 tons, mostly incendiaries. They were filled with a mixture of aluminum and iron called Thermite that on impact burned with fierce intensity. Fire was the most effective way of spreading terror.

It’s important to realize that the idea of terrorizing populations from the air had been well prepared by cultural influences. This was an age when a wave of new technologies, intended for benign purposes, were rapidly being applied to the waging of war. None were more potent that the arrival of the airplane and the airship. H.G Wells, the novelist who became the father of science fiction, fully imagined the ways in which death would arrive from above, whether delivered by airplanes, airships or Martians.

Airships, because of their size and because they looked like one very, very big bomb were visually scary in a visceral way. I have seen a grainy, flickering fragment of newsreel showing a Zeppelin over London that even now is spooky. It’s slowness makes it appear strangely menacing, rather than anachronistic, an invulnerable machine that loiters with malice in its vast belly.

British counter-propaganda produced posters that realized and drew from this new and popular visual language of the monster machine aloft. They depicted a Zeppelin caught in the crossing beams of searchlights, suggesting a vulnerability that was rarely true.

The reality was that for a long while the Zeppelin attacks were hampered more by their operational deficiencies than by British air defenses—even though those defenses steadily improved. Zeppelin raids were frequently aborted because of bad weather. Those that did make it across the Channel drifted miles off course, sometimes many miles, dropping their bombs into fields.

There were endemic command and control problems on both sides. Nobody had yet figured out that to operate with maximum efficiency air power needed its own independent air force. In Germany the airships were controlled and deployed by both the army and the navy in Britain the defenses were similarly divided, with the navy operating the anti-aircraft guns and the army the airplanes.

But most alarmingly for the Germans the airships were themselves potential firebombs that could self-incinerate in a matter of seconds. The vulnerability lay in what lifted them aloft, the bladders full of hydrogen. These bladders were made of the guts of cows and pigs. At the peak of the air campaign the production of airships had used the guts of 250,000 cows, so many that the output of sausages was curtailed. The British knew that if these bladders were pierced with just one incendiary bullet the whole airship would become a ball of fire.

By 1917 the British had both the airplanes and the bullets to begin decimating the attackers. Of 80 Zeppelins built, 30 had been lost, either to accidents or to enemy fire. Invariably the entire crew of a Zeppelin would be killed as the flaming pyre fell to earth. First the army and then the navy gave up attacking Britain, but not before dropping more than 5,000 bombs, killing 557 people and injuring 13,358.

The airships were already superseded by a more efficient killing machine, the multi-engined bomber. Before the war ended in 1918 German bombers were attacking London and causing far more terror than the airships—at one point 300,000 Londoners were taking shelter every night in the underground stations of the Tube. One daylight raid killed 16 children in a school.

Of course once a weapon is unleashed in war and proves itself effective there is no turning back. The bombing of London was but the overture of a new arsenal, awaiting only more technical sophistication to make it more efficient and the proponents of a fully developed doctrine to make it politically and militarily expedient.

By the 1930s the bomber had grown large enough to carry a lethal load and much faster, and was able to fly great distances. Strategists of the day followed the same mantra that had once gripped supporters of the airship, that in sufficient numbers the bomber would be invincible and would level cities and thus win wars because citizens would demand surcease and surrender.

“The bomber will always get through,” one openly defeatist British prime minister warned the House of Commons, as Hitler stealthily embarked on building the air force that would emerge as the Luftwaffe.

The pumped-up strategists of air power wanted proof of concept. Spain provided the perfect opportunity. The Spanish Civil War was really much more than a local conflict, it was an opportunity for the future belligerents of another world war—Germany, Italy and Russia—to test and rehearse their fleets of bombers, using them as much on the populations of Spanish cities as on the battlefields.

There were soon newsreels of the residents of Madrid with the same haunted, sleep-deprived faces that Londoners had shown in 1918. But it was a small city in northern Spain, Guernica, that would forever be the marker of the coming apocalypse.

In April 1937 Guernica was, in the space of a few hours, gutted by a combined force of German and Italian bombers, introducing the technique of carpet bombing, a homely sounding term that meant, literally, laying down a tightly-woven pattern of bombing that would spare nothing and no one in its path.

To this day there are disputes about how many died in Guernica that afternoon. The numbers range from 400 to the thousands. It doesn’t really matter. You just have to see the photos of those who survived. Their faces are those of a nightmare, a nightmare without cease. The nightmare became immortalized in one primal scream, Picasso’s masterpiece in which art somehow caught and froze the nature of a new form of atrocity that was delivered with detachment, remotely from the cockpit and through the crosshairs of the bombardier.

Much worse was to follow. The London Blitz (42,000 dead), the fire-bombing of Hamburg in 1943 (42,000 dead), Dresden in 1945 (25,000 dead) and Tokyo in 1945 (Between 80,000 and 130,000 dead).

And then, on August 6, 1945, a Boeing B-29 bomber named the Enola Gay took off from the Pacific atoll of Tinian, heading for the Japanese city of Hiroshima.

Major Thomas Ferebee, the bombardier of the Enola Gay, released a single weapon, an atomic bomb, capable of killing in one blast many more people than any weapon before it. The bomb fell for 43 seconds and then, at a height of 1,968 feet, it detonated, engulfing the city in a searing radioactive blast. Sixty-nine percent of the city’s buildings were destroyed and 80,000 people, a third of the population, died, with many thousands more to die later from the radiation effects. On August 9 another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and that was enough to force the Japanese to surrender.

Finally, air power had ended a war.

But the evolution of air power that had begun in 1915 with those bombs carelessly tossed out from a Zeppelin over London now reached stasis. In the mind of the whole world, nuclear war became unthinkable. Certainly, a nuclear arms race between the West and the Soviet Union ensued, but it was constrained by something quite novel, the concept of mutual deterrence—the sheer prospect of retaliation was, we believed, enough to neutralize the weapon.

However, non-nuclear air power has remained an instrument of easy resort, particularly when used against nations that don’t have any air power, as in Vietnam, where civilians continued to be confused with combatants and were subjected to indiscriminate attack with horrors like napalm. Even then, air power had little lasting effect on the battlefield and could not stop defeat.

The same is clearly true now on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, where ISIS has been little hampered in its actions by air strikes.

It so happens that two blocks away from where I am writing this, there is a plaque on the wall of an office building:

“These premises were totally destroyed by a Zeppelin raid during the world war on September 8, 1915. Rebuilt 1917.”

It’s that final perfunctory and defiant sentence that has the message, an echo of that now widely promoted British attitude to adversity “keep calm and carry on.” History buffs on visits to London follow carefully documented maps showing where every bomb and missile fell during two world wars, including this site, now called the Zeppelin Building. It’s right across the street from the largest construction project in Europe, Crossrail, a new underground high-speed rail line that will transform the city’s travel connections.

I like to think of this as a parable of the resilience of cities and their populations without minimizing the appalling cost in lives (the bombers did get through) all those cities subjected to the terror of bombing in World War II are long since repaired and thriving. It’s a pity that the doctrine of air power also thrives, despite the record of its futility. You can still hear senators talking about bombing ISIS “back into the stone age.” They have learned nothing.


The P class was an enlarged version of the preceding M class. On 5 August 1914 the Zeppelin company put forward a proposal to the German Navy Ministry for a design based on LZ 26. This had been started as a passenger carrying craft for DELAG and was the first Zeppelin with a duralumin framework, and also had the strengthening keel inside the hull structure. The proposed design was larger, with the volume increased from 25,000 m 3 (880,000 cu ft) to 31,900 m 3 (1,126,000 cu ft) and a fourth engine was added. [1] As well as being larger, allowing a greater range and bomb load, the P class introduced enclosed crew accommodation: the gondolas of the first M class Zeppelins were open.

The P class had a more streamlined hull shape than previous Zeppelins, with only 60 m (197 ft) of the 163.5 m (536 5 in) overall length being parallel sided. [2] Power was initially provided by four 160 kW (210 hp) Maybach CX six cylinder engines. Later examples were fitted with four 180 kW (240 hp) Maybach HSLu engines. The framework was divided into sixteen 10 m (32 ft 9 in) bays, with an intermediate frame between each of the principal wire-braced ring frames to reduce lateral loads on the triangular section longitudinal girders, of which there were 17, the uppermost of which was doubled to form a W-section girder. The 16 gasbags were usually made from three layers of goldbeater's skin on a cotton backing, but shortages meant that sometimes heavier rubberised cotton was used instead. Automatic pressure relief valves were placed at the bottom of the gasbags: there was no trunking to carry vented hydrogen to the top of the craft and waste gas simply diffused upwards in the space between gasbags and the covering, whose top surface was left undoped to allow the hydrogen to escape. Some gasbags were also fitted with a manually operated manoeuvering valve at the top. [3] The ship was controlled from the forward gondola, which was divided into two structurally separate sections in order to avoid transmission of engine vibration to the crew accommodation: the small gap between the two sections was faired over with fabric. The forward section was divided into three compartments, with the control area at the front aft of this was the radio compartment, and then the officer's rest area, the windows of which had a machine-gun mounting either side. [3] The engine compartment contained a single engine driving a propeller at the rear through a reduction gear. The aft engine gondola carried three engines arranged in line, the aft engine driving a propeller at the back of the gondola and the other two driving a pair of propellers mounted either side of the hull. These were reversible to aid manoeuvering during mooring. As in the forward gondola, a machine-gun mounting was fitted either side. Further defensive armament consisted of a single machine gun in a small cockpit at the stern behind the rudders and a gun position mounting two or three machine guns on top of the hull, which was reached by a ladder from the forward gondola. The bomb load was slung from the keel girders, the bombs being electrically released from the control car. [3]

In late 1915, faced by increasingly effective defensive measures, Zeppelin introduced the Q class. The hull was lengthened by 15 m (49 ft), increasing volume to 35,800 cubic metres (1,264,100 cu ft) and the operating ceiling by about 460 metres (1,500 ft). [4] Many of the existing P class airships were similarly lengthened.

P and Q class Zeppelins were operated by both the German Army and the Navy. Although the bombing raids are their best known activity, the majority of the flights made by the naval craft were patrols over the North Sea and the Baltic. The class was obsolete by 1917 and most of the craft that had not been lost to accidents or enemy action had been dismantled by the end of September 1917. The last survivors were LZ 50 (L 16), which had been relegated to training duties and was wrecked at the Nordholz base on 19 October 1917. [5] and LZ 46 (L 14), which carried out 42 reconnaissance missions and 17 attacks on Britain. It survived the war and was destroyed by its crew on 23 June 1919. [6]

The first P class Zeppelin constructed was LZ 38, assigned to the Army and first flown on 3 May 1915. After a series of raids on the East coast of England, it became the first airship to bomb London on 31 May 1915, dropping 1,400 kilograms (3,000 lb) of bombs on the eastern suburb of London, killing seven people. A consequence of this raid was that reporting restrictions were introduced in England. Formerly press coverage contained detailed accounts of the location of bombing raids: after this, only generalised locations were published. [7] It carried out five raids on England, [8] before it was destroyed when its shed at Evere was bombed on 7 June 1915. [9]

LZ 40 (L 10) was the first P class flown by the Navy, and bombed London on 4 June 1915. It took part in five raids and made eight reconnaissance flights: on 3 September 1915 it was struck by lightning and crashed in flames in the North Sea near Neuwerk, Germany, with the loss of the entire 20-man crew. [10]

On 8 September 1915 LZ 45 (L 13), commanded by Heinrich Mathy, was the first Zeppelin to bomb central London, setting fire to textile warehouses to the north of St Paul's Cathedral and causing over half a million pounds worth of damage, around one sixth of all material damage caused by the bombing of Britain during the war. [11]

LZ 47 (LZ 77) and LZ 49 (LZ 79) were deployed to Namur in order to carry out bombing raid on Paris. LZ 49 (LZ 79) bombed Paris on the 29/30 of January, but was damaged by ground fire and was destroyed in a forced landing at Ath in Belgium. The Army Zeppelins were then used to support the German army in the early phases of the battle of Verdun. On 21 February, the first day of the German offensive, four of the six available Zeppelins set out to bomb the French supply lines. LZ 65 (LZ 95), the first Q class Zeppelin, was badly damaged by anti-aircraft fire and was destroyed in a crash landing at the base in Namur. The P class LZ 47 (LZ 77) was hit by anti-aircraft fire over Revigny, catching fire and killing the crew of 11, and LZ 58 (LZ 88) was forced to return to its base by squalls and snow showers. [12]

The Army airships LZ 85 and LZ 86 were deployed to the Eastern front. LZ 85 made two successful attacks on Salonika but during a third raid was damaged by fire from HMS Agamemnon on 5 May 1916 and came down in the Vardar marshes. [13] The crew of 12 were captured. The framework was salvaged and, partially reconstructed, put on display near the White Tower in Salonika. [14]

LZ 51 (LZ 81) was deployed on the Balkan front, and was used to transport diplomats across hostile Serbia to Sofia on 9 November 1915. Subsequently, it made two attacks on Bucharest: it was eventually brought down by ground fire near Turnovo in Bulgaria on 27 September 1916. [13]

LZ 52 (military serial no. - L18) Imperial German Navy LZ 53 (military serial no. - L17) Imperial German Navy LZ 54 (military serial no. - L19) Imperial German Navy LZ 55 (military serial no. - LZ 85) Imperial German Army LZ 56 (military serial no. - LZ 86) Imperial German Army LZ 56A (military serial no. - LZ 86) Imperial German Army - converted from LZ 56 LZ 57 (military serial no. - LZ 87) Imperial German Army LZ 57A (military serial no. - LZ 87) Imperial German Army - converted from LZ 57 LZ 58 (military serial no. - LZ 88) Imperial German Army LZ 58A (military serial no. - LZ 88) Imperial German Army - converted from LZ 58 LZ 60 (military serial no. - LZ 90) Imperial German Army LZ 60A (military serial no. - LZ 90) Imperial German Army - converted from LZ 60 LZ 63 (military serial no. - LZ 93 ) Imperial German Army LZ 63A (military serial no. - LZ 93) Imperial German Army - converted from LZ 63

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