Zeppelin Raids on France and England
( Originally Published 1918 )
THE idea of warfare in the air has been a dream of romancers from a period long before Jules Verne. Indeed, balloons were used for observation purposes in the eighteenth century by the French armies. The crude balloon of that period, in a more developed form, was used in the Franco-Prussian War, and during the siege of Paris by its assistance communication was kept up between Paris and the outside world. Realizing its possibilities inventors had been trying to develop a balloon which could be propelled against the wind and so guided that explosives could be dropped upon a hostile army. Partially successful dirigible balloons have been occasionally exhibited for a number of years.
The idea of such a balloon took a strong hold upon the imagination of the German army staff long before the Great War, and Count Ferdinand Zeppelin gave the best years of his life to its development. From the beginning he met with great difficulties. His first ships proved mechanical failures, and after these difficulties were overcome he met with a series of accidents which almost put an end to his efforts. By popular subscription, and by government support, he was able to continue, and when the war began Germany had thirty-five dirigible balloons of the Zeppelin and other types, many of them as much as 490 feet long.
The Zeppelin balloon, called the Zeppelin from the name of its inventor, was practically a vast ship, capable of carrying a load of about fifteen thousand pounds. It would carry a crew of twenty men or more, fuel for the engines, provisions, a wireless installation, and armament with ammunition. For a journey of twenty hours such a. vessel would need at least seven thousand pounds of fuel. It would probably be able to carry about two tons of explosives. These Zeppelins could travel great distances. Before the war one of them flew from Lake Constance to Berlin, a continuous flight of about one thousand miles, in thirty-one hours.
These great aerial warships were given a thorough trial by the Germans. They disliked to admit that they had made a costly mistake in adding them to their armament. It soon turned out, however, that the Zeppelins were practically useless in battle. 'Whatever they could do, either for scouting purposes or in dropping explosives behind the enemy's lines, could be better done by the airplane. The French and the English, who before the war had decided that the airplane was the more important weapon, were right. But the Germans did not give up their costly toy so easily, and they determined to use it in the bombardment of cities and districts situated far away from the German line, in dropping bombs, not upon fortifications, or armed camps where they might meet with resistance, but upon peaceful non-belligerents in the streets of great unfortified cities.
It was their policy of frightfulness once again. And once again they had made a mistake. The varied expeditions of the Zeppelin airships sent from Germany to bombard Paris, or to cross the Channel and, after drop-ping bombs on seaside resorts to wander over the city of London in the hope of spreading destruction there, did little real damage and their net effects, from a military point of view, were practically nil.
The first Zeppelin raid upon England took place on January 19, 1915. The Zeppelins passed over the cities of Yarmouth, Cromer, Sherringham and King's Lynn. On this expedition there were two Zeppelins. They reached the coast of Norfolk about 8:80 in the evening and then steered northwest across the country toward King's Lynn, dropping bombs as they went. In these towns there were no military stations and the damage suffered was very slight. Nine persons were killed, all civilians. This raid was followed by many others, which at first usually wasted their am-munition, dropping their bombs on small country towns or in empty fields.
On the 31st of May an expedition reached London and killed six persons in the east end. The result of this raid was to stir the English to intense indignation. Mobs gathered in the London streets, and persons suspected of being Germans, or with German sympathies, were attacked. Other raids followed, none of them doing serious military damage, but usually killing or wounding innocent non-combatants. The stupid policy of secrecy which they maintained during the first year of the war unfortunately permitted great exaggeration of the real damages which they had suffered.
During the first year, according to Mr. Balfour, in eighteen Zeppelin raids there were only seventy-one civilian adults and eighteen children killed, one hundred and eighty-nine civilian adults and thirty-one children wounded. No soldier or sailor was killed and only seven wounded.
In France similar attacks had been made on Paris and Calais. On the 20th of March two Zeppelilns dropped bombs on Paris, but Paris, unlike London, was a fortified city, and the sky soldiers were driven off by the anti-aircraft guns. The French also devised an efficient method of defense. On the appearance of an airship great searchlights flashed into the air and the enemy was made at once a target, not only for the guns of all the forts, but also for airplane' attack. In order to attack successfully a Zeppelin it was necessary that an air-plane should attain a position above the enemy. For an airplane to rise to such a height time was required, as the airplane rises slowly. The French, therefore, devised a scheme by which two or more airplanes were kept constantly circling at a very great height above the city. Relays were formed which relieved each other at regular intervals. When an air-ship approached it would therefore be compelled in the first place to pass through the fire of the guns on the great forts, and then would find in the air above airplanes in waiting. The Germans, therefore, practically gave up attacks upon Paris. They were dangerous.
London, practically unarmed, seemed to them an easy mark. But the British Lion was now awake. The English had been taken by surprise. They attempted at first, in an unorganized way, to protect their city, and, though occasionally successful in destroying an air-ship through the gallantry of some individual hero, they soon found that their defense must be organized, and Admiral Sir Percy Scott was entrusted with the task. Regulations were introduced whose object was to darken London. Lights were extinguished on the streets and screened on the water front. Illumination for advertising purposes was forbidden; windows were covered, so that London became ,at night a mass of gloom. The Zeppelins, compelled to fly at a very great height, because of anti-aircraft guns, were blinded. As in Paris airplanes were constantly kept on the alert and searchlights and anti-airship guns placed at every convenient point.
The suggestion was made that the English should undertake reprisals, but the suggestion was strongly opposed on the ground that the British should not be a "party to a line of conduct condemned by every right-thinking man of every civilized nation."
The effect of the English improved defenses was soon obvious, when the German expeditions began to lose airship after airship. Under the new régime, when such an attack was signaled, the whole city immediately received warning and the sky was swept by dozens of searchlights. Safe retreats were ready for those who cared to use them, but ordinarily the whole population rushed out to watch the spectacle. Airplanes would dash at the in-coming foe; the searchlights would be switched off and the guns be silent to avoid hindering the aviators. Then would come the attack and Zeppelin after Zeppelin would be seen falling, a great mass of flames, while their companions would hurry back across the Channel. Even there they would not be safe, for many an air-ship was brought down on English fields, or on the waters of the sea.
The Germans, however, did not confine their policy of frightfulness in the air to the performances of their Zeppelins. Before the Zeppelins had crossed the Channel their airplanes had visited England. On Christmas Day, 1914, an airplane attacked Dover, doing, however, no damage. Other airplanes also visited the British Isles from time to time, dropping bombs, and as the Germans began to lose faith in the efficacy of their Zeppelin fleets they began more and more to substitute airplanes for their airships.
On some of these expeditions much more damage was done than had ever been done by the Zeppelins. The airplane expedition grew serious in the year 1917; between May 23d and June 16th of that year there were five such aerial attacks. The airplanes could not only move with greater speed but with better direction. An attack on May 25th resulted in the killing of seventy-six persons and the injuring of one hundred and seventy-four, the principal victims being women and children. This was at the town of Folkestone on the southeast coast. In this attack there were about sixteen air-planes, and the time of the attack was not more than three minutes Scarcely any part of Folkestone escaped injury. The attack was methodically organized. Four separate squadrons passed over the city, following each other at short intervals. It was impossible to tell when the attack would end, and people in shelters or cellars were kept waiting for hours without being able to feel certain that the danger had passed.
It is probable that one of the motives of these raids was to keep at home fleets of English airplanes which might be more useful on the front. Indeed, many Englishmen, alarmed by the damage, urged such a policy, but the good sense of the English leaders prevented such a mistake from being made. Pitiful as must have been the suffering in individual cases, the whole of the damage caused by the German frightfulness was but a trifle as compared with the usefulness of the English air-fleets when directly sent against the German armies. Nevertheless, every squadron of German airplanes sent to England was attacked by British aviators, and in those attacks the Germans suffered many losses.
The worst raid of all those made was one on June 13th, which was directed upon the city of London. On that occasion ninety-seven persons were killed and four hundred and thirty-seven wounded. These airplane operations differed from the Zeppelin expeditions in being carried on in the daytime, and this raid took place while the schools were in session and large numbers of people were in the street. Only one of the attacking airplanes was brought down. The raiding machines were of a new type, about three times the size of the ordinary machine, and there were twenty-two such machines in the squadron. The battle in the air was a striking spectacle and in spite of the danger was watched by millions of the population. The raiders were easily seen and their flight seemed like a flight of swallows as they dived and swerved through the air.
The raids on England were not the only raids conducted by the Germans during the war. Paris suffered, but as soon as the warning sounded, the sky over the city was alive with defense airplanes. An attack on the French capital took place on the 27th of July and began about midnight. The German air-men, however, never got further than a suburban section of the city, and their bombardment caused but little damage. In one of the suburbs, however, a German flyer dropped four bombs on a Red Cross Hospital, killing two doctors, a chemist and a male nurse, and injuring a number of patients. The raider was flying low and the 'distinguishing marks of the hospital were plainly apparent.
Almost every day during the bitter fighting of 1918, reports came in that Allied hospitals had been bombed by German raiders. Attacks on hospitals were, of course, strictly for-bidden by the Hague Convention, and they caused bitter indignation. Such attacks were of a piece with those upon hospital ships which were made from time to time. From the very beginning of the war the Germans could not understand the psychology of the people of the Allied countries. They were not fighting slaves, ready to cower under the lash, but with free people, ready to fight for liberty and roused to fury by lawlessness.