Zeppelin Raids in WWI London
The first Zeppelin air raid on London took place on June 1, 1915, and despite months of rumor and speculation about a possible German threat from the air, nobody was really prepared. The warning system consisted of policemen blowing whistles in the streets; there were no effective air defenses. Still, after the enemy dropped about 90 bombs on east London in this first raid, there were only 5 persons killed, 35 injured and three small fires which were immediately contained.
The lighter-than-airships that the Germans developed were gigantic machines by the standards of the day, and the first ever capable of reaching England and its capital carrying several tons of bombs.
But there was good news mixed with the bad.
While the bad news was that these ships attacked in the dark of the night, creeping silent and unseen upon a vulnerable population (they were so huge and slow moving, they needed the cover of darkness to have any chance of success), the good news was that THEY COULDN’T SEE ANYTHING EITHER. While they did manage to inflict some damage and casualties, they often dropped their bombs harmlessly in the wrong places, the sea for instance.
Still, the Germans had complete faith that the bombing campaign carried out by these awe-inspiring behemoths would destroy both England’s morale and industrial base. Shooting holes in the “balloons” had almost no deterrent effect on such a large ship, and it never once occurred to the Germans that the British would find a way to stop them.
But, of course, they did.
By the summer of 1916, the British developed not only strategic air defenses to combat the Zeppelins, but began using a phosphorus incendiary bullet, called “Buckingham,” that when used in conjunction with explosive bullets named “Pomeroy” and “Brock” (all after their inventors) spelled the ultimate end of the use of Zeppelins for air raids. The explosive bullets ripped holes in the Zeppelin, releasing the hydrogen inside the balloon to mix with the oxygen outside and form an explosive mixture that the Buckingham bullet then, quite impressively and gratifyingly, ignited.
After the fall of 1916, Zeppelins were relegated mostly to reconnaissance missions. But unfortunately, another scourge from the air would rise to take its place in the Gotha bomber.
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