Zeppelin Raids of England, France, Italy and Poland

The war in the air, during 1915, carried the flaming sword through the skies hundreds of miles beyond the battle lines, striking terror among the non- combatant populations of cities in all parts of Europe.

Of all the devilish innovations of warfare inaugurated by the Germans, none so infuriated the Britons as did those zeppelin raids upon their defenceless cities and towns, when shrieking bombs crashed through the roofs of houses in the dead of night, taking their toll of death among the sleeping non-combatants.

When the War began, Germany had 35 of these dirigible balloons, veritable ships of the air, each capable of carrying a load of seven tons and a crew of 20 men, together with fuel for the engines, provisions, wireless apparatus and armament. The pre-war type of zeppelins could fly 1,000 miles in 31 hours. In battle, however, the zeppelins were found to be practically ineffective, being easily destroyed by the airplane guns. They were used principally in carrying out Germany's policy of brutal and cowardly terrorism, by dropping bombs upon sleeping cities and seashore resorts, and aiming chiefly at striking terror among women and children in the unprotected towns.

The first airship raid over England took place on January 19, 1915, when two zeppelins passed over the towns of Yarmouth, Cromer, Sheringham, and King's Lynn, dropping bombs as they sailed along, and killing nine civilians.

Three Zeppelins Come to Grief

Three zeppelins, while heading for England, were caught in a storm of sleet over the North Sea, February 16th. One zeppelin managed to make a landing on Fance Island in Denmark, its crew suffering acutely from frostbitten hands and feet. A second airship fell into the sea and all the crew were lost. The third airship foundered off the west coast of Jutland and four of its crew were killed. The zeppelins made no further raids until the weather improved.

Zeppelins Kill 50 in Warsaw
In March, a squadron of zeppelins shelled Warsaw in Poland, killing 50 persons and causing many fires. One of the raiders was brought down, March 18, 1915, and her crew captured. Early in the morning of March 21, 1915, four zeppelins headed for Paris. French airmen rose to meet them at Compeigne and forced two of them to turn back. The other two zeppelins, eluding the French patrol, kept up a running fight with pursuing airplanes while dropping bombs over Versailles. Sailing over Paris, they dropped 25 bombs, killing eight persons and starting a number of fires. All Paris rushed from bed at 4 a. m. to witness the fight in the air.

The Allied batteries at Ypres opened fire on a zeppelin that was surveying the gun positions early on the morning of April 13, 1915. The craft was so badly injured, it fell a complete wreck, near Thielt. A zeppelin arrived at Newcastle-on-Tyne, England, April 13th, and aimed a dozen bombs at the arsenal and naval workshops, but though several fires were started, no material damage resulted. A fleet of zeppelins shelled Blyth, Wallsend, and South Shields, on the northeast coast of England, on the night of April 14, 1915, but without causing extensive damage to the industrial and shipping centers of Tyneside.

Zeppelins raided Lonestoft, Maiden, and Hebridge in England, on April 16, 1915, set several fires, killed two horses and incited a panic, but no persons were killed. A typical Hun performance was that of sending a squadron of six zeppelins direct to Southwald, England, April 26, 1915, where the Countess Stradbroke had converted her mansion into a hospital for wounded soldiers, and dropping six bombs in close proximity to the building. Fortunately these bombs missed their mark.

On April 26, 1915, three towns within 30 miles of London were shelled, but the British airmen drove off the invaders. Shortly after midnight, the next morning, one of the zeppelins dropped seven bombs in the neighborhood of Colchester. Zeppelins visited Warsaw, Poland, a second time, on April 21, 1915, damaging the post office and killing a dozen persons.

Orphanage Damaged, Many Children Injured

A Midnight zeppelin raid over Calais took place on April 26, 1915. Here an orphanage was damaged and many children injured. French torpedo boat in the English Channel brought down a zeppelin which was returning from a raid on an English town, on May 17, 1915. Two zeppelins and two Taubes were pursued by French airplanes near Calais, on May 18, 1915. One of the zeppelins attacked London.

First Raid on London

So well was London guarded from hostile air craft that the zeppelins were denied access to the areas above the metropolis until May 31, 1915, ten months after the opening of the War. Near midnight, on that day, several zeppelins appeared above the city, raining down shells upon the city and killing six persons. In reprisal the citizens of London declared a boycott upon every person having a name of German origin; German shops were looted, German homes were attacked, and rioting took place in many districts where Germans were numerous.

Huns Violate Their Agreement

On June 3, 1915, Great Britain and Germany agreed upon a plan for the protection of public buildings from air raids. Hospitals, churches, museums, and other public buildings were to be indicated by large white crosses on their roofs. Despite this agreement, the Huns continued to bomb such buildings. England's east coast was visited by zeppelins on the night of June 6, 1915, and 24 persons were killed and 440 injured. The next night a zeppelin shelled Yarmouth, killing four and injuring 40. While returning home, the zeppelin met a British monoplane on scout duty near Brussels.
The little airplane gave battle to the dreadnought of the air, which finally exploded and fell, "like a flaming comet," upon the convent orphanage of Le Gran Béguinage de Sainte Elizabeth, in the suburbs of Ghent. Several of the convent buildings were set afire, causing the death of two nuns and two children. The zeppelin crew of 28 were burned to cinders. The hero of this exploit, Lieutenant Warneford, while flying in a new French machine a few days later, was in turn killed by the falling machine.

45 French Airships Raid Germany

Reprisals were taken for the zeppelin raids in England. On June 15th, a fleet of 45 French battle planes flew across Germany to Karlsruhe, setting fire to the largest chemical plants of that city and wrecking both wings of the Margrave's Palace in which the Queen of Sweden was sleeping at the time. She and other titled personages barely escaped death. Fires broke out in various parts of Karlsruhe; 112 persons were killed and 30 injured.

Raid on English Gun Factory

A Zeppelin attack upon the Armstrong munition factory at South Shields, England, was made at midnight, June 16, 1915, killing 16 and injuring 40. The buildings were only partially destroyed.

Air Raids in Italy

The Austrians made several aerial attacks upon the historic cities of Italy, evidently with the purpose of destroying their architectural and art treasures. Venice was bombed on several occasions. As a measure of precaution the priceless art works of Venice, including the stained glass windows from cathedrals, the paintings and the statuary, were removed far inland, while the base of the Campanile and other historic edifices were protected by thousands of sand bags. Numerous fires were caused in Venice and other Italian cities. In reprisal, the Italians attacked Austrian supply bases, railway stations and other vantage points.

St. Quentin Ablaze

French airmen were very active from the beginning of the War and many raids were made upon German cities. On April 15, 1915, the station at Saint Quentin was shelled, 150 freight cars and extensive freight sheds were destroyed and the city itself became a roaring furnace for several hours. Twenty-four Germans were killed. On the following day, French aviators dropped bombs on the German munition works at Leopoldhehe, the electric and munition plants at Metz, and other German centers, doing much damage. Friedrichshofen was visited twice during April, the French bombs destroying $1,000,000 worth of property.

French Anti-Aircraft Gun

The French devised an improved machine gun for use in their Voisin biplanes which proved very effective. They also invented a microphone device, so sensitive as to announce the approach of zeppelins and airplanes when many miles away. English cities, during the period of the air raids, were kept in outer darkness. Windows were covered, street lights were extinguished, and the populace walked the streets at their peril.

It was estimated that 309 innocent non-combatants, including 51 children, were killed in England as a result of the 18 zeppelin raids made in 1915.


England's insularity disappeared on the night of May 31, 1915. The isolation by sea which had kept her immune from attack since the days of the Normans failed to save London from the Zeppelin. After ten months of war the British capital looked upon its dead for the first time. Four children, one woman, and one man were killed. An old apple woman died of fright. There were numerous fires, only three of which assumed serious proportions and these were extinguished by the fire department after a few hours.

London's initial glimpse of a Zeppelin was obtained about 11.30 p. m., when the theatre section was filled with homeward bound throngs. The lights attracted the raiders to this district, where a half dozen bombs were dropped. No sooner had the first of the missiles fallen than antiaircraft guns began to open a bombardment from many directions. Searchlights mounted at advantageous points threw their narrow pencils of light into the skies. The people in different sections of the city caught a fleeting glance of a huge airship that floated sullenly along, like some bird of prey from out of the past—a new pterodactyl that instead of seizing its victims dropped death upon them.

One shell fell in Trafalgar Square. The Zeppelins passed over the Houses of Parliament, Westminster, and other famous buildings, but apparently did not have their location well in mind as these noted monuments escaped harm.

But the Zeppelins had come. And they left scars which greeted Londoners the following morning to prove that the raid was not a bad dream which would disappear with the morning mists. In addition to the four persons killed, seventy others were injured, some of whom suffered the loss of limbs and other injuries that incapacitated them. Immediately there was a cry for revenge. Some of the newspapers advocated reprisals upon German cities. This the government refused to do and steadfastly adhered to a policy of war upon fortified places and armed men alone. Rioting took place in many districts where Germans were numerous. Shops and homes were looted. Every German who appeared in the streets, or any person who looked like one, was liable to attack. A number of aliens were badly handled. The public declared a spontaneous boycott upon every person having a name that seemed to be of German origin. There was a united movement to obtain some reparation for the Zeppelin raids. But the results were only trifling and the indignation died down with the passing days, British calmness soon succeeding the excitement of a moment.

Italian frontier towns became the goal of Austrian airmen on June 1, 1915. A half dozen persons were killed or injured and there was some property damaged. With warm weather and good flying conditions raids were in order every day.

On June 3, 1915, British aviators made a successful attack upon German airship sheds at Evere, Belgium. The same day French machines bombarded the headquarters of the crown prince in the Argonne, with what results never was definitely established, although there were reports that several high officers had been killed.

It was made known in London on June 3, 1915, that Great Britain and Germany had agreed to a plan for the protection of public buildings from air raids. According to this agreement hospitals, churches, museums, and similar buildings were to have large white crosses marked upon their roofs. Both governments pledged themselves to respect these crosses. Much importance was attached to the idea at the time, but its effects were disappointing. The marks either were not readily perceivable from an aeroplane or the pilots did not trouble themselves too much about the crosses. Public buildings continued to suffer.

On the night of June 4, 1915, German dirigibles attacked towns at the mouth of the Humber, the port and shipping of Hardwich, in England. There were some casualties and considerable property loss, but the British Government would not make public the extent of the damage as the places attacked were of naval importance. Calais, on the French coast was raided the next day by two German airmen. There was one casualty. England's east coast was visited by Zeppelins on the night of June 6,1915, twenty-four persons being killed and forty hurt. There was much damage, all details of which were suppressed.

Just after the break of day on June 7, 1915, a British monoplane was returning from a scouting trip over Belgium. At the same hour a Zeppelin flew homeward from the English coast. The two met between Ghent and Brussels. Four persons had been killed and forty injured during the night at Yarmouth and other near-by towns on the East channel coast. Raids had been frequent of late and the British pilot sensed the fact that this Zeppelin was one of the dreaded visitors. He was several miles away when the big aircraft hove into view. Uncertain for a few minutes how to proceed, he rose until he was two thousand feet above the Zeppelin. His maneuver was not appreciated at first, or the Zeppelin crew did not see him. There was no attempt either to flee or give battle.

But as the monoplane drew nearer it was sighted and a combat followed such as never was seen before. Sub-Lieutenant R. A. J. Warneford, a young Canadian who had not reached twenty-one years of age, matched his pygmy machine against the great aerial dreadnought. The fight started at a height of 6,000 feet. Lieutenant Warneford released his first bomb when about 1,000 feet above the Zeppelin. He saw it strike the airbag and disappear, followed by a puff of smoke. Because of the sectional arrangement this did not disable the airship. TheLieutenant circled off and again approached the Zeppelin. Every gun was trained upon him that could be brought to bear. The wings of his machine were shattered many times, but he kept on fighting. When once more above the enemy craft, he released another bomb. It also struck the Zeppelin, but appeared to glance off.

The antagonists resorted to every conceivable ruse, one to escape, the other to bring down its quarry. All efforts of the Zeppelin commander to reach the height of his antagonist were defeated. His lone enemy kept above him. The battle varied from an altitude of 6,000 to 10,000 feet. Three other bombs struck the airship, and each time there was the telltale wisp of smoke.

The Zeppelin was mortally injured. Her commander turned to earth for refuge. Seeing this, Lieutenant Warneford came nearer. He had but one bomb left. Descending to within a few hundred feet of the airship, while its machine guns played upon him, he released this remaining bomb. It struck the Zeppelin amidship. There was a flash, a roar, and a great burst of smoke as the vanquished craft exploded and plunged nose downward. The rush of air caused by the explosion upset the equilibrium of the victorious machine, which dropped toward the ground and turned completely over before its pilot could regain control. The presence of mind which he showed at this juncture, was one of the most remarkable features of this remarkable conflict.

The young Canadian pilot righted his machine in time to see the Zeppelin end its career. Like a flaming comet it fell upon the convent of Le Grand Beguinage de Sainte Elizabeth, located in Mont Saint Amand, a suburb of Ghent. This convent was used as an orphanage. The burning airship set fire to several buildings, causing the death of two sisters and two children. The twenty-eight men aboard were killed. Accounts from Amsterdam a day or two later gave a vivid description of the charred remnants of the machine, the burned convent buildings, and the victims all piled together.

Lieutenant Warneford saw the Zeppelin fall and knew that its raiding days were over. Then he discovered that his own machine was in trouble. In another moment he realized the impossibility of returning to the British lines, and was compelled to volplane toward earth, cutting off his driving power. Descending in a soft field, he found that his motor was out of order. Thirty precious minutes were spent repairing the damage. It took him as long again to get his machine started, a task not often accomplished by one man. But he sailed serenely home and brought the news of his strange victory.

Within twenty-four hours Lieutenant Warneford was the hero of the world. His name and achievement had been flashed to the four corners of the earth. Every newspaper rang with acclaim for the boyish aviator who had shown that one man of skill and daring was a match for the huge Zeppelin. It was the old story of David and Goliath, of the Roman youth who bested the Gaul, of Drake's improvised fleet against the Armada. The lieutenant was called to London and presented with the Victoria Cross by King George, who thanked him in the name of the British Empire for adding another laurel to the long list of its honors. A day or two later President Poincare received him in Paris and pinned the Legion of Honor cross upon his breast.

But this same week saw the climax of this war romance — a tragic ending to a war epic. Lieutenant Warneford was practicing with a new French machine at Versailles. He either lost control or the motor failed him. It dropped to earth, killing the pilot and an American newspaper correspondent who was in the observer's seat. This sudden end to a career so brilliant, the cutting off of a future so promising, cast a pall over the minds of both the French and British airmen. The body of Lieutenant Warneford lay in state at the French capital and afterward in London, where every honor was shown his memory.