An air raid, also known as strategic bombing, is a military strategy used in a total war with the goal of defeating the enemy by destroying its morale or its economic ability to produce and transport materiel to the theatres of military operations, or both. It is a systematically organised and executed attack from the air which can utilise strategic bombers, long- or medium-range missiles, or nuclear-armed fighter-bomber aircraft to attack targets deemed vital to the enemy's war-making capability. Strategic bombing was used in World War I, though it was not understood in its present form. The first bombing of a city was on the night of 24–25 August 1914, when eight bombs were dropped from a German airship onto the Belgian city of Antwerp.
The first effective strategic bombing was pioneered by the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) in 1914. The mission was to attack the Zeppelin production lines and their sheds at Cologne and Düsseldorf. Led by Charles Rumney Samson the force of four aircraft inflicted minor damage on the sheds. The raid was repeated a month later with slightly more success. Within a year or so, specialised aircraft and dedicated bomber squadrons were in service on both sides. These were generally used for tactical bombing; the aim was that of directly harming enemy troops, strongpoints, or equipment, usually within a relatively small distance of the front line. Eventually, attention turned to the possibility of causing indirect harm to the enemy by systematically attacking vital rear-area resources.
The most well known attacks were those done by Zeppelins over England through the course of the war. The first aerial bombardment of English civilians was on 19 January 1915, when two German Zeppelins dropped 24 fifty-kilogram (110 pound) high-explosive bombs and ineffective three-kilogram incendiaries on the Eastern England towns of Great Yarmouth, Sheringham, King's Lynn, and the surrounding villages. In all, four people were killed and sixteen injured, and monetary damage was estimated at £7,740 (about US$36,000 at the time). German airships also bombed on other fronts, for example in January 1915 on Liepāja in Latvia. There were 19 more air raids in 1915, in which 37 tons of bombs were dropped, killing 181 people and injuring 455. Raids continued in 1916. London was accidentally bombed in May, and in July the Kaiser allowed directed raids against urban centers. There were 23 airship raids in 1916, in which 125 tons of ordnance were dropped, killing 293 people and injuring 691. Gradually British air defenses improved. In 1917 and 1918, there were only 11 Zeppelin raids against England, and the final raid occurred on 5 August 1918, which resulted in the death of KK Peter Strasser, commander of the German Naval Airship Department.
By the end of the war, 51 raids had been undertaken, in which 5,806 bombs were dropped, killing 557 people and injuring 1,358. These raids caused only minor hampering of wartime production, by later standards. A much greater impact was the diversion of twelve aircraft squadrons, many guns, and over 10,000 men to air defenses. Initially the raids generated a wave of hysteria, partially caused by media. This revealed the tactic's potential as a weapon that was of use for propagandists on both sides. The late Zeppelin raids were complemented by the Gotha bomber, which was the first heavier-than-air bomber to be used for strategic bombing.
The French army on 15 June 1915, attacked the German town of Karlsruhe, killing 29 civilians and wounding 58. Further raids followed until the Armistice in 1918. In a raid in the afternoon of 22 June 1916, the pilots used outdated maps and bombed the location of the abandoned railway station, where a circus tent was placed, killing 120 persons, most of them children.
The British also stepped up their strategic bombing campaign. In late 1915, the order was given for attacks on German industrial targets and the 41st Wing was formed from units of the RNAS and Royal Flying Corps. The RNAS took to strategic bombing in a bigger way than the RFC, who were focused on supporting the infantry actions of the Western Front. At first the RNAS attacked the German submarines in their moorings and then steelworks further in targeting the origin of the submarines themselves. In early 1918 they operated their "round the clock" bombing raid, with lighter bombers attacking the town of Trier by day and large HP O/400s attacking by night. The Independent Force, an expanded bombing group, and the first independent strategic bombing force, was created in April 1918. By the end of the war, the force had aircraft that could reach Berlin, but these were never used.
References / notes
- Text on this page from Strategic bombing. Wikipedia: The free encyclopedia. Accessed 22 April, 2017.
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