The Year 1915 Illustrated/Zeppelin Raids
THE famous Zeppelin airships have been utilised by the Germans in the war, not to destroy armies or fortifications — for they proved useless for this purpose — but in the main to drop bombs on undefended towns with the object of causing panic among the inhabitants. Paris was visited quite early in the war for this purpose, and some slight damage was done to Notre Dame. Then followed news of the bombardment of the residential quarter of Antwerp whilst the inhabitants were asleep. Happily little loss of life resulted.
After this came the turn of England. On January 19th, Yarmouth, Cromer, Sheringham, King's Lynn and other places in Norfolk were visited, bombs were dropped, houses were wrecked and a few murders committed on the peaceful inhabitants. Simultaneously with the "Piracy blockade" of February came the Hymn of Hate and the demand in the German press for the policy of "frightfulness." The fruits of the policy were seen in the main by the submarine attacks on unarmed merchantmen, but air raids also became more frequent. On February 21st, Essex was visited; in April came the turn of the North-East coast and Southend; after that a residential quarter of London, Ramsgate and Dover, and then the East coast again. But with all these frantic efforts to destroy human life and to bring terror to the hearts of English people, the Zeppelins failed to make any appreciable impression. People residing in the raided districts were more amused than worried, for everyone knew that the commanders of the inflated gasbags would turn tail for home as soon as a single British aeroplane came in sight. And so it proved, they came and slunk away like a thief in the night. And, as is the case with thieves, they were sometimes caught as they fled. This was notably the case when Commander Bigsworth bombed one of the Zeppelins which visited Ramsgate on May 17th, causing considerable damage, and still more notably when Lieut. R. A. J. Warneford accomplished his great feat of bringing one of these giants of the air to the ground.
The actual damage done by the Zeppelins was referred to by Mr. A. J. Balfour in a letter to the press on August 28th, when he said:
- “That it has caused much suffering to many innocent people is unhappily certain. But even this result, with all its tragedy, has been magnified out of all proportion by ill-informed rumour. I am assured by the Home Office that during the last twelve months seventy-one civilian adults and eighteen children have been killed; 189 civilian adults and thirty-one children have been injured.
- “Judged by numbers this cumulative result of many successive crimes does not equal the single effort of the submarine which, to the unconcealed pride of Germany and the horror of the all world, sent 1,198 unoffending civilians to the bottom in the Lusitania. Yet it is bad enough, and we may well ask what military advantage has been gained at the cost of so much innocent blood.
- “The answer is easily given. No soldier or sailor has been killed; seven have been wounded; and only on one occasion has damage been inflicted which could by any stretch of language be described as of the smallest military importance. Zeppelin raids have been brutal; but so far they have not been effective.”
For obvious reasons the Government have withheld information as to the districts visited by the Zeppelins in the more recent raids, but an authorised description of some of the effects of the Zeppelin raid on the London district on September 8th was published in the daily papers about a week after the event. It was stated that experience demonstrated that the commanders of German aircraft are often grossly in error as to their movements, and have no means whatever of estimating the effect of their promiscuous bombardment, either materially or morally. In every case where damage has been caused it is private property that has suffered, and in most cases this private property has been of the small residential kind. Almost all the unfortunate people who have been killed have not only been non-combatants, but non-combatants of a kind which it has been hitherto the honourable practice of civilised warfare to exempt from attack — that is to say, women and children, small shopkeepers, and working men, the sacrifice of whose lives can effect no military purpose whatever, either morally or materially.
No public institution of any kind was hit, nor any power station nor arsenal. No damage was done which affects the use of any building connected directly or indirectly with the conduct of the war. Here are a few pictures [descriptions] from the authorised report of what was accomplished by the officers and crew of the airship which visited the London district on September 8th:
1. Somewhere in the area of London you can go to the corner of a little street; this one has a public-house at the corner. Outside it on Wednesday evening last week, after the place had closed, a man and woman were talking. The woman went off to buy some supper at a neighbouring shop; the man stood there to wait for her, and while he was waiting, there fell at his feet the first of the explosive bombs. It killed the man outright; it blew pieces of paving stone on to the surrounding roofs; it blew in the front of the public house, reducing the stock to a mere mass of broken glass, over which still floats an indefinable odour of assorted forms of alcohol; it took off the top of a grand piano on the floor above, twisted the iron bedsteads, injured a woman who was sleeping there, and reduced what had been the carefully kept living room of a small family to a mass of soot and dust and plaster and broken glass. In what conceivable respect did it contribute to the progress of the war?
2. In another part of the area over which the airship passed there is a big block of workmen's dwellings—places where men live who are away at their trades all day and often all night, and which day and night are crowded with children. A bomb dropped on the roof of one of these, and right under the roof was a little flat in which four children had been put to sleep. Two of them after being put to bed had got up surreptitiously to make tea in an adjoining room; you can see the bed that they left now, a mass of blackened and charred sheets with the mattress torn to pieces. They escaped by a miracle, but in the small bedroom next door to them the other two children were killed in an instant.
3. In another place a bomb dropped through the roof of a stable Yard; it was an incendiary bomb, and it set on fire a motor car on which it fell. The stableman and his wife, in spite of the fire, which was immediately serious, set out to rescue the eleven horses which were in the stable behind the fire, and they were carefully taken out one by one and let loose in the street. A dog which was kept to guard the premises was also carefully rescued, so was a caged bird kept on the first floor above the fire, though whilst she was bringing it down the stableman's wife was blown off her feet on the stairs by the blast of an explosive bomb which fell in a neighbouring courtyard. The only casualty in this case was a bantam cock.
4. In such a case as the last the futility of the enemy's attack was merely ridiculous; in others it was tragic. Somewhere in the vast area of London's suburbs there is a little block of houses, standing almost by itself, and divided up into small flats. On the ground-floor there was sleeping a widow, her daughter, aged eighteen, and a young man whom they kept as a lodger. On the first floor was a family with three children, two of them girls, and on the second floor a working man and his wife, with five children, four of them girls and one a boy. The bomb dropped squarely on the roof of the house.
As the labourer and his wife, who were on the second floor, described it, the whole partition wall beside their bed gave way and disappeared; the man pushed his wife out into the centre of the room, and went off to find his children. Two of them, who slept in the room under the spot where the bomb fell, had vanished, with room, bed, and everything and their bodies were found two days later under the debris of the house. Of the others, the boy, aged eight, ran for safety to the staircase, which was blown away, and in the dark fell down into the hole, where his sisters' bodies were buried in the ruins. Of the first floor inhabitants, two were missing altogether, and their bodies were subsequently discovered. Of the ground floor, where apparently the worst effect of the explosion took place, it is sufficient to say that part of the body of the man who occupied it was found 150 yards away.
5. A bomb dropped in the street, blew in the front of a shop, but spent the main force of its explosion on a passing motor bus. There were twenty people on board, including the driver and conductor. Nine of them were killed and eleven injured, amongst the injured being the driver, who had both his legs blown off, and died shortly afterwards in hospital. These incidents alone account for nearly half the deaths which have been caused. They will suffice to show what is the real measure and nature of the success which has attended the enemy's attack on the London area. In human life and limb the net results of the week's raids in the London district were thirty-eight killed or died of wounds and 124 injured. It ought not to be omitted from mention that two policemen and one Army Service Corps man appeared amongst the casualties; otherwise no person in uniform was either killed or injured.