With the war in Europe reaching a stalemate, the Germans decided to try new tactics with an attack on Britain itself, and on the 19th January 1915, two Zeppelin airships conducted the first ever air raids against Britain.
Over 190 metres long, and carrying bombs which were held over the side and dropped by hand, they flew over the east coast of England, bombing the towns of Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn.
This soon escalated over the next few months as the airships managed to get through the British defences without being shot down and the German commanders started to get more confident about their new weapon. Soon the raids started to increase and on the 21st May 1915 London was bombed, killing 28 people and injuring another 60.
This caused great panic in the country and the newspapers were filled with advice on how people could protect themselves in an air raid, listing ‘what do when the warning sounds’ (which was often preceeded by just a policeman on a bike with an ‘air raid’ sign and a whistle) and other information such as where they could take shelter. However, unlike the air raid preparations of the Second World War, which saved many lives, the country was not as prepared and the Zeppelin raids were to continue to claim lives right throughout the war, resulting in over 500 people being killed.
The reason that the airships were so successful was partly because the British fighter planes which attacked them didn’t have the right kind of bullets that were required to set fire to the highly flammable Hydrogen gas inside the airships.
However, after a great deal of time in development, eventually the fighters were given special ‘incendiary’ bullets that were able to set fire to the large balloons, and the raids eventually stopped as more and more airships were shot down. By the end of the war, although the Germans had used 115 Zeppelins, 77 of them had been destroyed by either fighter planes or anti-aircraft guns.