How did London civilians respond to the German airship raids of 1915?
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On 1 June 1915 the Evening Standard and St James’s Gazette wrote, ‘Zeppelins are intended as weapons of moral suasion...

The Zeppelin has been built with the idea of spreading panic over as wide an inhabitant area as possible. It has been devised as the terror of the air, the very quintessence of frightfulness…’[2]
’Let them do their best and their worst with all their murderous methods to make our flesh creep.

Englishmen are not panic-stricken cravens, but men...

Britons, thank God, are of sterner stuff. So let the Zeppelins zep!’ [1]

This quote was true: a ghastly terror weapon with the intention of demonstrating that the British Empire was vulnerable, Germany hoped that her airship raids on London, in addition to other English locations, would demoralise civilians so significantly that they would demand the British Government make peace on German terms.[3] Correct in her belief that the targeting and killing of innocent civilians would outrage Londoners, Germany was wrong in her belief that this would lead to London’s civilians demanding unconditional surrender.

Following novels by Jules Verne, George Griffiths and E. Douglas Fawcett, in addition to Wells and other science fiction writers, the belief was established that if aerial warfare commenced, defenceless cities would not be bombed.[4] In 1915 however, numerous mostly civilian populated areas of London suffered from five German airship raids and a further thirteen commenced on other English mostly civilian populated locations. Of the six hundred and fifty-five civilians killed or injured, over 65% were from London. A further fifty-two sailors and soldiers were also killed or injured, of which over 86% were based in London.[5] These raids constituted a new and unfair type of warfare and brought a new era which would see the end of only a fighting front where the armies clashed and contended, and the beginning of a Home Front where civilians were no longer immune from the physical dangers of war.[6] Despite the Kaiser’s January telegram that the city was not to be bombed, his Imperial Order in February that the city’s residential areas were not to be attacked, and his refusal to yield to military pressure for a free hand over London, the latter was thrilled at the news of these raids and by the evening which followed the first of them had publicly called Count Zeppelin ‘…the greatest German of the twentieth century.’[7] Killing London civilians in their own houses and in their own streets, the deaths of these innocent victims was an outrage and the death of children a particularly wicked act of barbarity.[8] Having used numerous primary sources and published secondary sources, in addition to many newspapers, although it must be stressed that I am aware that the predominant use of newspapers can not be guaranteed to be the true responses of London’s civilians, the consequence of this indignation saw three dominant responses amongst them.

The strongest response is determination: greatly revolting London’s civilians, these raids saw many of them refuse to be defeated.[9] The increase in calls to sustain the manpower of the war effort, the widespread desire to continue life as normal, and the demands for preparations to begin reprisals on German civilian populated areas, all suggested that many London civilians were not going to succumb to Germany’s terror tactics. This determination can be summed up in the following cartoon.[10]
War office put up with inventors Drawn by Harry Rowntree and published in Punch on 10 March 1915, this cartoon was in print before London had endured any raid. Nonetheless, showing a man at the War Office wearing a ‘bomb-catcher’ and stating ‘What the War Office has to put up with from inventors’, it portrayed the determination of London, and also of Britain, to be that whatever the enemies would throw at them, they would deal with.

Whilst Britain was not appropriately prepared for these raids, the determination of many London civilians was definitely commendable. Their response was as good as: ‘We are all brothers and sisters in the streets of London tonight… just human, outraged, mad and unwilling to die. This is the miracle the great gas bag in the air brings about.’[11]
The second strongest response is anger: as Shepherd wrote following London’s third and fourth raids, ‘If the men up there in the sky think they are terrifying London they are wrong. They are only making England white-hot mad.’[12] The increase in hatred which was targeted towards German citizens living in the Capital, and the amount of fury which was directed from London’s civilians towards the British Government, were both understandable. Whilst their intense determination showed them to be insurmountable, there was no way that these raids would not cause tension to erupt amongst civilians. As Rimell writes, the raids had ‘…a profound effect on Londoners. But far from being cowed, there was a feeling of bitterness and resentment.’[13]

The third strongest response is fear: as Joan Davis, a child in 1915, told, ‘This was the first time we experienced a war and we didn’t know what it was all about.’[14] Felt and observed by London’s civilians before the Capital had endured a raid, during the raids, and also in the aftermath of the raids, there was a minute degree of German success in their hope that the raids would terrorise Britons. These raids thus reflected what The Hackney & Kingsland Gazette argued to be the German policy of ‘frightfulness’ and the exemplification of German ‘Kultur’.[15] In many ways proved true the following year, Germany publicly announced that although the purpose of the raids was to ‘…destroy only what serves the armed might of England’, whatever they would accomplish would be ‘all the same’ to them.[16] Whilst many London civilians responded with great determination and anger, these raids also caused a considerable depressing effect on civilian morale.[17] As historian Robert Hedin wrote, ‘What had once been looked upon as essentially an aerial curiosity was transformed into a military tool that terrorised London.’[18]

In addition to these dominant responses there were a further three minor responses: the airships dominated the imagination like no other objects of their time.[19] Bringing about excitement and fascination amongst some, curiosity amongst others, and even an unperturbed notion amongst a few, the previously explained responses were not all London’s civilians felt. Although for many the raids were an awful phenomenon, they were for others an extraordinarily fascinating sight, a piece of machinery which engendered inquisition, and even a coming which meant literally nothing. Whilst these responses were not felt as widely as the dominant ones, they are most certainly no less noteworthy.

The turning point of these raids came on 2 September 1916 when Army airship SL11 was destroyed whilst attempting to raid London. The response of London civilians varied again: Muriel Dayrell-Browning wrote, ‘We saw… the Zep diving head first… Thud and cheers thundered all round... It was magnificent, the most thrilling scene imaginable’;20 and Sybil Morrison wrote, ‘It was… awful… I was appalled to see… people dancing in the streets at the sight of sixty people being burned alive.’[21] Tens of thousands of visitors viewed the airships wreckage and in the following week, causing resentment amongst some and an acknowledgment of bravery amongst others, the perished crew were buried with full military honours.[22] Ensuring however that the Army would never again use airships to raid England, this was quickly confirmed to have been the correct decision as later that month two Navy airships were also destroyed. Increasingly highlighting airships invulnerability, this marked the beginning of the dwindling of airship raids on England. Furthermore, in 1917 aeroplane raids increasingly begun on England and were helped by the coming of the Gotha’s and the Giant’s which, by possessing greater - mostly technical - advantages than the airships,[23] caused more deaths and injuries in the last two years of the war than the airships did in almost four years.[24] On 5 August 1918 however, Navy airship L70 was destroyed by bullets whilst travelling to Norfolk. Twenty-two Germans were killed, including Strasser, the ‘…the life and soul of the naval airship service.’[25] Ensuring that the navy ‘…no longer took the same interest in flying; for the spark which Peter had kindled in our breasts had been extinguished’, this was the last ever airship raid on England.[26]

The airship raids thus died with Strasser just over three months before Germany signed the armistice. As the course of the raids varied throughout the war, so too did London’s civilian’s responses. Impossible therefore to answer in twelve-thousand words how they responded throughout the war, this dissertation answers how they responded in 1915. The over-riding reality of London’s civilian’s responses can be summed up in the following cartoon.[27]

The Kaiser's imps of war Drawn also by Raven-Hill and published in Punch on 22 September 1915 this cartoon was in print two weeks after London’s third and fourth raids. Showing the Kaiser saying to two airships he is holding, ‘After all the trouble I’ve taken with you I must say that, as little terrors, you disappoint me’, this cartoon is appropriately titled ‘The Imps of War’. In 1915 airships successfully raided London five times, caused the deaths of one-hundred and thirty-two people, all but nineteen of whom were civilians, and the injuries of three-hundred and forty-three people, all but twenty-six of whom were civilians.[28] Their damage was estimated to be worth Ł612,[242].[29]

London’s civilians responded with mostly determination and anger, occasionally with fear, sometimes with excitement, fascination and curiosity, and even occasionally with an unperturbed notion. These responses were rarely singular and varied entirely yet can be summed up in a statement which was printed in The Times in September 1915 with regards to civilians and the airship raids: ‘He knows in war time that panic would serve the purpose of the enemy; he knows that, when he resists it, he is fighting for his country just as if he were in the field. His honour and his pride are concerned, and he will do nothing to hinder the ultimate victory of his country.’[30]


(1) The London Illustrated Weekly, 14 October 1915, p. 169.
(2) Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 1 June 1915, p. 6.
(3) Dr. Eric Grove, quoted in BBC Timewatch, op,cit., 2007.
(4) Paris, op,cit., pp. 29-35.
(5) Hammerton (ed.), op,cit., p. 38.
(6) Williams, op,cit., p. 289.
(7) The Evening News, 1 June 1915, p. 1.
(8) Fegan, op,cit., p. 45.
(9) Evening Standard and St. James’s Gazette, 1 June 1915, p. 6.
(10) Punch, Volume CXLVIII, 10 March 1915, p. 194.
(11) The Times, 25 September 1915, p. 6.
(12) ioc.cit.,
(13) Rimell, op,cit., p. 37.
(14) Joan Davis, quoted in BBC Timewatch, op,cit., 2007.
(15) The Hackney & Kingsland Gazette, 2 June 1915, p. 3.
(16) ‘Dusseldorfer General Anzeiger’, cited in Westminster Gazette, 14 August 1916, p. 8.
(17) ‘Foreword’ by Air Marshal Sir Frederick B. Sowrey in Rimell, op,cit., p. 7.
(18) ‘Introduction’ in Hedin (ed.), op,cit., p. xii.
(19) ibid., p. xi.
(20) Fegan, op,cit., p. 32.
(21) Brown, op,cit., p. 223.
(22) Fegan, op,cit., p. 32.
(23) ibid., p. 49.
(24) Hammerton (ed.), op,cit., p. 38.
(25) Morris, op,cit., p. 198.
(26) Horst von Buttlar in ‘Zeppelins Over England’, cited in Fegan, op,cit., p. 73.
(27) Punch, Volume CXLIX, 22 September 1915, p. 243.
(28) Hammerton (ed.), op,cit., p. 38.
(29) Morison, op,cit., pp. 208-212.
(30) The Times, 10 September 1915, p. 9.
‘… the little island in the silver seas was at the end of its immunity…’
H. G. Wells, The War in the Air (Middlesex, 1973), p. 140.
Zeppelin 1915 Attacking a Zeppelin

Zeppelins are capable of carrying, in addition to their crews, bombs weighing in the aggregate about a ton and a half. The chief menace to a Zeppelin is attack by aeroplanes, which are much swifter and capable of rising much higher. They can circle around a Zeppelin and drop bombs on it. So Zeppelins are frequently mounted with guns of high-angle range to repel attacking aeroplanes. To discharge a gun is fraught with danger to the Zeppelin, but that danger must be faced.

J. A. Hammerton (ed.) The War Illustrated: A Pictorial Record of the Conflict of Nations, Volume 1, (London, 1915) p. 493.
The forward gondola

Forward gondola of a Zeppelin, placed under the keel at the end of the great dirigible. The crew and engines are accommodated in two of these long, gondola-shaped cars.

J. A. Hammerton (ed.) The War Illustrated: A Pictorial Record of the Conflict of Nations, Volume 4, (London, 1916) p. 45.
Zeppelin Gondola 1915
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Conclusion Acknowledgements Bibliography