London’s First Air War, 1915-1918

2006_3534 bus after zeppelin raid 1915
Bus after Zeppelin raid, 1915

Air raids on London by Zeppelin airships were expected from the moment war was declared. Early precautions included a blackout at night and the installation of guns on prominent buildings and in the parks. Even so, raids finally began from the end of May 1915, provoking a mix of responses among the Londoners from sangfroid to blind panic.

2013_8568 zeppelin raid war illustrated April 1915
Zeppelin raid in The War Illustrated, April 1915

When the air cover by fighter aircraft became more effective against Zeppelins during 1916, the Germans switched to the use of heavy bombing planes, which proved generally immune from attack by London’s air defences. The civilian authorities’ response to the air attack was lacklustre throughout the bombing campaign. Scores of thousands of Londoners huddled in the tubes, in the cellars of industrial buildings thought to be safe, or fled the city altogether. The ‘Harvest Moon Raids’ of autumn 1917, marked one of the low points of morale in London during the war.

Written by Professor Jerry White, Birkbeck College, University of London (Speaker at Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front)

Exhibition and Symposium
If you want to find out more about the First World War you can visit our current exhibition Goodbye Piccadilly: From Home Front to Western Front, on until March 2015, or attend our Symposium 1914–1918 from Home Front to Western Front on Saturday 15 November which explores the themes of the exhibition in more depth.

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