The Declarer (Floyd McWilliams' Blog)

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Today on my sickbed I was reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. Ackroyd's stepson Ralph is a suspect, and another character wonders aloud if he performed the murder, noting that he had a strain of weakness, perhaps because he had been in air raids as a child.

Christie wrote Roger Ackroyd in 1926. At first I assumed the book had been revised to postdate it after the Second World War. But no, there was a character who had been in "The World War." So I Googled "first air raids in britain" and found that there were indeed air raids in the 1910's, by Zeppelins:

Ferdinand Zeppelin continued to improve his airship and in March 1909 the German Army purchased the Zeppelin Z1. By the outbreak of the First World War they owned seven of these airships. These Zeppelins could reach a maximum speed of 136 kph and reach a height of 4,250 metres. They had five machine-guns and could carry 2,000 kg (4,400 lbs) of bombs.

In the early part of the war Zeppelins were used for bombing raids. A Zeppelin bombed Liege in Belgium on 6th August, 1914 but was forced to land after encountering artillery-fire. Three more Zeppelins were destroyed by ground forces over the next two weeks. Although easy to hit, the Germans continued to use them on attacks on France.

In January 1915, two Zeppelin navel airships 190 metres long, flew over the east coast of England and bombed great Yarmouth and King's Lynn. The first Zeppelin raid on London took place on 31st May 1915. The raid killed 28 people and injured 60 more.

and by conventional bombers:

In the meantime the Giants continued a small but influential campaign against London. On the 16th of February, during a four plane raid, a Giant dropped a 1,000 kg (2,200 lb) bomb – the largest used by anyone in the war – and blew up a wing of the Chelsea hospital.

During the same raid another Giant survived colliding with the cable of a barrage balloon and falling 1,000 feet before the pilot could regain control. The following evening a single Giant returned and scored a direct hit on St. Pancras station. The crew of this airplane reported that they saw anti-aircraft fire as far as twenty miles away - an indication of the psychological impact of attacks on urban targets.

The last raid of the war was carried out on the night of the 19th-20th of October 1918. This was a combined Gotha/Giant raid, and of the 38 Gothas taking part three were shot down by fighters and a further three were brought down by anti-aircraft fire.

No Giants were ever lost to British fighters or anti-aircraft guns, even though some were intercepted. A number were badly damaged by accidents during landing. The Giants were extremely complicated to build, and only 18 were ever completed.

The Germans hoped to cause widespread panic and even uprising with these raids. In this they failed, but the raids tied down a large number of aircraft, anti-aircraft guns and personnel that otherwise could have been used directly on the Western Front. The need for a coordinated air defence was one of the major reasons for the formation of the RAF in April of 1918.



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