On an Air Raid

Everyone knows about the German bombing of London during the war. We see something similar on the news in 2022 with the Russian air attacks on the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. However destructive and terrorizing the Kyiv attacks are–and they are–the bombings of London were a shock for a world not used to attacks on the civilian population during the war.

You see, it was the German mentality that war was not only waged by the military, but that it was also fought and supported materially by the civilian population. The chances of German success on the battlefield, the theory went, would be greatly increased if the population that supplied the opposing army would be itself harmed and its ability to supply that army stopped.

Thus, on September 8th, in the war’s second year, the British capital city was first attacked by the air. Massive damage resulted. Twenty-two civilians were killed, and six of them were children. The Germans were promptly labeled “baby killers” by the British public. Besides the blackout orders and bomb shelters that were put in place, anti-aircraft batteries were moved from other places to London to provide improved protection against future attacks by the German air force. Searchlights crisscrossed the night skies above the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.

The Royal Flying Corps (RFC) also fought bravely to combat the attackers. As the bombings of London increased, the pilots of the RFC took to the air to defend the population. Lt. William Robinson became an instant minor celebrity in Britain for being the first RFC pilot to shoot down a German aircraft during the raids. It seems he was the first to discover the tactic of flying much higher than the German raiders and then attacking them from above. The Germans, much more interested in the placement and release of their deadly cargoes as well as the deadly anti-aircraft fire from below, didn’t expect attacks from above. The tactic changed the course of the air war above London.

By the war’s end, almost 3,000 Londoners had either been killed or seriously wounded by the bombings. What the Germans didn’t kill was the fighting spirit of the British people. In fact, the bombings may have galvanized English public opinion to fight the war to a successful conclusion at any cost. Some of the citizenry felt a sense of pride that they, too, had been under fire during the war. But London would suffer much worse two decades later. In fact, almost ten times worse.

Yes, the German bombings of London in World War I–first by zeppelin, then by large bombers–as terrible as they were, paled in comparison to the London Blitz that would take the lives of 20,000 Londoners in World War II.