On This Day: The first air raid
Updated: Jan 5
December 24th, 1914: A German seaplane carried out the first air raid on British soil, dropping bombs on Dover. There were no casualties.
The beginning The first controlled, sustained flight of a powered, heavier-than-air aircraft took place on December 17th, 1903 four miles South of Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, USA. Two American engineers and aviation pioneers, Wilbur and Orville Wright, are generally credited with inventing, building, and successfully flying the world's first aeroplane. Barely eleven years later and aircraft go to war.
The Zeppelin Menace In the early months of the Great War, senior figures in the Imperial German High Command favoured launching aerial attacks on Britain. They believed that bombing London, its docks, and the Admiralty building in Whitehall would cause panic in the civilian population, undermining morale and the British public's desire to continue the fight. Kaiser Wilhelm II, however, was reluctant to sanction air raids, particularly on London .
The first air raid On Christmas Eve 1914, the first bomb to fall on British soil was dropped by a seaplane. It landed in a garden near Taswell Street, Dover exploding to leave a 10ft-wide crater and blew a gardener out of a tree. It is thought the bomb was intended for the nearby Dover Castle which at the time was once more in its history a military base.
Aftermath Whether the raid is considered a success or not, the Kaiser eventually gave conditional approval for air raids by Zeppelin airships to commence on January 10th, 1915. Initially London was excluded as a target until May 31st, 1915, when the first raid on the capital took place. Over the course of the next wo years, German air raids reached Britain on fifty-nine occasions (forty-two by airship, seventeen by aeroplane). In the course of this campaign, airships attacked London eight times, and a Zeppelin attack on the capital on the night of September 8th/9th, 1915, caused the most material damage of any single air raid (estimated at £530,000). From The Imperial War Museum's records:
Nearly 9,000 German bombs were dropped on British soil during attacks by 51 airships and 52 aeroplanes.
A total of 1,412 people were killed and 3,408 were wounded.
London suffered the most casualties, with 670 deaths and 1,962 people injured.
1. Castle, I., (2016), 'London, Bombing of', 1914-1918-online: International Encyclopaedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer, and Bill Nasson, issued by Freie Universität Berlin.