First air raid on Britain

First air raid on Britain

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During World War I, Britain suffers its first casualties from an air attack when two German zeppelins drop bombs on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn on the eastern coast of England.

The zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in 1900. Although a French inventor had built a power-driven airship several decades before, the zeppelin’s rigid dirigible, with its steel framework, was by far the largest airship ever constructed. However, in the case of the zeppelin, size was exchanged for safety, as the heavy steel-framed airships were vulnerable to explosion because they had to be lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas instead of non-flammable helium gas.

In January 1915, Germany employed three zeppelins, the L.3, the L.4, and the L.6, in a two-day bombing mission against Britain. The L.6 turned back after encountering mechanical problems, but the other two zeppelins succeeded in dropping their bombs on English coastal towns.

READ MORE: London's World War I Zeppelin Terror

Remember January 19, 1915: Centenary of the First Air Raids on Britain

It was the first time Britain was attacked from the air.

The Norfolk coast of Britain was raided by the German giant airships.

Prior to the onslaught, the zeppelins were already used during the bombing of Liège and Antwerp when Belgium was invaded by the Germans at the start of the Great War — on August 1914.

For the January 19th attack on Britain, Zeppelins L3 and L4 emerged imposingly over the coast of East Anglia in Britain. They were trying to reach the port of Hull which was situated further north but were thwarted by the winds.

The first air raid against Britain happened on Great Yarmouth and resulted to the death of two locals — 53-year-old Samuel Smith and 72-year-old Martha Taylor.

Ultimately, one of the zeppelins went on further along the coast and dropped bombs on several towns and villages on its way — Sheringham, Thornham, Brancaster, Hunstanton, Heacham and Snettisham.

That zeppelin reached King’s Lynn, Britain at ten-thirty in the evening and killed two more individuals — Alice Gazley and Percy Goate.

In connection to the centenary of the first air raids in Britain, remembrance ceremonies took place at Great Yarmouth yesterday. On the other hand, a sound and light show event was held in King’s Lynn marking the start of Zeppelin Week, a program of commemorations in remembrance of the giant airships’ raids one hundred years ago. The said event will run until January 25.

Bombing campaign

Air-raids over the UK during the First World War were sporadic and relatively small scale until late 1916 when the German Air Force formed an ‘England Squadron’ commanded by Captain Ernest Brandenburg and designed to break the fighting spirit of the British people. A 12-month campaign, beginning with a raid on Folkestone in May 1917, saw the squadron’s Gotha G.IV and R.VI Giant bombers conduct 52 raids across the country, killing 836 and wounding 1,982. These bombing missions intensified the long-range attacks delivered by Zeppelin airships – the hydrogen-filled, commercial balloons converted to carry a 2-ton payload of bombs. They also raised the final death toll for the war to 1,413, according to official statistics published in January 1919.

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These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - more info for you

Posted on: 14 November 2003 by 602Sqn_Puff

If you read the post Raid on the Forth Bridge in this site < I think thats the title of the post >you will see the other side of this raid , and the pilot in question was George Pinkerton of 602 sqn " City of Glasgow" who were based at Drem in Oct 1939 , who was credited with shooting down the Ju88 that crashed into the Forth that day.

Message 2 - more info for you

Posted on: 14 November 2003 by 602Sqn_Puff

the post is in roughly page 40 of this site , its by Greenhill2

Message 1 - People Leaving Britain

Posted on: 07 March 2005 by GRMason62

I'm currently writing a book about set in the second world war and would like to know about people fleeing Britain to the US or Canada during the war.
Did many people do it apart from children evacuees?
How did they get there and what obstacles did they encounter?
I'm particularly interested in the period June- Oct 1940 and would be most grateful of any information received

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3) At the time of the first zeppelin raid, London was defended by the Admiralty

In 1914 the army and the Royal Navy had separate air arms: the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). The RFC accompanied the army to France, leaving Winston Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, to accept responsibility for London’s defence.

At the outbreak of war, London had no guns for aerial defence, but positioned three in Whitehall a few days later. By May 1915 London had 16 guns defending it, but half of these were small, 1-pdr guns, considered “useless and dangerous” by the man who took over responsibility for them in September 1915. In addition the RNAS had a number of aircraft positioned in southeast England as part of the London defences.

In pictures: Zeppelin raids on First World War Britain

In the First World War, Britain found itself under aerial attack. Giant Zeppelins of well over 500 feet in length hovered overhead, and both bombs and shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells caused large amounts of damage on the ground. However, as these wartime postcards show, fear of the aerial threat was often tempered with humour and stoicism&hellip

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Published: April 4, 2017 at 12:59 pm

The bombing of Britain by Nazi Germany in the Second World War was not the first time that Britain had come under aerial attack Zeppelin raids in the First World War brought the civilian population on to the front lines, as both bombs and falling shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells caused fatalities and damage on the ground.

In a new book, Let the Zeppelins Come, David Marks has compiled an archive of postcards from the time and here, he shares a selection of the images that tell us more about the raids…

During Germany’s aerial bombing campaign against Britain, an unprecedented development in warfare, the civilian population found itself on the front line for the first time and the public’s anger, frustration and demands for retaliation against the Zeppelin raids was tempered by a remarkable resilience. This was often expressed with humour through the medium of the picture postcard, and there was a demand for souvenirs.

Elsewhere, there was sentiment from some in Germany for the Zeppelin to bring terror and panic to the streets and to strike at the enemy’s heart: London. During 1915, there were 20 raids from Northumberland to Kent, leaving over 200 dead, including the first raids on London on 31 May 1915. Defences were rudimentary and falling shrapnel from anti-aircraft shells caused more damage on the ground than in the air.

As the raids intensified, simple air-raid precautions were introduced and the police issued instructions. In London, from the time of the earliest attacks, it was custom for underground stations to offer shelter. Measures such as improved anti-aircraft guns, linked searchlight stations and co-ordinated aircraft squadrons began to challenge the raiders. Behind the scenes, trials of explosive and phosphorus bullets were successfully carried out and, from July 1916, the machine-gun drums of defending aircraft were routinely filled with a combination of this ammunition.

On the night of 2-3 September 1916, a Schütte Lanz airship was brought down in flames at Cuffley, Hertfordshire. The pilot ‘behind the gun’ was Lieutenant William Leefe Robinson, who was awarded the Victoria Cross. This was followed by the loss of three of the newest ‘super’ Zeppelins over the next month.

Whilst there were further sporadic raids into 1917 and 1918, the air raid initiative passed from airships to aeroplanes Zeppelin raids were continued for their nuisance value only. The Zeppelin threat had been overcome when an aeroplane armed with the new incendiary and explosive ammunition got an airship in its sights, the airship was inevitably doomed.

By the outbreak of the war, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin had become the figurehead of a culture which embraced the technological advances of the day. Zeppelins had fired the imagination of the German people and they were a source of pride, fascination and wonder.

Depictions of the British public scanning the skies for Zeppelins was a popular theme, as people took to the streets to watch for the arrival of the raiders. London was bombed for the first time on the night of 31 May 1915.

Humour was used to deflect the impact of the Zeppelin raids. Official estimates list 557 people (including 498 civilians) killed and 1,358 injured by airships. Raids on London accounted for 36% of the total casualties.

The public interacted with the attacks on their communities, taking the opportunity to pose by a bomb crater or even with unexploded bombs. Pictured are Barbara Gower and Margaret Kemp together with a 110lb explosive bomb near Dereham, Norfolk.

On 1 April 1916, Zeppelin L15 was brought down in the sea north of Margate by improved anti-aircraft fire. Pieces of the recovered wreckage were also fashioned into crude souvenirs and widely circulated. When airships started being brought down over the mainland, the public’s desire for souvenirs became insatiable.

Warnings of raids were often rudimentary and included policemen travelling on foot or on bicycles with placards advising the public to “take cover”. Comic postcards reinforced the official government message that Britons everywhere could cope and eventually conquer the Zeppelin threat. The humour was good natured and attempted to make light of a serious situation.

When one of the seemingly invincible ‘Baby Killers’ (as the airships were sometimes nicknamed) was destroyed in flames by pilot William Leefe Robinson, the effect on the millions who witnessed its demise was electric. A number of baby boys born in September 1916 were named after the pilot or even after the crash site at Cuffley.

This is a popular postcard of VC recipient Robinson (left) and his fellow “Zeppelin strafers”, Frederick Sowrey (right) and Wulstan Tempest. All three pilots were from the same RFC Home Defence Squadron and featured on numerous postcards and in newspapers and magazines.

This ‘super’ Zeppelin L33 was brought down virtually intact at Little Wigborough, Essex, as a result of anti-aircraft fire. Its crew was captured by a local special constable, who was surprised by the sudden appearance of a body of men marching along a lane in the early hours of the morning.

(All photos by David Marks)

David Marks is the author of Let the Zeppelins Come (Amberley Publishing, 2017)


The Tornado Aircraft (shown below) entered service with the RAF in the mid 1980s as a result of a multi-national development programme. Production ceased in 1998. The F3 variant replaced the Phantom.

It was the first RAF swing wing aircraft and had a top speed of Mach 2.2. It was armed with four Skyflash radar-guided missiles and four Sidewinder infra-red homing air-to-air missiles providing a fire-and-forget capability. Some 100 RAF F3 Tornadoes have been upgraded to carry the recently developed Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAM) a radar guided fire-and-forget air-to-air missile.

The air defence capability was enhanced with the introduction, post 2006, of the multi-role Eurofighter Typhoon aircraft (below). The RAF planned to purchase 232 of these aircraft which were developed by a multi-national consortium of the UK, Germany, Italy and Spain.


The airframe is constructed mainly from Carbon Fibre Composites, lightweight alloys, titanium and glass reinforced plastics giving the aircraft a reduced radar signature.

Eurofighter Typhoon will be equipped with two infra red guided Advanced Short-Range Air-to-Air Missiles (ASRAAMs) and four AMRAAMs. These missiles provide the aircraft with the ability to attack before visual range hence, hopefully, before they become vulnerable themselves. Top speed is 750 knots at low level or Mach 2 at high altitude.



The invention of radar and other electronic systems were powerful factors in achieving victory in the second world war.

In the modern era the need for advanced electronics has become even more important. The air-to-air battle is a battle between the electronics ingenuity of the defender versus that of the attacker.

The modern fighter is packed with electronic systems. Some of the more important are listed below.


Ground-to-Air communications to enable ground control of the aircraft as necessary.

Secure air-to-air and air-to-ground networking for information distribution between aircraft and the ground defence system.

Airborne multifunction radar to achieve intercept with the enemy and to control air-to-air missiles.

Radar warning receiver to alert pilot to threats.

Missile approach warning radar to warn of immediate danger.

Jamming Systems to confuse enemy Radars.

Chaff and flares to deflect enemy missiles.


The Air Defence process has a number of stages to it that have not in principle changed over the years. Aircraft are first detected, hopefully for long enough to determine the aircraft heading. The tracks from radars with overlapping coverage are combined, aircraft are recognised into various categories such as friendly, hostile and unknown. The threat direction and strength is determined, the friendly defence resources are determined, an appropriate response to the threat is decided and the friendly aircraft are directed towards the threat. After engagement the friendly aircraft is directed to the most convenient airfield for refuelling and if needed for re-armament.

The Chain Home Radars detected aircraft positions, reported them to the track filter room where aircraft were categorised and overall raid areas were identified. The air picture so generated was passed to the Air Defence control room where, taking note of available defence resources, the battle plan was decided. Instructions were given to the various defence sector control rooms who then managed the local battle by sending fighters to meet and visually make contact with the enemy.

After the scanning Radar Type 7 was developed and installed the sector control rooms had access to a local air picture that enabled them to direct defence forces towards enemy raids in a process known as Ground Controlled Intercept (GCI). This process was enhanced when our forces were fitted with airborne intercept radars to make it easier for friendly aircraft to close in on enemy forces.

With the installation of the Type 80 Radar that had a long range capability, the need to have a separate radar for early warning (Chain Home) and for GCI (Type 7) was removed and the Type 80 performed both functions. Detection and tracking of aircraft was a fully manual operation requiring close attention to the radar display.

In the computer based Linesman system all radar data was sent by microwave link from the radar sites to the processing centre at West Drayton. Here aircraft tracks were initiated and maintained manually but positional updates were assisted with the aid of the computers. Aircraft tracks were categorised (recognised) with the aid of computer generated displays of known civil and military traffic sent from the civil aviation system also at West Drayton. The Recognised Air Picture was then sent to regional sector control centres who managed the response to the threat.

In the automated IUKADGE system aircraft tracks were initiated and tracked automatically at the radar sites and computer based aids assisted in the categorisation of aircraft. Information was also gathered by the use of airborne radar sensors and ground based mobile sensors.



The relationship of the West with Russia is, compared to the Cold War days, much better. However the price of peace is eternal vigilance. Typical of the capability of the modern bomber is the Tu-160 supersonic strategic bomber which has an operational range of 14,000km and a service ceiling of 16,000m. The maximum flight speed is 2,000kph at high altitude and 1,030kph at low altitude.

Delivery of this bomber to the Russian Air Force started in May 2000 and many aircraft are now in service. The purpose of the aircraft is the delivery of nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation. The aircraft has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes.

The present day UK ASACS is a robust and resilient computer-based system which uses many of the IUKADGE sites and equipment to gather information on all aircraft flying in and around the UK Air Defence Region. It categorises the aircraft to generate the “Recognised Air Picture” (RAP). The information within the RAP 80 is used by the Air Defence Commander when deciding whether to investigate or perhaps even destroy an aircraft flying in an area without permission. Information is fed into the RAP from the RAF's ground-based radars, from airborne and seaborne sensors and from the air defence systems of our neighbouring NATO partners. Information is exchanged with the civil and the military air traffic systems. Radio contact is maintained with all air defence operational traffic from the control sites. Fylingdales can provide high level radar cover for 3,000 miles across eastern Europe to give advanced warning of ballistic missile attack.

Anderson Shelter

Designed in 1938 and named after Sir John Anderson, Home Secretary during the Battle of Britain, this type of air-raid shelter was designed for use in the garden. When covered with earth the shelter would give some protection from shell fragments and bomber splinters although dampness was an ever present problem.

Designed to accommodate up to six people the government supplied them free to low income families and later sold to others to wealthier people. 1.5 million Anderson shelters were distributed in the months immediately leading up to the outbreak of war. When production ended 3.6 million had been produced.

Intended purely as an emergency protection during air raids, in practice, during the period of the Blitz, it was not uncommon for them to be used every night.

Here’s a list of historic First & Second World War airfields in the UK 33

Bicester, Oxfordshire, built as a bomber station from 1924 and retains grass airfield, airfield defences, bomb stores, perimeter track and hardstandings added during the Second World War.

Biggin Hill, London Borough of Bromley, Britain’s most celebrated fighter station retains officers’ mess (1934) and group of technical and domestic buildings (mostly 1930-34), including the best-preserved married quarters associated with a nationally important site.

Calshot, Hampshire, opened in 1913, best-preserved of chain of contemporary seaplane bases.

Catterick, North Yorkshire, originally a Home Defence Station in 1914, is the best preserved fighter sector station in the north of England, retaining group of First World War hangars.

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Cosford, Shropshire, opened in 1938 as No.2 School of Technical Training and during Second World War over 70,000 engine and airframe mechanics and armourers attended courses there.

Cranwell, Lincolnshire, Cadet College begun in 1929, a cornerstone of Britain’s independent air force.

Debden, Essex, opened as a fighter station in 1937 and noted for the largely intact preservation of its flying field and defensive perimeter.

Duxford, Cambridgeshire, famous Battle of Britain fighter station, later used as USAAF fighter station, also retains best-preserved technical fabric remaining from a site up to November 1918.

Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and former R.A.F. East Kirkby. Copyright Chris and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence.

East Kirby, Lincolnshire, opened in 1943 in support of Bomber Command’s offensive, with airmen from nearly 200 Commonwealth countries operating from it with 57 and 630 squadrons.

Elvington, Yorkshire, opened October 1942. Halifax Bombers based at Elvington were heavily engaged in the Battle of the Ruhr in early 1943 and in May and June 1944, two heavy bomber squadrons of the Free French Air Force formed there.

Filton, Gloucestershire, former Aircraft Acceptance Park for the reception and final assembly of aircraft and their flight testing, storage and distribution to squadrons to the north of Sir George White’s aircraft factory of 1910.

Halton, Buckinghamshire, established as the centre for technical training for the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.

An overgrown pillbox near Henlow Airfield. Copyright Philip Jeffrey and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

Henlow, Bedfordshire, five General Service Sheds comprise the most complete ensemble of hangar buildings on any British site for the period up to 1923.

Hullavington, Wiltshire, opened 1937 as a Flying Training Station and embodies to a unique degree the improved architectural quality associated with the post-1934 Expansion Period of the RAF.

Kemble, Gloucestershire/Wiltshire, the most strongly representative – by virtue of its range of hangar types – of 24 Aircraft Storage Unit sites planned and built by the Air Ministry between 1936 and 1940.

Larkhill, Wiltshire, one of the two sites in Britain where aircraft sheds built in association with the early pioneers of powered flight have survived. As historically significant as the remains of the Wright Brothers workshops and the resited 1910 Boeing workshop at Seattle. Britain’s first military airfield.

Little Staughton, Cambridgeshire, Pathfinder Mosquitoes from 109 Squadron and Lancasters of 583 Squadron active from April 1944.

Little Walden, Essex, used by the USAAF from April 1944 and has exceptionally complete example of common type control tower used during the Second World War.

Ludham, Norfolk, opened in 1941 as a forward operating base for Fighter Command.

Manby, Lincolnshire, after Hullavington the most complete and architecturally unified of the post-1934 Expansion Period stations in Britain.

Netheravon, Wiltshire, begun in 1912, the most complete of the sites relating to formative phase in the development of military aviation in Europe, prior to the First World War.

Barbed wire at the edge of Northolt Airfield. Copyright Des Blenkinsopp and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Northolt, London Borough of Hillingdon, one of the 11 Group sector stations which played a significant operational role in the Battle of Britain. Memorial commemorates the contribution of Polish airmen to the Allied war effort.

North Weald, Essex, fighter sector station with Battle of Britain associations, and after Kenley and Debden retains the best-preserved of the landscapes put in place by Fighter Command at the beginning of the Second World War.

Old Sarum, Wiltshire, best-preserved flying field of the First World War period.

Scampton, Lincolnshire, opened in 1936 as a bomber station, its association with the Dambuster Raids make it Bomber Command’s most famous base of the Second World War and it continued to evolve as a landscape for the projection of deterrent power against the Soviet Union in the Cold War period.

Spitalgate, Lincolnshire, opened as a training station in 1917, one of few retained for use by the RAF after 1919.

Swanton Morley, Norfolk, along with West Malling has the best-preserved example of Art Deco styling of the Air Ministry’s control tower designs. The first combined bombing raid with British and American personnel was launched from Swanton Morley on June 29 1942, with both Churchill and Eisenhower present.

Upavon, Wiltshire, founded in 1912 as the Royal Flying Corp’s Central Flying School.

Uxbridge, London Borough of Hillingdon, developed as a major armaments training school at the end of the First World War and then as a recruit-training centre for the RAF in the 1920s. Underground bunker of 1938 contains the Group Operations Room from where the vital 11 Fighter Group was commanded during the Battle of Britain.

History Highlights: On This Day - Jan 19, 1915: First air raid on Britain

During World War I, Britain suffers its first casualties from an air attack when two German zeppelins drop bombs on Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn on the eastern coast of England.

The zeppelin, a motor-driven rigid airship, was developed by German inventor Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin in 1900. Although a French inventor had built a power-driven airship several decades before, the zeppelin's rigid dirigible, with its steel framework, was by far the largest airship ever constructed. However, in the case of the zeppelin, size was exchanged for safety, as the heavy steel-framed airships were vulnerable to explosion because they had to be lifted by highly flammable hydrogen gas instead of non-flammable helium gas. In January 1915, Germany employed three zeppelins, the L.3, the L.4, and the L.6, in a two-day bombing mission against Britain. The L.6 turned back after encountering mechanical problems, but the other two zeppelins succeeded in dropping their bombs on English coastal towns.

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