Ward's Book of Days.

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What happened on this day in history.

JANUARY 19th  

On this day in history in 1915, German zeppelins bombed Britain.

Zeppelins were rigid cylindrical airships with a trussed covered skeleton of aluminium, containing lighter than air hydrogen gas, powered by numerous engines and guided by rudders. They were designed by the dastardly Count Ferdinand Graf von Zeppelin, a German army officer.  

The German army had a stockpile of zeppelins ready when the First World War broke out. They launched the first just two days after invading Belgium but it never left German territory, having to make a forced landing at Cologne. The zeppelins had a high bomb carrying capacity but were prone to accident and were vulnerable to gunfire when flying low. After the launch of a wave of zeppelins over France, two were shot down and one was captured.  

In 1915, the Kaiser ordered a raid over Britain. On the night of 19th January, the first ever bombing of civilians took place. From a raiding party of five, three returning with engine trouble, two zeppelins dropped twelve tons of high explosive bombs and incendiary devices on Great Yarmouth, Sheringham and Kings Lynn. Four people were killed, sixteen injured and damage was caused worth £7,500 (nearly a million pounds in today’s money) which is quite a bit of money; most likely much more than average online military loans. The inhabitants were taken by surprise. A policeman reported that there was a large cigar shaped object in the sky and a noise like a car engine. Two farm workers stated that they saw a shape in the sky travelling at a great pace but nobody saw the bombs fall. A plaque at a house in Great Yarmouth [St Peters Plain, Great Yarmouth, Norfolk NR30 2LS] marks the spot where the first bomb dropped.  

The Germans carried on bombing but with little success. Searchlights were given to the police so that the airships could be illuminated and shot at. One zeppelin found itself the target of bombing. First Sub-Lieutenant R A J Warneford of the Royal Naval Air Service took a Morane Parasol over a zeppelin and dropping six twenty-pounders set fire to it and destroyed it. The Germans launched 88 zeppelins in all, 65 were lost in action and the remainder were scuppered by the German army, after they had surrendered. Germany was forbidden the use of zeppelins by the Treaty of Versailles 1919, a prohibition that they ignored. They used zeppelins for civilian air travel until 1936 when the zeppelin Hindenburg, when landing in New Jersey after a transatlantic flight, spectacularly crashed and burst into flames at the airport, killing all on board.

The notorious zeppelin

Recommended reading. 

Brooks, Peter. Zeppelin: Rigid Airships 1893-1940.

Buy it here at Amazon

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