New collection documents World War I air raids over Britain

air raids

Photographs documenting air raids over Britain during World War I have been released for the first time.

The new collection from London’s Imperial War Museum, including maps and aerial reconnaissance photographs showing the routes taken by enemy raiders, are among the documents to be included in a new book.

Dr Peter Chasseaud, who studies military cartography, is the author of the new book called ‘Mapping the First World War’ which contains the air raid documents from World War I, The Telegraph reports.

Chasseaud says the documents are useful in showing how aerial warfare advanced during World War I: “This was a new type of warfare. People tend to think that the air war in the First World War was just a matter of big dog fights, but in a sense that was peripheral.”

Chasseaud continues: “The bombing war has fallen off people’s radars, but right through the First World War there was strategic bombing.”

One of the most notable parts of the collection is a chart put together by British officials after a bombing raid by Germany on London and the surrounding area on December 6th, 1917. It was used to advance air defenses by showing the paths German raiders had taken. German aircraft has been intercepted by land-based spotters and British aircraft.

The intelligence resulted in the chart which displays the route taken by 16 Gotha bombers, traveling in four detachments, who entered the United Kingdom over South-Eastern England. The raiders dropped bombs on Kent, although most bombs were used on London – with a red dot showing each bomb’s position on the map.

Another item from the collection is a map from a 1919 newspaper. It shows the location of every bomb dropped over England’s capital by an aircraft or Zeppelin. The map shows the path of bombs dropped over South London’s A23, together with groups of bombs over the City of London, Bethnal Green and Stoke Newington. Despite air raids usually thought of being a part of the Second World War, these bombings also took place during World War I. Germany’s initial Zeppelin raid over Britain took place on the night of January 19th, 1915 – with nine people killed as Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn were hit by air raids from two aircraft. Further raids occurred over London and coastal areas between 1915 and 1916. During World War I, 52 Zeppelin air raids took place over Britain – resulting in the deaths of more than 500 people.

The first day-time air raid by Gotha IV bombers took place over London on June 13th, 1977. 162 people, including 18 children were killed in the attack.

As Britain’s air defenses started to advance from September that year, Germany started to move away from daytime raids and started bombing during the night-time. Together with items documentary the bombings, Chasseaud’s book also features approximately 150 other maps which have previously not been published and illustrate the advances that took place in air raid technology, together with aerial and artillery reconnaissance during World War I.


Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE