Starting in 1915 and lasting until the end of the First World War, the German Navy and Army Air Services conducted more than fifty bombing raids on the UK. These Zeppelin raids became a symbol of hatred, causing £1.5 million in damage and hundreds of casualties.
By 1916, anti-aircraft measures had been put into place – with searchlights and guns bringing down several airships. These defences were haphazard, and improvements to Zeppelins were made to counteract such measures. On the evening of 31st March 1916, an airship raid took place over London and East Anglia. Most of the ten airships turned back as a result of faulty mechanics or the weather. Alfred de Bathe Brandon was awarded a Military Cross for his endeavours to bring down Zeppelin L 15 that evening. L 15 landed in the sea near Margate, all but one of the crew surviving.
Two zeppelins the following evening were re-directed away from London towards the north of England. Again, on the night of 2nd April 1916 the German Army targeted London in another airship raid. The intended targets on this occasion were missed.
Whilst the experience of war had in the past been a somewhat distant one, the First World War brought violence, injury and death to civilians on the Home Front. In her diary, Virginia Woolf – a resident of Richmond between 1914 and 1924 – makes several references to air raids over London. She and Leonard took to the basement of their home to protect themselves. Others took to London’s many deep level tube stations. Germany had hoped that the bombing of Britain would cause such terror that the country would withdraw from the war – though failed to break morale. The Zeppelin raids in fact proved to be a useful propaganda tool – with posters encouraging men to enlist to protect their loved ones at home.
The raids of 1915-1918 did illustrate the vulnerability of the Home Front. Awareness of the need to protect Britain with an aerial defence system led to the formation of the RAF in 1918.