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The Unseen Raider by Morris Freedman

Just overhalf a century ago a German Zeppelin slipped its moorings at a secret airship base in Belgium and flew up the Thames on the first mission of its kind in the history of civilization.

To bomb a crowded capital city, the city of London.

This was the LZ 38 commanded by Major Erich Linnarz which on 31 May, 1915 dropped high explosives and incendiary bombs around the city, killing a number of people and damaging houses and business premises.


Great Height

The airship flew at a great height and was apparently not seen because none of London's guns or searchlights came into action and the LZ 38 returned to base unharmed.

This, the first-ever air raid on any city in the world.

The first time Woolwich came under direct attack from the air was on 13 October, 1915, when the Zeppelin L 14, commanded by Kapitanleutnant Bocker, dropped bombs on Woolwich Common and in the Arsenal.


This raid could have been even more disastrous than it was: the L 14 narrowly missed colliding with another Zeppelin on its way to bomb Croydon.

Another direct attack on Woolwich came in August, 1916, when bombs also fell on Plumstead, Eltham, Blackheath and Deptford, and a month later Woolwich and Plumstead were bombed again but this time the raider was shot down by a night-fighter pilot from Joyce Green, Dartford. (This was the L 32 which crashed near Billericay in Essex.)

The German High Command hurriedly revised their ideas about the usefulness of Zeppelins after several of them had been destroyed by our fighter pilots, and when Commander Mathy, the the greatest Zeppelin commander of the 1914-18 war, was shot down at Potters Bar, they switched instead to long-range bombers.


In June, 1917, fourteen Gothas made a daring daylight attack on London, flying in diamond formation from Tottenham to Woolwich, dropping their bombs indiscriminately, as they flew

The raid caused disproportionately heavy casualties because people stood in the streets to watch the raiders instead of taking shelter.

The last raid on London of the First World War was on the night of 20 May, 1918, and lasted several hours.

Perhaps it is this last big raid which sticks in the minds of people old enough to remember the 1914 - 18 bombing and makes them imagine that the arrival of enemy aircraft over Woolwich was a common, almost nightly occurrence.

In fact in the four years of the war, London was attacked only 36 times, 12 times by Zeppelins.

How bad were these raids? According to official records something like 530 people were killed and 1,260 wounded. A total of 9,000 bombs, high explosives and incendiaries, were dropped.

The Zeppelins which bombed London were powered by six engines developing 1,000 h.p. with a top speed of 70 m.p.h. They could carry nearly 40 tons of bombs a distance of 3,000 miles and fly up to 12,000 feet.

Compared with the 1940 blitz the air attacks of 1914 - 18 were insignificant but it cannot be denied that they generated a considerable amount of fear and by 1918 had become a serious menace.

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