On 16 January 1915, the First World War would have felt a whole lot closer to millions of people living in southern England, for this was the day that the Germans launched their first bombing raid on Britain.
The Zeppelin airship attacks of 1915 and 1916 caused only a tiny fraction of the damage wrought by the Luftwaffe 20 years later, yet they had a significant psychological impact. Suddenly everyone, whether in the trenches on the home front, felt under attack.
Throughout 1915, Zeppelins bombed the south-east regularly – the first raid on London in May killed seven and injured 35 – with relative impunity, as they flew too high for most British planes.
The most successful raid on the capital arrived on 8 September 1915 when Zeppelins caused half a million pounds’ worth of damage. There were no anti-aircraft weaponry to combat the attacks, this was a brand new concept for a new form of warfare.
By 1916, better defences – including planes armed with incendiary bullets – were beginning to bring an end to the Zeppelins’ reign of terror, but not before they had killed some 550 Britons.