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5.0 out of 5 stars A Foretaste of the Second World War Strategic Bombing Offensive., 4 May 2014
This review is from: Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War (Kindle Edition)
In 1921 the Italian General Douhet wrote his 'Command of the Air',a classic account of air power theory, and about the need to build a strategic bomber force arguing it would enable wars to be fought without the need to fight land wars like that of 1914-18. He argued the areoplane had altered warfare irrevocably. By the 1930's Baldwin was warning the bomber would always get through. The Great War saw the first demonstration of war from the air. The experience influenced Douhet and Baldwin greatly. Also influential was H.G.Wells whose The War in the Air was published in 1908. Numerous other books discussed terror bombing. Like Wells these authors were mainly influenced by the growing influence of science on warfare. In 1913 Wells had even anticipated nuclear war.

What few appreciated in 1914 was that the ability to wage war from the air meant civilians no longer enjoyed immunity. It was to prove to be a momentous development in the history of warfare.

Italy was the first state to conduct air war by bombing. In 1911 she bombed targets in Libya. The bombing sometimes took the form of a dropped hand grenade.
The controversial strategic bombing offensive of the Second World War was an inevitable outcome, based as it was initially on winning the war from the air, thereby avoiding horrendous casualties resulting from land operations.

This most interesting book by Professor Jerry White of London University tells the story of Zeppelin, Gotha and Giant air raids on London in the Great War. The first of 52 raids beginning on the night of 20-21 January 1915. The object of these raids was to destroy the morale of the British people.

The book is a welcome relief from the numerous accounts of the land war currently pouring out like a torrent. The author is known as a first class historian of London over the past 200 years. He writes with clarity, and his research is excellent.

One of the highlights of this account unlike many others about the air war on London is how the author sets the bombing raids within the context of daily life in the capital. As a result we learn a great deal about the social life of Londoners (whose population was 7.5 million, twice the size of Greater Berlin), and how it was affected by the air raids. He has captured the daily experience of the mass of Londoners. Therefore, this is more of a social history of the times than a history of the bombing of London. As a result, this is not for those that want a detailed history of the air war. This is available elsewhere.

Many in government and the church condemned the German bombing as cowardly, as they did the use of submarines, apparently oblivious to the fact we dropped over 8000 tons of bombs on Germany during the war. The TIMES described bombing as 'barbarism', a term that became popular 25 years later in certain quarters. Trenchard, on the other hand, said the moral effect of bombing was 20 times more than the material effect, though the evidence was lacking to support this.

In the war 1450 civilians were, according to this book, killed by air raids (a figure disputed by other sources that say it was 1,239). This compares with 40000 who died in WW11. The raids caused deep anxiety and fear being a new form of warfare against which there was little effective defence although anti-aircraft guns were in place across south-east England by April 1915, and some 250 were emplaced to defend London by 1918. One outcome was air raid precaution planning whose lessons were used in the 1930's. It has been estimated that in London between 100,000 and 300,000 sought shelter in the Underground.

The author describes, few others have done this, the Giant bomber (or R.V1). It was a monster with a wing span of 138 feet, bigger than any bomber that bombed London in the 1939-45 war, even longer than the wingspan of the much later Lancaster bomber. It carried a bomb load of two tons. Not one was shot down. Like the Gotha and Zeppelin its maximum speed with a full load was under 90 mph. The maximum altitude of the Gotha was 21,300 feet. Accuracy was extremely poor as indeed it was throughout the Second World War. Bombers were in Raleigh's phrase 'cold meat' for fighters.

White describes how Londoners despite the war improved their lot. For example, wages rose, and family incomes increased thanks to women working. He also tells us of clergymen, one of whom recovered the prayer books in khaki and 'used the crypt as a rifle range'. More stories concern the view of some that morals were in decline because of women drinking in pubs.
Of particular interest is the fact that not everyone viewed the war as terrible. Some we are told even found it 'wonderful'.

For his research the author used most of the well known sources as well as council minutes, diaries and files of the Church of England Society for Waifs and Strays.

Recommended. A very good addition to existing accounts of the birth of war from the air.
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