Zeppelin Raids in the Humber During WW1

WW1 Zeppelin raids in the Humber region

A retired German army officer, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, built his first airship in 1900. Zeppelins consisted of a huge balloon, shaped like a cigar, which was filled with hydrogen and had a large basket slung underneath. Before the war Zeppelins were used for pleasure cruises but the German military soon realised that they could be used to attack the British population. Zeppelins were capable of travelling at about 85mph and carrying up to two tons of bombs. They could fly further than aeroplanes, though they were slower to deploy and more difficult to manoeuvre.


The first Zeppelin raid was on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn in January 1915, but many more followed. The east coast of Britain was particularly vulnerable as it could be easily reached by flying across the North Sea from the north west German coast. 

There were raids on Lincolnshire, the East Riding and Hull during 1915 and 1916 which caused deaths and hundreds of injuries, and far more air raid warnings. The local press agreed not to report on the Zeppelin raids so as not to cause panic. Nationally, 1,400 people were killed and more than 3,400 wounded in air raids during the First World War.


Zeppelin raids caused widespread fear among the civilian population and the authorities had to act. During 1915 careful preparations were made to manage the impact of air raids. Hull was divided into six districts – West, North West, Central, North East, East and the River section – staffed by over 3,000 volunteer Special Constables whose job was to patrol the streets when the air raid alarm had sounded to ensure all lights were put out. Lights on the ground would help enemy Zeppelin crews work out where they were, so it was important to have as complete a blackout as possible. 

Special Constables had their own magazine, the Special Constables Gazette, which gives an insight into the kind of issues they had to deal with (see Downloads link below). In the spring of 1915, 25 dressing stations were set up in different parts of the city to deal with casualties, staffed according to need.  

By 1916 the British had developed defences against the Zeppelin threat including guns and searchlights. They realised that the Zeppelin balloons were very vulnerable to explosive shells which set light to the hydrogen. In 1917 Zeppelin raids were called off. However, both sides had realised the importance of air warfare and aeroplane technology developed rapidly.

See the teachers' notes page for curriculum links, further images and discussion and activity ideas.


Manoeuvre - move something skilfully or carefully

Vulnerable - open to being attacked or harmed

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