Classic History Books


William J. Claxton - The Mastery of the Air

brought into play, neither guns nor our airmen succeeded in causing any loss to the raiders. Bombs were
dropped at a number of other places, including Margate and Southend, but without result.

No less than six raids took place on London before the end of the month, but the greatest number of
killed in any one of the raids was eleven, while on September 28 the raiders were driven off before they

could claim any victims. The establishment of a close barrage of aerial guns did much to discourage the

raiders, and gradually London, from being the most vulnerable spot in the British Isles, began to enjoy

comparative immunity from attack.

Paris, too, during the Great War has had to suffer bombardment from the air, but not nearly to the same
extent as London. The comparative immunity of Paris from air raids is due partly to the prompt measures

which were taken to defend the capital. The French did not wait, as did the British, until the populace

was goaded to the last point of exasperation, but quickly instituted the barrage system, in which we

afterwards followed their lead. Moreover, the French were much more prompt in adopting retaliatory

tactics. They hit back without having to wade through long moral and philosophical disquisitions upon

the ethics of "reprisals". On the other hand, it must be remembered that Paris, from the aerial standpoint,

is a much more difficult objective than London. The enemy airman has to cross the French lines, which,

like his own, stretch for miles in the rear. Practically he is in hostile country all the time, and he has to

get back across the same dangerous air zones. It is a far easier task to dodge a few sea-planes over the

wide seas en route to London. And on reaching the coast the airman has to evade or fight scattered local

defences, instead of penetrating the close barriers which confront him all the way to Paris.

Since the first Zeppelin attack on Paris on March 21, 1915, when two of the air-ships reached the
suburbs, killing 23 persons and injuring 30, there have been many raids and attempted raids, but mostly

by single machines. The first air raid in force upon the French capital took place on January 31, 1918,

when a squadron of Gothas crossed the lines north of Compiegne. Two hospitals were hit, and the

casualties from the raid amounted to 20 killed and 50 wounded.

After the Italian set-back in the winter of 1917, the Venetian plain lay open to aerial bombardment by the
Germans, who had given substantial military aid to their Austrian allies. This was an opportunity not to

be lost by Germany, and Venice and other towns of the plain were subject to systematic bombardment.

At the time of writing, Germany is beginning to suffer some of the annoyances she is so ready to inflict
upon others. The recently constituted Air Ministry have just published figures relating to the air raids into

Germany from December 1, 1917, to February 19, 1918 inclusive. During these eleven weeks no fewer

than thirty-five raids have taken place upon a variety of towns, railways, works, and barracks. In the list

figure such important towns as Mannheim (pop. 20,000) and Metz (pop. 100,000). The average weight of

bombs dropped at each raid works out about 1000 lbs. This welcome official report is but one of many

signs which point the way to the growing supremacy of the Allies in the air.

 

PART II. AEROPLANES AND AIRMEN

 

CHAPTER XIV. Early Attempts in Aviation

The desire to fly is no new growth in humanity. For countless years men have longed to emulate the birds
- "To soar upward and glide, free as a bird, over smiling fields, leafy woods, and mirror-like lakes," as a

great pioneer of aviation said. Great scholars and thinkers of old, such as Horace, Homer, Pindar, Tasso,

and all the glorious line, dreamt of flight, but it has been left for the present century to see those dreams

fulfilled.

 

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