As early as August 1914, Konteradmiral Paul Behncke, the Deputy Chief of the German Naval Staff, proposed airship raids against Britain. He highlighted the importance of London as a target and confidently expected these raids ‘to cause panic in the population which may possibly render it doubtful that the war can be continued.’
Yet these proposals encountered opposition at the highest level. Kaiser Wilhelm II, with his fondness for his late British grandmother, Queen Victoria, and his belief, shared by many others, that the war would soon be over, did not want to be held responsible for the destruction of London’s historic churches, museums or monuments. Despite this, Behncke continued to press for an air campaign against Britain, preparing a proposal for the bombing of targets in London, as well as remarking on the morale effects of bombing raids on Liverpool and Manchester too.
Behncke was not alone in his desire to bomb London and, after a series of attempts by British naval airmen to bomb Zeppelin bases in Germany in late 1914, the Kaiser finally relented and gave approval for the start of a limited bombing campaign on England in January 1915. However, on Wilhelm’s insistence, London initially remained excluded. The following month though, continuing pressure forced Wilhelm to include the London docks as targets, but he still clung naively to the notion that he could specifically ban attacks on residential areas, royal palaces and important monuments. Yet the combination of unsophisticated bombing methods and the proximity of countless tightly packed streets around the docks meant the restrictions were impossible to observe. Then, in May 1915, the Kaiser extended his approval to permit bombing east of a line drawn through the Tower of London. Finally, in July 1915, all restrictions were lifted, meaning the whole of London was now included with the rest of Britain as targets for the growing German airship fleets.
The first of these raids took place on 19th January 1915.
German propaganda postcard.