Secret First World War map reveals routes of German bombing raids over London

By Culture24 Reporter | 07 November 2013

The paths of sixteen German bombers that flew across Kent and Essex into London during the First World War have been published for the first time in a new book released for the centenary of the First World War.


a detail of a map with coloured lines plotted onto it
Air Raid, December 6 1917, showing the routes of German bombing planes over London and the Thames Estuary.© IWM MD 24764
Mapping the First World War by Dr Peter Chasseaud, published by Collins in Association with IWM (Imperial War Museums), features over 150 maps from the IWM archives, many of which haven’t been published since the Great War.

The official raid map, which was plotted on a standard Ordnance Survey map, charts the circuitous route of four detachments of German bombers as they made their way across the Thames estuary on a raid on the capital. The raid, which took place on December 6 1917, resulted in fire engines being called from as far afield as Wembley and Twickenham to attend fires in Shoreditch.

More commonly associated with the Second World War, strategic bombing missions like this were a feature of the First World War right from the beginning. The first Zeppelin raids took place on the evening of January 1915, killing nine people in Kings Lynn and Great Yarmouth.

a composite aerial map showing the Thames
Woolwich and the Royal Docks. German vertical aerial photograph.© IWM 13607
In all there were 52 Zeppelin raids on Britain during the war, killing over 500 people. These were followed by large scale raidsby Gotha IV bombers beginning in May 1917. The first daylight bombing raid on London, on June 13, killed 162 people, including 18 children in a primary school in Poplar, and injured 432.

Gothas carried out 22 raids on England, dropping 186,830lb (84,740kg) of bombs for the loss of 61 aircraft. While little serious damage was done, and casualties were relatively low by Second World War standards, the effect on morale was enormous and forced the government to divert resources from the western front.

The Book also reveals a previously unseen German aerial photograph, taken in May 1918, of the Victoria and Albert Docks on the Thames of ships under construction. 

A Daily Mail map of Zeppelin and aeroplane bombs on London, originally published in January 1919, also shows the site of every bomb dropped on the capital during the war.

The story of the German raids is one of many that emerges in Mapping the First World War, which tells the story of the First World War from 1914 to 1918 through historical maps, photographs and expert commentary from Chasseaud.

It also features remarkable aerial photography, and before and after pictures which combine with the maps to plot the history of the war and clearly show the position of the allied and central powers in key offensives on all fronts, as well as telling the story of the war in the air and at sea.

Win a copy of Mapping the First World War: The Great War through Maps from 1914 to 1914 (rrp £30) in our competition give away.

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