The Vault

How Photographers Tried to Capture the Terror of Night Zeppelin Raids During WWI

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This “record” of a 1915 zeppelin raid on London is a fabrication, put together by an enterprising photographer looking to sell commemorative postcards to a British public understandably preoccupied by the airships’ attacks. Cameras of the time would have had difficulty capturing a zeppelin in the night sky, especially since the ships had to fly at high altitude to escape anti-aircraft fire.

The first German zeppelin raid on Great Yarmouth and King’s Lynn, in January 1915, was followed by a series of such raids. Laura Massey of Alembic Rare Books writes that this photograph was probably composed by A.C. Cooper, a London photographer who reprinted and resold the same image after several zeppelin attacks, redating it accordingly.

Cooper’s composite photograph shows one of the defenses the British mounted against the airships: searchlights that combed the night sky, looking for incoming ships and enabling targeting for gunners on the ground. While few anti-aircraft shells ever exploded, writes Military History Monthly, “once enemy raiders were spotted, they were liable, on a clear night, be held in a pyramid of light-rays and targeted by numerous 3-inch quick-firing anti-aircraft guns.” British home-defense aircraft then attacked, eventually successfully bringing some of the hydrogen-filled ships down using explosive and incendiary bullets. 

Courtesy of Alembic Books