4. History’s First Naval Air Raid Occurred in WWI
Navies used airplanes for reconnaissance and observation from aviation’s earliest days. Then, on Christmas, 1914, the British Royal Navy used airplanes offensively for the first time. On that day, aircraft carried by seaplane tenders to within striking distance of Cuxhaven, bombed Zeppelin sheds and German naval facilities. Zeppelins and their potential to bomb London loomed large in British imagination. That was due in no small part to pre-war apocalyptic fiction such as H. G. Wells’ The War in the Air, which envisioned fleets of German dirigibles devastating cities around the world with bombs and reducing them to rubble. So plans were put in motion for preemptive raids on Zeppelin facilities to destroy them before they began bombing Britain. The result was the first instance in which air and sea power were combined to attack land targets.
Raids against Zeppelin sheds in Cologne, Friedrichshafen, and Dusseldorf reached some success. But Royal Flying Corps airplanes lacked the range to reach Cuxhaven. Ferries converted into seaplane tenders carried nine seaplanes close to Cuxhaven, escorted by Royal Navy cruisers, destroyers, and submarines. The seaplanes were then lowered and launched to reconnoiter the area. If they spotted Zeppelin sheds, they would bomb them. Only seven planes managed to take off and head inland, each armed with three 20-pound bombs. Results were negligible because of antiaircraft fire, low clouds and fog, plus the raiders’ tiny bombload. However, the raid revolutionized warfare by proving the feasibility of attacking land targets with seaborne aircraft. This became first step towards the creation of aircraft carriers and the projection of force inland by naval aviation.