During World War 1 (WW1), London experienced its first 'Blitz' as bombing raids carried out by German zeppelin airships attacked areas of East London. The first ever raid was carried out on 31 May 1915 when a zeppelin dropped high explosives over Stepney, Spitalfields, Leytonstone, Hoxton and Stoke Newington. Seven people were killed. There were a further ten airship raids over London during 1915 and 1916 and a further one in 1917.
By 1917, British success at shooting down airships and the general unreliability of the zeppelins persuaded the Germans to use aeroplanes to attack London. The first attack by their bomber occurred in May 1916 when a single plane attacked the East End. On 14 June 1917 the largest air raid on London of WWI was carried out, resulting in 160 deaths. Again focusing on East London, fourteen Gotha bombers attacked, hitting the Royal Albert Dock, Liverpool Street Station and a school in Poplar, which killed seventeen children and caused public uproar.
Further raids followed during 1917 and 1918, however by May 1918, British air defence had improved sufficiently to start inflicting heavy losses on the Germans, and this persuaded them to call the raids off.
German air raids during WW1 killed in total around 670 Londoners and injured a further 1,960. The raids terrorised London's population who had never experienced such attacks as these before. A far bigger impact was of the number of Londoners who were killed in combat; about 124,000 young men never returned from the front line.
The largest blast that occurred during WW1 in London had nothing to do with a German air raid; a fire started in a munitions factory in Silvertown. This caused 50 tons of TNT to explode, killing 73 and injuring 400.Next page: Interwar Expansion