The first recorded episode of airships dropping bombs on to enemy territory was on January 15 1915 when German Zeppelin airships attacked targets along the east coast of England including the seaside town of Great Yarmouth. These bombing raids continued intermittently until 1918 and the worst raid was on London on May 31 1915 when there were 162 deaths. The Zeppelins were twice as long as a modern day Jumbo Jet and, filled with hydrogen, could stay in the air for upwards of 24 hours; they had a speed of between 60 and 70 miles per hour and, to begin with, the British found them extremely difficult to destroy so they continued their bombing raids until early 1918. Once a technique had been developed to destroy Zeppelins in the air they were never again used for aerial bombing.
Killing civilians was a violation of the International Hague Convention of 1907.
In 1921 British aircraft attacked Kurdish villages in northern Iraq dropping bombs and gas canisters which killed hundreds of villagers. In April 1937 the Spanish town of Guernica was attacked by German aircraft and many hundreds of civilians were killed. In the 1939-45 World War civilians were killed in tens of thousands in bombing raids carried out by countries from both sides.
Eventually Britain adopted an unacknowledged policy of trying to destroy civilian morale by the indiscriminate bombing of cities and towns. Bombs were dropped without any certainty they would fall on military or industrial complexes. Where the Germans had bombed such cities as London, Coventry, Plymouth etc. earlier in the war, the British raised the stakes enormously by fire bombing Hamburg and virtually destroying Dresden, Cologne and other cities.
When the Americans entered the war they were unconvinced of the efficacy of this ‘blanket bombing’ believing that bombing civilians instead of strategic targets was counter productive; but they quickly changed by adopting similar tactics in Europe. In Japan they fire-bombed Tokyo in March 1945 killing 100,000 people in one night.
The final escalation of deliberately targeting civilians by aerial bombing in World War 2 was when the Americans dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan. This was a culmination of the thirst of scientists for knowledge feeding the appetite of politicians for power.
Some interesting points emerge from the above brief summary of the growth of aerial bombing from its beginning in 1915 to its peak in 1945. From 1915 British military planning had to consider forms of defence other than the army and navy, as did Japan after 1945. In fact both countries became less of islands militarily after coming under bombing attacks. In 1915 Britain, as an island, was the recipient of experimental warfare in the form of bombing from Zeppelin airships and in 1945 Japan, also an island, became the first and to date, the only country, to be attacked by the newly developed atomic bombs. Prior to these events both island countries considered themselves immune from attack other than by sea.
Another important result that had been demonstrated again and again in wars up to the present time and that is, with the one exception of dropping the atomic bombs, conventional bombing – that is bombs using conventional explosives – may cause the death and injury of many thousands of civilians and cause terrible damage to a country’s infrastructure, cannot by itself win wars.
In 1944 Germany launched rocket attacks on Britain, once again initiating a new form of warfare 29 years after the first bombing raid. Just as with bombing from planes there were many civilian deaths and damage to the infrastructure, mainly in London and its surrounds, but the war was concluded in May 1945 before the long term impact of this new form of warfare could be evaluated.
There has been subsequent usage of rockets in warfare mainly by the Americans in the Middle East and Africa but the most interesting usage of rockets was by the Hesbollah faction in the 34 day war between Israel and Lebanon in 2006 where Hesbollah showed that a sufficient quantity of rockets, albeit of limited range and potency can blunt, if not actually repel an attacking army, even though this army’s air support has total air control and the army was numerically more numerous and infinitely more powerful than the defending army, it could not destroy or even neutralize the rocket sites or launchers.
In the 1939-45 war Japan showed that warships without air cover were totally vulnerable to bombing attacks from the air by sinking allied warships until the tables were turned and the allies with American air superiority enabled them to sink Japanese warships. Now the launching of rockets from Lebanon by Hesbollah into Israel has changed forever the use of air power as it has shown that a superior army, navy and air force could not prevail against such an attack.
This has caused to be invented and used the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) or Drone, first thought to have been used by the USA in the Vietnam war in 1964 and subsequently in many other areas of conflict since, It has been estimated, that by the year 2013, at least 50 countries possess drones and it is not known how many are using them and for what purpose. It is reasonable to assume that the future use of drones with an hostile intent is going to become a very important issue for the international community to resolve.

August 2013