Brum blunted Zep attacks.
GERMAN air raids in the First World War were on a smaller scale than those in the Second World War.
Nevertheless they killed more than a thousand people across Britain, injured another 3.000 people and caused a great deal of damage to property.
Birmingham was a prime target because of the importance of its munitions works and because the metal trade in general was vital to the war effort. However, the city was to be spared the worst horrors of bombing because its city council and public officials - in contrast to their counterparts in many other cities - took the necessary precautions before they were attacked, rather than afterwards.
On November 23, 1914, Chief Constable C H Rafter, issued orders under the Defence of the Realm Acts. The use of external lights for advertising purposes was banned. All street lamps were to be shaded.
All skylights were to be covered at night. Lighting levels in trams and buses was reduced.
This served the double purpose of hiding the city from hostile attackers and saving fuel. Predictably, the order was subjected to much criticism by those who claimed that it was depressing people and causing road accidents.
Further orders were issued on January 27, 1915. Mr Rafter announced that if the city was attacked, certain factory whistles and hooters would be used as sirens.
The signal was four short notes and one very prolonged note.
In the event of the siren being sounded the public were advised to leave the streets and shelter in cellars or under their stairs, and to extinguish any domestic lighting. There was no specific signal for the allclear.
No actual air raid shelters were built because, given the scale of the raids, the authorities would not have been justi-fied in allowing the necessary resources to be diverted from war production.
Attacked For more than a year it appeared that the precautions had been unnecessary. Then, on the night of January 31, 1916, a force of Zeppelins set out to attack Birmingham.
Thanks to the efforts of the local authorities they were unable to find the city and attacked various other targets instead.
That night bombs fell on Walsall, Dudley, Tipton, Wednesbury, Derby and Burton-on-Trent.
Sixty-seven people were killed and 117 were injured. Among the dead was the Lady Mayoress of Walsall, a Mrs Slater.
The municipal authorities in the bombed towns blamed the Government for not diverting fighter aeroplanes, antiaircraft guns and trained men from the main battlefronts rather than blame themselves for not taking the appropriate precautions earlier in the war.
Although not a single bomb had fallen on Birmingham, even its more intelligent political leaders joined in the call to divert resources from the front and the Government set up a system of observers who tracked the progress of Zeppelins across the country by sound.
Anti-aircraft guns were also installed before Birmingham was attacked again at 11pm on October 19, 1917.
This time the Germans were unable to find the city centre and all but one of their bombs were jettisoned in open countryside.
The remaining bomb was dropped on Austin's Longbridge works whose normally able management had foolishly left it brilliantly lighted. Two men were injured and one of the outbuildings was damaged, but no damage was inflicted on the main factory building.
The Germans made a third and final attempt to attack the city on the night of April 12, 1918. Zeppelin L60 was tracked inland by observers and came under antiaircraft fire near Coventry. It jettisoned some of its bombs to gain height and pressed on towards Birmingham, where it came under further fire from gun batteries near the city.
Unable to make out any sign of the city, the crew dropped their two remaining bombs over Hall Green, most of which was then open country. One landed on Manor Farm in Shirley and the other on Robin Hood Golf course. Many windows were broken in the Hall Green area but there was no other damage.
The two bombs were 500 pounders and could have caused massive carnage had they been dropped in the city centre or among Birmingham's tightly crammed back to backs and courtyard houses. So it was that Birmingham's citizens were spared the horrors suffered by many other towns. It is not recorded that any of those people who, in 1915, suggested that air raid precautions were unnecessary and would merely depress people later apologised for their inane remarks.
German newspapers, however, reported that Birmingham had suffered severe damage in these attacks.
It is interesting to note that among the pilots who defended our shores from attack by Zeppelins was a Major Egbert Cadbury of the famous chocolate family. He shot down two Zeppelins and was awarded the DSC.
Extract from Birmingham In The First World War by J P Lethbridge, published by Newgate Press, priced PS5.95. A quarter of profits from the book go to military charities. To purchase a copy call the author on 0121 783 0548.
HEADLINE NEWS: A report of the Wednesbury raid in 1916.
NUMBER'S UP: A Zeppelin shot down over England.
DANGER: Zeppelins had more impact in bombing London and other Midlands towns during the First World War.
MANOEUVRES: Birmingham's 1st Battalion train in Sutton Park in 1915.
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|Publication:||Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, England)|
|Date:||Oct 21, 2012|
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