‘Fly, Zeppelin! Help us in the war. Fly to England, England shall be destroyed by fire. Zeppelin, fly!’ Such was the hymn which the children sang; such the refrain which greeted the aged inventor, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin, wherever he went. Why was there this reaction across Germany? How did a handful of aircraft giving pleasure cruises become a fearsome fleet of rapacious giants encouraged to punish Germany’s enemies? What were the images that became part of the public’s wartime consciousness?
Books on the Zeppelin raids during the First World War have, traditionally, focused on the direct impact of Britain, from the devastating effects on undefended towns and cities, the psychological impact of this first weapon of total war to the technological and strategic advances that eventually defeated the ‘Baby Killers.’ Now, drawing on the largest postcard collection of its kind and other period memorabilia, David Marks tells the story of the Zeppelin during the First World War from a viewpoint that has rarely been considered: Germany itself.
From its maiden flight in July 1900, the Zeppelin evolved into a symbol of technology and national pride that, once war was declared, was at the forefront of German’s propaganda campaign. The Zeppelin links the rampant xenophobia at the outbreak of the conflict against England (it almost never called Britain), France, Russia and their allies to the political doctrines of the day. The postcards that profusely illustrate this book show the wide-ranging types of propaganda from strident Teutonic imagery, myths and legends, biting satire and a surprising amount of humor. This book is a unique contribution to our understanding of the place of the Zeppelin in Germany’s culture and society during the First World War.
GUEST REVIEW BY MARK MAGUIRE
I am delighted today to be able to hand my blog over to my husband Mark to share with you his latest review for The Zeppelin Offensive: A German Perspective in Pictures & Postcards:
“This book owes its existence to a remarkable treasure trove of postcards and period photographs documenting the ascendancy of the Zeppelin within the context of World War 1. This title has been published under the Air World umbrella, but it follows the traditional structure of the acclaimed Images of War format. The book possesses a cogent narrative and is profuse with high quality photography and vivid colour plates, all of which are accompanied by detailed and informative captions.
The book is broken down into 11 chapters starting with “Zeppelin Kommt” and concluding with The New Gods of the Air”. The book is redolent with the early optimism and palpable excitement proffered by the Zeppelin both as a national symbol and as a strategic weapon which would (hopefully) win the war. The Author has skilfully selected some of the most atmospheric and symbolic postcards of the era to accompany the narrative. Many of these images act as a window into a World of extreme patriotism and German Militarism, a poisonous cocktail which when blended with the nationalism of the opposing sides, led to one of the most destructive conflicts in human history.
There are some particularly noteworthy chapters. The first one being: “Gott Strafe England” (God Punish England) which outlines the extraordinary emotional and psychological fervour which underpinned the ‘justification’ behind the offensive. As the Author explains, the entry of Great Britain into the conflict as an opponent of Germany led to the conception that Germany was fighting a defensive war as opposed to an aggressive war of expansion.
The featured postcards include images of Zeppelins heading towards Britain on bombing runs; religious iconography (Gott Mit Uns) suggesting that the Divine were on the side of the German cause, and postcards which embrace toilet humour at the expense of the Allied powers cowering in the wake of a Zeppelin offensive. Horrifying as many of the images are, they all share a common thread: that the prosecution of the war was a just one and that the Zeppelin would be at the forefront of the retributive response that Germany had lined up for Britain and it’s allies. It is sobering to note, as the Author does, that comparable postcards were being produced in Britain and France, hardening positions and prolonging the war arguably leading to the calamity of Versailles.
The second chapter worthy of note is “The King Stephen Incident” which involved the downing of Zeppelin L19 which ran into mechanical difficulties after a bombing run over Britain in January 1916. After a period of drift, L19 crashed into the Sea where it’s surviving crew members climbed atop the wreckage awaiting rescue and/or their fate. Unluckily for the crew of L19, the captain of a passing British vessel King Stephen refused to assist them for reasons disclosed within the chapter. The end result was a predictable one, and whilst the Author passes no judgement, the accompanying German postcards documenting the incident are amongst some of the most emotionally-charged and jingoistic the reader is likely to encounter.
In summary, this is a thoroughly well-produced and lavishly illustrated publication which is underpinned by a balanced narrative which perfectly conveys both the early optimism of the Zeppelin as both a symbol of national prestige and the weapon which would win the War. The book presupposes no previous knowledge, and it can be read by anyone with either a passing, or developed interest in Airships and the propaganda effort of the First World War.”