Zeppelin Warfare

Attack Of The Zeppelins appears to be a Channel4 production and is offered in the UK, but I can’t see that from here 🙁 However, it is on the National Geographic Channel (for the US?) and SBSOnDemand for Australia.

Design and Construction

All the Zeppelins were build using Aluminium frames because of the relative lightness when compared with iron or steel. This makes the ability to refine Aluminium a necessary precursor technology to enable lighter than air flight.

Zeppelin gas bags were made from cow’s intestines, which are relatively gas tight, loosing a little more than the modern 10-15 cubic meters per day. Typically, a zeppelin would have multiple gas-bags, so that if one failed the others could still keep the airship afloat.

During WW1, the volume of cow’s intestines needed stopped the eating of the national dish, the bratwurst. Rain on skins, would increase the weight of the Zeppelin and reduce it’s ceiling altitude.

At an altitude at 21,000 ft. the effects on the human body! are quite pronounced. The example they give in the program show that the lack of oxygen reduce muscular strength and cognitive function. (ie the presenter had problems standing and spelling words)

The Germans used sub-cloudcar, to guide the zeppelin it to the target. An operator would sit below the cloud layer and radio up directions to the hidden Zeppelin. They were loaded two types of unguided bombs high explosive and Incendiary.


To counter the Zeppelin threat the British used Sound Mirrors placed along the coast. The sound mirror was a concert structure that captures and directs sound waves to a listener, who would then direct the Flak guns. However, this proved ineffective as the gun would have to match angle and distance to score a hit.

Then the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) tried using the BE2c aircraft with a Lewis machine gun to attack the airships from below. The machine gun was too weak leaving just small holes from which the gas would leak out, but at such a slow rate that the airships could still continue with their mission.

A flaming bullet was developed for the machine gun to ignite the Hydrogen gas in the balloon. The incendiary bullets made from Phosphorous, but this did not explode the Hydrogen because there was not enough Oxygen to cause a fire.

Explosive bullets made with nitro glycogen were designed to blow holes in the Zeppelin skin. These were alternated with the incendiary bullets in the machine guns, but it still required concentrated fire (A technique pioneered by Leaf Robinson) to cause the fire to down a Zeppelin.

Additional Sources of Information

Osprey’s London 1914–17 The Zeppelin Menace provides a great over view of the Zeppelin attacks on London. Osprey has other Zeppelin related books, but I have not read them yet. The Zeppelin Base Raids – Germany 1914 and Zeppelins: German Airships 1900–40.