'Aerial Attacks on Paris'
From ‘The Great War in Europe’
by Frank R. Cana. F.R.G.S.


The War in the Air

an early artist's impression of an aerial dual




First Attacks, August and September 1914 - Civilians Injured - Von Decken's Exploits - A Brave French Girl - October Raids - Notre Dame Struck - A Dejeuner Hour Visit: Twenty-Six Victims - Aerial Defence of Paris Organised - The Streets Darkened - Zeppelin Raid in March 1915 a Fiasco - A Long Grey Cloud German "Reprisals" - How a Raid was Prevented.


PARIS was early the object of attention of German aviators. Their, first visit to the French capital was on 30th August 1914 when an aeroplane flew over the city and dropped three bombs, without doing any damage. Two days later (1st September) another hostile aeroplane appeared over Paris, and dropped two bombs - one near the Gare St Lazare, with the intention of damaging that railway station. The other bomb was dropped in the Rue Hanovre, near the Opera. On Sunday, 27th September, another raid was made. Taking advantage of a fog a German aeroplane, piloted by a man named von Decken, approached Paris unperceived and dropped bombs intended, apparently, to damage the Eiffel Tower and its wireless telegraphy installation. In this object it failed, but an old gentleman who was passing with his granddaughter was killed and the child injured, one of her legs having to be amputated. This little girl, Denise Cartier, was a true daughter of France. Her first words to the gendarme who lifted her up were, "Surtout ne dites pas â maman que c'est grave" (Be sure not to tell mamma that I am badly hurt). Von Decken also threw bombs in a quarter of Paris largely inhabited by Americans, one bomb falling close to the American Embassy in the Rue Chaillot. This exploit of von Decken's followed an attack, on the previous day, on the hospital at Deynze, near Ghent. Four bombs were dropped on the building, over which the Red Cross flag flew, doing fortunately little harm, only one person, an old man of eighty, being hurt.

In the attack on Deynze the building struck may not have been the building aimed at, and in certain instances-this applies to the work of aviators on both sides-bombs directed at a legitimate object of attack, missing their mark, caused loss of life to innocent people. Nevertheless, the German aviators, besides attacking objects of military importance, did deliberately and repeatedly bomb open towns, with the intention of terrorising the civilian population. In this they acted up to the maxims of their military textbooks, which laid down that the utmost damage should be done to civilians, so that the oppressed people should demand from their Governments peace. As Prince Bismarck said, "Civilians should be left nothing but eyes to weep with." The assertion of the Germans that they only bombed residential quarters in reprisal for similar acts committed by the Allies was what Mr. Balfour would have called "a frigid and calculated lie." It is necessary that the reader should remember this point, while not forgetting that the primary aim of the German air raids was more often the legitimate destruction of enemy buildings, railways, dockyards, etc., of military value.

Early in the morning of 5th October a German aeroplane flew over the outskirts of Paris, and threw several bombs. A gendarme, his wife, and their seven-year-old child were wounded, and several houses were damaged. On the 11th, the day following the second attack by British naval airmen on the Zeppelin sheds at Dusseldorf, German aeroplanes of the Taube and Aviatik types arrived over Paris shortly after midday. Incendiary bombs were thrown on to the roof of Notre Dame, but this exhibition of "Kultur" failed, for the famous cathedral suffered very slight injury. The monoplanes, which flew at a height of about 7,000 feet, also endeavoured to damage the Gare du Nord and the Gare St Lazare. It was the hour of dejeuner, and the Parisians rushed into the streets from the restaurants and houses to watch the aeroplanes, the long square- cornered wings of the Aviatiks glittering like silver in the sunlight. Chased by French airmen, the Germans made off northward, dropping bombs promiscuously on the streets as they passed. Four persons were killed and twenty-two injured, the majority of the victims being women apd children. The greatest havoc was wrought by a bomb which fell in the Rue de l'Acqueduc, killing three and wounding ten persons. An assistant in a baker's shop was shot through the heart by a bullet which embedded itself in the wall behind him. The next day German monoplane again came to Paris, and dropped one bomb-which did not explode-on the roof of the Gare du Nord.

Thus in six weeks Paris had had six visits from hostile aircraft, and despite pursuit all the raiders had made good their escape. The Parisians were not in the least intimidated, but the authorities saw no reason why the Germans should be allowed to continue their murderous raids. Elaborate arrangements were made for the aerial guard of the city, and these proved efficacious. As soon as hostile craft were noticed approaching Paris they were fired at by the guns of the forts and of the anti-aircraft batteries, while squadrons of aeroplanes went out to engage the invaders. Three more attempts in October by enemy aviators to reach Paris were thus frustrated, and thereafter the Germans failed in several efforts to attack the city. These efforts led, however, to the Parisian authorities copying the example of London: on 17th January 1915 orders to darken the streets at night by diminishing the number and the illuminating quality of the lights came into operation. For a time Paris was no longer "la Ville Lumière."

It was not until 21st March that German aircraft again succeeded in eluding the aerial guard of the city. The following statement issued by the French Minister - of War tells succinctly the story of the raid, which proved a complete fiasco:

"Last night, between 1.15 a.m. and 3 a.m. four Zeppelins made for Paris, coming from the direction of Compiègne, along the valley of the Oise. Two of them were forced to turn back before arriving over Paris, one at Ecouen and the other at Mantes. The other two, attacked by the artillery of the defence works, merely passed over the northwestern outskirts of Paris and over the neighbouring suburban districts. They withdrew after having dropped a dozen bombs. The material damage done was insignificant. Seven or eight people were hit, one seriously.

"Various anti-aircraft defence posts opened fire on the Zeppelins, which the searchlights kept constantly in view. One of the Zeppelins seems to have been hit. The aeroplane squadrons took part in the fight, but a mist hampered them in their pursuit. In a word, the Zeppelin raid on - Paris completely failed, and merely served to demonstrate the efficient working of the defence organisation of the city. The people of Paris remained perfectly calm, as usual.

"In the course, of their return journey the Zeppelins dropped twelve incendiary or explosive bombs on Compiegne. The material damage was unimportant. Three other bombs struck Ribecourt and Dreslincourt, north of Compiegne: “without causing any damage."

A lady who watched the fight between the airships and the defenders from a house commanding a dear view of the Eiffel Tower and the northwest of Paris, gave a vivid account of her experiences: - "I was awakened," she said, "by firemen's bugles, and as we had all been warned I had no doubt what the noise meant. I dressed and hesitated whether to leave my flat on the top story, but decided to stay and see what was going to happen. I watched the police trying to extinguish a gas jet in the road below, which gave them a great deal of trouble. Then for a long time nothing happened. The night was so clear and peaceful, it seemed impossible that there could be any danger.

"Suddenly there came reports from distant guns, and then a series of vivid flashes from behind houses at no great distance, followed by a violent cannonade which made the windows rattle.

Searchlights were playing in all directions, but at first nothing was visible except the ghostly outline of the Eiffel Tower. Then I noticed that several stars were obscured by what seemed to be a long grey cloud moving at a tremendous rate. It seemed more like a shadow than anything solid. What struck me most about it was its enormous length and extraordinary speed. When a searchlight fell on it, it was only a fraction of a second before it passed out of its field. I knew at once it was a Zeppelin. As we had been forbidden to show any light, I lit a match in a corner of the room, and looked at my watch. It was ten minutes to two.

"When I went back to the window the firing had increased in intensity, and the airship, which was far away behind the Eiffel Tower at what seemed a very great altitude, appeared to be replying to the guns. From below the long grey shadow came a series of flashes, so that I think it must have been firing machine guns at the guns firing at it. Then, suddenly, the airship disappeared like a cloud, as suddenly and mysteriously as it had come. The firing ceased and all was still for ten minutes, when everything began over again, the guns again opening fire on what was, I suppose, a second Zeppelin. This airship, however, disappeared quicker than the first."

According to a statement issued by the German Army Head quarters, this attack on Paris was made "by way of reply to outrages of French airmen on the open town of Schlettstadt." There was no truth in the statement that French airmen had committed "outrages" at Schlettstadt, but, as we have indicated, the German authorities had invented the fiction that their aviators only raided places of military value, save when "reprisals" were in question.

Notwithstanding many efforts few hostile aircraft succeeded in reaching Paris after this incident. On 22nd May a Taube, disguised as a French biplane, got to the city and dropped several bombs which caused some damage to buildings but did not kill or wound anyone. As a rule the German aviators, before attaining their objective, were turned back by the Paris aerial squadron. We give one instance of the work of this squadron, copying the story as told by the pilot of the. French machine to Le Matin :

"I saw an AIbatross, coming home from the German lines at Laon, making for Chateau- Thierry and Paris. I gave chase. The German was 8,000 feet up; I rose to 9,000 feet, and as I had a faster machine, I rapidly overhauled him. We drew to within 30 feet of the Albatross, but had such way on that we shot right past, and I got a bullet in the shoulder, which, however, did not prevent me from continuing the chase.

"The Albatross then tried to escape, sinking quickly, but I flew over him, and my lieutenant got in a last volley point blank. The Albatross dipped and plunged headlong to the ground, 6,000 feet beneath. We followed it with our eyes, and saw it strike the earth, crumple up like a ball, and bound along the hillside like a rabbit. We descended in spirals. The pilot had been thrown out, and lay a few yards away. The observer lay crushed under the engine.

"We found papers in his pocket bearing the name of Lieutenant von Bulow, of the Imperial Guard, Berlin. The sight sickened me at first, but when I found ten large bombs and forty grenades on the Albatross I was glad, for I realised that we had been the means of saving the lives of the innocent victims for whom these bombs and grenades had been intended."

As a reward for his feat the French pilot was given the choice of the Legion of Honour of the Military Medal. He chose the latter. Work such as this kept Paris in safety. Similar work was performed by the aerial guard over London, and although, as in Paris, it proved impossible to afford complete protection to the citizens, hostile aircraft only once succeeded in reaching the London district during the first year of the war.


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