Friday, August 1, 2008

Book Review : The Baby Killers by Thomas Fegan

Zeppelins fascinate me especially their use in WW1 where, lets face it, they didn't do very well. The Baby Killers documents the use of the zeppelin (which i am using for the Schütte-Lanz airships too) as a bomber in WW1 along with aeroplane bombers which followed on afterwards.

We can only suppose what it must have been like on one of these raids, flying slowly over the seas and then over land in often terrible weather and cold (raids took place at night). Navigation was rudimentary and the zeppelin could not outrun trouble. Although it could out climb aeroplanes and flak at least for a while the crews were always aware they were traveling on a huge slow moving bag of highly inflammable gas. Indeed such was the fear of the gas that in some cases crewmen chose to jump overboard out of the zeppelin (without a parachute and thus to near certain death) if the zeppelin was on fire rather than be burnt alive. Thomas Fegan documents all this as well as including some intriguing photographs from the raids.

The reaction of the British people is also documented, and Fegan reveals that the "stiff upper lip" was not always in evidence. This was the first time war had been raged against civilians on such a scale on the British mainland for centuries and the first time civilians had been bombed from the air and it was a terrible shock. Waging war on civilians was considered cowardly and criminal, the German zeppelin crews were called baby killers (hence the book's title). Fegan quotes from letters and diaries of normal people to convey the shock, fear and sometimes excitement of the people during the raids.

The second part of the book is a gazetteer documenting where each raid took place. Of course i had to look at Birmingham, actually we fared quite well here and got off pretty lightly. However amusingly on one zeppelin raid the zeppelin was sent to bomb Liverpool but went slightly off course and ended up mistaking Tipton for Birkenhead and bombed that instead.

Overall a very readable and enjoyable book which does a good job of portraying the events and also the people behind them.

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