Counting corpses

Casualties in Britain due to aerial and shore bombardments, 1914-1918 (monthly)

Well, not just corpses ...

The data for the above plot are drawn from the War Office, Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire During the Great War, 1914-1920 (London: His Majesty's Stationery Office, 1922), 674-7.1 It shows the total (i.e. civilian and military)2 casualties (i.e. killed and wounded) from all forms of bombardment (i.e. by airship, by aeroplane, and by warship) in Britain for each month of the war.

There are three distinct, colour-coded stories here. The first is that of naval bombardment (blue). I knew of the German navy's raid on Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby in December 1914, but not that there were so many casualties (137 dead, 592 wounded). That one raid caused more casualties than any of the later air raids -- more than were caused by air raids in any one calendar month, in fact -- and on that basis the post-war Admiralty ought to have been arguing that the battlecruiser will always get through! Of course, it was a highly singular event: no other shore bombardment came anywhere close to doing as much damage. And most places in Britain were not as exposed to attack from the sea as seaside towns in Norfolk.

The second story is that of the airship menace (green). During 1915 and 1916 Zeppelin raiders were fairly successful, often causing about 200 casualties a month -- in those months that they did attack. They mostly came during the spring and autumn; I suppose the summer nights were too short and the winter nights too foul. But after 1916, they inflicted much less damage. That's partly because they came less often, and that's partly because in the autumn of 1916, seven airships were shot down by British air defences, including that commanded by the legendary Kapitänleutnant Heinrich Mathy. The RNAS and RFC had largely gotten the measure of the Zeppelin raiders by then.

Aeroplane raiders are the final story (red). Though these are largely forgotten today -- at least in comparison to the Zeppelins -- from the summer of 1917 they caused even more fear than did the Zeppelins, and the graph shows why: they did significantly more damage, and did so over a more sustained period of time. (They kept up the offensive on London over the winter of 1917-8, for example, which the Zeppelins did not.) The two great daylight raids on London on 13 June and 7 July 1917 were particularly shocking. Though the activities of the Gothas and Giants led to the formation of the Royal Air Force and the London Air Defence Area, ultimately the end of major aeroplane raids owed more to the needs of the German army in France than anything else: first the March 1918 offensive, and then the Hundred Days.

Casualties in Britain due to aerial and shore bombardments, 1914-1918 (daily)

This is a slightly different way of representing the same data, I think less successfully. The casualties are shown per day instead of per month, which means you can see just how frequent raids were (aeroplanes ahead, not by much though; and there are a number of raids of all types which caused no casualties and so don't show up). But the bars are very thin and indistinct, and I can't make them bigger without some of them overlapping each other. Still, it has some useful information lacking in the first plot, which is why I include here.


  1. Which was kindly scanned by Mike Yared of the WWI-L mailing list, and made available online. Be aware, it's over 80 Mb in size. 

  2. Interestingly, Statistics distinguishes between the two categories (with civilians nearly always predominating). I suppose the point of that was that the lives of soldiers and sailors were expected to be at risk in wartime, whereas those of civilians shouldn't be. 

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