The first Zeppelin was made in Germany by Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin in 1899. The first flight of this lighter than air, hydrogen filled aircraft lasted less than 20 minutes. However, by the beginning of World War I they had become more sophisticated and were an important part of the German Army and Navy.
Initially just used for reconnaissance, in 1915 Zeppelins began to be used in air raids, being capable of travelling up to 85 m.p.h and carrying up to 2 tonnes of bombs.
With deadlock on the Western front, the German Army began to use the Zeppelins against towns and cities in Great Britain. Although the navigation was simplistic and the bombing inaccurate, the early raids caused many civilian casualties, injuries and lots of structural damage. As well as this, the Zeppelin raids were frightening and had a definite psychological impact on civilians.
The British struggled to deal with the Zeppelin threat at first. By 1916 however, new anti-airship guns were available and fighter pilots were sent against the Zeppelin too. It became clear that Zeppelin’s were extremely vulnerable to explosive shells, because they were filled with flammable hydrogen. Many of the German Army’s Zeppelin’s were shot down, causing the Zeppelin raids to be called off in 1917, with other aircraft being preferred.