Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Zeppelin Offensive: A German Perspective in Pictures & Postcards

By David Marks
Pen & Sword, Ltd., 2019
Peter L. Belmonte, Reviewer

1909: Kaiser Wilhelm Congratulates Count Zeppelin
on the Success of His New Technology

German Zeppelin raids on Britain during World War I have drawn a fair amount of attention from historians. Most of the writing has been from the British perspective; some writers have focused upon specific attacks or on attacks on a specific area. In this book, airship historian and author David Marks shows us the German perspective as reflected in postcards and other ephemera. Marks has previously written about how the British used comic postcards to boost morale during the years of the zeppelin raids. In this volume, he uses his own massive postcard collection to illustrate German use of this popular medium to influence its own citizenry relative to the zeppelin.

Marks covers the topic chronologically, the postcards in each chapter illustrating the progression of the use of zeppelins for raids. His brief narrative for each chapter puts the cards themselves in perspective and explains the meanings of some of the depictions and the words printed on them. Some cards depict children playing at war and including makeshift zeppelins in their tiny armies. Many others depict Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin throwing bombs from “his” airships or watching approvingly as others do.

One interesting chapter discusses the fate of the airship L19 that crashed in the North Sea after a raid on Britain on 1 February 1916. The British civilian fishing vessel King Stephen came upon the zeppelin in the water with the surviving aircrew atop its massive frame; the skipper of the King Stephen refused to rescue the stranded airship crew, and Marks covers the repercussions and the propaganda postcards issued in the wake of this tragic incident.

Sample Anti-German Postcard

Throughout the narrative, the author describes the propaganda impacts of the postcards, and he analyzes the various themes the artists and writers employed. Marks makes the interesting observation that “German artists and their publishers… [generally] displayed a more heavy-handed approach in their mockery of their opponents” (p. xi). In addition, many of the German cards reflect scatological humor, often showing, or implying, that zeppelin raids induce enemy soldiers and civilians on the ground to befoul themselves in terror.

This isn’t an in-depth history of zeppelin raids, of course. The comparatively brief narrative serves to highlight the postcards; it is the cards themselves that are the “stars” of this book. The postcards and other items of ephemera are very well produced, and they are a pleasure to look at. The art varies from comic depictions (very common) to strikingly realistic illustrations of raids. They evoke the feelings and spirit of a time long gone by. The author’s captions are informative, and each card is identified by its publisher, when known.

This book is highly recommended for anyone interested in World War I propaganda and for those interested in popular and material culture of the war years.

Peter L. Belmonte

1 comment:

  1. This is a very effective way to introduce people to the Zepplin war. Great pictures, too. Thank you, Pete and Mike!