Monday, January 19, 2009

Today In History: It's Bad German Idea Day!

On this date in 1915, a brace of German zeppelins engaged in the first serious aerial bombardment of a civilian target, dropping a few dozen bombs out of the night skies onto English towns. Unfortunately for the Jerries, they never really got the knack of strategic bombing, but the British seemed to think it was a swell idea. They proved to be enthusiastic pupils and less than thirty years later were burning German cities to the ground at pretty much a one-per-night clip.

Stumped for an encore, it took two years of hard work by the Kaiser's foreign secretary to come up with a more boneheaded maneuver: In January of 1917 Secretary Zimmerman, showing a complete misapprehension of strategic realities in the Western hemisphere, sent a telegram to Mexico, proposing an alliance against the still-neutral United States. Needless to say, when the British (who had been tapping everybody's phones) decrypted the document, they couldn't wait to show Wilson what the Boche had been saying about us behind our backs.

7 comments:

Turk Turon said...

"They have sown the wind, and now they shall reap the whirlwind."

Isn't that how "Bomber" Harris put it?

karrde said...

Of course, decrypting communications of other governments went on to become the Brit (and U.S.) biggest secret weapon in The World at War, pt. 2.

In the Wikipedia article, it is noted that the Mexican government studied the idea, and decided it was a loser for several reasons. (Among them, there was no way for the German support to translate into guns and bullets in Mexico, across the border from the largest manufacturer of war material in the Western Hemisphere.)

Ed Foster said...

Saw a picture of a Sopwith Pup with rockets mounted on the wing struts, specifically for taking out hydrogen filled Zeppelins.

Considering that the wings were covered in linen tautened by highly flammable dope, I wonder who was more intimidated.

The Graf originally designed his military airships for non-flammible helium, but the supposedly neutral U.S. refused to sell him any.

The upside was that the payload capacity of the Zeps went up 30%. Still not much of a bargain when being torched at 8,000 feet.

Word verification BLESTO. Is that shortening that's been prayed over by the Pope or Rev. Billy Sol Hargis?

alcibiades said...

Unleash the Avro Lancaster!

Anonymous said...

I wonder if there is any chance that the Zimmerman Cable was a British plant. That would have been an underhanded and brilliant thing to do--just the sort of thing we used to think the British were good at. We'd have swallowed it whole, too. Gentlemen here did not read each other's mail.

Tam said...

It was widely thought to be, but it wasn't.

Some people still make that claim, but generally in between claims that Auschwitz was a Hollywood fake and the Nazis have a secret rocket base on the moon.

markm said...

Barbara Tuchman wrote a pretty good book about the ZT. We had pretty good confirmation that it was genuine. Just to make sure it reached Mexico, Z had it transmitted three different ways. One was through a sympathetic diplomat in a "neutral" country (Sweden?), who we were allowing to use our diplomatic lines, because getting messages out through a war zone was difficult for them. So a copy of the encrypted telegram was in our own archives, and the Brits shared the German codebooks that they had captured or worked out...