Friday, August 4, 2017

Surrender, Paris!

On Sunday, August 30, 1914, Prussian Leutnant Ferdinand von Hiddessen and his observer dropped four or five 3 kg (6,6 pound) bombs from an Etrich Taube. The bombs landed around the quai de Valmy, and von Hiddessen finished his aerial attack by dropping a 1,80 meter long banner in the German national colors of black, white and red. The banner was attached to a rubber bag filled with sand to give it some weight as well as a pouch containing leaflets demanding the surrender of Paris. The leaflets stated the following: "The German Army is at the gates of Paris. You have nothing left but to surrender. Leutnant von Hiddessen".

                                            Illustration of von Hiddeesen flying over Paris.

Leutnant von Hiddessen was an experienced aviator by the standards of the day. He had taken part in air races in Darmstadt, Frankfurt, Mainz and Worms. On the evening of August 29, von Hiddessen was briefed by his commanding officer at the 1st Army about a reconnaissance mission that would take place next day. Leutnant von Hiddessen was to reconnoiter the position of French forces, but he was also to drop bombs over Paris, with the hope that noise and explosions would scare the population into surrender.

The morning of  August 30 was foggy, but by by 11.00 the fog had burnt off, and von Hiddessen took off from an airfield near St. Quentin together with his observer. He circled the airfield once before proceeding in a south-westerly direction. 70 minutes later the Taube reached the outskirts of Paris at an altitude of a dazzling 5,500 feet. Von Hiddessen crossed the Parisian skies a couple of times before releasing the first bomb at 12.45. The second fell minutes later in the courtyard of 107 quai Valmy, a home for the aged and the third landed on the pavement outside 66 rue des Marais, not far from the Boulevard Magenta. The final explosive crashed through the skylight of 5 and 7 rue des Récollets and failed to explode. All the bombs landed within a few hundred meters of each other in the 10th arrondissement of Paris.

Initial French reports from September 1 claimed that any damage caused was superficial, but later claims stated that one or two young Parisian women were killed, and they supposedly became the first of around 500 Parisians to die due to aerial bombardment or shells from long-range German artillery (the so-called "Paris Gun"). At least one horse succumbed to the bombardment as well. The banner and the leaflet bag was taken to the Prefecture of Police for examination. For some reason, von Hiddessen had misunderstood his orders and dropped the bag of leaflets instead of spreading out its contents. Ferdinand Von Hiddessen himself was shot down over Verdun a year later, sustaining serious wounds and spending the rest of the war in French captivity.

A horse supposedly killed by one of von Hiddessen's bombs.

The Parisians'responses to the bombing was mainly underwhelmed. The inhabitants of the city initially thought they were dealing with a gas explosion. Subsequent German aerial visitors arrived periodically during the late afternoon, leading the Parisians to label them "Five o'çlock Taubes", The Taube being a generic name for German aircraft in the early states of the First World War. Irritating as the bombings and spreading of propaganda leaflets may have been, Parisians were more curious than fearful, and they would be sitting outdoors at cafés and restaurants to place bets on where the bombs might land. In October 1914, British Lieutenant Colonel Ernest Swinton became an eye witness to a German aerial attack on Paris, and he became so impressed that he spent money out of his own pocket to print British propaganda leaflets that were distributed over German targets. However, true to form Swinton's superiors were less than impressed, and a second leaflet drop was denied.

One of von Hiddessen's leaflets.

The Etrich Taube was a popular aircraft before the First World War and during the first year or so of that conflict. The Taube also had the distinction of being the first aircraft to be used for aerial bombarment when Italian Giulio Gavotti dropped a bomb at the Ain Zara oasis in Libya.


Walter J. Boyne. The Influence of Air Power Upon History.

Arunkumar Bhatt. Psychological Warfare and India.