Osprey has avoided covering aerial campaigns until recently because of the difficulty in providing appropriate maps to cover a snapshot in time. In Campaign number 193, author Ian Castle provides the first effort by this series to address an aerial campaign, by focusing on the German Zeppelin raids over London in 1915-18 (the dates in the title are incorrect). Parts of this book are fairly well-written and interesting, particularly concerning British efforts to intercept the Zeppelins, but the author seemingly puts all his effort into reconstructing each Zeppelin raid in loving, excruciating detail rather than providing any real insight or analysis of the actual campaign. Furthermore, the greatest weakness of this volume is the failure to adequately link or cover the Zeppelin raids with the Gotha and RVI bomber raids of 1917-18 (exactly three unconnected sentences mention the bomber raids). A campaign volume that addresses the German strategic bombing campaign against London in the First World War but only covers the Zeppelins and ignores the far more destructive bomber raids has failed to provide a coherent depiction of the military operations. London 1914-17 does benefit from some excellent photographs (the best being postcards that depict actual Zeppelin shoot-downs in 1916-7), but it does not provide the kind of campaign overview that most readers expect.
After a very brief introduction that spells out the German intent to use lighter-than-air airships as a weapon of war, the author launches a messy section that jumbles together opposing commanders, opposing plans and opposing forces all in one lump. Readers looking for the order of battle will have to flip all the way to the end of the volume. It's hard to make much of this agglomeration of information in this section, other than it is poorly packaged and presented and that the author was in a hurry to get to his raid descriptions. The 75-page campaign narrative per se is broken into four sections, covering the 1915, 1916, 1917 and 1918 raids. The fact that only 9 Zeppelin raids actually reached London in 1915-18 allows the author to cover each raid in great detail and to provide a map for each raid, showing exactly where it dropped bombs in London. Indeed, the author's approach is more in line with the format of the Battleground Europe series - blow-by-blow descriptions followed by photos of the site then and now. No detail is too small for this author, including mentioning that SL.2 `destroyed some boxes of tea and bags of salt..' (pp. 32), LZ90 `broke windows, roof tiles and killed three chickens,' (pp. 51) and L.31 `destroyed 40 horticultural glasshouses.' For each raid, the author actually mentions most bombing victims by name and age. However, German casualties, except for a few well-known captains such as Mathy, are virtually ignored (there is one photo of a German cemetery in UK at the end). At times, the level of detail is quite tedious and adds little to the campaign narrative. The volume has a total of 12 2-D maps (Zeppelin bases, RFC bases plus 10 more maps covering individual raids) but no 3-D BEV maps. London 1914-17 also has four battle scenes by Christa Hook (London's first Zeppelin raid, 31 May 1915; an airfield at night; the attack on SL.11; Heinrich Mathy's leap from L.31). To be honest, these battle scenes look rather crude and not as good as the work of other Osprey artists such as Peter Dennis, Howard Gerrard, etc.
Initially, the German Zeppelins met virtually no effective resistance from the British and the only real hazard was bad weather and mechanical defects, which caused about 2/3rds of the Zeppelin raids to abort. However, by September 1916 the British had developed incendiary bullets for their fighters and Zeppelins began to be shot down with regularity. Nevertheless, the author has a tendency to `hype' the Zeppelin raids, several times referring to them as `devastating' or `successful.' For example, he uses these terms to describe two raids in September 1915 which resulted in the deaths of only 40 Londoners. While certainly a tragedy, the death of 40 civilians in a city the size of London was no worse than a bad train accident and the bomb damage was very spread out, prevented concentrated destruction. Indeed, most of the time the German Zeppelins had a hard time even finding London and the fact is that these attacks were merely random terror bombing.
By the end of the volume, the author offers up only a few meager crumbs of summation and analysis. He states that these nine Zeppelin raids inflicted 1,915 casualties (incl. 557 dead), of which only 685 were in London. German losses in personnel are not listed, but they were 6 Zeppelins and about 130 personnel. He does not note that the Gotha raids inflicted more casualties (2,908) than the Zeppelins, at less cost (28 bombers lost over England with about 80 crewmen) and dropped more bombs on London. Indeed, it is amazing that the author can recount the number of chickens a given raid killed, but not the total tonnage of bombs Zeppelins dropped on London. If he had bothered to provide anything like analysis, it would likely indicate that the German Zeppelin raids were a total failure in both achieving their purpose of crushing British home front morale and an extravagant waste of German resources. Indeed, it is odd that German chose to continue building bigger and more expensive Zeppelins when it was obvious that they were very vulnerable and a better solution - heavy bombers - were in hand by 1917. Perhaps the German leadership should be forgiven for over-estimating the effects of strategic bombing (which continued for several more decades), but they also miscalculated in adding terror-bombing to their resume. When combined with first-use of chemical weapons and unrestricted submarine warfare, the Zeppelin raids on London would only served to highlight German ruthlessness and brutality to neutral nations like the United States and help to widen the war. Unfortunately, this volume does not serve to place the Zeppelin raids in their wider context and fails to assess their role in contributing to Imperial Germany's defeat. This book is primarily about smashed shop windows, not the dynamics of strategic-level warfare.