A Preventive of Air Raids

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

A Preventive of Air Raids is a letter written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Times on 18 january 1916.

A Preventive of Air Raids

The Times (18 january 1916)



Sir, — It is continually asserted in Continental papers, and it is inherently probable, that the Germans are preparing fresh Zeppelin raids upon London on a larger scale than before. It becomes a very serious question how we should meet this menace.

All attempts to defeat a raid at London itself are, as it seems to me, open to very grave objections. To bring down a blazing Zeppelin with its cargo of explosives on to the roofs of a great city would probably be as dangerous a thing as to endure its bombardment. It might fall where it would produce no harm, but it is equally possible that it might descend on a crowded quarter and cause some great catastrophe. On the other hand, when once a Zeppelin has started upon its way it is very difficult to see how it can be intercepted and stopped before it reaches its destination. We have, I fear, to face the fact that we can neither stop their coming nor deal with them with any certainty when they have gone.

There remains one other course — but it is a very effective one. It is to stop the attempt by showing that you can and will retaliate. The German airship coming from the eastern part of Belgium has to travel at least 200 miles each way upon its mission. Had we an aviation centre near Nancy we should be very much nearer than that to great German centres of population. The distance from there to Wiesbaden would be 100 miles, to Bonn 130, to Frankfurt 140, to Coblentz 120, to Cologne 150. If, then, London is vulnerable, these are very much more so. Without any delay we should establish such an aviation centre, defend it with numbers of the best aircraft guns against the persistent attempts which will be made to destroy it, and announce to the German Government through the American Embassy at Berlin that we can tolerate no more outrages upon our civilian population, and that any further raids will be followed by immediate reprisals.

If such a policy were at once put in force it might act as a preventive — which is better than vengeance. But if it must be vengeance, then the blood is on the head of those who with their eyes open have provoked it. The whole world has been a witness to our patience. But for the sake of our own women and children the time has come when these murders must be stopped. If their civilians die as a consequence of the deliberate actions of their fellow-countrymen, then it is they and not we who have doomed them. There should be no limit to the bombardment of these towns. We should go on and on until we have a formal promise that this form of warfare shall stop. The Hun is only formidable when he thinks that he can be frightful with impunity. "Blood and Iron" is his doctrine so long as it is his iron and some one else's blood. When the French began to retaliate at Karlsruhe and Heidelberg several German journals at once announced that such warfare was inhuman, and it has as a matter of fact been discontinued — for France.

It is eminently a subject for ventilation, for it is clear that the Government cannot act in advance of public opinion, or pledge themselves to a course of action which the public might repudiate. The danger is a very pressing one and this is the only way to meet it. If there were a general concurrence upon the subject in the Press the authorities would feel strengthened in any action they might take. If we move quickly we may be in time for prevention. If we delay only vengeance may be left.

Yours faithfully,

Windlesham, Crowborough, Sussex, Jan. 15.