How Much Do You Know About WWI Bombing Tactics and Strategies?


By: John Miller

6 Min Quiz

Image: Jan Svoboda

About This Quiz

In 1903, the Wright Brothers simply wanted to become the first inventors ever to send a heavier-than-air vehicle soaring through the heavens – they weren’t intending to make machines of war. But no matter their intentions, that’s exactly what their first test flights did. Just a decade later, Europe exploded into World War I, and both sides built rickety planes as fast they could, hoping to leverage this brand-new technology to beat back their enemies. What do you really know about the bombing tactics and strategies of the Great War?

He was one of the most brilliant military leaders of the conflict, but he was dead wrong about flying machines. Around the time of the war, famed French general Ferdinand Foch said, “Airplanes are interesting toys, but of no military value.” 

As the war gathered steam, both sides realized the value of planes for reconnaissance, which was the primary purpose of air power in WWI. But as the planes improved, so did their offensive capabilities. Do you know how the first pilots managed to bomb targets all over Europe?

The first bombers were laughably simple. They unreliable nature meant that they were almost as dangerous to their own crews as they were to the enemy. How did pilots and crews refine their attack tactics as the war dragged on? And how much damage did these bombers really do, anyway?

Dive into the cockpit of this WWI quiz now! We’ll see how much you really know about bombing tactics and strategies of the Great War.

What's an example of tactical bombing?

Strategic bombing takes a longer view of a war. Tactical bombing refers to the short-term attacks on targets of immediate importance, for instance, tanks that are approaching your troops' trenches.


Which came first, fighters or bombers?

No one knows exactly when bombers were first used to attack targets. But it is clear that bombers were first -- it wasn't until a few years later that the idea of fighters really took hold.


How did the first WWI pilots perform their bombing runs?

The earliest "bombers" were hardly bombers at all. Pilots literally dropped their munitions right out of the cockpit and hoped for the best.


What was a "Zeppelin"?

At the beginning of the 1900s, the Germans were obsessed with Zeppelins, gigantic airships that proved valuable in WWI. Because bombs were still in development, the Germans loaded Zeppelins with artillery shells and hurled those from Zeppelins at the start of the war.


How did Zeppelin pilots make their aircraft harder to detect during the war?

Zeppelin pilots often killed the engines as they approached their targets, drifting silently until they unleashed their deadly bombs. Then, they'd turn their engines on again and make a run for it.


What was a major tactical advantage of WWI bombers?

In a war known for its huge reliance on millions and millions of artillery shells, planes were a novel concept. Bombers could hit many targets that artillery simply could not reach.


During WWI, Britain suffered initial bombing attacks by which kind of aircraft?

Early in the war, the Germans used Zeppelins to quickly and quietly bomb Britain. Britain's inability anticipate this problem led to public outcry.


The Germans mostly used the Gotha bomber _____.

The Germans used many Gotha long-range bombers to strike far-flung targets. A majority of those missions were scheduled at night to dodge anti-aircraft defenses.


What was a major impact of daylight bombing raids by the Germans, especially early in the war?

Germany's daylight raids disrupted the normality of daily life in countless ways. Work schedules were ruined and civilians cowered in terror. But countermeasures eventually helped to stem German bombing runs in daylight hours.


Why did bombers have to fly higher and higher as the war dragged on?

As the war progressed, anti-aircraft guns (and their operators) got a whole lot better. Bomber pilots were forced to fly ever higher or risk being blasted out of the skies.


Bombers weren't always used for attacks. Often, their more valuable job was related to ______.

Bombers dropped many tons of explosives during the war. But in a war dominated by artillery, bombers also took countless photographs of enemy lines, helping artillerymen better focus their immense barrages of lead.


True or false, were Zeppelins very vulnerable to gunfire?

They were basically huge balloons, and very susceptible to rifle fire. With enough bullets, the Allies could shoot down low-flying Zeppelins.


What was one big advantage of Zeppelins over fixed-wing aircraft?

Zeppelins did suffer due to holes caused by enemy bullets. But they could carry a whole lot more bombs than fixed-wing planes, one reason the Germans were so high on these aircraft at the war's outset.


What's an example of a WWI strategic bombing target?

Both sides developed strategic bombing concepts during WWI. And both sides bombed places like industrial factories, rail lines, shipyards and other high-value targets, all in the hopes of reducing the enemy's ability to wage war.


How did pilots aim their bombs early in the war?

It was pretty much guesswork. Pilots looked down, and when they thought the time was right, they tossed bombs right out of the cockpit.


Why did the Germans begin to bomb cities during the war?

The Germans were the first to leverage the practice of city bombing raids. The idea was to damage enemy morale, although these vicious attacks often had the opposite effect.


How many civilians were killed by bombers during the war?

Only a small number of civilians were killed by bombers. But the widespread terror was a real effect of bombers, making civilians believe their enemies had greater reach and power than they really did.


In addition to enemy bullets, what factor made German Zeppelins less than ideal as bombers during WWI?

High winds took a huge toll on Zeppelin travel speeds. Many German raids were literally blown back by high winds that made it impossible for Zeppelins to reach their intended targets.


What was the name of the world's very first strategic bombing unit?

Germany gave its strategic bombing unit a code name to throw off its enemies. It was called "Ostend Carrier Pigeon detachment" to throw its foes off of the scent.


How did Russian Ilya Muromets defend themselves during battle?

A series of Russian Ilya Muromets bombers were some of the biggest planes on Earth during WWI. Some of these variants carried up to nine -- yes, nine -- machine guns for both offensive and defensive purposes.


What were Britain's Sopwith Camels good for during the war?

Sopwith Camels were a popular fighter with British pilots during WWI. As the war progressed, Camels pilots shot down more and more German bombers, until the Central Powers gave up on most of their long-distance bombing raids.


Why did the British call Zeppelins "baby killers"?

The Germans deployed Zeppelins against many civilian targets. And for that reason, the British derisively called these aircraft "baby killers."


The German Gotha G.V. bomber had a "firing tunnel," which was good for what purpose?

The area below bombers was typically a blind spot of sorts where enemy fighters could approach without fear of bullets. But the Gotha G.V. had a firing tunnel that allowed a gunner to shoot in a downward direction, eliminating that crucial vulnerability.


What development helped fighter planes take down Zeppelins?

As the war progressed, incendiary-style ammunition on fighters helped them ignite the materials that made up Zeppelins. These special munitions were more effective than the Germans would've liked.


Later in the war, the Germans unveiled S-class Zeppelins, which operated at what altitude?

As anti-aircraft guns improved, the Germans made bigger and better Zeppelins. The S-class Zeppelins operated at nearly 17,000 feet and could go as high as 30,000 feet.


Gotha Heavy Bombers had a bomb capacity of _____.

Bombers got bigger and more powerful throughout the conflict. Germany's Gotha Heavy Bombers eventually had a payload of nearly 9,000 lbs, meaning the crews could drop a substantial number of bombs during missions.


Which country was the first to unveil bombers with tail gunners?

Russia was a key player in early aircraft design. Its Ilya Muromets were the first bombers ever to sport tail gunners, who blasted any enemy fighters that approached.


In part because they were so vulnerable to gunfire, Zeppelins weren't used for much bombing during the war. They were used mostly for _____.

Because rifles and anti-aircraft guns could make quick work of Zeppelins, the Germans used them only occasionally for bombing runs. Mostly of the airships were used instead for reconnaissance, particularly in ocean areas.


Why did the Italians hesitate to attack any city-based targets during the war?

WWI enveloped all of Europe, and Italian civilians were in all major metro areas. If the military had resorted to widescale city attacks, it would have undoubtedly killed some of its own citizens.


True or false, in WWI, did both sides resort to bombing cities?

Both sides indeed bombed cities throughout the war. Part of this was motivated by revenge, but cities were also legitimate targets because they were home to government offices and factories.


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