Encyclopaedia Caledonica–The Air War

Note:  From time to time, I will be posting selections from my upcoming books, or entries from various fictional sources on background information on the world of my book series. (Are these blogs canon?  Sure.  For now, at least.)  I’ll denote them by using the Fiction tag and coloring the text blue.

The entry in the Encyclopædia Caledonica (1876 Abridged Edition for the British Public) for the “Air War” is as follows:

At the outset of the year 1863, the circumstances of the various German States and Principalities were such that the Kingdom of Prussia was the most powerful, but not of sufficient influence to induce a union of the states. Wilhelm, the King of Prussia, however, sought a way to unite the Germanic states into a single empire with himself as Emperor. While a decisive military victory over a convenient foe might bring the other states under their leadership, the Prussian military, while powerful, did not possess sufficient men and materiel to provide a quick military triumph.

Wilhelm found a military technology that he believed would provide Prussia an unstoppable advantage: airships utilizing lighter-than-air gas to enable them to fly through the air (see: ZEPPELIN, Ferdinand). Building upon ideas formulated while he observed the Union Army Balloon Corps during the American Civil War, Zeppelin developed steerable motorized airships capable of delivering explosive aerial bombs to the enemy from the skies (see: Airship Design and Construction). Excursions over the German border into the French region of Alsace by German Luftschiffe began. While many of these overflights were meant to harass the French population and intimidate the French Government, the airships inevitably came under attack from French ground troops. Retaliation by the airships resulted in bombs dropped upon the ancient quarter of Strasbourg resulting in minor damage to the Strasbourg Cathedral. Prussian Army Troops of the 1st Royal Saxon Guards Heavy Cavalry crossed the French frontier near Metz.

The British ambassador in Paris, Sir Giles Montcrieff, met with representatives of Emperor Napoleon III to offer British assistance to France. While this might at first sight appear to be a gesture of goodwill towards Britain’s erstwhile enemy, assisting France in defeating a common enemy was a strategic move, as of a more powerful unified German Empire was the greater foe.

The shooting-down and capture of the German airship ZL-8 in early 1864 allowed the Franco-British experts to examine the design and construction of the ships. Drawings soon reached the London balloon manufacturing firm of C.G. Spencer & Sons. The first British airship Phoenix was built in three months and within a month of its launching in Croydon, the first air-to-air combat with a German airship took place. The British ships had greater maneuverability and more advanced weaponry, and soon dominated the Zeppelin-built craft. Only six months after the first aerial combat, King Wilhelm agreed to a cease-fire and withdrew his troops from French soil.

The aftermath of the Air War resulted in the decommissioning of the Germany airships. The failure of Prussia to achieve a victory over France caused King Wilhelm to see his idea of a united Germany remain unfulfilled until the Second Austro-Prussian War of 1871.


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