When most men were sent to the trenches during World War I, the hustle and bustle of Paris paused for a while: shops were closed, and big hotels were devoid of guests. All that remained were those selling food and other daily necessities. Wives, daughters, sisters, and mothers went in to fill the labor gap, and they kept the economy going. Then, when the German bombing started in the country’s capital, the remaining workforce did what they could with what they had to save Paris’ landmarks and important artworks with the ingenious use of masking tapes and sandbags.
The Bombings Began
When the Great War broke out in 1914, the Germans closed the distance and came within thirty kilometers of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris in a short span of one week. The French and British armies successfully repelled the Germans in the First Battle of the Marne, but the cathedral was still too close to the front lines, much more than what was comfortable for the people left to keep the economy going.
The Germans had to cripple and wreck France’s economy and military prowess and reduce its population. In addition, they wanted to lower the country’s morale and capability to continue participating in the war. To do this, they planned to bomb Paris without caring that most of the victims were innocent civilians.
The Germans succeeded in terrorizing the people with their bombing. Several government officials even tried to flee. However, France’s Minister of the Interior threatened that he would give them severe penalties if they were to leave. This kept them from doing so.
The city and its people had to endure being regularly bombed by Zeppelins. These were airships that the Germans invented to transport people initially but were instead used to observe and bomb enemy positions when World War I ensued. Zeppelins could transport and drop multiple explosives in one go. Although, it was not accurate in terms of targeting where the bombs would drop because they were easily affected by the high winds.
However, they were not only threatened by the Zeppelins because long-range German guns and cannons also attacked the city. For obvious reasons, perhaps one of the most famous was The Paris Gun. It was explicitly constructed to shell Paris at a range of around 75 miles, unprecedented at that time. The Germans would move The Paris Guns near the front lines on railway tracks before successfully carrying out an intermittent bombardment of the city for around 140 days that started in March of 1918.
The Paris Guns were often confused with Big Bertha, the 420-millimeter German howitzers used by the German troops against Belgian forts in the Battle of Liege at the beginning of the war. It did not matter to the 250 Parisians who lost their lives and the buildings destroyed due to the attacks. For the French civilians, they could crush their landmarks and critical infrastructures but not their morale.
Sandbags and Masking Tapes
As mentioned above, the remaining workforce did what they could with what they had to save Paris’ landmarks and meaningful artworks. So, they gathered sandbags and brought them to the scenery of Paris. They used them by piling them up to protect the famous monuments and shelter them from bombardment and shrapnel. They also took away essential artworks and kept them in a safe location. At the same time, they also removed the stained-glass windows from cathedrals and other buildings so they won’t shatter.
The other creative solution they did as a form of protection was to reinforce the windows with lattices of masking tapes. Unfortunately, this method was never tested nor proven effective against the blast. Regardless, this gave the people some psychological protection against the harrowing effects of the chaotic conflict, perhaps one of the reasons why the people were able to keep their morale intact throughout the war.