In his comment on my previous post, Alex mentions the "bolt from the blue" strategy as possibly related to the knock-out blow that is my current obsession (and he's right, in my opinion). My reply started to get long, so I decided to turn it into a post instead …
In Edwardian debates about the defence of the UK, the "bolt from the blue" school of naval strategy believed that the German navy could temporarily gain local superiority and throw a few hundred thousand soldiers ashore in Norfolk or somewhere, and Britain's puny army would be no match for those efficient Prussians. (Read: we need conscription!) It was opposed by the "blue water" school who argued that a strong Royal Navy would be sufficient to stop the Germans from getting ashore in any numbers. (Read: we need more dreadnoughts!) Of course, the dramatic and frightening bolt from the blue was the one favoured by Edwardian war-scare novelists like le Queux and Childers.1
There's certainly some similarity between the bolt from the blue and the knock-out blow, though how much the one influenced the other is difficult to say. Both were surprise attacks, and both evaded existing defences (the Royal Navy and the North Sea/English Channel). And both struck directly at the heart of Empire, rather than fighting the war at a safe distance, in Europe or the edges of empire. I think the major difference is that the bolt from the blue was still a military strategy: a way for Germany to bring its overwhelming military superiority to bear on the British army, defeat it and force Britain to surrender.2 But the knock-out blow was, generally speaking, aimed at civilians: it was a way of using British civilians themselves to force the government to surrender, directly or indirectly.3 (In that sense, the closest comparison might be a guerre de course like the U-boat campaigns in the World Wars.) After the First World War, the knock-out blow replaced the bolt from the blue as the scaremonger's nightmare of choice …
But now I'm getting ahead of myself!
- See A.J.A. Morris, The Scaremongers: The Advocacy of War and Rearmament, 1896-1914, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984.
- I should emphasise that it wasn't the Germans themselves who thought this, by and large: these were basically unwarranted British fears about what Germany was planning or at least was capable of.
- In the pre-1914 period, there was some suggestion that strategic bombing would be best employed to disrupt enemy mobilisation, but that wasn't seen as a potentially war-winning strategy, merely a helpful one.
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