The images in this post are from Boyd Cable, 'Death from the skies', in John Hammerton, ed., War in the Air: Aerial Wonders of our Time (London: Amalgamated Press, n.d. ), 20-4 (see below).
The article itself is a short story describing an air raid in the next war. I won't summarise it in detail, but it argues for the futility of both air defence and civil defence. The RAF's interceptors never even encounter the enemy bombers (in part because they are stealthy thanks to their silenced engines, only 20% as loud as normal aircraft engines). Though the populace has been drilled well and resists panic, at least at first, they are too vulnerable. A first wave of bombers uses high explosives to block the streets with rubble, making it impossible for fire engines to pass; the second drops incendiaries which set the city ablaze and, crucially, force civilians out of their shelters; and the final wave drops poison gas, which starts killing the now-exposed people on the streets. Now the panic starts and the mob flees, their suffering increased by strafing raiders. The RAF now has its chance, but the city is doomed…
"Proof enough of what we've said so long," growled the one [Air Staff officer]. "Defence as such is a wash-out. Attack is the only useful form of defence."
"If we can hit them harder and faster and oftener than they can hit us, we win," said the other. "We can do it, too, if we have more bombers — men and machines — than they have."
"Yes — if," said the other wearily. "That's what we were arguing as far back as the first R.A.F. expansion scheme in — what was it — 1935 and '6, wasn't it?"
THINGS TO COME?
H.G. Wells, in his pre-war fantasy, "The War in the Air," proved himself an astonishing prophet, a fact that makes these "stills" from his film "Things to Come," depicting an air raid in the next war, as disturbing to consider as they are terrible to look upon.
REHEARSAL FOR DEATH
Anti-air raid drills on a mass scale have become a feature of German life. This photograph shows an elaborately staged rehearsal of a gas-bomb attack as it might affect civilians, held in the Technical High School at Charlottenburg, near Berlin.
In "Everytown," a city of the very near future, a crowd watch and strain their ears for the first signs of approaching enemy aircraft; an A.A. gun is ready for action. The photograph is a "still" from H.G. Wells's film, "Things to Come," and though, were war to come, the street would be deserted and lights out, it suggests the atmosphere of apprehension.
… AND THEN INFERNO
In vivid and horrible contrast to the scene in the previous page are these two further impressions of a city's doom, the first representing the street a few moments only after the raid commenced, the second the same street the following day. Though again the limitations of the film studio have perhaps happily prevented the full frightfulness from being shown, there is enough of horror to suggest the fate that may overtake troops and civilians alike in the next war.
Actually, the corresponding scene in Things to Come wasn't set the next day; or at least there's no indication it's not part of the air raid sequence itself.
NIGHTMARE OF THE FUTURE
This reproduction of a German artist's idea of a scene in London during an air raid in the next war forms in all probability an all too lamentably accurate forecast. It has been suggested in responsible quarters that 100 aeroplanes could stifle a great city with a gas cloud that would rise many yards from the earth, an idea even more terrifying than the though of high-explosive bombs.
War in the Air was a partwork issued weekly, costing 7d. The first issue, in which this article would have appeared, came out on 7 November 1935, a few days before Armistice Day; once complete, all the issues were collected together in a bound volume (which is what I have) around the middle of 1936.
Boyd Cable was the pseudonym of Ernest Andrew Ewart, a Boer War veteran and newspaper correspondent during the First World War. I'm not aware of any specific expertise he might have had in aviation outside of his war experience, though he did write several books with suggestive titles: Air Men o'War (really?), The Flying Courier, Air Activity, The Soul of the Aeroplane: the Rolls-Royce Engine (okay, that one's particularly suggestive). He wrote a number of other 'Things of Tomorrow' stories in like vein for War in the Air, which I'll discuss in future posts.
The editor, Sir John Hammerton, was the doyen of partworks; Harmsworth's Universal Encyclopedia sold 12 million copies, and I suspect the wartime The Great War:The Standard History of the All-Europe Conflict and the 1933 A Popular History of the Great War (among other works) were highly influential in shaping the memory of the First World War. (Dan Todman in The Great War: Myth and Memory suggests that these and similar partworks have been neglected by historians, just what I was thinking!) War in the Air also devoted a lot of space to that war, but it was also explicitly framed as a warning about the next war, as the advertisement above, from Daily Express, 7 November 1935, 4, shows:
A Book of Vital Importance to every man, woman and child in the British Empire, called into being by the most urgent problem of our time
WAR IN THE AIR, while brilliantly recording the stirring story of the Past, is mainly concerned with the Future and this, the first publication to deal with the subject in its entirety, gives a vivid picture of the dread menace of aerial warfare [...]
THIS is no mere book of thrills and startling pictures, it is a living, vital thing that ought to enter into your life and help you the better to bear your part in the most urgent need of our time — the need to make Britain as powerful in the Air as in times gone by she was dominant at sea.
Amidst the scaremongering there's a very hard sell going on here, and not a little hyperbole too ('the most important and significant publication issued in this country for a generation'!) But mixing profit and patriotism never did any harm.
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