Tuesday, 25 February 1913

Standard, 25 February 1913, 9

The phantom airship scare has clearly entered a new phase since the sightings last Friday in Yorkshire and Warwickshire. Several major London dailies -- all politically conservative -- devote substantial amounts of column space to the mystery; half the main news page, in the case of the Standard. Only it's not regarded as a mystery any more. For example, the Standard's military correspondent says (p. 9; above):

There is not the smallest doubt but that this country at the present moment is the object of a systematic aerial reconnaissance carried out at night. Carried out by whom? it will be asked. There is only one answer to that question -- by Germany, because Germany alone possesses aircraft capable of doing what is being done by the airships that have been seen over England.

After explaining the numbers and capabilities of the Zeppelins, the correspondent goes on to argue that

By these nightly trips to our shores the Germans have made a certainty of being able to sail to any point in England within a given time. They have marked the ranges, as it were, and the vessels of a fleet of Zeppelins sent upon an errand of destruction would arrive at their various destinations with the certainty and punctuality of an express train.

The situation, then, is this: Within eight hours, at most, after the making of a signal in Berlin anything between 40 and 100 tons of high explosive could be dropped simultaneously at twenty different selected points in England. Within that short space of time, the whole of our arsenals and dockyards could be laid in ruins, and if our warships escaped, which is unlikely, the offensive power of the Fleet would be hopelessly crippled. And as matters stand we have absolutely no means of resisting such an attack, even if we had warning of it; therefore the attack would inevitable succeed.

The Standard's leading article (entitled 'The airship peril') backs its military correspondent, and adds that it is 'imperative that we should make the most energetic exertions to raise our air fleet above its present meagre proportions' (p. 8). Still it suggests that 'it is not exactly polite for foreign Governments to authorise these espionage flights over our soil' and warns that 'It would be a very "awkward incident" indeed if a Zeppelin hailing from Friedrichshafen or Johannisthal were brought to earth by a shell from an English gun'.

There is also support from 'several members' of the Royal Flying Corps at Aldershot, said to be

quite certain that the mysterious airship seen at Selby was no other than the Zeppelin Z1 and agree that the flight over the North Sea to Yorkshire marks a further step in the creation of a wonderful German aerial navy, which in the near future will be as supreme in the air as the British Navy is on the home seas.

(The Liverpool Echo quotes this article too, but identifies the Zeppelin as the 'Zeppelin II', p. 8.) According to the Standard, the 'opinion expressed in the Flying Corps headquarters' is that 'the voyage was made for the sole purpose of training navigators for future visits' and that 'these training voyages to England have been more frequent than is generally believed'. There is perhaps a slight scepticism: one officer points out the 'curious fact' that of all the airship reports so far 'none gave any description of the airship itself [...] only the lights it carried' -- 'but there were too many observers for all to be mistaken, and the theory that it might be an aeroplane carrying lights must be dismissed'.

But the most astonishing part of the visit of this overseas aircraft is the fact that it does not appear to have been sighted by any of the many vessels of all kinds on the ocean way [...] that no report has been received points to a most disturbing factor - the ability of these aerial visitors to reach England unheralded.

The officer is quoted as saying 'We are helpless. We have neither aeroplane nor dirigible capable of coping with these vessels in the air', and believes that 'This latest visit of the Zeppelin [...] would have an excellent effect in bringing home to the people the fact that England is at the mercy of foreign aerial war vessels'. The good news is that 'It only needs money to produce on this side of the North Sea an aerial fleet of equal if not superior power' -- well, he would say that, wouldn't he?

Also potentially falling into this category are the opinions of three civilian aviation experts interviewed by the Standard. Santoni, the managing director of the British Déperdussin Aeroplane Company, says 'There is no possible doubt that it is a Zeppelin'. However, Handley Page, managing director of Messrs. Handley Page (Limited) takes the opposite view: 'there seems to be no basis for any conclusion with regard to these reports [...] I am inclined to suspect the accuracy of the reports'. A. E. Berriman, technical editor of Flight is agnostic: 'Whether the airships seen in Yorkshire and Warwickshire came from a foreign country or not is unimportant compared with the great fact that such airship visits are possible'. The Standard's headline glosses over this divergence of opinion by claiming 'AGREEMENT AS TO NEED FOR ACTION', which is no doubt true.

Daily Express, 25 February 1913, 1

The scareships are also the lead story in the Daily Express, which, if anything, has even more inflammatory headlines than the Standard (p. 1):

NIGHT RAIDS BY AIR.
GERMAN DIRIGIBLES' FLIGHTS OVER ENGLAND.
THE NEW PERIL.
WANTED, £1,000,000 TO MEET IT.

They are somewhat misleading, though. Even aside from the fact that nothing has been raided, none of the following articles actually directly assert that the most recent mystery airships are German. Instead there is a précis of yesterday's Manchester Courier article claiming (without any real evidence) that a German airship was responsible for the Sheerness incident last year. Berriman of Flight makes an appearance here too, again hedging his bets with statements like 'it is natural to associate her [Germany] with the appearance of any mysterious aircraft in this country', and 'The reported appearances of airships by night is exactly what one would expect of an airship', and 'aerial navigation [by Zeppelins] could be carried out over a considerable portion of England and the return journey made in safety'. His theory is that the new Aerial Navigation Act is no deterrence to German overflights; indeed, now would be 'a singularly opportune moment at which to try the efficiency of the new measure in its power to materialise the aerial visitor'. So it's no more than supposition.

Daily Express, 25 February 1913, 5

The Express does also have a nice map, though.

The Daily Mail accepts, in its leading article, that 'it must be taken as certain that this country has recently been visited by foreign aircraft', though it hesitates to name Germany as the culprit and seems sceptical of last Friday's airship sightings in Yorkshire and Warwickshire (p. 4). But the German theory now finds support even in the pages of the radical Manchester Guardian, usually resistant to scares of this nature. Its London correspondent writes:

I understand that there is now little doubt that at the end of last week and on certain nights in the last few months we have been honoured by a visit from airships which have their base in Germany.

At least they put a somewhat positive spin on this claim by inviting the airships to visit less secretively:

If they come openly and by daylight one may be sure they would have the welcome to which their eminence in adventure and discovery entitles them.

In fact the airship scare is now making news in Germany, where it is both 'derided' and 'bitterly resented', according to the Daily Mail (p. 5). And, says the Standard, even though 'All the competent experts in aviation in Germany believe that it is quite possible for one of the new type Zeppelin airships to fly from Germany to Yorkshire and back [...] no one will admit it was a German aircraft that was seen in the neighbourhood of Selby last Friday night'.

Further details have emerged of Friday's airship sightings (though no thanks to the Western Times and its incredibly vague report of a 'mysterious airship' seen in 'the Midlands', p. 9). In Warwickshire, where the Standard says the subject 'has aroused the greatest interest in the neighbourhood' (p. 9), the full moon that night 'enabled a number of people to get a fair view of the strange craft', which 'was first sighted at a quarter to ten by several men, who had just knocked off work at Exhall Colliery [...] inside five minutes the craft was lost to view'.

A local policeman on duty on the Coventry and Nuneaton main road at Longford inclines to the idea that it was an aeroplane and not an airship, but several miners interviewed by our Nuneaton Correspondent declare that it was too large for an aeroplane. It was travelling at a considerable height, and was very fast in its passage over Exhall. People of irreproachable character are prepared to come forward and state that there was no myth about the affair.

At Selby's market day yesterday, 'the principal topic of conversation amongst the farmers was the mystery airship'. The 'military authorities' are said to be making 'Searching inquiries to solve the mystery'; Captain Lilley, commander of the 'Government ordnance stores at Barlby', has checked with all of his men who were on duty on Friday night. But it apparently was seen at Barlby, as well as Stillingfleet, Escrick, and Cliffe, which list doesn't match up very well with the sightings reported yesterday or with the new ones reported today and perhaps suggests that there are more reports to come. The new reports are from:

  • Fred Head, 'driver of the North-Eastern Railway Company's Norman mail' who says that 'an airship with a powerful headlight kept in front and at the side of the express from Wistow Gates to Selby, until it was lost to sight in the fog between Burton Salmon and Castleford'.
  • Mrs. McClure, 'a dentist's wife' who 'whilst driving with a lady friend from York, between Riccall and Selby, [...] saw two powerful head and rear lights, which disappeared north-west of Selby'.
  • Sergeant Skyrme 'who has seen 20 years' service' (in the Army, apparently) who, 'shortly after nine o'clock, from his house, Green-lane, Selby, [...] saw what he thought at the time was an aeroplane carrying powerful front and rear lights. He concluded at the time that an Army airman was making a late flight to York. His statement carries great weight'.

The Liverpool Echo and the Globe also publish some of these new sightings, though no additional details.

The Manchester Courier, after smugly recording the 'great deal of interest' aroused 'in both naval and aeronautical circles' by its article on the Sheerness incident yesterday unaccountably goes on to claim that the airship seen 'at Nuneaton, and later at Selby, has not since been reported' (p. 7). But this is not so. According to the Standard's Selby correspondent, an unnamed 'manufacturer' claims to have seen 'the airship lights again on Saturday night [22 February 1913] for a period of nearly five minutes', presumably at Selby. That same night [22 February 1913] an airship was reported from Scarborough on the coast of North Yorkshire. The Echo reports that it was seen by Lieutenant James Boyce, who is a member of the Scarborough Town Council (p. 8):

he was standing in his garden in Queen's-parade, North Cliff, when he saw a moving light in the sky. It was over Scalby village, and towards Suffield Heights, and finally vanished in the direction of Cloughton.

When he first saw the airship -- and he was most emphatically of the belief that the light was on an airship -- there was one light only, but afterwards -- he had the object under observation altogether about a quarter of an hour -- two were visible. The lights were of glowing character, and not of the diamond type of starlight. Whilst in his bedroom later, Lieutenant Boyce head a whirring noise. It was not that of a passing motor-car, but proceeded from the air.

The Daily Mirror adds that Boyce, who is in the Territorials 'At first [...] questioned his own sight. He looked at the stars, and there was no mistaking that this light belonged to something moving' (p. 5):

It came towards Scarborough and then turned, and he saw a second light on its side, and also a searchlight, which was throwing light downwards.

That continued for from five to ten minutes. His servant also saw the second light, as did a lady and gentleman who were passing.

The Echo says that this is 'the third time this month that absolutely credible witnesses have testified to the presence in the air in the immediate vicinity of Scarborough at night of airship', and notes that it is 'a most important strategical point' since 'the Admiralty have a wireless telegraph station' there.

Much further south, an airship has been reported from Gosport, though no date is given. The Dundee Evening Telegraph (p. 3) and the Derby Daily Telegraph (p. 3) print essentially identical articles (quoting here from the latter):

Considerable sensation was caused on the Gosport side of Portsmouth Harbour last night [Added: 24 February 1913] by the appearance, high in the air, of what is believed to be an airship, carrying a powerful light. The body of the craft could not be distinguished, owing to the darkness, nor could the machinery be heard, but the police and others declare that there is no question that the light was being manœuvred from a high altitude. It advanced from the north, hovered some time in the vicinity of the Marine Barracks, and returned north.

Though it is only fair to point out that the Portsmouth area does have a history of being visited by mystery airships which turned out to be British airships.

And even further south, there is a mystery airship abroad over Belgium too, as the Globe reports (p. 10):

The newspapers here state that for several nights past [prior to 25 February 1913] mysterious dirigibles have been carrying out evolutions over Peperinghe [sic], in West Flanders. The airships are believed to have come from the French frontier, and one of them is said to have been followed by a motor-car fitted with a searchlight, which was flashed at times, apparently to guide the dirigible.

Variations of this article, here attributed to Central News, appear in the Evening Telegraph and the Liverpool Echo.

Finally, a scareship joke appears at the head of the Globe's humorous 'By the way' column: 'Kill that Fly-by-night!' (p. 1). Well, perhaps you had to be there.

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