I've argued that in 1913 there was a perception that the Anglo-German naval arms race was becoming an aero-naval arms race which Britain was losing, and that there was a response on the part of the Navy League, the Aerial League and others to mobilise public opinion in support of an aerial defence programme in a deliberate echo of the 1909 dreadnought scare. In my AAEH talk I drew out these parallels a bit further. In the traditional naval phase:
- 1906: launch of radical HMS Dreadnought destabilises existing naval balance
- Popular/elite perceptions that hostile Germany trying to catch up/overtake Britain at sea
- 1909 press/Navy League campaign: 'we want eight and we won’t wait' (successful)
- Naval arms race over by 1912 (Britain won, detente reached)
In the aero-naval phase:
- 1908: flight of new Zeppelin LZ4 demonstrates long-range capabilities
- Popular/elite perceptions that hostile Germany has already overtaken Britain in air
- 1913 press/Navy League campaign: '£1,000,000 for aerial defence' (failed)
- However, aerial arms race just beginning (Britain losing, detente over?)
I concluded that despite the easing of tensions between the two nations at the diplomatic level, at a popular level the Anglo-German antagonism continued into 1913.1 Perceptions lagged reality. The naval race may have been won objectively, but it had not yet been won subjectively. And now technology again upset the balance, only this time in the air and with Britain starting from behind.
I also briefly put forward a counterfactual: that had the First World War not taken place, more aero-naval scares would have occurred in future years, replacing the more 'traditional' naval/invasion panics. We can't know that, of course. We do know that after 1918 they were replaced by pure air panics: the war both demonstrated the potential of aerial bombardment of great cities and discredited the possibility of an invasion of Britain. Without that evolution I suspect that the two would have co-existed and combined in the 1913 pattern, and the Anglo-German antagonism would have taken on a new complexion.
Which concept in the last few years has come under increasing scrutiny: for a summary of the recent literature, see the introduction to Richard Scully, British Images of Germany: Admiration, Antagonism & Ambivalence, 1860-1914 (Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). ↩