David Clarke. How UFOs Conquered the World: The History of a Modern Myth. London: Aurum Press, 2015. Clarke is a journalist and academic who has also worked with the National Archives on the declassification of Britain's official UFO files. Here he takes a wider view, providing a social history of ufology (a subject he has already tackled, with Andy Roberts) framed through his own personal journey from believer to sceptic. Given that, I'm a bit disappointed that there seems to be little about phantom airships, a topic which he pioneered. Still, there's plenty of interest here.

Robin Prior. When Britain Saved the West: The Story of 1940. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2015. Or, to be slightly more precise, when Britain saved the West by saving itself - Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, and the Blitz (and Churchill rather than Chamberlain or indeed Halifax). Knowing Prior's previous work (mostly on battles of the First World War), this will be thoroughly researched and logically argued. At first glance, it's not clear that he is challenging much of the historiographical consensus on 1940, however: for example he allows that Fighter Command had the Battle of Britain well under control, while making the point that this wasn't obvious to contemporaries. Which is to say that Prior is sensible. As Prior says there aren't many military histories of 1940 as a whole, so a fresh, integrated and scholarly account is welcome.

Nigel Watson. UFOs of the First World War: Phantom Airships, Balloons, Aircraft and Other Mysterious Aerial Phenomena. Stroud: History Press, 2015. With Clarke, a sometime-collaborator, Watson is the other major pioneer of the history of phantom airships (and who also is more interested in their cultural significance than the remote possibility of physical reality). The collection which he edited, The Scareship Mystery (2000), has long been my standard reference on the subject for both peacetime and wartime mystery aircraft scares -- not that there are many competitors, mind. This is something of an update, a bit less in-depth but also broader. In fact, apart from the more usual mystery aircraft wave of the period, there is a chapter on the Australian mystery aeroplane panic in 1918 drawing upon my own research, which is very gratifying. There is also some information on Norwegian mystery aircraft scares, in 1908 and during the First World War, which I don't know much about. A chapter on wartime spy scares and other rumours bears on my own research in this area.

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Blaine R. Pardoe. Never Wars: The US Plans to Invade the World. Fonthill: 2014. NB: 'Plans' is a noun, not a verb! This is a summary and analysis of various war plans made by the United States between the 1900s and the 1940s, from the Azores to Mexico. Two versions of War Plan Red, war with the British Empire, are presented, one from 1905 and one from 1935 (including the use of poison gas against Canada). Perhaps the most intriguing is War Plan Black from 1914 (not the better-known 1916 version): the German invasion of the United States following the defeat of the Allies in the war in Europe. It's not quite The War in the Air: the projected German forces include only a detachment of aircraft, and Pardoe suggests that German airpower may been decisive, given the American lack of it (which seems unlikely, given the actual capabilities of aviation in 1914). Sadly, the US Navy's 1908-9 plans for the invasion of Australia and New Zealand don't rate a chapter.

Malaya XV

David Payne sent me this great photograph of Malaya XV Cheon Teong, Ngoh Bee, a B.E.2c which was donated to the British war effort as part of the Imperial Aircraft Flotilla I blogged about last year. David's grandfather, Arthur Chapman, is in the cockpit; he was an engineer at Shorts on the Isle of Sheppey, though not necessarily at the time of this photo. David provides the following information:

Arthur Chapman (1877-1937) worked as Shorts "head man" from '09 but I don't know how long for. He taught himself to fly and helped teach the first four naval volunteers to fly. Also he was in the passenger seat when Commander Samson flew the first hydroplane off the Hibernia at the review of the fleet in 1912. At what date he left Shorts I don't know although he joined the RFC in 1917.

Otherwise the details of this photo was taken are unknown, including the identity of the two men standing in front of the B.E.2c. It would likely have been taken in 1916, which is when the Over-Seas Club's book recording the growth of the Imperial Aircraft Flotilla was published; Malaya XV was the 15th of 17 aeroplanes in the Malayan squadron.

I notice that while the names of this aircraft's donors are given as Cheon Teong and Ngoh Bee, in the Over-Seas Club's book the first name is given as Cheow Teng.1 This seems to be an error; at least the name is given as Cheon Teong in a contemporary Singaporean newspaper.2 Either way, I hope he was pleased with his aeroplane.

  1. The Imperial Aircraft Flotilla (London: The Over-Seas Club, n.d. [1916]), 28. 

  2. Straits Times, 3 March 1916, 8

William Mulligan. The Great War for Peace. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2014. It may not have been the war that ended war, but Mulligan argues that we nevertheless shouldn't underestimate the contribution the First World War made to peace, not only through the usual suspects (the League of Nations and a slew of other international organisations) but also through normalising the idea of peace.

David Stevens. In All Respects Ready: Australia's Navy in World War One. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2014. When I bought this I thought it was part of OUP's Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, of which Michael Molkentin's Australia and the War in the Air is the first volume (of five). Oddly, though, it's not, and the series isn't going to have an entry on the naval war. Either way it looks like a comprehensive and accessible overview.

Amanda Laugesen, Furphies and Whizz-bangs: Anzac Slang from the Great War, South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2015. Did you know that a word as quintessentially Aussie as 'Aussie' was a product of the First World War? Well, you do now, because I just told you; and I know it because I just read it (among other things) in this book.

Diana Preston, A Higher Form of Killing: Six Weeks in World War I that Forever Changed the Nature of Warfare, New York and London: Bloomsbury Press, 2015. Preston argues that the period in April-May 1915 was essentially where the era of weapons of mass destruction began, spanning as it did the first use of poison gas, the sinking of the Lusitania, and the first Zeppelin raid on London. I think she has a point; while I would place this in a slightly longer context of brutality and destruction (Belgium, Scarborough, etc), the conjunction of these events may well have marked a watershed in the mental shift to a total war, at least in English-speaking countries.

Errol W. Martyn. A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War. Volume 2: Aero Clubs, Aeroplanes, Aviators and Aeronauts 1910-1914. Upper Riccarton: Volplane Press, 2013.

Errol W. Martyn. A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War. Volume 3: The Joe Hammond Story and Military Beginnings 1910-1914. Upper Riccarton: Volplane Press, 2013. Volume 1 is very good so I decided it was worth buying volumes 2 and 3. More narrative than analytical, but there is a lot of material here for early NZ airmindedness and aerial theatre, drawn largely from the contemporary press but also with significant use of archival material. Very well illustrated too, with lots of photographs and ephemera. I don't know of anything equivalent for Britain, unfortunately, though of course that would be a much bigger job.


Hector Hawton. Night Bombing. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1944. A rather interesting secondhand bookshop find. Hawton was a novelist, rationalist and during the war a flight lieutenant in the RAFVR. Here he has written an explanation, a history, and a justification of British bombing strategy in the Second World War. It's less overtly propagandistic than J. M. Spaight's wartime writings, I think, Hawton grants that the Blitz was largely directed at industrial targets, as is Bomber Command's campaign; but he also straightforwardly and even proudly lists the urban areas the British have destroyed and the civilians they have killed. Perceptive, too; he speculates about what might happen if the power of the atom were ever harnessed for war (noting that science often moves more quickly than laypeople think) and suggests that no nation would be able to maintain a monopoly of such a weapon, but also that it would be too terrible to be used.

Richard Hillary. The Last Enemy. London: Macmillan, 1950 [1942]. A classic of Australian war literature.

Michael Molkentin. Australia and the War in Air. The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, volume 1. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2014. Both an operational and an institutional history of the Australian Flying Corps, as well as the origins of military aviation in Australia before 1914 and the birth of the RAAF, but also a contribution to a much broader historiography about the RFC/RAF and the development of early airpower (think Sydney Wise's Canadian Airmen and the First World War). And it even finds space to mention the Australian mystery aircraft of 1909 and 1918. The book of Michael's PhD thesis, but don't hold that it against it.

John A. Moses and Christopher Pugsley, eds. The German Empire and Britain's Pacific Dominions 1871-1919: Essays on the Role of Australia and New Zealand in World Politics in the Age of Imperialism. Claremont: Regina Books, 2000. The outcome of a conference held at the University of New England (i.e. where I am, which is how I scored a free copy) in 1999. It's a somewhat idiosyncratic collection -- about half of the 25 essays have nothing to do with Australia or New Zealand at all (and only one is about the latter), being mostly about Germany instead (including one about the 1848 revolutions, despite the given starting point of 1871). Still, it's no bad thing for Australians to have to think about the bigger picture. And there are some interesting topics here (the churches and peace, ditto and atrocities, NZ expeditionary planning, Australian perceptions of the Prussian menace) and familiar names (Trevor Wilson, Robin Prior, Chris Coulthard-Clark, Denis Showalter).

Ian Mackersey. The Wright Brothers: The Remarkable Story of the Aviation Pioneers Who Changed the World. London: TimeWarner Paperbacks, 2004. Somewhat surprisingly, I've never bought any books about the Wrights (apart from Alfred Gollin's No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-1909, obviously). I still haven't, but thanks to a gift from a colleague (thanks Rich!) I now own one. This takes a biographical approach but looks solidly researched; Mackersley is a New Zealander who has also written biographies of Jean Batten and Charles Kingsford Smith.

Bernhard Rieger. Technology and the Culture of Modernity in Britain and Germany, 1890-1945. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A cultural history of the responses to three particular types of 'modern wonder': aviation, passenger liners, and cinema. I read this back when I was doing my PhD, but I've moved to a different library since then and I need my own copy now. I found it slightly frustrating at the time, because in terms of aviation it focuses almost entirely on airliners and explorers, as opposed to, say, bombers. This means that the discussion of the risk posed by this new technology is framed in terms of accidents rather than war. That said, the final chapter on technology on the nation redresses this balance somewhat, and besides, I'm probably tilted too much the other way.