Civil defence

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A key element in any wargame is the scenario. It sets the boundaries in time and space of the simulation, as well as its initial conditions. For a historical wargame, a scenario might be the battle of Cannae, or the British and Canadian sectors at D-Day. Creating such scenarios involves researching orders of battle, contemporary maps, unit diaries, histories and so on. From this research flows the game map, units and the rules themselves. For a counterfactual and indeed retrofuturistic game of the knock-out blow such as I'm contemplating, there are by definition no historical events to draw upon. So where would I start?

One way is to just create a generic scenario, drawing on my own understanding of interwar airpower writing. The obvious one would be the classic knock-out blow scenario, with Germany launching a surprise attack on London, and a war lasting a few days. That has the advantage of being relatively unconstrained and easy to design, and fits in well with the microgame approach Philip Sabin recommends. And I may well do just that. But there's another way, which is to use some of the scenarios imagined during the interwar period itself.
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I've been awarded a small grant by the University of New England to fund research into 'Popular perceptions of the German threat in Britain, 1914-1918'. I'm very fortunate to have received this and very grateful. The basic idea is this:

This project will investigate the British public's reaction to the threat of German attack during the First World War, including invasion, air raids, and espionage. Broadly speaking, the anticipation of such attacks before 1914 has received occasional attention over the last few decades. However, the way these fears actually developed during the war itself is less well understood. From scattered evidence it is known that they included trekking to safe areas, spontaneous organisation of civil defence measures such as the occupation of Tube stations as air raid shelters, and anti-German riots, but no comprehensive study has been carried out, with the recent and partial exception of invasion fears in south-east England in 1914. These fears are important for several reasons. Firstly, because they played a role in strengthening or weakening popular support for the war. Secondly, because they played a role in the retention in Britain of substantial military, naval and aerial forces which could have been deployed on the Western Front and elsewhere. Thirdly, because during the 1920s and 1930s, memories of air raids by Zeppelin and Gotha bombers led to an exaggerated fear of bombing which in turn had significant psychological, political and military consequences.

This is designed to be a standalone project (i.e. and an article), but it's also designed to support my longer-term mystery aircraft research by establishing a sort of baseline for the effect and extent of other forms of scares. How I (tentatively) plan do this is as follows:

  1. Using a combination of distant and close reading techniques, survey the British wartime press to identify periods when fear was likely at its highest, which will likely include the period after the fall of Antwerp, October 1914; the battlecruiser and Zeppelin raids in December 1914-January 1915, the first London air raids in May 1915, the height of the Zeppelin raids in the winter of 1915-6; the daylight Gotha raids in the summer of 1917; the night Gotha raids in the winter of 1918; and the German spring offensives of 1918. This can be done via the Internet using digitised newspaper archives such as the British Newspaper Archive and Gale NewsVault, which between them give good coverage of national and provincial daily newspapers.
  2. The core of the research will be undertaken in London:
    I. 1 week research at the National Archives to examine the official understanding of public fears and responses to particular incidents such as riots and trekking.
    II. 2 weeks at the Imperial War Museum to survey diaries from relevant places and periods to ascertain privately held and expressed reactions to the German threat.
    III. 1 week in a provincial archive in a threatened area such as Hull or Norwich as a check of the predominant London bias of many sources, to gauge local government understanding of and responses to the German threat.
  3. Analysis of data and followup research, if necessary.

This is significant for a number of reasons. First, it's the first time I've won any substantial research funding. Second, it will be the first time I've moved outside aviation history to any real degree (even if I will still be mostly doing aviation history). And third, while my last research trip to the UK may not have been completely successful, I will be going back for more.

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I've written before about how the air defence problem seemed to inspire 'wildly creative' thinking in the early 20th century. Here are a couple more examples, submitted to the British government by members of the public, c. 1943 -- the one effectively a form of death ray, the other a (technically) non-lethal weapon:

One of the most popular discarded suggestions was that the atmosphere should be flooded with carborundum powder which would be sucked into the fascist aero-engines and chew them to pieces. It is difficult to convince people that there is an awful lot of atmosphere!

Another one was that they should spread throughout the atmosphere 'a gas' (unknown to the suggestor -- to be discovered by the chemist) which would congeal round the plane in flight, and when the crew baled out, would wrap itself around them so that they would arrive on the ground like chickens in gelatine. This was the solution of the paratroop problem!1

The desire of these would-be inventors to help defend the nation (and perhaps profit handsomely) exceeded their knowledge of science and engineering.

The author of the article from which the above quotation is taken was Ritchie Calder, a former journalist then doing propaganda work for the Political Warfare Executive. Maybe that's how he came to be writing about the contributions of British scientists to the war effort for an American publication, Popular Astronomy:

Their maximum accuracy is in the air, in spite of three-dimensional fighting. When one hears of a thousand-plane raid being packed into fifty-five minutes over a single town in Germany, one should remember not only the vast ground organization, the transport supplies, the loading of the bombs, the timing of the take-off and returns, but also the intensive work of the scientists behind the operation.2

But while Calder only deviates from such broad generalisations when poking fun at death rays and gelatin gases, this article does combine two things he was interested in: explaining science and defeating bombing. Before the war, Calder had been science editor for the News Chronicle; during the Blitz, he was a crusader for better post-raid welfare and shelter conditions. It's interesting that one of his sons, Nigel Calder, became a noted science journalist, while another, Angus Calder, became one of the most influential historians of the Blitz.


  1. Ritchie Calder, 'Science comes to Earth', Popular Astronomy 51 (1943), 346-7

  2. Ibid., 346. 

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Hamish Blair, 1957

I may be the only person now living to have read all three of Hamish Blair's novels, published in 1930 and 1931 -- I'm certainly the only person on LibraryThing to own any at all.1 I wish I could say that the rest of you are missing out, but you're really not: they are tedious as fiction and barely more interesting as future war fiction, which is the reason I bought them. Read consecutively, however, I can at least say that his writing did improve somewhat over the three books. And his first novel, 1957 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood & Sons, 1930), is a rare example of future colonial war fiction, and an even rarer example of future colonial air war fiction. So it's worth looking at for that reason alone.
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  1. The author of the Science Fiction Encyclopedia entry about Blair perhaps excepted, though the (admittedly brief) plot descriptions are misleading in two cases. 

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[Cross-posted at Society for Military History Blog.]

Washington Post, 2 June 1918, SM1

New York waited for an air raid in June 1918. For thirteen nights from 4 June, much of the city was blacked out to avoid giving German pilots any assistance in locating targets to bomb. The New York Times reported the following day that:

Electric signs and all lights, except street lamps and lights in dwellings, were out in this city last night in compliance with orders issued by Police Commissioner Enright at the suggestion of the War Department, as a precaution against a possible attack by aircraft from a German submarine. A system for signalling by sirens in case the approach of aircraft should be detected was devised by the police and signal officers yesterday to warn persons to get under cover.1

While coastal and anti-aircraft batteries readied their guns, aviators went up to check the effectiveness of the blackout, resulting in its extension. After the third night, it was reported that

The lower part of the city was in almost complete darkness, the number of street lights being reduced and those that burned being dimmer. Every downtown skyscraper was almost entirely dark, the shades in the rooms which were lighted being drawn.2

City officials met to discuss other civil defence measures, including air raid sirens and shelters. A particular concern was the evacuation of skyscrapers during business hours:

It was pointed out that in case of such a raid in the daytime the danger of loss of life from panic in swarming down the stairs and into elevators would be greater than the danger of bomb explosions.3

It was decided that the best thing to do would be to designate certain floors as evacuation points. These plans were probably not put into effect, however, as the last night of blackout was 16 June; on 17 June all police precincts were ordered to 'Resume normal lighting throughout the city until further orders'.4 There was evidently some embarrassment now, as the War Department and the New York Police Department each claimed that the blackout was the other's idea. In any event, the exercise doesn't seem to have been repeated.
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  1. New York Times, 5 June 1918, 1. See also Paul G. Halpern, A Naval History of World War I (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1994), 431. 

  2. New York Times, 7 June 1918, 2. 

  3. Ibid., 15 June 1918, 6. 

  4. Ibid., 18 June 1918, 24. 

What was the response to the Canterbury Baedeker raids? There was actually surprisingly little direct comment in the British press, but the major theme was to reaffirm that British raids on German cities were not reprisals but attacks on legitimate targets; whereas German raids on British cities were not even reprisals but merely spite. In a leading article, the Times, said of the RAF's attack on Cologne that 'the airmen who demolished military targets hard by were able, by German admission, to spare the cathedral', whereas

The authors of the so-called 'reprisal' raid on Canterbury, having for its sole objective the destruction of historic buildings of great beauty, stand self-condemned.1

Similarly, in the opinion of the Western Daily Press:

While it is easy to perceive a poetic justice in what Germany is now going through, it is not for the purpose of exacting vengeance that the mammoth raids of the R.A.F. are being conducted. Unlike the Germans, who make targets of our cathedrals, we are not interested in destroying the antiquities of the Reich. But we are interested in the centres of German war production, and it against these that the heaviest onslaughts will be directed.2

For the Gloucester Journal, while Bomber Command's attacks are indeed the 'fulfilment of the open warning, long since given, that every ton of bombs dropped on Britain shall be returned in ten-fold measure to the Hun', they 'are much more than mere reprisals [...] They are part, an integral and essential part, of the vital battle of supplies, by which the ultimate issue of the war will be decided'.3 The Bishop of London, Geoffrey Fisher, speaking before the London Diocesan Conference, thought the RAF's raids justified:

Canterbury and Cologne had each in its own country a very special place in religious life and sentiment. Canterbury had no military significance; Cologne, as a centre of war industries, had, and its destruction on a large scale was legitimate and a legitimate cause for satisfaction.

At least William Temple, the Archbishop of Canterbury, while also not doubting that the RAF's attacks were legitimate -- here speaking specifically of Lübeck and Rostock -- added that 'proper satisfaction must always be accompanied by distress of soul at the misery and suffering inflicted thereby upon thousands of homes'.4
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  1. The Times, 3 June 1942, 5. 

  2. Western Daily Press (Bristol), 3 June 1942, 3. 

  3. Gloucester Journal, 6 June 1942, 6. 

  4. The Times, 9 June 1942, 2. 

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As with the Lübeck and Rostock raids over a month earlier, the RAF's thousand bomber raid on Cologne on 30 May 1942 triggered reprisal attacks by the Luftwaffe (though in far smaller numbers than Bomber Command was able to muster). Another round of Baedeker raids, in other words. This time, however, there was only one target, Canterbury, the site of the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion, bombed on the nights 31 May, 2 and 6 June. In fact, in this period some towns received even heavier raids than Canterbury, such as Southampton and Poole, but are not usually considered part of the Baedeker Blitz, nor were they given then same publicity at the time. The reason for this is presumably that whatever their heritage value those places were also quite clearly valid military targets, whereas Canterbury equally clearly was not. And the Germans didn't claim they were 'a reprisal for the terrorist attack carried out by the British Air Force on the inner city of Cologne', as they did in Canterbury's case.1

So here I'll look at the press reports of the Canterbury raids. One of the first was in the Derby Evening Telegraph on 1 June, which reported that 'CANTERBURY IS HUNS' TARGET':

No doubt the Cathedral, the Mother Church of England, was one of the enemy's chief objectives, but it is not proposed to assist the Germans by giving any information as to whether damage was caused to it or not.2

But since the article went on to describe 'One of the town's churches' as a 'burned out ruin', spire crashing into the ruins and all, it's possible that some readers drew the wrong conclusion and feared the worst. The morning papers the following day still weren't commenting on the cathedral's fate, in fact they largely avoided admitting that it existed at all (though they did mention that the Archbishop was safe, which would seem to imply the existence of his cathedral). Instead, the Daily Mirror focused on the human aspects of the raid, leading with the 75-year old woman said to have a 'spirit [...] typical of the Canterbury people':

She had been buried seven hours beneath 14 feet of debris, but she walked out. While soldiers were digging to free her she called out, 'I could do with a cup of tea, boys.'3

There were of course those who were not so lucky, including the town clerk, G. W. Marks, who was rescued from the ruins of his house alive but died in hospital. (Marks, who was Canterbury's ARP controller, was remembered in the West Country as he had been the chief assistant town clerk in Bristol.)4 Even though the raiding force was only about 25 aircraft, the Daily Express's report indicates fairly heavy damage:

In Canterbury a number of people were killed and injured, scores of homes, two rest centres, two banks, a school, several inns wrecked or damaged.

But it went on to say that 'by nightfall all homeless had been clothed, fed and removed in coaches to private homes or rest centres in other areas'. Lord Monsell, the local civil defence commissioner, sounded pleased: 'The area's mutual aid scheme has worked well'.5 Incidentally, the raid caused the sirens to sound in some parts of London, only 'the second night warning in the capital in seven months'.6
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  1. The Times, 2 June 1942, 4. 

  2. Derby Evening Telegraph, 1 June 1942, 1. 

  3. Daily Mirror, 2 June 1942, 5. 

  4. Bath Weekly Chronicle and Herald, 6 June 1942, 6. 

  5. Daily Express, 2 June 1942, 3. 

  6. Nottingham Evening Post, 1 June 1942, 1. 

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Dr Beachcombing of Beachcombing's Bizarre History Blog kindly dropped me a line to alert me to his post about Public Service Broadcasting, a British music duo who draw on old propaganda and information films for inspiration and samples. A number of these are from the Second World War period, including 'Spitfire', 'London Can Take It', 'Dig For Victory', and 'Lit Up'. My favourite is the one above, 'If War Should Come'. Based on the 1939 GPO film of the same name, despite/because of the remixing and the electronica it is nicely evocative of the shadow of the bomber.
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1,000 Bomber Raid!

This image and the one below are selections from the The National Archives' collaboration with Wikimedia Commons, so far comprising 350 examples of war art from the Second World War. These particular ones are propaganda posters (or draft versions of same) but there are also more informational ones as well as portraits and caricatures of Allied leaders.
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So in case it isn't obvious by now, my most recent bout of post-blogging covered the period of the Baedeker Blitz, a series of Luftwaffe raids against English cities (unlike in the Blitz proper, there were no targets in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland) between 23 April and 3 May 1942. The individual blitzes were:

23 April: Exeter
24 April: Exeter
25 April: Bath
26 April: Bath
27 April: Norwich
29 April: Norwich and York
3 May: Exeter

These were reprisals in return for RAF raids on Lübeck and later also Rostock. (There was a second phase from 31 May to 6 June 1942, three raids on Canterbury in response to the thousand bomber raid on Cologne, which I might or might not get around to doing in a few weeks' time.) In addition, there were smaller snap raids by fighter-bombers nipping across the Channel, though these don't seem to have been considered part of the Baedeker raids by the press.
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