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 blowsuch 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. ...continue reading →
The front page of the Daily Mirror today is almost wholly given over to a story which the other papers are far less interested in. The recently-installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr William Temple (that's him on the left, though what is being done to him I have no idea; and that's his forehead on the right), used a speech in Manchester yesterday to give 'a new charter to Britain -- a charter of social reform which will bring happiness to millions of people if applied in post-war reconstruction' (1). Its nine points are:
1. Provision of decent houses for the people of this country;
2. Every child to have adequate and right nutrition;
3. Equality in education. There shall be genuinely available to every section of society the kind of education will develop their faculties to the full;
4. Adequate leisure for personal and family life. Where the family is separated because of employment, there should be two days' holiday each week;
5. Universal recognition of holidays with wages;
6. The application of science to discover labour-saving devices, to save labour instead of labourers;
7. Wide appreciation of the fact that labour is a partner in industry, just as much as management and capital;
8. Recognition by workers and employers alike that service comes first, and the opportunity to make profit comes afterwards;
9. The opportunity for all people to achieve the dignity and decency of human personality.
An accompanying article by A. W. Brockbank says that Temple also warned against yielding 'to the lure of people who try to persuade us that it would be wise to establish such a non-party State'":
'The minority must have the right to become the majority if it can. It must be lawful to be in opposition to the Government.'
Today's big story must have caused quite a bit of consternation to readers: it's scarcely possible to credit it. Here is the full text of the statement issued by 10, Downing Street last night (as reproduced in The Times, 5): ...continue reading →
On 21 June 1938, Philip Noel-Baker MP moved a reduction of £100 in an amount being voted for Foreign Office salaries. This is a time-honoured way of starting an argument in the House of Commons (well, technically they are called debates): it allows the mover to get into the agenda an issue they consider to be of importance, to make their case for it, and for other speakers (including those representing the government) to give supporting or opposing points of view. The motion nearly always fails, but then that's not the point. ...continue reading →
The war news today is much closer to home for the Glasgow Herald than usual. A big air raid last night on 'a Central district of Scotland' (5) is vividly described, as though the reporter had witnessed it: readers would know for themselves just how far away it was.
One Nazi 'plane which appeared to be heading for home was spotted by searchlights, and immediately there was a road of gunfire as battery after battery opened up and poured shells into the apex of the searchlights.
The crackle of bursting shells followed a maze of flashes. When the gunfire stopped and the 'plane emerged from the barrage one of its engines could be heard misfiring. The 'plane seemed to be in difficulties and gradually losing height.
On the ground, civil defence workers 'toiled side by side with firemen after bombs scored a direct hit on a tenement building':
As rescue workers struggled to break down the massive barriers of broken stone and secure the safety of those feared trapped in the debris the fire-fighters poured a continuous stream of water to keep down the creeping flames.
The big news today is that the latest Italian offensive against Greek forces in the Tepelini sector has been a disaster. War correspondents estimate 10,000 Italian casualties, including 2000 dead; yet 'it was stated in authoritative circles in London yesterday that the Italians do not appear to have made any perceptible progress' (5). This is despite (perhaps there's a hint of because of) Mussolini's presence at the front lines over the last few days, 'leading or encouraging the Italian troops'. Greek spirits are understandably high. Looking at the bigger picture in the Mediterranean, the Herald's military correspondent suggests that the Germans
are not over-anxious to commit their forces to an attack on Greece while Russia is dissatisfied. Turkey threatens to become actively hostile, and Yugoslavia is, at least, very restless.
The reported presence of three German divisions (or elements thereof) in Tripoli is puzzling. It will certainly bolster Italian morale in Libya after recent defeats there.
It is not likely that an offensive against the Army of the Nile is planned. But it may well be necessary in German interests to safeguard a buffer between British troops and those of the French African Empire.
The Glasgow Herald, like many early-twentieth-century 'provincial' newspapers, made a serious effort to cover war and other international news, as well as reporting on national and local issues. (In fact, it almost seems more interested in what's happening overseas than it is in London or even Edinburgh.) Its highmindedness is also evident in its lack of interest in trivialities (no sports section today!) and in its rather staid appearance, with the outside pages taken up with classified ads, and the news and editorials at the centre of its twelve page. The Herald might be excused for its old-fashioned look: it was first published in 1783, making it two years older than The Times. (Though admittedly the Daily Mail, a jaunty newcomer, was like this too until the start of the war).
the President to supply Britain and her Allies with almost unlimited supplies of guns, tanks, aeroplanes, ships, and all other war materials and goods.
In fact, he has already begun to do so, approving the transfer to Britain of 'the first allotment of Army and Navy material'. What this consists of was not revealed, but information from 'Well-informed circles in Washington' suggests that it may include 'Army and Navy 'planes, flying fortresses, and patrol bombers' as well as 'ships, tanks, and machine-guns'. And Roosevelt is asking Congress for another $7 billion to buy more weapons for Britain after that. ...continue reading →
Field Marshal Jan Smuts, prime minister of South Africa, broadcast a speech on the BBC on 29 September 1946. He talked about the prospects for peace in the post-war world, a subject on which he could claim some authority, since he had helped unify Anglophones and Afrikaners after the Boer War, and was involved in the Paris peace conferences after both world wars. The speech was mainly about the United Nations (or as he quaintly called it, 'Uno') and the growing signs of friction between the former Allies on the Security Council. And we all know how that turned out. (Churchill had given his 'Iron Curtain' speech in March.) But one section is somewhat confusing for modern readers:
The United States may not long continue to enjoy the sole secret of the atom bomb, and this and other no less deadly weapons will at no distant date be in the possession of other nations also. The flying bombs, now seen nightly in the west, are indications of what is going on behind the curtain. It is highly doubtful whether any new weapons, or indeed any mechanical inventions, could ever be relied on to remove the danger of war. A peaceful world order could only be safely based on a new spirit and outlook widely spread and actively practised among the nations.1
Flying bombs seen nightly in the west? What flying bombs?
Smuts was referring to reports which had been coming out of Sweden since May, and more recently from Denmark and Greece. Fast moving objects, sometimes with wings, sometimes without, were seen flashing across the sky. Some had flames shooting out the rear; others appeared to manoeuvre. Some of them crashed; residents of Malmö reported that windows were broken when a rocket 'exploded' over their town.2 They were sometimes even tracked on radar. A photo was even taken of one. They were seen by military personnel as well as by ordinary people. An example:
One of the mysterious bombs which in recent weeks have been passing across Sweden was seen last night by an officer of the Air Defence Department of the Defence Staff. He reports that the bomb looked like a fireball with a clear yellow flame passing at an estimated height of between 1,500 and 3,000 feet and at a considerable but quite measurable speed.3
I recently rewatched one of my favourite science fiction films, The Day the Earth Stood Still -- the 1951 original, of course, not the currently-screening remake (which I have yet to see, but tend to doubt that it will improve over the original in any area other than special effects). I can't remember when I last saw it, but it must have been before I started the PhD because otherwise the climactic scene would have leapt out out me and smacked me in the face, as it did the other day ... (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
In a previous post, I looked at some of Arthur C. Clarke's predictions, made in 1946, about how rockets would change the types of weapons and vehicles used by military forces of the future.1 He got some hits (space stations) but, on balance, more misses (rocket mines, more turret fighters). In the latter half of his paper, Clarke steps back to consider the broader implications of rockets for future warfare, and does rather better.
These are grim, given the advent of atomic weapons. It may be the case that for every weapon, Clarke says, a defence is eventually evolved. But
During the interval between the adoption of a new weapon and its countering, the damage done to the material structure of civilization grows steadily greater, and there must come a time at last when breakdown occurs. The present state of Germany shows how nearly that point had been reached even with the weapons of the pre-atomic age.2
One particularly interesting possibility Clarke considers is that of 'radiation war'.3 He notes that the vast majority of the radiation emitted by an atomic bomb must fall outside the visible spectrum, concluding that 'the bomb acts as an X-ray generator of unimaginable power'.4 So a bomb could be detonated at high altitudes to blind large numbers of people, or to ruin huge areas of crops. Atomic bombs carried by long-range rockets would be the 'ultimate weapon'.5 ...continue reading →
Arthur C. Clarke, "The rocket and the future of warfare", RAF Quarterly, March 1946, 61-9; reprinted in Arthur C. Clarke, Ascent to Wonder: A Scientific Autobiography (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1984), 71-9. ↩