Film

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So, I bought so many books in the UK that I had to post some of them home to myself; here are some of them. You might ask why I didn't just note down the names of all these books and order them when I got back to Australia, but such a self-evidently absurd question wouldn't merit a response.

A to Z Atlas and Guide to London and Suburbs. Sevenoaks: Geographers' A-Z Map Company, 2008 [c. 1938]. As I've said before, I do like a good facsimile edition. This one is of the first edition of the standard London A-Z street directory, including maps of Theatreland, Cinemaland, shopping centres and parking places. It's not quite Melways, but few street directories are.

Peter Adey. Air: Nature and Culture. London: Reaktion Books, 2014. A typically wide-ranging (and also lavishly illustrated) work taking something we generally take for granted and dissecting its meaning in science, art, literature and history, from life to pollution to disease to (of course) war. Lots of unexpected things here, including a big shoutout for Airminded. Thanks, Peter, and for the free copy too!

Maggie Andrews and Janis Lomas, eds. The Home Front in Britain: Images, Myths and Forgotten Experiences since 1914. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. While in the UK I kept an eye out for books on the British home front in the First World War, since that's what I was there to research, but despite the centenary there don't appear to be many yet (at least, if you care about references). This is one that I did pick up; it has a number of chapters which should be useful, particularly the first one by Andrews on ideals of domesticity (in terms of the Second World War, Gillian Mawson's on Guernsey evacuees caught my eye).

Greg Baughen. Blueprint for Victory: Britain's First World War Blitzkrieg Air Force. Fonthill: 2014. The title is a bit silly but this looks like a sober analysis based on some substantial archival research, though it's not quite as original as the blurb would have you believe. Baughen argues that the British military before 1914 was much more committed to airpower than is often assumed, and also that the success of close air support by 1918 was neglected in favour of strategic bombing and an independent air force.

Harold Balfour. Wings over Westminster. London: Hutchinson & Co., 1973. Balfour was an RFC fighter ace during the First World War, Under-Secretary of State for Air during the Second, and an airminded Conservative MP for much of the time between (he gets three mentions in my book); these are his memoirs. 'Thank God for Munich', he says (p. 111); and I say thanks to Andrew Gray for the copy!

David Clarke. Britain's X-traordinary Files. London: Bloomsbury, 2014. Drawn largely from official records (and published in collaboration with the National Archives), this takes in many surprising topics, including the Angel of Mons, Grindell Matthews' death ray, phantom helicopters and mysterious aircraft disappearances, just to name a few. I would have liked to see some scareships in there too, though!

Gerard DeGroot. Back in Blighty: The British at Home in World War I. London: Vintage Books, 2014. Another of the better home front histories. In fact DeGroot has already written one of the best around, Blighty (1996); but this update is almost an entirely new book, intended to be much more accessible to a general public and with very little in common with its predecessor. It's much more of a social history than a political or economic one.

Michael Diamond. Victorian Sensation: Or the Spectacular, the Shocking, and the Scandalous in Nineteenth-Century Britain. London: Anthem Press, 2004. Not only fun, but hopefully useful for me in terms of thinking about aerial spectacle and the public consumption of the same. It draws heavily on the press, impressively so given that it was published long before things like the British Newspaper Archive was around; but it's disappointing to find that the many newspaper citations don't include page numbers. Why treat your sources (and your readers) with such disrespect?

Alexander C. T. Geppert. Fleeting Cities: Imperial Expositions in Fin-de-Siècle Europe. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013. Again, this should be useful for me, as it could be argued that the great expositions and exhibitions, as nationalistic celebrations of technology and power in the guise of mass entertainment, paved the way for the Hendon pageants (and London Defended was actually part of the British Empire Exhibition, which gets a chapter here). Interestingly one of Geppert's other research interests is what he calls astroculture, something like airmindedness but for space.

Ian Hall. Alnwick in the Great War. Alnwick: Wanney Books, 2014. As with the home front in general, there seems to be a lack of regional histories of the First World War so far. This one, about Alnwick in Northumberland, is a slender pamphlet (just 40 pages) which doesn't cite many sources, but is clearly based on some great primary sources, including plans by the local authorities in Northumberland for what to when the Germans invaded and the effect of Zeppelin raids.

Hendon: The Royal Air Force Pageants, 1920 to 1939. Strike Force Entertainment, 2011. I've had my eye on this for a while, but again it's particularly useful for my aerial theatre non-project. A DVD compilation of newsreels about the Hendon pageants (which finished in 1937, not 1939, so I assume this also covers Empire Air Day). I haven't watched it yet but it seems like it is drawn from everything but British Pathé, which is fine since the latter is easily available on the web.

Robin Higham and Mark Parillo, eds. The Influence of Airpower upon History: Statesmanship, Diplomacy, and Foreign Policy since 1903. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 2013. Airpower: what is it good for? Quite a bit, even if its decisiveness has been and continues to be greatly exaggerated by many. There are chapters here on the effect of airpower in the 1930s on French (Patrick Facon) and German diplomacy (Richard Muller), as well as on the bomber in Russian (David Jones) and European (John Morrow) strategic thought more generally up to the 1940s.

Cecil Lewis. Sagittarius Rising. London: Frontline Books, 2009 [1936]. Like Balfour a decorated ace, but he went down a different path after the war, helping to found what became the BBC, winning an Oscar for adapting Pygmalion, becoming a follower of the Armenian mystic Gurdjieff, and writing one of the all-time classic aviation memoirs, which I haven't read. So I'll fix that.

Michael Locicero, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell, eds. A Military Transformed? Adaptation and Innovation in the British Military, 1792-1945. Solihull: Helion & Company, 2014. The contributors to this collection are emerging British military historians, but that doesn't mean they are unfamiliar to me as I know many of them from their blogs and/or tweets, including two of the editors, Ross Mahoney and Stuart Mitchell. They've put together a very polished book; in airpower terms the key contributions are James Pugh on naval and military aviation doctrine before 1914, Ross himself on air support after Dieppe, and Richard Hammond on air-sea cooperation in the Mediterranean, but everything else looks interesting too!

Annika Mombauer, ed. The Origins of the First World War: Diplomatic and Military Documents. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 2013. A big fat book of primary sources (contextualised by Mombauer) relating to the origins of the First World War, which would have been useful last trimester when I was teaching this...

Andrew Renwick. RAF Hendon: The Birthplace of Aerial Power. Manchester: Crécy Publishing, 2012. A light but nicely illustrated history of Hendon in its various incarnations, from aerial showground to wartime factory and back again, ultimately of course becoming (more or less) the RAF Museum of today.

John Stevenson and Chris Cook. The Slump: Britain in the Great Depression. 3rd edition. Harlow: Pearson Education, 2010. A topic which seems almost marginalised in our view of Britain in the 1930s now -- or maybe that's just me, since this book has gone through three editions since 1977.

Adam Tooze. The Deluge: The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order, 1916-1931. London: Allen Lane, 2014. By contrast this topic can hardly be said to have been marginalised, yet by all accounts this is a terrific new interpretation of the attempts to sustain world peace after the First World War, and particularly of the important role played by the United States (yes, it declined to join the League of Nations, but that's not the end of the story) and the question of whether Versailles made another war inevitable (no, which is correct).

Jerry White. Zeppelin Nights: London in the First World War. London: The Bodley Head, 2014. Finally, another substantial home front/local history of the First World War. And as the title suggests, Zeppelins feature!

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

Previously I argued that two books by Frank Joseph, Mussolini's War: Fascist Italy's Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 1935-45 (Helion & Company, 2010) and The Axis Air Forces: Flying in Support of the German Luftwaffe (Praeger, 2011), were at the very least bad history and, in the case of Mussolini's War at least, possibly apologies for fascism as well. I also promised that I'd take a closer look at Joseph himself. It turns out that military history is only one of his interests, and that he is better known as a pseudoarchaeologist and a former neo-Nazi.

It took a little bit of detective work to piece this together, but only a little. It's in the author biographies supplied by his publishers. Praeger's author biography of Joseph says that

Frank Joseph is professor of world archaeology with Japan's Savant Institute, and recipient of the Midwest Epigraphic Society's Victor Moseley Award. His published works include more than 20 books in as many foreign editions, such as Mussolini's War: Fascist Italy's Military Struggles from Africa and Western Europe to the Mediterranean and Soviet Union 193545.

Helion's biography is more extensive (Mussolini's War, 312):

A member of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago and a scuba diver since 1962, Joseph has participated in underwater archaeological expeditions in the Bahamas, Yucatan, the Canary Islands, the Aegean, and Polynesia. A frequent guest speaker across the United States, he has lectured in Britain, Slovenia, and throughout Japan, where he was made 'Professor of World Archaeology' by Kyushu's Savant Society. Before the close of the past century, Japanese national television broadcast two different programs about his work.

In 1998, he received the Victor Moseley Award for his work on behalf of cultural diffusionist archaeology from Ohio's Midwest Epigraphic Society (Columbus). He also received 1999's Burrow's Cave Society Award, and his work has additionally commended by the Ancient Artifacts Preservation Foundation (Marquette, Michigan).

At first blush this perhaps doesn't sound so bad. The Oriental Institute is perfectly respectable, of course, though becoming a member requires nothing more than paying an annual fee. The 'Savant Institute' has very little web presence, at least in English, but it appears to have something to do with archaeology (Nobuhiro Yoshida, 'President of Japan Petroglyph Society and Professor at the Savant Institute & Japan Academic Center', spoke at the 2005 conference of the American Rock Art Research Association). The Ancient Artifacts Preservation Foundation exists 'To collect and preserve evidence of ancient civilizations in North America, and the Great Lakes region in particular, in a manner that supports their study by amateur and professional scholars and to educate the public about the significance'. The Midwestern Epigraphic Society 'researches the ancient migrations of mankind to the Americas, especially Pre-Columbian and particularly to the Midwest US, as revealed by cultural similarities, archaic writing, ancient world history and evidence found by modern science'.
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When I started my PhD, I hoped to examine fictional representations of aerial bombardment in plays as well as in novels, newspapers and other written sources, but had to abandon this intention because I found very few which discussed the next war in the air in any detail. There are a few where it appears in the background, such as Karel Čapek's Power and Glory (1938), which is much more about poison gas than aerial warfare. The threat of bombing is more important in Wings Over Europe (1928), written by Robert Nichols and Maurice Browne, though this is more of a throwback to older narratives of the world being held to ransom by a league of scientists which possesses the ultimatum weapon (in this case the Guild of United Brain Workers has atomic bombs in aeroplanes circling the world's capitals) rather than owing anything to contemporary airpower theory.

But, as I found with cinematic representations, there were some plays about the knock-out blow. One such is Night Sky, which premiered at London's prestigious Savoy Theatre on 6 January 1937 under the direction of Maurice Elvey.1 The producer was Clifford Whitley; the playwright was L. du Garde Peach, better known (at least to some) as the author of Oliver Cromwell: An Adventure from History (1963).
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  1. As it happens, a decade earlier Elvey had directed the film version of Noel Pemberton Billing's play, High Treason, which also featured the danger of aerial bombardment -- though as he was apparently the most prolific British film director ever we shouldn't read too much into this. 

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Norman Lindsay, ?

It's been more than two weeks since I've posted anything on my current mystery aeroplane research, but it's not because I haven't been working on it. In fact it is coming along pretty well. There are still some frustrating gaps in my understanding of the archival records, but the writing is coming along. I've written up the section about the aeroplane scare, and next I'll be doing the section on the German threat, as depicted above in a 1918 (?) poster by Norman Lindsay. So here's something about that.
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Death from the skies

The images in this post are from Boyd Cable, 'Death from the skies', in John Hammerton, ed., War in the Air: Aerial Wonders of our Time (London: Amalgamated Press, n.d. [1936]), 20-4 (see below).

The article itself is a short story describing an air raid in the next war. I won't summarise it in detail, but it argues for the futility of both air defence and civil defence. The RAF's interceptors never even encounter the enemy bombers (in part because they are stealthy thanks to their silenced engines, only 20% as loud as normal aircraft engines). Though the populace has been drilled well and resists panic, at least at first, they are too vulnerable. A first wave of bombers uses high explosives to block the streets with rubble, making it impossible for fire engines to pass; the second drops incendiaries which set the city ablaze and, crucially, force civilians out of their shelters; and the final wave drops poison gas, which starts killing the now-exposed people on the streets. Now the panic starts and the mob flees, their suffering increased by strafing raiders. The RAF now has its chance, but the city is doomed...

"Proof enough of what we've said so long," growled the one [Air Staff officer]. "Defence as such is a wash-out. Attack is the only useful form of defence."

"If we can hit them harder and faster and oftener than they can hit us, we win," said the other. "We can do it, too, if we have more bombers -- men and machines -- than they have."

"Yes -- if," said the other wearily. "That's what we were arguing as far back as the first R.A.F. expansion scheme in -- what was it -- 1935 and '6, wasn't it?"

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Brian Madison Jones. Abolishing the Taboo: Dwight D. Eisenhower and American Nuclear Doctrine, 1945-1961. (Solihull: Helion & Company, 2011).

I found Brian Jones's Abolishing the Taboo interesting for two reasons. Firstly, the subject matter: the Cold War fear of nuclear war was the successor to the interwar fear of strategic bombing. Secondly, it's the book version of a PhD dissertation, which is something I'll be tackling myself.

The Eisenhower presidency (1953-61) was when the United States created its huge arsenal of nuclear weapons, rising from the roughly 800 warheads inherited from Truman to over 18,000 by the time Kennedy came into office: as Jones notes, even after recent disarmament measures this number has never since fallen below the level when Eisenhower came into power.1 So this was the critical period when we (meaning the world) had to learn how to live with the Bomb. Jones's intention is to explain how and why this happened, through a focus on Eiseinhower's attempts to make nuclear technology normal: that is, as just another way of making the United States stronger and safer. Speaking as a non-specialist in this area, I think he largely succeeds in this. But I do have some criticisms.
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  1. Brian Madison Jones, Abolishing the Taboo: Dwight D. Eisenhower and American Nuclear Doctrine, 1945-1961 (Solihull: Helion & Company, 2011), 122. 

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RAF Pageant, 1923

The fourth RAF Pageant took place on Saturday, 30 June 1923. The 'turn of the afternoon', as in the previous year, was 'another little Eastern drama, based on actual happenings during the War'.1 Once more the Wottnotts were the enemy, and once more the co-operation of air and ground forces was the theme. The main difference with 1922 was that this time the RAF was coming to the aid of a besieged garrison:

On the centre of the "stage" one saw an impressive railway bridge and sundry buildings. The small military garrison protecting this post was suddenly attacked by our old friends (or enemies?), the Wottnott Arabs. The garrison, being outnumbered, W.T.'d for help, which, before you could say "Jack Robinson," appeared in the form of three Vickers troop carriers, escorted by five Sopwith "Snipes."2

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  1. Flight, 5 July 1923, 365

  2. Ibid. 

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Rutland Reindeer

A recent comment by J Campbell raised the question of whether Nevil Shute's 1949 novel No Highway was in fact a prediction of the De Havilland Comet airliner's metal fatigue problems, which led to two crashes ('hull losses', in industry parlance) in 1954. My response was that it seemed unlikely that Shute had any particular insider knowledge which could have led to such a prediction (made before the prototype had even flown) given that he had already been out of the aircraft manufacturing business for some years. (And if he did have reason to think that the Comet would have metal fatigue, why not warn de Havilland instead of writing a novel?) My own suggestion was that instead No Highway might have been loosely inspired by the R101 disaster back in 1930, a formative moment in Shute's life. Having read the novel now, I don't have any actual evidence for this, but there is an intriguing additional parallel which may have been overlooked (or not, I'm no Shute scholar).

In Shute's novel -- spoilers ahead -- the tailplane of the (fictional) Rutland Reindeer (seen above, from the 1951 film version No Highway In The Sky) is believed by an RAE scientist named Theodore Honey to be susceptible to metal fatigue. The story revolves around the efforts of Honey and Scott, his superior at Farnborough, to prove that an earlier Reindeer crash was due to metal fatigue and so ground the Reindeer fleet before disaster strikes. The obstacles include a slapdash investigation of the previous accident, entrenched interests at the Reindeer's manufacturer Rutland and its operator CATO, the (also fictional) Commonwealth Atlantic Transport Organisation, the novelty of Honey's fatigue theory (inspired by recent advances in nuclear physics!), and Honey's own diffident character and his eclectic interests, including pyramidology, British Israelism, the Second Coming (predicted for 1994), interplanetary rocket travel and spiritualism. Of which more in a moment.
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British Fact and German Fiction

Thanks to Frank Herrera for pointing me to British Fact and German Fiction. It's a British propaganda film just under fifteen minutes long, made in 1917 by the Thanhouser Company for the Department of Information. Since it has Portuguese Spanish intertitles (luckily with more recent English subtitles), it was obviously shown overseas, though from the comments in Nicholas Reeves' Official British Film Propaganda During the First World War (1986) it does seem it was intended for domestic consumption. I can't embed the film here but you can watch it at the appropriately named Europa Film Treasures website.

The 'German fiction' referred to was a letter supposedly published in a German newspaper claiming to be an eyewitness account of serious damage caused to various London icons -- the Tower of London, the Houses of Parliament, Westminster Bridge, Hyde Park, Piccadilly Circus, Charing Cross Station, the Bank of England, Trafalgar Square, St Paul's Cathedral, Liverpool Street Station, Buckingham Palace -- by German air raids in July, August and September. I say supposedly because as the Imperial War Museum notes (IWM 443), the newspaper is hard to identify based on the English title given, the Westphalia Daily News. But if the German press did claim this, it was an own goal because this film shows that the locations were still all intact, at least as of 25 and 26 September when the film was supposedly shot. Again, I say supposedly, because this is established by a policeman holding a placard showing the date in many of the scenes, but we have to take this on trust.1 In this case, however, there's no reason I can see for the DOI to fake the date, as it was quite true that the damage done was vastly exaggerated by the letter-writer, and in fact simply made up. There is also footage of some of the places German bombs did hit: working class homes, small businesses, the road in front of a hotel. The text sarcastically says these are the Germans' idea of 'munition factories', though the British (like everyone else who ever dropped bombs in anger) were just as prone to claiming they only bombed military targets.
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  1. There's also a shot of the front page of the Evening Standard, though the date is not visible. The headline -- 'Zeps and Gothas raid together' -- does pretty much tie it down to 26 September. 

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In lieu of a more substantial post, here are some flying aeroplanes. Clicking the above picture will take you to a British Pathé newsreel issued on 7 July 1938, showing 'Britain's latest air fighter', also known as the Supermarine Spitfire Mk I. Unfortunately the narration is missing, but I think this is the first production Spitfire, K9787 (at least, I can make out a -87 serial number in places), which first flew in May 1938. That looks like Jeffrey Quill in the cockpit about a third of the way through. A photo on page 18 of the 28 June issue of The Times shows a Spitfire in flight, noting that it was 'undergoing acceptance trials', and the newsreel footage was presumably part of the same Air Ministry propaganda exercise. Other newsreel companies produced similar items.

This was the British public's introduction to the Spitfire, at least on a large scale. The prototype, K5054, was on display at the 1936 RAF Pageant, but it took two years to get into production, and in those years biplanes still formed the air defence of Britain. I'm surprised that the British government didn't make more of their fast new fighters (the Hurricane debuted only a little earlier) in propaganda terms in late 1938. Of course, there weren't very many of them yet. But just the sight of them cavorting across cinema screens might have increased public confidence in Fighter Command, and weakened support for appeasement. On second thoughts, perhaps I shouldn't be surprised after all.