View Scareships, 1913 in a larger map

Here's where the 1913 phantom airship sightings took place. Actually, there are a few from late 1912 (including the Sheerness incident), the blue ones. Red indicates sightings in January 1913, green February, cyan March, and yellow April.

A quick visual inspection shows that the density of sightings was greatest in Lancashire and Yorkshire, in a belt running from Liverpool in the west to Hull in the east. However, this perception is skewed somewhat by the cluster of reports from about a dozen places in and around Selby on 21 and 22 February. Clearly something happened there that night, and whatever it was can in no way be discounted, but Yorkshire would stand out far less otherwise (though there would still be the sightings from around Hull and Grimsby, including that from the City of Leeds, about the last of the whole scare to generate widespread interest in the press). By contrast, the clusters around Manchester and Liverpool, though smaller, are also more sustained, with reports spread out over four or five weeks. Other significant groupings include the south-east of England and, relatively late in the scare, the east coast of Scotland. And, of course, the coastline either side of the Bristol Channel, which featured prominently in the scare from almost the first to almost the last. Cardiff was the place most frequented by mystery airships, with four visits recorded at long intervals; that the Chief Constable of Glamorganshire was one of the first to see it and was willing to publicly appeal for witnesses to come forward may help explain why hundreds or even thousands of people saw them there. Only Hull presents a similar example of a mass sighting, though there were others where smaller crowds gathered to watch the scareship. It's also worth noting that there were occasional reports of mysterious airships from Ireland and from the Orkneys.
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Manchester Courier, 6 March 1913, 7

Press coverage of mystery airships hasn't quite fallen off a cliff, but it is perhaps scrabbling down a rocky slope. Only a handful of newspapers mention them today, and not even yesterday's startling report from the trawler Othello rates a mention. While there is still considerable (mostly negative) discussion of the new aerial navigation regulations, unlike yesterday very little of it places them in the context of airship sightings. One of the very few to do so is the Irish Times (p. 6):

London is laughing hearily at Mr. McKenna's naive regulations for stopping the incursions of foreign airships. If it be true, as seems to be the case, that they have been sailing at their ease over our harbours and arsenals, they are hardly to be deterred by the threat of six months' imprisonment, or to be induced to 'come down out of that' by the discharge of a few harmless rockets.

In similar vein, in an article on today's resumption of Parliament the Manchester Courier suggests that (p. 8)

Recent revelations concerning the visits of foreign airships and the Home Secretary's regulations, showing as they do that Great Britain has nothing but mere words to combat the aerial menace, might well supply material for some pertinent questions to Ministers. The country is entitled to an authoritative statement without further delay.

Elsewhere in today's issue the Courier continues its 'Ships that pass in the night' campaign with a new article from its 'special representative in Germany' (p. 7; above). Much of it is a reexamination of the Sheerness incident, reconstructing the known movements of Zeppelin 'M.L. 1' (i.e. L1 AKA LZ14) in the period in question and recapitulating the argument that it deviated from its published course and flew over Britain instead of Germany. Except that this time the Courier's correspondent does acknowledge that according to the official account the German airship's flight was the day before Sheerness. Perhaps for this reason they are open to the theory that Hansa was the culprit: 'That either the "M.L. 1" or the "Hansa" was the vessel heard over Sheerness appears certain'. But equally, they are still selective in addressing the German denials of responsibility which implicitly and explicitly included L1 and Hansa.
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Daily Express, 5 March 1913, 1

The big news today is that the government has issued, in the words of the Daily Express, 'a long list of regulations under the new Aerial Navigation Act to prevent foreign aircraft from flying over Great Britain or Ireland' (p. 1) The extraordinary thing is that despite their length (9 orders, 4 schedules, a notice, and 4 regulations, excluding maps) they are quoted either in full or in large part by every major newspaper, often as the leading news item. Even though some provisions do apply to British aviators, the vast majority of readers have never been near an airship or aeroplane and can have no direct interest in the application of the new law. And the government makes new regulations all the time without them being given such fulsome coverage in the press. The real reason why this is newsworthy is right there in the Express's headlines:


According to the Express, 'the Orders were settled some weeks ago by the Committee of Imperial Defence'. It summarises the main points as follows:

A foreign aviator who intends to fly to the United Kingdom must first obtain a permit from the nearest British Consul, must give eighteen hours' notice of his arrival to the Home Office, and report himself on arrival to the nearest authorised officer.

A large number of places are scheduled as prohibited areas, within three miles of which a foreign airman may not land.

Any foreign airman breaking the regulations is liable to six months' imprisonment, or a fine of £200, or both.

Any foreign airman found guilty of espionage shall be liable to seven years' penal servitude.

In what is perhaps a sign of how unused the Express is in digesting such mundane regulatory matters, it actually gets much of this wrong. For example, only airship pilots need to obtain a permit before entering Britain, and even then need to wait for 48 hours before actually doing so; aeroplane pilots don't need permission but merely need to give 18 hours' notice before landing, and then notify the authorities that they have landed and seek permission to continue flying inland. Moreover, foreign aviators are not merely prohibited from landing within 3 miles of the scheduled areas, but from flying over them altogether; and this applies not only to foreigners but to Britons as well. The parts about the penalties, including the specific mention of the Official Secrets Act, are accurate enough; and among the items prohibited to be carried by any aircraft coming from abroad are 'photographic apparatus, homing or carrier pigeons, explosives, firearms, or mails' (or 'dutiable goods', for that matter, so it's not just about espionage).
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Standard, 25 February 1913, 9

The phantom airship scare has clearly entered a new phase since the sightings last Friday in Yorkshire and Warwickshire. Several major London dailies -- all politically conservative -- devote substantial amounts of column space to the mystery; half the main news page, in the case of the Standard. Only it's not regarded as a mystery any more. For example, the Standard's military correspondent says (p. 9; above):

There is not the smallest doubt but that this country at the present moment is the object of a systematic aerial reconnaissance carried out at night. Carried out by whom? it will be asked. There is only one answer to that question -- by Germany, because Germany alone possesses aircraft capable of doing what is being done by the airships that have been seen over England.

After explaining the numbers and capabilities of the Zeppelins, the correspondent goes on to argue that

By these nightly trips to our shores the Germans have made a certainty of being able to sail to any point in England within a given time. They have marked the ranges, as it were, and the vessels of a fleet of Zeppelins sent upon an errand of destruction would arrive at their various destinations with the certainty and punctuality of an express train.

The situation, then, is this: Within eight hours, at most, after the making of a signal in Berlin anything between 40 and 100 tons of high explosive could be dropped simultaneously at twenty different selected points in England. Within that short space of time, the whole of our arsenals and dockyards could be laid in ruins, and if our warships escaped, which is unlikely, the offensive power of the Fleet would be hopelessly crippled. And as matters stand we have absolutely no means of resisting such an attack, even if we had warning of it; therefore the attack would inevitable succeed.

The Standard's leading article (entitled 'The airship peril') backs its military correspondent, and adds that it is 'imperative that we should make the most energetic exertions to raise our air fleet above its present meagre proportions' (p. 8). Still it suggests that 'it is not exactly polite for foreign Governments to authorise these espionage flights over our soil' and warns that 'It would be a very "awkward incident" indeed if a Zeppelin hailing from Friedrichshafen or Johannisthal were brought to earth by a shell from an English gun'.
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Standard, 24 February 1913, 9

Last week was a relatively quiet one for the phantom airships, but today they receive the most press coverage yet. The main reason for this is a cluster of sightings reported from Yorkshire on Friday, along with another sighting from Warwickshire about 100 miles inland. In fact, there are so many reports that no one newspaper covers them all. According to the London Standard (p. 9; above):

It was seen by many observers on Friday night [21 February 1913] in both districts, apparently at about the same time. The fact of its flight may be regarded as well-established. The description of the craft agrees with that of the earlier visitor whose night flights puzzled the authorities.

The sighting featured most prominently is that of C. H. March, a solicitor and a law lecturer for the Leeds Education Committee, and his wife (though her husband does all the talking, apparently). They were returning to their Selby home after attending a lecture about a mile away. He is quoted in the London Daily Mail (p. 7) as saying:

We left at nine precisely and were in Doncaster-road, Selby, at 9.15. We had just passed the houses in Doncaster-road and had our first clear glimpse of the country to the west when I saw two lights in the sky. It was just about half dark, and though it was impossible to judge accurately I should say the lights were about two miles from us to the west.

"One of the lights was big and bright like the head light of a motor-car. I do not think it was a searchlight, because its ray, which we could plainly see, remained horizontal all the time and did not slant upwards or downwards as though it were movable. The other light was small, and it struck me as possible that it might be a tail light. What makes me think that they were head light and tail light respectively is the fact that at times the big head light would eclipse the smaller tail light, and I think the object to which they were attached was not moving to any great extent but was hovering. The lights were too low in the sky and too big and bright to be stars."

The Standard adds (p. 9) that it was first seen in the direction of Hambleton, due west:

He drew his wife's attention to it, and they were astonished to see the light begin to move up and down, and apparently now and then go out. Watching for three-quarters of an hour he observed what he was then certain was a dirigible reconnoitre in different directions for some miles, and then turn at an acute angle, and pass out of view, going towards Leeds.

March 'believes that it was a foreign aircraft attempting to find out the exact position of a Government magazine in the district'. The Mail doesn't attribute this belief to him, though it does note that the area is home to 'Barlby Arsenal, where there is stored a great quantity of army ammunition' (p. 7). The distinction is worth making because despite the apparent availability of a direct statement by one of the witnesses the various accounts disagree in some particulars. Some are easy enough to explain -- the Liverpool Echo, for example, says that he first saw the 'large dirigible balloon' when 'looking out from his house on Brayton-road' (p. 7); presumably the Marches didn't stand around on Doncaster Road watching the airship in the cold but continued on their way home and resumed watching it from there. Others are more troubling. Despite March's clear and reasoned statement, as quoted in the Mail, that the airship did not have a searchlight, the Standard says that 'He states that an airship with a powerful searchlight hovered over the town' (p. 9). It could be that there are other accounts available; the Mail's quotation is evidently truncated and perhaps in the full statement March says he saw a searchlight switch later. (The other press references to the Marches' sighting, in the Daily Mirror and the Daily Express, are too brief to help.) Or it could be that the Standard is, possibly inadvertently, making March's airship conform to other accounts.
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Illustrated London News, 22 February 1913, 239


This week's issue of the Illustrated London News devotes three whole pages -- mostly taken up with illustrations, of course -- to an examination of what a headline calls 'A MENACE THEORY': 'IS IT "THE SEA TO US, THE AIR TO THE FOE"?' (p. 239). Some of the material, including the maps above and below, is taken from an article in the latest issue (dated 3 February) of the Review of Reviews which has attracted considerable attention, not least because it is so visually striking. As the ILN explains:

The Government's new Act, designed to prevent the unauthorised flying of air-ships over the United Kingdom, lends special interest to the illustrations on this page, especially to the two maps [which illustrate] admirably a belief that is common to a good many people in this country, who see grave menace in the air and are not a little eager, therefore, that Great Britain's air-craft shall not only be increased in numbers and strength, but be increased without delay; on the principle that if a people is to have pace it must be prepared for war.

The ILN explains that 'The reported flights made over England by unknown air-ships have led the Government to construct a Bill dealing with the matter' (p. 240). Noting Colonel Seely's claim that the new legislation was directed against airships belonging to private pilots, not foreign powers, the ILN comments (p. 241):

This, of course, is putting the case somewhat mildly; for there can be no doubt that the law will be so designed that it will be perilous also for unauthorised air-craft to pass over fortifications, harbours, and naval bases.

And, of course, aircraft are now important weapons of war (p. 240):

It cannot be gainsaid that to the struggle for the control of land and water has now been added a struggle for the control of the air; hence not only much energy devoted to the construction of aeroplanes and dirigible balloons, but the provision of such as Act as that framed by the British Government [...]

The Act (as it now is) permits 'proper officers [...] to fire at, or into, any such aircraft, and use any and every other means' to stop it from flying over prohibited areas (p. 240). The 'signal of warning to quit' will probably be 'a column of smoke' by day, or 'flares, rockets, or some such device' by night (p. 241).
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There's been a huge amount of interest on Twitter and in the media about the new Bomb Sight website, developed by the University of Portsmouth with assistance from the National Archives and elsewhere, and deservedly so because it's fairly excellent. In short it's an interactive map of the London Blitz compiled from a number of sources, showing where what kinds of bombs fell when. So you can browse to (or search for, though this has been temporarily disabled due to high traffic) your favourite part of London and see why there's a mid-20th century building interrupting that otherwise Victorian facade. Zooming in you see a marker for each bomb fall, with a link for more information. You can also get a statistical overview for each borough or ward, or for Greater London as a whole. Each location links in with relevant Blitz photographs sourced from the IWM, as well as related stories from the BBC's WW2 People's War site. In the map view, you can flip between the aggregate bomb census over seven months, or a single week's worth of bomb falls, or just the first twenty-four hours. You can also overlay the original Home Security maps from which the census data is derived, which is valuable because, thanks largely to the Blitz itself, some streets which existed in 1940-1 can no longer be found. As a bonus, London's invasion defences can also be displayed, using data taken from the Council for British Archaeology's Defence of Britain Dataset. An AR app is on its way, though sadly only for Android devices, not iOS.

Despite popular impressions, Bomb Sight doesn't show all the bombs recorded falling on London during the Blitz, but only those recorded between 7 October 1940 and 6 June 1941 as well as those recorded on 7 September 1940. That is, nearly the first month of the Blitz is missing. (This is quite clearly stated but it would be easy to overlook.) The reason for this is that the weekly bomb census maps only began to be compiled a month into the Blitz. It might be possible to fill in the gap from other sources; that's what has been done with the first day of the Blitz, which is from London Fire Brigade records via the Guardian. Of course, coming from different sources the data will be disjointed but that is inevitable with this kind of project. I gather that it is also intended that all the weekly censuses between October and June will be added to the site, which would mean you could slide through the weeks to see how the bombardment changed over time; or else further research might pin down the date of each bomb (at the moment when you click on one it only gives the census period, i.e. up to an eight month period). It would also be extremely interesting to compare bomb falls from the First World War, if only to illustrate the differences in the scale of bombing.

Also, Bomb Sight only covers London. Again, this is at least partly due to the nature of the data sources. But again it's something which could be remedied. Other, smaller Blitz maps like this have already been done for Southampton and for the West Riding of Yorkshire (for the night of 14 March 1941; from after the Blitz there is also Londonist's V-2 map. Depending on the permissions and formats, and hand waving wildly, it should be possible to aggregate these maps into Bomb Sight, if desired. Or else somebody else could build a website to do the aggregation. But in the end, somebody would probably have to do the hard work of sifting through local ARP records to generate the data for outside London, assuming those records do exist and are detailed enough.

None of which is intended to cavil at what the Bomb Sight project has achieved, as it's very good stuff indeed.

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View Mystery aircraft, Australia, 1918 in a larger map

My next step in characterising the 1918 Australian mystery aircraft scare was to plot all the sightings Google Maps, which you can see above. I've used differently-coloured icons for different time periods to give an idea of the progression over the course of 1918: blue is January and February; red, March; green, April; cyan, May; yellow, June; purple, July; magenta, August through November. There are too many for Google Maps to show at once in an embedded map (without me learning JavaScript) but the rest can be seen here. Each icon is named for the location and has an attached date, but no other information. I dithered over which map mode to use but in the end settled on good old satellite mode, as it gives an idea of the terrain but also has good social data such as roads and towns (even if these are from 2012, not 1918). Of course you can switch between them yourself.
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The Lebaudy-built Patrie, seen above, was France's first military airship. A descendent of the Jaune, in 1906 and 1907 it carried out a number of successful proving and publicity flights, including one where it carried the prime minister, Georges Clemenceau, over Paris. Afterwards it was moved to its operational base near the fortress of Verdun. Due to a mechanical failure during a subsequent flight it had to ground in the open, far from the safety of its hangar. A gale blew up, and even one hundred and eighty soldiers were unable to hold the stricken airship down. At 8pm on 30 November 1907, the Patrie floated off into the distance, fortunately sans crew.
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Flight, 27 June 1935, 725

My main interest in this series about the RAF Displays at Hendon has been in the set pieces with which they ended. But as this is the last post it's worth looking a bit at the organisation of the Display itself. Flight had some useful articles for this in its preview of the 15th Display, held on Saturday, 29 June 1935. Above is a map showing the aerodrome, the seating arrangements, car parks, access roads and Colindale tube, which opened in 1924 and was a major boon for visitors to the Display.1 (For those who have been to the area more recently -- say to the RAF Museum or British Library Newspapers -- it's interesting to compare how the area has changed.) We can see from the seating plans some of the groups the RAF was trying to impress: there are boxes for the House of Commons, the House of Lords and public schools -- presumably with an eye to future officer recruitment. Private boxes seating six could be booked for between £4 and £7 (depending on location?); at the other end of the spectrum the groundlings could buy tickets for the least exclusive enclosures on the day for 2s., or a spot on a hillside overlooking the aerodrome for 1s.2 Attendance peaked in 1931 at 169,000 (bringing in £27,585 6s. 11d.), though including onlookers sitting in places where they didn't have to pay the figure came up to around 500,000 (or so Flight reckoned).3 The organisation of the Display was a year-round affair, with the 'display office' being closed only for a couple of weeks in August. The programme is 'usually settled fairly exactly by the beginning of the year', but by whom is not clear. The whole thing is overseen by a 'Display Committee' headed by Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham; the 'Flying-Subcommittee' chaired by Air Vice-Marshal Joubert de la Ferté handles the exciting bits; and the 'General Purposes Committee', of which Air Commodore B. C. H. Drew is secretary, organises everything else -- ticketing, liaison with transport and police, construction, etc.4
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  1. Flight, 27 June 1935, 725

  2. Ibid., 726; the map is from here also. 

  3. Ibid., 727

  4. Ibid.