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Spithead review

Today I had my very first radio appearance, on ABC New England North West, talking to Kelly Fuller on the Mornings show. I was talking about what was happening in Europe 100 years ago, during the July Crisis of 1914. More specifically, I spoke about the Royal Navy's test mobilisation at Spithead (above) and the drafting of the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum to Serbia in response to the assassination of Franz Ferdinand. Despite a throat infection and a couple of stumbles, and going under time, I think it went alright. You can listen to it here.

This is my first contribution to a weekly radio series, 'The Road to War', where historians from the University of New England (mostly) and Flinders University will discuss the events of 1914 and then 1915, a century after they happened. The idea, at least at this stage, is that we will highlight what was happening in the First World War (and the lead up to it) before Gallipoli, which is essentially when Australian memory of the war begins -- even though there was actually a lot going on before then. So something like the post-blogging I've done from time to time, but less time-intensive. Particularly since I'm just one member of a team: the others are my colleagues Richard Scully (whose idea all of this was), Nathan Wise, Erin Ihde (all from UNE), and hopefully Melanie Oppenheimer (Flinders). Richard has already given a couple of talks, on the assassination itself and the German blank cheque, and Nathan spoke last week about Europe going on its summer holidays while Austria-Hungary decided what to do; next week Erin will look at the Serbian response to the ultimatum and the firing of the first shots. Future episodes will be available from here or here. My contributions will mainly focus on the war in the air (naturally -- I even managed to sneak the RNAS in today) and at sea, but I'll be covering some aspects of the land war, too. It should be fun and educational -- maybe even at the same time!

Image source: the-weatherings.co.uk.

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The other guys

So my book is a thing that now exists. But although it was formally published on 18 June, many online bookstores have waited until today to actually ship it. (I recommend using Booko to find the cheapest prices, or you can get a 10% discount by ordering directly from Ashgate.) To mark this auspicious day, I thought I'd mention the other guys -- the other books which are, more or less, also about the history of the knock-out blow theory, and so are both inspiration and competition for The Next War in the Air.

  1. George H. Quester. Deterrence Before Hiroshima: The Airpower Background of Modern Strategy. New Brunswick and Oxford: Transaction Books, 1986 [1966]. The breadth of this book is quite remarkable: there aren't many other choices if you want a comparative discussion of the bomber fear in all the major powers, though this does inevitably mean that the coverage of is Britain is not thorough enough to satisfy me. I still feel that the nuclear context in which was written distorts Quester's interests and arguments too much -- in fact, it wasn't written as history at all, but as political science (it's Quester's PhD thesis; his advisor was Samuel Huntington) -- but his argument that nuclear deterrence theory after 1945 was anticipated by airpower theorists before 1945 is inarguable.
  2. Barry D. Powers. Strategy Without Slide-Rule: British Air Strategy 1914-1939. London: Croom Helm, 1976. I have no idea what happened to Powers, but he wrote an excellent book which in many ways is the closest to my own, particularly in the way that it is concerned with civilian, unofficial and popular responses to the bomber. Sadly, though (and despite the subtitle), he doesn't cover the period after 1931 in any detail, which is a huge tease since that's when the fear was at its most intense. He also neglects the period before the First World War, which I argue is when the key ideas underlying the knock-out blow theory were formed. But I rate Strategy Without Slide-Rule very highly and cite it often.
  3. Uri Bialer. The Shadow of the Bomber: The Fear of Air Attack and British Politics, 1932-1939. London: Royal Historical Society, 1980. This is the book on the knock-out blow theory, the one that nearly everyone cites (or riffs off). And that's a problem, not because it's a bad book (it's a great book), but because, at least from my perspective, it is a surprisingly limited book. It's all there in the subtitle: not only does The Shadow of the Bomber only cover the 1930s (which, as I've said is the key period for the knock-out blow theory; but by the same token that's not when it started), but more importantly it is very focused on the elite viewpoint, at the highest political, military and civil service levels. Which is fine, and as it happens, necessary, but The Shadow of the Bomber is often cited as a generic reference for the fear of air attack in general. It's actually not very suitable for that, and my hope is that The Next War in the Air will take some of that market share.
  4. Alfred Gollin. The Impact of Air Power on the British People and Their Government, 1909-14. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1989. A fascinating and invaluable account of the early years of airpower politics in all its forms, from pressure groups to parliamentary debates. And for a long time the only academic monograph to treat the phantom airship scares at length -- until The Next War in the Air, that is, and even then I only look at the 1913 one. Sadly, the promised third volume of the trilogy (the first being No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-1909) never eventuated.
  5. Michael Paris. Winged Warfare: The Literature and Theory of Aerial Warfare in Britain, 1859-1917. Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1992. The aim here is differentThe Next War in the Air, but this is a great overview of very early ideas about the uses of airpower, including (but not limited to) precursors to the knock-out blow theory. The amount of literature (fictional and non-fictional, adult and juvenile, books and articles, military and civilian) covered is staggering. But Winged Warfare is also very good on airpower politics and the RFC.
  6. Sven Lindqvist. A History of Bombing. London: Granta, 2002. I'm a bit ambivalent about this. It's good on predictive fiction about bombing, and it's written with verve and passion, but it's frankly a polemic. That mightn't matter so much if I was convinced by Lindqvist's argument that the knock-out blow theory was 'about' race (I would argue that it was more about class, but it's not an either-or thing), but I'm not; and he ignores anything that doesn't fit his thesis. The odd structure (it's not supposed to be read linearly, instead there are 24 different paths you can take through the book) also grates. Still, it's not a bad book; and it's more accessible than any other book on this list, with the exception perhaps of Patterson.
  7. Tami Davis Biddle. Rhetoric and Reality in Strategic Air Warfare: The Evolution and Reality of British and American Ideas About Strategic Bombing, 1914-1945. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2002. This is now the standard work on military ideas about strategic bombing during the period of the world wars, and it's all the more valuable for comparing these ideas with what actually happened in wartime, for both the American and the British cases. The Next War in the Air complements this by analysing civilian ideas about strategic bombing (albeit only for the British case), which Biddle does consider, but only briefly.
  8. Ian Patterson. Guernica and Total War. London: Profile Books, 2007. This came out partway through my PhD. This provides an excellent account of the bombing of Guernica, but as the title suggests this is just the point of departure. For a short introduction to the cultural responses to bombing, this is hard to beat (and much more measured than Lindqvist).
  9. Susan R. Grayzel. At Home and Under Fire: Air Raids and Culture in Britain From the Great War to the Blitz. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Since this came out after my PhD, it's not inspiration so much as competition. But while much of the period and subject matter overlaps with The Next War in the Air, the approach is very different. Notably, At Home and Under Fire approaches bombing from the perspective of gender, largely successfully. I disagree with some parts but I'm happy to assign other parts as readings for my students!
  10. Michele Haapamaki. The Coming of the Aerial War: Culture and the Fear of Airborne Attack in Inter-war Britain. London: I. B. Tauris, 2014. I recently gave The Coming of the Aerial War big props, so I won't say too much about it here. Again, the approach is different to The Next War in the Air, and the serious scholar of airpower and British culture will want to read both. Possibly the casual ones, too.

So, yes, I'm (literally and historiographically) placing The Next War in the Air next to these books. If other historians decide to do so as well, I'll be more than happy.

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The Imperial Aircraft Flotilla

We are familiar enough with the Spitfire Funds of the Second World War, in which patriotic individuals and groups could buy aircraft for the nation. There was a fair amount of precedent for this. In the early 1930s, Lady Houston more than once offered the government hundreds of thousands of pounds for air defence, though this was turned down. Perhaps she was inspired by the Nizam of Hyderabad who in 1917 donated a whole squadron of DH.9As, forming the initial complement of No. 110 Squadron RFC. In fact the idea of civilians donating military aircraft had its origins before 1914, at a time when Britain appeared very weak in the air. Most famously there had been the sorry story of the Morning Post airship, purchased from France in 1910 with the money raised by a subscription fund, damaged on arrival when it tried to squeeze into its hangar, and destroyed on its first flight after being repaired. But the idea persisted. A proposal made by the Review of Reviews during the 1913 airship panic for 'each county, each great city or town, each collection of villages in the homeland and the Empire [to] give one or more aeroplanes to the State' came to not much, though a few months later it was reported that 'a sum of £1000 has been subscribed in British East Africa for the purchase of an aeroplane for Great Britain'.1
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  1. 'Britain’s peril in the air', Review of Reviews 47 (April 1913): 134; Manchester Courier, 4 July 1913, 7

Flight, 22 March 1913, 341

This cartoon appeared in Flight in 1913.1 It's entitled 'In 1950' with the caption 'Flitting -- by the light of the Easter moon'.

Now, 'flitting' is a term used in Scotland and the north of England to mean moving house. It is, or at least was, a practice which happened much more often there than in the south. In fact, it was something of an annual tradition in Scotland, with 25 May in particular being Flitting Day. The Motherwell Times described the scene in an 1898 leading article:

The week that has about gone provides at least one field day in the year for a considerable proportion of our population. Some people must flit every year, and they are no sooner installed in their new diggings than they begin to cast their vision about in order to select the battle-ground of their next upheaval. Now may be seen the central figure of the show, the commander-in-chief of the whole operations, with whitewash in her hair, fire in her eye, and anathemas on her lips, careering wildly about, seeking for some devoted one which to explode her righteous indignation. The poor titular head of the house is altogether a secondary and quite unimportant individual, and if ever he has been prone to at any time think of himself as somebody in particular, it is about now that he gets the starch taken out, and he is made to realize that he is only small potatoes after all.2

There's an obvious gender aspect to this, and a less obvious class one too -- the poor were much more likely to rent their homes rather than own them, and so were much more likely to move about. This is evident in Flight's cartoon, too: although the flitting in 1950 is being done with the aid of a (not particularly realistic) aeroplane, it has patches on its wings and the passengers perched on the back are of humble appearance. What's more, it's not just any old flitting that is being done, but moonlight flitting: i.e. secretly moving house in the dead of night, in order to escape creditors and landlords.

What is the point of this cartoon? It doesn't seem to be any sort of topical reference, and it was published a couple of months before Flitting Day. Obviously it's not meant to be taken particularly seriously. There's probably a play on the other meaning of 'flitting', in the sense of the swift motion of small animals, particularly flying ones like birds and bats. But there is also a glance at Britain's airminded future, even if in a very lighthearted way, at the idea that aviation would become an integral part of British society, that Britons would naturally and instinctively turn to the skies, that even the poor would have access to aircraft. It's also perhaps a little satirical though, because -- at least in this respect -- becoming airminded has not fundamentally altered British society. People are still poor, still evade their debts, and still flit by moonlight; all the coming of flight has done is to change their mode of transportation.


  1. Flight, 22 March 1913, 341

  2. Motherwell Times, 3 June 1898, 2

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The Next War in the Air

My book, The Next War in the Air: Britain's Fear of the Bomber, 1908-1941, is getting closer to being real. In June, in just three months, it will be in the bookstores. Soon the indexing will be undertaken. Yesterday I made the final corrections to the text, and shortly I'll receive the page proofs from Ashgate, for last-minute error checking. And it has a draft cover design! Which I must say I am rather pleased with.
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Getty Images has just announced an embed function, which makes it possible to very easily use images from their collections in blogs and other social media, while simultaneously maintaining Getty Images' rights and -- this is the really nice bit -- avoiding the use of unsightly watermarks. This is rightly being greeted with enthusiasm (though not so much by photographers), and I'll try to use it myself where possible. Even a quick search turns up many great historical images, some familiar, most not. (Basic tip -- to filter out stock photos, restrict your search to editorial images.)

But there are problems, too. Above is an example of a embed from Getty Images. It's from a lithograph by W. Walton of Day & Haghe, lithographers to the Queen, depicting 'Ariel, the first carriage of the Aerial Transit Company', and printed on 26 March 1843 by Ackermann & Co., Strand, London. But the only part of all that which is given in the Getty Images metadata is the title; the rest came from the Library of Congress's copy, which moreover has no usage restrictions at all (since it's long out of copyright) and shows the uncropped lithograph (admittedly, probably less desirable for a blog post). The only other information offered by Getty Images is that the date it was created was 1 January 1900, which is ludicrously incorrect.

We can't expect Getty Images to thoroughly research every image they hold, and an aeroplane flying over Egypt in the mid-19th century is kind of weird to begin with. But the problem of poor or incorrect Getty Images metadata is actually quite common.
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[Cross-posted at Society for Military History Blog.]

Ottawa Evening Journal, 15 February 1915, 1

On 15 February 1915, the Winnipeg Evening Tribune's daily astrology column noted the unfavourable positions of Mars and Uranus:

The affliction of Mars this month is ominous of outrages against persons in power. A disaster that will shock the people living in cities is threatened.

Uranus foreshadows peril from aeroplanes or Zeppelins. National alarm from unexpected causes is presaged by the planets.1

Readers might indeed have been excused for being alarmed, for the previous evening, Ottawa, the Canadian capital, had been placed on high alert due to reports of aircraft approaching it from the United States border. While no attack actually eventuated, the omens were not good -- at least according to the McClure Newspaper Syndicate's anonymous astrologer.
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  1. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 15 February 1915, 6. 

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Airminded was down for a couple of days recently, and it now has a new look. The reason for this is that it was hacked, and nuking the entire site from orbit was the only way to be sure.

To be more specific, I noticed last week that Google searches for Airminded were throwing up some odd results, with words and links that no real person has ever typed on this blog appearing next to the more expected ones. But when I checked the posts in question, they looked fine. So, spoofing my browser's user agent, I was able to see Airminded as Googlebot saw it, and it looked something like this:
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