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French infantrymen bayonet charge, 1914

I was on ABC New England again today, my fourth contribution to 'The road to war', looking at the events of 3-9 September 1914. My main topic was the Battle of the Marne -- the advance of the German 1st and 2nd Armies towards Paris, the evacuation of the French government from the capital along with 30% of the population, the rallying of the French army under Joffre and Gallieni, the deviation from the Schlieffen Plan by Kluck's 1st Army veering in front of Paris, the opening of a gap between the 1st and 2nd Armies due to the counterattack of the French 6th Army, the advance into that gap by the British Expeditionary Force and the French 5th Army, and finally the resulting retreat of the Germans back to the Aisne, ending their hopes of a rapid victory in the West. All that and the result of the Australian federal election, too. Sadly, very little airpower, apart from brief mentions of aerial reconnaissance and the first air raids on Paris.

Image source: Wikipedia.

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The Field of Mons

My third contribution to ABC New England's 'The road to war' series is now online. Today I looked at the events of 20-26 August 1914, focusing particularly on events in Belgium: the march of the German 1st Army through Brussels, 320,000-strong; more German atrocities against civilians, as well as the burning of the library at Louvain; the exploits of L. E. O. Charlton and V. H. Needham of the Royal Flying Corps; and (the ostensible topic for today) the British Expeditionary Force's first major encounter with the German army in the battle of Mons. I also discussed the Angel of Mons, which then led to a digression into the 'Russians with snow on their boots' legend as well as rumours of secret Zeppelin bases in Britain. I then briefly discussed the outcome of the battle of Lorraine, in which Ferdinand Foch first distinguished himself, as well as noting Russian engagements with both Austro-Hungarian and German forces, including the start of the battle of Tannenberg. Finally I talked about the massive losses being incurred by all armies but by France in particular: 27,000 French soldiers were killed on 22 August 1914, which apparently is the highest number of deaths for any army for a single day in this war.

Image source: Yahoo! News.

German infantry on the battlefield, August 7, 1914

My second contribution for ABC New England to the increasingly inaccurately named series 'The road to war' was broadcast today, and is online here. Increasingly inaccurate because my topic today was the outbreak of war in August 1914 between Germany on the one hand and France and especially poor little Belgium on the other, including the Schlieffen Plan and German atrocities against Belgian civilians. I also talked about Plan XVII and the French occupation and then retreat from Mulhouse, which had been lost to the Germans in 1871. I also spoke in somewhat garbled fashion about the escape of the Goeben and the Breslau from the Royal Navy in the Mediterranean, and the Australian capture of the German merchant vessel Hobart in Port Phillip, which gained priceless naval codebooks for Allied intelligence; and not at all about Austro-Hungarian atrocities in Serbia, the Australian raid on Rabaul, or the British and French invasion of German Togoland. Because I ran overtime. At least I wasn't as croaky as last time!

Image source: Wikimedia.

When the present is too painful to think about, there is always the past to retreat into.

Japanese planes forced down an airliner which was flying from Hong Kong to Wuchow to-day [24 August 1938], and, it is reported, machine-gunned the passengers.

Of 18 people in the plane it is believed that 15 have either been killed or drowned, as the machine, which landed on the Macao River, sank.

The pilot, named Woods, and a Chinese passenger, both of whom were wounded, have arrived at Macao, the Portuguese province at the mouth of the Canton River.

Woods said that after he had landed the machine on the west side of the river, four of the 12 Japanese planes that had forced it down, dived and machine-gunned the helpless passengers.1

Well, there's no respite there.

The turbulent Mohmand tribes who have been gathering ominously on the North-West Frontier of India under incitement by Congress Party and communist agitators to strike a blow at the British administration, failed to heed the warnings to disperse contained in leaflets dropped by aeroplanes which flew over the tribal country in the vicinity of the border, and to-day [9 March 1932] they incurred the penalty stated in the warnings, when scores of their villages were bombed by Royal Air Force 'planes from Risalpur and Kohat. Several villages were wrecked and set on fire, Tribesmen hidden on the mountain tops turned fierce rifle fire on the 'planes, which replied with machine guns.

The bombing will continue until the raiders return to their mountain fortresses. One section of the tribesmen, which was threatening the approaches to the remote British outpost at Chitral is reported to have dispersed.2

No respite there either.

When the airmail leaves Parafield for Perth tomorrow mornining [sic] it will carry a highly-bred Nawab with it -- Higham Nawab of Warncourt, a six-weeks-old Persion [sic] kitten, dusty black in color, and about nine inches long.

The Nawab comes from a distinguished family. He was bred by Miss A. E. Jarmyn, of Prospect. His mother is Higham Gipsy, a litter sister to Higham Roulette, a South Australian grand champion Persian. The Nawab will go to Perth in a specially light matchwood box, and he will be in the care of the pilot of the mail plane.

He has been sold to Miss A. G. Cohen, of Buckingham Hill, Western Australia, who will call for him when the mail plane arrives.

Miss Jarmyn thinks that the Nawab will not be airsick because he is so small. She will give him a good breakfast before he goes, to make him comfortable and sleepy.3

That will do! Except – this is on the same page:

News, 11 November 1932, 8

Mr. Baldwin stressed the probable horrors of aerial warfare. The greatest fear among ordinary people of all nations, he said, was fear of the air. It was well for the man in the street to understand that no power could protect him from air-bombing. The only defence in aerial warfare was to kill more people than the enemy killed.4

There's no escaping the present, or the past.


  1. Argus (Melbourne), 25 August 1938, 1

  2. Western Mail (Perth), 17 March 1932, 34

  3. News (Adelaide), 11 November 1932, 8

  4. Ibid

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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
...continue reading


  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