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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Things are starting to happen with my forthcoming book, The Next War in the Air: Britain's Fear of the Bomber, 1908–1941, which is being published by Ashgate. The manuscript has just been proofread, the cover design is in the works, I have a marketing questionnaire to fill out. The book is now listed on the Ashgate website and in their First World War Centenary catalogue. Here's the book description:

In the early twentieth century, the new technology of flight changed warfare irrevocably, not only on the battlefield, but also on the home front. As prophesied before 1914, Britain in the First World War was effectively no longer an island, with its cities attacked by Zeppelin airships and Gotha bombers in one of the first strategic bombing campaigns. Drawing on prewar ideas about the fragility of modern industrial civilization, some writers now began to argue that the main strategic risk to Britain was not invasion or blockade, but the possibility of a sudden and intense aerial bombardment of London and other cities, which would cause tremendous destruction and massive casualties. The nation would be shattered in a matter of days or weeks, before it could fully mobilize for war. Defeat, decline, and perhaps even extinction, would follow. This theory of the knock-out blow from the air solidified into a consensus during the 1920s and by the 1930s had largely become an orthodoxy, accepted by pacifists and militarists alike. But the devastation feared in 1938 during the Munich Crisis, when gas masks were distributed and hundreds of thousands fled London, was far in excess of the damage wrought by the Luftwaffe during the Blitz in 1940 and 1941, as terrible as that was. The knock-out blow, then, was a myth.

But it was a myth with consequences. For the first time, The Next War in the Air reconstructs the concept of the knock-out blow as it was articulated in the public sphere, the reasons why it came to be so widely accepted by both experts and non-experts, and the way it shaped the responses of the British public to some of the great issues facing them in the 1930s, from pacifism to fascism. Drawing on both archival documents and fictional and non-fictional publications from the period between 1908, when aviation was first perceived as a threat to British security, and 1941, when the Blitz ended, and it became clear that no knock-out blow was coming, The Next War in the Air provides a fascinating insight into the origins and evolution of this important cultural and intellectual phenomenon, Britain's fear of the bomber.

Contents: Introduction; Part I Threats: Constructing the knock-out blow, 1908-1931;The bomber ascendant, 1932-1941. Part II Responses: Living with the bomber: adaptation; The only defence is in offence: resistance; Wings over the world: negotiation. Part III Crises: Defence panics and air panics; The German air menace: 1913, 1922 and 1935; Barcelona, Canton and London: 1938; The Battles of London: 1917 and 1940; Conclusion; Bibliography; Index.

Most importantly, it now has an official price and publication date: £70 (hardcover) and June 2014 respectively (though they're different on Amazon in the UK and the US). There will also be ePUB and PDF editions.

Time to start saving up your pennies!


A year has passed since my article on the debate in Britain over whether to bomb German civilians in reprisal for the Blitz was published. Under the Australian Journal of Politics and History's self-archiving policy I can now upload my own copy of the final, peer-reviewed text for anyone to read for free. So here it is. And here is the abstract:

In Britain, popular memory of the Blitz celebrates civilian resistance to the German bombing of London and other cities, emphasizing positive values such as stoicism, humour and mutual aid. But the memory of such passive and defensive traits obscures the degree to which British civilian morale in 1940 depended on the belief that if Britain had to 'take it', then Germany was taking it as hard or harder. Contrary to the received historical account, opinion polls, Home Intelligence reports and newspaper letter columns show that a majority of the British supported the reprisal bombing of German civilians by Bomber Command. The wartime reprisals debate was the logical legacy of prewar assumptions about the overwhelming power of bombing; but it has been forgotten because it contradicts the myth of the Blitz.

AJPH's attitude to self-archiving is more generous than some journals I could name. Or at least it was -- its RoMEO entry doesn't seem to suggest 12 months as a standard embargo period, if I'm reading it right, but (maybe) 24. There's nothing I can see about it on AJPH's website either, so maybe it has got worse in the meantime. Hopefully not. In any case, my agreement says what it says.


My peer-reviewed article, 'Dreaming war: airmindedness and the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918', has now been published in the latest issue of History Australia, which can be found here. This is the abstract:

Numerous false sightings of mysterious aeroplanes, thought to be German and hostile, were reported by ordinary people around Australia in the Autumn of 1918. These reports were investigated by defence authorities, who initiated a maximum effort to find the merchant raiders presumed to be the source of the aeroplanes. The scare is interpreted in the context of reports that a German seaplane had flown over Sydney in 1917; fears that the German offensive in France would lead to an Allied defeat; wartime paranoia about German subversion; and the growth of negative airmindedness thanks to the wartime press.

As I've previously discussed, this is my first mystery aircraft article, and hopefully not my last!

I'm also self-archiving the version originally submitted to History Australia, that is, before it was peer-reviewed. This can be downloaded for free from here. I don't normally like to do this, since the text usually changes significantly after peer-review. That is indeed the case here: I swapped the introduction with the following section, the graphics have been redone, and there are some other smaller, but important, changes. But, per my contributor agreement with History Australia, this is only version I am allowed to self-archive. Because this mystery aeroplane scare is virtually unknown, I'd like to make the information and ideas in the article widely available, even if not necessarily in the form that I would like. Otherwise, if you aren't a member of the Australian Historical Association or don't have institutional access to History Australia, the final, peer-reviewed (and better!) version should be open-access in 2015.


History Australia, the journal of the Australian Historical Association, has accepted my article 'Dreaming war: airmindedness and the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918' for publication in the August 2013 issue. This is the second time my blogging to conference paper to peer-reviewed article workflow has borne fruit. I stumbled across the scare nearly two years ago, became curious, and started digging in the National Archives of Australia about six months later. Once I was convinced there was something to the topic, I proposed a talk for the AHA's 2012 conference, and when that was accepted started blogging around the material intensively (here, here, here, here, here, here, and here). With some help from the AHA/CAL writing workshops, the AHA National Writing Cluster pilot, and of course the article's referees, I can now (well, soon, anyway) say that I'm an Australian historian in both senses of the term!

My plan is to use this article as the foundation for a larger project on mystery aircraft scares. Ultimately this could embrace scares in Australia, Britain (the next and current phase), New Zealand, Canada, South Africa, the United States, and maybe even beyond. To do this right will involve archival research and so at least some funding from somewhere. Because there's little existing historiography on mystery aircraft to draw upon, my idea is to use this article to show that the topic is a solid one which is worth further research, and to suggest where I'm going with it. Ideally this project would lead to a book, but even if it doesn't work out that way I'll at least get a few articles out of it. For now, getting an article on the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918 out there is a good start.


Wartime 61

The current issue of Wartime, the official magazine of the Australian War Memorial, has an article by me on the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918. I'm very pleased with how it's turned out -- it's beautifully illustrated and put together. The theme of the issue is 'air warfare', which I imagine may be of interest to readers of this blog. For example, there's Richard Overy on the legal and ethical status of Bomber Command's campaign against Germany, Richard Frank on whether the Japanese should be considered victims of the atomic bombs, Greg Gilbert on the aerial aspects of the Dardanelles (okay, Gallipoli) campaign, and a lot more. You can read Lachlan Grant's article on 460 Squadron RAAF's daylight raid on Berchtesgaden for free, but for the rest you'll need to buy a copy from the AWM or from any good newsagent, or a few indifferent ones for that matter. Recommended, and not just because I'm in it!


It was less than two months ago that my peer-reviewed article 'The shadow of the airliner: commercial bombers and the rhetorical destruction of Britain, 1917-1935' was accepted by Twentieth Century British History, but it's already available online, thanks to the journal's advance access policy. (So while the article has been typeset, the page numbers are only temporary, pending its formal publication at a later date.) This is great; otherwise it could easily take six months before making its appearance.

The publishers of Twentieth Century British History, Oxford Journals, also have an enlightened policy of allowing authors to put a free-access URL to the article on their own website: 'The article should only be viewed from the Oxford Journals site, and not hosted by your own personal/institutional web site or that of other third parties, though you or your co-authors may post the URLs on your own sites or those of your institutions/organizations'. What this means is that if you follow this link (abstract), this link (full text) or this link (PDF) you can read the whole article for free! Technically I suppose this is a form of Green OA, but no money changes hands; it's just part of the service. I suppose they realise that library subscriptions represent the vast bulk of their income, and letting authors provide free access to their articles from their websites is not going to undercut this. This also is great.

Here is the abstract:

Aerial bombardment was widely believed to pose an existential threat to Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. An important but neglected reason for this was the danger from civilian airliners converted into makeshift bombers, the so-called 'commercial bomber': an idea which arose in Britain late in the First World War. If true, this meant that even a disarmed Germany could potentially attack Britain with a large bomber force thanks to its successful civil aviation industry. By the early 1930s the commercial bomber concept appeared widely in British airpower discourse. Proponents of both disarmament and rearmament used, in different ways and with varying success, the threat of the commercial bomber to advance their respective causes. Despite the technical weakness of the arguments for convertibility, rhetoric about the commercial bomber subsided only after rearmament had begun in earnest in 1935 and they became irrelevant next to the growth in numbers of purpose-built bombers. While the commercial bomber was in fact a mirage, its effects on the disarmament and rearmament debates were real.

Here endeth the tale of the Unpublishable Article of Doom.


I'm pleased to say that Twentieth Century British History has accepted my article 'The shadow of the airliner: commercial bombers and the rhetorical destruction of Britain, 1917-1935' for publication. It should appear online by the end of the year and in print some time after that. Conceptually, though not really intentionally, this article links with the ones I've written on the international air force and the 1935 air panic. The topic is the idea that civilian aircraft could be swiftly converted into effective bombers, which had its origin in the First World War and became extremely common in airpower discourse between the wars, thanks partly to P. R. C. Groves. This is something which has been little discussed by historians, with the main exception of those working on the proposed internationalisation of aviation. I argue that the commercial bomber functioned rhetorically to create a threat from Germany during the Weimar and early Nazi periods, when it was disarmed in the air but strong in civil aviation. Conversely, the issue quickly disappeared from view when the creation of the Luftwaffe was announced.

I have discussed this article here before, actually, though without saying what it was about: it's the one I asked for crowdsourced help in fixing it, after it had already been rejected and rewritten a number of times. Since it was then accepted by the next journal I sent it to (even if not immediately), for me this vindicates the idea of crowdsourcing the editing process in this way. I wouldn't do it as a matter of course, but I'd certainly do it again if (and when) I run into trouble. So thank you to the following people who provided feedback on the article draft:

Alan Allport, Christopher Amano-Langtree, Corry Arnold, Katrina Gulliver, Wilko Hardenberg, Lester Hawksby, James Kightly, Beverley Laing, Ross Mahoney, Andre Mayer, Bob Meade, Andrew Reid, Alun Salt

You'll all be in the acknowledgements, so if I've forgotten anyone, please let me know!


One painful lesson I learned while seeing my Blitz reprisals article through to press was to stick. To. The. Bloody. Word. Limit! The article as accepted was well over and as a result I caused myself and the editors much grief while we worked to cut it down to an acceptable size. Never again.

Because they stood somewhat apart from the main argument of the article, the first cut I made was to delete two paragraphs addressing Tom Harrisson's theory, in his (generally invaluable) 1978 book Living Through the Blitz, about the demands by the British press for reprisals, which is effectively a conspiracy theory insinuating press manipulation as cover for Bomber Command's area bombing policy. Harrisson was co-founder and wartime head of Mass-Observation, and I think one of the main vectors of the idea that the British people didn't want reprisal bombing of German civilians, especially if they'd been bombed themselves (which as I argue in the article itself is, at best, misleading). In the first deleted paragraph I showed why his conspiracy theory doesn't make sense, and in the second I more tentatively (and much less convincingly, I think) gestured towards an explanation of why he came up with it. In relation to the published article, these paragraphs came just before the conclusion on page 406, and after the discussion of examples from the Mass-Observation archives of exactly the sorts of spontaneous demands of reprisals in blitzed areas that Harrisson explicitly denied ever happened. So these two paragraphs were also intended to help explain why he misrepresented the evidence in this way.

Since they stand on their own fairly well (the reference to Marchant is to the article she published from Coventry), I thought it worth posting the deleted paragraphs here, as a sort of teaser for the real article. I haven't changed the text, except to expand the bibliographic references.
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