Radio

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

The current conflict in Gaza has attracted much media attention for the so-called Twitter war being fought between the IDF and Hamas, or, more precisely, between the @IDFSpokesperson and @AlqassamBrigade accounts and their respective followers. Insults are traded back and forth, photos and videos of rocket attacks and air strikes and their purported results (sometimes quite horrific, be warned) shared and retweeted many times over, bloggers take up virtual arms on behalf of one side or the other. @IDFSpokesperson tweets a graphic claiming that 'Hamas' goal is to kill civilians'; @AlqassamBrigade one claiming 'In Children's Day: Israel killed 26 Palestinian children!' This present form of propaganda war is sometimes (not always) presented as something new. Certainly the speed of communication and the ease by which it can be accessed by anyone who is interested is remarkable, but nothing ever looks completely new to a historian.

During the Blitz, for example, British newspapers and magazines were the medium by which both British and German propaganda messages regarding the mutual bombing war were passed to readers so that they could judge for themselves. In September 1940, The Listener noted that 'German broadcasts continue to claim that only military objectives are being attacked' by the Luftwaffe.1 By contrast, the Zeesen radio station was reported to have claimed that:

British pilots have received instructions to avoid carefully any kind of military objective and to concentrate instead on terrorising the German civilian population.2

As it was broadcast in English, this message was clearly directed at the British people themselves. Normally only those who owned a radio and were listening in on the right frequency at the right time would have received it, perhaps along with a few others by word of mouth. By reprinting it, The Listener was sharing it with a much larger audience (circulation was around 50,000 in 1939 but had risen to 129,000 by 1945). By reprinting it without editorial comment, it was trusting its readers to draw the right conclusions.
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  1. Listener, 19 September 1940, 404. 

  2. Ibid. 

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

In the published version of his 2008 Lord Trenchard Memorial Lecture, Richard Overy concluded that now

air power is projected for its potential political or moral impact. In Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan it is the political dividend that has been central to the exercise of air power, just as it was when Trenchard’s Independent Force flew against German cities in 1918 with the hope that a demoralised urban population might pressure the German government to make peace. In this sense it might be possible to argue, without stretching the history too far, that the RAF has begun to forge a new sense of identity in the past two decades more compatible with the traditions of Trenchardism.1

My interest here is in that last word, 'Trenchardism'. Overy nowhere defines it -- in fact, it's the only time it occurs in his article -- but as an airpower historian I have a pretty good idea what he means, despite the fact that it's actually a relatively uncommon term. Marshal of the Royal Air Force (as he ended up) Lord Trenchard is well-known for his belief in strategic bombing as a war-winning weapon, particularly through its effects on morale, and as the RAF's Chief of the Air Staff from 1919 to 1930 he was in a position to promote it. This sense of Trenchardism, something like Douhetism, seems straightforward enough, and it's the sense in which I've encountered it in the secondary literature.2 But here I'm interested in other uses of this word Trenchardism: specifically the way it is used in a a Wikipedia article of that name which was created recently by Jo Pugh of The National Archives, who invites additions and comments (as discussed on Twitter).3 There, Trenchardism is taken beyond simply an enthusiasm for bombing, indeed beyond the military sphere entirely. The dilemma is that in so doing it risks diluting Trenchardism past the point of usefulness. But equally, it highlights a contemporary understanding of Trenchardism which is very different to that we understand now. Are they reconcilable? And if not, which should we prefer?
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  1. Richard Overy, 'Identity, politics and technology in the RAF's history', RUSI Journal 153 (2008), 74-7. Thanks to Ross Mahoney for this reference. 

  2. E.g. 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), 239, 291. 

  3. I won't here discuss the question of whether Wikipedia is an appropriate place for original research. See also Richard Jenson, 'Military history on the electronic frontier: Wikipedia fights the War of 1812', Journal of Military History 76 (2012), 1165-82. 

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Daily Mirror, 1 June 1942, 1

Operation Millennium was the RAF's first 'thousand bomber raid', on Cologne on the night of 30 May 1942. By making a maximum effort and by using aircraft and aircrews from training units (since the Admiralty did not consent to the diversion of Coastal Command aircraft), Air Vice-Marshal Harris was able to scrounge a total of 1047 bombers, more than twice the usual number Bomber Command alone was able to field on any given night. While the intention was certainly to hurt Germany and to try out new tactics, Millennium was mostly a propaganda operation -- hence the otherwise arbitrary choice of the magic thousand. Since the heavy April raids on Lübeck and Rostock had gained very favourable press coverage, Harris wanted to follow up with a very big show indeed. So while I wasn't able to do the full post-blog of Millennium (or rather the second round of Baedeker raids which it provoked), here I will at least scan the British press reaction to see how successful Harris was in achieving his domestic objectives.
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Daily Mirror, 4 May 1942, 1

The front page of the Daily Mirror today is almost wholly given over to a story which the other papers are far less interested in. The recently-installed Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr William Temple (that's him on the left, though what is being done to him I have no idea; and that's his forehead on the right), used a speech in Manchester yesterday to give 'a new charter to Britain -- a charter of social reform which will bring happiness to millions of people if applied in post-war reconstruction' (1). Its nine points are:

1. Provision of decent houses for the people of this country;
2. Every child to have adequate and right nutrition;
3. Equality in education. There shall be genuinely available to every section of society the kind of education will develop their faculties to the full;
4. Adequate leisure for personal and family life. Where the family is separated because of employment, there should be two days' holiday each week;
5. Universal recognition of holidays with wages;
6. The application of science to discover labour-saving devices, to save labour instead of labourers;
7. Wide appreciation of the fact that labour is a partner in industry, just as much as management and capital;
8. Recognition by workers and employers alike that service comes first, and the opportunity to make profit comes afterwards;
9. The opportunity for all people to achieve the dignity and decency of human personality.

An accompanying article by A. W. Brockbank says that Temple also warned against yielding 'to the lure of people who try to persuade us that it would be wise to establish such a non-party State'":

'The minority must have the right to become the majority if it can. It must be lawful to be in opposition to the Government.'

Just who he has in mind here is not made clear.
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Daily Express, 2 May 1942, 1

All the newspapers today carry news of the meeting between Hitler and Mussolini in Salzburg; only the Daily Express leads with it. Its angle is that there is 'STRONG evidence' that the two dictators agreed that Italy would sent 'a large part' of its army to Russia, while Germany would send 'thousands' of its soldiers to Italy (1). Two possible explanations are given for this apparently contrary strategy: 'A coming extension of the Mediterranean Front', or 'to prevent any chance of armed insurrection by the Italian Army'. The Italian people are said to be 'thoroughly discontented with their acutely depressed conditions' and so Mussolini has given his prefects 'supreme powers to deal with "possible future difficulties of an urgent nature"' (his own words), and the Gestapo is now in control of the Italian police. Where Morley Richards, the author of this piece, gets his information from is not clear; none of the other papers make the same claims. Indeed, the circumstances surrounding the meeting are rather 'mysterious'; the Yorkshire Press asks why Japan apparently was not represented and was not mentioned in the final communique -- even though the only public reference to the meeting beforehand was a garbled one in a Tokyo newspaper (1).
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Yorkshire Post, 28 April 1942, 1

The Yorkshire Post, (above, 1), again leads with Rostock, which has been bombed by the RAF for the fourth consecutive night. The city 'is a heap of smouldering ruins, crushed by nearly 800 tons of British bombs. Its population is fleeing in panic. Its war production has ceased':

PHOTOGRAPHS taken after the third night's raid show swarms of people flocking towards the battered station to join crowds already waiting there for trains to take them away from what Berlin describes as 'terror raids.'

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Yorkshire Post, 27 April 1942, 1

Just at the moment, this war seems mainly to be an air war. The main news today is that Rostock has been bombed for the third night in a row. In addition Stirling bombers carried out a low-level raid on the Skoda works in Czechoslovakia, and six targets in northern France were were attacked by bombers with strong fighter escorts. As the Yorkshire Post reports on its front page:

ROSTOCK has become symbolic of our new air offensive. On Saturday night and yesterday morning the harbour and aircraft works were attacked for the third successive night, by a strong force of bombers, with great results. That was not all. The famous Skoda armament works in Czechoslovakia were the target for the R.A.F. on an all-round flight of 1,400 miles.

Yesterday more attacking flights crossed the Channel for various destinations in this great opening of the Allied offensive.

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Yorkshire Post, 24 April 1942, 1

Yesterday's muted announcement of a British retreat in Burma is followed today by more prominent headlines of a further withdrawal, albeit this time in the Taungdwingyi sector. But while the front page of the Yorkshire Post (above) grimly declares that

OUR retirement through Central Burma is bringing us nearer the plains of Mandalay and the defence of Northern Burma

it immediately goes on to find hope in yesterday's revelation that US Army troops were already in India. It is suggested that this may in time develop into one of America's major fronts against Japan. In the meantime, though, hard fighting will be necessary to protect the Burma Road which is threatened by 'a Japanese force of tanks, guns and infantry', though on the Post's analysis this is to stop Chinese reinforcements reaching Burma rather than Allied supplies reaching China. Further withdrawals are likely British troops will likely have to fall back on Meiktila.

Present policy is to deny the enemy the high ground in the North and keep him on the lower flats until the rain breaks and floods the river valleys.

The Times notes that Japan has been aided by 'traitorous Burmese' (5) and has the advantage of being able to use two good roads from the east, whereas communications between India and Burma are poor. Still,

In difficult circumstances our troops have never weakened, whatever the strain. Whenever the call has come, fatigue has been forgotten. Gurkhas, Baluchis, Frontier Force Rifles have vied with British units in courage and resolution. No finer fighting has been seen in this war. Coolness allied with determination has extricated the force or portions of it from many ugly situations, though not always without regrettable loss in men and material.

It's probably easier to forget the fatigue of the troops in Burma from the vantage point of London than it would be on the spot!
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Daily Mirror, 23 April 1942, 1

Most newspapers today lead with the story of a successful Commando raid on the French coast near Boulogne early yesterday morning -- though only the Daily Mirror (above), rather bizarrely, focuses on the fact that 'All wore gym shoes' (1) (apart from the ex-Limehouse police inspector who wore slippers). More colour is provided by the dashing Lord Lovat who led the raid wearing 'the bonnet of his own Lovat Scouts, a body of Highland deerstalkers [...] whose training is ideal for Commando work'. The purpose of the raid is not clear -- the official communique only says it was a reconnaissance mission -- so it's hard to say if it achieved its objective. Perhaps the aim was to tie up German cement supplies:

SO greatly do the Germans fear Commando raids and invasion that they have earmarked more than half the French production of cement -- about one and a quarter million tons a year -- for use on new defence works along the coast.

But in purely operational terms the raid seems to have been a success (8):

Remarkable from the military point of view was that, after spending two hours on enemy-occupied territory, every man was withdrawn with arms. Our casualties were negligible.

The Navy, which delivered and retrieved the Commandos, also got away largely unscathed, and damaged two armed German trawlers in the process.
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