10 April 1940 has remained in history as "the great panic day". The reason for this designation is the panic that spread through the population of Oslo, after the rumors of the British bombing of the capital had spread. Here you can see how the Oslo people rush out of town on foot, on bicycles, in trucks and buses. The clip is without audio.
From NRK via the excellent RealTimeWWII. (The caption has been run through Google Translate and tweaked by me so it makes more sense, so I can't vouch for its accuracy.)
This one of the many things I didn't know before. I can't find much about it on the web in English; Wikipedia says:
The same day [10 April 1940], panic broke out in German-occupied Oslo, following rumours of incoming British bombers. In what has since been known as "the panic day" the city's population fled to the surrounding countryside, not returning until late the same evening or the next day. Similar rumours led to mass panic in Egersund and other occupied coastal cities. The origins of the rumours have never been uncovered.
It's interesting that the rumours named Britain as the aggressor. Of course Germany bombing a city it already occupied wasn't particularly plausible, so given that the rumour existed it would have to attach itself to Britain. The Altmark incident (and the planned mining of Norwegian waters, though I assume that was not publicly known as it was interrupted by the German invasion which was publicised shortly before the panic) might have suggested that the British were prepared to go further and attack Norway to achieve their own ends. I don't know much about airmindedness in Norway before the war (apart from the ghost flyers) either but in recent months civilians in two small, nearby nations had already suffered aerial bombardment, namely Poland and Finland (and let's not forget China and Spain in 1938) so to that extent the panic was not unreasonable.
Three authors (from Belgium, Germany and France) have been working for years on a bizarre subject: the dropping of dummy wooden bombs on wooden airplanes.
In order to deceive the Allies during the Second World War, the Germans built fake airfields on the continent, often with runways and sometimes with buildings, but always with fake wooden planes, called "Attrappen". Strange stories can be heard in which allied airplanes made fun of them by dropping wooden bombs on which they had sometimes painted remarks like "Wood for Wood".
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. (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. 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). 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. More
The week before the 1932 RAF Display, Flight's editor commented on the rationale behind the theme chosen for the finale:
Sometimes the story composed for the set piece has been framed with some object, such as to obviate the criticisms of pacifists. Thus at one Display the enemy were called Pirates, so that nobody could object to their flaming end. This year we are to have a battle piece, pure and simple, which is the best thing of all. The R.A.F. exists to defend us, so we may as well get some idea (so far as sham fighting can give it) of what our aircraft would do to those who may attack us.
But on the day (Saturday, 25 June 1932), the set piece seemed to disappoint Flight's correspondent. The set-up (above) was described as follows:
The scene this year represented a main aerodrome of the Enemy, situated alongside a disused fort in which large quantities of bombs were stored [...] The Enemy squadrons having been somewhat worrying, it was decided to carry out a heavy air attack to destroy this base.
A squadron of 'our Single-Seater Fighters' strafes the aerodrome, drawing off 'the Enemy Fighter Squadron' in pursuit. Reconnaissance aircraft (Hawker Audaxes) report the scene to be clear, and so the bombers (Hawker Horsleys and Fairey IIIFs) are sent in. More
I may or may not have been right in guessing that the Soviet Union was the pretend enemy in the 1928 RAF Display set-piece, but as we shall see I think I'm on safer ground with the next year's edition (for some reason held slightly later in the summer than usual, on Saturday, 13 July 1929). The tenth 'Grand Finale or Set Piece' had an unusually elaborate geopolitical backdrop and an unusually elaborate set. The scene was 'Hendon Sea Port' AKA 'Hendon-by-the-Sea', which
represented a foreign defended port overseas, and consisted of a harbour with a quay terminating at a fort at the seaward extremity and various buildings at the landward end. Alongside the mole with waves rippling against its sides (these waves, by the way, were the silk of old parachutes, pegged to the ground and fluttering in the wind), was an imposing troopship, with smoke already issuing from its black and orange funnels; troops were embarking and stores were being transferred from lorries.
Outside the harbour various vessels, complete with waves, cruised about, while other craft, including an ammunition lighter, were anchored inside. This was the "peaceful" but active scene we looked upon at the start, and one could hardly believe it was not real.
It's clear that the RAF put a lot of effort into these sets which were destined to be blown up (see the British Pathé newsreel above), even allowing for the fact that they were built from scrap metal and old parachutes. More
The seventh RAF Display was held on Saturday, 3 July 1926. By now it was, as Flight noted, 'amongst the foremost of the functions of the London social season'. Their Majesties the King and Queen were in attendance, along with representatives of three other royal houses (including the King, Queen, Infante and Infanta of Spain, possibly drawn by the appearance of the Cierva autogyro), 'Several Indian Princes', nearly one in three of the combined Houses of Parliament, and about 150,000 less exalted guests. (The graphic above shows the growth of 'Miss Popularity Hendon' since the beginning.) The main feature of the day was massed formation flying: at one point, six fighter squadrons comprising fifty-four aircraft in total were in the air. The set-piece seems to have suffered by comparison. Flight's description seems rather muted when compared to previous years:
After this came the Set Piece — during which the Royal Party made a tour of inspection of the machine park. The "Story" this year was the combined attack on a hostile aerodrome by fighters and day bombers. It commenced with a low bombing attack with light bombs by the fighters, which followed up with a machine-gun attack to silence the ground defences. Next came along, higher up, the day bombers, with the fighters above them in attendance. The bombers then very effectively finished off the aerodrome and previously-damaged aircraft.
The fourth RAF Pageant took place on Saturday, 30 June 1923. The 'turn of the afternoon', as in the previous year, was 'another little Eastern drama, based on actual happenings during the War'. Once more the Wottnotts were the enemy, and once more the co-operation of air and ground forces was the theme. The main difference with 1922 was that this time the RAF was coming to the aid of a besieged garrison:
On the centre of the "stage" one saw an impressive railway bridge and sundry buildings. The small military garrison protecting this post was suddenly attacked by our old friends (or enemies?), the Wottnott Arabs. The garrison, being outnumbered, W.T.'d for help, which, before you could say "Jack Robinson," appeared in the form of three Vickers troop carriers, escorted by five Sopwith "Snipes."
I recently said that I've been meaning to write about the spectacular and dramatic set pieces which usually marked the climax of the RAF Pageants, held at Hendon aerodrome every summer from 1920 to 1937. So here goes! The themes chosen for these set-pieces tell us something about what ideas about airpower the RAF wished the public to absorb. Flight had good coverage of the pageants, and where possible I'll reference British Pathe newsreels. As there were so many I'll have to make this a series.
First, a bit of context. In 1910, Hendon (or London) aerodrome was established on the outskirts of London by Claude Grahame-White as a place where pioneer aviators could come to build, to train and to fly. But it was also the site of hugely popular aerial derbys and flying displays for the public, who came up from London in their many thousands to watch Grahame-White and others stunting over the airfield: the so-called 'Hendon Habit'. During the war, Hendon was requisitioned by the RFC for the purposes of training, test flying and occasional air defence. Grahame-White never got it back after the war, but he did manage to convince the government to allow it to be used once more for airminded propaganda: the Aerial Derby was re-established there in 1919. More
Der Spiegel has a lengthy article based upon a new book by historians Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer called Soldaten (no English version yet, unfortunately). It's based on the transcripts of secret recordings made of the conversations of German POWs captured by British and American forces in the Second World War. They would have talked about many things, but the article focuses on the war crimes which the soldiers, sailors and airmen discuss quite candidly among themselves, as perhaps they never did again in their lives. It's quite horrifying reading. But as far as the German army is concerned, the details of the war crimes committed in the East and elsewhere, while shocking, aren't all that new. It's more unusual to see evidence of the war crimes carried out by the men of the Luftwaffe. I've extracted those particular transcripts from the article. More