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This is odd:

To my readers, then, let me explain again that a pursuit plane should not carry out any pursuing. It should be a machine designed for fighting. It should have the qualities of fast climb, reasonable manœuvrability and gun-power. It should be simple in design and cheap to produce, because it will take the actual brunt of all air fighting. Its top speed means absolutely nothing, for unless it can get into the sky quickly -- and often -- and engage the enemy and prevent him from carrying out his mission, you might as well place it alongside Lindbergh's We in the Smithsonian Institute, or with the model of the original Wright biplane in the South Kensington Museum.1

OK, so the history of American aviation is not really my area, but surely Lindbergh's plane was the Spirit of St. Louis, not the We? It's probably the most famous individual aircraft in history -- though that does not necessarily mean it was the most famous in 1940 -- and its flight across the Atlantic in 1927 was still well within living memory. How could an aviation writer get the name wrong?

The writer in question was probably better known as Arch Whitehouse, and better known in the US, where he lived, than in Britain, the land of his birth. He was a prolific writer of pulp air adventure stories, as well as popular histories and accounts of the Great War in the air and the exploits of various devil-may-care flying fools, who continued to write into the 1970s. This is quite impressive, as he was born in 1895 and was actually a veteran of the Royal Flying Corps -- first as an observer-gunner, then as a pilot. Whitehouse's bio in Hell in Helmets coyly notes that 'Certain semi-official sources'2 credited him with shooting down 16 German aeroplanes. Maybe this shows that his memory wasn't particularly reliable, as at most he may have had 4 kills. More likely, it seems that he was something of a serial exaggerator.

Even so, it's hard to think of a motive for intentionally calling Lindbergh's plane by the wrong name (although he clearly had little time for the Lone Eagle, at least in his role as an instant military aviation expert); it's such a trivial error. Aside from the possibility that my copy is actually from a parallel universe (I did acquire it through inter-library loan, so anything's possible), I can only think that Whitehouse (and his editor) had a momentary lapse of reason and confused the plane Lindbergh made his transatlantic flight in with the book Lindbergh wrote about that flight, which was published in 1927 and was in fact entitled "We". That's the obvious connection between "Lindbergh" and "We", and I suppose we all make mistakes from time to time. But for somebody whose entire career revolved around aviation to make such an elementary mistake about his subject would be like a physicist confusing a neutron with a proton.

It's not particularly important, and I already know to take Arch with a grain of salt anyway. It's just like I said ... odd!


  1. A. G. J. Whitehouse, Hell in Helmets: The Riddle of Modern Air Power (London: Jarrolds, n.d. [1940]), 163-4. Emphasis added. 

  2. Ibid., 9. 

Arthur Harris. Bomber Offensive. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 2005 [1947]. It's that man again! And his memoirs.

William Mitchell. Winged Defense: The Development and Possibilities of Modern Air Power -- Economic and Military. Mineola: Dover Publications, 1988 [1925]. Mitchell was not hugely influential in Britain, other than for bombing the Ostfriesland and, to a lesser extent, as a cautionary example of the punishment reserved for the visionary by the hidebound military establishment. So I wouldn't have gone out of my way to get this -- but I was in the bookshop, it was in the bookshop, I couldn't very well say no, could I.

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I've written about connections between sport and war before. Here's another which I came across just last night, so perfectly timed that I can't resist posting it. It's from a book written in October 1941 or so by the pseudonymous Auspex, who is talking here about the RAF's sweeps over France that summer, which he claims were the first stage in the air offensive which will eventually lead to Britain's victory over Germany:

It began in mid-June. It was then that the Royal Air Force started their return match with the Luftwaffe in the series of tests for the ashes of the air. The first had been played on our home ground, in July-September, 1940. We won that match. We routed the German air force over and around this island, routed it decisively and without possibility of appeal. The next round was set on the enemy's ground. We went over and challenged him there.1

And again:

The test had started well; the honours of war clearly rested with us. It was continued in July and August. Gradually and surely, we may hope, we shall succeed in establishing ascendancy in the air over northern France and the Low Countries. But that will not be the end of the innings. Our fighters will only have broken the bowling, so to speak. It is the bombers which will have to make the decisive centuries.2

I hasten to add that I deplore the trivialisation of international conflict in this way. As someone once didn't observe of cricket, it isn't a matter of life and death -- it's more important than that.
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  1. Auspex, Victory in the Air (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1941), 211. 

  2. Ibid., 212-3. 

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SM.81, c. 1936, with CR.32 escorts

Italian Savoia-Marchetti SM.81 bomber over Spain, c. 1936, with Fiat CR.32 fighter escorts. Image source: Wikipedia.

Exactly seventy years ago, in late November and early December 1936, Madrid was being bombed. The way Antony Beevor describes it, it was the first attempt at something like a knock-out blow:

The nationialists' failure to break through on 19 November made Franco change his strategy. He could not risk any more of his best troops in fruitless assaults now that a quick victory looked much more difficult. So, for the first time in history, a capital city came under intense air as well as artillery bombardment. All residential areas except the fashionable Salamanca district were bombed in an attempt to break the morale of the civilian population. The Italian Aviazione Legionaria and the Luftwaffe conducted a methodical experiment with their Savoia 81s and Junkers 52s. The bombing did not, however, break morale as intended; on the contrary, it increased the defiance of the population. In London, Prince Otto von Bismarck, the German chargé d'affaires, derided British fears of air attacks 'since you see what little harm they have done in Madrid'.1

My first instinct was to scoff. The first capital to undergo intense aerial bombardment? London was bombed in 1915; Paris in 1914. But the key word is 'intense'. In the First World War, the only period when London was bombed repeatedly was at the end of September and start of October 1917, when Gothas and Zeppelins attacked on six nights out of nine. It sounds like the raids on Madrid were much more frequent than that, and they were certainly heavier: the Condor Legion dropped 36 tons of bombs on 4 December alone, about a tenth of the total dropped on Britain during the whole First World War. Casualties don't seem to have been markedly greater, though: nearly 100 deaths in those six London raids, maybe twice that in the Madrid ones (though contemporary reports gave higher estimates).
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  1. Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006), 181. 

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R. J. B. Bosworth. Mussolini's Italy: Life Under the Dictatorship, 1915-1945. London: Penguin, 2006. I have plenty of books on generic fascism, German fascism, British fascism ... so one on the original fascism doesn't seem excessive!

Paul Kennedy. The Parliament of Man: The United Nations and the Quest for World Government. London: Allen Lane, 2006. Only one chapter on the pre-1945 period, mostly the League of Nations of course. Actually I should track down a decent history of the League one day.

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Public Lending Library of Victoria Notice to Borrowers

This sticker is in the back of a book published in 1940, originally part of the collection of the Public Lending Library of Victoria (itself a part of the Public Library of Victoria, as the SLV was then known). I was struck particularly by no. 4. Were books considered possible vectors for infectious disease -- TB, perhaps? (If so, then obviously the best idea would be to get those books back into circulation as soon as possible.) Or maybe the Chief Librarian was worried that if everyone in the house was sick, their library books wouldn't be returned on time, even despite the THREEPENCE fine for every three days or fraction thereof that they were overdue. (I can just imagine the Librarian glaring at the hapless late returner and spitting out the words "That will be THRUP. PENCE.") I also like the way in which books are treated like people: they are not to be "detained" or "injured" (as a bibliophile, I'm always in danger of the former habit but completely agree with their firm stance on the latter). But I'm dying to know what Lending Library Rule 6 was. If there are any former patrons still around they could probably tell me -- given the familiarity they were expected to have with the Lending Library Rules it's probably burned into their minds. And can you imagine your embarrassment at waking up the day after moving house, and realising that you've neglected to notify the Librarian without delay?

From here, we can see that the reign of terror of Wm. C. Baud and C. A. McCallum, Chief Librarians, ended in 1960. We can be thankful that we live in more enlightened times: since August last year, I've accumulated $13.50 in overdue fines at the university library (about 5s in 1940s terms), and they don't seem to care in the slightest. Viva la revoluciĆ³n!

DO YOU KNOW --

Whether you can be gassed by bombs dropped from airplanes?

The real strength of Germany's Air Force?

What sort of an air force Mussolini has?

Why bombers cannot win the present war?

What the Suicide Club of the war will be in history?

Why there will be few romantic Aces in the present war?

Who is the most skilled pilot in any Air Force?

The actual value of the aircraft-carrier?

What country leads the world in air power?

How it feels to release bombs over an enemy city?

Whether the balloon-barrage will stop enemy bombers?

What an 'obsolete' plane really is?

Whether transports or air-liners really make good bombers?

Why Germany did not bomb London in September 1939?

Who is the most important man aboard a bombing plane?

That the single-seater fighter is doomed?

How many planes a month an up-to-date factory can build?

What is the matter with Russia's air force?

All these and a hundred more questions are answered in this book if you read it carefully.

Source: A. G. J. Whitehouse, Hell in Helmets: The Riddle of Modern Air Power (London: Jarrolds, n.d. [1940]), 7.

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I've been reading Respectful Insolence for quite a while now, but I somehow missed Orac's post critiquing Richard Dawkins' comments on Arthur Harris and the bombing of civilians in the Second World War, and how the development of precision-guided munitions ("smart bombs") reflects a change in the moral zeitgeist since then. Fortunately, Jonathan Dresner pointed out it to me; unfortunately (and unusually), I think Orac is wrong. That's ok: he's got more important things to do with his time than studying the history of strategic bombing, such as surgery and medical research. But since he brought the subject up ...
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Scott W. Palmer. Dictatorship of the Air: Aviation Culture and the Fate of Modern Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006. I followed Scott's advice, but as I don't have a car or an office, I ended up with only one copy :) It looks like a worthy companion to Corn and Fritzsche, and indeed, now that it's finally arrived (only 3 months after I ordered it, thanks Amazon.co.uk) I plan to read it alongside those standard works on national airmindedness.

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Bluebird at Daytona Beach, 1935

Bluebird at Daytona Beach, 1935. Image source: Florida Photographic Collection.

Well, the title of this post is a lie -- there's only two mysteries that concern me here, and one isn't particularly mysterious ...

Sir Malcolm Campbell was a world-famous British speed maniac (there's no other word for it), setting many records on land and sea. The last one was just over 300 mph, at Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, in his specially-constructed car Bluebird. His son, Donald, famously and tragically was killed in 1967 trying to emulate his father's exploits. My interest in Campbell derives from his book on The Peril from the Air (London: Hutchinson & Co., n.d. [1937?]) -- fairly standard knock-out blow stuff, though with a greater emphasis on the utility of ARP than most (for example, he describes a large air-raid shelter he had built on his own estate, for his family and employees). Though he was most commonly seen pushing cars and boats to ludicrous speeds, he was also a pilot: in the First World War he had flown fighters in defence of Britain.
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