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[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

News of the bombing of Guernica outraged opinion in Britain, as elsewhere in the world. Or so the simple version of the story goes -- the truth seems to be a little more complicated than that.

A leading article in The Times, on the same page as George Steer's account of the raid, called it 'a tragic story',1 noting that there was practically no resistance from the town and next to no legitimate military objectives.

The planning of the attack was murderously logical and efficient. Its aim was unquestionably to terrorize the Basque Government into surrender by showing them what Bilbao may soon expect. Yet, so far from having that effect, it may even defeat its object. It may merely inspire the proud democrats of Vizcaya with a passionate determination to fight to the end, and it may well shock the patriotism of the other half of the Basque nation which is fighting on the insurgent side.2

But that's about all -- after discussing the importance of Guernica in Basque culture, the leader then goes on to discuss the military situation in northern Spain. It doesn't dwell particularly on whether the raid was legitimate or not, and it seems to me that the tone is less condemnatory than that of its correspondent, Steer.3 This might be because The Times, a politically conservative newspaper, was not entirely unsympathetic to Franco's Nationalists. Indeed, since The Times supported appeasement it was concerned not to upset the Germans: a week after Guernica its editor, Geoffrey Dawson, boasted that he 'had done the impossible night after night to keep the paper from hurting their susceptibilities'.4 However, the Manchester Guardian, well to the left of The Times, was also slow to anger. It too published an account of the bombardment on 28 April, the same day as The Times. But it did not mention it in an editorial until two days later, where readers were enjoined not to let 'the peculiar horror and ruthlessness of the recent raid on Guernica'5 blind them to the senselessness of the artillery bombardment of Madrid which had been going on for the last three weeks. Again, politics may be at play here: the Basques were not fighting (and dying) to defend socialism in Spain, but their own autonomy. The suffering of the Madrilenos, living as they did in the capital of the Republic, could more plausibly be understood as part of a straightforward left-right struggle.
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  1. The Times, 28 April 1937, p. 17. 

  2. Ibid. 

  3. Having said that, I notice that Ian Patterson in his new book on Guernica describes The Times's editorial as 'powerful'. But he's evidently looked at a broader cross-section of press opinion than I have, and when compared with the denialist responses of the pro-Franco periodicals like the Tablet, it probably does seem powerful. Ian Patterson, Guernica and Total War (London: Profile Books, 2007), 31. 

  4. Quoted in Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2006), 245. 

  5. Manchester Guardian, 30 April 1937, p. 10. 


As I mentioned in the previous post I plan to attend some conferences while I'm overseas. The first is Air Power, Insurgency and the 'War on Terror' which is being held at Cranwell, the Royal Air Force College, on 22 and 23 August 2007. I submitted an abstract for this, which wasn't accepted -- which I don't actually mind as it would have required a fair bit of research on topics I wouldn't otherwise have done, no bad thing in itself but I don't have the time at the moment! And it's a very good programme anyway, with some top-notch names and several papers at least touching on British air control policies in the interwar period.

The second is Politics of Fear in the Cold War, to be held at the Hamburg Institute for Social Research (Hamburger Institut für Sozialforschung), 5-7 September. In many ways the era of the knock-out blow was just a foretaste of the atomic age, and the parallels between the two is a subject that fascinates me. No programme is available yet, in fact no information beyond the call for papers, but just from that alone it looks like a lot of fun.

So that's the listening part ... what about the talking? Well, I'm scheduled to give a talk at a summer school on war and society which is being held at Queen Mary, University of London from 30 July to 2 August. I can't tell you the title of the summer school because I don't know myself :) But I'll be talking about my thesis as a whole. As part of my preparation for this, I'm giving a couple of presentations in my department -- a Monday night postgraduate seminar on 21 May, which will also be a general overview, and a Work In Progress Day talk on 31 May, probably on defence panics. (That's assuming I get around to letting the WIPD organisers know about this ...)

Finally, an event which I sadly won't be able to attend: Graffiti Day at Birkbeck College on 4 May (yes, this Friday). Paul Hodges, who kindly dropped me a line with some accommodation advice, will be giving a talk entitled "Written on the bomb: munitions graffiti of modern warfare" -- things like this, I imagine. That's the only item on the programme to do with military history, but the rest look interesting too, so if you're in London this Friday and have the time, it might be worth turning up.


I'm planning a trip to the UK1 in the July/August/September period. I'll be based in London for a couple of months or so, and aside from taking in a conference or two, will be spending much of my time at British Library Newspapers at Colindale (yes, I know ... cue the violins!); other places of interest include BL at St Pancras and the Liddell Hart Centre for Military Archives at KCL.

So, since a number of my readers are familiar with London, here's my "web log beg" (somebody needs to invent a word for that): does anyone have any recommendations as to where to stay? Somewhere appropriate to a PhD student doing research, cheapish but not nasty, ideally available over the whole period, has at least some form of net access, and so on. When I've traveled within Australia for similar purposes I've stayed at university residential colleges, which (obviously) cater for students and are conveniently empty in the summer, but I don't know if that's the same over there. Are there any good websites to try? (I know of Gumtree.) Also, I've never been to London and have only a relatively vague idea of its geography, especially in terms of getting around on public transport, so advice as to which parts of London I should be looking at would be appreciated as well.

Please note that I'm not trying to scunge (as we like to say in Australia) a sofa or a spare room from somebody! I actually need somewhere that can give me an indicative quote, and somewhere that can do that in the next week at that, as I have to include it in my application for travel funding. Speaking of which, if somebody could explain to me why I have to have my application to study abroad approved BEFORE I apply for travel funding, and not AFTER or at least concurrently, and why they don't tell you that it takes 5 working days to process said application before you hand it in, I'd be most grateful.

But I'll be more grateful for any advice on London accommodation, or anything else a visiting scholar ought to know :) Thanks in advance!

  1. I've noticed that whenever I'm talking or writing about "that place" in a historical context, I call it "Britain", but as a place in the contemporary world which can be traveled to, it's "the UK". I wonder why that is. 

Mark Connelly. Reaching for the Stars: A New History of Bomber Command in World War II. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2001. Since I had this on semi-permanent loan from the library, it seemed only logical to buy my own copy. Only partly an operational history, so not the place to turn to for a bomb-by-bomb account; it's more concerned with the big picture, including the reactions to area bombing by the British press and public, during and since the war. (NB. Connelly's latest book has just been reviewed at Trench Fever.)


[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

Guernica, the most ancient town of the Basques and the centre of their cultural tradition, was completely destroyed yesterday afternoon [26 April 1937] by insurgent air raiders. The bombardment of this open town far behind the lines occupied precisely three hours and a quarter, during which a powerful fleet of aeroplanes consisting of three German types, Junkers and Heinkel bombers and Heinkel fighters, did not cease unloading on the town bombs weighing from 1,000lb. downwards and, it is calculated, more than 3,000 two-pounder aluminium incendiary projectiles. The fighters, meanwhile, plunged low from above the centre of the town to machine-gun those of the civilian population who had taken refuge in the fields.1

Today is the 70th anniversary of the bombing of Guernica (in Basque, Gernika) by German and Italian aircraft during the Spanish Civil War. Even after all the horrors that came after, the very name is still a by-word for terror and barbarism. The story was broken by George Steer, correspondent for The Times, which published his account on 28 April 1937 under the headlines "The tragedy of Guernica. Town destroyed in air attack".
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  1. The Times, 28 April 1937, p. 17. All quotes taken from this source. 


Australian soldiers in Whitehall

During the Second World War, several million foreign servicemen and -women were stationed in Britain for varying periods of time. These included many Australians, for most of whom it was their first glimpse of Britain.1 In 1940, one of them described his impressions of the mother country in an article for the Spectator entitled "An Anzac on England". His name was Sydney Melbourne (although for some reason I strongly suspect this was a pseudonym), and he was probably serving with one of the Australian Army units diverted to Britain after the fall of France.2 So to mark Anzac Day, and this being a British history blog, here's what one wide-eyed colonial had to say about Pommyland. And it mostly wasn't flattering!

The first thing which struck him was the shocking waste of good farming land.

Why is so much land that is obviously fertile lying idle in farms of 1,000 acres and even larger? Why are so many patches of scrub and useless bushes left uncleared? We [Australians] can respect good timber -- that is always an asset -- but stunted copses and brambles are an eyesore which no good farmer should tolerate a day longer than he can help.3

According to Sydney, in the Antipodes (he fraternally provided some examples from New Zealand) settlers fought hard to cultivate land much more marginal than that which was left unused in Britain, and despite droughts and fires exported their produce overseas and made a good living. He praised Hitler's agrarian policy, which utilised German land more fully and reduced the need for imports, and was puzzled that the British preferred the picturesque over the productive, `the dangerous result of a short-sighted policy [...] beauty will not feed a nation's workers (or employ them), and in these times efficiency is a more valuable asset than is scenery'. There's no question that Britain in 1940 was underutilising its land, since during the war it made strenuous efforts to increase the area under cultivation, so as to reduce the need for imports (and hence vulnerability to U-boats). But from the perspective of 2007, in the middle (or, hopefully, near the end) of the worst drought on record, it seems strange to boast of how intensely Australia uses even marginal land: it's precisely this sort of behaviour that has landed us in the current fine mess.
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  1. Including two members of my family

  2. The main units were 18th Brigade and 25th Brigade, which at around this time were put together to form the bulk of 9th Division

  3. Sydney Melbourne, "An Anzac on England", Spectator, 20 September 1940, 289. Unless otherwise specified, all quotations are from this source. 

John D. Anderson, Jr. The Airplane: A History of its Technology. Reston: American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, 2002. As an aviation historian I should have some understanding of the technology of flight, and this seems a more enjoyable avenue into the subject than some dry textbook. It's a bit US-centric, though that's justifiable to a large extent.

John Benson. The Working Class in Britain 1850-1939. London and New York: I. B. Tauris, 2003. A bargain-table find at my local quality bookshop; not immediately useful to me but good to have on the bookshelf.


P-B slip-wing bomber

At the end of October 1940, while the British and German air forces were nightly striking at each other's cities, Captain Norman Macmillan (a decorated RFC veteran and former head of the National League of Airmen) argued in Flight that Britain's greatest need was for the development of a bomber which was possessed great speed (400 mph), long range (5000 miles) and high bombload (5 tons), for

We may dominate the seas, but that to-day is not enough. We must dominate the land as well, and we do not do so. We shall not be able to dominate the land until we possess bombers which can reach out to the uttermost corners of the earth, from the bases we possess. And we cannot win this war until we are able to straddle the whole of Europe from the air.

That means range and speed.1

One man answered the challenge: Noel Pemberton-Billing, founder of Supermarine and sometime demagogic independent MP. He rejected the contemporary dogma of the self-defending flying fortress, which had proven a failure in daylight operations and so were forced to bomb less accurately at night. The only defence, he believed, was speed, not guns. His design -- the P.B.49, a twin-engine monoplane with a crew of three -- more than met Macmillan's specifications, and had the added virtues of being small and inexpensive.2 In fact, it was around the same size as the later Mosquito, and about as fast; but had more than twice the bombload at its maximum combat range of 8000 miles, itself more than five times the range of the wooden wonder. At shorter ranges, more bombs could be carried -- 10 tons per bomber to Berlin, for example. How was this incredible performance to be achieved? By slip-wing, of course.
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  1. Norman Macmillan, "For the long-range bomber", Flight, 31 October 1940, 381. 

  2. Noel Pemberton-Billing, "That long-range bomber", Flight, 14 November 1940, 413-5. 

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The US Air Force Historical Studies Office has put up several dozen monographs on the history of the USAF and its predecessors, PDFs available for free download. It seems to be more narrowly focused than the similar effort by Air University Press, as only a few titles look like they might discuss the RAF in any detail: D-Day 1944: Air Power Over the Normandy Beaches and Beyond by Richard P. Hallion (1994), Preemptive Defense: Allied Air Power Versus Hitler's V-Weapons, 1943-1945 by Adam L. Gruen (1998) and, rather oddly, Coningham: A Biography of Air Marshal Sir Arthur Coningham by Vincent Orange (1992). The most interesting, however, given a recent post here, is The Command of the Air by Giulio Douhet (1927, translated 1942). Via WWII mailing list.

[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

... is up at Investigations of a Dog, and it's huge. Gavin's intention was that it would be as inclusive as possible, using a very broad interpretation of "military history"; since only about a fifth of the blogs included were in the survey of the military historioblogosphere I did less than a month ago, I'd say he's succeeded in that brilliantly!