Frederick Lanchester was a clever British engineer. He was one of the pioneers of the British automotive industry, but his main interest was in aviation, particularly aerodynamic theory. In my opinion, he has a good claim to be the first person to elucidate the knock-out blow concept, in his book Aircraft in Warfare: The Dawn of the Fourth Arm (London: Constable & Co., 1916) -- which also happens to be a very early example of what was later termed operations or operational research. And as I've found out recently, he's also a business guru in Japan! ...continue reading →
Anthony Eden at a United Nations Association rally at the Albert Hall, 1 March 1947:
Mr. EDEN and M. JAN MASARYK, Czechoslovak Foreign Minister, were the other principal speakers. Of international affairs, Mr. EDEN said: "Our planet has become very small. We are nearer to San Francisco to-day than we were to Paris 100 years ago. We are all so closely interdependent; we have to rub shoulders whether we would or no.
"Can we learn this lesson of interdependence? If we can there is no limit to the standard of material prosperity and, I believe, of human happiness to which mankind can attain. If we cannot learn it, then a future conflict, with the added horror of modern weapons, may seal the doom of the human race. The choice is as simple as that. Suspicions, jealousies, even hostility, are as easy to engender between nations as between neighbours. Sometimes I think the people of this distracted planet will never really get together until they find someone in [sic] Mars to get mad against."
Governments, Mr. Eden added, were not much wiser than the peoples they led. If the peoples would reach understanding the Governments would reach it, too.1
I can't resist pointing out that nearly a decade later, Eden went on to prove that his own government, at least, was not very wise! The 'added horror of modern weapons' refers, of course, the atom bomb (Masaryk's message was that 'unless we were very careful we could slip back from the Atomic to the Stone Age in a matter of a few weeks'); and the reason why the world was so small was, in part, the aeroplane.
Eden's suggestion that the people of Earth needed a Martian threat to set aside their differences brings to mind Ronald Reagan's much later musings along the same lines (source):
I doubt Eden inspired Reagan, but he did apparently inspire the author of the first book to use the term "flying saucer" in the title: Bernard Newman, whose The Flying Saucer was published by Victor Gollancz in 1948. I haven't read it, but judging from a summary in a Magonia article by Philip Taylor, it's about a group of scientists who fake flying saucer crashes in order to fool governments into believing that there is indeed an extraterrestrial threat:
An international league of scientists springs into action and with remarkable speed the differences between the world's governments dissolve under the 'Martian' threat. The final chapter sees every international political problem speedily resolved, from the Middle East to Northern Ireland. This 1948 fantasy is very much of its time: it was published in the very month of the Russian blockade of Berlin. Newman's heroes find a way around the frustrating limitations of the new United Nations, with, in the background, the emergence of the super-power blocs and the omniscience of the atomic scientists all playing their part.
As it happens, I own another book by Newman (who wrote many), Armoured Doves: A Peace Novel (London: Jarrolds, 1937 ), as it's relevant to my thesis research. I haven't read it yet, but it seems to share at least one theme with The Flying Saucer, namely that of a group of pacifist scientists imposing peace upon the world, though in this case by use of a death ray rather than a disinformation campaign.
Incidentally, the Magonia article is also worth reading for the account of Gerald Heard's theory for the origins of flying saucers -- that they were spacecraft piloted by giant bees from Mars! Yes, I said giant bees. Heard was an unconventional thinker (obviously) and a pacifist, who hung out with Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood in California. But in the early 1930s, he was well-known as the BBC's first science commentator. And, inevitably it seems, he's also a person of interest to me, contributing an essay entitled "And suppose we fail? After the next war" to Challenge to Death (London: Constable & Co., 1934), about the depths British society would sink into after a knock-out blow. It's all one seamless tapestry, isn't it.
Orac paused, his lights blinking, patterns ever changing. It was almost as though he were thinking, if such a thing were possible by a computer. Then he went on, "Of course, as much as I've defended Dawkins before against similarly spurious uses of the Hitler analogy, now that I think of it, I have caught him before making arguments based on a dubious understanding of history."
"Not everyone would agree with you on that last bit," said Vila, smiling because he loved to see Orac get a comeuppance, and betting that Orac would be surprised that he knew of that little fisking.
"My basic point was correct," snapped Orac, his lights blinking red, "but I will concede that I may have overplayed my hand with respect to discussing Bomber Harris, who was a true ideologue. Certainly the Americans would have embraced the technology, even if Harris did not. [...]"
This is just a small part of a much longer post on a controversy raging among atheist bloggers at the moment, which itself is an interesting use/abuse of British history, as it revolves around calling anyone perceived to be "soft" on the intrusion of religion into science a "Neville Chamberlain atheist", i.e. an appeaser -- apparently a trend begun by Richard Dawkins. There's even a cute, ironic graphic to go with it (from here):
I don't think this is an argument I want to get into! Anyway, I think that's something of a concession from Orac on the Harris issue; and I do appreciate his extended Blake's 7 pastiche, as I'm currently working my way through the first season on DVD. And Vila is one of my favourite characters, so I'm honoured to see him take notice of my humble blog :)
I've been reading Joseph Corn'sThe Winged Gospel: America's Romance with Aviation, 1900-1950, a classic study of airminded culture in the United States -- which was very different to that in Britain. The "winged gospel" is the term used by Corn to describe an intense complex of hopes and expectations associated with the coming of flight:
Faith in that mission, in flight as a veritable religious cause, energized not only fliers but also millions of other Americans during the first half of this century. Airminded men and women embraced what was often called the "gospel of aviation" or the "winged gospel." Like the Christian gospels, the gospel of aviation held out a glorious promise, that of a great new day in human affairs once airplanes brought about a true air age. Lindbergh offered one version of this gospel, prophesying a future in which air travel would be commonplace and large transport planes shuttle from city to city, unhampered by the weather. Other enthusiasts voiced even grander prophecies, looking to aircraft as a means of achieving perfection on earth or even immortality, promises usually identified with more traditional religion.1
Corn offers many examples of this faith, some of it verging on the ludicrous -- such as the expectant mother who rushed to a nearby airfield so that her child could be air-born, or the doctor who claimed that pilots must be descended from birds, whereas the rest of humanity hailed from the unfortunately non-aerial fish lineage (!). Only somewhat less quixotic were the predictions that flying would erase gender or racial discrimination, or the idea that every American family would one day own their own airplane, freeing them from the need to huddle in densely-populated cities. ...continue reading →
Joseph J. Corn, The Winged Gospel: America's Romance with Aviation, 1900-1950 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983), 26-7. ↩
Duff Cooper. The Duff Cooper Diaries, 1915-1951. London: Phoenix, 2006. Nobleman, socialite, Conservative MP, Cabinet Minister, anti-appeaser, and apparently a fine diarist too. Edited by his son, John Julius Norwich.
Adam Tooze. The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy. London: Allen Lane, 2006. I've heard good things about this book. Seems to assign a higher value to the Combined Bomber Offensive than do some, but argues that it was often misdirected (e.g. Battle of Berlin).
Two deadlines expire shortly. If you were intending to meet them, your time is fast running out!
One is for nominations for the 2006 Cliopatria Awards, for the best bits of the historioblogosphere this past year. Nominations close on 30 November. Collectively, my R&D associates have done well. Revise and Dissent itself has been nominated in the best group blog category. Alun Salt's Archaeoastronomy, Kevin Levin's Civil War Memory, and Jeremy Bogg's Clioweb have all been nominated for best individual blog. David Davisson's Patahistory Manifesto has been nominated for best post, which makes me rather ashamed to note that my own An unpleasant surprise is also a contender in that category. Finally, Alun has another nomination, this time for the best series of posts with his Vidi not-a-carnivals. Good luck all!
The other deadline is for submissions for the next History Carnival, which goes up at Barista on 1 December (Australian time, which is ahead of most of the world, so don't be late). Submissions can be made here. Should be a real pearler. As David name-checked me, and because he's one of the few people on Airminded's blogroll who is in the same hemisphere as me (practically within shouting distance, in fact), I feel obliged to post this reminder. Which of course reminds me, I haven't had a look for suitable posts myself -- so, if you'll excuse me ...
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!
A. G. J. Whitehouse, Hell in Helmets: The Riddle of Modern Air Power (London: Jarrolds, n.d. ), 163-4. Emphasis added. ↩
Arthur Harris. Bomber Offensive. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military Classics, 2005 . 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 . 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.
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
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. ...continue reading →
Auspex, Victory in the Air (London: Geoffrey Bles, 1941), 211. ↩
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). ...continue reading →
Antony Beevor, The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1939 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2006), 181. ↩