A useful site about digitising your trip to the archives: Electronic Researcher. It was mentioned in a H-ALBION thread about which digital cameras are best for use in archives, and which archives allow them (British Library no, National Archives yes). I wish I'd found this earlier, as I have already bought a camera for this purpose, but I think it will be OK.
A. Just about all the time, it seems, if it's Britain:
Lord Palmerston in 1845, on the coming of the steam ship:
… the Channel is no longer a barrier. Steam navigation has rendered that which was before impassable by a military force nothing more than a river passable by a steam bridge.
Georges Valbert in 1883, on the proposed Channel Tunnel:
It will be a prodigious event in the life of an insular people, when they find that they are islanders no more. Nothing is more likely to excite and alarm them, or to affect and upset their preconceived ideas.
Lord Northcliffe in 1906, on Alberto Santos-Dumont's flight:
England is no longer an island … It means the aerial chariots of a foe descending on British soil if war comes.
Lee Kennett. A History of Strategic Bombing. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1982. Looks like a very good short introduction to the subject. Balanced international coverage and the cultural side of things is not neglected.
Well, OK, the Commonwealth Games then. British Empire Games was the original name: the first were held in 1930 in Hamilton, Canada. Most of the world probably has not heard of the Commonwealth Games, but it's second only to the Olympics (which it closely resembles) in terms of bringing the greatest number of elite athletes together in the one festival of sport, some 4500 in all, in 71 teams. That is to say, only those elite athletes who happen to come from Commonwealth countries (more or less, the former British Empire). So no irritating Team USA swimmers to challenge Australian dominance of the pool — instead the big competition there will be from England and South Africa. I think we're safe! In fact, Australia usually dominates the medal tally, which as a sports-mad nation suits us just fine. (Just don't mention the fact that our arch-rivals New Zealand beat us in the 1930 Games!)
It's not all about sport, of course, politics can intrude; and there are often controversies — 32 countries boycotted the 1986 Games because of British sporting contacts with South Africa. This year there was an argument over whether to play "God Save The Queen" at the opening ceremony, a bit of a touchy issue in a republican-leaning country like Australia. (Apparently a few bars were played as a compromise.) And the Stolenwealth Games website (a nicely done parody of the official website) is part of an effort to use the games "to raise awareness about the issues of Genocide, Sovereignty and Treaty" in relation to indigenous Australians. One controversy I haven't seen raised here is that of countries who want to participate but aren't deemed eligible. Well, I say "countries" but they aren't universally acknowledged as countries, which is why there is a problem. An example is Cornwall. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man all have their own teams, and the Cornwall Commonwealth Games Association wants a Cornish team to take part in the 2010 Games in Delhi. The problem is that while it can lay claim to a somewhat unique administrative history, has its own not-quite dead language and a recognisably Celtic heritage, Cornwall has not been an independent entity since the Middle Ages. Unlike the other parts of the UK sending teams, it's a part of England. But as my ancestors hailed from Cornwall, and I find the place and its history intriguing, I'm happy to ask "Where's Cornwall?" and display the CCGA's logo above. (The black and white flag is St Piran's, the flag of Cornwall or Kernow as it is in Cornish.)
Getting back to the British Empire Games, it seems to me that there was a vogue in the interwar period, and perhaps especially in the 1930s, for prefixing the word "Empire" or "Imperial" to various events and schemes. Aside from the Games, there was Empire Day and Imperial Preference. In my own area, there was Empire Air Day and the Empire class flying boats; Imperial Airways and the Imperial Airship Programme. Perhaps with the Dominions "growing up" and increasingly going their own way (the Statute of Westminster was passed in 1931), there was a desire to reinforce the ties of culture and sentiment with something more practical. And of course aviation was an ideal technology for such a purpose.
So why am I writing about all this? Because the 2006 Commonwealth Games are being held in my own town of Melbourne; the opening ceremony was just held a few hours ago. Security is of course an issue: helicopters have been flying all over the place, a very visible police presence, and the Australian Defence Force (including my younger brother) is apparently around somewhere, doing security checks and providing backup. Blue "games lanes" have been painted on a nearby road for the exclusive use of officials and athletes, though mere mortals seem to be ignoring the risk of a $165 fine for using it without a permit. The Games proper begin today. Of course, I won't actually be going — as an inner-city resident, I will be affecting a suitable air of disdain and watching it all on tv.
Robert Graves. Goodbye to All That. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960 . Another of the classic war books, that I should already have read.
David Powell. The Edwardian Crisis: Britain, 1901-1914. Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave, 1996. New books about Edwardian Britain are pretty thin on the ground (over here, anyway) so I got excited when I saw this and snapped it up. Of course, it's not new, it's 10 years old, and in fact I think I've actually already borrowed it from the uni library for some essay or other. Oh well, still a nice little book to own, rather expensive though.
Jim Winchester. The World's Worst Aircraft: From Pioneering Failures to Multimillion Dollar Disasters. London: Amber Books, 2005. I nearly didn't buy this, as it's not exactly a scholarly reference text. But I couldn't resist when I read the entry that 'the Flying Flea threatened to bring aviation to the man in the street, possibly by falling on him'! Other aircraft falling into (or onto) my area of interest include the Blackburn A.D. Scout, Bristol Braemar (with steam-powered Tramp variant), Sopwith LRTTr, and our man P-B's Nighthawk, as well as more familiar failures like the Battles, Stirlings, Defiants and Manchesters. Amusingly sarcastic.
Orac at Respectful Insolence has called attention to the attempted arson attack on The Holocaust History Project, and called for other bloggers to link to the THHP home page as a show of solidarity. There's no proof as yet, but the suspicion is that Holocaust deniers are responsible.
Holocaust denial is pseudohistory, a pathological and degenerate form of history. It imitates the form of historical scholarship, but involves no critical inquiry; the conclusions reached are pre-determined, ideological and anti-Semitic. Holocaust deniers deserve scorn when they pretend to be historians. They do not in general deserve imprisonment, as has happened to David Irving in Austria recently. But they do deserve imprisonment if they use violent means to stifle the debate they cannot win, as may be the case here. The Holocaust is undeniable; there's simply too much evidence for it. Holocaust deniers need to admit that and move on. Until they do, we are lucky to have groups like THHP around, and they deserve our support.
There's an interesting article on the rise of radio news in the United States in the late 1930s, in the February 2006 issue of History Today: "On the right wavelength" by David Culbert. One thing I learned from this article was that it was the Munich crisis in September 1938 which made radio news reporting respectable (not unlike how the Iraq invasion of Kuwait and the first Gulf War made CNN's fortune). Before that it seems that in America, radio news was not taken very seriously; but CBS's virtually round-the-clock live reporting of the events in Europe was listened to by millions, and for the first time radio became the preferred news source for most people.
Then in a throwaway line, almost, Culbert links this to the famous Orson Welles broadcast of H. G. Wells' The War of the Worlds, which took place at the end of the following month. This was done as a mock live newscast, reporting the news of the Martian invasion of New Jersey, and "Some listeners, presumably those who tuned in late, apparently ran from their homes in complete terror. It was felt by many that such fears were related to residual concerns about radio's round the clock coverage of the Munich story". (It should be noted that many accounts exaggerate the degree of panic that occurred — it's not like millions or even thousands of people headed for the hills. That some people did panic, however, is undeniable.)
This suddenly made the usual explanations for the panic that I've read a lot more sensible. It has often been suggested, for example, that the people scared by the broadcast didn't actually think that the Martians were invading, but rather that the Germans were, and the Mars thing was a mistake or a subterfuge. As one of the listeners reported:
The announcer said a meteor had fallen from Mars and I was sure he thought that, but in the back of my head I had the idea that the meteor was just a camouflage. It was really an airplane like a Zeppelin that looked like a meteor and the Germans were attacking us with gas bombs.
But I could never understand quite why Americans would have such an intense fear of Germany — it's not like the situation in Edwardian Britain, where the German threat was an order of magnitude more plausible at least (though still exaggerated), and was intensively rehearsed in the media for a decade. From my admittedly limited knowledge of US history, there was no comparable perceived threat to the American homeland in the late 1930s. That the Munich crisis took place only a month before the Welles broadcast does help make sense of this, to a degree. That there was massive interest in the US in following the course of the Munich crisis helps more. That radio news broadcasts were the favoured means of doing this helps even more. And that the popularity of radio news was very recent, so that more people than ever before were listening to it, trusting it as a reliable source of information, and yet were perhaps not completely familar with its conventions (indeed, those conventions were still evolving) — that helps the most to explain how it was that the War of the Worlds broadcast caused a limited, localised but briefly intense panic about a German/Martian airborne/spaceborne assault upon New Jersey.
Yesterday was the 63rd anniversary of the Bethnal Green Tube disaster. On the evening of 3 March 1943, 173 people — men, women and children — died at the Bethnal Green Tube station, the greatest loss of life of any single incident during the German bombing campaign against Britain. The tragedy took place during an air raid; the as-yet unused Underground station was one of London's biggest deep air raid shelters. Yet the deaths were not due to bombing; in fact no bombs fell nearby. Hundreds of people were streaming down the steps into the station. The crowd panicked and surged forward, a woman holding a baby fell and tripped, and the people behind her piled into one another and were crushed to death. (The woman survived, but the baby died.)
Why did they panic? It seems that it was because a secret new anti-aircraft weapon, which fired salvos of sixty rockets at a time, was being tested in a nearby park. The rockets made a very loud roaring sound as they were launched; moreover, the sound was unfamiliar and may have been mistaken for a new type of German weapon. As one resident recalled about that night on the BBC's WW2 People's War site:
I had to go back to the flat for something – don't remember what, as soon as I had entered the flat there was a horrendous roar and the place lit up. I hadn't heard that noise before and waited for the explosions, there were none other than the local guns firing and shells bursting overhead.
When I got back to the shelter everyone was asking what the noise was?
This shows how familiarity breeds contempt, at least when it comes to air raids — civilians can cope with a lot if they know what to expect, especially if reality turns out to be not as bad as was feared. By 1943 bombing raids were routine, but the noise from the rockets was something new, and strange; for a brief moment, it caused the sort of panic that was supposed to take place during the knock-out blow.
Some useful links: an exercise at the National Archives addressing the question, why did Bethnal Green happen, including excerpts from the then-secret government report into the disaster; the WW2 People's War article on Bethnal Green, and another near-witness's report.
A most interesting query and ensuing discussion over on the H-War mailing list, about the so-called "Cuzaux effect", which I haven't heard of before:
In short, [the Cuzaux effect] is the side ways deviation of
a projectile trajectory when fired from a weapon in motion. In the late 1930's, according to the article, it was discovered that this effect became so strong when a the bomber achieved the speed of 320 km/t and over, that its defensive armaments would have great difficulties when trying to hit an attacking fighter which came in with an angle larger than 30 degrees to the bomber's own course. This was supposed to be one of the major blows to the so-called bomber-paradigm, formulated among others by British politician Stanley Baldwin in his words the bomber will always get through (1932). According to this, the speed, climbing rate and operational ceiling of bomber relative to fighter preformance were developing in favor of the former. Combined with heavy defensive weaponry, the bomber would be virtually invulnerable to fighter attack. In the Spanish civil war, it was discovered that even slower but more maneuverable biplanes were able to down faster bombers, and even fighters.
The above was written by Frode Lindgjerdet, who is writing a thesis on airpower theory in Norway in the interwar period, and came across the Cuzaux effect in an article from 1939 (no reference given).
Erik Lund provided the most informative reply: it's probably spurious (it has to do with conservation of angular momentum, and the gyroscope equations — that takes me back!). Though I'm not sure about his remark that 'it certainly did not refute the bomber orthodoxy, since it is a myth'. Myths can be influential too, so I don't think it necessarily follows that the putative Cuzaux effect could not have ended the belief that the bomber will always get through. It may have done, for some people, whether erroneously or not, or at least caused them to reconsider the bomber paradigm (the dominance of which anyway can be overstated; see, eg, John Ferris, "Fighter defence before Fighter Command: the rise of strategic air defence in Great Britain, 1917-1934", Journal of Military History 63 (1999), 845-84). It may not have filtered down to the public, though — a keyword search of The Times yields no hits for "Cuzaux". Something to file away for future reference.
Update: the perils of liveblogging a mailing list. Firstly, it looks like the correct spelling is Cazaux, as there is a French military test airfield with that name, as Jonathan Beard pointed out (there are hits for this spelling in The Times now, though none relating to any Cazaux effect). And two posters (Ed Rudnicki and Will O'Neill) have pretty convincingly argued that the effect was not in fact mythical, but was already known of (it was called "jump", at least by the Americans) and could be corrected for to a large extent by the more sophisticated gunsights.
A new addition to the historioblogosphere — and one very close to my own interests! It's called The Blogger will always get through… and is the work of the indefatigable Peter Hibbs, who runs the amazingly exhaustive and informative NBCD (Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Defence) site, primarily (but not exclusively) covering Britain in the era of the world wars. As Peter relates, the blog
records my thoughts on odd subjects related to the development of this website, Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Warfare, Air Raid Precautions/Civil Defence and anything else that happens to grab my interest.
He's actually been blogging since the start of the year, so there's already a goodly number of posts to go through: highlights for me so far include the things people leave in their gas masks, beating air raid sirens into washing machines and a possible public air raid shelter in Norbury. Anyone who is interested in Airminded's subject matter will likely find it worth their while to read The Blogger will always get through… too, so do yourself a favour and check it out!
PS Bonus points for the blog's name … very punny indeed.