The latest Fortean Times (June 2007) has a great article by Kim Newman on Hammer Films, the much-loved British horror film production company. While discussing the early 1970s, when Hammer's fortunes were declining, he refers in passing to 'the tragically unmade Zeppelin vs Pterodactyls'. That's all he said, but it was enough ... could it have been a cross-over between two of my favourite genres -- lost world movies and airship movies? Indeed it could. Here's a poster Hammer mocked up to pique the interest of potential investors:

Zeppelin v Pterodactyls

And I managed to find a very brief plot summary:

The story was along the lines of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, with a German Zeppelin being blown off-course during a bombing raid on London and winding up at a "lost continent"-type place.

Oh man ... tragically unmade is right! What more you could want from a film, I ask you.

Still, it does remind me of two Amicus productions (which can easily pass for Hammer movies in a darkened cinema ...), The Land that Time Forgot (1975) and its sequel The People that Time Forgot (1977). In Land (which I'm not sure I've seen), it's a German U-boat which finds the lost world, during the First World War. In People (which I have), a steamship sets out to look for the survivors of the first film, and in the process its amphibian seaplane gets into a dogfight with a pterodactyl. So at least between the two they have some of the elements of the abortive ZvP. But nothing so gloriously cheesy as a Zeppelin (and anachronistic trapeze fighters) versus pterodactyls.


The other day I was wondering why Winston Churchill wanted the soon-to-be-blitzed British to bear themselves like the 'brave men of Barcelona', and not the equally brave men1 of Madrid or Chungking, which had also undergone heavy bombardments for long periods of time. I must admit I didn't actually think it was ever likely that a Chinese city would have come to mind, though, because of its remoteness and un-Europeanness. Well, I was wrong about that. The Japanese bombing of several Chinese cities in 1937 and 1938 caused great concern in Britain, on a level equalling or perhaps even exceeding that caused by the bombing of Guernica earlier in 1937. See, for example, this advertisement placed in the Spectator of 10 June 1938 (p. 1079) by the China Campaign Committee, outlining a concerted series of protests against the bombardment of Canton (Guangzhou), in which dozens of people were being killed each day:

Protest against Canton bombardment!

The China Campaign Committee, by the way, had impeccable left-wing credentials, with people like Harold Laski, Victor Gollancz, Ben Tillett, Richard Acland and Philip Noel-Baker among its numbers or speaking on its behalf (along with the inevitable clergymen and humanitarians), so it seems that China's plight was taken to the left's heart, like Spain. I haven't found anything like this concerning protests at the bombing of Guernica or Barcelona (which doesn't mean there weren't any, maybe I need to look harder). It may be that with Spain being so much closer, those who wanted to help could do so more directly (join the International Brigades, provide shelter for Basque children), though having said that, Canton was very close to Hong Kong, about 130 km away, so it was relatively easy for British journalists to get to and may have seemed more familiar than most places in China.

But I think there's another reason too. The Times reported on the Trafalgar Square demonstration, and on the speech given to the 2000-strong crowd by J. B. S. Haldane, a well-known biologist and a Marxist, who had strongly criticised the government's ARP programme:

Dealing with the bombing, PROFESSOR HALDANE said to the crowd that half a dozen aeroplanes could pulp them in a few minutes.

"You can take it from me," he added, "the air raids in Canton and in Spain are only dress rehearsals for air raids we may expect on London. Germany is not using her main air force in Spain. Japan is not using hers against China. Japan is learning from every air raid on Canton the most efficient use that can be made of bombs, for dropping on British territory and British ships. Then she compares this information with the information her German friends have gathered in Spain."2

These are the sort of sentiments I expected to find with Guernica, but didn't. It appears that there was a cumulative effect from the repeated incidents where civilians were bombed which changed the nature of public concern in Britain: from the essentially humanitarian concern for the Basque victims of the Condor Legion in early 1937, to the more selfish fear, in mid-1938, that British civilians would be next. Guernica, April 1937; Shanghai and Nanking, September 1937; Barcelona, March 1938; Canton, May and June 1938; Barcelona again, June 1938. It would have seemed like bombing civilians was becoming a normal part of warfare. Such an impression would have reinforced by the Japanese ambassador's helpful explanation that Canton had been bombed, in part, 'to demoralize the Chinese people'3 -- whereas by contrast the Germans had denied having anything to do with the horror at Guernica the previous year. So not only was the bombardment of cities becoming more common, it was apparently becoming more acceptable. What was going to happen in the next war?

Canton was bombed again in August 1938, along with Hankow (Hankou). The following month, the roads out of London were clogged as thousands of people fled the city in the expectation of a knock-out blow, while anti-aircraft guns swept the skies, preparing to engage hordes of German bombers. Neville Chamberlain said 'How horrible, fantastic, incredible it is that we should be digging trenches and trying on gas-masks here because of a quarrel in a far away country between people of whom we know nothing'. He was referring to Czechoslovakia, of course, but perhaps China helps explain the Munich crisis too?

  1. And women -- what, old Winnie was a sexist pig, you do go on! 

  2. The Times, 20 June 1938, p. 16. 

  3. The Times, 16 June 1938, p. 9. 

... all those years of habitually talking like a pilot to the consternation of all and sundry, then somebody goes along and organises The First International Talk Like A Pilot Day and I go and miss it! It was yesterday, 19 May 2007. Wizard idea though, what -- absolutely spiffing. Next year I'll be there with bells on, and top button carefully undone.

They also provide a link to The Aircrew Dictionary, which purportedly describes how real RAF aircrew speak. Well, maybe Douglas Bader and Guy Gibson used such foul language, but I'm sure Kenneth More and Richard Todd would never have!

(Thanks to Jeremy Boggs for the tip.)


The following quote is from Winston Churchill's famous "their finest hour" speech, delivered in the House of Commons on 18 June 1940 (and repeated for radio that evening). It's four days after the occupation of Paris: 'the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin'. After assuring the House that the strength of Fighter Command has not been dissipated over France, he turns to the threat of the knock-out blow (emphasis added):

There remains, of course, the danger of bombing attacks, which will certainly be made very soon upon us by the bomber forces of the enemy. It is true that the German bomber force is superior in numbers to ours; but we have a very large bomber force also, which we shall use to strike at military targets in Germany without intermission. I do not at all underrate the severity of the ordeal which lies before us; but I believe our countrymen will show themselves capable of standing up to it, like the brave men of Barcelona, and will be able to stand up to it, and carry on in spite of it, at least as well as any other people in the world. Much will depend upon this; every man and every woman will have the chance to show the finest qualities of their race, and render the highest service to their cause. For all of us, at this time, whatever our sphere, our station, our occupation or our duties, it will be a help to remember the famous lines: He nothing common did or mean, Upon that memorable scene.

I did a double-take when I read the bolded bit. Brave men of Barcelona? Where did that come from? Unless I'm showing my philistinism again and missing some literary reference (always possible with Churchill: there's already an Andrew Marvell quote in the last line there), he must be talking about the aerial bombardment of Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, and exhorting the British to be like the inhabitants of that city in their resistance to the terrors of bombing. Barcelona was bombed many times over a period of more than two years, most intensely between 16 and 18 March 1938 when more than 3000 people were killed (which I've discussed before). My own surprise at seeing Barcelona there is probably a reflection of the way in which Guernica has overshadowed other city bombardments of the 1930s.

But still, plenty of other cities had been bombed by the date of Churchill's speech, so why pick Barcelona? I suspect the main reason is simply that many of the other victims of bombing were hard to represent as positive role models, simply because the cities had soon fallen to the enemy. No matter how brave they were, the inhabitants of Warsaw and Rotterdam did not have to endure their ordeals for very long, because German tanks soon rolled into their cities. Churchill was preparing the inhabitants of London et al. to hold on for weeks, months, years if necessary -- to weather the knock-out blow and allow time for Britain to build up its forces and win (somehow). It's true that Barcelona eventually fell too, but it did hold out for more than two years: its citizens did not panic but adjusted to the constant air raids and went on with life under the bombs. There were few other cities which could claim a similar record at this time: Madrid would be another, and there must have been others in China -- Chungking (Chongqing), for example. Why Barcelona and not Madrid or Chungking, then? Well, perhaps the name just rolled off Churchill's tongue better.


[Cross-posted at Revise and Dissent.]

The Nationalist version of Guernica -- that it wasn't bombed by fascist aircraft, but instead set alight by the Basque defenders themselves -- was not widely accepted at the time, but for decades afterwards it was still plausible enough for some people to believe. As late as 1969, letters like this could appear in The Times without comment:

In The Times of June 26, which I read in Paris, PHS repeats a hoary old myth and invents a new one. Not even Picasso, to my knowledge, has accused General Franco's forces of bombing Guernica and causing the deaths of two thousand people. The usual myth is that the Nazis were responsible. This view, however, is incompatible with the evidence of the German Foreign Ministry Archives and with other evidence now available, some of which I analysed in my book on Franco.

There was, in fact, a minor Nationalist air raid, in which the targets were a railway station and an arms factory. Some German bombs may also have fallen on the town. But the massive destruction was caused by systematic dynamiting of one quarter of Guernica -- and one quarter only -- by the retreating Republicans.

Ironically, Picasso's masterpiece probably celebrated a non-event.1

This was written by Brian Crozier, author of Franco: A Biographical History (1967), among other works.2

Such views are now impossible to sustain; we now know that the raid was indeed conducted by the Luftwaffe's Condor Legion, Germany's main contribution to Franco's war effort. I'm not sure when exactly, but at some point the diaries and reports of Lieutenant Colonel (later Field Marshal) Wolfram von Richthofen became available. Von Richthofen was the chief of staff of the Condor Legion.3 And it was he who planned the Condor Legion's operations, including the attack on Guernica.
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  1. The Times, 9 July 1969, p. 11. 

  2. I haven't heard of Crozier before (although he was born in FNQ); he seems to have had an active career as a globe-trotting conservative pundit. I wonder if he ever retracted the claims he made in The Times

  3. He was also a distant cousin of the Red Baron, and was himself a fighter ace in the First World War. 

Found via Military History Carnival #2, an interesting post by Alan Baumler at Frog in a Well: China on airmindedness in China in the 1930s. If I had to compare it to another country, it would probably be Russia, where aviation was also part of a modernization effort. But something Alan mentions reminds me of a couple of British parallels:

The Nationalists raised $ 300,000 from the public to purchase planes, including one paid for by the Tianchu glutamate factory that had the name of the company on the wings. I assume this was just for the publicity shot, and that it did not fly into battle with an advertisement on its wings, but it is still a rather remarkable example of commerce and nation-building going together.

This of course sounds very similar to the Second World War Spitfire Fund, where companies, towns and individuals could contribute money towards the cost of a Spitfire or other aircraft for the RAF. (The idea seems to have started with the Nizam of Hyderabad, who paid for a whole squadron. But maybe the Chinese were first?) £5000 paid for one Spitfire, though in reality this was less than half the total cost of production; at least 1500 Spitfires were subsidised in this way. The names of the donors were written on the side of the presentation aircraft so you could say they did go into combat with advertisements, though hardly big enough for anyone to notice!

But I know of one other aeroplane which did indeed go to war with very noticeable advertising under the wings. Michael Paris notes that in 1914 the RFC was short of aircraft, and so it requisitioned a number of privately-owned aeroplanes. One of these was the Daily Mail Blériot, which 'flew several reconnaissance missions in France with "The Daily Mail" painted under the wings'.1 I think this is the one (this 1913 photograph is taken from The Early Birds of Aviation):

Daily Mail Blériot

How very clever of the airminded Lord Northcliffe! The number of new Daily Mail subscriptions taken out by German soldiers is not recorded, however.

Update: see, I told you it reminded me of Russia!

  1. Michael Paris, Winged Warfare: The Literature and Theory of Aerial Warfare in Britain, 1859-1917 (Manchester and New York: Manchester University Press, 1992), 230. 


The A-bomb won:

Plumbbob/Stokes and blimp

I wouldn't have thought it was necessary to detonate a 19 kiloton nuclear weapon to see what it would do to an airship, but that's just what the US Department of Energy did on 7 August 1957. Well, to be fair, the primary purpose was probably to test a prototype of the W30 nuclear warhead; the airship thing was just a bonus. The test, codenamed Stokes, was part of Operation Plumbbob, a series of 29 above-ground detonations carried out at the Nevada Test Site between May and October 1957. Statistically speaking, the radiation released into the atmosphere from Plumbbob would be expected to have caused 1900 civilian deaths from thyroid cancer -- a small price to pay for the knowledge gained, I think we'd all agree.
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I ordered these before I realised just how broke I'll be after the UK trip. Oy vey ...

David Clarke and Andy Roberts. Flying Saucerers: A Social History of Ufology. Loughborough: Alternative Albion, 2007. A social history of British ufology, at any rate. Did you know that Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding believed that UFOs were interplanetary spacecraft? Well, you do now.

Stanley Cohen. Folk Devils and Moral Panics: The Creation of the Mods and Rockers. Abingdon: Routledge, 2002. Third edition. Classic.

Beau Grosscup. Strategic Terror: The Politics and Ethics of Aerial Bombardment. London and New York: Zed Books, 2006. Rather polemical, and I don't like his reliance upon Trenchard and Liddell Hart as representative of British airpower advocates. But it seems to have more theoretical approach to the subject than most, which is kind of interesting in itself; and it was cheap!

Ross McKibbin. Classes and Cultures: England 1918-1951. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. Another nice, fat social/cultural history which I'll apparently never have time to read. Didn't realise the author was Australian.

Ian Patterson. Guernica and Total War. London: Profile Books, 2007. This has already been mentioned here a couple of times in recent days; uses Guernica as a starting point to explore total air war, via the fears of bombing as expressed in popular literature. Unlike Grosscup (above), it looks like he's read all the right books!

1 Comment

[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.