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U-9

Today I made my ninth contribution to ABC New England's Road to War series, talking about U-boats (AKA 'the Zeppelins of the sea') and their advantages and disadvantages in warfare. More specifically, I spoke about the German declaration on 4 February 1915 of unlimited submarine warfare in the seas around Britain, switching from their previous Kleinkrieg strategy of targeting warships in order to reduce the British surface superiority (U-9, above, sank three armoured cruisers in one engagement alone). I put this into the context of erosion of international law with the British imposition of a North Sea blockade the previous November, as well as the increasing readiness to attack civilian targets directly, as evidenced by the naval bombardment of Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby in December and the aerial bombardment of Norfolk in January.

Image source: naval-history.net.

John A. Moses and Christopher Pugsley, eds. The German Empire and Britain's Pacific Dominions 1871-1919: Essays on the Role of Australia and New Zealand in World Politics in the Age of Imperialism. Claremont: Regina Books, 2000. The outcome of a conference held at the University of New England (i.e. where I am, which is how I scored a free copy) in 1999. It's a somewhat idiosyncratic collection -- about half of the 25 essays have nothing to do with Australia or New Zealand at all (and only one is about the latter), being mostly about Germany instead (including one about the 1848 revolutions, despite the given starting point of 1871). Still, it's no bad thing for Australians to have to think about the bigger picture. And there are some interesting topics here (the churches and peace, ditto and atrocities, NZ expeditionary planning, Australian perceptions of the Prussian menace) and familiar names (Trevor Wilson, Robin Prior, Chris Coulthard-Clark, Denis Showalter).

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Stern Gang leaflet, 1947

Or, that time the Stern Gang tried to bomb London from the air.

In early September 1947, the Parisian police arrested ten people connected with the Stern Gang, nine of them Jews including Baruch Korff, an American rabbi who was head of the Political Action Committee for Palestine.1 Press reports claimed that the group's aim was 'to carry out reprisals for the return to Europe of the 4,500 intending emigrants on board the President Warfield'.2 The President Warfield is better known today as the Exodus, which in July had attempted to land Jewish refugees from Europe in what was still the British Mandate of Palestine, only to be forcibly and bloodily intercepted by the Royal Navy. By the time of the arrests in Paris the refugees were about to land in Hamburg, there to be (again, as it turned out, forcibly and bloodily) interned in displaced persons camps. Korff was outraged at all this, and seems to have been drawn to spectacular, and aerial, forms of protest and resistance: earlier in 1947 he had made the news with his plan to subvert British immigration controls in an 'Exodus by Air', which involved landing refugees at secret Palestinian airfields, or even parachuting them in.3 ...continue reading


  1. In the 1970s he became known as a staunch supporter of Nixon, even after Watergate. 

  2. The Times, 8 September 1947, 4. 

  3. Canberra Times, 13 March 1947, 1; Pittsburgh Press, 16 August 1947, 10

Ian Mackersey. The Wright Brothers: The Remarkable Story of the Aviation Pioneers Who Changed the World. London: TimeWarner Paperbacks, 2004. Somewhat surprisingly, I've never bought any books about the Wrights (apart from Alfred Gollin's No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-1909, obviously). I still haven't, but thanks to a gift from a colleague (thanks Rich!) I now own one. This takes a biographical approach but looks solidly researched; Mackersley is a New Zealander who has also written biographies of Jean Batten and Charles Kingsford Smith.

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Zeppelin L3

For my eighth contribution to The Road to War on ABC New England, I spoke about the first Zeppelin raid on Britain, on the night of 19 January 1915; certainly more consequential than the first air raid on Britain as it actually killed people in Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn in Norfolk. I talked about the Zeppelins themselves (including L3, above), why everyone assumed they would be used to bomb Britain, why they were not used at first, and why they finally were used nearly six months into the war. I also talked a little about the response to the raids, including the rumours which sprang up afterwards about German spies driving around in motor cars during the raid guiding the Zeppelins to their targets.

For more from me on this topic you could also check out this article by Shane Croucher in the International Business Times.

Image source: Love Great Yarmouth.

Bernhard Rieger. Technology and the Culture of Modernity in Britain and Germany, 1890-1945. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A cultural history of the responses to three particular types of 'modern wonder': aviation, passenger liners, and cinema. I read this back when I was doing my PhD, but I've moved to a different library since then and I need my own copy now. I found it slightly frustrating at the time, because in terms of aviation it focuses almost entirely on airliners and explorers, as opposed to, say, bombers. This means that the discussion of the risk posed by this new technology is framed in terms of accidents rather than war. That said, the final chapter on technology on the nation redresses this balance somewhat, and besides, I'm probably tilted too much the other way.

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paris-30

Paris has, unfortunately, been in the news lately, which has made me think back to my visit in December 2013. Happier days. I never got around to posting any photos from that trip, so now seems like a good time to rectify that. But because you can find far more beautiful pictures of Parisian landmarks just about anywhere, I'll just focus on airminded Paris. (With the exception of the Arc de Triomphe, above.)
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[Horatio] Barber. How to Fly a Plane: The First World War Pilot's Manual. Stroud, Amberley Publishing, 2014 [1917]. Christmas present! Barber was a British aviation pioneer, holder of Aero Club Certificate no. 30, the first occupant of Hendon Aerodrome, the first Briton to get a degree in aeronautics. During the First World War he did flight training for the RFC, and in 1917 published this book under the title of The Aeroplane Speaks. Heavily illustrated, with a glossary and a selection of vintage ads at the back (the Burberry Carapace Air-Suit does look rather fetching).

John Hackett. The Third World War: The Untold Story. New York: Macmillan, 1982. A classic, bestselling piece of future-war fiction from the late Cold War, written by an eminent general (brigade commander at Arnhem, commander of NATO's Northern Group; incidentally born and raised in Australia) as a history of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in 1985 which goes global and ends in a limited nuclear exchange (bye-bye Birmingham and Minsk). Unfortunately this edition doesn't include the alternate ending where a nuclear-free Europe caves in to the Soviets and the US and Australia pick up the RAF and the RN.

Matthew Sweet. The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London's Grand Hotels. London: Faber and Faber, 2011. This has been out for a while for some reason I never got around to buying (possibly due to a lingering lack of interest in how the other half lives, but it's not as bad as all that). But $10 was the right price to change that.

J. Lee Thompson. Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922. London: John Murray, 2000. Another $10 bargain find, but it would have been worth paying full price for. Northcliffe founded the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, owned the Observer and The Times among other newspapers, and was a key figure in promoting aviation in Britain, from coining the phrase 'England is no longer an island' after seeing Santos-Dumont fly in 1906, right up to giving P. R. C. Groves his start as a prophet of aerial doom in 1922.

Ian Smith Watson. The Royal Air Force at Home: The History of RAF Air Displays from 1920. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Aviation, 2010. Another book I've picked up and put down many times, mainly because the section on the Hendon displays is disappointingly slender. But now that I am thinking about aerial theatre postwar as well as interwar, it's a lot more useful to me.

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Aircraft recognition poster, c. 1914

Back to back Roads to War! This week's topic is the most airminded yet: the first German air raids on Britain. I had to cheat slightly to fit them in, as technically I'm supposed to talk about the centenary events in the week leading up to the broadcast date, i.e 23 December, but the first German bomb didn't fall on British soil until 24 December. However, if you count bombs falling pointlessly into the sea off Dover pier then 21 December 1914 was the date of the first German air raid on Britain. That's not exactly exciting, so I also talked about the slightly more interesting Christmas Eve raid (which famously destroyed a Dover cabbage patch) and the even slightly more interesting Christmas Day raid (which led to the first aerial combat in British skies). Even so, that wasn't enough to fill up 15 minutes, so I also talked about the fear of aerial attack and (of course) phantom airships, including one over Hartlepool the second night after the bombardment which led to a rumour that the Germans were back and this time had landed, and hence to a minor exodus as people fled to the relative safety of Middlesbrough.

Image source: Online Bicycle Museum (!) Note the injunction for members of the public in country districts to report hostile aircraft to the authorities.

I'm shocked to see that it's already nearly two weeks since I got back from my UK research trip -- it seems like it was just a couple of days ago. It was a fairly long trip: five weeks in total, essentially all of them spent in archives in London (National Archives, British Library, Imperial War Museum), Newcastle (Tyne and Wear Archives), Middlesbrough (Teesside Archives), Woodhorn (Northumberland Archives), Durham (Durham County Record Office), Edinburgh (National Records of Scotland), Leeds (Liddle Collection, University of Leeds), and Aylesbury (Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies), as well as at a conference in Wolverhampton (British Commission for Military History). In fact my initial plan of four weeks research and one week holiday fell by the wayside, as there was just too much I still needed to do in the archives in London to waste time in Berlin. I half-expected this would happen, which is why I didn't book a holiday in advance (corollary: if I really want a holiday, I should book it in advance). But it was certainly worth it in research terms, as I found some great stuff in that extra week.

I had to adjust my plans on the fly in other ways, too. For example, I spent two weeks in Newcastle, with the intention of using it as a base from which to examine archives in the northeast for evidence of invasion, Zeppelin and spy fears. But it turned out that there wasn't a whole lot to find, either in terms of private diaries and letters or local government records. One week, with better planning, would have been enough. Because I was in Newcastle, however, it was feasible to commute to Edinburgh or to Leeds, so I spent two useful days at the National Records of Scotland and one at the Liddle Collection. A shame I didn't plan this from the start, though.
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