Every so often, Vladimir Putin gets annoyed with NATO and engages in a bit of sabre-rattling, sending a few Tu-95 Bear bombers on long-range flights off the coast of Portugal or Canada in order to remind them that Russia is not to be taken lightly (I happened to be at a conference at a RAF base shortly after these flights resumed, and it had certainly caught the attention of the air force officers there). In many ways, the Tu-95 is the equivalent of the American B-52: they are both strategic bombers, which first flew in 1952 yet are expected to remain in service into the 2040s. Remarkably, though, the Tu-95 is not a jet, it's a turboprop. That makes it seem like a charming old relic of a bygone age; and maybe it is, but it's a nuclear-capable one. Which is precisely why interceptors are scrambled whenever these bombers appear off the coast and why reports of the interceptions soon appear in the media, which in turn is why Russia keeps doing it. Earlier this week, two Tu-95s were sent down the English Channel, as far as Cornwall, apparently in response to British concerns about Russian involvement in Ukraine and the Baltics. Lately, these flights are becoming so frequent as to almost be routine: the RAF carried out four times as many interceptions in 2014 as in 2013; another English Channel flyby took place three weeks before the latest one. ...continue reading →
Errol W. Martyn. A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War. Volume 2: Aero Clubs, Aeroplanes, Aviators and Aeronauts 1910-1914. Upper Riccarton: Volplane Press, 2013.
Errol W. Martyn. A Passion for Flight: New Zealand Aviation Before the Great War. Volume 3: The Joe Hammond Story and Military Beginnings 1910-1914. Upper Riccarton: Volplane Press, 2013. Volume 1 is very good so I decided it was worth buying volumes 2 and 3. More narrative than analytical, but there is a lot of material here for early NZ airmindedness and aerial theatre, drawn largely from the contemporary press but also with significant use of archival material. Very well illustrated too, with lots of photographs and ephemera. I don't know of anything equivalent for Britain, unfortunately, though of course that would be a much bigger job.
I'd forgotten that today was the 70th anniversary of the Dresden firestorm, but luckily the producers of Up All Night on BBC Radio 5 Live remembered. I spoke to presenter Dotun Adebayo and fellow historian Raymond Sun this afternoon (just before 5am Greenwich Mean Time), and for the next 29 days you can listen to our conversation here (the recording is the whole programme, 4 hours long, so skip to about 3:47:15).
Hector Hawton. Night Bombing. London: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1944. A rather interesting secondhand bookshop find. Hawton was a novelist, rationalist and during the war a flight lieutenant in the RAFVR. Here he has written an explanation, a history, and a justification of British bombing strategy in the Second World War. It's less overtly propagandistic than J. M. Spaight's wartimewritings, I think, Hawton grants that the Blitz was largely directed at industrial targets, as is Bomber Command's campaign; but he also straightforwardly and even proudly lists the urban areas the British have destroyed and the civilians they have killed. Perceptive, too; he speculates about what might happen if the power of the atom were ever harnessed for war (noting that science often moves more quickly than laypeople think) and suggests that no nation would be able to maintain a monopoly of such a weapon, but also that it would be too terrible to be used.
Richard Hillary. The Last Enemy. London: Macmillan, 1950 . A classic of Australian war literature.
Michael Molkentin. Australia and the War in Air. The Centenary History of Australia and the Great War, volume 1. South Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 2014. Both an operational and an institutional history of the Australian Flying Corps, as well as the origins of military aviation in Australia before 1914 and the birth of the RAAF, but also a contribution to a much broader historiography about the RFC/RAF and the development of early airpower (think Sydney Wise's Canadian Airmen and the First World War). And it even finds space to mention the Australian mystery aircraft of 1909 and 1918. The book of Michael's PhD thesis, but don't hold that it against it.
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.
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).
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 →
In the 1970s he became known as a staunch supporter of Nixon, even after Watergate. ↩
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.
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.