During the First World War, several writers began to argue that the main strategic risk to Britain was the possibility of a sudden, intense aerial bombardment of its cities, which would cause tremendous destruction and large numbers of casualties. The nation would be knocked-out of the war very quickly, in a matter of days or weeks, before it could fully realise its military potential. The theory of the knock-out blow solidified into a consensus during the 1920s and by the 1930s had almost become an orthodoxy, accepted by pacifists and militarists alike. This orthodoxy was only challenged very late in the 1930s, due to a reassessment of the evidence from wars in Spain and China. It remained the predominant view at the time of Munich, and was still influential in 1940-1 during the Battle of Britain and the Blitz.
This book examines the concept of the knock-out blow as it was articulated in the public sphere, the reasons why it came to be so widely accepted in public life, and the way it shaped the responses of the British public to the great issues facing them in the 1930s: armaments and appeasement, war or peace. The danger of a knock-out blow drove support for everything from a massive British bomber fleet to the reordering of British urban and political life to an international air force. Key periods of concern about aerial bombardment (the airship panic of 1913, the Gotha raids of 1917, the German air menace of 1922, the air panic of 1935, the Sudeten crisis of 1938 and the start of the Blitz in 1940) are used as lenses to show how expert opinion influenced public opinion. It shows how, after having been taught to fear the bomber as the bringer of destruction to all they knew and held dear, the British people were instead taught to regard it as their best hope for victory.
The Next War in the Air draws mainly draws on published, but little examined, sources –- books, journals, newspapers –- produced in the period between 1908 (when aviation was first perceived as a threat to British security) and 1941 (when the Blitz ended, and it became clear that no knock-out blow was coming). The use of both expert and popular opinion shows that both perspectives are required to understand the origins and evolution of this important cultural and intellectual phenomenon, Britain’s fear of the bomber.
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