Some Tante Jus and a conference report

Here are a couple of photos I used in my AHA talk last week:

Ju 52/3m at Croydon

This is a Lufthansa Ju 52/3m, one of the great airliners of the 1930s, at Croydon aerodrome, ca. 1936. Other operators included Swissair, Aeroflot, and British Airways (an ancestor of the current airline of the same name).

Ju 52/3m

And this is a Ju 52/3m bomber variant over Spain, ca. 1936. Note the defensive machine guns, in the dorsal position and in the 'dustbin' below. The Luftwaffe used Auntie Jus as interim combat aircraft up til the invasion of Poland, and used them to destroy Guernica in 1937, though the ones above were actually in Nationalist service.

So the point of showing these was to illustrate the convertibility of airliners into bombers (though it's cheating slightly as the Ju 52s in the second photo were in regular military service, not adapted quickly and covertly for military purposes, which was what was so worrying about convertibility).

I think the talk went ok, though I wish I'd written it out from scratch rather than trim down an existing paper: it was too formal and stilted. Actually, I'd already learned that lesson, but was pressed for time and this seemed like an easier way to go. One positive thing I noticed was that I had virtually no nerves beforehand, which means I'm getting better compared with a couple of years ago!

It was a really good conference, covering everything from the Aboriginal geography of early Sydney (by Grace Karskens) to the possible Australian inspiration for the Munich conference (by Christopher Waters). I got to meet Mike Cosgrave's student from Cork, Jonathan Murphy, whose talk exposed the shabby British treatment of the Polish government-in-exile at the end of the Second World War. For the first and probably last time, I was able to work Frankie Goes to Hollywood into a post-talk question, when I asked Erin Idhe about how Hawkwind compared with other British pop-cultural evocations of nuclear apocalypse. I unfortunately didn't manage to meet Melissa Bellanta. Neither did I meet polymath and Australian Living Treasure Barry Jones, but did at least get to hear him speak at a book launch with his characteristic erudition. But most of all, I was very happy that I got the chance to have a chat with Paul Nicholls, my former supervisor, and favouritist history lecturer ever (sadly retired!), after my talk.

Image sources:; Aviones de la Guerra Civil Española (a brilliant site if you want photos of Spanish Civil War aircraft).

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32 thoughts on “Some Tante Jus and a conference report

  1. Post author

    Yep! I should have mentioned that I did at least see you talk at the postgraduate pre-conference thing. Which was useful, actually ... it was perversely encouraging to hear from a succession of people who didn't get history jobs straight out of their PhDs, but had to work at it for a year or two!

  2. Lester Hawksby

    Nice pics. Is there any chance that you might be able to find the time to write up this talk like the last one? (Facing Armageddon) - I thought that was excellent and would love to read this one too.

  3. Post author

    That sort of thing is related to convertibility in this sense, but it's not quite the same thing. The page you link to says that it was a 'straight-forward conversion' from the B-17 to the B307 but it obviously involved pretty major changes. The point of convertibility was that any old airliner could be turned into a bomber by fitting external bombracks and the like. It would take hours or maybe a couple of days to turn Lufthansa into the Luftwaffe and all of a sudden the Weimar Republic is armed and very dangerous. Or so the theory went, anyway.

  4. Lester Hawksby

    Ah well, thanks anyway.

    I look forward to my university's library service being able to reach anything published by you, but sadly I'm not holding my breath.

  5. CK

    Fair point Brett, and I didn't see the quote about the ’straight-forward conversion’, which is obviously rubbish.

    I was just in fact a bit taken by all that lovely shiny metal. On reflection (oh, a pun) it was a godawful looking aircraft, with the nose/cockpit perhaps its only redeeming feature.

  6. Post author


    Depending on the journal, when (and if!) it's accepted they may allow me to put up a preprint version on the web. If that's the case I'll certainly do so.


    Don't worry, I'm just overly-sensitive about the distinction because many historians don't seem to understand it!

  7. CK

    Oh, and good take on BIA operating Junkers, BTW.

    And as a final, random, Friday question: Are there no flying Sunderlands left?

  8. Lester Hawksby

    That would be brilliant, if possible, but no worries if not. Thanks, and good luck with the acceptance!

  9. Ian Evans

    There's an airworthy Sunderland in Florida, at the Fantasy of Flight museum, though it has been civilianised as a Sandringham, and doesn't fly very often.
    CK, what have you got against the Lancastrian?

  10. Jakob

    But by all accounts rather uncomfortable, and not suited to economic airline service...

  11. Well, WSC had a lot of fun with his York. Note however that Monty started a nontrivial interallied row about his aerial transport - insisted he could trade in a York for a B17 with Eisenhower, and eventually got a C-47 with a radio jeep in the back. Result, I think.

  12. Jakob

    Seems a bit daft - I can't see a B-17 being any more comfortable than a York. The problem with the Lancastrian was that it kept the Lanc fuselage, and as such was very cramped indeed, as well as having the wing box run through the middle.

  13. Ian Evans

    I don't think any sane person considered the Lancastrian to be an airliner, it filled a requirement for a stop-gap rapid aerial conveyance.

  14. Chris Williams

    A B17 is _cooler_ than a York. Guns, etc. It speaks volumes, too, about your ability to tap into your allies' logistical flow. Monty may have been no better than the class of 1918 tactically (itself a pretty high bar to clear) but he was streets ahead at showmanship and morale, and for the British Army in 1941 and after morale was very important if they were to win.

  15. Post author

    Well, better that that surfeit is expended here in a safe environment, I suppose, rather than in the real world where it could harm innocent passers-by!

  16. Hi
    I am trying to find out more about my Grandfather Ronald Waters who started Gatwick airport back in the 30s. I wondered if anyone had any info on him?


  17. Post author

    Good ideas. It's fantastic that BA cares enough about its history (and that of its predecessors) to keep archives, but what happens if it decides it can no longer do so? I'd rather they were given to a dedicated archive where they can be catalogued and preserved by fulltime professionals.

  18. "Is this the right room for an argument?" British Airways approach to heritage is patchy. Their two own goals was the badly-organised yet very high-profile retirement of Concorde; though most of the BA Concorde survivors seem to be OK since. Secondly their withdrawal of support for the British Airways Collection at RAF Cosford had the result that several historic aircraft were scrapped or parted out in an era of aircraft preservation when that kind of historic artefact destruction simply shouldn't happen on that kind of watch.

    As to archives, most flag-carrier airlines have good archives, some good museums, others fly historic aircraft (Lufthansa's Ju 52/3m 'D-AQUI' and Air Canada's Lockheed 10a being two of the latter, and two I have personal experience of). The weakness of airline archives is they tend to be somewhat partisan, not surprising in their nature and origin.

    Arguably archives vulnerable to commercial changes are worse than national collections. However it's notable that other than the airlines there is very little good archival work specific to airlines anywhere, so there's no likelihood of anyone taking over from airlines. Thems the players, currently. Secondly the current funding cuts and dismemberment / dispersal of Canada's national archives is indicative that even the best, stable and currently financially sound countries can have periods of archival madness at a level one might not believe possible in the C21st.

    I would say, very roughly we are remarkably well served for international airline archives, by both current and legacy archives (such as the museum and archive at San Francisco airport, as well as airlines themselves) but poorly served for second-level and domestic airline histories in any form. It's a factor of the over-emphasis on the marital and machismo side of flying, sadly.

  19. Post author

    Yes, the fate of the Canadian national archives is a distressingly stupid decision, and hopefully one which will not be imitated. Very few archives are safe from funding cuts (or worse). But I tend to think that scholarly organisations (libraries for example) are always going to be safer homes than the businesses themselves, because preserving knowledge and making it accessible are core values -- it's what they're for. An archive held by a business is only a merger, a bankruptcy, a deficit, a new management fashion away from disappearing, and that's even assuming they currently are being looked after at all. (Awful stories are told of the current condition of the Age newspaper's archives, for example, not that anyone can look at them, apparently.) I agree it would be nice to have some place specialising in airline archives, but failing that there are lots of archives dealing in business history about and in the end an airline is just another business. I'm sure many archives would jump at the chance of hosting BA's records, it's such an iconic British company. If that happened then perhaps wherever they went, other airline (and aviation industry generally) records would accrete by BA's gravitational attraction.

    Fair point about the second-tier airlines.

  20. "I’m sure many archives would jump at the chance of hosting BA’s records..." Blimey, you must know different archives to me! Generally I've been told how hard it all is and how they don't have the funding, resources, staff, time, tearoom, etc. etc, and if they do take it, why they'll be delighted to help arrange access to the catalogued material in a century or so - if you're good and believe in Santa.

    Understandably, in my experience, archives are picky in what they take on, and I'm not sure I can think of an archive that would. At this stage, I'm going with the idea this is what we've got, and I don't see any actual alternative (though I agree regarding your concerns as to commercial jettison).

  21. Post author

    Well, I must admit to not having any direct evidence for my assertion! If you've actually spoken to archives about this sort of thing then you're one up on me. But the business archives sector in the UK seems to be quite active, judging from the list of accessions in 2011. (There's a Business Archives Council and TNA has a list of business archives resources too.) Again, my credulity is no basis for an archival policy but surely somebody, somewhere would take on BA's archives. The National Aerospace Library would be an obvious place but I only know it through it's previous incarnation as the the RAeS library, I don't know if they are set up for something like that. Looks like they only have personal archives plus those RAeS's own at the moment.

    In any case, it sounds like the BA archives are currently in good hands so I'm not criticising BA at all here. It's far better than it could have been!

  22. I'd have thought that the National Archives would step up if the BA archives were every seriously under threat, given their nationalised past. I must confess that the one researcher I know who was working on Imperial/BOAC's history had a tough time at the archives, but that was the best part of a decade ago.

  23. Post author

    That could make sense. Arguably they should keep records from Imperial/BOAC/BEA and BA's government-owned period -- it's the nation's heritage etc. But would they take on records from the non-nationalised periods too? Do they archive any non-government files currently? If not, it would be a shame to split up the current BA archive that way.

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