Neil Hanson. First Blitz: The Secret German Plan to Raze London to the Ground in 1918. London: Doubleday, 2008. This is a thick, new narrative history of the German air raids on Britain in the First World War, concentrating mainly on the aeroplane raids in 1917-8. Although written for a popular audience, it's based on a prodigious number of primary sources, both published and archival (there are plenty of periodical articles listed with which I'm not familiar, for example) -- some are even in German. This is all good! But I'm worried about that subtitle. Hanson argues that there was a plan to use Elektron incendiary bombs to burn out London in 1918, which seems plausible enough. A plan is one thing, but Hanson seems to think that it could have actually worked. Is that likely, when the more capable and numerous German bombers of 1940-1 didn't come close do doing this even on the worst nights of the Blitz? He also speaks of mass panic in London during air raids (346) ... well, as I say, he's read a lot of primary sources that I haven't, but not even the most extreme airpower advocates between the wars claimed that there had been mass panic, merely isolated cases which they quite happily extrapolated to a larger scale. Hmm. I still look forward to reading it, though.

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4 thoughts on “Acquisitions

  1. Simon Fowler

    There was a wide spread perception between the wars by contemporary writers that elements, at least, of the population of London panicked during air raids. Some commentators blamed 'Hampstead Jews' and foreigners, while others were more catholic in placing the blame on the working classes in general. I came across these comments surprising often while researching a book on crime between the wars.

  2. Post author

    Yes, you're quite right: I've written about such things before, for example about anti-Semitism. I don't dispute that the perception existed in places at all. What I take issue with in Hanson's book (and again, I haven't read it very closely yet, so maybe he qualifies it) is the idea that the perception was accurate. It wasn't. There were a small number of incidents of panic, but no mass panics. Morale held up in 1917-8, just as it did in 1940-1. And again, he's drawing a very long bow to extrapolate from the unrest that did occur into a successful knock-out blow against Britain, had the war continued into 1919.

  3. I was given this book last week, looking forward to reading it.

    I notice that there is a picture in it of the Eaglet Pub on Seven Sisters Road, which was badly hit when a bomb apparently landed in the cellar. I live a few minutes walk away from it..

    I've never had the urge to go in it before. Maybe I'll head in there and see if any photos/stories exist. Unlikely, but you never know..

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