Monday, 24 May 1909

This post is part of a series post-blogging the phantom airship scare of 1909. See here for an introduction to the series, and here for a conclusion.

The reaction against the airship stories which started on Friday continues. For the first time in over a week, there's nothing about any phantom airships themselves. Instead, both the Manchester Guardian and The Times have summaries from their Berlin correspondents of German press reaction to the outbreak of British nerves. (This is in fact the first time that The Times has mentioned phantom airships.)

For example, The Times relays (p. 8) the astonishment of the North-German Gazette (i.e. the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung)

at the stories of phantom airships, submarine tunnels, and secret arsenals which have been given currency in England.

The Manchester Guardian similarly reports (p. 7) that

The "Kölnische Zeitung" publishes under the heading of "English Spionitis" a satirical article ridiculing the stories of nocturnal visits of German airships to England, sounds of boring heard beneath the North Sea, and cannon carried by German freight and passenger steamers.

This would seem to confirm that the Southampton Gazette's mention of a rumour concerning a secret undersea tunnel was not in jest (unless they get the Southampton papers in Cologne). The 'cannon' on board German merchant ships refers to an exchange in Parliament on 19 May, which doesn't seem to have received much attention in my sources.

The pretext for the commentary is a visit by Berlin municipal officials to London, part of a series of exchanges designed to increase understanding and goodwill between the two nations. The visit itself has gone well, and according to the Norddeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung this process of 'enlightenment' is welcomed in Germany. It declares itself (in the Manchester Guardian's translation) surprised at

the outbreak of a new kind of agitation in Great Britain, which, beginning with the dissemination of the most incredible visions of invasion has developed in the last few months to a spy mania [...] Such chimeras appeared not only in insignificant newspapers; they were to be seen even in responsible organs of the press, and even found their way into Parliament.

The Frankfurter Zeitung thinks that John Bull should be retired, since the recent scares show that the 'British phlegm' has given way to 'nervousness'. More seriously, such 'perpetual disquietude of indiscriminating masses' leads to support for 'great military and naval armaments', which is probably the 'real basis for these remarkable myths'.

Both newspapers suggest that their opposite numbers are effectively running the German government's line: The Times writes of the 'German semi-official Press'. The implication seems to be that highlighting 'hysteria and loss of British balance' serves to paint any and all British naval precautions as ridiculous folly, just as happened with the recent Dreadnought panic in March. The Times thinks the German semi-official press should drop this line, for any such measures which sooth British nerves would also 'prevent the minor manifestations which are said to disturb German conceptions of British psychology'.

A final note: The Times' aeronautical correspondent has a brief note on the 'Excellent propagandist work' being done by the Aerial League (p. 8). He has an idea for them:

The British public are not yet really convinced about airships, for the vast majority have never seen one. It is possible that if a well-made dirigible were equipped by the Aerial League, and sent on a voyage through the country, subscriptions might pour in so rapidly that we could build a volunteer fleet of aerial vessels.

A conspiracy theorist might suggest that the Aerial League is already on the case!

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