Friday, 14 February 1913

This post is part of a series post-blogging the phantom airship scare of 1913. See here for an introduction to the series, and here for a conclusion.

Daily Herald, 14 February 1913, 6

Yesterday, the Daily Mail said that the Aerial Navigation Bill would be put before the Lords next week. In fact, as today's issue reveals, the bill already 'passed through all its stages in the House of Lords late last night' (p. 5). Moreover, 'all the regulations for the enforcement of the Government's Aerial Navigation Bill [...] have already been drawn up by the Home Office, with the assistance of War Office experts'.

In view of recent circumstances, everything has been hurried forward so that there will not be the least hitch or delay in enforcing the Act, which gives power to the authorities to shoot at sight at any aircraft coming from places outside the United Kingdom whose pilot fails to respond to certain signals. Pilots anxious to sail over our harbours and naval bases will be subject to the most stringent regulations.

The same article also discusses the mystery airships:

We are able to state that in the case of the airship which was reported by The Daily Mail to have been seen sailing above Sheerness on October 14, the authorities have satisfactory proof that this was not one of our own airships but one belonging to a foreign country.

The nature of this proof is not explained, nor is the identity of the airship its origin stated. No reference is made to the claim -- assumed to be officially inspired -- in The Times a month ago that there was reason to believe that the airship responsible was the German civilian airship Hansa. But it seems like this is new information, because that previous report also blamed Hansa for the Dover sighting, whereas the Mail says 'Nothing is certain in regard to the other reported flights'. However, given this 'conclusive proof of the visit of a foreign airship to Sheerness the other reports are naturally considered in a very grave light' (pp. 5-6).

The Mail further reports that, according to the War Office, 'special guns capable of firing at aircraft within a reasonable height are already mounted at various points round the coast' (p. 6). Again, yesterday it had merely said that this would happen at some unspecified point in the future. So things are speeding up.

The Daily Herald also has an article on 'The Right to Shoot England's Latest Invaders' (p. 6; above), apparently derived from the article yesterday's Mail. Despite it being well to the left politically, it is strongly in favour of the measures being taken for Britain's air defence:

The new law which has been hastily passed by the Government in reference to the frequent visits of foreign aircraft over our lands will be greatly welcomed throughout the country. This aircraft has been particularly busy of late, and reports of their having been seen over many important positions have been forthcoming, until at last the Government were compelled to take action to prevent this latest and dangerous form of espionage. They have been known to pass over such important places as Sheerness, Portsmouth, Dover, Cardiff, etc. So far they have been allowed to go about and gain what information they desire, and the authorities have been helpless to act against them. Now things are different and powerful guns of high power, which will bring down these spies, are to be placed round the coast.

Being an up-to-date paper, still a couple of months short of its first birthday, the Herald has more illustrations than most of its rivals. This particular article is accompanied by the following photograph:

Daily Herald, 14 February 1913, 6

A gloss explains:

This photograph shows a Zeppelin passing over a dockyard, and gives a very clear illustration as to the view which can be obtained and carried back to the intelligence department of any foreign country.

Well, perhaps it's clearer in the original.

Daily Herald, 14 February 1913, 6

This photograph is not part of the article about the phantom airships, but it is adjacent, under the title 'AERO SHOW AT OLYMPIA':

General view of the great aeroplane show which opens at Olympia to-day.

Presumably they were so placed so as to complement each other, perhaps just because they both pertain to aviation, perhaps as a comment on Britain's readiness to repel aerial invasion. If it's the latter, though, there are still two possible interpretations. The airship on show at Olympia is the Army's Delta, the largest of its small fleet, but far smaller than the pictured Zeppelin. It might be possible to squeeze a Zeppelin into the Grand Hall at Olympia, which is 140 metres in length, but there wouldn't be much room left for other exhibits. So it could be that this juxtaposition is meant to highlight the Zeppelin threat. On the other hand, the relative size of the two airships as printed on the page flatters the Delta. Moreover, there are at least two aeroplanes shown in the foreground. Given the bullishness of the Herald about the Government's ability to shoot down trespassers, perhaps this photograph is meant to show that Britain is after all ready to defend itself in the air.

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