The Observer has ignored the phantom airship scare almost completely, although it was in fact one of the first newspapers to report the Dover incident nearly two months ago (5 January 1913, p. 9). It has broken its silence today because, thanks to the mystery airships, the time seems right for an agitation for a rapid and large increase in expenditure on aerial armaments (p. 12; above):
The country has suddenly awakened to the fact that it is all behindhand in its preparations for war in the Third Element. It has been aroused by some highly imaginative people in Yorkshire (where they do not cultivate the imagination) and elsewhere, who declare that they have seen searchlights in the sky and heard the whirring of propellers overhead.
It's definitely not because it believes the airship witnesses are seeing what they think they see:
They are almost certainly wrong; very likely their legs have been pulled by astute advertisers on the look-out for orders.
But even so 'It does not matter':
Longer flights are undertaken, by both dirigible and aeroplane, than would be required to bring aircraft from the eastern short of the North Sea to the neighbourhood of Sheerness or Harwich. The hoaxer -- if there was one -- has done good service by awakening public interest in the matter.
So, it's what has lately become the standard conservative response, although it was outlined by C. G. Grey in the Daily Express back in January. The Observer's contribution here is to remind readers of its own proposal made 'over two months ago, and which is being warmly supported', namely 'that public opinion should be aroused to demand from the Government a vote of a million pounds this year for the Royal Flying Corps and Aircraft Factory', to be spent on:
(1) Buying or building air craft of the best existing patterns.
(2) Establishing properly equipped air stations round the coast and inland.
(3) Providing transport and repair trains.
(4) Training additional officers and men in the military duties of Navy and Army airmen.
(5) Experiment and research, mechanical and tactical.
The Navy League has informally decided to look into the question, and 'By lectures and by leaflets, and in every other way possible, the urgency of the matter will be kept before the eyes of the people'. Also, 'An aerial league has been at work for some years, and will no doubt redouble its efforts in view of the awakening of public interest'. No doubt.
There is a brief story on a new phantom airship report, this time made at sea. This might answer the objections of those who argue that any German airship crossing over the North Sea would have been seen by one of the many ships sailing upon it, but in fact Captain Lundie of the City of Leeds, a Great Central steamship on the Grimsby-Hamburg run, 'sighted an airship just after leaving [Grimsby] Harbour' and so was still very close to shore.
It was, he said, distinctly visible and there was no possibility of mistaking it. It was making in the direction of Grimsby and Hull and was not showing any lights.
Interestingly, this is reported as having taken place 'last Monday night' [24 February 1913], so a day before the previously-reported sightings at Grimsby and other nearby places. Even more interestingly, that it was not showing any lights is highly unusual, as lights are normally the only things ever seen.
The Observer returns to the subject of its last recorded mention of the phantom airship scare with a new explanation for the airship's origin: France!
A new element has entered into the airship question by a report from France to the effect that the vessel seen over Dover on the early morning of January 4 was a French airship from Verdun, distant no more than about 120 miles [sic]. It is not stated whether she was the Adjudant Rean or the Adjudant Vincenot, both military, non-rigid airships capable of a maximum speed of 34 miles per hour.
Not that this should be seen as in any way threatening:
It is stated that the British Admiralty were subsequently acquainted of the circumstances and that no objection was raised. On the contrary, in future every possible occasion will be seized for experimental voyages from France to England and from England to France.
The Observer is careful to explain that this claim does not bear on the identity of the Sheerness airship, which is strongly implied to have been German. Furthermore, it predicts that
Attempts will now be made to show that the craft alleged to have been seen in various parts of the kingdom during the past few days were French airships. This is not the case; and it may at once be stated that only in very favourable circumstances could French airships make the trip. Not one of the French airships [...] are capable of a speed of more than 34 miles per hour, and on the nights when the craft were seen the North Sea was swept by a stiff breeze of from 25 to 45 miles an hour.
There are some problems with this story. For a start, Verdun is actually more like 220 miles from Dover than 120, so a return trip would take 13 hours even assuming no headwinds -- hardly the casual jaunt across the Channel which seems to be implied here. There is also the lack of any verifiable sources, just phrases like 'a report from France', and 'It is stated that'. Clearly the reader is meant to infer that the information comes from some official French source, but the reader could also infer that it has been completely fabricated. There is also the question of why it has taken nearly two months for the French to come forward, even anonymously. But then they have quite likely been enjoying seeing the Germans take the blame for all that time.
Other than a possible allusion in C. C. Turner's article puncturing the sudden enthusiasm for airship schemes on the part of people who know nothing about them ('AIRSHIPS, MEGALOMANIA & PRACTICAL POLITICS', p. 21) and a joke too feeble to retell here (p. 9), the only other scareships in today's papers is a recycling of old stories from two and three days ago in the Dublin Sunday Independent.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://airminded.org/copyright/.