Wednesday, 19 March 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.

Only one or maybe two references to phantom airships appear in today's papers, both more or less in passing. The Manchester Guardian reports on a speech made by Andrew Bonar Law, the leader of the Conservatives, at Manchester's Free Trade Hall last night, and in so doing made the following sardonic comment (p. 7):

It was not, he assured us, a time for party feeling. [Was] there not a war in the Near East; were not armaments increasing abroad with feverish rapidity; was not our food supply a mere mouthful; were not airships darkening the sky? -- certainly it was no time for party feeling; rather was it the time for a Conservative Government without any further delay.

This could be merely a metaphorical allusion to the increase in aerial armaments rather than a reference to actual airships actually darkening the actual sky. The Guardian is of course politically opposed to Bonar Law and so wants to make him seem foolish. In fact the text of his speech, which apparently is given in full, does not refer to airships directly and only has the following on aviation (p. 8):

Now, finally, consider what has happened in regard to aviation. -- (Cheers.) I do not profess to be an expert about it, but no one who is following what is happening in the world can doubt that the development of that science has altered the whole strategical position of every country in the world. Nobody knows what the effect of it may be, but nobody can doubt that the effect of it may be to seriously threaten our navy, to seriously endanger our position. This Government beset with their party tactics have ignored this question. They have lagged far behind, and now even if they try, and I doubt if they will try, it may be too late to make up the ground which has so carelessly and so thoughtlessly lost.

Part of the context for Bonar Law's remarks on defence is that 'To-morrow [i.e. today] in the House of Commons there will be a discussion on the state of our army'. This discussion, or rather the debate on Colonel Seely's introduction of this year's Army Estimates, is also the occasion for an article in the Daily Express which rather prejudges matters with its title 'SHALL WE BE BETRAYED?' (p. 4). The author is Colonel H. S. Massy, C.B., F.R.G.S., vice-chairman of the Aerial League. Massy is alarmed because it has already been announced that the Estimates currently provide only 'half a million to aviation, plus a small and not easily ascertainable sum in the Navy vote':

Those of us who are alive to Great Britain's imminent danger of aerial invasion and defeat, still -- perforce -- cherish hopes that when the Estimates are formally introduced to-day we shall find a large sum forthcoming to supplement the amount already announced. As the last chance of all, surely there must be a supplementary estimate in contemplation!'

Massy says that while £500,000 might be 'well enough for bricks and mortar, even perhaps for pay', to gain 'the unbuyable experience which is the real gap between the German aerial forces and our own [...] will cost us at least a million pounds to acquire'.

The Government may dismiss all this as vague. Yet we have seen Germany's fleets of dirigibles ever growing. We have seen only too clearly that they can, at will, sail over our shores.

Massy was a signatory to the Aerial League's memorial calling for £1 million to be spent on aerial defence which also invoked the mystery airship scare as a justification, but he appears to go further here by asserting that the airships were real and that they were German.

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