Friday, 4 April 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.

There's some sensational airship-related news today. Many newspapers report that yesterday an airship was forced down at Lunéville after first getting lost and then had mechanical problems. The reason why this is sensational is because Lunéville is in France and because the airship is German: the very latest Zeppelin, Z4, which has been undertaking proving flights before being handed over to the German Army. Indeed, half a dozen German officers were onboard as observers. The crew has been detained and the French Army is keeping the Zeppelin under guard while the government decides what to do about the unexpected visitor, which is intact but has been temporarily disabled.

As a real life example of an unauthorised German airship flight over foreign soil, Z4's misadventure inevitably brings to mind the mystery airships seen over Britain over the past few months. But more than that, it turns out that mystery airships have also been seen over France, though details are sketchy. Many newspapers carry the following from Reuter's Paris correspondent, including the Freeman's Journal, the Irish Independent, the Irish Times, the Manchester Courier, and the Standard; the following quote is from the Manchester Guardian's version (p. 9):

Various rumours have been current regarding the mysterious flights of airships over the eastern frontier, but the inhabitants of Lunéville were none the less startled to perceive, towards 12 30 to-day [3 April 1913], manœuvring in the mist overhanging the town, a large yellow dirigible, apparently coming from the direction of Nancy. The airship was flying at a great height and ultimately disappeared, but at about 1 20 it returned, circled several times around the Church of Saint Jacques, and finally descended, landing on the military parade ground.

The Daily Mirror's own Paris correspondent says something very similar (p. 4):

In view of the rumours circulated recently of mysterious flights of airships over the eastern frontier, Lunéville this afternoon was decidedly startled by the descent of a German airship of a new Zeppelin type in the manœuvring ground.

The Derby Daily Telegraph, drawing on the Daily News's correspondent, says that 'It is now France's turn to have a German airship scare' (p. 2).

A message from Vesoul states that this morning a grey airship of the Zeppelin type manœuvred over the district. Seven men were seen in the car of the vessel, which was travelling at a great height and speed. Vesoul is a town 75 miles nearly due south of Luneville [sic], and both are important frontier fortresses.

According to the 'Liberte,' [sic] there have been many recent flights of Zeppelin airships over France.

And a leading article in the Aberdeen Daily Journal notes that (p. 6):

We have heard much of late in this country about the visits of mysterious airships, and if similar rumours have been abroad in France, the French authorities have now the satisfaction, which we have not had, of knowing that alien airships have actually been spying out, or at least hovering over, forbidden ground.

However, it suggests that the Lunéville incident 'is an interesting rather than an important piece of news'.

As ever, the Manchester Courier is in no danger of underestimating its own importance (p. 7):

Never has a newspaper campaign on behalf of a specific branch of national defence been more completely vindicated than that which 'The Manchester Courier' has waged during the last few weeks in favour of the development of Britain's aerial navy. Since the first article, giving the facts about Germany's dirigibles, was published in these columns on February 24th, events have followed one upon the other with such bewildering rapidity that most people have no doubt overlooked the indisputable fact that the article in question was the starting point of all the discussion which followed [...] When the 'Courier's' first article appeared the aerial situation, as far as Great Britain was concerned, was extremely grave. To-day it is infinitely worse.

This is because Germany's Zeppelin fleet has been 'piling up record after record in endurance, speed, radius of action, and weight-carrying', as well as being expanded at 'feverish speed' (the Courier estimates it will number 60 'aerial super-Dreadnoughts' by 1916). A 'policy of secrecy had the desired effect of diminishing foreign interest [...] ninety-nine Englishmen out of a hundred had heard of Zeppelin airships only as fantastic expensive, and dangerous toys', and 'our highest naval and military authorities were scarcely better informed'. Contradicting itself somewhat, the Courier says that the Sheerness incident changed all this:

No steps whatever to meet the new and portentous menace appear to have been taken until last October. Then, on the 14th of that month, a mysterious aircraft was heard over the naval base at Sheerness. We know now that this incident was taken very seriously at headquarters. Forthwith Woolwich Arsenal and the private ordnance factories were instructed to turn out guns for repelling hostile airships, and arrangements were made at the same time to mount these weapons at selected points on the coast. Whether the Sheerness visitor was the German naval dirigible 'M.L.1' or not, the nation owes a debt of gratitude to the enterprising aeronauts who flew over the port last October, for they certainly roused the British Government from its deep sleep, and administered a salutary shock. At the present moment patriotic people could ask nothing better than that one or two of Germany's new dirigibles should pay us visits, either openly or in secret, as long as they were clearly seen and identified by a number of unimpeachable witnesses. The invincible scepticism which we as a nation have displayed towards German progress in this branch of war preparation was shaken by the Sheerness incident, but it has by no means vanished yet.

What the Courier wants, in other words, is a British Lunéville.

Finally, in a speech at Torry last night, Sidney Herbert, who is the prospective Conservative candidate for Kincardineshire, spoke at some length on the German menace. According to the Aberdeen Daily Journal, he is greatly impressed by a book called Our Next War, by the German 'General Von Bernarde' [sic], which argues that 'England must be defeated and then France crushed' (p. 8). He derided 'the ridiculously inadequate sum' which the British government had allocated 'for what they called "air service" in England'. After describing the size and power of the latest Zeppelins, Herbert reminded his audience that

They all knew what an absurd cry there was in this country, and what nervousness there was because some lights were seen, in various places in the sky, which people said were German airships. (Applause.) He did not for a moment believe they were German airships, but they could imagine what the result of a number of these monsters launched against England without a declaration of war would be. (Applause.)

That result, in short, would be that the Royal Navy would lose its numerical superiority over the German Navy, and 'Then the country would be open to the German army of five millions'. There was no applause at this point.

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