Saturday, 19 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.

The Economist follows up last week's third leading article about the airship scare with the fourth leading article today (an extract from which also appears in the Manchester Guardian). This time around the subject is 'THE "DAILY MAIL'S" MANSION HOUSE MEETING FOR AIRSHIPS' (925), which is planned for 5 May and will feature speeches by 'Mr. A. J. Balfour, Lord Roberts, Lord Rosebery, Lord Brassey, and "other leaders of our public life."' It quotes at length the Daily Mail's own announcement from 12 April:

The Lord Mayor (Sir David Burnett) will be supported at the meeting by a representative gathering of eminent sailors, soldiers, statesmen, and leaders of commerce. All shades of politics will be represented.

Resolutions will be put urging that Supplementary Estimates should be prepared to provide for at least a two-to-one superiority over the airships and aeroplanes of the next strongest naval Power. That Power has at present 28 first-class airships, of which we have none, and a marked superiority in aeroplanes.

The announcement of the meeting has drawn a chorus of approval from many parts of the country. Among the many letters received at the offices of the Navy League in Victoria street yesterday was one from Lord Selborne, who wrote:-- 'The urgency and importance of aerial defence cannot easily be exaggerated.'

According to the Economist, 'the Daily Mail's campaign, if successful, will add enormously to the burden of the taxpayers (to say nothing of the loss of human life*), and, incidentally, in all probability, will promote a flotation of companies for the manufacture of airships and aeroplanes'.

Now the Stock Exchange is beginning to talk of an airship boom, whose sole basis will be the prospect of diverting huge sums of money from the pockets of the public into those of existing or prospective airship concerns. We cannot help thinking that the sensational Press has been going to work in a very improper way. National defence, national credit, and national taxation are serious matters. And yet, just before the Army and Navy Estimates were produced, lying reports were circulated in all parts of the country that German airships were hovering over the East Coast. It is very difficult even for the most simpleminded and credulous citizen to believe that these reports were manufactured and circulated with purely patriotic motives. It is already known that airship plants are being laid down by well-known constructors with the Admiralty and War Office for the purpose of securing Admiralty and War Office contracts.

While allowing that 'those interested in company promotions and in the movements of armour-plate shares' may believe themselves to be motivated 'solely by patriotic anxieties', and that 'The Press, indeed, may be pure', the Economist hopes that

the Lord Mayor will not preside at the meeting of May 5th for the purpose of forcing a Daily Mail airship programme upon the Government, unless he is convinced (1) that the national expenditure and taxation will admit of supplementary estimates; (2) that Consols are not sufficiently low and the Sinking Fund not sufficiently small; (3) that a Government which has added in four or five years at least 12 millions sterling to the annual cost of the navy, and has raised the income-tax to 1s 7d in the £ on high incomes, requires further stimulus from the City, and (4) that a ratio which has never been applied to the Navy should be applied to airships.

The City may want the Government to spend more on defence, but does the City want to pay more in taxes?

If it does the Daily Mail has pointed the way. If it does not, then let us pause before we join in promoting the wholesale manufacture of new and costly toys whose value in war is highly problematical, whose commercial utility is certainly nil, and of which we already have a supply large enough to provide a weekly list of deaths, injuries, and other excitements for the Yellow Press.

Some experimentation 'is no doubt necessary [...] But to fritter away public money on practically useless types is merely a waste of national resources'. And, according to 'an English expert, just returned from Berlin [...] of the 16 Zeppelin airships which have been constructed in Germany six only remain, the other ten having perished miserably'.

* A military balloon accident near Paris on Thursday left two officers dead and a third critically wounded: 'Would airship promoters be so zealous if compulsory service in airships were applied to them?'

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