Monthly Archives: February 2014

Richard Lamb. The Drift to War: 1922-1939. London: Bloomsbury, 1991. A narrative history, based on some archival research, of British diplomacy with respect to the German problem (there are only two or three chapters on period before Hitler, so don't be misled by the 1922 in the subtitle). Unsurprisingly unfavourable to Chamberlain, from the looks of it. A freeby.

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I got back yesterday from a very successful trip to Singapore, where I attended The British Empire and the Great War: Colonial Societies/Cultural Responses conference, organised by Michael Walsh (Nanyang Technological University) and Andrekos Varneva (Flinders University). Since the conference was extensively livetweeted, I thought I'd forgo my usual post-conference report and instead Storify the #EmpireWW1 hashtag. While I've included tweets from the other livetweeters (Ashleigh Gilbertson, Jo Hawkins, Steve Marti, and Alexia Moncrieff), I've used only those about the sessions I actually attended myself. So it's still sort-of my view of the conference. There are keynotes by John MacKenzie, Hew Strachan (with bonus airpower), Tim Barringer, and Jay Winter; mystery aeroplanes, Zeppelins, air control, and the destruction of the Turkish 7th Army; various asides and interruptions; and Eric Bogle!
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Antony Taylor. London's Burning: Pulp Fiction, the Politics of Terrorism, and the Destruction of the Capital in British Popular Culture, 1840-2005. London and New York: Continuum, 2005. A conference purchase, and an instant one for me after seeing the title. Oddly from my perspective, as far as I can tell it omits almost the entire corpus of knock-out blow fiction; but I think this is explained by the focus on stories about terrorism carried out by non-state actors. So aerial anarchists in fact do get some attention, and the Blitz of course factors as inspiration. But then, Hugh Addison's The Battle of London (1923) appears only as a red scare novel, which it certainly is; but the massive aerial bombardment which does the actual destruction is not mentioned. (Admittedly, it only gets a few sentences plus an illustration.) But that is just my perspective; there's plenty of value in this approach, which also enables the incorporation of fictional attacks by fascist and Islamic terrorists.

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Peter Rees. Lancaster Men: The Aussie Heroes of Bomber Command. Crows Nest: Allen & Unwin, 2013. I must admit to hesitating over buying this, mainly because of the presence of the word 'heroes' in the title. But I understand that the author didn't have a say in the matter and is a bit embarrassed about it, so I relented. It's largely anecdotal in nature, being largely based on interviews and memoirs. Nothing wrong with that, but hopefully one of these days somebody will write a more analytic study of Australia and Bomber Command.

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[Cross-posted at Society for Military History Blog.]

Ottawa Evening Journal, 15 February 1915, 1

On 15 February 1915, the Winnipeg Evening Tribune's daily astrology column noted the unfavourable positions of Mars and Uranus:

The affliction of Mars this month is ominous of outrages against persons in power. A disaster that will shock the people living in cities is threatened.

Uranus foreshadows peril from aeroplanes or Zeppelins. National alarm from unexpected causes is presaged by the planets.1

Readers might indeed have been excused for being alarmed, for the previous evening, Ottawa, the Canadian capital, had been placed on high alert due to reports of aircraft approaching it from the United States border. While no attack actually eventuated, the omens were not good -- at least according to the McClure Newspaper Syndicate's anonymous astrologer.
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  1. Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 15 February 1915, 6. 

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A key element in any wargame is the scenario. It sets the boundaries in time and space of the simulation, as well as its initial conditions. For a historical wargame, a scenario might be the battle of Cannae, or the British and Canadian sectors at D-Day. Creating such scenarios involves researching orders of battle, contemporary maps, unit diaries, histories and so on. From this research flows the game map, units and the rules themselves. For a counterfactual and indeed retrofuturistic game of the knock-out blow such as I'm contemplating, there are by definition no historical events to draw upon. So where would I start?

One way is to just create a generic scenario, drawing on my own understanding of interwar airpower writing. The obvious one would be the classic knock-out blow scenario, with Germany launching a surprise attack on London, and a war lasting a few days. That has the advantage of being relatively unconstrained and easy to design, and fits in well with the microgame approach Philip Sabin recommends. And I may well do just that. But there's another way, which is to use some of the scenarios imagined during the interwar period itself.
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