Monthly Archives: January 2015

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Stern Gang leaflet, 1947

Or, that time the Stern Gang tried to bomb London from the air.

In early September 1947, the Parisian police arrested ten people connected with the Stern Gang, nine of them Jews including Baruch Korff, an American rabbi who was head of the Political Action Committee for Palestine.1 Press reports claimed that the group's aim was 'to carry out reprisals for the return to Europe of the 4,500 intending emigrants on board the President Warfield'.2 The President Warfield is better known today as the Exodus, which in July had attempted to land Jewish refugees from Europe in what was still the British Mandate of Palestine, only to be forcibly and bloodily intercepted by the Royal Navy. By the time of the arrests in Paris the refugees were about to land in Hamburg, there to be (again, as it turned out, forcibly and bloodily) interned in displaced persons camps. Korff was outraged at all this, and seems to have been drawn to spectacular, and aerial, forms of protest and resistance: earlier in 1947 he had made the news with his plan to subvert British immigration controls in an 'Exodus by Air', which involved landing refugees at secret Palestinian airfields, or even parachuting them in.3 ...continue reading


  1. In the 1970s he became known as a staunch supporter of Nixon, even after Watergate. 

  2. The Times, 8 September 1947, 4. 

  3. Canberra Times, 13 March 1947, 1; Pittsburgh Press, 16 August 1947, 10

Ian Mackersey. The Wright Brothers: The Remarkable Story of the Aviation Pioneers Who Changed the World. London: TimeWarner Paperbacks, 2004. Somewhat surprisingly, I've never bought any books about the Wrights (apart from Alfred Gollin's No Longer an Island: Britain and the Wright Brothers, 1902-1909, obviously). I still haven't, but thanks to a gift from a colleague (thanks Rich!) I now own one. This takes a biographical approach but looks solidly researched; Mackersley is a New Zealander who has also written biographies of Jean Batten and Charles Kingsford Smith.

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Zeppelin L3

For my eighth contribution to The Road to War on ABC New England, I spoke about the first Zeppelin raid on Britain, on the night of 19 January 1915; certainly more consequential than the first air raid on Britain as it actually killed people in Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn in Norfolk. I talked about the Zeppelins themselves (including L3, above), why everyone assumed they would be used to bomb Britain, why they were not used at first, and why they finally were used nearly six months into the war. I also talked a little about the response to the raids, including the rumours which sprang up afterwards about German spies driving around in motor cars during the raid guiding the Zeppelins to their targets.

For more from me on this topic you could also check out this article by Shane Croucher in the International Business Times.

Image source: Love Great Yarmouth.

Bernhard Rieger. Technology and the Culture of Modernity in Britain and Germany, 1890-1945. Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2005. A cultural history of the responses to three particular types of 'modern wonder': aviation, passenger liners, and cinema. I read this back when I was doing my PhD, but I've moved to a different library since then and I need my own copy now. I found it slightly frustrating at the time, because in terms of aviation it focuses almost entirely on airliners and explorers, as opposed to, say, bombers. This means that the discussion of the risk posed by this new technology is framed in terms of accidents rather than war. That said, the final chapter on technology on the nation redresses this balance somewhat, and besides, I'm probably tilted too much the other way.

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paris-30

Paris has, unfortunately, been in the news lately, which has made me think back to my visit in December 2013. Happier days. I never got around to posting any photos from that trip, so now seems like a good time to rectify that. But because you can find far more beautiful pictures of Parisian landmarks just about anywhere, I'll just focus on airminded Paris. (With the exception of the Arc de Triomphe, above.)
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[Horatio] Barber. How to Fly a Plane: The First World War Pilot's Manual. Stroud, Amberley Publishing, 2014 [1917]. Christmas present! Barber was a British aviation pioneer, holder of Aero Club Certificate no. 30, the first occupant of Hendon Aerodrome, the first Briton to get a degree in aeronautics. During the First World War he did flight training for the RFC, and in 1917 published this book under the title of The Aeroplane Speaks. Heavily illustrated, with a glossary and a selection of vintage ads at the back (the Burberry Carapace Air-Suit does look rather fetching).

John Hackett. The Third World War: The Untold Story. New York: Macmillan, 1982. A classic, bestselling piece of future-war fiction from the late Cold War, written by an eminent general (brigade commander at Arnhem, commander of NATO's Northern Group; incidentally born and raised in Australia) as a history of a NATO-Warsaw Pact conflict in 1985 which goes global and ends in a limited nuclear exchange (bye-bye Birmingham and Minsk). Unfortunately this edition doesn't include the alternate ending where a nuclear-free Europe caves in to the Soviets and the US and Australia pick up the RAF and the RN.

Matthew Sweet. The West End Front: The Wartime Secrets of London's Grand Hotels. London: Faber and Faber, 2011. This has been out for a while for some reason I never got around to buying (possibly due to a lingering lack of interest in how the other half lives, but it's not as bad as all that). But $10 was the right price to change that.

J. Lee Thompson. Northcliffe: Press Baron in Politics 1865-1922. London: John Murray, 2000. Another $10 bargain find, but it would have been worth paying full price for. Northcliffe founded the Daily Mail and the Daily Mirror, owned the Observer and The Times among other newspapers, and was a key figure in promoting aviation in Britain, from coining the phrase 'England is no longer an island' after seeing Santos-Dumont fly in 1906, right up to giving P. R. C. Groves his start as a prophet of aerial doom in 1922.

Ian Smith Watson. The Royal Air Force at Home: The History of RAF Air Displays from 1920. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Aviation, 2010. Another book I've picked up and put down many times, mainly because the section on the Hendon displays is disappointingly slender. But now that I am thinking about aerial theatre postwar as well as interwar, it's a lot more useful to me.