Sydney Mail, 8 June 1938, 9

A cloud of smoke billows up from a building during a low level bombing attack carried out by biplanes. The First World War? Air control in the Middle East? Fascist bombers over Spain, or Japanese bombers over China? No, it's an air raid carried out by the RAF against Nottingham on 15 May 1938.

Of course it wasn't a real air raid: it was a mock one, something I wrote about recently in the collection edited by Michael McCluskey and Luke Seaber, Aviation in the Literature and Culture of Interwar Britain. The photos above and below were published in the British and Australian press, and I wish I'd known about them earlier because they're great illustrations of the topic and I might have been able to include them in my chapter.

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Victory Through Air Power

A few weeks back I previewed my cohosting of the 1943 Disney film Victory Through Air Power for History at the Movies Australia and Aviation Cultures Mk.V. Both the conference and the livetweeting went splendidly (I think!), but I didn't get around to lazyblogging the latter... until now.

The evening began with the half-hour short documentary Flight Plan, made in 1950 by the Australian Department of Civil Aviation, which you can watch here.

[tweet id="1375357664641773573" conversation=false]Conference jokes and airline jokes -- together at last. Yes, this is going to be a good night in...

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Victory Through Air Power (1943)

Back in the depths of last winter (and the great Melbourne pandemic lockdown of 2020) I had great fun as the co-host for the Historians at the Movies Australia (#HATMAus) livetweet of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Tomorrow I'm going to be doing it again, this time along with James Kightly and Daniel J. Leahy as a special #HATMAus-Aviation Cultures co-presentation of the 1943 Disney film Victory Through Air Power, based on Alexander de Seversky's book of the same name. It's a wonderful example of both wartime and airpower propaganda, and I hope you'll join me for it. If you need more convincing, just before the main feature we'll be giving the 1950 Australian short Flight Plan the same treatment. If you need even more convincing, it's all free (you don't need to buy a conference ticket -- though please feel free to do so! -- and the movies are publicly available.) It starts at 7pm, Friday, 26 March 2021, on Twitter; the details and links are all here. See you there!

Image source: Victory Through Air Power (1943).

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

Here's my contribution to last night's livetweet of Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow for #HATMAus. It was fast, furious and not always particularly accurate -- much like the film itself...

Spoilers follow (though equally there are also a lot of tweets that don't make sense without seeing what was on the screen at the time).

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Case in point: "Zeppeling"???
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Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow

At 8pm AEST/GMT+10 this Sunday, 30 August 2020, I'm co-hosting the Australian version of Historians At The Movies (#HATMAus) along with fellow historians Joel Barnes and Chelsea Barnett as we livetweet the 2004 science fiction film Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow and dissect it for fun and (alternate) history. With an all-star star cast, a decent budget, ambitious special effects, a lusciously retrofuturistic aesthetic, and more aeroplanes, airships, ornithopters and, oh yes, flying aircraft carriers than is strictly feasible, Sky Captain should have launched dieselpunk cinema as a new artform. Tune in on Sunday night and find out why it didn't!

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Image source:

Duprée and Ashley, Britannia Must Rule the Air

This stirring scene is the cover for the sheet music for a song published in 1913, Britannia Must Rule the Air, written by Frank Duprée and composed by Charles Ashley. It shows a reasonable (if stubby) approximation of a Zeppelin in the process of being destroyed by gunfire from two aeroplanes, a Farman-type biplane and a monoplane.

The lyrics are a little more subtle:

When wooden walls and straining sails bore Britain's flag afar,
The Nation prospered well in peace and feared no foe in war,
For Britain's might was ev'rywhere and ruled the endless waves,
Proclaiming to the world at large 'we never shall be slaves.'

And when the ironclad replaced the ships that caught the breeze
Britannia still retained her throne up on the charted seas,
For frowning fleets and giant guns outnumbered two to one
The navies of all other lands beneath the sov'reign sun.

And now that ev'ry cloud conceals a lurking bird of prey,
Which threatens our supremacy in peace and war today,
Britainnia must be equal to the peril and prepare
To hold our Empire sacred from these dreadnaughts of the air.


Britannia must rule the air
As still she rules the sea,
To guard this realm beyond compare
And keep her people free.
Britannia, Britannia must like the eagle be;
Britannia, Britannia must rule both air and sea!
Britannia, Britannia must rule both air and sea.1

The message is clear enough: just as Britain's naval superiority has kept it safe from the Napoleonic Wars through the ironclad era to now, so must it have a superiory aerial superiority to safeguard its freedom in the new century. This was exactly the comparison and the message of the Navy League in response to German aerial superiority, as supposedly revealed by the phantom airships supposedly seen flying all over Britain.2
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  1. Frank Duprée and Charles Ashley, Britannia Must Rule the Air (London: Laurence Wright Music Co., 1913). []
  2. Brett Holman, 'The phantom airship panic of 1913: imagining aerial warfare in Britain before the Great War', Journal of British Studies 55, no. 1 (2016): 99–119 (free). []

Hitler's Ju 52/3m over Nuremberg, 1934

Swastika Night was written by Katharine Burdekin under the pseudonym Murray Constantine. It's a dystopian novel in which Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan have conquered the world and divided it between them. Nothing so original in that, you might think -- except that Swastika Night was published in June 1937, before the invasion of Poland and even before the Marco Polo Bridge Incident. So it's not, strictly speaking, an alternate history, but an uncanny form of one.
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Longmont Daily Times, 4 December 1926, p. 4

Proselytisers are famously early adopters of communications technology (see: the Gutenberg Bible). It shouldn't be surprising that missionaries were intrigued by the development of aviation: a Baptist minister, Reverend F. W. Boreham, even claimed that

It was with a view to winging the Gospel to the uttermost ends of the eaxth that the first airman looked wistfully skywards.1

He was referring to Francesco Lana de Terzi, a Jesuit who proposed the idea of the vacuum airship in 1670, a technological impossibility at the time. Somewhat more realistically, in 1909 Reverend W. Kingscote Greenland, apparently a Methodist minister, argued in his journal The Young Man that 'the coming of the airship will materially affect the diffusion of the Gospel throughout the world':

He looks forward with confidence to the day when the first missionary airship will sail with a precious cargo of heroic hearts and copies of the Holy Scriptures. Already, he says, the airship can travel one hundred miles an hour. That would mean that the missionary could get to America in a day and a quarter; he could leave England on Tuesday, and preach in Calcutta or Hankow on the following Sunday. How this would almost do away with the tragedy of parting with wife and children and dear ones that now makes the missionary's lot so sadly heroic.2

Not only that but

in case of attack by natives, outbreak of fire, or flood, the ability to sail upward into serene air and safety will much lessen the trials of his life.3

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  1. Daily Herald (Adelaide), 10 January 1914, 3. []
  2. Cornish Telegraph (Penzance), 3 June 1909, 4. Greenland's article seems to have been partly reproduced, without attribution, in Evening Journal (Adelaide), 22 May 1909, 5. []
  3. Cornish Telegraph (Penzance), 3 June 1909, 4. []


The lost Gotha of New Farm Park is lost in two senses. Firstly, because I'm fairly sure that it no longer exists. Secondly, because I'm quite sure that it never existed.

Chris O'Regan pointed out on Twitter that 'there used to be a captured German plane in New Farm Park' in Brisbane. This was easy to confirm in Trove; it was offered to Brisbane as a war trophy in 1921:

The Brisbane City Council yesterday agreed to accept a captured German aeroplane offered by the Australian War Museum. Authority was given for the erection of a shelter at a cost of £50, in New Farm Park, on a site to be fixed by the chairman of the Parks Committee and the superintendent of parks.1

But the shelter evidently didn't offer much protection from the elements, because by March 1930 the aeroplane was in poor condition and 'badly in need of reconditioning':

The chairman (Alderman E. Lanham) stated that no financial provision had been made for the work, and while there was some sentiment attached to the capture of the machine it was not a proposal upon which the council was prepared to spend a big sum at present. The committee had agreed to defer the question of repairs until an inspection had been made by the parks superintendent (Mr. H. Moore) and himself.2

The aeroplane was offered to the Queensland Museum -- home to another, unique, war trophy, A7V Mephisto -- which unfortunately had 'no accomodation' for the machine.3 Dismantling began the following January, at which point the Queensland branch of the Australian Flying Corps Association offered to maintain it. The council agreed, but on condition that it was moved elsewhere.4 In June, it was announced that the association had 'offered to recondition the machine and place it in a conspicuous position on the Archerfield Aerodrome', then Brisbane's major (and very new) airport.5 In May 1932 it was said to be 'at present being reconditioned by the [Queensland] Aero Club' -- so not the Australian Flying Corps Association -- 'preparatory to its being mounted at Archerfield aerodrome'.6 I can't find any trace of the aeroplane after that. I suspect it was never placed into any 'conspicuous position' but instead the reconditioning stretched out until it was eventually scrapped, perhaps in 1939 when the RAAF moved in.
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  1. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 December 1921, 8. []
  2. Brisbane Courier, 26 March 1930, 14. []
  3. Brisbane Courier, 1 October 1930, 14. []
  4. Telegraph (Brisbane), 21 January 1931, 8. []
  5. Telegraph (Brisbane), 6 June 1931, 9. []
  6. Brisbane Courier, 26 May 1932, 14. []


As I discussed in a previous post, the arrival of the Armistice on 11 November 1918 suddenly made the Aerial League of the British Empire's foray into wartime propaganda films irrelevant. Yet the bizarre coincidence that the film happened to give a prominent place to the time and date of the Armistice suggested the possibility that the League's investment might be recouped by somehow marketing Eleven, Eleven, Eleven as a novelty. The sole mention of the film in the British press, in the Preston Herald in December 1918, was pretty clearly planted with a friendly journalist in an attempt to do just that.1
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  1. Possibly through the offices of E. Jerome Dyer, in effect the film's producer; his name turns up in the Preston press quite frequently in connection with the Vegetable Products Committee which was active there. []