'Dreaming war: airmindedness and the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918'

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Date added 15 August 2013
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Original, non-peer-reviewed version of article published as Brett Holman, 'Dreaming war: airmindedness and the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918', History Australia 10 (2013), 180-201. Final version available at History Australia. Details here and here. PDF format.

Abstract: Numerous false sightings of mysterious aeroplanes, thought to be German and hostile, were reported by ordinary people around Australia in the Autumn of 1918. These reports were investigated by defence authorities, who initiated a maximum effort to find the merchant raiders presumed to be the source of the aeroplanes. The scare is interpreted in the context of reports that a German seaplane had flown over Sydney in 1917; fears that the German offensive in France would lead to an Allied defeat; wartime paranoia about German subversion; and the growth of negative airmindedness thanks to the wartime press.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://airminded.org/copyright/.

CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at https://airminded.org/copyright/.

14 thoughts on “'Dreaming war: airmindedness and the Australian mystery aeroplane scare of 1918'

  1. Thanks for this. I stumbled across it while researching the Swedish mystery airplane flap of the 1930s as part of a footnote to a bit I'm writing about the Swedish Ghost Rockets. I'm looking forward to getting a broader picture this afternoon once I'm finished footnoting and can settle down with my iPad for a read.

  2. Peter Garwood

    I try downloading the Scareship Age and get nothing but pages of indecipherable text.
    What am I doing wrong?

  3. I just tried a bit of experimentation, and attempting to download (clicking on the download button) the EPUB version without an EPUB reader on Firefox got the wall of junk text in a browser window. Downloading an EPUB reader, and trying again solved the problem. (Mac, Firefox).

  4. Post author

    Yes, it's quite possible there's no ebook reader software installed. Amazon makes some pretty slick, free Kindle software for MOBI, and there's Adobe Digital Editions for EPUB, also free. Of course there are others too.

  5. jerrywarriner

    The PDF version refused to download, so I downloaded the document as an EPUB. I found a converter on the Web at http://www.convertfiles.com/convert/ebook/EPUB-to-PDF.html.
    It worked beautifully.

    The Munich crisis is my favorite topic of the interwar years. I have more books, documents, documentaries and articles on that than almost any other subject from the period.
    I'm in Heaven! Thanks for providing this valuable information.

  6. Post author

    You're welcome. Sorry you had problems with the PDF (it downloads okay for me) but I'm glad you were able to find a workaround!

  7. Jenny Sloggett

    Thank you for making these article available. I look forward to the Next War in the Air. I am a PhD student with the University of Newcastle and my topic involves civil and military defence preparations in south-eastern Australia from 1935 to 1945 (NSW, Qld, Vic), particularly the involvement of state and local governments. The impact of the British example and British instructions for defence planning cannot be overestimated.

    Whilst I was in Melbourne last April for the 1942 Shadow of the War conference, I picked up a copy of At Home and Under Fire: air raids and culture in Britain from the Great War to the Blitz by Susan R Grayzel (Cambridge University Press, 2012). It make a useful supplement to Terence O'Brien's volume of the official history on civil defence in Great Britain because of its focus on popular literature and use of letters and diaries as sources.

  8. Post author

    That's a great topic. I read Kate Darian-Smith's book on Melbourne during the war a while back; Richard Waterhouse is also doing some interesting work on the panic in Australia after the fall of Singapore (which I mentioned here). I'd love to know more.

    I'm actually writing a review of Grayzel's book for a journal at the moment, or not writing as the case may be…

  9. Christopher

    What the article says about the psychological aspects of the scare is fascinating. It might be worthwhile to explore if this links to the paranoia about empire and the threats to the latter.

  10. Post author

    Interesting idea. Of course the danger to the Empire was always implicit in the question of the Navy, and sometimes explicit (particularly in the colonies themselves), but I can't think of any real imperial dimension to the airship panic. It was very much focused on the security of the British Isles themselves. Something to look out for, though -- thanks.

  11. Post author

    Glad you've found something useful here. South Wales was an epicentre of phantom airship sightings in both 1909 and 1913. It's hard to imagine that E. T. Willows isn't connected somehow, though it seems clear he wasn't actually present at the time, so I suspect inspiration more than anything else.

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