'The shadow of the airliner: commercial bombers and the rhetorical destruction of Britain, 1917-35'

Filename shadow-of-the-airliner.pdf
Filesize 623.07 KB
Version 1
Date added 6 April 2018
Downloaded 1197 times
Category Articles

Originally published as: Brett Holman, ‘The shadow of the airliner: commercial bombers and the rhetorical destruction of Britain, 1917-35’, Twentieth Century British History 24 (2013), 495-517, https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/tcbh/hws042. Details here. PDF format.

Abstract: Aerial bombardment was widely believed to pose an existential threat to Britain in the 1920s and 1930s. An important but neglected reason for this was the danger from civilian airliners converted into makeshift bombers, the so-called ‘commercial bomber’: an idea which arose in Britain late in the First World War. If true, this meant that even a disarmed Germany could potentially attack Britain with a large bomber force thanks to its successful civil aviation industry. By the early 1930s the commercial bomber concept appeared widely in British airpower discourse. Proponents of both disarmament and rearmament used, in different ways and with varying success, the threat of the commercial bomber to advance their respective causes. Despite the technical weakness of the arguments for convertibility, rhetoric about the commercial bomber subsided only after rearmament had begun in earnest in 1935 and they became irrelevant next to the growth in numbers of purpose-built bombers. While the commercial bomber was in fact a mirage, its effects on the disarmament and rearmament debates were real.

14 thoughts on “'The shadow of the airliner: commercial bombers and the rhetorical destruction of Britain, 1917-35'

  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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *