'In the future, every historian will be relevant for 15 minutes', as somebody once said. Here's my 15 minutes, an interview with journalist Connor Echols for Responsible Statecraft on the parallels between the 1913 phantom airship panic and the 2023 spy balloon panic. As I've been busy with other things and have had to watch take after hot take flash by (most interestingly from my point of view was Jeff Sparrow in the Guardian invoking another interest of mine, balloon riots), I appreciated the opportunity to think about what I do think (if that makes sense!)...continue reading
The Invasion of 1909 — II
In September 1909, rather late in Invasion's run, an article appeared in Pearson's Weekly explaining not only some of the pyrotechnical mechanics behind the spectacle, but also the underlying airpower theory. Because it was not merely an popular entertainment and a commercial one at that, but a response to the question 'Invasion by aeroplane, is it possible?'...continue reading
The German air raids on Britain, 1914–1918: a reading list
While you're waiting for me to write Home Fires Burning, here are some other books (mostly) on the same topic, whether wholly or in substantial part. This is not meant to be in any way a comprehensive list; it's merely what I have found to be most useful. I've included links to out-of-copyright/open access versions, where available....continue reading
Thoughts on war in somebody else’s air raid
Last night I had my first full-on anxiety dream about nuclear war since the 1980s. As ICBM trails arced across the blue sky overhead, I ran for the safety of a nearby shelter -- and confirmed that the Third World War had started by getting out my phone to check my social media feeds.
Of course, I'm quite safe here in Australia. It's not my home town which is being shelled by Russian artillery, not my family which is being killed in Putin's unprovoked war of aggression against Ukraine. The risk of escalation is not non-zero, but would be increased dramatically if the calls from some quarters for a no-fly zone -- in some ways, an ad hoc kind of international air force -- were heeded. But, despite the dreams of liberal militarists, airpower is not a bloodless panacea; air war always has been real war. It's not a cheap way to avoid fighting. Fortunately everybody with a direct say in the matter seems to be well aware that a NATO no-fly zone over Ukraine would be a very bad idea indeed. So, I probably should be able to sleep easier than I am. But there's a very interwar kind of trauma involved in reliving an existential fear all over again. We've all been here before, again....continue reading
Why this book?
So I'm writing a book. Why? There are already many histories of the German air raids on Britain in the First World War: in my proposal, I listed eleven published since the 1980s alone, and even that is hardly exhaustive. Many of these are excellent -- Ian Castle's books, in particular, are required reading on this topic -- and I would not add to the pile unless I felt I could add something original. So what will make Home Fires Burning different? Why should anyone want to read it? Here's the (lightly-edited) rationale I gave in my proposal:...continue reading
Book contract: Home Fires Burning
I am delighted to announce that I have signed an advance contract with Cambridge University Press to publish my next book, currently entitled Home Fires Burning: Emotion, Spectacle, and Britain’s First War from the Air, in their Studies in the Social and Cultural History of Modern Warfare series. Here's a one paragraph teaser from the (successful!) book proposal:
Home Fires Burning is the first book to provide a broader understanding of the German air raids on Britain between 1914 and 1918—the first to go beyond the purely physical impact of the bombs to show how the spectacle they created and the emotions they invoked shaped British culture and society. It describes not only what happened during the air raids, but also what happened before them, and after, how they were anticipated and how they were remembered. And it will explain how bombing transformed Britain from a place of peace to a place of war: a home front in a total war.
So Home Fires Burning will be both a logical extension of my previous work, and something quite original (and, I think, very necessary!) I'm busy completing the manuscript, and I'll have much more to say here about my plans and progress over the next couple of years. There's a lot to do; I'd better get on with it!
Image source: Graphic (London), 24 April 1915, 518.
Lady Drogheda’s Great Air Exhibition — III
The ostensible purpose of the Air Services Exhibition was to raise money for 'the FLYING SERVICES HOSPITALS' and 'VISCOUNT FRENCH'S WAR CHARITIES', as you can see in the poster above. But those laudable aims didn't mean it wasn't also propaganda (as you can also see in the poster above). And, despite the name of the exhibition, it wasn't about the RFC and RNAS generally, but about the air defence of Britain. Not only did the exhibits consist largely of Zeppelin destroyers and destroyed Zeppelins (and Gothas), but two senior members of Britain's military aviation establishment gave speeches at the opening of the exhibition on 1 November 1917, which as it happened was the morning after a Gotha raid on London, Kent and Essex. Unsurprisingly, they both spoke on the topic of air defence....continue reading
Bombing by wireless
A great image found by @100YearsAgoLive of 'bombing by wireless' in 1921:
The question of aerial armaments will be discussed at the Washington Conference, and it is as well for us, while hoping for the best results from the conclave of the nations, to realise some of the terrifying developments in aerial warfare to which scientists are devoting attention. Shown here is a flying bomb, fitted with small wings and a motor, which can be steered by wireless so as to drop on the desired objective. One has only to remember the work done by wireless-controlled boats in the War, to realise in the flying bomb a terrible weapon, the construction of which, at all costs, must be avoided.
The Myall Incident
After its early showing in the 1909 mystery airship wave, Australia was rarely visited by phantom airships proper. Maybe that's because real airships were even rarer, with none that I know of between 1914 and the late twentieth century: they just weren't a very plausible thing to think you saw. But they did turn up sometimes.
There was one in Western Australia in 1910, another in 1918, and a relatively famous one on 10 June 1931 between Lord Howe Island to Jervis Bay. That last one was seen by Sir Francis Chichester while making the first east-west solo flight from New Zealand to Australia -- though he seems to have only reported it decades later, and even then stopped of short of claiming it actually was an airship. In 1925, another phantom airship was seen, more definitely but equally incongruously, at Myall, near the Murray River in northern Victoria....continue reading