Liveblogging April, 1939
My Dearest Reggie:
So much, and of such importance to our family, has happened in the last month! It is almost incidental to confirm that it is possible to leave London on the turn of the month and be at Whampoa on 6 April. I in no way recommend it as an experience, but, by a miracle of our modern age, I swept the tomb of the Founder this last Qingming Day.
I am going to start, again, by breaking my self-imposed rule, and reporting something that hit the press at the end of March, instead of in April. In my defence, I missed some things in my hurried round of preparations for my trip, somewhere between Admiralty, Foreign Office and who knows where. Literally “who knows where,” by the way, as some swell with an acutely advanced case of melodrama actually led me into a darkened office in a blindfold. I am to infer that there is a concern that I shall send assassins after someone who knows Our Dreadful Secret. How charming! Remember that charming Scottish lass who told you that she was descended from the PanchenLama? She is the grandmother of a Peer now. There are far more family Dreadful Secrets in London than ten thousand dacoits will ever expunge. Still, it is nice to have a reputation. However much he may curse the name of Sax Rohmer aloud, I see a twinkle in Grandfather’s eye when he does so.
To wit: the 25 March 1938 number of The Engineer reported on Viscount Arcenwood’s address to the British Iron and Steel Federation. British production has reached 1 million tons a month, but in spite of a £30 million investment in capacity in the last five years, demand continues to exceed supply. In the last year, Britain imported 1 million tons of scrap 0.5 million tons of pig iron, 0.5 million tons finished steel. To highlight a point that I shall return to, everyone is making money off shipping except us.
So, beginning the month:
The Economist, 1 April 1939
Leaders: Mussolini, etc, etc; “Defence and Democracy” means new war powers for Air Raid Precautions and subsidies for private builders; “Nazi Economics:” Do German results prove Mr. Keynes’ theories, or is the decline in German unemployment an artefact of the return of conscription? The latter. Up to 1936, The Economist believes, German experience was the same as the American, that “public relief” helped in the early stages of a trading depression, but “got stuck” halfway up the recovery curve. The problem; is that Nazi policy has acted to defeat the multiplier by preventing workers from spending their increased wages from rearmament. A gigantic rearmament policy is just going to end with a labour shortage.
Short topics: The Territorial Field Force is to be doubled to 340,000 men (that is, exclusive of 100,000 in AA). The total British Field Force will now consist of 32 divisions, 6 regular, 26 Territorial, including 4 armoured, 6 motorised in the new, two-brigade mode. France is expanding its army, too, by 422 professional officers and 2500 NCOs. There will be 2600 ratings recruited for the Navy, and an increased African levy. Plus national defence mobilization, with the 40 hour week replaced with a 60.
Deserving a paragraph break notwithstanding being just another “short topic” is the paper’s notice of the aid to shipping bill: a 2.75 million operating subsidy for coastal shipping, a half million building grant, a ten million line of credit, and 2 million for a mothball-and-build. I am sure that Cousin Eng will have notified you under separate cover that we have our share out of the Secret Service Fund, and will build in Hong Kong this year, Whampoa late next.
I note an ad for the “Vauxhall 10-horse sense.” The 10hp Vauxhall is value for money! Dunlop ad on the back page. Bad news for the railways, and it becomes increasingly hard to understand what the delay is on the property. Imperial has actually broken ground for their plant, on the assumption that we will swing the railway access, but we have still not set ink to the land-lease. Perhaps the League For Humanitarian Treatment of Underemployed Cows has got to them.
“Industry and Trade” short topics: retail sales up slightly, although grocers complain of falling prices for commodities. As they will.
Company reports: British Insulated Cables: “satisfactory results in a year of falling prices;” Automatic Telephone and Electric Co., sales up, profits up, GPO’s vast expansion in the last 15 years to a sum of 200 million in capital invested is one of the few examples of state enterprises that our Chairman likes. Ericsson Telephone, the same.
Flight 6 April 1939
Editorial: Much concern, naturally, that the Germans have anew speed record. Flight does not think that it was established by a service fighter, as the German newspapers claim. Your son, I note, agrees. To the extent that he thinks of anything professional since I returned from Canton with Grandfather’s blessing and a personal impression, which was of a girl halfway between an English Rose and a Lotus of the Pearl, and more beautiful than either. Yes, I was quite affected, and it seems that she was quite affected by their meetings when your son was doing his diplomatic duty with the Pacific Fleet. It was “Cousin James” this and “Cousin James” that, all day. And while you, you old rake, may be suspicious, she even dropped a joke about vapourisers. Anyone besotted enough to actually listen when your son goes on about his beloved fuel sprayers is besotted indeed!
Flight also notes that the Empire Air Mail scheme is going seriously awry. It makes no difference to those of us who fly Dutch.
Article: Cobham on in-air refueling. In case you are imagining tanker aeroplanes rendezvousing over the broad Atlantic with liners, forget it. This is just a method of getting planes up to full fuel load after taking off. It could lead to mid-ocean refueling of aerial cruisers, I suppose, but that’s for the future.
Service Aviation: The RAF turns 20! Hardwicke be d*mn*d, we can find it a good girl!
Book Review: Francis Chichester reviews Nevil Shute’s It Can Happen, in which the super-navigational techniques of a continental power allow it to launch devastating night gas raids on British cities. I swear on the accumulated wisdom of 56 years that publishers have a blank manuscript that they simply paste the technical details into as they change. No doubt if I read it closely, I would find that the climactic air battle occurs over Dorking.
The Engineer 7 April
Another version of Goodall’s presentation on Ark Royal emphasizes that it is “not necessarily the first of a new class.” Captain Powers, commanding, observes that in her first week of working up, Ark Royal landed on about 1400 aircraft. He believes that he could handle 9 a/c in 11 minutes. The Engineer Vice-Admiral of the Fleet adds that the machinery is as “manoeuvrable as a destroyer’s!” I have it on good authority that your son was feted in the Greenwhich mess, after being ceremoniously ducked in the duckpond by his colleagues on charges of being a “swot.”
On an altogether more ludicrous note, Captain Acworth (Ret), who certainly does not know who “Neon” might be, writes to suggest that the question of “coal versus oil” in the Navy question is not necessarily settled. Bernie even has a new friend. It is John Latta, of the “British Coal Campaign.” Prepare my fainting couch!
The Economist, 8 April 1939
8 April 1939
Leader: “Britain Girds Her Loins.” Churchill supports the PM in the Commons. We guarantee Poland; We warn Germany; We seek a Soviet alliance; Defence borrowing is to increase to over 400 from 350; Anti-inflationary sterilization will be needed. The Grid is making money on reduced costs and is about to place a major order for switchgear, transformers and other equipment for a war damage stock. Australia is introducing labour registry to complement any return to conscription. Other Dominions arm more tepidly. There is trouble in Iraq(!) The Post Office is continuing to experiment with “Wireless by telephone.” Radio broadcasts over fixed line might have more of a future in Canada than in Britain, I am told, but television might be another matter.
Overseas: No sign of an American recovery as yet.
Company Reports: Dunlop’s had a mixed bag of results. Rubber prices are down, but so was heavy vehicle production, both here and abroad, and this dragged company results down.
Flight 13 April 1939
Editorial: “The Danger of Silence:” French censorship is giving the dangerous impression that the Armee de l’Air is weak. Good advice, indeed, for the best secrets are hidden in plain sight. You will recall that Great-Grandfather agreed that your son would be permitted to hyphenate his wife’s name with his mother’s after his marriage? Now it turns out that Grandfather registered the girl at St. Clare’s School by the Founder’s mother’s name! The papers will say, for ever more, that the girl is a Californian named G-, and your son will, at least in church registers, sign himself by the name of the Founder. At first I thought this too clever by half, but, on reflection, it seems to me that the Founder has long since become a plaster saint, or, the equivalent in some parts of the world, a good meal. No-one even pauses to pass a skeptical or speculative eye over his origins, career, or posterity, much less look to correlations in the ministries of the Crown.
In other news, Cousin Eng sends a wedding gift to the M-.
Australia is upset about various air schemes. Some gentleman writing in RAF Quarterly thinks that Bomber Command needs “scouts” to observe possible targets and take photos of them. I would be astonished if that were not already being done. It’s the kind of thing Grandfather would have a hand in, if he had a hand in aviation, which causes one to think furiously.
Article: The Boeing314 is announced. The shattering novelty of an American airliner that looks like the Armstrong-Whitworth “E” amazes all.
Service Aviation notes the launch of Illustrious, publishes new performance statistics for the “long-nosed” Blenheim. There are pictures of a Buffalo-made monstrosity called an Airacuda amongst other new American types, although it’s not clear to me that that’s still under Service Aviation. I suppose that it would be asking rather much of Flight if I tasked it with providing consistent section heads.
Article: “Diving Brakes.” The new Brewster dive bomber has them. I thought this no novelty? That being said, better ways of modifying aerofoil lift promises faster airliners. More on the ancillary power service talk.
Industry news: The Secretary of State for Air is back on the move, visiting Speke Aerodrome to see the new works of the Automatic Telephone and Electric Co., and the Rootes shadow factory. Someone dreams of being the first “Prime Minister for Air.”
The Economist, 15 April 1939
Leaders: “The Week’s Aggression,” Albania; “Inflation Ahead?”
Articles: “The German Air Force.” How huge is it? Big, but not as big as some (Americans) say.
Short Topics: Recruitment for the TA now in full swing.; “Summer air services,” are to be more impressive than last year.
Article: “Market Gardening,” There needs to be more, the Leader posits, and there’s a market. Bit of a puzzle, it says here. Well, considering that cheap agricultural labour has gone the way of pilgrims along Watling Street, I will propose an explanation.
Flight 20 April 1939
Editorial: The new Air Force List will have no information in it, lest it inadvertently reveal something. This strikes me as absurd. Surely no professional scholar of the Royal Air Force is so callow that the information published in the Air Force List would help his studies!
More usefully, pictures of the Short landplane appear. It’s big and shiny and featureless, rather like the new Air Force List. This, however, for good reason, for it is to be pressurized, so that no life-giving oxygen can escape. You may add your own jibe at the RAF to taste.
Article: Covers Heinkel’s one-upmanship over Messerschmitt in setting a new airspeed record. Was it accomplished with an He112 service fighter? Another article covers the history of Short Brothers
Engineering 21 April 1939
Editorial: “Professional Engineers and National Service” The Leader thinks that a tedious but necessary conversation is to be had about the mobilisation of the engineering profession for total war. The reader agrees with "tedious."
The Engineer, 21 April 1939
It is announced that Colonel Arthur S. Angwin will succeed Sir George Lee as Engineer-in-Chief of the Post Office on the latter’s retirement. P. J. Ridd will be Deputy E-in-Chief, while G. F. O’Dell will be Assistant. Angwin, educated at East London College and a Whitworth Scholar, served in the RE in the world war and is now a colonel in the Royal Corps of Signals. Ridd and O’Dell are both long-term telephone engineers.
Speaking at the Marconi Annual General Meeting, Chairman H. J. White informed the stockholders that Marconi ship-installed radio licenses had now reached 7725, compared to 6995 on 31 December 1937. There was also a 50% increase in short wave installation leases and R/T and trawler installations.
The Economist, 21 April 1939
Second Leader: “British Budgets,” Professor MacGregor tells us that from 1840 to 1922, British budgets were one greatcontinuity of “retrenchment and economy,” rooted in the gold standard and solid finance: a low income tax and a large Sinking Fund. The paper wistfully quotes one Althorp saying that “[t]he best way to relieve the burden of the labouring classes is to give them employment; and this can only be done by reducing the taxes which press most immediately upon productive industry.” In this decayed latter day, the paper concludes, we must accept a case for public spending to increase popular purchasing power, and Tuesday’s budget will see the latest apogee of this trend. Third Leader: Russia’s War Potential, which apparently is quite large.
Fourth, “Road Transport in War,” notes that there are 495,000 goods vehicles in Britain, a “claimed” 500,000 in France, 400,000 in the Greater Reich, 86,000 in Italy, but without specifying the size of the vehicles, except to imply that Germany and Italy have made great strides by giving preferential tax treatment to 5 ton+ lorries. I doubt it, for the article goes on to note that in omnibuses and cars, Britain is well ahead. Where it is behind is in terms of road construction, with none of the new “clover leafs” even planned. Then, with a diffident and artless glance at the ground, the correspondent begins to scuffle dirt nervously as he oh-so casually drops mention of new plans by the Counties Association for 1000 miles of new roadway at a cost of 60 millions. Will vast amounts of concrete be bought from someone for all of this? Why, yes, it will, and what a mad coincidence it will prove, if . . .
Notes: The new Ministry of Supply has its work cut out for it, as we cannot equip the army we have, never mind the army we want. As you read this at the end of the month, you will be puzzled if the next reference to conscription is sowing the fields of public opinion or retailing rumours of what will be, but, either way, it is spoken in the next breath after the extraordinary demands of recruiting. ARP talk is turning to deep shelters. . . . More concrete. Fleet exercises and redeployments are spoken of, with the Americans to build up their Atlantic Squadron, the Germans to cruise off Spain, the Mediterranean Fleet to concentrate at Malta . . . . We hear again of summer air services, which are proposed on a most ambitious scale, using the DH91 “Frobishers.” Five-seat airliners do not strike me as ambitious. Apparently the intended Armstrong Whitworth machines are still not available.
Article: “French Morale Stiffened:” the issue of debt to cover rearmament has placed highly desireable instruments in the hands of French investors. Reggie, you might write this off as a manifestation of interests that the paper may not share, but I have always thought of high French morale in terms of jaunty Gallic tirallieurs stepping off to “Sambre et Meuse,” porting their fusils towards the high Ardennes, pantaloons rouge bunching and striding….
Article: “Italy Through the Albanian Crisis” Apparently, when one decides to invade Albania and political difficulties ensue, this counts as a crisis that happens to your country.
I would be remiss not to note the advertisement for KLM: “I’ll be there all right. I’m flying KLM.” Next issue mentions KLM when you have to get to Singapore. Too true. Unfortunately, mad Sikh taxicab drivers who dash you to your SGTA Hong Kong connection cannot afford to advertise in this paper.
The paper’s “Industrial Reports” section uses words like “firm,” “strong” and “active” for demand for coal, iron. Scarcity of scrap hurts the steel industry, which is “very heavily booked” in Glasgow. Everyone is making money off shipping except shipowners. As I have said. And lest you think this a mere illusion of the armaments boom, demand for cars, including luxury makes, is also up.
Flight 27 April 1939
Editorial: Now is the time for a Canada-Australia Pacific air route. Meanwhile, Imperial’s actual aeroplanes are having their problems. I am sure that all of the family wishes that we had Imperial's problems of rapidly expanding fleet and services. Notwithstanding, I have reservations about how well they are handling matters.
Service Aviation: The Blackburn Roc is announced. The "Roc" floatplane? Someone's tongue is planted firmly in cheek. On the other hand, its land equivalent is identified as the Defiant I, suggesting that the "II" is firmly in mind. This is perhaps in conformance with the new spring line in numeral nomenclature, for the Merlin III has appeared, the key improvements, I am told, being in the propeller shaft, which will now take these ingenious new self-adjusting airscrews.
Short Notice: the RAF will be out in force for this year’s RAeS Garden Party, 14 May.
There follows articles on airliners around the world, then airlines around the world, and then a vast catalogue of new equipment for airline operators.
Article: Frank Brent, “Towards 100 per Cent Regularity.” How airliners should be fitted out to navigate in all weather. Lots of radio gear of all kinds actually available in this country, provision for celestial navigation, dead reckoning, homing on “omni-directional beacons.”
The Economist, 29 April 1939
Leader: “Of Money and Men:” taxes are up, borrowing is up, spending is way up. And Britain will have peacetime universal conscription for the first time ever. An excess profits tax will be put in place at the beginning of the emergency, rather than imposed at the end. “Education for Work:” there is a shortage of skilled labour, and the government should do something about it. The ambassador’s return to Berlin sends mixed messages. There is much toing-and-froing over alliances in Europe, but also perhaps with China, with approving notice of the Nationalists' recent offensive in the north.
“M. Reynaud’s New Plan" is to continue to spend on guns, but with less effort to expand the economy with spending cuts and deficit reduction. The new plan, the paper notes, adopts some of Mr. Keynes’ recommendations for the British economy.
“American Hopes Deferred Again" because there is still no sign of an American recovery. This is apparently because of uncertainty over foreign events, while curbs the appetite for high risk securities even when the yield on government issue is so low. This in spite of a flow into the dollar.
In closing, I remember again my flight of now four weeks ago, and not just because my legs still ache and my ears still ring. Amongst my long deferred readings was a re-acquaintance with Clowes on "Four Naval Campaigns." When I read the obligatory introductory section on the deficiencies of the Pacific Station in 1856, I wonder what how those same passages will read from the pen of the historians of the future? What preparations and exertions have been missed in our fanatical efforts to improve the RAF's night navigational abilities, or the effectiveness of the carrier arm? Where will our Achilles' Heel prove to be? Submarines, as our circles now worry? Or something completely out of left field, such as atomical warfare? Our own background makes me think of the subterranean struggles of the Black Chambers of the Great Powers, even if the to-ing and fro-ing of spies has rarely ever amounted to anything apart from a means of passing money into the hands of the consigners.