Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Postblogging 1939, June, I: God Speed the Plows!


(In the future, when the National Grid runs the country with electric railways, electric lights, electric machine tools, and electric-who-knows-what, the noisy, inefficient tractor will give way to the stationary plough. 

Sometimes, the future happens at the smallest community-run ski hills. That's not the worst kind of future.)


My Dearest "Mrs. C.:"

Dearest sister, I write to you to express my fullest satisfaction with your husband's recent decision to take the waters. His return from the Rockies will not be long delayed. Until then, I am at your disposal. Enclosed is Reggie's regular newsletter, and a photograph of the person who will meet your son's train in San Francisco.

I am afraid, however, that although Reggie is becoming more alert to his affliction, some of the concerns you relay must derive from incipient mania. You certainly have nothing to fear from the evil machinations of the  peer mentioned. As a matter of fact, he has been dead for almost two hundred years! He may live on in family history as the man whose power in the ministry prevented the Founder's legitimation, but the Founder's father could only have married who he married, and provide for his son and his son's mother, in the way that he did. There was enough risk in securing the Founder his commission! It is only our good luck that the father was then able to secure his private and public posterity at Canton by the same adventurous means that he arranged his own. O U O S V A V V!

His illness goes, in my opinion, to the mysterious faces Reggie has seen lurking about, but Grandfather does not agree, and has sent his chop to Vancouver. You will be acquiring two cooks in the next week who are very good with knives.

[One Photograph and three enclosures]

My Dear Reggie:


Flight  1 June 1939

Leader: The actual Admiralty takeover of the FAA occurs in the same week that the press makes much of a De Havilland Queen Bee "target drone" doodled unscathed for three hours in the vicinity of a  Fleet antiaircraft live fire exercise. The times are changing, apparently. As they always are.

Commercial Aviation: Notices the Yankee Clipper. Again. SANA orders two Ju-90s. It is almost as though Brother Boer resents being dragged into our Empire. I can only suggest that they should have fought harder, although, remembering our days of dragging a 4.7" across the veldt, not too much harder. Or tried being a larger, richer nation that we could not simply bowl over. Anyways, a grand and ongoing triumph of progress and Christianity. A new blind landing system is  under testing at Wright Field. There are various new domestic services to use all of the new airfields we are building and equipping with much electrical apparatus of this sort.
Article: “A New Multi-Gun Fighter.” I comment further on the Martin-Baker Fighter below.

A Parliamentary Party:” And here is the meat of it. Remember all that talk of British reserve, not to mention backwardness compared with Germany and America? It must smart at someone, because last week, Members of the Commons and the Lords, Commissioners for the Dominions and Dominion Liaison Officers, plus officials from the Board of Admiralty, Army Council, etc were taken to Northolt to see “pehaps the most convincing display of service flying ever staged.” this week. They watched the “world’s finest service aircraft demonstrating their functions,” inspected an assortment of secret and semi-secret equipment, and saw a tantalizing fly-by by two unmentionable aircraft which are still secret. (Though I heard some grumbling about a much larger aircraft that might have attended had it not recently been quite avoidably indisposed.) 

The machine park, first attraction after fourteen coaches had discharged their loads of legislators, contained three Hurricanes, three Spitfires, three Gladiators, a Hudson, three Hampdens, three Battles, and examples of the Henley, Harvard, Tutor, Oxford, Anson, Walrus, Beaufort, Defiant, Roc, Skua, and Master (but no Lysander, as perhaps Hiduminium extrusions remain on the "Occasionally Secret" list that the Air Ministry apparently maintains). Searchlights, anti-aircraft guns, a balloon, a Link trainer, and other equipment was available for inspection.

“While RAF officers were being plied with questions (any normal schoolboy would not have deigned to answer  many of these, though some displayed encouraging intelligence) a wing of twenty-four Vickers Wellingtons boomed over at a menacing height to give the first massed demonstration of these substantial geodetic-built craft, which have a longer range than any other aircraft in the Service.Some minutes later the Wellingtons were followed by two fighter wings embodying six squadrons of Hurricanes and one of Spitfires, the first flying in wing formation, the second in diamond formation….” There were dive bombing demonstrations by a Battle to counter “foreign” claims to unique capabilities in this technique, Gladiator acrobatics, a high speed flypast by a Spitfire going “at least 380mph, having benefited from a shallow dive,” a flypast by 3 Sunderlands, squadron manoeuvres by Hurricanes, a flypast in succession of 10 other types, including a Powis trainer prototype. A Spitfire with the latest three blade variable-pitch airscrew was shown. A fast twin-engined type made an even more spectacular flypast in the “mystery machine” parade.

After all of this, it is rather anticlimactic to report that the main Article: summary of George Lewis’s Wright Lecture on progress with American wind tunnels.
“The Aircraft Engineer” covers ‘Elastic Stiffness of a Skin-Covered Framework,” and a discussion of “some airscrew considerations.”

The Engineer, 2 June 1939

A writeup of the new Martin-Baker fighter. My own private instinct is to let the French have the field here with the Caudron. If it succeeds, we can buy some, as we did in the last war. The ingenuity, not to mention influence, of Messrs. Martin and Baker can be applied a little more creatively. But what do I know of aeronautics?

The Economist, 3 June 1939

Leader: “A Distorted Boom” on the last day of 1938, this paper forecast that recovery in Britain would be seen from the summer onwards. This was grossly pessimistic. It was not all due to defence –the lower price of steel that came into effect on 1 January also had its impact. However, defence is a big part of it, and there is likely to be an increasing distortion of the normal functioning of the British economy if this goes on, with painful structural changes after the end of rearmament. Second Leader:“Japan’s Choice:” more war in (south) china, apparently. Grandfather predicts that Japan will be at war with Britain and perhaps Russia by the summer. The Ministry in Tokyo, he says, finds hope of securing European allies, fear of the political cost of abandoning the China adventure.

“Notes of the Week:” Speaking of war in Europe, the Anglo-Russian deal is delayed again; “The New Army:” the 200,000 men of the National Militia will report for induction this week, with the first notices going out on 1 July. “Labour in Depression;” employment did not fall as far as expected in 1938.
“The World Overseas:” Germany’s railways in trouble.

Now here is something worth a paragraph break. An increase in American government spending is expected as“appeasement” of business in the United States is seen to have failed. I am appalled and amused at once that one reason that it is supposed that the American economy has faltered is that it is now a “mature economy.” The American population has ceased to grow, and America is no longer the land of youth. Thus, a savings glut naturally builds up. Hence, Government must borrow and activate these funds.

Flight 8 June 1939

Leader: Former Secretary of State for Air Sir Philip Sassoon has died.

Service Aviation: “Official” performance statistics are given for the Hurricane. It still has a peak speed of 330mph at 17,500ft (To which it climbs in 7.8 minutes).

Commercial Aviation: new airfield at Derby, new Baltic airline, new services in Africa, new Bloch airliner announced. Douglas is working on a DC6, which will fill the gap in airline procurement until such time as the DC4 becomes economical. Speaking of stratoliners, the second Boeing 307 is ready for trials, replacing the first, which crashed. I am perversely glad to hear that it is not only British airliners that crash or prove to be white elephants.

Industry: Rolls-Royce is breaking ground on its Glasgow site. Australia has bought lots of stuff preparatory to beginning Beaufort production.

The Engineer, 9 June, 1939

Leader: Purchases from the £2 fund that the government has set aside to purchase British-registered ships destined for premature scrapping are going ahead. All very well, it seems to me, unless they need scrapping. I had a most unfortunate visit from some gentlemen from the British Coal Association, who intimated that our little railway transaction might go more expeditiously if we scrapped plans for the associated pipeline, perhaps in favour of a coal wharf. I have heard nothing from Imperial to suggest that the new plant will use coal as a feedstock, and have asked our solicitor to inquire.  Captain Acworth strikes me as a little unhinged. Following Leaders: The paper is interested in recent experiments in steam-powered aeroplanes. So were we all, in 1890. At least before we boarded the Rattler. Never a truer name....; HMS Thetis is  tragically lost. Your son was downcast about this, although "Miss G.C." did much to cheer him up. A very large expansion of the Territorial Royal Army Ordnance Corps, of 150 officers and 5000 men, is announced. An Engineering Branch of the Royal Navy Supplementary Reserve is announced, with no peacetime obligation. A remarkably trouble-free way to wear the blue and impress the Bright Young Things, if you ask me. 

Engineering, 9 June 1939

Leader: Loss of HM Submarine Thetis. 

Article: Full description of the machinery of SS Mauretania, with diagrammes. Extraordinary!

The Economist, 10 June 1939

“An Imperial Policy” The paper sees many colonies, notably in the Caribbean and West Africa, as trapped in  a vicious circle. Wages are too low to alleviate poverty, with here a harsh reminder that the bad old days are not gone in many parts of our Empire, where poverty means malnutrition and preventable disease. Taxes to alleviate these bear heavily on the economy, notably duties that impact the price of imported necessities of life. Fixed interest charges on infrastructure improvements further reduce the colonial administrations’ room to manoeuvre. The solution will be Marketing Boards to increase the price of sugar, cocoa and such.

“Food Production in War;” it isn’t enough.

“Notes of the Week:” the Thetis disaster. The King goes to Washington. “Organising Supply:” the powers of the Ministry of Supply are further laid out; “German Finance” a scheme in which German contractors are paid in part in IOUs is not entirely satisfactory. I, for one, am astonished. 

“Japan and Great Britain;” outrage in Shanghai. As noted in the enclosure, you will shortly be visited by Cousin Easton, if he has not already arrived. Easton will take charge of the curios and bric-a-bracs to be brought to San Francisco in anticipation of Grandfather's arrival, but you, if you are able, should take charge of matters relating to the border. 

“The Motorisation of Germany.” Germany is catching up with the UK. If you count motorcycles as equivalent to cars. “Cotton-Rayon Controversy;” in the new organization of the textiles sector, where does the new fabric balance the old? 

Flight 15 June 1939

Leader Merger of British and Imperial to form BOAC is this week’s story.

Commercial Aviation

Portuguese are to buy De Havilland Rapides for an Angolan service; Pan-American will carry booked(?) passengers on the Atlantic run starting June 28; France is getting ready for summer proving runs with an older Latecoere; Ensigns almost ready to return to service with Tiger IXCs with constant-speed props. How does the engine know how far to twist the screws? Your son tried to explain the mathematics, and then, when that failed, used analogies. It involved musical instruments and weights on springs. I could not make heads nor tails of it, even before he recited the dreaded words, "differential equations."

Engineering 16 June 1939.

Leader: Shouldn’t we be thinking about industrial dispersal?

The Engineer 16 June 1939

In the letters, J. G. B. Sams writes that the £2/acre plowing subsidy announced by the government for all acreage left "down to grass" for at least 7 years will be, as the government intends, an important contribution to war readniess if the government's goal of 250,000 acres reclaimed is reached. But can it? Let us talk traction. Horses are ruled out at the head. They will be too costly of manpower. Two horses can do an acre a day, but require 1 man for the work. Internal combustion tractors are too few to do the work and lack tractive force for operations such as "moling" ("creating subterranean drains by dragging a vertical bar 2 or 3 feet below the surface"). what is needed is steam plowing with tackle. But whereas in 1918, 600 rented [stationary steam plow sets] kept 12.6 million acres in operation, now owner/operators report only 125 sets available for rent.

Or one could conclude, as great grandfather concluded long ago, that if one needs to "mole" land to put it in corn, one should reconsider whether the land ought to be in corn, and invest instead in a strong navy to keep the sea lanes to the colonies open. 

The Economist, 17 June 1939

The leaders revisit foreign policy (“Defence versus appeasement,”) and Newfoundland; then move on to the first six months of the American Fair Wages and Hours Act.”

“Notes of the Week:” The Blockade of the Tientsin Concession by the Japanese continues. (Grandfather relays his gratitude from 'Arcadia.') Talks in Moscow continue. Mr. Roosevelt may run for a third term in 1940.Forty thousand storm troopers from East Prussia just showed up in Danzig. Air Raid Precautions are developing; there will be a trade credit for Poland.

“Production and Prices in France:” there is continuing improvement, although the pace of it has slackened. Exports advance. Inflation is incipient, notwithstanding the fall in the index of wholesale prices to 685, against 693, 695 and 696 in previous weeks.
“No Real Change in American Business Outlook.” Were the livers wrong?
“Charter for Air Transport;” the BOAC Bill is introduced this week. If there’s going to be subsidies, there ought to be a Crown Corporation. 


*Image source is FindTheBest.com. Pictured: the T-bar lift run at the Fairmont Hot Springs Resort. Not shown: uncoordinated kids being dragged up the hill after letting the t-bar slip below their knees. All in good fun, looking back. My theory that t-bar technology originated as the long forgotten "stationary plough" is entirely unsubstantiated.


  1. Ah yes, the relationship between tractors and horses - I filled a the back of whole envelope with semi-educated guessas about that, when I was writing this:

    Meanwhile, you'll be pleased to know that according to the Gale and Polden manual of military administration from 1938 (Brig W G Lindsell) "The practical disappearance from use by the civil community of the light draught horse . . .. Apart from other reasons, this factor in itself forces mechaniation upon the Army."

  2. It also leaves me wondering if horses can generate the work needed to mole Thames valley clays, or was moling entirely a phenomena of steam-age agriculture?

    It is even more interesting that horses are ruled out because of manpower. It is the operator-to-acre ratio that won't work in a modern economy. In the far future, when all ploughing is done by stationary sets powered off a smart electric grid running on fusion power, we'll look back and laugh.

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