Showing posts from September, 2016

Franco Becomes Insurgent Leader

Tuesday 30th September 1936

Francisco Franco was proclaimed as the supreme commander of the insurgent forces in the Spanish civil war by the junta at Burgos. As each front had operated more-or-less autonomously at the start of the war, this had not been a pressing question, but as the fronts stabilised, unified leadership was required. Franco would not have been the obvious first choice at the start of the uprising. The original designated leader General Sanjurjo had died in an air crash General Mola was a more prominent figure politically, but his credibility had suffered from what was seen as a botched coup and his closeness to the extreme Carlist and Falange movements.

Franco’s new prominence could be read in his attendance at a memorial for those who had fallen in the siege of Toledo led by the Archbishop of Toledo, who according to insurgent propaganda had remained with the cadets defending the Alcazar, somehow mysteriously escaping before it fell to the Republicans. In his speech …

Altitude Record for Britain

Monday 29th September 1936

The 1930s saw intense competition between nations and manufacturers to set new records for aircraft. Britain set a new world altitude record in a specially designed and built aircraft, the Bristol 138 powered by a super-charged Pegasus engine, flown by Squadron-Leader Ronald Swain of the Royal Aeronautical Establishment. He wore pressure suit reminiscent of early science fiction images of a space suit.

The record was homologated by the Federation Internationale de l’Aeronautique at 49,967ft (15,230 meters). It was a considerable achievement, but of little practical value as even military propeller aircraft rarely operated above 12,000 meters. By contrast the fighter aircraft of World War Two operated at very close to the records set before the war.

Luxury Paris-London Sleeper

Sunday 28th September 1936

The Port of Dover witnessed the dawn of a great transport. A new dock at been constructed in the Port which allowed railway carriages to be loaded directly onto ships, which would sail to Dunkirk to offload. The project involved the investment in separate enclosed docks with sea locks so as to keep the ferries at a constant level with the quay. Trains could not cope with the steep gradients between quay and ferry at low tides.

Special sleeper carriages were built to fit the different loading gauges both sides of the Channel, which allowed a luxury overnight service, the Night Ferry, to run between Paris and London. Passengers went to bed in one capital and woke up in the other one. At its peak the service ran to Brussels and to Basel for the Swiss ski resorts. The service ended in 1980, victim of high cost, cheap air fares and the imminence of the Channel Tunnel.

Beastly "Kinging" at Balmoral

Saturday 27th September 1936

The King might have escaped the company of the stock crowd of national worthies, previously considered indispensable to a holiday at Balmoral, but he could not escape Royal duties entirely. He was obliged to hold a Privy Council meeting to issue Orders proclaiming martial law in the troubled areas of Palestine. Two ministers, Home Secretary  Sir John Simon and Colonial Secretary  Ormsby-Gore, travelled down from London to attend.

The King’s presence lent nothing more than constitutional authority to the meeting. His “decision” reflected the advice of his ministers and it would have been unthinkable for him to oppose the idea, although he could have discussed the question with the ministers and gently tried to influence them. There is, though, no record of the King ever being interested in Palestine and he had other things on his mind. The Privy Council still deliberates today and its orders are grouped under the leaden term “secondary legislation” to mask th…

Architect of Show Trials Blunders

Saturday 26th September 1936

Hot on the heels of the first batch of show trials of supposed opponents of Stalin's regime, the head of the OGPU, Genrhik Yagoda, who had worked closely with the chief prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky in organizing these entertainments, was removed from his post.  As well as his contribution to protecting the Soviet state, he had masterminded the construction of the White Sea-Baltic Canal, at huge cost in the lives of the slave labourers put to the task. Yagoda had made the mistake of warning Stalin that the trials had not be well received by the populace. He was given the job of Minister of Posts and Telecommunication, but this did not last long and in 1938 he was executed on the usual array of trumped-up charges.
He was replaced by Nikolai Yezhov, a figure of no particular note in the rogues' gallery of Soviet state security, although his name did provide the Russian shorthand term for the epic blood-letting of the great purges that were to come in t…

Front Populaire Yields to Pressure on the Franc

Friday 25th September 1936

Léon Blum’s Front Populaire government in France gave up the ghost of trying to protect the value of the Franc, which had been under pressure from the the time of the left's huge win the elections. In agreement with Britain and the US the Franc was to be devalued. The two anglophone powers agreed to make resources available to dampen any “disturbance of the exchanges” that might result. The scale of the financial crisis can be judged from the fact that the Bourse was closed, supposedly for a few days only.

The Swiss and Dutch governments, whose economies, were closely linked to their neighbour’s followed suit almost immediately. No figure was set for the size of the devaluation; in practice the open market would set the new value of the franc.

Orange Lining to the Clouds of Spain and Palestine

Thursday 24th September 1936

The attempt to apply a military solution of the problems in Palestine showed no sign of letting up. Detachments from two British infantry battalions with air support attacked what was described as a “concentration” of Arabs. Whilst the infantry tackled the outer ring of defences, the RAF addressed the main body, inflicting 41 casualties.

Arab leaders till professed to hope that the various sovereigns of the region would be able to affect some peaceable settlement by drafting a suitably worded appeal to the Palestinian Arabs. On a more practical level, optimists saw an unexpected potential benefit from the civil war in Spain, which had removed practically the country’s entire crop from the world market. The anticipated 60% surge in prices was seen as an incentive for Arab growers to abandon the strike. It was also hinted that any financial distress amongst Arab growers created by an unsold harvest would lead to forced sales of orange grows to Jewish buyers.

Orange Lining to the Clouds of Spain and Palestine

Thursday 24th September 1936

The attempt to apply a military solution of the problems in Palestine showed no sign of letting up. Detachments from two British infantry battalions with air support attacked what was described as a “concentration” of Arabs. Whilst the infantry tackled the outer ring of defences, the RAF addressed the main body, inflicting 41 casualties.

Arab leaders till professed to hope that the various sovereigns of the region would be able to affect some peaceable settlement by drafting a suitably worded appeal to the Palestinian Arabs. On a more practical level, optimists saw an unexpected potential benefit from the civil war in Spain, which had removed practically the country’s entire crop from the world market. The anticipated 60% surge in prices was seen as an incentive for Arab growers to abandon the strike. It was also hinted that any financial distress amongst Arab growers created by an unsold harvest would lead to forced sales of orange grows to Jewish buyers.

King Offends Almost Everyone

Wednesday 23rd September 1936

The King’s younger brother the Duke of York, accompanied by his wife Elizabeth, opened the new wing of the Infirmary at Aberdeen. His elder brother now the King had laid the foundation stone as Prince of Wales and it had originally been anticipated that he would perform the opening ceremony, but the plan had been changed, ostensibly because of Court mourning for George V. In reality the King was occupied driving himself personally to Aberdeen railway station to collect some of his guests at Balmoral Castle. This was noted acidly in Scottish newspapers with a clear hint at the offence that the King was causing. The local Aberdeen paper suggested strongly that the King had hoped not to be recognised at the station.

The offence was all the greater and all the more blatant as the guests collected included Mrs. Simpson. The King had already departed from established practice by inviting the friends of his Fort Belvedere set to Balmoral, rather than the great and…

Tourism Trumps Strategy

Tuesday 22nd September 1936

On his return from an inspection of British naval forces in the Mediterranean, the First Lord of the Admiralty Sir Samuel Hoare gave a briefing to the press. The briefing was striking chiefly for what Hoare did not say rather than its platitudinous content. Almost the only concrete achievement to which he could point was the evacuation of British civilians from Spain by the Royal Navy.

Had Britain thrown itself behind sanctions against Italian over its aggression in Abyssinia, it would have been the Royal Navy that would have borne the brunt. There were serious doubts whether it could have succeeded even if the political will to do so had been present. It might well yet be put to the test, but Hoare emphasised the desire to cultivate friendly relations will all Mediterranean powers and the Navy’s task of protecting Imperial communications. The only hint he gave that its capacity might be expanded was to hint that Cyprus might be reinforced as a base. As well …

More Humiliation for League of Nations

Monday 21st  September 1936

The Italian invasion of Abyssinia was proving to be an inexhaustible well of humiliation for the League of Nations, giving renewed proof of its ineffectuality in the face of aggression. Haile Selassie flew to Geneva from his exile in Britain to relish the spectacle of the League’s Credentials Committee struggling to decide whether Abyssinian delegates could sit and vote in the Assembly. Unsurprisingly it could not reach a definitive decision and the delegates were to sit until one should be reached, which might take weeks or even months.

As far as coherence intruded itself on the formal discussion, the question might rest on whether the Emperor’s government exercised sufficient control over the west of the country to count as a constituted authority. In practice the smaller member states were keen not to set a precedent of the League docilely accepting force majeure when a larger state decided to help itself to a little neighbour. The large western democracie…

Victoria Letters Reveal Royal Family's German Roots and Uneven Judgement

Sunday 20th September 1936

The Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung newspaper published twenty letters from Queen Victoria to her relatives in the Hohenzollern family, then the ruling family of Prussia and later united Germany. Edward VIII had granted permission for them to appear in book form. The letters had been selected to display Victoria’s “human side” and her desire for good relations between Britain and Germany. They were written in German, in a reminder of how close the cultural ties were.

One of the more embarrassing features of the letters was Victoria’s high opinion of the disastrously incompetent Emperor Napoleon III and his hysterical, extreme reactionary wife Eugenie. Victoria thought him more German than French (high praise) and even after France’s humiliating defeat by Germany, for which Napoleon III was chiefly responsible, regretted that only ill-health had prevented him from worthily falling on the field of battle.

Yet Another Left v. Right Battle in the Labour Party

Saturday 19th September 1936

The run-up to the Labour Party conference showed a distinct move to the right. A motion was to be tabled that reversed the decision taken at the previous year’s conference against attendance at ceremonial functions and the acceptance of “so-called honours [conferred] by the decaying capitalist system”. As the Secretary General, Walter Citrine, had accepted a knighthood, this had been a notably pointed move. It was also publicly stated that the Advisory Committee of the League of Youth had been dissolved as a Communist Party front. It was an opening shot in the debate on the application by the Communist Party for affiliation.

Incoherence still reigned, however, on the question of rearmament. In a speech, notably devoid of logic, the far left Sir Stafford Cripps combined an insistence that Fascism had to be resisted with a refusal to countenance support for rearmament by the “imperialist” national government which was “fascist in its ideology”. Ultimately, dom…

Medieval Siege, Modern Propaganda

Friday 18th September 1936

The town of Toledo fell to government forces in Spain after a siege of 63 days, which had begun with the Civil War itself. This extended the government’s hold on central Spain. The insurgent forces holding the town had refused offers from the besieging Republicans to give quarter to women and children. Then as today, the propaganda value of civilian casualties was clearly recognised.

The Alcazar, the originally medieval fortress at the centre of the town, continued to hold out in a memory of the sieges of earlier times. The detonation of two massive mines in tunnels under the fortress failed to subdue the defenders, although they destroyed one tower. As armies were to learn over the next few years, ruins offered better defences than intact buildings.

The King Shows his Interest in Housing Conditions

Thursday 17th September 1936

Visitors to and exhibitors at the Building Exhibition at Olympia, which used the slogan "New Homes for Old" were in for a surprise, when the King, freshly back from his Mediterranean holiday, made an unheralded visit. It was in marked contrast to his antics with Mrs. Simpson on and off the yacht Nahlin which had so scandalised and delighted the readers of the non-British press around the world, who were fully informed on the topic whilst the British press maintained its discreet silence. The lack of advance notice meant that the King was able to move around the exhibition relatively freely to begin with at least and it might even have been intended to prevent him being mobbed by the usual adoring crowds.

The exhibition was a traditional object for Royal interest, but the King did take a genuine interest in the housing conditions of his subjects. Many of his tours to the provinces had  featured visits to poorer, if not downright slum, dwellings. He …

RAF Orders a Future Dud and a Future Workhorse

Wednesday 16th September 1936

The RAF announced large orders for two new types of medium bombers as part of its programme of re-equipment with up-to-date models of aircraft. In striking proof of the unpredictability of advances in military technology, one was destined to become a mainstay of the RAF’s bomber force into the middle of the war, whilst the other proved a severe disappointment.

The Vickers Wellington was designed by Barnes Wallis and used a novel geodetic structure that gave a robust structure without adding excess weight. Its dependability kept it in service well after newer types far surpassed it in performance. The Handley-Page Hampden was christened the “flying suitcase” because of its odd appearance. It proved cramped and uncomfortable with no compensating strengths in performance. It soon disappeared from front-line service.the kindest thing that might be said of it was that it did not earn Sir Frederick Handley-Page the same venomous hatred that its successor, the Hal…

More Industrial Strife in France

Apologies for the late appearance. Long internet outage to blame

Tuesday 15th September 1936

There seemed to be no end to the troubles that Léon  Blum’s Front Populaire government had to deal with in France. The latest wave of industrial disputes was not terrifying as those that had followed the election but it was daunting enough.

This time unrest was focused on the textile industry, then still a massive sector of the economy notably in the north of France. Blum was personally handling the negotiations which put both sides on their best behaviour, or a tactically close approximation to it. Whilst the employers rejected Blum’s insistence on binding government arbitration, they stated they were happy to continue talks once an arbitrator was appointed.

King Edward VIII's Last Return to Britain

Monday 14th September 1936

The King’s stay abroad finally came to an end when he flew back to the country in his personal aircraft from Zurich, piloted by Wing-Commander “Mouse” Fielden, Captain of the King’s Flight. It had stopped at Beauvais in France to refuel on the way. From the aerodrome at Feltham he was driven to Fort Belvedere and then up to London for dinner with his mother, Queen Mary, at Buckingham Palace. He was to continue this impeccably Royal behaviour by leaving for Balmoral at the end of the week to enjoy a far more traditional holiday than gadding about the Mediterranean in a luxury yacht.
Unknown, of course, to the vast majority, Mrs. Simpson returned to the UK by train and boat. She was terrified of flying. By a quirk of fate, the next flight abroad that the King was to contemplate would have gone in the reverse direction: to Zurich from England in the same aircraft and with the same pilot, but under vastly different circumstances.

Encirclement of Republican Basque Country Complete

Sunday 13th September 1936

After the fall of Irun to the rebels, the abandonment of San Sebastian, on the frontier with France, was practically inevitable. Compared to the savage fighting in Irun, there was little bloodshed or destruction. The majority of the defenders fled quietly by boat to Bilbao, which was to become one of the centres of the Republican cause in the Basque country.

The attackers had given the defenders 48 hours to yield. By the standards of the Spanish Civil War, it all passed off quite gently. In the south of Spain Colonel Yaguë, infamous for the slaughter at Badajoz, was keeping up his record with 360 Republican fatalities in an attack near Talavera.

Call for Part-Time Volunteer RAF Aircrew

Saturday 12th September 1936

The Air Minister Lord Swinton made a powerful call for men to come forward to join the RAF Volunteer Reserve that had been created earlier in the year. Britain had a vital role to play in maintaining peace and protecting the Empire and its air force was a key tool in this task.
Recruitment of pilots for the regular RAF had been stepped up to almost 1,000 per year, but more would be need. The RAFVR aimed to train men at men at weekends rather than demanding long absences from their work. The comparatively simple aircraft of the day could be operated with far less training than a modern machine. In some ways the RAFVR was the manpower counterpart of the shadow factory scheme for aircraft production: an exercise in long-term preparation that might not have been immediately eye-catching, bu which proved its worth when the time came. When war broke out the RAFVR numbered 10,000 aircrew, two-thirds of them pilots.

More Style than Substance at Nuremberg Rally

Friday 11th September 1936

Hitler’s speech at the Nazi party rally in Nuremberg was comparatively mundane. It focused on the “progress” that he had achieved. The menace of Jewish-Bolshevism was only once alluded to by name, although it was clearly the target of the Führer’s wrath. The event was more spectacular for the huge turnout of 180,000 party members – by then membership of the NSDAP was a sine qua non of advancement in almost any sphere of life – and the dramatic light show staged after nightfall, using 250 search-light beams to create a "cathedral of light".

Josef Goebbels, the propaganda minister, was rather more forthright in his exposition of the diplomatic situation. Germany was leading the fight against Bolshevism, which had to be exterminated. In the words of one listener familiar with the long-forgotten diplomatic norms of pre-1914, his words would have meant war within 24 hours in those days.

Huge Majority of British Trades Unionists Back Non-Intervention in Spain

Wednesday 10th September 1936

A conference of the TUC in Plymouth rejected a motion opposing the endorsement of non-intervention in Spain by by 3m votes to 51,000. The British government was put on its merits to ensure that Portugal kept its borders closed to the supply of arms to the insurgents, but otherwise there was a distinct sense that the topic was one that the TUC hoped would go away.
The TUC General Secretary claimed that pragmatism dictated the approach, in that putative support for intervention in favour of the Republicans would not guarantee that it would be provided, but would risk war. In reality with Leon Blums's Front Populaire in France fighting Communist demands for intervention, the TUC preferred to support Blum; little-by-little support for the Republicans was becoming a Communist shibboleth in the democracies, wrecking whatever hope theree might have been of a broad front against the insurgents.

Prolonged Prime Ministerial Holiday Sets Rumour Mill Grinding

Wednesday 9th September 1936

The fact that Stanley Baldwin had been advised by the country's most eminent  to take three months leave to prevent a nervous breakdown was a closely guarded secret, but the news that he would remain out of action until October was more than enough to excite comment. He had left on holiday in early August. Baldwin was obliged to deny emphatically that he intended to resign as party leader.
The statement issued did admit that Baldwin would not attend Cabinets, but claimed that he would be in touch with his colleagues on the most important issues. This was something of an exaggeration. Whilst he moved from the depths of the Welsh Marches, where he had had no heavyweight official visitors, to closer to London, he was visited by only a handful of senior advisers but no ministers.

Back from the Brink in South Wales Pit Dispute

Tuesday 8th September 1936

The threat of what might have become a bitter and widespread strike in the South Wales coalmines receded dramatically in circumstances as obscure as those that had triggered it. The main target of the miners' wrath, maverick mine-owner Sir Samuel Instone, agreed to meet the miners for talks under a "neutral chairman". The union withdrew strike notices that would have brought the whole region to a standstill. This marked the start of nearly forty years of industrial peace in a sector that had seen almost continuous disputes for a generation.
Talks between Instone's Bedwas Colliery Company  and the miners' Federation were announced under the chairmanship of a little known figure who acted as Deputy Umpire in Unemployment Insurance Act cases. The union seemed to secured some kind of agreement to abolish compulsory wage deductions to pay subscriptions to the employers' tame union. At root Instone's competitors had little appetite fo…

Military Solution in Palestine

Sunday 7th September 1936

The Colonial Office announced that, in effect, the troubles in Palestine were to be treated as a purely military issue. The statement observed that even a Royal Commission had not been sufficient. Acknowledging the attempts by the Emir of Jordan and the King of Saudi Arabia to bring peace, the Colonial Office practically admitted that the disorders were so persistent that conciliation was no longer a realistic option.
Another Army division was being sent to the area and Lt.-Gen. John Dill was appointed as overall commander. The British government directed a nod at the legal basis for its presence in Palestine and insisted that it had to fulfill the terms of the League of Nations Mandate under which it ruled. The Mandate gave it responsibility for the welfare of the whole population, which it intended to discharge towards both sections of the population impartially. In practice ths meant that it would defend the Jews against the Arabs.

French Communists Round on Front Populaire

Sunday 6th September 1936

The French Communist Party, having helped the Front Populaire to power, had set out to push its own agenda. Perhaps intentionally, it had set in train the process that was to weaken the Front Populaire fatally. Thorez, the Communist leader, had sprung an entirely unheralded public call for Front Francais national union. This was clearly code for a quasi-dictatorship under its own effective domination. In part, it was a reaction to the dialogue recently established between the government and the German Reichsbank as a part of the financial diplomacy required by France's economic woes. In part, it was a protest against French neutrality in the Spanish Civil War
The Socialist Party issued a counter-blast in the form of an outright rejection of the idea of the Front Francais together with an unambiguous warning against collaboration with anti-democratic forces. This was clearly aimed at the Communists. At a more practical level, Leon Blum was weighing the ris…

Fall of Irun Isolates Republican Spain

Saturday 5th September 1936

The insurgents won a key battle against the Republicans in the north west of Spain when they captured the town of Irun, sitting on the frontier with France. This left the Spanish Basque country as isolated  enclave, cut off from the rest of Republican Spain and from from any possible help from the North: not that the French government was inclined to give any. Perhaps more important, it denied access to refuge in France to the Basque Republicans, whom Franco defeated the following year. About 8,000 Republicans from Irun were able to flee into France, of whom a quarter at least went back to Spain to continue the fight in Catalonia.

Irun was devastated. It had been shelled by insurgent warships as well as being bombed. The Republicans murdered four of the hostage they had been holding, but the rest escaped.

Hitler Receives an Opportunistic Endorsement

Friday 4th September 1936

The former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George visited Adolf Hitler at his home in Berchtesgaden after lunching with Germany's ambassador designate to London, Joachim von Ribbentrop. Lloyd George had long admired Hitler, who appeared to him to be conducting a bold and visionary policy of economic and national reconstruction in a way that Britain's more cautious statesmen were definitely not doing. He shrugged of Nazi suppression of trades unions and the persecution of the Jews, pointing lamely at pogroms elsewhere in Europe.
Lloyd George had long been out of office and had no realistic prospect of coming back into government, failing some major upset, so the visit served no diplomatic purpose. In the darkest days of the Second World War he thought his moment might have come. "I shall wait until Winston is bust" he told a confidant. Had Britain been invaded, he might well have played the same role as Petain in France, heading a collabor…

King's Holiday Draws to a Close on a Serious Note

Wednesday 3rd September 1936

The King’s holiday cruise aboard the Nahlin took a decidedly serious turn as it neared its end, combining diplomacy honouring the Commonwealth dead of the First World War. The King’s first engagement on entering Turkish waters was to pay his respects at the numerous monuments and war cemeteries on and around the Gallipoli Peninsula, site of one of the wars’ bloodiest and most futile campaigns. The King’s empathy with British servicemen was entirely genuine and this was one of the few ceremonial duties that he undertook willingly.

The King’s visit to the Turkish ruler, Kemal Ataturk, was heavy with political significance. It was the first visit to Turkey by a British sovereign ever and marked a large degree of reconciliation between the two countries since the countries had come close to war again in 1922. With little hope of friendship with Italy and Spain in chaos, Turkey was an ever-more important player in the balance of power in the Mediterranean. The …

Uneven Struggle between Britain and Norway over Antarctic Whaling

Tuesday 2nd September 1936

As if coping with the Soviet government’s complaints about Trotsky were not enough, Norway had to cope with a dispute with Britain over whaling in the Antarctic. Whaling was a major source of edible fats in those days and important economic issues were at stake. The as the only region left where whales were relatively abundant, having been hunted to near extinction elsewhere. Britain and Norway were the main participants in the trade, but their positions were uneven: Britain controlled the whaling bases, whilst Norway had th ships and the men.

The Antarctic dispute had reached something of a deadlock when the British whaling companies threatened to boycott Norwegian personnel for their operations. Norwegian whalers had a near monopoly of the skills required for the work and the British threat to train British seamen for the job had the ring of desperation.

Both Sides Bomb Civilians in Spain

Monday 1st September 1936

The Spanish Civil War saw the first widespread bombing of civilian targets. The relatively small size of the air forces initially deployed by both sides meant that cities did not suffer the devastation that they were soon to experience elsewhere in Europe. Each attack caused only a handful of casualties but in these early, innocent days they were reported extensively. An exact figure was even given for the number of bombs dropped.

The rebels bombed Madrid and Irun, which was under intense ground attack as well. The defenders of Irun were supposed to have devised a novel form of anti-aircraft defence by threatening to execute hostages including the local archbishop if bombing continued. Government aircraft bombed Seville, Cordoba, Granada and Cadiz.