Week 5 reflection

February 9, 2009

A bit of a difficult week, with snow stopping play for the first couple of days, everyone getting tired and busy as we head towards the mid term break, and economics and engineering to discuss. In the lecture I tried to do three things – make clear how expensive Bomber Command was, particularly in relation to the relatively small number of men in combat at any one time; explore some of the key points for discussion about the British aircraft industry; and put that cost and industrial effort into the context of Britain’s war economy as a whole. Even writing that down makes it clear it was far too much. Normally in the future I will have expected students to take a course on Britain in the Second World War as a prerequisite for The Whirlwind – I think it’s vital that students should be introduced to the idea of how the war economy resulted in a more total civilian effort, but it would probably be better if I didn’t try to fit this all into 50 minutes. The seminars seemed a bit flat to me – through no fault of the responsible groups. Perhaps the contrasting views put forward in the reading (Barnett’s chapter on the air industry, Edgerton’s review, Ritchie’s closer analysis) are just too different to result in discussion – although the second seminar group did a good job of highlighting the differences in approach and use of evidence between these authors. Or maybe Ritchie, in particular, just destroys Barnett’s interpretation too successfully. Perhaps it would be better to explore the historiography in the lecture, and then to make the seminar an exploration of the implications for British economy and society of fighting a bomber war? Just setting students to analyse this clip, for instance, might have been a better place to start:

There’s plenty of good material to spark discussion here, particularly emphasising the representation of aircraft factory workers, but again it might need students to have been introduced previously to the economic consequences of the war. The footage of the Stirling’s incredibly complicated undercarriage (the aircraft was described by one crew member as looking like a cross between a flying boat and a load of scaffolding) would be a good way to link into next week’s seminar on technology.

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Book reviews

February 5, 2009

We spent some time in the seminar yesterday talking about book reviews, and I said that I’d use a post here to add more and clear up some technical points.

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‘Bomber’ Harris

January 6, 2009

In a famous and much quoted speech at the start of 1943, Air Chief Marshal Harris, AOC Bomber Command, makes a public statement about his hopes for British bombing. Who is he talking to? How do his words relate to the Command’s capabilities?