Anniversaries

There were a couple of anniversaries yesterday, that are worth noting.

First, on 18 September 1947, the United States Air Force came into existence. Born out of the Army Air Forces, it had long been recognized that it should be a separate service. Even General of the Army/General of the Air Force (the only man to hold five-star rank in two services, and the only man to hold five-star rank in the Air Force) Henry H. (Hap) Arnold understood that separating in the preparation for and during World War Two was inadvisable. But with that war behind us, it was time to look to the future

And so following the Royal Air Force which became a separate service in 1918, it became so in America as well. The Navy looking at the British model strongly opposed the idea, noting that the RAF had taken over the fleet air arm. At a conference in Key West, it was agreed that the navy would keep its own air arm, as did the marines. And so now America has the two strongest air forces in the world.

As noted here right now the  Air Force faces challenges:

In strategic terms, the Air Force faces major challenges. As Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson put it this week, “What we know now from analysis” is that “the Air Force is too small for what the nation expects of us.” Wilson noted that the new National Defense Strategy says the military must “defend the homeland, provide a credible nuclear deterrent, win against a major power while encountering a rogue nation, all while managing violent extremists. Each of those missions relies heavily on America’s Air Force.”

Based on past performance, I’d guess they’ll come through for us, as they always have, but we really need to do better.

And so now, again looking to the future we have another new service aborning, mostly out of the Air Force, the Space Force. It’s probably a good idea, but it’s going to have to rely heavily on its older brother for a time, to get it all sorted out.

And so we owe thanks to the brave men and women whose bravery has kept us safe since 1947. Happy Birthday, Air Force, Keep ’em Flying and press on.

 


A few years before the establishment of the air force, there was a battle that was pretty important for    American history but perhaps even more important in English history. 881 years before the USAF King Harold Hardrada of Norway met King Harold Godwineson of England at Stamford Bridge. It’s quite a story, and my friend The Clerk of Oxford tells it better than I can.

Harold Hardrada’s army landing in England, in a 13th-century English manuscript
(CUL MS Ee.3.59, f.31)

On or around 18 September in the autumn of 1066, the king of Norway, Harald Hardrada, arrived on the coast of Yorkshire with a large army. In his company was Tostig, the brother of Harold Godwineson, king of England, who had joined forces with the Norwegians against his brother. Harold Godwineson himself was occupied elsewhere, on the south coast, having spent the summer awaiting a Norman invasion which had not – yet – come. Soon after their arrival the Norwegian forces won a battle at Fulford, near York, but were defeated a few days later by the English king at Stamford Bridge. In this battle, Harald Hardrada was killed. Accounts of the Norwegian invasion of 1066 in medieval English sources tend to be fairly brief, since it came to be overshadowed by the Battle of Hastings a few weeks later; but in Scandinavian history Harald Hardrada was a major figure, and so many Old Norse sources tell detailed and powerful narratives about the last days of his life. Written centuries after the events they describe, they are not really intended to be reliable sources for what actually happened in 1066; instead, they show us how later Norse writers thought about this period of history, which was (among other things) a turning-point in England’s relationship with the Scandinavian world.

One such is a text called Hemings þáttr, a narrative written in Iceland in the thirteenth century, which deals at length with the attempted Norwegian invasion of England, the Norman Conquest, and its aftermath. Following other Norse sources, it tells how Harald’s last days were marked by a cluster of omens which seemed to show the king that his death was approaching; Harald is shown embarking on the invasion with a sense of foreboding, increasingly confident that this will be his last expedition, the end of a magnificent career. He has been talked into it by Tostig, egged on to ambition by a bitter and vengeful man – Tostig is jealous of his brother, wants power for himself, and is trying to use the Norwegian king to get it. Harald knows Tostig is using him, knows he can’t be trusted, and yet agrees to support him. Almost before he has done so, the bad omens start: Harald’s men have threatening dreams, sailors report mysterious fires at sea and blood pouring out of the sky, a ghost rises up from a graveyard to prophesy that the king will fall. Worst of all, before setting sail, Harald has a vision of St Olaf, his martyred half-brother, who angrily chastises him for what he is about to do. Harald is shaken and Tostig, a wily ‘man of many words’, has to talk him round, telling him it’s just some ‘English witchcraft’ trying to frighten him. But the signs could not be clearer that this invasion will not end well.

By the time they reach the English coast, the relationship between the king and his English egger-on is strained. One thing that’s interesting about this part of the story is how precise the geographical references are, compared to the English sources; the Old Norse sources are much more specific about locating Harold and Tostig in particular places as they travel along the coast of Yorkshire, and Cleveland, Scarborough, and Ravenser are all mentioned by name. (Sometimes medieval Icelandic writers knew more about northern England than historians in the south of England did.)

Keep reading at the link. It’s quite the story, and well told. This battle, often overlooked, has in my mind at least ramifications that echo down to the present, stopping the revival of Cnut’s Scandinavian empire and weakening King Harold just enough for Duke William to beat him, sucking England into continental Europe for the next 500 years.

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