I have just spent the last couple of days at the National Archives doing research for my MPhil. It is always an interesting and rewarding activity going to the archives and getting a chance to get to grips with the basis of our work. In the age of kinaesthetic learners it is becoming increasingly difficult to explain to ‘A’ Level History student that ‘doing’ history involves coming faces to face with the documents of the time and that this is how we ‘do’ it. It is these document that we analyse and then from these we develop a thesis that we are trying to support through the use of these sources. I would, therefore, recommend to anyone who is interested in history to get face to face with sources at any of the national archives around the world. The National Archives here in the UK are easily accessed and very efficient too.
I came across some interesting documents, which will really help my research. One is very interesting ones relate to question of authorisation. One of the key arguments surrounding Operation JUBILEE has been the question of authorisation. The iconoclastic work on the planning of the raid, Unauthorized Action, by Brian Loring Villa has argued that Mountbatten acted without authorisation and he comes to this conclusion by arguing that when Churchill was writing his memoirs he had to request information about the raid and how it came to be authorised as he was on his way to and in Africa when it was re – launched. He argues that Ismay had to dig for documentation relating to its authorisation. However, in the CAS papers at the TNA there is a notation relating to the inclusion in a COS minute about the decision to relaunch RUTTER, the original raid on Dieppe, as JUBILEE. Whether or not this notation was added to the COS minutes I am not sure, more research there I think, however, the fact that is is there, and is noted in the minutes of the file, would suggest that it has been seen. Therefore, Portal was probably well aware of the decision of the raid. I would, therefore, argue that the other members of the COS Committee were also aware of this. The notation is dated 17 July 1942 a full month before the operation. Villa does discuss this notation as the same piece can be found in a DEFE file. However, for Villa this is not important and he argues that the fact it does not appear to have been added to the COS minutes means that it was not approved. This does not mean that it was not seen by the COS, it will be interesting to see if the same notation appears in the WO and ADM files for Pound and Alanbrooke. If it was seen and they did not wish it to be approved they could have stopped this operation. It must be remembered that Dieppe was not a small operation. In terms of air power it involved nearly 70 squadrons under the command of an Air Vice Marshal commanding the pre – eminent group of RAF Fighter Command. It is, despite the understandable security issues surrounding the raid re – launch, highly unlikely that CAS was unaware of it. It will be interesting to see if Robert Henshaw work on Dieppe notes this file. I shall be looking this up when I get back to sunny Cornwall.
Operational Research came to the fore of the study of air power with Ian Gooderson’s work Air Power at the Battlefront which looked at the reports of No. 2 ORS. This opened up a hitherto much ignored source for historians. In terms of the JUBILEE I have come across several files from the Operational Research Section of both Fighter Command and Bomber Command. These are very interesting and will hopefully start to show what effect the raid had upon doctrine and if any lessons were learnt at a operational and tactical level.
One of the modernisers for historians in the past few years has been the digitisation of research. One of the main factors that has helped in this process is the production of effective digital camera’s with good macro facilities, which have helped in the photography of documents that previously would have either taken a long time to transcribed or would have cost a fortune to photocopy and to be honest the TNA is not the cheapest place for this. Another development that has helped is the come down in price of good performance laptop computer. For about £400 – £500 in the UK we can now pick a good laptop that has a decent processor and RAM and useful storage space for all the digital images that we can now take. Another advantage of this digitisation has been that we can now get through more documents in a short time, which especially important for part – time students who can not get to the archives as often as we would like. For example, yesterday I was able to get through at least 20 files of material. It also means that in getting through this amount of information is not lost as I can go back to it later. This did get some odd look from some other people as they probably assumed I was not looking through the documents. The truth is I was skimming through them and literally just photographing what I thought was useful to have look through to analyse and read through them later. So here is to more analysis and visits to the archives with my digital camera. This will start on Friday when I am at the RAF Museum. For more on the effects of digitilisation I would recommend this article by Howard Fuller, now at the University of Wolverhampton, in the Journal for Maritime Research.