MilitaryHistoryOnline.com Home   Genealogy   Forums   Search   Contact
Search
Amazon:
Keywords:
MHO Home
MHO Home
 Ancient
 Medieval
 17th Century
 18th Century
 19th Century
 American Civil War
 World War I
 World War II
 Korea
 Vietnam
 20th - 21st Century


 Write for MHO
 Search MHO
 Civil War Genealogy Database
 Privacy Policy
 MilitaryGaming.com

Member Articles
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt3
Into the Special Forces: Rudi Horvath
American Airborne Units in WWII
Czechoslovak Exile Units of WWII
The Battle of Pinkie Cleugh
The Fulda Gap
Published works on WWII OOB for land forces
Flying Tiger, Hidden Eagle
SAARF – Special Allied Airborne Recon Force
Force at la Difensa
The Third Battle of Megiddo
The Third Battle of Anchialus
Sabotaging Hitler’s Heavy Water
Return of Rogers' Rangers
Soviet Offensive in the Arctic
The Siege of Mazagan, 1562
T.E. Lawrence and Asymmetric Warfare
The Borinqueneers: 65th Inf Regt
Americans in the Boer War
Logistics and Western Way of War
The Failure of Strategic Bombing
Dutch Harbor: Unraveling of Japan’s Pacific Strategy
The Third Day at Gettysburg
From Small Causes, Great Events Pt2
Ed Ramsey, 26th Cav Reg (Philippine Scouts)
Response to Everett L. Wheeler’s review
Marching to Timbuktu
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45: An Operational Overview
Strategic Culture of the IJN
Battles of Luneville: September 1944
Adolphus, Genius of Sweden
Visual Guide to US Fleet Subs Pt 1
British Infantry Tactics in WWI
Lodge Act Soldier
The Sharif and the Sultan of Fishermen
The Fate of the Kido Butai
From Small Causes, Great Events
Charge of the Polish Light Horse at Somosierra
Second Samnite War Phase 2
Air Recon in WWII
The Roman Disaster at Adrianople
Cyberwar in the 21st Century
Ninety Five Theses and the Revolution
Bullets Quickly Write New Tactics
Second Lebanon War
WWII Veteran Interview - Walter Holy
The influence of Neurotechnology on Just War
Turning East: Hitler's only option
Fury, Fumaroles and Brimstone
Resupply Operations to Malta, 1942
Son of an Artilleryman Follows Father’s Footsteps
Colonel Patrick O'Rorke
Plague of the Spanish Lady
Cairo’s Fortress on the Mountain
WWII Veteran Interview
Why Arnhem?
Hell Ship - From the Philippines to Japan
The Battleship USS Oregon
SMS Dresden's War
Air Recon in WWI
US Army in Czechoslovakia '45 to '48
Jewish Resistance in WWII
Betrayed by a Mason?
Angel of Mons
Who Killed the Red Baron?
Armenian Warriors, Japanese Samurai
Benedict Arnold in Canada
D-Day Gate Crasher
Vets Tell All -- He Listens
308th Infantry during Argonne
Battle for the Seaports
British Officers and Gentlemen
Banzai Attack on Attu
End of the Battle of the Java Sea
Texas National Guard in WWII
How Arnhem was Lost
The War between Norway and Sweden 1808
Armenians in Strategikon
Suez Canal Guerrillas
Birth of a PMC
Sir Thomas Stukeley
Cuban Missile Crisis
Saga of Ormoc Bay
Memorials Past and Future
Second Samnite War
Korea: Study In Unpreparedness
Intelligence in the Philippine Insurrection
Stanley at Shiloh: A Improbable 'Indiana Jones'
The Green Beret Affair: A Factual Review
Silent Service of the Pacific
USS Wahoo
Gulf War Press Mobilization
Special Order 191: Ruse of War?
Mexican Revolution and US Intervention 1910-1917
Polish Cavalry: A Military Myth Dispelled
Confucian Martial Culture
Operation Market Garden
War in So. Italy 342-327 BC
Avoiding World War III
Legacy of WWII Sub Veterans
Chosin Reservoir
Lausdell Crossroads
Asian Art of War
Kasserine Pass
Gonzales: Crucible of Texas Revolution
Sheridan's Southern Plains Campaign
Milvern Harrell: Dawson Massacre
Arnhem Startline
Roman Army Field Manual
15th Illinois Infantry
Bushido: Valor of Deceit
British Lion Polish Eagle
British Offensive Operations
Decisions of Disaster: Jutland 1916
Endgame in Flanders, 1918
Constantinople - Citadel at the Gate
Bacon's Rebellion
First Samnite War
Phoenix Reven
USS Charger
English Way of War
Roman Expedition into Dacia
Sir Winston Churchill
Chinese Support for Vietnam
Fannin's Regiment
Battle of Poyang Lake
German Commerce Raiders
Indecisiveness of Battles
8th New Hampshire Infantry
American Stubbornness at Rimling
Mexican American War
The OSS in Greece
China Marines
Pompey and Ancient Piracy
The Northwest Army
MacArthur and the Cavalry
Naval Infantry in US Military History
Strategy of Blitzkrieg
Giuseppe Garibaldi
Breaking Seelow Heights
Soviet Experience in Afhanistan
Apocalypse Then
American Revolution
Western Way of War
American Way of War
The Battle Tannenberg
The Rape of Nanking
The Kitona Operation
Solferino: Slaughter and Rebirth
Siege of Osaka
Confederate Railroad
Shenandoah Campaign
Fredericksburg Campaign
Commanders and Censors
Tet Offensive
Battle of Lundy's Lane
Battle of Paris
Flip Side of Containment
Small Battle: Big Implications
Unconventional Warfare
Harris Class APA
Aerial Defense of East Indies
Sun Tzu and Overland Campaign
ACW Military Theory
Why the Bulge Didn't Break
MacArthur: 1931-1935
American Forces in WWII
Shadow Warriors
Bear River Massacre
Reflections on Iran
The Success of Napoleon
Battle of Surigao Strait
Cuba's Operation Carlotta
Panzer Brigades
Adolf Eichmann
Battle of Great Bridge
Seapower in the Yuan Dynasty
Frederick: Battle of Leuthen
Nutmeggers on Antietam Creek
Nathan Bedford Forrest
G. Washington and J. Monroe
Mao and Giap On Guerrilla Warfare
Interview of a WWII Veteran
Stephen Douglas and Popular Sovereignty
The "Green Beret Affair"
The Start: Ft. Necessity
Napoleon's Campaign of 1809
Clark Field, Philippines
Winter Warfare
The Great Retreat
The Raid on Thurso, 1649
The City Point Explosion
Capture of USS President
Operation Rusty: The Gehlen-U.S. Army Connection
The Hundred Years War: An Analysis
Why France Lost the Seven Years' War
A Cold War Retrospective
Dalton to Atlanta-Sherman vs. Johnston
The Fenian Raids
Military History of War of 1812
Blowback
Hitler, Germany's Worst General
A Path Across the Rhine: Remagen
Failures during the Spanish Civil War
Surface Actions of World War II
Austerlitz: Napoleon Makes His Own Luck
MacArthur's Failures in the Philippines
The Battle of Cowpens
The Failures at Spion Kop
Combatants in Black Hawk War
Japan's Monster Sub
Britain's Participation Justified?
Popski's Private Army
The Maple Leaf Adventure
An Odd Way to View WWII
America's Paradoxical Trinity
The Soviet Formula for Success
Basic Counter-Insurgency
The Onin War
The Battle of Pea Ridge
Tunisian Army in Crimean War
Japan's TA-Operation
The Cambodian Incursion
Hitler Youth: An Effective Organization
Dien Bien Phu: A Battle Assessment
After Midway: The Fates of the Warships
Lafayette Escadrille Pilots
Governor Kieft's Personal War
Barbarossa: Strategic Miscalculation
History of 138th PA
Giuseppe Garibaldi
The Story of a "Go Devil"
Long Range Desert Group
Island of Death
The Caterpillar Club
Foundation of Modern Army Regiments
One of Ten Thousand
The Design Was Not Passed On
Subverting the Sultan
John Paul Jones and Asymetric Warfare
The Liberation of Czechoslovakia 1945
Dien Bien Phu 50 Years Later
The Battle of Mogadishu
"A Time of Testing": Battle for Hue
StuIG at Stalingrad
Only the Admirals were Happy
Bicycle Blitzkrieg - Singapore
What if?
The Effect of Industrialization
Tanks in the Garden of Eden
Early Texas Military History
Office of Strategic Services
Barbarossa
The Mitrailleuse
The Grande Armee of 1812 in Russia
Role of Artillery in Korea
Thermopylae, Balaklava and Kokoda
Battle of Mantinea
Pearl Harbor
American Revolution in the Caribbean
The French Campaign of 1859
The Battle of Midway
The Battle of Franklin
Waffen SS - Birth of the Elite
Want of a Nail: Confederate Ironclads
Changing Generalship and Tactics
Nomonhan and Okinawa
Der Bund Deutscher Mädel
Boudicca: What Do We Really Know?
Rulers of the World: The Hitler Youth
The Master's Misstep
The Order of St. Lazarus
Breakout From the Hedgerows
St. Etienne: US 36th Division in WWI
Yalta
Memories of D-Day
Life and Death of the 10th NJ Infantry
The Raid on Dieppe

More Archived Articles...

Brian Grafton Articles
An Odd Way to View WWII
Bomber Command

Ads by Google



An Odd Way to View World War II
An Odd Way to View World War II 
by Brian Grafton

I am a (now inactive) collector of Penguin Books. Given the vast number of Penguins that have been published under the various marks (Penguin, Pelican, Peregrine, Puffin, Ptarmigan, Peacock and the like), my collection – at some 3,000 volumes – is small: I have met collectors with 8,000+ volumes to their name. Rather oddly, to my mind, and to the best of my knowledge, Penguin Books itself does not know how many volumes it has published.

As in much of the British Commonwealth, at least in the years between 1960 and 1975, Penguin Books played a large part in my education in Canada: they supplied much of the secondary reading for many of my university studies. Volumes dealing with history, archaeology, literature, culture, science, architecture, art, music scores and the like were all found in Penguin or Pelican Books. When my university years were over, I discarded most of my textbooks. But the Penguins remained; they weren't textbooks, but cultural references reflecting my own history. And they were, for the most part, damned good reads.

About 15 years ago, when I was looking for books about World War II that were written and published during the war, I stumbled across a strange variant Penguin publication on the Royal Navy – Owen Rutter's British Navy's Air Arm – a 1944 Penguin Special (S222) published jointly in the US by Penguin and the Infantry Journal. The book had as a sub-title "The Official Story of the British Navy's Air Operations", and the copyright, duly noted on the verso of the title page, was listed as held by "the Controller of His Britannic Majesty's Stationery Office". Below that was the simple statement: "Printed in the United States of America". There were enough seeming contradictions here to catch my eye.

Of course, I bought the volume. And began looking for more "Specials". And found I had been swallowed by a publishing house.

Penguin Books in the Thirties in Great Britain

In July, 1935, a new publishing house announced its presence in England by offering ten titles to the reading public. None of the titles was very exciting, and none was a new publication: all were older works in biography, mystery, fiction and humour. Yet for four reasons they stood out: first, they were bound in stiffish paper covers; second, the print quality was quite good, and the presentation quite appealing; and third, their price was a mere sixpence (6d) each. Many publishers had met at least some of these criteria before; Gollanz had even met all three, though I believe only through his company's book club and with selected titles. These new books, however, added a fourth element: they were available where normal working class and lower-middle class folks shopped – in shops such as Woolworth's. In fact, without Woolworth's, this new publishing venture would not have gotten off the ground.

The covers of most of the ten volumes were a rather bright orange, though there were rich green and rather intense blue covers as well. What they had in common was a stylized drawing of a rather dumpy bird, and, on the cover (and the dust jacket: these paperbacked books had dust jackets!) the simple words: "Penguin Books". To nearly everyone's surprise, the "first ten", as they became known – each printed in initial runs of 10,000 – proved immensely popular. Within a month, many of the original ten volumes were being reprinted. A new, and different, publishing house had born. Less obviously, but more importantly, a revolution in public access to knowledge began to take shape.

Two years later, Penguin applied the same formula to non-fiction. Under the "Pelican" name, Penguin offered its readers respected studies in science, sociology, art history, and such fields – this time in covers of distinctive blue, and still at the surprising 6d price. In effect, Penguin Books was making both literature and non-fiction available to the working and lower middle classes of Britain – groups who had never been considered by most publishing houses as book buyers.

A caveat might be necessary here, for I do not wish to suggest that Alan Lane and his brothers founded Penguin Books with the intention of educating the masses, or from any political motivation. I honestly believe they were simply looking for a market, and realized that the publishing process of the time was one which, for the most part, made book ownership a luxury many Englishmen could not afford. They knew that men and women were readers; there were dozens of reading clubs, lending libraries of various types, and a growing number of institutions offering various forms of "improvement" in various fields. At a guess, I would expect that literacy in Britain was at the time higher on a per capita basis than in the major Commonwealth nations or the U.S. I've never doubted that the Lane brothers – at least in 1935 – were simply canny book publishers; I'm comfortable with the idea that Penguin was searching for nothing but that economic point which might turn a nation of readers into a nation of book buyers. At 6d, they found it.

When Penguin introduced those first ten volumes in 1935, it was introducing them to a nation under a many great strains. Economically, Great Britain was in great difficulty: through the years between the wars unemployment was consistently over one million souls, rising at times to over four million during the 30s. "The Dole" and "The Means Test" became ‘markers' for entire areas of the country – largely, it must be admitted, class markers – particularly in England's north. Politically, the government remained, through most of the period, listless at best: Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and his appetite for sleep were a hallmark for the lack of government initiatives through much of the period. Chamberlain, though not prone to doze off in Cabinet as Baldwin was purported to do, would prove only slightly more effective than Baldwin when he became Prime Minister in 1937. Socially, the class structure, which had supposedly been swept away in the trenches of the Great War, had risen like a Phoenix in a miraculous and healthy rebirth. Intellectually, there was tension between ideological left and right which found expression through literature, drama, philosophy, economics, university ‘movements' (I'm thinking about the ‘Peace Pledge' movement, for example), and – as the decade continued – through increasingly activist groups such as Moseley's British Union of Fascists or those British, American, and other citizens who had joined the International Brigades to fight against the Falangists in Spain.

I offer this as a background to Penguin Books for two reasons. First, because – whatever Alan Lane and his brothers may have dreamed of when they started Penguin Books – the success of their house, and the impact it had on ordinary men and women from the very beginning, was much greater than they could have imagined when the "first ten" were offered for sale. Second, because by the end of Britain's years of austerity – some sixteen years after Penguin's first ten volumes appeared – Penguin Books would be recognized as one of the great publishing houses in the English-speaking world. Penguin Books represented, in fact, a revolution in the provision of information wherever English was spoken.

I believe that the war had a great deal to do with Penguin's success. More, I believe Penguin's activities had some impact on the war itself, both in Great Britain, in the US, and to some extent in Occupied Europe, the Middle East, India and the members of the Commonwealth at large. What I offer from this point on is, admittedly, a bit of dabbling. I have not studied or researched the phenomenon of "Penguin Books at War", but am intrigued by the possibilities of the role they played.

The Years Before the War: Penguin Specials

For some reason, in late 1937 Penguin Books signaled a change in direction. Whereas to this point Penguin had been largely a simple publisher, it suddenly became a voice calling for readiness at home, for resolution abroad, for aggressive rejection of the political creeds of Germany, Italy, and Spain. I don't know what may have led to this increasingly energetic stance. It may have been the political implications of the still-raging Spanish Civil War, or the increasing aggression from Germany and Italy. It may have arisen from the growth of Moseley's British Union of Fascists, or from the development of the International Brigades; it may have been embarrassment over political decisions at home. In truth, it may have been a simple evaluation of opportunities in the book market! Whatever its reasons, without being strident Penguin – in addition to maintaining its central purpose of offering decent literature and sound non-fiction to its readers – introduced a new series: "Penguin Specials".

I view the "Specials" as political volumes, for reasons which will become apparent. But I must point out that not all "Specials" are political. There are volumes on ballet, opera, literary taste, and design; there are volumes on biology and on coral reefs. Essentially, I believe that the "Specials" were, in their inception, experimental. They broke the niche Penguin had created for itself in 1935, of a house offering reprints of decent books which had been received well in more expensive formats. By venturing into the world of offering true first editions – books commissioned by the publisher to meet a perceived market – Penguin was taking a large step to a different level of publishing. As it happened, this step was taken at a time of growing political controversy. My impression is that, seeing the interest in political issues of the day which the early "Specials" generated, Alan Lane and his brothers decided to go where the readers wanted.

The first Special appeared in late 1937. At first glance, it seemed to be a typical Penguin volume: a reprint of a 1933 publication titled Germany Puts the Clock Back. There were, however, certain indications that this Penguin was different. First: Edgar Mowrer, the author, was both an American and a journalist, with experience in European capitals where Fascism had been gaining strength. He was neither a novelist, nor an academic, nor a theorist, nor an apologist. He was a news professional who had drawn conclusions about the advent of Fascism based on his own experience. Second: Mowrer was induced to add a chapter updating his argument to include 1937 events. Third: the book became "hot" property. Penguin's first imprint appeared in December 1937. It was reprinted in the same month, and then again in February 1938, and again in March 1938. With revisions, it was reprinted again in April 1938, and – with even more changes – in August. Another reprint followed in November 1938, perhaps because of the events in Munich, followed by a reprint with further revisions in February 1939 after the implications of Munich were becoming clear. For whatever reasons, and by whatever standards, seven reprints in the space of 15 months – even with Penguin's notoriously small print runs – suggest that Penguin had a best-seller on its hands.

Clearly, Penguin's first "Special" – like all Penguin publications of the time, it had a sequential number on the spine, in this case, "S1" – was a runaway hit. But that was just the beginning. G.T. Garratt's Mussolini's Roman Empire ("S2"), first published in February 1938, was reprinted three times – twice with new material or revisions – by August of the same year. Tabouis' Blackmail or War – Penguin's "S3" – went through four printings between February and May 1938, with a revision during those three months. Penguin Specials appeared to be meeting a public need for "breaking" information, and all at only 6d per volume.

I stress the price because, for the first time, Penguin was offering the public well-written, thoughtful studies of current political affairs at a price which all but the indigent could afford. Their success demonstrated what had not been appreciated before: the ordinary citizens of Great Britain wanted to be informed, and were willing to pay for the privilege.

The "Specials" tapped into a huge, largely untouched market. Other publishers – Gollancz is the one that comes to mind – were offering fascinating volumes on social/political issues, but their volumes typically cost 2/6 (i.e., two shillings and sixpence, a considerable expense). This price was acceptable to those with money to squander: 2/6 would not cripple the middle classes or the intellectuals. But Penguin was offering volumes for something like the price of a pint of bitter. The response was incredible: if Penguin followed its normal printing patterns from the time (and I have not been able to confirm this), "S1" sold 70,000 volumes in 15 months, "S2" 40,000 in seven months, and "S3" 40,000 in four months.

Penguin's editorial (or, perhaps, political) decisions helped inform a broad sector of public opinion as war approached. Between December 1937 and the declaration of war on September 3, 1939, Penguin introduced about forty "Specials", in addition to the 200 or so new volumes published under the regular Penguin and Pelican logos. The exact number of "Specials" published during those 19 months is hard to pin down: Penguin's sequential numbering system was often more for the convenience of the publisher than the public. Nevertheless, for those who might be counting, that is an average of about one new "Special" every two weeks – a truly incredible number of publications dealing with challenging issues as war grew nearer.

Looking over the titles and authors published as "Specials", it appears to me that Penguin was both encouraging active and informed participation in the great public debate that was now raging in Britain, and leaning rather heavily away from policies of appeasement or gestures of accommodation. A Penguin statement appears to disagree with my reading of the situation; in an editorial comment, Penguin said "…we have no political axe to grind and…are prepared to publish any book from the extreme Left to the extreme Right, which in our opinion merits being brought to the attention of the reading public". This statement, however, was offered in 1940, by which time Britain was at war. In truth, Penguin did publish essays from both Left and Right. "S21", the Marquess of Londonderry's Ourselves and Germany, argues for better relations with Germany, using Munich as a positive indication of Germany's integrity and a basis for future discussions. Most "Specials" in the 19 months between "S1" and the declaration of war, however, despite how fully they might be couched in neutral, diplomatic language, stressed the differences between German, Italian and Spanish values and those held by the western European democracies. I'm not suggesting the early Penguin "Specials" were war-mongering diatribes or anti-fascist propaganda. On the contrary, they appear to be well-thought-out, rather academic studies of growing tensions throughout Europe, offered during the the increasingly expected collision course between Germany (and, later, Italy) and those who would face them in the coming war. In the final analysis, the "Specials" provided literate Great Britain a course in contemporary political science.

The range of nations discussed in the prewar "Specials" is worth noting: China, Czechoslovakia, Spain, Britain, Poland, Italy, Germany, Russia, the West Indies and Suez are found in various volumes. China, of course, had been at war with Japan for some years, and Suez – a lifeline for the British Empire – was under threat by Mussolini's posturing in the Mediterranean. In addition, Hitler, Mussolini, the refugee challenge and the Jewish question are each focal points in one or more volumes. Three consecutive publications chosen more or less at random – S8 was The Air Defence of Britain (October 1938); S9 was Europe and the Czechs (September 1938); and S10 The Jewish Problem (November 1938) – indicate Penguin's scope and vision: they were covering current social, political and military issues as broadly as possible.

There were also some "Pelican Specials", mixed in with the Penguins and numbered sequentially with them, but with blue-and-white banded covers rather than the Penguin "Special" red/orange-and-white bands. Pelican "Specials" covered subjects as diverse and apparently incongruous to the Penguin "Specials" as ballet, modern German art, agricultural capacity, microbes, and design. I raise them for two reasons: first, because there remains in some of the Pelican "Specials" a playfulness which appears to reflect the youth and exuberance of the Lane brothers. In Hugh Nicol's Microbes by the Millions (S28), for example – a volume dedicated by the author "To Daughter Barbara, who became ‘Penguin'-conscious at a very early age" – the second of the seven appendices, "Looking-Glass Chemistry" appears in reversed type in the Table of Contents. This might be a bit of cheeky fluff, but to see such a game being played in a 1939 publication is heartening. It also bolsters an earlier point that the "Specials" were experimental in nature.

Secondly, even these Pelicans offered more than a whiff of confrontation and even forboding in them. "S6", Modern German Art, deals with exhibitions of "degenerate" German art. At the time, Germany placed all Jewish or Jewish-inspired art under the label "degenerate". It is worth noting that on both the cover and the dust jacket of this volume there is the following statement, written in upper case, and with the author's name in bold. I offer it as it appeared: "THE AUTHOR [of this volume: ed] IS A VERY WELL-KNOWN GERMAN ART CRITIC WHO FOR SPECIAL REASONS MUST HIDE HIS IDENTITY UNDER THE NAME OF PETER THOENE." Written in upper- and lower-case, this message could have identified whether this person was a German art critic, or a critic of German art. By implication, at least, that could have been dangerous. In this case, Penguin seems to be making a point through typography.

Without wishing to make an issue of it, I would tend to argue that, even in volumes which were not overtly political, Penguin was increasingly making political statements in all its "Specials" as the war approached. This trend would continue as the war progressed, particularly when Penguin started publishing "Specials" in the US.

The War in Europe

After the British declaration of war on September 3, the next two "Specials" to appear – S44 and S45, both appearing in October – were astonishing. S44, Light on Moscow, by D.N. Pritt (K.C., M.P.), includes commentary on the Soviet Union's "occupying the White-Russian and Ukrainian territories of Eastern Poland" – an event which began only in mid-September, two weeks before publication. By its fourth reprint (in January, 1940), S44 would be further revised to include comments on the Finnish campaign. To my way of thinking, at least, Penguin Books were clearly maintaining their professed commitment to the British public: "we will keep you as informed as possible!".

S45, the second of the October volumes, was equally fascinating. It appeared within a month of Chamberlain's declaration of war, was "reproduced by permission of the Controller of His Britannic Majesty's Stationery Office", and was titled The Government Blue Book. Quite forthrightly, and without editorial comment, S45 offers some 144 official or recognized documents, statements, communiqués and/or agreements which are germane to the outbreak of war, beginning with the German-Polish agreement of January 26, 1934. The contents of S45 are often mind-numbing, and are as dull to read as any collection of government documents can be. There is no indication of how accurate or complete the documents might be, though the use of the term "government blue book", together with the Seal of the Controller, suggests some kind of government "arrangement" with Penguin Books. This is the first indication I know of that Penguin was forging links with the British government.

Penguin would continue to publish "Specials" throughout the war. By a rough count, there were some 110 Specials produced between 1939 and 1945 – something like a volume every two-and-a-half weeks for the duration. Most "Specials" offered challenging essays dealing with issues that the war itself had raised. Many of the volumes were short, and they were printed on increasingly inferior paper: within weeks of the outbreak of war, the quantity of paper available to publishers was severely restricted (quantities quickly dropped to 60% of pre-war levels), and as the war continued the quality of the paper declined dramatically as well. To some extent, Penguin found ways around the quantitative restrictions, but it could do little about the quality of paper or of binding materials in Great Britain.

The subject matter of the wartime "Specials" might give pause to many readers today, but the issues raised were considered critical during the war. Such titles include:

• John Price: Organized Labour in the War (S70; 1940)
• John Haddam: God in a World at War (S73; no date)
• Keith Horsefield: The Real Cost of the War (S76; 1940)
• Edward Glover: The Psychology of Fear and Courage (S79; 1940)
• Louis Lévy: The Truth About France (S84; 1941)
• William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury: Christianity and the Social Order (S104; 1942)
• Maurice Edelman: How Russia Prepared (S110; 1942)
• H.G. Wells: An Indictment of the Roman Catholic Church (S129; 1943)
• Phyllis Bottome: Our New Order, or Hitler's? (S134; 1943).

Penguin, it appears, decided to maintain "Specials" as a series committed to "intellectual integrity and "reasoned debate" as the war continued.

Despite Penguin's official editorial stance – which, to be honest, I find a bit forced – certain Penguin Specials became "military" volumes simply because of their excellence and value. The most famous of these is S82, Aircraft Recognition, by R.A. Saville-Sneath. The excellence of Saville-Sneath's volume arose from two devices. The first was simply a question of categorization: he grouped aircraft by obvious distinctions: number of engines; location of the wing (low, mid, or high). But he also introduced a ¾ view from below – the view most ground observers would have of an aircraft flying above them. Offered originally as a guide to the general public, it was quickly adopted by RAF Observers, and was soon issued as a Service Edition. In my own collection, I have copies of the standard Special (S82), a US Special (also S82), and at least two other imprints of Saville-Sneath's volume – a Service Edition volume (designation: SE, with no number) and a US version co-produced by Penguin US and the Infantry Journal (also S82). There were also US spin-offs from the original, including the 1942 What's That Plane, by Walter Pitkin Jr. – numbered S201 – the first of the Penguin Specials published in the US for a distinctly US market. Pitkin's volume did not include the famous ¾ views which made Saville-Sneath's publication so useful, but it was very popular, going through ten printings between March 1942 and November 1943.

Penguin Specials in a Global War

As part of its plan for expansion, Penguin Books had entered the US market in July 1939. Despite the events of September, the Penguin rep. – Ian Ballantine – was moderately successful in establishing Penguin as a publishing house in the US. Ballantine's real coup, however, was the relationship he formed with the Infantry Journal. Amongst other things, this would assure Penguin of a decent supply of paper for its US publications. It would also do much to establish the Penguin name in the US.

The collaboration between the Infantry Journal (in Washington, DC) and Penguin US (in New York) introduced a new line of titles – many of them under the "Penguin Special" title – geared to the US war effort. They were, in my opinion, not introduced without some slightly false starts. Certain UK "Specials", reproduced by Penguin US and using UK numbering, were inappropriate for the US market. The UK and the US were, when it gets right down to it, at war for different reasons. What Penguin Books saw as essential to British morale, and the British war effort, were not necessarily appropriate for the United States or the American war effort.

Even after the US "Specials" were well and truly launched – with the S200 series – certain UK volumes continued to appear in the list of US publications. Two in my collection are US-S207 and US-S213, both clearly labeled as Penguin Specials. The first (S207) is the Archbishop of Canterbury's Christianity and Social Order, published in England as S104. William Temple initially wrote the volume as Archbishop of York; it was reprinted when he became Archbishop of Canterbury (and de facto spiritual head of the Church of England). He later became an outspoken critic of the bomber war. The second volume (S213) was W.K. Hancock's Empire in a Changing World. It is possible that William Temple's treatise might have been of interest in the US as a reflection of Christian values in a world at war, rather than by his position in the Church of England. Hancock's volume, on the other hand, is not one I would not have expected to be a good sell in the US in 1943: the US – for understandable reasons – had never indicated any desire to fight to protect the British Empire. Volumes such as these were, I believe, errors on Penguin's part, propagated by the mistaken belief that the issues crucial to the UK would find a resonance in the US. Penguin Books were wrong in this assessment. The US didn't need to borrow British reasons for fighting: they had Pearl Harbour. After some errors, Penguin US would recognize the differences between US and British/Commonwealth requirements, and would change focus to what the US market would bear.

Once the collaboration between Penguin and the Infantry Journal was worked out, the physical format of the books changed quite dramatically. From the beginning, Penguins in Britain were of a uniform size (7 1/8" H x 4 3/8" W). The Penguin/Infantry Journal volumes published in the US were considerably smaller (6 7/8" H x 4 ¼" W). Quite honestly, I'm not certain why this occurred, but the reasons were most likely practical ones. Press sizes and bindery capabilities are one possibility, though such restrictions would not explain why the US Specials published without Infantry Journal collaboration are the same height as English Specials (though not quite so wide). More likely as an explanation is the imposition of wartime regulations limiting the use of a strategic resource such as paper. Certainly, other US paperbacks I have from the war years (largely from Pocket Books, Ace, and Dell) match the dimensions of the Penguin/Infantry Journal volumes. In one of them (Pocket Book 230), The Pocket Aviation Quiz Book (1943), on what would normally be the half-title page, is the following: "This Pocket Book is made in strict conformity with WPB regulations restricting the use of strategic materials."

In this smaller format, the Penguin/Infantry Journal collaboration produced a large number of volumes. These seem to fall into three categories. The first were strictly "military" volumes, as the following indicate: S203, Guerrilla Warfare; S212, Psychology for the Fighting Man; S214, Hitler's Second Army; S226, The Battle is the Pay-off; S237, Pipeline to Battle. As far as I know – I have not seen the complete series – these are more aggressive, practical volumes than Penguin had ever introduced in Great Britain, with the exception of S75, New Ways of War. The authors are, by-and-large, military men of one sort or another, ranging from members of the British Brigade in Spain (e.g., ‘Yank' Levy, Canadian-born, US raised, but trained by the British and ultimately an instructor for the Home Guard), to Major Peter Rainier of the Royal Engineers in North Africa, to assorted writers given rank in exchange for their ability to write stirring works. For a variety of reasons, the volumes make very interesting reading.

The second group offered assurance to US citizens: S220, Guadalcanal Diary, honouring the USMC and the first major success in the ground war in the Pacific; S221, Thirty Seconds over Tokyo, dealing with the Doolittle raid; S222, The British Navy's Air Arm, which seems to have been designed to assure the US that the Royal Navy would remain a fighting force. Some of these have become classics from World War II, and were not published first by Penguin/Infantry Journal. Tregaskis' Guadalcanal Diary and Lawson's Thirty Seconds over Tokyo certainly fit this category.

The third category is predominantly fiction or popular biography, and includes works by authors such as John Steinbeck (The Moon is Down), George Stewart (Storm) and Harold Lamb (Genghis Khan: Emperor of All Men ). That these were volumes meant for enlisted personnel as well as the US public at large seems fairly obvious.

The covers of the US 200 series books make clear the collaboration between Penguin and the Infantry Journal, usually in a banner across the bottom of the cover saying "Infantry Journal/Penguin Books". The spines, however – on all but two volumes in my possession – say "Fighting Forces Penguin Special". This may suggest that the Infantry Journal/Penguin Specials were considered publications for US forces, though I'm not entirely convinced that this was the case. It is just as easy to accept that this was merely a marketing technique to link potential buyers with the US armed forces. Until I have seen more copies of Infantry Journal/Penguin Specials, or other publications which were designated solely for US armed forces, I would be uncomfortable taking this further, as far as the US market is concerned. Certainly, the Penguin/Infantry Journal itself gives differing explanations in the books themselves, sometimes declaring a volume to be designed for the fighting troops and sometimes saying a volume is designed to promote civilian understanding of the war.

Other Penguin Efforts: Hansard

While the Penguin Specials in both Britain and the US have their own fascination, the parent company in the UK became involved, for at least three years, in other activities which played their part in the war effort.

Earlier, I mentioned "S45" – The Government Blue Book, published in October 1939. I believe it was yet another of Penguin's "experiments"; a testing of the waters to see what kind of reader interest there was in this area. Compared with the success of other "Specials", S45 was not immensely successful: it took two months to go to reprint. There was clearly interest with the readers. But there wasn't much that took place after the declaration of war to commit to another volume of the same kind.

As anyone interested in World War II knows, the time between October 1939 and April 1940 became known as "The Phony War", the "Sitzkrieg", and by one or two less printable names. When Germany invaded Denmark and Norway, just a month before the major German invasion against the West on May 10, the British military was once more caught more or less flat-footed. Churchill, as First Lord of the Admiralty, was as much to blame for this as anyone. But the weight of failure fell on Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain. When it was clear that Allied intervention in Norway was doomed to failure, Chamberlain was called to account in the House of Commons. This took place during the first week of May 1940, immediately before the German invasion of The Low Countries and France. That week in the Commons has been described as one of the most thrilling (and vicious) times the Commons has ever seen. By the end of the debate, Chamberlain had been dismissed and Churchill had become Prime Minister…just in time for a "hot" war.

By August, 1940, Penguin Books offered its readers yet another new series – Penguin "Hansard" (starting with H1). Even these volumes went into additional printings very quickly, with the first reprint of H1 appearing within one month. For those of you who do not know, my understanding is that Hansard (we still have Hansard in my province in 2006) is recognized, going back to the middle years of the Nineteenth Century, as the official record of the activities of any House of Commons. It is, I am led to believe, similar to the Congressional Record. Typically, the production of Hansard has been seen as a function of the private sector. Somehow – perhaps on the strength of the popularity of S45, which in many was has the "feel" of a Hansard volume – Penguin acquired the rights to publish the record of House of Commons debate. There is an interesting sidelight on this: H1 announced that its contents covered the debate during the transition from Chamberlain to Churchill, but describes itself as "a digest of the House of Commons Official Report…". The reprint, however, claims the copy was "taken verbatim from the House of Commons Official Report…" To my mind, there is a difference between a digest and verbatim reporting.

Penguin Hansard continued for some time, though I have not seen a "Hansard" covering debates after the Japanese and US entered the war. I have copies of H1 to H6 (except for H5, which covers the crucial Balkan campaign and the early days of Barbarossa ), which cover the time from Churchill's installation as PM to the impact of Germany's invasion of Russia and Churchill's speech to the Commons on war with Japan. I have doubts concerning the completeness of these ‘Hansards: I sense they are all digests, drawn from Hansard transcriptions.

I think what Penguin offers in these volumes is accurate information. The "Hansards" may not provide every word of every debate, but I assume that what they provide is accurate. This is not, I admit, very good historical research, or even a conclusion which can be defended, because it is based on a circular argument. Penguin Books has, through my lifetime, maintained a reputation for excellence and accuracy. That reputation began, I believe, with Penguin's war work. If that isn't a circular argument, I don't think I've ever seen one!

My acceptance of what Penguin offered in their "Hansards" is, however, just one more part of what happened when Penguin Books met World War II. Until December 1937, Penguin Books was a novelty in British publishing which was attempting to make a name and a place for itself in a niche market: popular books in fiction, history, science and the like for those who could not meet the prices of other houses. With the publication of S1, Germany Puts the Clock Back, Penguin was changed forever.

Worth Some Thought

During WW2, Penguin Books began 19 new series. Most were simply part of the marketing program of an expanding publishing house. But with the introduction of the Penguin Specials, and the spin-offs from Specials that took place as the war intensified, Penguin became a different kind of publishing house than it was prior to December, 1937.

Penguin Specials played two roles in the development of Penguin Books.

In the UK, I think it is possible to say that Penguin played an important role in informing and directing public opinion about the issues leading up to the war and the issues arising from the outbreak of hostilities. In the US, Penguin was more active in its commitment to war issues, partly because this was the quid pro quo for additional paper.

Other Penguin endeavours – I think particularly of "Penguin New Writing", edited by John Lehmann – approached war issues from different perspectives. Lehmann was, as far as I know a communist, or at least a deeply committed socialist. But the "New Writing" series was for the British as inspiring and propagandistic as a volume like "Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo" were in the US. Lehmann kept the sense of British letters alive through a very difficult time. Even an abbreviated assessment of "New Writing" might deserve at least the same kind of abbreviated commentary that is given to Penguin Specials in this brief note.

In the 20th century, war is, as we all know, based on full national commitment. IMHO, Penguin Books – almost by accident – found a way to commit a substantial portion of its House to the support of the war effort, both in the Commonwealth and in the US.

It may be worth the time of some other booklovers to attempt to determine whether publishers in their countries played the same kind of crucial role during WW2. While I understand that military operations are determined by humans, weapons and military acumen, we have also recognized the role of propaganda. My point is that ordinary publishing houses may also have had an intriguing role to play.

* * *

Copyright © 2007 Brian Grafton.


Written by Brian Grafton. If you have questions or comments on this article, please contact Brian Grafton at: bg@briangrafton.com.


Published online: 02/17/2007.

* Views expressed by contributors are their own and do not necessarily represent those of MHO.
© 2014 MilitaryHistoryOnline.com, LLC Contact Brian Williams at: militaryhistoryonline@hotmail.com