British Imperial Policy and the Indian Air Route, 1918-1932

CROMPTON, Teresa (2014). British Imperial Policy and the Indian Air Route, 1918-1932. Doctoral, Sheffield Hallam Universiy.

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The thesis examines the development of the civil air route between Britain and India from 1918 to 1932. Although an Indian route had been pioneered before the First World War, after it ended, fourteen years would pass before the route was established on a permanent basis. The research provides an explanation for the late start and subsequent slow development of the India route. The overall finding is that progress was held back by a combination of interconnected factors operating in both Britain and the Persian Gulf region. These included economic, political, administrative, diplomatic, technological, and cultural factors. The arguments are developed through a methodology that focuses upon two key theoretical concepts which relate, firstly, to interwar civil aviation as part of a dimension of empire, and secondly, to the history of aviation as a new technology. With regards to empire, the thesis investigates the imperial and economic value of imperial aviation, perceptions of Britain’s imperial potency, and the nature of Britain’s long-term policy and administrative arrangements in London, Delhi, Persia, and on the Trucial Coast. In relation to technology, the thesis examines the choices made by the British. In connection with both empire and technology, the thesis considers the character and effects of the ‘official mind’ responsible for civil aviation policy. The research shows that, in relation to aviation, British imperial policy-making was in general neither confident nor proactive. In terms of the India route, British imperial administrators displayed weakness, in that they were unable to impose their will sufficiently strongly to drive through the route either rapidly or effectively. The impetus for imperial aviation came from the empire’s core, and the causes of the route’s delay were therefore located within the core. The primary cause was Britain’s resistance to providing financial support for air transportation. As the First World War ended, the development of imperial aviation depended upon that of civil aviation. With private capital investment not forthcoming, the Government reluctantly took on responsibility but not until 1924, when, provoked by Germany’s air progress and lured by the promise of imperial prestige, was the Government forced to provide financial support to civil aviation. It subsidised Imperial Airways, but in pursuing the policy of wholly funding the R101 airship project it made the wrong technological choice. The Imperial Airship Scheme only diverted public money away from the aeroplane development on which future civil aviation would depend. In the second half of the 1920s, as the British attempted to develop the India route via Persia and then the Trucial Coast, their long-term policy in the region seemed to promise diplomatic advantage in negotiations. However, as aviation represented an unwelcome incursion into local sovereignty, it caused local opposition. Unable to resort to their traditional ‘gunboat diplomacy,’ the British found their influence greatly below what they had presumed. When they were forced to develop a collaborative relationship with local elites, it became apparent that a balance of power had emerged. While undoubtedly showing the limitations of British imperial policy-making, the protracted history of the establishment of the Indian air route demonstrates that to some extent the British ‘official mind’ was flexible, and capable of adapting to changed conditions.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Thesis advisor - Lewis, Merv
Additional Information: Director of studies: Merv Lewis
Research Institute, Centre or Group - Does NOT include content added after October 2018: Sheffield Hallam Doctoral Theses
Identification Number:
Depositing User: Colin Knott
Date Deposited: 19 Jun 2019 10:24
Last Modified: 26 Apr 2021 13:50

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