HC Deb 07 July 1942 vol 381 cc635-8
45. Major C. S. Taylor

asked the Prime Minister whether the aircraft allocated to General Auchinleck for the campaign now being fought in the Middle East are under his direct command for operations?

The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill)

On 7th October, 1941, before the winter battle in Libya, I gave a ruling on this subject as follows:—

"Upon the Military Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East announcing that a battle is in prospect, the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief will give him all possible aid irrespective of other targets, however attractive. The Army Commander-in-Chief will specify to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief the targets and tasks which he requires to be performed, both in the preparatory attack on the rearward installations of the enemy and for air action during the progress of the battle. It will be for the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief to use his maximum force for these objects in the manner most effective. This applies not only to any squadrons assigned to army co-operation permanently, but also to the whole air force available in the theatre."

This direction is agreeable to both Services and has been in force ever since.

Mr. Bellenger

Will my right hon. Friend consider the desirability of something stronger and more effective than even a direction from him? Would it not be desirable for these two Services even before battle is joined to act in closer co-operation in training than they are doing at the present time?

The Prime Minister

I have carefully considered this matter and taken a great deal of different opinions on the subject, and the result, as I believe, has been satisfactory.

46. Major Taylor

asked the Prime Minister whether, in view of the fact that the Army in this country have had little opportunity of training jointly with the Royal Air Force, steps are now being taken to allocate to Army commanders a larger proportion of aircraft for this purpose?

The Prime Minister

The joint training of the Army and the Royal Air Force is already proceeding on a considerable scale and is being continually extended. The aircraft of Army co-operation command, which is itself being substantially expanded, are occupied solely on such training. Squadrons of Bomber and Fighter Command are also regularly used for this purpose.

Major Taylor

Is my right hon. Friend not aware that certain units of the Army of high priority very rarely see aircraft at all?

The Prime Minister

Of course, this subject is capable of extensive discussion, but we have to try and find the true and proper course between, on the one hand, not having aircraft attached to the infantry, which would be a misfortune, and, on the other, keeping large masses of aircraft which are required for major purposes standing by on specialised functions.

Mr. Glenvil Hall

Has the Prime Minister had any reports as to whether the inter-communication between the aeroplane and the man on the ground is quite satisfactory?

The Prime Minister

I would not say it is quite satisfactory, but it is being pressed forward with the utmost energy, in complete accord with both the Services concerned and the technical branches which are at their disposal.

Captain Plugge

Are the recently formed Army Air Corps entirely limited to gliders, and cannot they use any power-driven machines?

The Prime Minister

The whole question of air-borne troops, whether it concerns the gliders which may be attached to machines with power, whether it concerns parachute troops themselves, or whether it concerns the aircraft which are power driven and tow the gliders—all these are under one organisation and are being studied as a whole.

Mr. Henderson Stewart

Is it not a fact that most leaders of the Army have expressed themselves most strongly that it is essential for the Army, if it is to do its proper work, particularly as in Libya, to have a part of the Air Force clearly under its control?

The Prime Minister

If my hon. Friend read my statement at leisure, he will see that I go further than that. The entire Air Force is subordinated to the purposes of the military commander; he says what he wants them to do, but naturally you must not interfere with the characteristics of a particular arm. How the purposes are carried out is a matter for the Air Officer Commanding.

Captain Godfrey Nicholson

Will my right hon. Friend consider raising the status of Air Liaison Officers?

The Prime Minister

I should be glad to consider it, but I should not like to answer the question without having had the benefit of that process beforehand.