HC Deb 26 January 1943 vol 386 cc369-70
71. Lieut.-Colonel Sir Assheton Pownall

asked the Secretary of State for Air why there was no balloon barrage up about midday on Wednesday, 20th January, in South-East London?

The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)

The balloon barrage was close-hauled over a part of the London area on the morning of Wednesday, 20th January, because important maintenance work on the London defences was then in progress. This work can only be carried out in daylight. There was no question of negligence or default. I notice that Questions have been placed on the Order Paper for answers on the next Sitting Day which relate to other aspects of this raid, and I propose then to make a comprehensive statement. Meanwhile, I am sure the House would wish me to take the present opportunity of expressing the deep sympathy which we all feel with the relatives of those who lost their lives and with the injured.

Sir A. Pownall

In the case of a daylight alarm of this sort is there not time for a certain number of balloons to be got up on an alert coming from the South-East coast, in view of the general consensus of opinion that there were no balloons up whatever and that enemy planes were flying literally just over the tops of houses and the pilots' faces could be seen by people in the streets?

Sir A. Sinclair

My hon. and gallant Friend is quite right. The planes were flying extremely low, but in order to carry out the work to which I refer it is necessary to have an area of wide radius clear of balloons while it is going on, and there was not sufficient time to get the balloons up when the warning went.

Sir H. Williams

Is it not the case that they were seen to go up too late?

Sir A. Sinclair

Yes, for the reason that I have explained.

Sir H. Williams

How long was it before they had orders to go up?

Sir A. Sinclair

I cannot go into these operational details, but it is true that as soon as the warning was received they started to get the balloons up.

Mr. Ammon

What was the extraordinary alteration that had to be made?

Sir A. Sinclair

It is maintenance work, which has to go on continuously. In every part of the country there are some balloons close-hauled for that reason every day. It was fortuitous that it so happened in this particular area where the balloons were close-hauled that the raid occurred.

Sir H. Williams

Why were they all done on the same day?

Sir A. Sinclair

I have just explained that they are not all done on the same day. It was fortuitous that it was in this particular area that the enemy made the raid.

Sir A. Southby

Does the right hon. Gentleman mean that maintenance work takes place over the whole of an area and not in respect of an individual site and that at any time a complete area may be out of action?

Sir A. Sinclair

An area with a considerable radius.

Wing-Commander Hulbert

Was not the procedure carried out on that morning the same as is carried out every day, and is it not a fact that the balloon sites occupied by the Women's Auxiliary Air Force were just as quick in getting off the mark?

Sir A. Sinclair

The hon. and gallant Gentleman is quite right. I wonder if the hon. Gentleman opposite thought I was referring to work on the balloons? It is not work on the balloons but work on the air defences of London.

Mr. Hopkinson

Had we not better wait until the next Sitting Day?