§ The First Lord of the Admiralty (Mr. A. V. Alexander)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Deputy-Speaker do now leave the Chair."
Since the presentation of the Navy Estimates last year, the Royal Navy and the Dominion Navies have passed through one' of the most exacting and dangerous periods in the whole of our great naval history. From the South West Pacific to the Bay of Bengal, from the Persian Gulf to the Cape of Good Hope, in the Mediterranean and in the North and South Atlantic, and right up to the Arctic Ocean, in the Barents and the White Seas, the conflict with our various enemies has been carried on, in defence of our trade and national life, and in support of the offensive of our land and air forces in the field overseas, and those of our Russian Ally in her magnificent campaign against the Nazi hordes. There is not sufficient time to do more than refer briefly to the success of Admiral Syfret and General Sturges, of the Royal Marines, in the capture of North Madagascar and Diego Suarez, which paved the way for the campaign which led to the occupation of that important territory; or to the share of the Navy in carrying reinforcements of men and material to the Desert Army, and cutting down the communications and supplies of Rommel's army; to the magnificent and repeated relief of gallant Malta, now changed from a beleaguered fortress into an outpost of attack; to the large number of convoys of supplies taken to Russia in the most difficult and varying conditions and in the face of heavy attacks; the extraordinary raid of our naval forces on St. Nazaire, the great naval operation, splendidly planned and carried out, which landed our forces at Dieppe, and subsequently carried out the evacuation; the change in the situation affected in the Indian Ocean since our Fleet assembled there under Admiral Somerville; and above all, the wonderful and unprecedented feat of the planning, 567 the assembly, the escort and the safe delivery through the Straits of Gibraltar of the largest expeditionary armada in history for the invasion of North Africa and subsequently the continuous supply and reinforcement of our Forces there, coupled with a constant interference with the enemy's supply lines through the Sicilian Narrows. I have seen in the paper this week the suggestion that this last year does not afford many high lights in naval history. I think that that short summary shows that the Royal Navy has been full of them.
When it is remembered that all this has been done in spite of the day-and-night struggle against the greatest threat we have ever experienced to our sea lines by the U-boat attacks, about which I shall speak separately, not only have we reason to be, as the Navy always is, thankful to Providence, but also the nation owes a debt to the officers and men of the Navy, from the principal staffs and flag officers to the ordinary seamen which can never be fully repaid. Moreover, in case I forget it later, it is just the simple truth to say that these great achievements would have been impossible without the constant loyalty, devotion, courage and selfless endurance of the officers and men of the Merchant Navy, to whom the Royal Navy is the first to pay tribute.
The Prime Minister has already dealt in a recent statement with the shipping situation and the U-boat war, but this is such an important pre-occupation of the Navy at the present time that I am sure the House will pardon me if I refer to the main developments during the past 12 months or so. In the last half of 1941 the U-boat threat seemed to be under control. The shipping losses were less than in the two previous six-monthly periods, and we were killing U-boats faster. The whole position was altered overnight by the entry of Japan into the war. Two great oceans were added at one stroke to the area in which our shipping was menaced by submarine and air attack, and some of the naval strength on which we had counted for escort work in the Atlantic had to be diverted to more distant theatres. At the same time, the great flow of trade along the coast of Central and North America, mainly carried in American ships, was attacked by U-boats operating from bases on this side 568 of the Atlantic. In the first half of last year the sinkings on the Eastern seaboard of America proved a grievous drain on the tonnage available to the United Nations; at times indeed the losses in that period in that area were as much as three-quarters of the total. With the adoption of the convoy system in that area the losses began to fall and declined rapidly until now they represent a small part of the whole. The Royal Navy and Dominion Navies contrived, at some sacrifice to protection elsewhere, to offer considerable help to the United State's Navy in these waters. Many anti-submarine vessels, including corvettes, were sent. Other corvettes, under construction, were ear-marked at once for the United States Navy; in addition, Coastal Command planes with special experience of U-boat hunting were despatched to the threatened area.
When the American coast offered them a diminishing return, the U-boats appear to have pursued two main policies. First, they have concentrated on the mid-Atlantic area, where convoys are furthest from friendly air bases. Secondly, with the rest of their forces, their attack was extended as far over the main shipping routes as possible. By the use of supply ships, and Supply U-boats of great endurance, their packs seek to replenish themselves at sea, and undertake patrols of long duration. They have made sharp raids, some of them prolonged, on routes as widespread as the South of Freetown, West Africa, around the Cape of Good Hope, the approaches to the Mozambique Channel and the East Coast of Brazil. There have also been incursions into the Gulf of Aden, presumably by the Japanese.
I am glad to say that in the Atlantic the Royal Canadian Navy, now grown out of all recognition from its modest pre-war proportions, has come to our aid, and four complete Canadian escort groups, and the Canadian corvettes of an American group have for the past year been bringing over some of our ocean convoys, and have achieved some notable successes against the U-boats.
The patrols of the R.A.F., which have been carried out with untiring skill, contribute greatly to the damage inflicted on the U-boat fleet and form an essential part of our anti-U-boat warfare. Aircraft attack is perhaps not yet quite so lethal as that of surface escorts, but the value 569 of aircraft patrols and escort is shown by the fact that during 1942 more than half of the attacks estimated to have caused damage or destruction to U-boats were made by aircraft. Air escort compels the U-boat either to dive deep and thus lose touch with the convoy or fight on the surface, where she is more vulnerable. There is a steady increase in the aircraft allotted to trade protection. The Royal Navy desires to pay a very sincere tribute to the R.A.F. for the increasing help they are rendering in this task.
The need for additional surface escorts, in spite of the large numbers already produced, is still pressing, and the production of these craft has the highest priority. In this country, the United States and Canada, great programmes are in hand, and the United Nations will this year receive additions to their escort fleets far greater than in previous years. But numbers are only part of the answer. Our experience proves the value of a group or team of escort vessels with inspired leadership. The Western Approaches Command, now under Admiral Sir Max Horton, is working to develop still further this group training. As the Prime Minister has told the House more than once, we must face a bitter struggle with the U-boats. There will be set-backs and there will be periods of serious losses. On the other hand, I can say that from 1st December last to 28th February our tonnage losses have been much less than in the corresponding months of last winter. When they first fell, in the month of December, we felt we must take the weather as a factor, although that added to our marine risk losses, but now, taking three months, and comparing like with like, the result is encouraging, especially when it is remembered we have been competing against considerably larger forces of U-boats, and with the added burden of maintaining the additional Forces in North Africa. I do not suggest to the House that the U-boats will not increase. There is still probably a larger output of U-boats than the total numbers killed, but the gap is being reduced. Already I can say that the results in that direction during the last four months have been the most encouraging of the whole period of the war, and in the month of February just ended, from the number and nature of the attacks we know have been carried out, we believe we 570 achieved the best results against U-boats yet experienced.
No praise is too high for the tireless endurance of our escort forces, both ship and air, engaged on this work, and all ranks. I am glad to take this opportunity of saying something which is often forgotten, and that is about the tough job which these men have to do in the Atlantic. Nobody does a greater job than the men in the bowels of the ship, tossed by heavy currents—the engineer and the men under him.
The Home Fleet, under Admiral Sir John Tovey, has the primary function of protecting our shores from invasion, and preventing the enemy fleet from breaking out on our sea communications. In addition, it has to protect the supplies to Russia both from this country and the U.S.A. The tremendous hardships and hazards of that Northern route have already been stated, but under the leadership of officers like Rear-Admiral Burnett and Captain Sherbrook, V.C., they have been overcome. These operations have cost the loss of two cruisers, 10 destroyers and six smaller warships, with many merchant ships and, above all, the loss of many valuable lives; but the sustenance brought to Russia has paid a great dividend to the United Nations' cause.
Further South, the gallant island of Malta has been sustained and relieved. Since the beginning of 1942, our operations for that purpose, including the reinforcement of the R.A.F. in the island, cost us the loss of three cruisers, nine destroyers and two aircraft carriers, in addition to merchant ships. In view of the great history of the contribution by Malta the Royal Navy were very glad to render that service. With the help on two occasions of a United States carrier, our aircraft carriers carried altogether 744 fighters for Malta, which had a tremendous effect on the resultant defence.
In the Eastern Mediterranean, the Fleet under Admiral Sir Henry Harwood has had the satisfaction of supporting and supplying the advance of the Eighth Army in its great victory all the way to Tripoli. At the other end of the Mediterranean, a great fleet, comprising vessels of every class, and almost every nationality among the United Nations, and including the biggest force of aircraft carriers ever assembled by the Royal Navy for a single operation, protected 571 and supported that unprecedented expedition which landed in North Africa last November. We are grateful for the services of Admiral of the Fleet Sir Andrew Cunningham and those under him. The course of events at the time has already been described and I shall not delay the House with it. But with the initial landing the Navy's task had barely begun. In the early stages the successive advances of our Forces after landing depended very largely upon ships for their transport, protection, support and maintenance. Sea transport remains vital to them now, and there is the constant menace of the U-boat, the aircraft and the mine to be defeated. Yet already over 1,000,000 tons of stores have been landed in North Africa, in addition to the 500,000 men mentioned by the Prime Minister.
The flank of the route to Egypt has been much strengthened by the occupation of Madagascar. New naval base facilities have had to be provided in those waters and provided urgently and in face of great difficulties. That this has been achieved is a triumph of organisation in the Fleet and of co-operation by the shore authorities. We are grateful to the Governments of the Union of South Africa and of India for the ready help which they have given and for the contribution which the Royal Indian Navy and the South African naval forces have made to the conduct of the war at sea. Surely there is no finer story than that of the little Royal Indian minesweeper and the Dutch tanker under its escort, who, together, took on and signally defeated two large Japanese raiders last November. The anti-submarine vessels of the Royal Indian Navy are imbued with the same spirit and have carried out a considerable number of anti-submarine attacks.
I should like to tell the House that a few months ago the Union Government decided to amalgamate the South African seaward defence force and the South African section of the R.N.V.R. under the title of "South African Naval Forces." I am sure the House would join with me in welcoming this new Service and in offering our best wishes for its future development. In the Pacific the Royal Australian and Royal New Zealand Navies have co-operated, together with Dutch and Free French warships, in 572 assisting the American Pacific Fleet to fight the Japanese.
May I add that throughout all these areas there is a task in which all the British and Allied Navies have a proud record indeed? Enemy mines of every type and ingenious combination have to be met. They are found in the coastal waters of this country, throughout the Mediterranean, in the Cape area, in India and Australia. They have been met with ingenuity and with unflagging devotion in the face of great danger and loss. It will not be possible to describe in detail the achievement of our far-flung minesweeping forces until the end of the war, but when that time comes, the debt we owe to them will be seen to be immeasurable. I would only add what I have said on previous occasions that the number of enemy mines actually destroyed, in swept channels, if each one had been lethal against a ship, would have been enough at least to sink the whole British Mercantile Marine twice over. And let us not forget that minelaying is a game that two can play—and do play. It is a highly specialised and dangerous game and by its very nature is one of our most secret activities. The House will forgive me, therefore, if I merely say, that in this we have been neither idle nor unsuccessful.
By making possible the North African operations the Navy have taken a great step towards the completion of the blockade of the enemy in Europe. For quantity alone, this was by far the most important of the remaining leaks in the blockade. Up to last November, exports from French North and West Africa to French Metropolitan ports were running at the rate of nearly 4,000,000 tons a year, including large quantities of vegetable oils and minerals. Possibly some of these imports may have remained in France, but the greater part was undoubtedly transferred direct to Axis home territory. The loss of the vegetable oils will be particularly serious for Axis economy. A limited traffic remains in ships of long endurance, direct between the Biscayan ports and Japan. Being restricted to key commodities, this traffic is no doubt of considerable importance both to Germany and Japan, but in quantity it is a mere trickle and this, coupled with the extensive enemy coastline, makes interception difficult. We have successfully interfered with this traffic 573 in recent months, during which six of the blockade runners have been sunk and others damaged. Perhaps I may draw the attention of the House to that remarkable story this morning of co-operation between American aircraft under Coastal Command and H.M. cruiser "Sussex" which disposed of one of these ships.
The attack by every possible means on the rest of the enemy's sea communications, which are of course confined to waters close to enemy shores where protection is easy, has continued with un-diminished vigour and by every possible means. According to our latest estimates, and they are constantly revised to make sure they are on the conservative side, the tonnage of which the Germans and Italians have been deprived has now reached the total of 5,000,000 tons with another 3,000,000 tons damaged, much of it very severely. These losses suffered by the enemy exclude losses inflicted by our Russian Allies and take no account of Japanese losses either.
In this war the enemy has had to supply some of his armed forces by sea, especially in North Africa. This has given our submarines an opportunity to inflict heavy losses. How powerful this weapon is in the hands of our young men requires no emphasis. Almost daily, the communiqués issued tell of the destruction of enemy men-of-war, U-boats and shipping, wrought by the immaculate courage and high endeavour of our submarine crews. Less in number compared with the enemy, faced with the grim necessity of searching out their targets on the enemy's coastline and in his very harbours, they ceaselessly carry out their exacting task with wonderful success. In addition, they carry on for us the training—the important training—of our own anti-submarine escorts and destroyers, and may I remind the House that when dire need arose during the sustenance of Malta, they became under-water transports for the relief of the fortress.
All this is not done without bitter, losses, but the gaps are more than filled. The increasingly large part played by the gallant officers and men of the Reserve, both R.N.R. and R.N.V.R., and ratings entered for hostilities only, help to ensure that our submarines go from strength to strength. I would add that the standard of design and construction of our submarines is proved to be second to none.
574 The standard of training of the submarine officers and men is maintained at a very high level. In the submarine service such, officers as the late Commander Wanklyn, V.C., and Commander Miers, V.C., are household names. I feel, that where all have done so well, it would be invidious to make special mention of any. But the House might like me to put on record the names of a few Commanding Officers of submarines who have operated in the North African campaign and who, between them, have sunk a very large number indeed of enemy supply ships and their escorts. Here are the names:
A great deal has been said, and written, lately about another great branch of the Service, the Fleet Air Arm, and I think it has from time to time been inferred that the Admiralty is not sufficiently air-minded. I do not think that statement is justified. On the contrary, our Fleet Air Arm have shown the way to the rest of the world, and achieved very great results. The Admiralty only took over once more the complete control in April, 1939, and expansion has therefore taken place under most difficult conditions. There has naturally, in the circumstances, been a shortage of Senior Officers. And yet the Fleet Air Arm have pioneered every new development in air operations over the sea. They were the first Air Service to sink a warship by dive bombing as they did at Bergen in 1940; they were the first to sink a battleship as they did at Taranto; they were the first to defeat air attack on a Fleet by fighter defence.
- Commander J. W. Linton.
- Lieutenant H. S. Mackenzie.
- Lieutenant L. W. A. Bennington.
- Lieutenant P. R. H. Harrison.
- Lieutenant S. L. C. Maydon.
- Lieutenant A. C. G. Mars.
- Lieutenant J. S. Stevens.
- Lieutenant E. T. Stanley.
- Lieutenant I. L. M. McGeoch.
I have already mentioned the Navy's part in the maintenance of Malta. It is true to say that but for the delivery of fighters by the aircraft carriers, Malta would early on have been completely deprived of fighter defences, without which it could not have held out. Apart from this, the Fleet Air Arm have provided cover for every important Malta convoy during the past year and they have played their part in the protection 575 of supplies to Russia. Altogether, during 1942, they shot down over 100 enemy aircraft, and damaged half as many again, whilst our ratio of losses in actual air combat was only one-fourth of those of the enemy.
The Fleet Air Arm also had a great share in the successful landing in North Africa. It was their action which enabled the assault forces to land without encountering any air opposition, and they secured the immediate occupation of the Algerian airfields by the shore-based forces, forces which included the advanced units of the R.A.F. and Allied Air Forces. One of the airfields in North Africa was handed over intact to a Naval fighter pilot who went straight down, with a few planes covering him overhead, and took charge of it. Naval aircraft were also concerned with a number of other duties, including attacks on fortifications, anti-submarine protection and close co-operation with the assault forces.
Nor have the Fleet Air Arm been confined to operations from carriers. Throughout the year torpedo-bombers have operated in the Mediterranean from shore bases with great success, and they have reached an extremely high level of skill. They have sunk—during 1942–10 enemy supply ships as well as damaging, in most cases severely, at least four warships and 23 merchant ships, including transports and tankers. Other units operating in the Western Desert have played an invaluable part in co-operation with the R.A.F., in the bombing of enemy defence positions and motor transport. Indeed, so highly are they valued in that service by the R.A.F. that when some time ago the Admiralty suggested that both crews and aircraft should return to their proper sphere, the sea, both the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief and the Military Commander-in-Chief in Egypt begged that they should be allowed to remain. In addition, a number of small Naval air units are co-operating with the R.A.F., from stations in the United Kingdom, in various missions for which their naval experience and technique make them particularly fitted. It will be remembered also that naval fighters, temporarily disembarked to reinforce the defence of Ceylon, had a successful share in the repulse of the Japanese Fleet Air Arm in April last.
576 Last but not least comes the antisubmarine work of the Fleet Air Arm. The aircraft carriers of the Fleet Air Arm have proved most valuable for convoy protection against U-boats in both the North African and Russian convoy operations. The aircraft they employ for that purpose are well suited for the operations and, in an emergency, being with the convoy, they can be expected to put more aircraft quickly into the air around the convoy than is possible with shore-based aircraft. Moreover, once they have expended their armament they can be much more speedily re-armed and back on patrol than can shore-based aircraft. Naval aircraft have had a share in the destruction or damage of a considerable number of U-boats.
The efficiency of our air crews in the Fleet Air Arm has been impressive, and I would take this opportunity of expressing our admiration, which I am sure the House will share, of their very gallant and skilled work. The Fleet Air Arm has been constantly expanding in spite of losses sustained to our carriers, and this expansion is rapidly increasing. To match this expansion, all the departments specially concerned with air matters at the Admiralty have been reorganised. In carrying out this reorganisation the Admiralty has had three principles in mind: firstly, that the Fleet Air Arm should be regarded as an integral part of the naval forces and not as a separate Service; secondly, that the Staff and Materiel sides should be kept separate as in general naval administration; and, thirdly, that on the Staff side there should be one officer, Assistant Chief, Naval Staff, Air, to co-ordinate all the necessary arrangements. I would add that the work of the Fifth Sea Lord includes the responsibility of superintending all naval air equipment.
I hope that the statement I recently made to the House on the supply of naval aircraft will have removed some of the misconceptions which existed and the uneasiness to which they had given rise. There is no doubt that in the Seafire, now coming forward in increasing numbers, the Fleet Air Arm possess the best naval fighter in existence anywhere in the world at the present time. I have seen objections raised to this aircraft on the ground that it is only a modification of the Spitfire, but the Japanese navy are not blamed because they have adapted for 577 naval use the best standard Japanese land fighter available. It must, of course, be remembered that to make such aircraft suitable, or even safe, for operation from carriers, they must have certain fitments not found in shore-based aircraft, and which must have some slight effect, though only slight, on their performance.
As to our new torpedo-bomber, the "Barracuda," I should like to say that it is easy to criticise delays which have occurred and to blame this authority or that for lack of foresight or some other desirable quality. It is necessary, however, to remember the air production position when we were forced into the war, and to reflect upon the even more perilous situation with which we were suddenly confronted a year later when France fell. The Barracuda was already well advanced in design when war broke out, but its design was based upon an engine which had to be discontinued in the vital interests of general aircraft production. Then later, in the autumn of 1940, the Government were faced with the question whether to proceed with the development of the re-designed Barracuda or to have more fighters for the defence of Britain. The decision was to suspend the work on the Barracuda for a short while. This was no doubt a regrettable decision to have to take, but, given the situation, can there be any doubt that it was justified in the general national interest? However, the stage of such heart-breaking decisions is now past, and the Barracudas, I am glad to say, are coming from the factories in increasing numbers. I would add, though I must not be specific, that other new types of naval aircraft of British design are being developed. [An. HON. MEMBER: "Torpedo-bombers?"] I am not proposing to be specific. No doubt there will be opportunities later in less open Session to address questions.
When one considers the tasks undertaken by the Royal Navy all over the world, and very frequently in narrow seas, it is not surprising that the losses have been heavy, but taken all round, the Fleet finds itself a great deal stronger today than it was a year ago. Although we have lost one new and four old capital ships during the war, one new and four old aircraft carriers and two merchantmen converted to aircraft carriers, we are as strong now in capital ships as we were at the outbreak of war, and the weight of 578 air forces that can be launched from shipboard has increased in the same period. In the cruiser category, replacements have very nearly equalled losses, and it must be remembered that, for certain functions, the aircraft carrier is now replacing the cruiser. Despite the heavy losses we have sustained in the destroyer and submarine categories we now have a good many more in both classes than we had when the war started. The new ships that have replaced the old are, of course, individually stronger and more adapted to meet new weapons.
The number of warships, from trawlers, fleet minesweepers and corvettes up to the largest types completed since the outbreak of the war in British shipyards here and overseas now reaches a total of over 900. In addition to new naval construction a great number of merchant ships have been converted to auxiliary warships. In many cases the work has been both intricate and extensive. This great achievement compares very favourably with that of the last war. The shipyards of the Empire, that is those in Australia and Canada as well as those at home, are justifiably proud of their output, which is deserving of high praise which should be given to the workers as well as to the employers. But to foe appreciated at its true worth, this achievement must also be considered in the light of the tremendous change which has occurred in the quality and equipment of warships and in the circumstances in which they have to operate. The improvement of anti-submarine weapons, which I cannot of course describe, has been tremendous, and the scale and complexity of this equipment in the Fleet to-day would astound those who knew it only in the last war. The same is true of all the various fire control and detection devices with which ships have to be ever more lavishly equipped. The same applies to anti-aircraft armament, both long and short-range. To give first one example of this constant improvement in equipment generally which entails so much additional labour, a modern destroyer has as much electrical work in it as a cruiser of 1914–18. Where electrical wiring was measured in miles, to-day it is measured in hundreds of miles.
While the work involved in the construction of every individual ship has thus increased, this war has imposed on the shipyards much heavier burdens in 579 other directions than did the last war. This is not only due to the greater strain upon the Navy, the necessity of using routes where weather conditions are more severe; and the large and hazardous operations we have had to undertake—it is also due to the design requirements of the greatly improved ships we are building and to better damage control and salvage arrangements, which have to be provided for. Many ships are saved for the repair yards to-day which in earlier days would have been a dead loss to us. If you take each occasion when a warship enters into dockyard hands for the purpose of repair or refit as one unit, the shipyards of this country have turned out, since the war began, no fewer than some 34,000 warship repair units. Of these, mainly the smaller vessels, over 80 per cent. have been turned out by the private repair firms.
We have, moreover, built up large fleets of special landing craft, mosquito craft and coastal minesweepers. The motor torpedo boats and gun boats and similar vessels of the motor launch type, produced not only here but all over the Empire and in the U.S.A., also run into several hundreds; while the coastal mine-sweeping force, some of it composed of requisitioned vessels, has long since passed the thousand mark. We have also had to build a number of harbour servicing craft to replace some of those taken up from their civilian employments and now becoming worn out. While dealing with these mosquito craft I would ask the House to join with me in paying a great tribute to the work of the Coastal Forces. It is an amazing thing and a wonderful tribute to our native seamanlike qualities to remember that in that vast force more than 90 per cent. of the officers who have fought so gallantly are Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve officers. I feel that they deserve recognition.
Perhaps the most outstanding achievement is the creation of the corvette fleet, which, in spite of losses, now numbers well over 200. The Admiralty foresaw the need for a type of ocean-going antisubmarine escort of simple design and capable of rapid production, and the first corvettes were ordered some time before the war broke out. By the middle of 1940 a small number were in service, and since then their numbers and their 580 quality have increased by leaps and bounds. The special new, faster and heavier type of corvette with greater armament, some of which are already in use, is being given a new name, to distinguish it from the previous corvette, and I hope the House will approve it. We propose to call it the frigate.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am not sure whether my hon. Friend wants me to give a definition of the present corvette or its historical interpretation. The corvette today is a small escort ship capable of great endurance and reasonable speed, and specially armed with anti-submarine devices.
We are making a special drive to improve the rate of construction still further, which includes the adoption, on a considerable scale, of the methods of pre-fabrication by structural engineering firms which have proved so successful in the rapid output of the larger types of landing craft. In the building-up of our corvette fleet, we have had magnificent assistance from Canada, which has become, since the outbreak of the war, a major shipbuilding country. Canadian yards have so far turned out scores of corvettes, as well as fleet minesweepers.
When we come to merchant tonnage, the output in this country for the first 42 months of this war is considerably greater than that of the corresponding period of the last war, although, as now, the submarine menace during the later years of the last war called for the maximum effort from the shipyards. In spite of the urgent requirements of the Navy, especially in small ships, and the enormous volume of repair work and conversions, the target for 1942 was exceeded by a creditable margin. Our construction programmes have now, of course, to be considered in relation to those of the United States and the other United Nations. The immense programmes, which are still expanding, in North America must represent the main source of replenishment and reinforcement to meet our united merchant ship requirements. The total output from Empire and American sources since the outbreak of war is approaching double the total output from the whole of the non-enemy world in the corresponding period of the last war. In making our plans to ensure 581 the best use of our capacity the size of the American programmes must be taken into account, and we have decided, therefore, that it will be profitable, since a ship saved is better than one replaced, to concentrate in this country more upon increasing the output of escort ships even if this interferes to some small extent with our merchant building.
The merchant side of the industry has had, like the warship side, to bear a great burden in addition to its task of new construction. The amount of repair work arising in this war has been much larger than anything known in the last war. The historian Fayle records, with obvious horror, that there were times in the last war when the merchant tonnage under repair in this country amounted to one and a half million tons. In the spring of 1941 the corresponding figure, at its peak here, was 2,600,000 tons. As a result, partly of strategic changes, but in great measure also of the special steps taken to deal with it this figure has been very greatly reduced and a considerable volume of the reduced figure is repaired whilst the ships are working cargo.
Besides all this work of repair and construction, the merchant industry is still called upon to perform, often at short notice, a tremendous volume of conversion work. With the opening of new threatres of war, ships have to be converted for the carriage of troops and heavy equipment. As we passed to the offensive, other ships had to be converted for the multifarious purposes needed for Combined Operations in which the Navy has to play a very great part. The number of conversion jobs so far completed runs into several thousands. The scale of preparations for an operation like the landing in North Africa, and all requiring to be done in a short time and under the cover of the utmost secrecy is difficult for the layman to grasp. It involved alterations to over 300 ordinary merchant vessels for use as troop carriers, cased petrol carriers, floating workshops and store issuing ships.
When one considers all the dislocation which such expeditions entail it is surely no mean achievement to have maintained at the same time the flow of new construction and repairs. Yet this has been done, and no doubt will continue to be done. The defensive equipment of merchant ships has greatly increased. Up to date 8,300 582 British and Allied merchant ships have been fitted with guns and other devices to protect them against aircraft or submarines or both. Most of them also have special accommodation for the guns' crews, special armour protection for the bridge and special communication systems to facilitate rapid action in an emergency.
§ Mr. Alexander
Many have them fore and aft. A joint force of specially trained naval ratings and soldiers of the Maritime Regiment of the Royal Artillery has been built up to man these guns, and when I tell the House that this Force alone for the defensive equipment of merchant ships numbers nearly 33,000 men, it can see what kind of effort it is. That is approximately one-third of the strength of the pre-war Royal Navy. In particular, the production of that invaluable close-range anti-aircraft gun, the Oerlikon, has reached such dimensions that great quantities are available for the arming of merchant ships and during this past 12 months over 8,000 guns of this kind were supplied and fitted to British and Allied ships. Apart from all these, and many other devices provided for the self-preservation of merchant ships, a high proportion of our ships have to be equipped with new heavy lifting apparatus to enable them to carry the tanks, the aircraft, the barges and the landing craft which are being shipped in great quantities all over the world. These are problems of a magnitude and variety not comparable to those of the last war.
The great output that has been achieved is evidence of the foresight with which the Governments of the United Nations have approached the problem. A great deal of the credit belongs, and we say it with all gratitude, to the Government of the United States. Still, His Majesty's Government are also entitled to a share and so are the Governments of the Dominions who have devoted their resources and their energies to this task. Canada, with a certain amount of technical assistance from this country, has become a great source not merely of the smaller kinds of warships but also of the standard tramp merchant ship. In 1942, Canadian merchant ship production exceeded 40 per cent. of our own—an extraordinary achievement for a country which had never before built ocean-going 583 ships. The Governments of Australia and India have also inaugurated schemes for the production of merchant tonnage in which we have given help, and it is hoped that the first Australian ship will be completed this month. Australia would already have been producing merchant ships but for the overriding demands of repair work. The other Dominions and several of the Colonies are developing their shipbuilding resources for the benefit of the war and are producing substantial numbers of coastal vessels.
At home, the development of the shipyards has continued at an accelerated pace, and a large programme of re-equipment is well under way. The total cost of schemes already in hand or authorised is in the neighbourhood of £4,500,000, which is being devoted principally to the installation of welding equipment, new and heavier cranes, machine tools and improvements in layout. Already a great deal of welding equipment has been supplied, including a number of automatic welding sets of American design. Since the end of 1941 the number of welders and trainee welders has increased by 33 per cent. The number of women employed in the industry is increasing, but even allowing for the un-suitability of much of the work for female labour, the proportion of women employed ought to be higher than it is. There has, however, been a steep rise over the last three months of last year, amounting to an increase of 37 per cent. in the number of women employed. We are constantly working to secure continued improvement in this respect, and hope that we shall be successful. The labour force as a whole has increased by several thousands, including a further 2,000 ex-shipyard skilled men who have been directed to the industry. Unfortunately, however, wastage in the shipyards is high for age reasons; and it is clear that very few skilled men can now be extracted from other essential war industries without serious detriment to other production. The plans in force this year include, not only the addition of substantial numbers of trainees, but also the transfer of certain capacity from other industries to-shipbuilding and marine engineering. Payment by results is being extended and we think this also will improve output.
On the other hand, we now face the fact that some skilled men must be with 584 drawn from the industry to provide the technicians required for the manning of our newly constructed ships and also to build up the corps which is already in being for the manning of repair and maintenance bases abroad. Men called up into this corps will be performing a vital duty, since it is obviously far more economical in ship miles and time in a far flung war such as this to repair as many units as possible on their foreign stations. A good deal has been said recently about the speed of merchant ships, but in view of the considered statement to the House by the Prime Minister only three weeks ago, and by the Minister of War Transport yesterday, I do not propose to refer to the question, but if it should be raised in the Debate, an answer will of course be given.
There is one other means, about which little has been said, which has helped to preserve our tonnage position. From the early days of the war, the Admiralty, with the co-operation of the firms normally engaged in this work, have built up a large salvage organisation which functions not only in our home waters but also in Iceland, in the Mediterranean and elsewhere. Allied to this service is the rescue tug service, which is constantly being expanded and which has brought in many a damaged ship which would otherwise have been lost in the oceans. Altogether several millions of tons have been saved. In the African harbours which have recently come into our occupation, our salvage officers will no doubt be able to add much to their record, with the satisfaction of knowing that much of the tonnage, when raised, will represent a direct transfer from enemy flag to British.
By their exertions the naval forces of the British Commonwealth of Nations and the Allied contingents brought us successfully through the desperate period of our isolation. Since then there have been grievous setbacks and serious threats; but there can, I think, be no doubt that during the past 12 to 15 months the main tendency of the situation has been towards improvement. After a period of uninterrupted Japanese successes, the United States Navy, in a series of victories from Midway to the Solomons, have effectively checked Japanese progress and have made possible the ejection of the Japanese from some of their outermost 585 conquests. In the Mediterranean, by brilliant feats of arms in which all Services have distinguished themselves, we have already obtained more freedom of movement at sea and this process will, I trust, continue.
Nevertheless, remembering the U-boat campaign and the war in narrow seas, it must be accepted that the risks and hazards will increase. This is the price that must be paid if we are to go on carrying the war to the enemy across the seas, as we must do and intend to do. Every new expedition and every fresh territory liberated from the enemy's grasp, involves increased commitments in troopships, supply ships and escorts, and it is in this light that we are bound to view the future programme of imports to this country. I am sure that for this purpose our people will show every understanding, and will be ready to accept any restrictions that may be necessary for the sake of offensive action. On the other hand, the general production of Merchant tonnage by the United Nations is showing an increasing margin over our losses, and it will be our constant endeavour to enlarge that margin by destroying more and more U-boats with our rapidly increasing resources.
The same view must be taken in considering the relation of Naval strategy to our strategy as a whole. A great many of the tasks which fall, upon our Naval forces are defensive in character. If the war is to be finished in the shortest possible time, one of the pre-occupations of His Majesty's Government and their advisers must be to meet these defensive requirements with the minimum of resources consistent with safety, while making the remainder available for that offensive action which alone can bring about the unconditional surrender of the enemy, as laid down at the Casablanca conference. To this purpose the Navy with the other Forces will devote itself. It is not ashamed of its record from top to bottom and puts its position with confidence to the House.
§ Sir Ralph Glyn (Abingdon)
Will the right hon. Gentleman tell us who is going to deal with the manning position in the Navy?
§ Mr. Alexander
The Financial Secretary will reply to the general discussion, and the Civil Lord will speak upon the 586 Amendment with regard to the women's Services.
§ Mr. Ammon (Camberwell, North)
A day or two ago we listened to an enthralling statement concerning our land troops from the Secretary of State for War, and to-day we have heard a very interesting narrative concerning our sea position. I am sorry that in some respects his narrative was too much of a generalisation, giving us not quite so much information, perhaps, as the House had hoped for and had a right to expect in present circumstances, and if one makes what seems to be criticism, I hope that it will not be taken as in any way antagonistic, but put forward simply with the desire to strengthen the hands of the right hon. Gentleman, the Admiralty and the national position generally. Two or three things stand out in that speech, but I shall touch on a few smaller points before I come to the two main points, namely, the position of the Fleet Air Arm and the U-boat warfare. Our ships are still taking the long journey round the Cape, and we have not control- of the Mediterranean. Those are two things of primary importance to us as a nation, and while things remain as they are we cannot feel as happy as we might be.
§ Mr. Ammon
I heard the right hon. Gentleman throughout without a murmur. I want to join, as I am sure the House does, in the First Lord's tribute to the Navy upon its outstanding exploits, namely, the North African Expedition, Malta and the Russian convoys. I am rather glad to mention the last-named subject, because sometimes it is forgotten, in our admiration for the wonderful fight which our Russian Allies are putting up, that this country has done a lot to keep them in the field. That fact ought to be borne steadily in mind by people who appear to think, sometimes, that we are not doing anything in that direction. We do no injustice to our Allies if we sometimes call attention to that fact. I am glad, also, that the right hon. Gentleman paid a tribute to the work of the Royal Air Force, because presently I shall say something about the unseemly squabble between the two Services.
Before I come to my two main points, I want to ask whether the Financial Secretary, when he replies, will give us 587 a little further information about our building programme. What are the relations between my right hon. Friend and Sir James Lithgow in this matter? Are we adopting any fresh designs and manufacturing processes? Is there any increase in out-turn? The First Lord spoke about output "above a certain figure," but we do not know what the standard was. It might be only one or two, or hundreds. We should like to have some more definite statement. What use is being made of our shipyards, particularly those to which I have referred over and over again in the past which were left derelict as a result of operations some time ago? Further, is there some new system of construction on the lines which are being pursued in the United States, and what is the reaction of our trade unions to them? One matter has aroused my curiosity. There is a new officer called the Admiralty Security Officer. I wonder what his job is and whether he is a naval officer. These are just, one or two smaller points upon which I should like some further information.
I turn now to the position of the Fleet Air Arm. I have no wish to add anything to the fury of this long-standing quarrel. I first went to the Admiralty in 1924, directly after the Fleet Air Arm had been taken away from the Admiralty, and therefore I know something about the position, and I got back to the Admiralty in 1929 before the Fleet Air Arm had been restored to the Admiralty, which was in I937. A good deal of what the Admiralty desired has been met. They now have a place on the Aircraft Supply Board and are able to deal directly with the Ministry of Aircraft Production. They have a strong ground for complaint, I think, in that the machines which they have are not sufficiently up-to-date. They are equipped with rather old machines for the important work they have to do. The Admiralty have a very creditable record with regard to aircraft. They invented the aircraft carrier and have done a lot in that respect. The Admiralty now deal directly with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and the Minister of Aircraft Production stated recently that the rearmament of the Fleet Air Arm was delayed because of a number of defects in types. Surely it is time that that was overcome.
588 In another place continuous warfare has been going on between distinguished protagonists of both Services, and it is time that this very undignified squabble ceased. There is room for both Services. The Admiralty has now been placed in a better position as regards its Fleet Air Arm and given the assistance which it should have for developing it, and it will be all to the good if, at any rate for a time, there are two Services developing and experimenting with designs and considering improvements. It cannot do any good to the Services- to have this constant bickering over the past, when they ought to be settling down to finding a way through their difficulties. I trust that if they do not settle down, the First Lord or somebody else will knock the heads of those distinguished protagonists together and tell them it is time they stopped disputing and got on with the work that really matters.
I want to come now to what is, after all, the most serious aspect we have to consider with regard to U-boat warfare. In the first place we are very much in the dark as to the exact position. I think I am right in saying there have been no official figures of losses since July, 1941. Surely it is time we had some more definite information. Unless we can defeat the U-boat, we are in danger of losing our sea power. That was stated by Admiral Sir Percy Noble, our representative in Washington, and the present hush-hush atmosphere creates a false sense of security. Sir Edward Carson, when he was First Lord during the last war, said, standing at that Box, that he had no use for so much secrecy because the enemy knew pretty well what was happening and secrecy did not help our people at home. Our people will face the very worst, they will be willing to go on bread and water if they think it is absolutely necessary in the interests of the nation, but when we get our rations every day and live with very little hardship, only just a little inconvenience, our people cannot be blamed for not realising the difficulties of the situation if they are not allowed to know the facts. I hope we shall be taken into greater confidence by the Admiralty. I believe in giving to a large extent what are more or less the figures of losses—I know they are pretty serious—but anyway we should have some better information. It looks to me as though the Germans may be accepting the position 589 that a military victory is somewhat remote and will turn their attention to cutting short our supplies in an endeavour to bring us to our knees or to bring about something like a stalemate.
The best comparison we can make with the last war is to take the position now and the position as it was in 1917, which was the critical year in that war. The present situation is much more critical than it was then. I admit right away that the problem we have to face is much bigger than it was in 1917. Then the Germans had not such large submarines as they now have, vessels which on the surface are able to do from 18 to 20 knots. Now there is the system of submarine packs lying in wait for our ships. We also had more escort vessels for our convoys than we have at the present time, and our convoys are larger than in those days. Those are the conditions with which we are faced. Although our losses in convoy may be heavy, that does not mean that the convoy system has been defeated; it may be, rather, that the convoys have not been properly safeguarded. If anybody got a little satisfaction out of the latter part of the First Lord's statement, I imagine that it would be my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), who some time ago raised with the Prime Minister the question of imports and the serious inroads being made into them, and has never been able to get any effective answer. Quite recently he was fobbed off again by the Prime Minister. I wish the First Lord had given us a little more information as to what exactly the import position is. One thing we know is, as the Prime Minister admitted himself, that we are now drawing on our food reserves. Having regard to the sinkings now going on, that is a very serious situation.
The year 1942 was indeed a very critical one. Shipping was being sunk at a greater irate and submarines were being built faster than one could sink them. Unless that position can be reduced very heavily, there will be a very serious strain upon our shipping. I understand, for instance, that what has made a bigger burden upon our cargo shipping is that the type of ship which is usually converted for use as a troopship is no longer being built anywhere in the world. The number of cargo ships sunk affects our supply position. Not only is there the loss of the ships, but the loss of the trained men, not to mention those who are put out of action because 590 of wounds, exposure and nervous strain. All this is going on day by day to a very serious degree. The First Lord drew attention to the falling-off in sinkings between December last and the present time, but there is nothing exceptional in that, because this is just the time of year when there would be less sinkings.
§ Mr. Ammon
Yes, Sir, I ought to have made that point. It is quite true, but normally it is always this period in which there is a falling off. The critical period will be in the next six months. Although the figures up to now appear a little better, they are by no means good enough. What I have said briefly states the position with which we have to deal. One has no right to make criticisms unless one can at the same time make some suggestion as to what might be the remedy in regard to them. I suppose a very cheap remedy is that there should be more and faster ships. I would remind my right hon. Friend that this suggestion revives a little dispute we had some time ago, when I drew his attention to the fact that the motor torpedo boats then being built to overtake the submarines were all of less speed than the vessels which they were supposed to catch. The point was admitted, and the answer was that the Admiralty were building a number of them. I have never been able to understand that answer, which seemed to mean only that a larger number of them would be sunk.
The rate of our convoys is so slow, sometimes down to under 7½ knots, that it is impossible to hope, in present conditions of intensive U-boat warfare, that we shall get a large number into safety, particularly in the more favourable weather for operations that is coming along. That is one of the things to be remembered. There must be co-operation. We want long-range bombers to co-operate with our escort vessels, and they must be trained to co-operate. That is one of the reasons why I hope that the squabble that has gone on for some time is now finished and that we shall be able to sweep it all aside and get down to the things that really matter. Everything has to be done with the ships which we have. The orders placed this year cannot be delivered until very late in the year or next year, and by that time we 591 may be in great difficulties. No doubt the continual bombing of Lorient, Bordeaux and St. Nazaire are all to the good. One must raise a little doubt as to whether they are quite as good or effective as we are sometimes led to think. The Noble Lord who used to sit in this House for Portsmouth, speaking in another place, called attention, I noticed, to the fact that after the last war he visited Bruges, which had been heavily bombed by us during the war, and he found that we did very little damage, because the submarines had been hidden there under immense concrete platforms. I suppose it is not unreasonable to imagine that that sort of thing has been improved on and increased during this war. I am not decrying or deprecating our efforts, or asking that they should be diminished, but we should not place too much confidence in them as being sufficient in that respect.
Speed will be the chief weapon. The fact of the U-boat being able to do 18 to 20 knots on the surface means that slow convoys are bound to come to disaster. I think it was on the last occasion when we spoke on this subject that I was interrupted and was told that just as many fast ships as slow were being sunk. I could not understand the importance of that interruption; because the fact simply is that the fast ships have to come down to the pace of the slow. They are all reduced to a level, and therefore are easy meat for the opponents. Our hope rests in being able to destroy the submarines faster than the enemy can build them. That sounds to me very much like a gospel of despair, because we are losing heavily in the supplies and men which are necessary even more to us than to the enemy, because of our position. Those are the things which trouble me, and I think the nation ought to be taken into greater confidence with regard to them. It may be that people will be called upon to face greater hardships and to make greater sacrifices. They will do so much more readily if they know the facts and are prepared in the right way, than if they feel that they have been kept in a fools' paradise and deceived as to the actual position.
I suppose it is almost impossible for a ship of less than 20 knots to sail independently. Nothing under that can probably do that with any degree of 592 safety. I find that all those persons who are intimately concerned with shipping, such as the Chamber of Shipping, are in accord with a demand for faster ships. They say there should be faster ships to the fullest extent that practical considerations permit. The seamen's trade union have expressed themselves in the same way. Are the Admiralty using all the available resources to get all the speed that is possible? Surely we have a right to be informed with regard to that matter. It is useless to turn out numbers of ships, however great the numbers may be, if the ships are so slow that they are bound to be sunk by the enemy.
§ Captain Cunningham-Reid (St. Mary-lebone)
Was not that point answered yesterday in the other place?
§ Mr. Ammon
One does not know what happened in the other place during the Session. On this matter, a little while ago the Financial Secretary to the Admiralty, in reply to my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), said:The policy of the Government has been and will be to build the ships which, with the labour resources available, would give the best results, having regard to the need for providing the requisite number of escort vessels.What does that mean? It simply means nothing. What we want to know is whether the ships are being built. We do not want Ministers to get away with veiled language which really conveys nothing whatever. A subsequent attempt at questioning to get some better statement was unsuccessful. The Minister went on to say that the policy of the Admiralty "has been consistent since the beginning of the war." It is that consistency to which I object. That statement rather gives it away. I will give the Admiralty credit for one advantage. It is sometimes said that we are always thinking in terms of the war before last. At least the Admiralty is thinking in terms of the last one.
§ Mr. Ammon
That was due to the gallantry of the men on the seas, and is not in any way due to administration. Adminstration has been slack right through. One never in this House diminishes one's tribute to the gallantry, heroism and bravery of the men "who go down to the sea in ships," but the 593 House has a duty to look after the welfare of those men, and more particularly of the merchant seamen, who have paid such a heavy price in the work they are doing. I appeal to the Admiralty not to procrastinate as it did in 1917. One knows the trouble there was to get the Admiralty to take up an idea. History records that the Admiralty has again and again refused to listen to advice. Advice has been given to the present Government again and again on this occasion over this question of faster ships. It has often been found that, later on, suggestions made to a Government and to the Admiralty have been taken up grudgingly and slowly, but late all the time. I suggest that we give up the hush-hush method, which is creating a wrong impression here, in the Dominions and in America. Again, I point out that it is not merely idle curiosity that makes people ask questions. They want to know, and they have a right to know, how our Navy is going, what protection is being given to our Merchant Service, whether supplies are coming in and whether they will meet the needs of this country. All those things are bound up in the points which I have raised.
The right hon. Gentleman said that almost daily a story is coming in of the damage that our submarines are doing to the submarines of the enemy countries. Yes, and we pay a tribute to them, but what about the toll which the submarines of the enemy are taking of us? One is anxious to know what steps, and what active steps, are being taken to cope with that particular menace. That is the only point I need to raise at the moment.
From everywhere, not only here but in the United States and the Dominions, some disquiet has been voiced about not being kept fully informed. If people are not kept fully informed, there are two effects. There is either raised in the mind a feeling that things are not so bad—as far as one can gather, that is the feeling in the United States—for the simple reason that people are not getting the fullest information; or people are plunged into despair from fear that we are losing and are not keeping pace with the enemy. I conclude, as I began, in the hope that we shall have some assurance as to the rate of shipbuilding and of the steps that are being taken to meet the U-boat menace. Above all, I would remind my right hon. Friend that he need never be afraid that our people will wilt 594 from being told that times are hard and difficult and that they may have to undergo greater hardships and strain. They will go down to the very lowest possible level of subsistence, if necessary, in order that we may be able to see our way through, but they have to be assured that everything possible is being done and nothing is being left to chance or delayed in order to make sure of victory as quickly as possible. Our people are ready to help us to deal with it.
§ Lieut.-Commander Tufnell (Cambridge)
No one could have listened to the First Lord of the Admiralty without being almost inspired by the tribute he was able to pay to the work of the British Navy in attempting to maintain the position of command of the sea. My right hon. Friend realised that that command is absolutely vital to this country in order to ensure our supplies coming in and to bring the war to an end as quickly as possible. I think the whole country is beginning to realise that what is perhaps the most vital thing that is happening to-day is the battle of the U-boats. If we were to lose that battle of the U-boats we should find it extremely difficult, almost impossible, to open up any further front, to get any closer to the enemy, to ensure those supplies to Russia, to ensure supplies to our Middle East Forces, to bur North African Expeditionary Forces and still to continue the flow of adequate supplies to this country to enable us to produce what is necessary as quickly as possible. The question that occurs to everyone I think is, "Are we sinking these U-boats fast enough?" Only yesterday we read in the papers that the U-boats are being produced faster than we are able to sink them, and I hope my right hon. Friend is using every means to ensure that in the construction which he brings forward everything is done to ensure that those weapons which will sink U-boats will have equal priority with every other weapon which is just as vital.
The necessity of sinking U-boats is a really necessary matter for the Admiralty to see carried out as quickly as possible. We have been told that in the last six months we were one and a half million tons of shipping to the good. We are not told what the position was before that, owing to the fact that we have not been getting the figures of sinkings. I venture to suggest that shipping 595 before that was not really equal to the tremendous tasks which it has to perform to-day—the supplying of the North African Expedition, the opening of new fronts, and also the extra shipping which we must require in view of the increased production in our own country and from overseas of weapons which must be brought to our own Forces and to Russia in order to bring our Armies in closer contact with each other. We have already heard many discussions as to whether the ships that are being built now are fast enough. We are being told that if we do build faster ships it interferes with the production of engines for other requirements. I am not quite sure whether that is the right policy which we are pursuing, but the fact is that if it is not really practicable to go in for fast ships, which seems to be the best way of defeating the submarine, then we should realise how effective has been the result of strongly escorted convoys and see that these escort vessels of all kinds are turned out as fast as possible—that in fact they are turned out like shelling peas. We must have these escort vessels turned out as fast as possible, and I hope that the First Lord will see that priority is given that he gets into consultation with the Ministry of Production to see that the output of these escort vessels is increased.
I notice that the First Lord is anxious to show the interest which the Admiralty are taking in the Fleet Air Arm. I hope that he will see that the Fleet Air Arm is supplied with the most up-to-date machines and get them along as quickly as possible. We cannot have any more stories of officers in the Fleet Air Arm going out in out-of-date machines to try and do their job. They must have the most up-to-date machines, they must be provided with suitable aircraft carriers in adequate numbers to go out into the Atlantic and help in this task of submarine hunting, and they must get them along as quickly as possible, because the next six months are going to be absolutely vital to this country in the sinking of U-boats as fast as possible and in ensuring that no ship is lost by U-boat attack. That can be most effectively carried out by ensuring that all these weapons, these escort vessels, these aircraft carriers, the Fleet Air Arm, the reconnaissance aircraft, should be hurried on as fast as possible.
596 In regard to all these matters, has my right hon. Friend any sort of committee or research board which could look into any inventions or new ideas that can be used for improving the construction of our own vessels, whether they be inventions of to-day or inventions that have been brought out in the past? I think my right hon. Friend will recollect that I brought to his notice the case of the Errin process, which, as far as I can make out, would have enabled submarines to work for longer hours under water under more economical conditions, if that process was practicable. I got a very nice letter from him pointing out that whole thing was investigated and turned down in 1932 and 1938. Things have altered since then. Now is the opportunity, if there is anything in such a process, to go forward with it and bring it before some sort of committee which will be able to investigate all these types of processes which may be still on the shelves of the Admiralty, possibly unused when they might be of use. I would just mention very shortly what I think is the most important point of what is going on in the Battle of the Atlantic. I do urge my right hon. Friend that he should do his very best to impress upon every one of his colleagues who have most influence the importance of hurrying on construction of such anti-submarine vessels as will ensure the safety of what is one of the most vital of our arteries.
§ Mr. Walter Edwards (Whitechapel and St. George's)
Seeing that this is the first occasion upon which I have had the privilege of listening to the First Lord presenting his annual Estimates, I feel it most appropriate that I should make some little contribution to the Debate to-day. My main reason for wanting to make this contribution is to be of assistance. I do not want to be destructive in any way, but I do want to give the House, as a result of my three years' experience in this war, engaged in active service with the Navy, some observations of the men who serve on the lower deck in connection with the problems with which we are confronted and which we are discussing to-day. The main one without doubt, not only so far as the men on the lower deck are concerned, but to the country and to the United Nations as a whole, is that of our convoy system. I personally have been engaged in convoys both across the 597 Atlantic and to Russia, and I want to say for my right hon. Friend's Department that in the last 12 months great improvements indeed have taken place. At the beginning of the war things were going very badly so far as that aspect of the naval service was concerned, but in spite of the improvement I feel that there is still much room for greater improvement.
To-day, it is quite true that a large number of extra escort vessels have been built, that they are much better armed than they were before, especially in connection with aircraft attack, and that they are much better able to deal with the submarine menace. But in my view we have still far too many vessels which are not fast enough to be able to cope with this menace. I think it is perfectly true to say that many vessels which are chasing submarines to-day, not only escorting convoys but many vessels which are supposed to chase submarines, have not got the speed of the submarine, and I believe that the Admiralty should go into that policy. Although it may have been expedient at one time or other to introduce any form of vessel into this very important work of submarine chasing, in view of the fact that we have greatly increased the number of our escort vessels, these slow vessels should be withdrawn at the earliest possible moment from that service and put on the service for which they were built.
There is also another very important question from the point of view of the men which I would like to raise, and that is, that on some of the smaller vessels engaged in convoy work they are very often called upon to undertake the work of rescuing survivors from merchant ships. On a number of occasions when we have had that experience no provision had, been made for providing clothes for these survivors. That contingency might have been covered in the larger ships, but it was not done in the small ships. It was only through the personnel of the Navy, and of the lower deck especially, passing on part of their kit that many of these survivors had anything to go about in. The reply may be that the men get compensated for passing on clothes, but the rate of compensation is about two-thirds of the actual value, and it probably comes some months later, so that in the small ships it is not always easy for men to replace the gear which they have given. I hope my right hon. Friend will see that small ships which are likely to rescue survivors shall 598 have a reasonable amount of clothing for the purpose.
I would like to refer to the granting of commissions. This is a very sore point with the lower deck. Having served on a ship where many of the candidates get their sea training, to me there seems to be something wrong. People have been selected as candidates for commissions and put through their course of sea training, and have never been able to conduct themselves at sea in a sailor-like way, yet they have been passed as fit to take charge of ships and of men. There have been extreme cases where chief petty officers, with 20 or 30 years' experience, have not been thought worth considering for commissions, yet people with no sea experience are selected on the experience they have had outside, which has usually been that of a bank clerk or some office worker. Rarely has a man been selected from the so-called labouring classes. One of the main considerations taken into account by the selection board is the financial situation of the man concerned. It is felt on the lower deck that that system is all wrong. It is time that financial considerations had nothing to do with the granting of commissions. Many good men are being deprived of the opportunity, either because they are not in a financial position to pay for their kit, or because the Services demand far more from them as officers than the Services are prepared to pay them for doing the job, especially in the case of junior officers. The Navy is losing good material as a result.
I understand that merchant shipbuilding and ship repairing come under this Vote. I have been in many shipyards in this country, both Royal shipyards and private ones. The House will agree that the work being done in the shipyards is as vital as that being done anywhere. My experience in some of these dockyards indicates that nobody could put in a greater effort, but that at times there is legitimate complaint about transport facilities. I know of occasions when ships have been held up a considerable time because vital parts have not been delivered when they were wanted. There must be some form of priority granted to the Navy in this important part of this work. There is no denying how absolutely imperative it is that we should have merchant shipbuilding on a proper basis. My hon. Friend the Member for North Camberwell (Mr. Ammon) spoke about the building of 599 fast ships According to my right hon. Friend the First Lord, merchant shipbuilding is being primarily performed in the United States, while we concentrate mainly on escort vessels. Wherever the work is done, I am sure that the question is of great interest here, both to the Admiralty and to the country in general. There is a strong case for seeing that we have these fast ships built as quickly as possible and that we abolish the very slow convoys. Without doubt, dozens of ships have been lost to this country wholly and solely because of the slowness of the convoys. It has been possible for a submarine to follow some convoys thousands and thousands of miles without great difficulty. Convoys have been far too slow. It is all very well to say that some of the fast ships are being sunk. The only reason is that they are being made to go at the speed of the slowest ships in the convoys.
§ Mr. Alexander
Our calculation between the two is made this way. Ships sunk in convoy are given a percentage, and ships sunk out of convoy, including the fast ships, are given a percentage. When I say that many fast ships are being sunk at the same rate, I am confining myself to the fast ships sunk out of convoy, so my hon. Friend's statement does not apply.
§ Mr. Edwards
But the ships sunk out of convoy have no protection from the armed vessels of the Fleet. That is possibly why But if we have a sufficient number of escort vessels, even the fast ships can easily be convoyed, and that will make it much more difficult for the submarines to cause so much damage. I was extremely impressed by the reference of my right hon. Friend to the work of Coastal Command. That work has my greatest respect. I have seen quite a lot of it. But here again, without any doubt at all there is room for great improvement. I have been on a convoy which was attacked for four days, and we never had an aeroplane from Coastal Command or from anywhere else to assist us. That may be all remedied as a result of these improvements which have been announced, but if it has not been remedied, it is of the utmost importance to take every possible precaution in the air. It cannot always be done by anti-aircraft armament.
600 I do not know whether it is usual on these occasions for my right hon. Friend to say anything about pay and allowances. The subject was certainly not mentioned. As I said that I intended to deal with matters which concerned the lower deck, it might be worth while to introduce that matter again. The House will remember the Debate last September, in which no fewer than 33 Members took part. At least 90 per cent. of those speakers felt that the men in the Services were not getting the consideration they were entitled to with regard to pay to themselves and allowances to their families. The Government came to a decision, which I can assure my right hon. Friend has not met with the approval of the men in the Navy at any rate. I hope that he will again get into touch with the other Service Ministers on this question, in order that satisfaction may be obtained. My right hon. Friend laid particular emphasis on the devotion to duty of the men in the Navy and the debt which we owed to them. Talk of that description is not like giving them what they are worth. It is very important that this matter-should be raised again as quickly as possible and that a large number of anomalies, which I do not intend to go into at this moment, should be removed, to show that we are genuine when we say in this House how much we owe to these men for their services.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
I congratulate the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. W. J. Edwards) on putting so many questions from the lower-deck point of view, and I agree particularly with what he said about commissions. I hope that the First Lord will give that subject his attention. The First Lord gave us a very interesing survey of the work of the Navy. As an old submarine pioneer, I should like to tell him that I am very much concerned about the U-boat menace. We heard over the wireless the other night from Berlin the percentage of sinkings for the years 1939–42. I do not suppose that the figures are accurate, but they show that the sinkings are going up the curve. Last night we were told from Germany that the U-boat sinkings from October, 1942, to the end of February, 1943, were over 3,000,000 tons, compared with 1,250,000 tons last winter. It all shows that the sinkings are tending to increase. We do 601 not know the number of U-boats actually in service, but the United States have told us that there are 100 U-boats working in packs in the Atlantic, and Colonel Knox, the American-Secretary of the Navy, says that there are 300 to 400 U-boats in service. Dr. Goebbels has promised us that in 1943 they will have 1,000 U-boats in service, but I suspect that figure is exaggerated. U-boats are easy to construct. You have only to build the rings to which the plates are riveted in one part of a shipyard, and roll the plates in another part. You construct the engines in an engine factory and the electric lead cells in small sheds. The component parts are brought together, and built in sections, then erected, probably in some small slipway in the Baltic. The modern U-boat is much more powerful than the U-boat of the last war. It has a much stronger hull, an increased range, and a much better armament—it carries more torpedoes and so on—and it can be produced quickly in very great numbers.
Lord Trenchard laid the foundations of a great air service and everybody in this House and throughout the country congratulates him on the wonderful service that he started, but no amount of bombing can ever knock out these U-boats in their cradles, owing to the dispersal of the industry—the various parts, as I have said are built in different places. Bombing is of very great value indeed because it may delay the construction of these boats, but it Will never knock them out entirely. I hope that the bombing will continue but we must not expect too much from it. We read that Germany is likely to run short of U-boat crews for manning these U-boats. I can speak from practical experience of that. It is not difficult to train U-boat crews. That great torpedoist, Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon, the best captain of submarines we have ever had, was trained by Captain Cable of the American Holland Boat Company when we built the first submarines for this country. He trained me. He imparted his knowledge to me with great care and that enabled me to train the first five submarine crews for work in the Royal Navy. We did not have any intensive training. I used to take the boats out into Barrow Docks and then into the Irish Sea and we soon got crews sufficiently competent to take charge of the submarines. The Germans 602 have had intensive training in the Baltic for submarine crews for the last 10 years and to say that the Germans are likely to run short of U-boat crews is mere wishful thinking.
We have heard a good deal about the speed of merchant ships. One would think that there was something new about that. When we started the submarines we laid down and showed by diagrams, and so on, in books, that the faster the vessel the less time she was in a submarine danger angle and in submarine-infested areas. That is child's knowledge; everybody knows that. But many factors indeed have to be considered in dealing with fast ships. You have to lay down what percentage of security you gain in raising the speed, and then what maximum cargo you can carry. The displacement of the ship has to be settled and the material required to build that ship, not only the hull but the engines, and also the docking facilities. You have to see whether you have the slipways for the building of these ships of larger displacement, whether you have berths for loading and unloading, whether they are satisfactory, and whether the arrangements for turning round require alteration. All these factors have to be considered. It is no good people merely saying that we must have fast ships. The Admiralty are the best judges. They have the finest experts in the world dealing with the convoy system and they know exactly what is required, and it does not require letters in the Press to ginger them up by saying that faster ships are necessary.
Who is dealing with this U-boat menace? I asked the Prime Minister a Question not long ago, and he told me that he had scrapped the Battle of the Atlantic Committee and had set up a new Committee called the U-boat Committee. Who is serving on that U-boat Committee? There is the Prime Minister. Everybody in this House will agree that the Prime Minister is very much overworked. I had the privilege of working with the Prime Minister in the last war and I know his capacity for work. He works extremely hard, but his colleagues ought to advise him not to do quite so much. Every Member of this House hopes that the Prime Minister will soon be restored to his normal health. On that Committee, next to the Prime Minister, 603 you have the Minister of Aircraft Production. He is one of the brain-waves of the party above the Gangway, but I do not think he knows much about submarines. Next to him, we have the First Lord of the Admiralty. He is an expert in many things, I know, but I would not quite say that he is a submarine expert. You have the Minister of Production; he is not a submarine expert. Next you have the First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Dudley Pound. He is a very great admiral and naval strategist. In his younger days he was a torpedo officer and was an expert on the Whitehead Torpedo, but he was not a submarine officer. After the First Sea Lord, you have the Secretary of State for Air. He is a great man in the Air Service but he is not a submarine expert. There is the Minister of War Transport—he is not a submarine expert—and the Chief of the Air Staff, who is a great airman but is not a submarine expert. You have no submarine expert at all on that Committee.
The Germans have lately appointed Admiral Donetz, a U-boat ace, to take charge of the whole of the German Navy and we may expect the U-boat warfare to be intensified. I ask the First Lord to consult the Prime Minister and his colleagues to see whether they cannot put a flag officer with submarine experience in charge of the whole of the U-boat warfare. Give him some of the submarine officers who have done so well in the Mediterranean on his staff, and also officers from the Coastal Command, and ask the President of the United States whether he can send representatives—submarine and air experts—to serve on this committee. I am certain that we have to tackle the submarine warfare in a big way. It is no good thinking in terms of 50; we must think in terms of 500. We have also to see that we have first priority in long distance aircraft for fighting the German aircraft that work with the U-boats and aircraft for auxiliary aircraft carriers, and of radio location instruments and so on. I ask the First Lord to tell us before the Debate is over whether he has got first priority for the equipment I have mentioned. I was very glad to hear the First Lord pay such a very high tribute to our submarine service; they have done magnificent work.
§ Mr. Alexander
I am sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will remember, in view of what he said, that Admiral Sir Max Horton, who is now in charge of the main area of U-boats in the Western Command, is a very great submarine expert, and his advice and presence whenever required are available to the U-boat Committee. We take into account a great deal of what he advises.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Yes, I know. He is in control of the Western Command. I want a submarine officer of flag rank, and of great experience, to be in charge of the whole of Submarine Warfare. We have, I am certain, to pull up our socks over this and do more. It is no good being satisfied with what is being done. These enemy submarines are increasing in numbers and we have to face up to them; if not, we shall get a crack in this country which will be serious.
I was saying that I was very glad that the First Lord paid such a high tribute to our submarine service and to the wonderful work our submarine captains have done, particularly in the Mediterranean. All old pioneers of the submarine are thrilled when we see accounts in the Press that they have sunk ship after ship and so on, and it must give Admiral Sir Reginald Bacon great satisfaction to see what is being done in that service, the foundations of which he laid so well over 40 years ago.
Leaving submarines, I pass to the Fleet Air Arm, and I congratulate the First Lord, that after three and a half years of war, he has put three Admirals in charge of the Naval Air Service. Words fail me in paying high tribute to the pilots and observers of the Fleet Air Arm. They have done magnificent work, at the battles of Taranto and Matapan, the sinking of the Bismarck, and the escorting of that great Armada to Northern Africa. Only last October, one of the Taranto pilots, giving a lecture at the Royal United Services Institution, said the torpedo fleet of the Fleet Air Arm had sunk or damaged very severely 30 warships and many tons of Axis shipping. That is a great feat of those gallant Air pilots. But the naval air service has suffered rather from fluid administration at the top. The First Lord has held his high office for two periods now. He is a sound business man besides and I would ask him whether any business could be run successfully if you 605 shifted your manager five times in three and a half years. We have had five admirals running the Naval Air Service in that period. Of course, you cannot do it. We had a very fine admiral in charge of the Naval Air Service—Admiral Lister—who came back from Taranto full of energy for the work. He had been on active service and we hoped that he would stay at the Admiralty. He is a man who knew the airmen and could speak the same language as airmen and in whom they had confidence, but he was removed for convoy work. Then there was—and I mention this officer's name because there have been questions about him across the Floor of this House—Admiral Sir Frederick Dreyer. He was one of the finest gunnery officers in the Navy. Everything he touched in the gunnery line came out a success. He is a great technician and he did not ask to be put in control of the Naval Air Service. He was appointed there by the Admiralty and I think that the First Lord will agree that he was working uncommonly hard. I would ask the First Lord whether he would consult Sir 'Frederick Dreyer—I understand he is now in charge of air equipment—about the machines we are getting for the Naval Air Service. I want to give him what is said in America about modern machines. In a speech in the United States Mr. Carl Vinson, the Chairman of the House of Representatives, Naval Affairs Committee, on Tuesday, 22nd September, 1942, said:The new Torpedo Bomber was perhaps the most lethal weapon yet devised for action against surface vessels.It saw action at Midway only four months after the first plane had left the manufacturers and participated in sinking four Japanese aircraft carriers, two cruisers, three destroyers and damaging three battleships.That is a very good effort. Some of these pilots who visited the United States from their work in the Pacific, reported at Boston on 26th September, 1942, that heavy land-based bombers had proved incapable of halting the invasion fleet. Only dive-bombers and torpedo-carrying planes could do the job. Lieutenant Gayler, who did such good work in the aircraft carriers "Lexington" and "Yorktown," said big bombers had not sunk a major ship in this war. Every such job had been done by dive-bombers or torpedo planes. The Americans have produced a torpedo aircraft, the Grumman Avenger. It is a monoplane with folding wings, and has a 606 retractable undercarriage, a 1,600 horsepower Wright engine and one 21-in torpedo. Have we something better than that? If not, why not? The First Lord said that we have the best fighter in the world now. Is that better than the Vought-Sikorski Corsair fighter? This machine which the Americans possess is in the 400 m.p.h. class. It would be interesting to know if we have a better one. The First Lord said that one of our torpedo air machines had to be re-designed because of the engine, and I understand that it had certain other weaknesses.
Has he at the Admiralty a technical staff such as we had in the Royal Naval Absentee? We had a good technical staff there under Mr. Harris Booth, who worked uncommonly hard to give us good machines. But it is no good dipping into the past unless we can do so with profit. Did we have good Royal Naval Air Service machines or not? It is not right for me to give an opinion because I happened to be connected with that Service, but I will give the opinion of Admiral Sir Reginald Hall, who was a Member of Parliament at that time and who, speaking on the Navy Estimates in 1922, said:It was my good fortune to be at the Admiralty in the early part of the war and during the latter part, and I have a distinct recollection of the very fine work of the Royal Naval Air Service. I have a still more lively recollection of the way in which they supplied the best machines and how they secured the best engines, and although I do not wish to make invidious comparisons, I venture to say that they got the best personnel, too."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 16th March, 1922; col. 2463, Vol. 151.]That is a high tribute. We had a high tribute also the other day in another place from Lord Keyes, who, I am sure, we should all like to congratulate on his elevation.
§ Sir M. Sueter
Lord Keyes, in making a very fine maiden speech, said it had been his good fortune to inherit 15 squadrons of Royal Naval Air Service machines, and that they were the most up-to-date and powerful unit of their kind in the world, possessing the heavy bomber which was the envy of the Royal Flying Corps in those days. He said that we possessed the best fighters and bombers in the world. I will now quote another higher opinion on the present machines in the 607 Naval Air Service. The First Lord, in a speech he made the other day at the Constitutional Club, said, according to "The Times" of 14th January, 1943:The work of the Fleet Air Arm, although it has had to use old and slow, although sound, aircraft, has been beyond reproach. The nation should make every effort to see that they are supplied with the most modem machines and equipment.I think all my colleagues would agree that the Admiralty have let me down. They have a grievance against me for my air views but I have a "darned" sight more grievance against them. They have let me down and have let down all my boys of the Royal Naval Air Service. Twenty-five years ago we gave you the best machines in the world. Now we are told that the Fleet Air Arm has to use "old and slow, although sound, aircraft."
§ Mr. Austin Hopkinson (Mossley)
The hon. and gallant Gentleman talks about his machines in the last war. We still have them, or, at any rate, some of them.
§ Sir M. Sueter
My hon. Friend is perfectly right. The "Swordfish" is closely descended from the "Cuckoo," the first torpedo plane I got out in the last war. I want to submit a few suggestions to the First Lord and I think I have earned the right to do so. I ask the First Lord to keep the three admirals he has appointed to be in charge of the Naval Air Service in their posts as long as possible because if you keep shifting them the pilots do not know their chiefs and have no confidence in their administration. I would ask the First Lord to give these three admirals the same support as the present Prime Minister gave me when he was First Lord. Whenever there was anything wrong, I used to take it to him, and if it concerned other Departments, it was soon put right. Secondly, will the First Lord let the airmen run their own show and not Jet others, who have no air knowledge at all, interfere? Thirdly, will the First Lord look into the careers of these young naval airmen and see that they get the same facilities for advancement as their brothers in the Royal Air Force? Will he also go into the question of training young naval officers and give them some training in the air? May I remind him of Sir Frederick Dryer? Anyone could see that he would go to the top of the tree. He was the 608 son of a learned professor in Northern Ireland and the type of man whom you could see would advance rapidly. Will the First Lord institute proper air training as they do in America, so that those who have commands afloat will know what is to be done and there will not be friction between the air and naval Services? Will the First Lord look into his inspectorate department and see that the new machines delivered and the machines that have been reconditioned are properly inspected before they go on active service? I have heard that there is not much confidence in the inspections that go on now.
The First Lord gave the names of submarine officers who have done such wonderful work in the Mediterranean. I welcome his action as an old submarine man, but why not give the names of the air pilots who have sunk so many convoy ships going to Rommel?
§ Sir M. Sueter
But they could be put into the lists. No Naval Air Service officer wants to be advertised, but he likes a little legitimate publicity and I asked the First Lord last November to get out a booklet on the work of the Naval Air Service, the destroyers and submarines. He said he would do so, but it has not been done yet. I am certain that everybody in the country would like to know what the Naval Air Service is doing.
Lord Keyes, in another place, said he would like to see a clean slate and a fresh start made with the Naval Air Service. I think that is a splendid idea. But before the First Lord washes the slate clean, I would ask him to put things right with the naval air pioneers. The naval air pioneer was also a submarine pioneer. He was given a savage deal by the Admiralty—a deal unworthy of the great British Admiralty. I will leave it at that. I would ask him to look into the case of an old air pioneer, Admiral Mark Kerr, who took his pilot's certificate on a Sop-with Bat flying boat many years ago. He flew in our machines at Taranto and Otranto, where he did great work, and was wounded in a scrap in the Adriatic, in which one of his eyes was nearly knocked out, and he was badly gassed. When he came home the First Sea Lord said he would recommend him for a high 609 honour. This admiral received an air appointment, and for his air views he was called a traitor and was suddenly removed from his post and never received what he was promised. All the air pioneers have had a raw deal from the Admiralty. The Admiralty owe me one; they have used my torpedo plane invention, that I got out with the late Lieutenant Hyde Thomson, with good results in this war. I ask the First Lord to send for Admiral Mark Kerr and put things right. After all, we do not vote money in this House for admirals at the Admiralty to "down" their brother officers because they have progressive ideas. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Molton (Mr. Lambert), who always gives us words of wisdom, and who is a fine old Liberal statesman, told me the other day that Admiral Lord Fisher said that the Navy would still be using bows and arrows as in King Alfred's day in 893 if it were not for progressive men. I submit that naval airmen were progressive men.
I know the First Lord will say that he has not time to go into the question of what was done by former Boards of Admiralty, but I noticed in a Sunday paper a few days ago a picture of him attending a football match. I hope he likes doing that sort of thing and that he is able to get away from his work occasionally, but, nevertheless, if he has time to do that, then he has time to look into this question of the treatment of the pioneer airmen. He might say that there is no precedent for this. If so, then he has only to send to the Admiralty library for a volume on the life of Lord Dundonald and see what Queen Victoria did to him alter he had been badly persecuted. There was a case across the Atlantic recently. General Mitchell was an air pioneer in America. He warned his countrymen that battleships were vulnerable, that a separate air service was necessary, and for his air views was court-martialed and deprived of his rank and emoluments. His emoluments were restored by the President, but the poor fellow died of a broken heart. Recently the Government of the United States promoted him posthumously to full general and named a squadron of medium bombers after him. If the United States Government can do that, I submit that the First Lord of the Admiralty can do it too and restore the faith of the naval 610 air pioneers in fair Admiralty administration of their naval air service.
§ Lieut.-Commander Brabner (Hythe)
I am pleased indeed to be called after my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), because I want to underline some of the points he made and also to talk briefly about the Naval Air Service, which is my own air arm. I hope I shall be excused from taking this rather unusual action of talking about my own Service, but since the retirement of my hon. Friend the Member for Mossley (Mr. Hopkinson), I think I am the only Member of this House who is still in this Service. We have heard a great deal about the Fleet Air Arm in this House and in another place. The First Lord at the opening of the Debate to-day gave the Fleet Air Arm a large place in his review of the Navy, but I would ask him whether we now have the priority in aircraft construction which we have been asking for so many years. It is unreasonable that pilots are still being asked to fight under modern conditions in aircraft which fly at only 100 miles per hour. That is not a reasonable thing to do in the Navy. I think the First Lord is right in saying that we have a better fighter now in the Sea-fire, and I hope the bad old days will not return.
I would like to say a word about those experts who talk about the possibility of landing various aircraft on the deck of a carrier. Lord Brabazon wrote to "The Times" about two weeks ago and said that seaborne aircraft must always be inferior to land-based aircraft. That is not so. I do not know of any single-engined aircraft in service with the Royal Air Force to-day which cannot be landed on the deck of a carrier. The difficulty has always been—I speak from experience—to get these aircraft. I am hoping that the First Lord will be able to give us a complete assurance that the position is not only improving but is getting as good as it could be. We are not asking for a priority over the Royal Air Force. That would be senseless. We are merely asking for priority with them. We fight the same enemy; we ask for the same weapons and the same facilities as they have to do it.
I want to say something about publicity. The First Lord has told us of the many achievements of naval aircraft operating in various parts of the world— 611 in the desert, with convoys, and so on. But must we wait for this annual review of the Navy before we get news of these things? The men operating in the desert, dropping flares in the battle of El Alamein, were doing excellent work, but nothing was said about it in the communiqués of that time. This is something which has news value, and I believe these men ought to have had their story told at that particular time——