§ The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
During the past year the Royal Air Force has fought hard and expanded rapidly. The process of expansion gives rise to problems of training, organisation and supply, which increase in complexity with the introduction of new and advanced types of aircraft and scientific equipment. The expansion and development of the training organisation at home and overseas to meet the operational requirements of 888 the Royal Air Force has continued during the past year. The total output of trained aircrews was substantially higher in 1942 than in 1941, and will continue to increase this year. We now group pilots, navigators and air bombers together on entry into the Service, and their selection for the particular aircrew category is made after preliminary training on a common course, with a flight test. By this means the percentage of failures during the first stage of pilot training has been reduced by 20 per cent.
Year by year we ask more of our pilots and crews and give them larger and faster aircraft and more complicated equipment to use. Moreover, pilots and observers trained overseas need—before they can begin their operational training—some period of acclimatisation to get used to the black-out and bad weather over here, and to flying over this little island with its intricate pattern of railways, roads and tiny fields. Accordingly, between the completion of basic training and entry into the operational training units, in which the aircrews are trained and pass out to the squadrons, we have interposed the advanced flying units for pilots and observers. Special attention has also been paid to armament training, particularly air gunnery. New methods have been adopted and courses lengthened. The standard of navigation training has also been raised until the standard for instructors and navigation staff officers is now equal to what we formerly expected only from navigation specialists. In short, we have raised the standards and lengthened the period of aircrew training at a time when the enemy has been forced severely to reduce the length of his training courses and to accept a lowered standard of aircrew efficiency. The fruits of our training are reflected in the greatly increased impact of the Royal Air Force—and especially of Bomber Command—on the enemy. They can be seen, also, as the House will I am sure be glad to learn, in a marked decline in the proportion of accidents to hours flown. At present the accident rate in the Royal Air Force is 20 per cent. below what it was at this time last year.
The contribution made by the Dominions to the war in the air has continued on the same magnificent scale as hitherto. The Joint Air Training Plan Agreement concluded in 1939 between the Governments of the United Kingdom, 889 Canada, Australia and New Zealand for the training of aircrews was extended until March, 1945, at the Conference held in Ottawa last June. The new Agreement provides for a still further expansion of training facilities in Canada. Besides undertaking responsibility for the administration and control of this vast plan, Canada provides a major proportion of the pupils, and has accepted financial responsibility for one half of the cost of the organisation.
It would not be fitting for me to fail to mention the recent announcement of the Canadian Government's generous intention to undertake financial responsibility for the whole cost of the 35 Royal Canadian Air Force squadrons formed or to be formed under the Agreement for service with the Royal Air Force in this country and in other theatres of war. As, however, the proposal has, I understand, still to be considered by the Canadian Parliament, the House will not expect me to do more than refer to it at this stage. We have more recently had the pleasure of welcoming delegations from Australia and New Zealand who came to this country to negotiate extensions of the Empire Air Training Schemes in Australia and New Zealand which were orginally concluded in 1939, and have been operating with no less success than the larger scheme in Canada. I would like to pay warm tribute to these two Dominions for continuing throughout to send aircrews to serve with the Royal Air Force, despite the entry of Japan into the war. The great training organisations in South Africa and Southern Rhodesia are also operating with great success and producing highly trained aircrews in increasing numbers.
I pay grateful tribute to all these countries for their generous exertions in organizing these schemes and overcoming all manner of difficulties, and to the large number of young men of the Dominions they have trained and who are now playing so gallant a part with the Royal Air Force against the enemy in all theatres of war. Nor, without the generous and un-stinted help of the United States Government, who lent us in 1941 a substantial proportion of their aircrew training organisation with invaluable training aircraft and instructors, could we have reached our present level of achievement. The growth of our own training organisation has now enabled us to return many 890 of these training schools to the U.S. Air Forces.
In Technical Training Command the standard of skill of the trained men and women has continued at a high level, while the administration of the Command has been reorganised to simplify the administrative control. There has been some re-organisation, also, in Balloon Command with a view to increased efficiency. There is, however, no change in the policy of employing women as balloon operators; on the contrary, the policy has been admirably justified by results, and in the reorganised Command 47 per cent. of the strength will be women.
The Air Ministry is deeply indebted to Miss Violet Markham and her colleagues for their Report on the Women's Services. Nearly all its recommendations, apart from those which were already in operation when the Report was published, have been adopted or accepted in principle.
§ Mr. Bellenger (Bassetlaw)
The right hon. Gentleman says the recommendations of the Committee have been accepted in principle. Have they been accepted in practice?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Certainly, but perhaps the hon. Member would raise that in the course of the Debate, and my right hon. and gallant Friend the Joint Under-Secretary of State will answer him. I do not want to keep the House too long, and as it is I am afraid I shall have to make some demand on the patience of hon. Members.
There is another Royal Air Force Command of which little is heard but whose admirable work I feel it my duty to bring to the attention of the House—I refer to Maintenance Command. From small beginnings—half-a-dozen units and less than 7,000 personnel—there now exist at home 200 maintenance units, employing scores of thousands of airmen and W.A.A.F., and civilian men and women, a vast network of supply covering this country, and despatching abroad. These units hold and distribute every kind of item which the Royal Air Force requires—from a Lancaster to a pair of boots. The articles which have to be provisioned, stocked and distributed and are in active demand number over 750,000—that is to say, if the-Air Ministry were a public trading corporation, our catalogue would contain over 750,000 items.
891 Maintenance Command receives on the average over 60,000 demands a day; handles 250,000 tons of equipment and stores a month—6 tons a minute night and day throughout last year; last month 27,000 loaded rail wagons were received at its Depots, and during that month 2¼ million items of all kinds were issued and distributed; the motor transport controlled or used by the Command on Air Force business has lately covered the equivalent of three times round the world a day. Responsibility is largely decentralised, the operational station dealing direct with maintenance units. The organisation keeps in touch with industrial development and consults leading men in industry and commerce in order to avail itself of the latest experience of the business world. On the same principles the maintenance services have been organised with notable success in overseas theatres, particularly where the opportunity was greatest—in the Middle East, where the strength and ingenuity with which the maintenance services have been handled have given us an improved model for further operations on a similar scale. I am glad to have this opportunity in the House of paying the maintenance organisation of the Royal Air Force a tribute which its enthusiasm and efficiency alike deserve.
Another service, of which comparatively little is heard, but which means much to the Royal Air Force, is the Air/Sea Rescue Service. Besides the R.A.F. rescue launches, craft of all kinds from fishing smacks to destroyers join in this work, and the Royal Navy is always unstinting in its help. Many hundreds of aircraft during the past year have called for the help of the Rescue Service, and many hundreds of flying men have been saved, both at home and overseas. A variant of this service specialises in saving life in the desert, and nearly 100 lives have been saved from the desert in the fighting in Africa. At home we have developed also a widespread and intricate organisation to guide to safe landing aircraft in distress on return from operations, and during 1942 these new' controls saved more than 1,000 aircraft from imminent disaster.
We shall debate to-day on the Amendment which is on the Paper the question of Civil Aviation. I shall not, therefore, detain the House on that subject. Air transport is, however, not only a problem 892 of peace but an urgent requirement of war. Starting the war as we did just over three years ago, in a numerical inferiority of four to one comparing our Air Forces at home with those of Germany, we had to concentrate all the resources of our aircraft industry on the production of combat aircraft and rely on the United States for transport aircraft. The House knows that we are now beginning to make transport aircraft for ourselves and to obtain the promised supplies from America. All transport aircraft which we now possess, or which we shall produce here, or obtain from America, will be used to meet urgent war requirements. With these new aircraft we shall be able to form new transport squadrons.
With an increased number of transport squadrons, an organisation will be required to control their operations throughout the world. I have, therefore, decided to establish a Royal Air Force Transport Command. To create such a Command sooner would have been to put the cart before the horse. It has not been commanders and staff that we have been short of, but aircraft. Now the Command will come naturally into being through the process of bringing supply and organisation into focus. In addition to controlling the operations of Royal Air Force transport squadrons at home, the Command will be responsible for the organisation and control of strategic air routes, for all overseas ferrying and for the reinforcement moves of squadrons to and between overseas theatres. The Royal Air Force Ferry Command at Montreal will become a subordinate formation.
The British Overseas Airways Corporation will continue as a civil organisation. Some of its services terminate in or pass through neutral countries, and much of its work meets the essential communication needs of overseas civil administrations. For some time now, the Corporation has been working in close partnership with the Royal Air Force on the North Atlantic route. This partnership will be extended over the wider field, and will ensure that the services and requirements of the Corporation are integrated with those of the new Command. The guiding principle will be that the Air Transport Command and the Corporation will work in the closest collaboration, freely exchanging information and experience; avoiding duplication wherever possible, and helping each other to the best of their ability to 893 carry out the respective tasks allotted to them. It is fitting that I should here pay a tribute to the members, management, aircrews and staffs of the Corporation for the splendid contribution which they have made to the conduct of the war during the past year, often in circumstances of extreme difficulty.
It is impossible within the compass of a single speech to do justice to the fighting achievements of the Royal Air Force and the Dominions and Allied Air Forces in every quarter of the globe. Apart from the main theatres of Royal Air Force activity, during the past year, squadrons of the Royal Air Force have operated from North Russia, off the East coast of the United States, in the South-West Pacific, in Ceylon, Madagascar, Aden, Persia, Iraq, Palestine, Syria and West Africa. Public attention is naturally concentrated on the operations of our squadrons in the main theatres of war, but the squadrons in these distant parts are, often with meagre resources, doing indispensable work—and doing it faithfully and well.
§ Mr. Granville (Eye)
Can the right hon. Gentleman tell us who is to command the new Air Transport Command?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
No, Sir, I cannot. The main functions of the Royal Air Force are well known to the House—first, to shield our war industries, centres of transport and communication, and our homes from the attacks of the enemy; secondly, to take its share with the Navy in the defence of our sea routes and in the counter-offensive against the German submarine; thirdly, to combine with the other two Services in offensive operations against the enemy's air, land and sea forces; and fourthly, to carry the war into the enemy's country by attacking his war industries and transport, and the bases of his naval and military power in Germany, Italy and in Occupied territory. Three times since 1870 has Germany inflicted the horrors of war on her neighbours. For the first time since then she is experiencing them inside Germany itself.
The air defence of Great Britain is the primary responsibility of Fighter Command. But not by any means its only responsibility for, as I shall presently show, it also plays its full part in combined operations with other Services, like Dieppe, the defence of our sea routes and in the air offensive against Germany. It 894 would be a great mistake to suppose that the strength of the German striking force in Western Europe can be measured by the size of the raids which they have attempted on this country. Throughout the Whole of the past year there has been a formidable German bomber force in Western Europe. The soundness of the air defence of Great Britain—fighters, guns, searchlights, balloons and warning system—has been a strong deterrent to ambitious German enterprises whether by day or night. In the three months December, January and February, for example, of 392 aircraft which crossed our coasts by day 46 were destroyed, in addition to a large number probably destroyed and damaged; while, in the same period, of 240 aircraft which crossed our coast by night 26 were destroyed in addition to probables and damaged. Recently the enemy has increased the number of his tip-and-run raids against coastal objectives by day. His fighter-bombers come in very low, flying at a speed of five miles a minute or more. They drop their bombs, machine-gun the streets, and get away as fast as they can, perhaps mounting up into cloud cover—climbing at a rate which would bring them up to the top of Ben Nevis in not much more than a minute. There are very few targets of military importance in these coastal towns, but the German pilots are not looking for military objectives. Their instructions are to avoid them. Their only objective is to create terror, running no avoidable risk of casualties in the process. Contrast these methods with our own. Our fighter-bombers and light bombers not only venture almost every day far into German-occupied territory and even from time to time into Germany itself, but their objectives are always objectives of military importance—camps, war factories and centres of transport.
The House will be able to judge the comparative efficiency of the British and German defences by the fact that in the last three months we have inflicted upon the enemy engaged in these promiscuous attacks on our coastal towns a rate of casualties nearly three times as heavy as we have suffered in our discriminating day attacks on military objectives in Germany and occupied territory. We in the Air Ministry feel deep concern for those on whom such loss and suffering are inflicted. Swift and heavy punishment of these outrages is our aim. Effective as our 895 defences are, we are constantly devising fresh means to strengthen them. The object, however, of these German attacks is clear. It is to stir up in this country such agitation as will compel the Government to divert forces for the protection of these coastal towns from offensive action against Germany. The Germans have once again under-estimated the fortitude of our civilian population. Against the courage of our people and the effectiveness of our defence, these sneak raids are proving as futile for their purpose as they are costly to the German Air Force. The most notable feature of our defence against these sneak raiders has been the remarkable success of our Typhoon squadrons in catching and destroying them. The reputation which the Typhoon has built up is well deserved. One squadron of Typhoons alone has' destroyed in January and February no fewer than 13 German aircraft.
The House will also realise that the fighter battles in the Far East in India and in Burma, in Egypt, Libya, North Africa and Malta, have been largely fought by pilots and squadrons, commanders, staffs and controllers selected and trained by Fighter Command. The House knows that three squadrons of Spitfires, two of them squadrons of the Royal Australian Air Force, were sent to Australia from this country during the past year, and I am sure hon. Members will feel it fitting that, just as Australian squadrons are fighting alongside our squadrons in many theatres of war, so a squadron from Britain with Australian squadrons trained and equipped here in England should be sharing in the defence of Australia. In an attack on Darwin nine days ago these Spitfire squadrons shot down without loss to themselves six out of a total raiding force of 15 Japanese aircraft.
Public attention has naturally been arrested by the very small scale so far of the German- reprisal raids against London following upon our attacks on Berlin. Largely this is due to German preoccupation with the campaigns in Russia and Africa; it is also largely due, as I have pointed out, to the effectiveness of our air defence; there is, however, a third reason, which is sometimes overlooked, and that is the pulverising offensive of Bomber Command which is compelling the Germans to switch a not unimportant proportion of their capacity 896 from the production of bombers to that of defensive fighters. So the bomber offensive plays its part, too, in the defence of our homes and arsenals.
In the war at sea, all the operational Commands of the Royal Air Force at home have played their part. Army Co-operation Command, in reconnaissance and in attacks on German communications and ships, fighter command, in attacks upon railway and canal communications, on U-boat bases, and on ships and in the protection of convoys round our coasts, on which nearly 50,000 fighter sorties have been flown in 1942——
§ Mr. Stokes (Ipswich)
On a point of Order. I have always understood that it is a custom of this House that Members should not be allowed to read their speeches. I have been listening attentively to the right hon. Gentleman, and he has not taken his eye off his script since he started.
§ Mr. Speaker
It is generally understood that a Minister in charge of one of our Defence Departments has to be so careful what he says, unless he give information to the enemy, that we do allow him to read his speech.
§ Mr. Bellenger
Further to that point of Order. Twice the right hon. Gentleman has been interrupted during his speech, but he has waved aside those interruptions, saying that we can put the points to the Under-Secretary of State when he comes to reply. Are we merely to have a statement read to us and no opportunity for Debate with the right hon. Gentleman as he goes along upon what may be rather important points?
§ Mr. Speaker
The hon. Gentleman is under a misapprehension. We do not debate a speech as it goes along, but afterwards.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I have had to examine this speech very carefully and closely, with the object of giving the utmost information to the House about the operations of the Royal Air Force during the past year. If I were to get up in public and speak as I have spoken to hon. Friends of mine in Committee rooms upstairs without having any notes, I should have to keep well inside, far inside, the boundaries, and I am afraid I should not be able to give anything like the information to hon. Members which I hope to 897 give. I was saying that, in the war at sea, Army Co-operation Command and Fighter Command have been playing a big part. Bomber Command, too, 49 per cent. of whose targets in 1942 were predominantly, but not of course wholly, naval targets. Let me also bring to the notice of Honourable Members the mining done by bomber squadrons. The seas are broad, but the particular channels in which mines can be laid with effect are few and narrow. The work demands the highest degree of navigation accuracy, and it is dangerous, for the most fertile fields for mine-laying are now strongly protected. There has been a nine-fold increase in 1942 as compared with 1941 in the number of mines laid and, although information about results is difficult to obtain, we know that a very substantial number of ships has been sunk. Only the other night, one of our coastal aircraft flying not far from a submarine base in the Bay of Biscay saw a submarine coming out attended by an escort vessel. As our coastal aircraft moved to attack it saw an explosion; the submarine disappeared, then the stern emerged from the water at a sharp angle and finally the submarine sank—destroyed by a mine. It was just a chance that it was seen, and there is no doubt that our mines are doing a great deal more damage than we know of. In all, during the past two years the R.A.F., in all theatres of war, has sunk or seriously damaged more than 1¼ million tons of enemy shipping. The shortage of shipping resulting from these operations and still more, of course, from those of the Royal Navy, have had a most serious effect on Germany's communications, and Germany's ability to move vital supplies of iron ore and aluminium from Scandinavia to her war industries.
So all the home Commands of the R.A.F. join in the war at sea; but it is Coastal Command which has the war at sea as its main preoccupation. The expansion of this Command during the past year has been rapid, and its squadrons have been equipped with aircraft of longer range and greater capacity for carrying bombs and depth-charges. Wellingtons, Halifaxes, Fortresses and Liberators are now working on our sea routes and maintaining the offensive against the German submarines. New weapons and many strange contrivances have ripened to the point of production and are now being 898 used to increase the effectiveness of the patrol of our sea routes from the air, and of our attacks upon the U-boats.
The grim battle with the U-boats demands shrewd planning, meticulous analysis of operational results and unceasing scientific inventiveness. Better bombs and depth-charges and new navigation and radio aids have been introduced. A large convoy may cover several square miles of sea, but to pick it up in dirty weather—perhaps 800 miles out, perhaps a thousand miles out—is a thing we could not have contemplated a year ago. It is perhaps difficult for a landsman to realise the extraordinary skill which is required to navigate with accuracy through gales and cloud over the vast spaces of the sea. These Coastal Command crews, who fly in all weathers, face all dangers, and endure the monotony of being cooped up in their aircraft for perhaps more than twenty-four hours at a stretch, deserve our thanks and praise.
During the past 12 months, the air cover provided by Coastal Command on the one side and by the Royal Canadian Air Force and the United States Air Forces on the other, over convoys crossing the Atlantic has markedly improved. Experience has shown that air cover is a major factor in defeating the U-boat and we are determined so to improve it that we shall be able to say that there is no time by day or by night when air cover cannot be provided for the North Atlantic routes.
Perhaps the most important single task which fell to Coastal Command during the past year was the provision of air cover for the convoys carrying the Allied Expeditionary Force to North Africa. In this, Coastal Command was helped by Bomber Command and by the 8th United States Army Air Force Bomber Command. All the convoys passed at right angles across the paths of the submarines moving to and from their ports in the Bay of Biscay. Yet so active were the air patrols that the various convoys arrived at their assault position not only without the loss of a ship, but without, so far as we know, even being sighted by a single German submarine. At sea, therefore, we help the Royal Navy in the war against submarines, in the protection of convoys, and in strategical reconnaissance. They, on their part, protect the convoys which carry our reinforcements and our supplies.
899 A striking example of the services rendered by the Royal Navy to the Royal Air Force was the carriage during 1942 of no fewer than 744 fighters to the point at which they were flown off to the reinforcement of Malta. Also we have good reason to be grateful to those splendid squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm who have worked and fought with the Royal Air Force from shore stations at home and overseas. At the same time, the cohesion between the Royal Air Force and the Army grows ever closer. In the operations in Burma, Field Marshal Wavell has described the support given by the Royal Air Force to the Army as "both close and good."
Our Air Forces in India have been strongly reinforced and are being organised on broad and sound foundations by Air Chief Marshal Peirse. The Indian Air Force, too, is growing, and the Air Officer Commanding commented very favourably on the work of No. 1 Squadron during the Burma campaign. Two decorations have been won by its pilots.
In the Middle East, the course of the fighting has been marked by the growing strength and superb efficiency of the air forces under Air Chief Marshal Tedder, and by the increasingly close knitting together of Army and Air; American squadrons too have fought magnificently alongside our own. The heroic achievements of the Royal Air Force in the retreat from Gazala have already been described in the House, but perhaps hon. Members are less familiar with the story of the fighting in Rommel's last abortive offensive against Egypt. In six days during the month of September, the Royal Air Force dropped 800 tons of bombs, or one bomb every 71 seconds day and night, with an estimated average concentration of 25,000 lbs. of bombs per square mile per hour. Nine hundred and twelve fighter sorties were flown on bomber escort during the same six days, and not one bomber was lost from escorted formations.
The outstanding features of the El Alamein campaign from the air point of view were the success of the attack against Rommel's sea-borne supplies, which made him short of petrol and other necessaries, before the battle started, the achievement from the outset of almost total air superiority enabling a very great proportion of our aircraft to be employed in attacking the enemy on the ground, and the manner in which, 900 throughout the great advance, the squadrons kept up with the forward elements of the Army, leap-frogging from one landing-ground to another, arriving there almost as soon as the enemy had departed; while the transport aircraft supplying the squadrons carried wounded men back to hospital. Between the opening of the Battle of El Alamein on 23rd October, 1942, and the end of February, 1,075 enemy aircraft have been captured—some of them intact—on landing grounds, besides 402 destroyed in air contest during the same period, a total of 1,477 destroyed and captured as against our loss of 345.
In this advance also we found proof of the fighting spirit and good training of the Royal Air Force Regiment. Never was the Royal Air Force Regiment intended only for the defence of airfields at home. Its duty is to defend against attack air bases in the forward areas, from which our offensive forces are operating, both in this country and overseas. Such was the spirit they showed in the Western Desert that on more than one occasion they pressed forward to occupy an aerodrome in the van of the advancing infantry. Similarly, in Tunisia, the Royal Air Force Regiment has been in the forefront of the occupying forces, and only the other day General Eisenhower reported that an advance towards Cap Serrat had been repulsed with casualties to the enemy by the French forces and the Royal Air Force Regiment.
I have always told the House that it is the policy of the Air Ministry—as I know it is of the Admiralty and of the War Office, although it would be presumption on my part to speak for them—to promote not merely co-operation but the closest possible cohesion between the three Services in all the operations of war. The outstanding achievements of the glorious 8th Army and the Western Desert Air Force, and the close and intimate combination between them, both in the retreat from El Gazala and in the advance from El Alamein, are clear proof of the progress which has been made during the past year. General Auchinleck, General Alexander and General Montgomery, in close understanding with Air Chief Marshal Tedder and Air Marshal Coningham, have worked out practical methods of combination between ground and air forces which have proved their soundness and will serve as an example in all future operations.
901 In a campaign such as that in the Western Desert, the Army has one battle to fight—the land battle. The Air Force has two. First, it must meet the enemy in the air; then it can intervene in the land battle, hitting the enemy land forces with all its strength. Gone are the old conceptions of the air umbrella over the Army and the squadrons split up into penny packets at the call of Commanders of small land formations. A division may report a concentration of 200 motor transport on its front, accompanied by armour, but it may be right to reject their request for air attack, for 18 or 20 miles away there may be a concentration of a thousand or more motor transport, indicating an armoured division or an even larger force. This concentration will probably affect the whole battle 12, 18 or 24 hours later, and it may be necessary to concentrate the whole weight of air attack on the big concentration and leave the smaller one to the troops on the ground.
Before and during the advance from El Alamein, it was not only the Western Desert Air Force that was engaged in the air battle. Behind it was the strategic air power operating under the orders of Air Chief Marshal Tedder in Cairo; and operations, which were co-ordinated with those of Air Chief Marshal Tedder by the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, in London, were conducted by Bomber Command against centres of supply and communications in Italy. So bombs were sinking ships, smashing harbours and cutting Axis supplies needed for the battle hundreds and even thousands of miles away from El Alamein.
I hope these facts will disabuse once and for all the minds of hon. Members of the illusion that the Royal Air Force is fighting a separate war. True, it is fighting in a different element from the Army and the Navy. No longer is it the Air Force commanders alone who claim that they must control the battle in the air. No longer is it disputed that the Royal Air Force must exercise command of the available air power, with centralised control; that the supreme value of air power lies in its flexibility, which enables it to be directed rapidly from one objective to another; that the most ruinous error is to tie up air power in penny packets; that the soldier must not expect or wish to exercise direct command over air striking forces; and that the system in force in North Africa is one which gives the Army 902 the most complete air support at the time and place required.
§ Commander Sir Archibald Southby (Epsom)
The right hon. Gentleman has said something very important. I seem to remember that the Prime Minister, not very long ago, gave an undertaking that the choice of tasks and targets would be at the discretion of the military officer in command of the operations. Is that now no longer the case?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The position remains exactly as it has always been. The air officer commands the air battle but directs his forces in accordance with the directions of the Army commander.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
The directions are laid down by the Army commander, and the Air commander conforms to the general plan of the Army commander.
The secret of success is that the two Commands and Staffs, Army and Air, should work together at the same headquarters in complete harmony and with complete mutual understanding and confidence. I feel sure that my hon. and gallant Friend will agree with me that that secret has been discovered by the Army and Air Forces who have been fighting these battles in the Western Desert.
§ Captain C. S. Taylor (Eastbourne)
I hate interrupting my right hon. Friend on this point, but we know the success that has been achieved by the Eighth Army in that theatre of war. Are we really now applying the principles learned out there to the training of the troops here at home, so that they can take their place in future operations on the same lines?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
If my hon. and gallant Friend will allow me, I intend to make some observations on that very point. The soldier commands the land forces; the airman commands the air forces. Both commanders work together, and during the land battle the available air forces are operated wholly in support of the Army commander's plan.
In North-West Africa our squadrons have had to fight in very adverse conditions. While the enemy were able to use fine modern airfields at Tunis and Bizerta, 903 our squadrons had to use much more primitive airfields without concrete runways, and deep in mud. Moreover, our squadrons have had to cross the mountains to reach the battle area, so low cloud and bad weather have been much more of a handicap to us than to the Germans. Nevertheless, the British and American Air Forces in North-West Africa have destroyed 767 enemy aircraft, while their losses have amounted to 392, of which the Royal Air Force have lost 171. General Anderson speaks enthusiastically of the support given to him by the Royal Air Force. "I cannot tell you," he says, "how grateful we are for the splendid help you have given to the First Army."
This campaign was notable for the first employment of our serviceing Commandos. They are composed of highly skilled mechanics trained to fight—men with a spanner in one hand and a tommygun in the other. One particular Commando maintained four fighter squadrons at a high rate of operations for approximately three weeks. The squadron and maintenance personnel, working in the early stages on aerodromes deep in mud, in extremely primitive conditions, and with meagre supplies reaching them along slender lines of communication, showed infinite resource. During the first month that two Wellington squadrons operated in North-West Africa they dropped over 700,000 lbs. of bombs, and their serviceability averaged over 80 per cent. Behind the squadrons, the repair and salvage units organisation was gradually built up until, by the end of last month, the Air Officer Commanding was able to tell me that the equivalent of six day fighter squadrons and one night fighter squadron, in addition to Blenheims, Hudsons, Wellingtons and Mosquitos, had already been repaired and sent forward to the front-line squadrons.
Now I come to the point my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Eastbourne (Captain Taylor) raised. The lessons of these combined air, land and sea operations in Africa are being learnt in this country. The main responsibilities for applying them rests on Army Co-operation Command. It is not only, however, on the squadrons of Army Co-operation Command that the Army will rely when it is fighting on the Continent of Europe. The whole resources of the Royal Air Force will be united with those of the 904 Army to destroy the air and land power of the enemy. Accordingly, bombers and fighters train and exercise with the Army. To-day the whole of the day fighter squadrons in Fighter Command, with very few exceptions, have exercised with the Army. In addition to the Army Co-operation squadrons, we have formed a number of special tank-buster and fighter-bomber squadrons for the particular purpose of giving close support to troops in battle. The Commander-in-Chief of Army Co-operation Command has visited the Middle East and seen the Western Desert Air Force in action. In addition, officers from the Middle East have returned to this country and given us the benefit of their recent experience and participated in combined Air-Army exercises. So the process strenuously continues of uniting and knitting together the Army and Air Services.
Now let me speak of the offensive air operations which we have conducted from this country. Sometimes they are spoken of as though they were quite independent of the other Services and of what was taking place in other theatres of war. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have already shown how the activities of Bomber Command are designed to help in the war at sea and in the war in Africa. Our main object, however, in all our operations during the past year has been to intervene effectively in the land struggle in the East and to take as much weight as possible off our Russian Allies. Fighter Command sweeps and escorted daylight bombing raids have been an important part of this policy. No longer can the Germans afford parity of loss with the Allied Air Forces. They need to conserve their strength. Accordingly, it is necessary to sting them into action by bombing sensitive targets. The advantage in air fighting, as the House knows full well, lies with the air force fighting over its own territory, as was shown in the Battle of Britain, in the operations over this country, and again in the heroic island of Malta, where in the past year we have shot down 917 enemy aircraft for the loss of 363. In these offensive sweeps, on the other hand, our fighters find the enemy fighters in position, taking every advantage of cloud and light, and the necessity of protecting the bombers limits their power of manœuvre. Nevertheless, parity in the infliction of casualties—and much more besides, as I shall presently show— 905 has been achieved by our splendid pilots—a remarkable proof of their prowess and of the superiority of their tactics, training and equipment over those of the enemy. We have lost 600 fighter aircraft shot down by German fighters and guns. But our fighters and guns have inflicted a loss over this country and France during the same period of 655 on the enemy. Moreover, of more than 2,500 bombers escorted by our fighters, fewer than 50 have been lost. The result of these attacks has been to compel the enemy to keep his finest fighters and pilots in Western Europe all through the hard battles in Russia and in Africa.
It is not easy to make the German High Command take its eye off the ball. The ball is the Russian Army. The German Army is clamouring for air support. Yet little more than a quarter of the German lighter force is strung out from the White Sea to the Black Sea, and nearly double that number is held in Western Europe by the offensives of Bomber Command and Fighter Command. In addition, important factories working for Germany in Occupied France have been destroyed, transport has been dislocated, and, in particular, the attacks on locomotives have filled French railway workshops to congestion and made them into ripe targets for our day bombing. Of those targets our day-bomber squadrons and the redoubtable American Fortresses and Liberators are taking full advantage. In the last four months of 1942 bombers and fighters operating from this country destroyed or seriously damaged 100 locomotives, and locomotive shortage in Germany and in the Occupied Territories is acute. The situation in Northern Europe is particularly serious, so serious that the Germans have withdrawn all locomotives from areas in the South of France and have even returned to North-Eastern France locomotives previously requisitioned for use in Germany. We know that a shortage of locomotives has hampered the movements of the German Armies in Russia. So Fighter Command, operating in association with Bomber Command and with our Allied squadrons, has had an effect on the campaigns in Russia and Africa.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
Yes, but they have changed the gauge. The past 12 months have been marked by striking changes in the conduct and effectiveness of the bomber offensive. There has been a great advance in our method of handling the bomber force as a single flexible hard-hitting weapon, and in our means of finding and concentrating an attack upon the selected targets. Our bombs have improved, and will continue to improve. The 1,000-bomber raids, the 1,000-ton raids, the devastation of a long roll of German cities, and the heavy daylight attacks carried into the heart of Germany and Italy mark the past year as a period of successful exploitation of progressive tactical and technical developments.
The weight of our attack increases steadily. In each separate month during the past year more bombs have been dropped than in the corresponding month a year before, and the relative increase has been particularly marked most recently. In spite of bad weather, the tonnage of bombs dropped in January this year was only surpassed three times in 1942. In February, with a delivery of over 10,000 tons of bombs, including three 1,000-ton raids, Bomber Command dropped more than half as much again as in any previous month. In the first ten days of March more than 4,000 tons of bombs have been dropped. We have now obtained photographs of the attack on Essen on the night of 5th-6th March, and the House will be interested to learn that this proves to have been probably the heaviest blow struck at German war industry in the whole course of the Bomber offensive. In the Krupps Works 13 main buildings have been destroyed or severely damaged, and damage has been seen in at least 40 other factory buildings, sheds and workshops. The majority of these are in the steel works, and include heavy damage to such key sections as furnaces, foundry and forges. In all, the severe damage to workshops and administrative buildings covers 136,000 square yards. Other industrial damage in this area includes the part destruction of pithead installations and buildings of three coal mines. There was a direct hit on the Essen Power Station, while damage to the gasworks extends over an area of 3½ acres. Immediately to the east of the Krupps Works there is total destruction of a built-up area of 160 acres, and it is estimated that there is a total of 450 acres where at least 75 per cent. of the buildings have 907 been demolished or gutted. Two days after the attack fires were still burning. Some 30,000 people in Essen, most of whom were employed in the Krupps Works, have lost their houses, and many thousands in addition have been rendered temporarily homeless. The devastation shown in the photographs is comparable only with that achieved in the 1,000-bomber raid on Cologne.
Elsewhere, large-scale destruction of Germany's industrial centres has continued. The toll of devastation grows, in Wilhelmshaven 118 acres—including the utter destruction of the arsenal—in Rostock 130 acres, in Mainz 135 acres, in Lubeck 200 acres, in Karlsruhe 260 acres, in Dusseldorf 380 acres, in Cologne 600 acres together with a total of many thousands of acres of industrial property devastated in other towns.
§ Sir Granville Gibson (Pudsey and Otley)
Is it intended to show photographs such as those which proved so interesting a few months ago?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
I will gladly comply with my hon. Friend's suggestion. The House will recall the great raid on Berlin, of which we are not yet able to assess the results, but report has it that we hit the Air Ministry—I cannot confirm the report, but if it is true it is good, and it is not too good to be true. This week Munich and Nuremberg, those unholy cities of the Nazi cult, have been hit hard. In all, we reckon that Bomber Command has destroyed or seriously damaged some-ting like 2,000 factories and industrial works. Substantially more than a million people have been rendered homeless, not counting the large numbers who have been evacuated for fear of air attack, rendering towns in the Eastern parts of Germany, Berlin among them, almost intolerably overcrowded. Direct damage to steel works in the Ruhr and Saar has caused a loss of 1,250,000 tons of steel, and the total loss of steel must be much greater than this. We know that the daily output of coal in the Ruhr fell by 20 per cent. in three months last summer, 908 and that in the latter half of 1942 coal exports to Sweden and Italy, partly through shortage of coal, and partly through dislocation of communications, were markedly diminished. Much working time has been lost in industry through absenteeism and the dislocation of transport. The necessity to re-provide stocks of household goods has tied up materials and labour which would otherwise have been free to make munitions.
The heavy damage in the Phillips Radio Works at Eindhoven has resulted in a loss to the Axis of no small proportion of their total production of radio valves, amounting to millions of valves annually. The Nazis produced, in addition, much specialised electrical equipment, and maintained important research laboratories in these works. In view of the vital importance of radio devices in this war and of the delicacy of the apparatus required to produce them, this attack must have resulted in a further marked reduction in the war power of Germany.
In Italy about two-thirds of the total industrial production is centred in Milan, Turin and Genoa. Each of these three cities has been attacked with heavy damage. In Turin 70 factories were damaged, including severe damage to the Lancia Works, responsible for a substantial proportion of the total output of lorries, and to 10 of the Fiat factories making rolling stock, lorries, tanks and aero engines. In Genoa, 7 acres in the dockyards were laid waste. Warehouses were burnt out, and the greater part of the business centres destroyed. In Milan, the damage has included factories engaged in electrical engineering, aircraft production and the manufacture of lorries. Rail communications have also been seriously affected. The information which I have given the House about the effects of the bomber offensive is conservative, and is in large part based upon the interpretation of photographs, which have to be taken, often in the face of opposition, by aircraft flying at great heights. We know that these photographs do not tell the whole story, and the economic effect of our offensive is undoubtedly greater than the sum of the individual items of destruction which we are able to assess. As the House will appreciate, the destruction of an important sub-contractor's factory may well have an effect on production much exceeding the output of the individual factory.
909 Praise the men who are striking these hammer blows at German might—fearless young men flying through storm and cold and darkness higher than Mont Blanc, through the flak, hunted by the night fighters, but coolly and skilfully identifying and bombing these targets. They are sustained by the knowledge of duty well done, and of high achievement, and they deserve our thanks and praise. Many people were saying a year ago that the Bomber offensive would be defeated by the increasing power of the German defences. I told the House then that the harvests of many long months of patient and strenuous work by scientists, designers and the staffs of the Air Ministry and of Royal Air Force Commands and of the Ministry of Aircraft Production were ripening. Several rich harvests have been reaped in the past year, and more will be reaped in the coming year. Moreover, Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris and his commanders and staffs have displayed extraordinary fertility in tactical ideas. The monster raids saturating the enemy's active and passive systems of defence is one example. A second is the success achieved in finding, marking and illuminating targets which has contributed enormously to the recent triumphs of Bomber Command. We shall spare no exertion to ensure that the development of our tactics and equipment will continue to outstrip the improvements in the German defences.
The past year has witnessed the deployment in this country, side by side with our own forces, of increasing numbers of American heavy bombers. Many of these have gone to Africa, but more are coming to take their place. The Americans are lion-hearted and skilful fighters. Their methods are the complement of ours. They are precious and welcome Allies, and the more American bombers come to take part in the air offensive against Germany, the better we shall be pleased, and the sooner the malignant power of Germany will be broken.
In a few days the Royal Air Force will celebrate the 25th year of its foundation. Born in the critical months of the first World War, in this greater struggle it has grown to strong manhood and has nobly justified the faith of its creators. The heroism of its pilots and crews, the determination and resource of its commanders, the foresight, freedom and supple realism 910 of its Staff thought and doctrine, and the devotion and skill of all the men and women who work for it on the ground, have enabled the Royal Air Force to add lustre to its own traditions and to render faithful and glorious service to its King and Country. Let no one at this date under-estimate the strength of the enemy or the power and variety of his resources. This is no time for relaxing in any direction the concentration of our effort for victory. The fighting strength and the exertions of the Royal Air Force have increased, are increasing, and in the coming year will mount.
§ Mr. Stokes
The right hon. Gentleman has told us something of the activities of Bomber Command and their frequent excursions over Germany. Is he able to give the House the percentage of the losses—not the actual losses—over the whole of Europe?
§ Sir A. Sinclair
No, Sir, I cannot give the percentage losses, but I shall be very glad if this indication meets the wishes of my hon. Friend. In the last month or two at any rate—for which I have the figures clearly in my mind—the rate of losses has been less than it was in the same months a year ago.
§ Mr. Montague (Islington, West)
The Secretary of State for Air always gives us a dramatic account, and usually a long one, and he has not departed to-day from the precedents he has set on former occasions. I would like to associate myself with what he has had to say about the courage, efficiency and fortitude of the Royal Air Force in all the operations of the year under review, but I would ask one or two questions of the Secretary of State in reference to policy connected with the bombing offensive. The vivid account which he has given us of the bombing offensive upon Germany, the emphasis he has placed upon its continually growing strength and the promise of further strength, is supported by the effect that is indicated in the Press of Germany and by the Nazi radio spokesman's protest about that bombing. We have read Dr. Bauer's statement and that of others given over the German radio, in which a note has been struck that is very different from the note that both the German radio and German Press struck at the time of the war upon Britain. It is a note of pity for the suffering of the English people and the loss of English people's homes, if you 911 please, and the statement that the German Government, and presumably the German people, would like to see the bombing of cities eliminated; that they hate this kind of warfare, for which, of course, Britain is held to be responsible and which, we are told, Britain has the responsibility of initiating. We may compare that with the exultation on the Nazi radio in the autumn and winter of 1941–42. The glorification of the attacks upon Coventry and London, and the films prepared for the edification of the people of Berlin and other German cities showing what had been done quite wantonly at Warsaw and Rotterdam—although they might have shown to the German people at that time the victories of the Luftwaffe—are an indication of the hypocrisy of the present attitude. That is expressed for particular purposes, no doubt, in German propaganda.
But there is an aspect of this question of bombing which I would like to consider myself and would also like the Secretary of State to consider and which, spoken about, leads somewhat to the danger of one being misunderstood. British policy is not a policy of revenge. The Secretary of State has more than once himself expressed his views about the soundness of British policy in attacking the ports, the factories and the transport of Germany, but I could not help thinking, in listening to the speech that has just been delivered, that there was rather a suggestion, if not of change of policy perhaps a change of angle upon that particular subject. I noticed that he referred to the fighter bombers and their excursions into occupied territory and even, he said, into Germany.
§ Mr. Montague
But when he came to speak of the bombing offensive itself he was full of exultation, justifiably, but he rather suggested or used phrases which might appear to suggest in this country among our own people and among people abroad that he was exulting in the destruction of German cities. I do not want to be misunderstood. It is right that the German people should be taught what war really is. They have inflicted war upon Europe and upon the world on many occasions, and they expected to get away with it this time, and were told that they would get away with it this time without 912 knowing the kind of experience that they would inflict upon other people, and they were told that Germany would not be bombed.
I want to ask whether there is any change of policy. I do not think there is. I believe it is true that our objectives are the war production and the transport of Germany, and that all the skill of our pilots is directed to these pin-point objectives. It is, of course, true that you cannot bomb huge factory areas without involving residential areas that are congested around them, but I do not like the idea even if Nuremburg is, as the right hon. Gentleman described it, one of the hell-holes or something of the kind of the Nazis——
§ Mr. Montague
The unholy city of the Nazi movement of Germany. It is not a pleasant thought to contemplate the destruction of a city like Nuremburg, and it would be a good thing if the Secretary of State would take the opportunity of reaffirming the policy that this country has adopted and that which he himself has expressed with regard to bombing. I do not like the idea of wanton destruction. I do not believe that he does, and I am sure that the people of this country do not want wanton destruction. We ought to say so, because it will be remembered that one explanation of the comparative paucity of attacks upon Italy at one time was that we had done well in destroying the principal Italian war factories. That was one of the arguments that was put forward.
§ Mr. Montague
If my hon. Friend will be patient for a moment, I will deal with that point. Perhaps he will allow me to point out that not long ago the argument was used that we should, as a reprisal, bomb German villages one by one. Against that it was said that it would be futile, that it was not the kind of thing the Royal Air Force ought to be required to do and that we were doing much better by bombing the war potential of Germany. I hope we are standing by that 913 If my hon. Friend means by that sentimentalism, then I do not want to be sentimental. I want to be thoroughly practical upon the matter and to ask the House to realise the necessity for bombing industrial cities of Germany and the centres of war production. The German people must be made to realise what war actually means. But will it effect the result of the war? The German people are no more cowards than we are, and I suggest that it is far better that we should regard the question of reprisals not from the standpoint of revenge, whatever our feeling may be about it. My hon. Friend's feelings on that subject are just as sentimental as others.
§ Mr. Montague
But that is no reason why we should not look upon the question of policy from the point of view of our own honour, our own ideas and feelings of what is right and advisable for our policy. I am not suggesting we are doing anything of the kind. I believe we are maintaining our policy of concentrating upon military objectives, but I think it is important that we should state to the world that there is no departure of policy, that we are not bombing the people of Germany—women and children, to use another sentimental phrase—merely for its wanton sake. The way in which some of the facts of our bombing have been presented rather suggests that there has been some change of policy in that matter. On the other hand, there is the hypocrisy of the Government which has been responsible for the extermination of the Jews, bestial warfare, torture in Russia and enslavement of the conquered races, and we are still determined that we shall do our best with our fine material, pilots and organisation to bring home to Germany the real meaning of their attack on the civilisation of the world.
I welcome the statement made by the Secretary of State for Air about the formation of a Transport Command. I can only say that it is a pity that it has been so belated. The problem of transport is one that has been before the Air Ministry and the other Services connected with air transport—and I am thinking, too, of the Ministry of Aircraft Production—for a long time. There have been problems of 914 organisation which have been very difficult. The Secretary of State and the Under-Secretary will know what I refer to in respect of ferry pilots and so forth. If these things had been done before, we might have had a far better transport service in relation to the operation of the force as well as to ferrying from America to this country. There is to be an Amendment later, to be moved by my hon. Friend the Member for Burnley (Mr. Burke), upon the subject of civil aviation, and I will not presume to go into details of the question on Vote 8 except to say a few words about the larger element of policy involved in relation to transport planes for post-war needs. There has been a great demand for the utilisation of our aircraft designers, the assumption being that we have plenty and to spare—which we have not—so that we shall have, out of our transport development during the war, the basis of a highly efficient civil transport aeroplane service. I take a rather different line from that which has been expressed in connection with the whole question of civil transport after the war and development during the war towards that end. Behind the arguments that have been put in this House in respect of that development has been the assumption that we have to prepare for vast commercial competition, especially with America, although not much has been said about Russia, which is also important from the point of view of civil aviation. It is said that America are in the field first, that they are applying 25 per cent. of their production to civil purposes, and that we shall be left behind to the disadvantage of our trade and commerce. I do not accept that view.
I would like to quote from an extremely important speech that has not been as widely accepted as it deserves. It is the second of two speeches made by the Vice-President of the United States, Mr. Henry Wallace, during the last day or two. He said:It is urged that, after the war, American aviators ought to be permitted to fly everywhere in the world and that not a single foreign plane would ever fly over any part of the United States. This astonishing idea seems to be first cousin to the fallacy that we can sell our goods everywhere in the world at the same time that we keep foreigners from selling to us. This visions an Imperialistic fight for air supremacy between at least three great nations of the world—a fight which can end finally only in world war No. 3, or American domination of the type which will eventually make 915 the United States worse hated in the world than the Nazis ever have been. We do not want an Imperialistic American supremacy in the air and on the sea from which we shall get insecurity and war at a tremendous outlay of the taxpayers' money and our children's blood.That is a counter-blast to the statements made recently by Representative Claire Luce, who said that the freedom of the seas failed to prevent the first and second world wars and there was no reason to think that the freedom of the air would prevent a third world war.
She also said that Representatives were not elected by their constituents to preside over the liquidation of America's best interests. I think it is a pity that there should be on the American side, and our own, this conception of a fight for trade after the war, in which aircraft will play a part. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that we cannot compete with America in building planes of this character. Even if we could, what advantage would it have? Has not the whole question of the development of civil aviation after the war been exaggerated? I think it has been grossly exaggerated. I read an article by Major Thornton recently which pricked the bubble involved in the suggestion that everybody will be using aircraft after the war, that all our goods will be carried by aircraft. There is no likelihood of it at all. Some types of goods, probably very expensive goods, can be carried at a price. But the great bulk of our trade and transport of goods will have to be done by sea. Aircraft will never be a cheap way of getting a thing or person from A to B.
Major Thornton states that as a measure of the effort and cost an 11-knot ship can propel a useful load of 3.3 tons for one unit of energy whereas an aircraft can carry only about 9 lbs. Give the aircraft the value of its 200 miles an hour against the ship's 12½ knots and the aircraft does in an hour 1,800 pound-miles of work per horse-power. The ship does 92,512. In any event the idea that we have to compete with America not only for trade but in manufactured aircraft is surely out of account. I am not suggesting that we ought not to produce civil aircraft or develop our transport planes. We were dependent upon America for a long time except for Avro-York planes. There is a field in which we can enter; let us take it 916 in our stride. Supposing our world trade objective is unilateral and there is any unilateral advantage in trade—and surely that is not the case; it is mutual—why should we not let a country like America produce what planes she can produce best and let us do the same? Why not accept an allocation and division of effort between ourselves and America, as we have done for war necessities? Great Britain is building the world's best fighters and heavy and light bombers, while the United States are building the best medium bombers, good high-flying bombers, naval aircraft and large numbers of fine military transport planes. If there is a sensible allocation of effort for war, why not for peace? By all means let us develop civil transport of our own in all desirable directions, but what advantage would it be after the war if we could compete with America, because only expensive and fragile articles can be carried economically, apart from a certain amount of passenger traffic? Only passengers to whom money is of comparatively little account in business will use civil aircraft.
More than anything else we want to get rid of the ridiculous anomalies, the corridors and the restrictions, that have existed in the past and to establish a real and not an artificial freedom of the air. There ought to be a commission dealing with these matters now. The representatives of the Allied Nations are in London at the present time. We ought to get to work to see that there is an international arrangement, that there is stabilisation of prices and things of that kind, and, as I have said, that a real freedom of the air is established. I do not wish to speak more on civil aviation, as the matter will be dealt with in greater detail on the Amendment later.
I think it is a great pity that the quarrel between the Services, particularly between the Navy and Royal Air Force, has not been resolved. I know that it takes two to make a quarrel and that probably the Secretary of State for Air will protest that he is not quarrelling, but judging by the statements that were made in the Debate yesterday and some of the statements made recently in Debates in another place, there have been considerable differences between the Navy and the Royal Air Force in regard to priorities, and so on. It was stated yesterday by a naval Member that the Navy got its first 917 Hurricanes after the Royal Air Force found no further use for them and that the same thing applied to the Spitfires. In his speech the Secretary of State seemed to me rather to be putting the Army in its place. He spoke about Army co-operation, saying that it was perfectly sound and mutual and that it had been developed and was in fine fettle, but at the same time he seemed to me to suggest that, after all, these questions depend upon the Royal Air Force and the Air Ministry to a very large extent. I think we want to get between the Royal Air Force and the Navy the same co-operation as the right hon. Gentleman claims exists between the Royal Air Force and the Army.
Probably one of the troubles is that an aircraft carrier is a development of a battleship and is gun-defended to a much larger degree perhaps than is necessary. I should imagine that the most important means of defence for an aircraft carrier would be aircraft, but it is lumbered up with guns and more guns, there are very narrow openings to lifts and so on, the result being that only the older types of aircraft, such as those with folding wings, have been used on aircraft carriers. I do not suggest that the argument goes all one way, but I do suggest it is time there was some unity of thought on this subject and that neither in respect of the Army nor of the Navy should there be differences on policy or on the applica-of policy.
There is one question I would like to put to the Secretary of State in regard to the development of aircraft and the air defence of the Merchant Navy. There has been the arrangement with regard to allocations between this country and America, and I think that principle should still apply, but I notice there have been some new developments recently in America, and I want to ask whether we are getting from America the right proportion of the new types of aircraft. There is, for instance, a development of the helicopter. As a layman, I do not know much about the technical side of aircraft, but I think there should be a future for a modified type of helicopter for use in the 600 miles in the middle of the Atlantic where there is the U-boat menace and where protection is required for transports to this country. Is there any idea of utilising the helicopter, which has been modified for sea use and which 918 seems to be an excellent thing? The American product can deal with depth charges and can land in a comparatively limited space, as it weighs only 2,400 lbs. and measures 38 feet by 12 feet, carrying a pilot and passenger.
With regard to the production of dive-bombers, I have never taken the view which has been held by many people that we have been wrong in our policy concerning dive-bombers. I think we have been right. However, there is a limited use for dive-bombers. I believe dive-bombers could be used in the Mediterranean in the narrows between Tunisia and Sicily where the supporting land-based aircraft are not so far away. Sir Thomas Blarney has said that the moral effect of dive-bombers is great perhaps but that the destructive effect is small, and that the fighter-bomber does more damage, that there is less cost in aircraft and as much moral effect in the long run. Therefore, I ask whether we are getting our share of the American allocation in the right proportion. There is the Grummer Avenger, a very devastating torpedo bomber, as has been shown in the Pacific war; there is the Martlett, America's Wildcat, a good ship-borne fighter, not to mention the allocations of the new helicopter to which I have referred, and the converted Mustang, which is, in effect, a dive-bomber. I think those points are apropos of the statements that have been made in respect-of the Fleet Air Arm and its relation to the Air Ministry.
May I turn now to two questions concerning domestic policy on which I should like to have some information? I welcome the decision that was announced to the House yesterday by the Secretary of State by which members of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force are no longer compelled to act as officers' servants. I think my hon. Friend the Member for Caerphilly (Mr. Ness Edwards) is to be congratulated on having raised that matter. I would like to ask why should that principle of domestic service be applied in the case of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force either in camp or in regard to officers living away from camp? I think the idea that women should join the Women's Auxiliary Air Force in order to become domestic drudges does not attract the women of this country, and I do not think there is any need for it. Surely, there could be some kind of arrangement made 919 in camp for all those essential services that concern the needs of officers without there being any personal touch about it, and outside the camp the 2s. allocation ought to be expanded and be the general rule. After all, volunteering is always invidious, and I do not think it is altogether a solution of that particular problem.
The other matter to which I want to refer is one on which I and other hon. Members have received complaints and on which complaints have been made in letters to the Press, and it refers to conditions at some of the stations of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force. There is a lack of facilities for bathing, and conditions similar to those which Nicholas Nickleby found on his first morning at Dotheboys Hall, when he had to break the ice in order to get some water for washing and did not have anything but a dirty towel and a very small one at that. I cannot give the Under-Secretary of State precise particulars and I am speaking in a very general way, but I am assured the complaints have substance in them, and that as many as 500 girls have to depend upon about half-a-dozen shower baths where the water is more often cold than hot, where they have to go to bed without washing and get up and have their breakfast without washing, and in the cold weather have to queue up for washing in small huts a long way from their quarters. I ask that that matter be looked into, because there is a great deal of Press correspondence on the subject and Members of Parliament receive letters complaining very bitterly about the way in which the women are treated in that respect.
Finally, we do not want to have any jealousy between the United Nations. We need a clear understanding of the needs of peace and the needs of war. We should rejoice in our mutual war effort, which can be made the foundation for international co-operation in peace time. Our vision ought not to be one of commercial rivalry, either the rivalry of trade or the rivalry of peoples on a war footing. I know that pilots are international-minded. On this side of the House, hon. Members stand for internationalisation. That question bristles with difficulties. After the war there will be the whole problem of the United Nations and their relationship to the rest of the world and to Europe, in 920 particular, and that problem will not be an easy one to settle. I think we should have before us as a beacon light the idea of internationalisation. I think it will be possible to get a tremendous amount of international co-operation if we are fair to each other in different countries, if we try to look at mutual problems from a mutual point of view, which cannot be done if we make the kind of claim that we must be on top of America or some other country and make preparations now in order that commercial competition shall go on. For instance, I suggest that after the war we should operate our air transport system in this country as the peace time function of an international air force. I cannot go into that matter now, except to say that there must be an international air force or something comparable to it, because it will only be on the basis of international solidarity in its highest form that we shall have the right to dictate to any nation, even to Germany, when the war is over about its air future. Therefore, I say we must not come on to the rock of commercial jealousy.
§ Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes (Nottingham, Central)
I should like to congratulate my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State on his broad survey, which, as usual, was most interesting. I shall only follow the remarks of the hon. Member for West Islington (Mr. Montague) on a few of the matters he raised. I want to confine my remarks to the question of air transport, which is, I think, an exceedingly important question at the present time. The invasion of Europe will be a Combined operation requiring the most intimate co-operation between the three Services, in which the heavy transport plane will play an indispensable part. Since the beginning of the war I have always thought that this winter would be the crucial period, and it now seems to me that the next few months are going to be of crucial importance. I have tried, therefore, to see what, if any, concrete suggestions I could make. While appreciating that in the past we have had to build fighters and bombers and to give them priority, I feel that we should give higher priority to transport machines than has been done hitherto. I congratulate the Secretary of State on the announcement that he intends to set up a Transport Command. I am sure that that is the right thing to do. I wish it had been done 921 before, and I only hope that, concurrently, he will be able to ensure that the new Command is fully equipped and fitted with the necessary machines and has the personnel and organisation available to take its place as rapidly as possible in the whole scheme of Air Force work.
It may be of interest to note one or two factors in regard to the growth of air transport as a strategic factor. I think it was the Russians who had the initial idea of starting strategical or transport arrangements in connection with air operations. The Germans followed it up very quickly and with really remarkable success. It has been said that no two wars are fought on the same lines, but this is only true to a limited extent. For instance, in 1917 there was a deadlock on the Continent, so now, as far as the Continent is concerned, there is practically the same position. We were then eyeing the Germans over a maze of barbed wire and entrenchments which could only be stormed at prohibitive cost; to-day, too, we are confronted by the Western shores of Europe bristling with wire, guns and tank traps. It is, therefore, of even greater importance now that the transport factor should be employed in trying to hit Germany in Germany as soon as possible. To do that, air transport must be used, not, as we have done hitherto, in small quantities, merely carrying a few paratroops here and there, but carrying large lumbers of men fully equipped and supporting them with reinforcements and munitions.