§ Order for Committee read.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Sir Archibald Sinclair)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The discussion of the Estimates for the three Service Departments will proceed this year in the knowledge that we are in all probability approaching the climax of the war—a period which will demand from every one of us, and from all the people of this country, the greatest possible concentration of effort of which we are capable. So we Service Ministers come to the House to ask for supplies, and for a continuance of that support from Parliament without which we can do nothing, and which has been generously vouchsafed to us in the most dangerous crises of the war. Nominally, we ask for money. In practice, as, of course, the House knows, no vote of money will increase the manpower and woman-power at the country's disposal, and it is my principal task to-day to account for the very large resources of man-power which air operations have required during the last year.
Parliament has staked heavily on the Royal Air Force during this war. In peace, before rearmament started, the vote for air supplies was about £17,000,000 a year: that is, about half the then Army Vote, and little more than a third of the Vote for the Navy. To-day, the man-power allotted to the Ministry of Aircraft Production is larger than the whole labour force of the Ministry of Supply, which, in its turn, is greater than the man-power allotted for shipbuilding, both for the Navy and for the Merchant Service. Of the resources allotted to the air war the largest share is given to Bomber Command. Hon. Members will, therefore, expect me, before I sit down, to give the House some account of the bomber offen- 1274 sive, our cardinal effort during the past year.
I do not wish to keep the House too long and I must necessarily omit many fields in which I should have wished to bring to the notice of the House, brave deeds and hard work well done. In particular, I wish time allowed me to speak of the exploits of our comrades-in-arms, the Polish, Czech, French, Belgian, Dutch, Norwegian, Greek and Yugoslav squadrons. Canada, Australia New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia—cur partners in vast overseas training organisations—have squadrons fighting alongside our own, as do the squadrons of the Indian Air Force in the Far Eastern theatre. In addition, many fine Dominion crews, and crews from the Indian and Colonial Empire, are fighting in Royal Air Force squadrons.
Now there are those who feel that we are rather remiss, when, in mentioning to Parliament some operations or series of operations as having been carried out by the Royal Air Force, we do not specifically mention the Allied and Dominion squadrons and crews which have been engaged. I only wish it were practicable to make these specific acknowledgments on every occasion; but I am sure that the House bears in mind these Allied, Dominion, Indian and Colonial squadrons and crews in the course of our discussions of the war in the air. They have won great renown. They have earned the lasting respect of their British comrades in arms and their valiant deeds will always be remembered with thankful hearts by the British people. Inadequate also will be the mention I shall make of the exploits of our American Allies, whose arms have in these last weeks won such resounding success in two hemispheres. I would wish also to speak, if time allowed, of the comradeship and co-operation which exists between the British and the United States Air Forces, but hon. Members will wish, as I must select and compress my material, that I should, as far as possible, confine myself to the affairs of the Service for which I have the honour to be answerable to Parliament.
I will begin by speaking of the administrative machine by which our operations are sustained, and confine myself to two or three particular matters which seem to deserve special mention at the present time. The first is our building 1275 programme. There is nothing that brings home more closely that this island is a front line base of operations than the fact that, everywhere you go, you find one of our airfields. It has not been a pleasant thing for the people of this country to have their land turned into an air base. We have had to dispossess people of their land, their houses, and their crops, often with little notice and with no reprieve. I well understand the feelings of the farmers, who have been at pains for many years to keep their land in good heart, and have ploughed and sown crops to feed us, only to find that their fields are to be taken from them and covered with concrete and buildings; while others have lost their homes, in which they have spent their lives and brought up their children and in which their families may have lived, as owners or tenants, for generations. Cheerfully as these sacrifices have been borne, it has been a distasteful task to impose them, and I am glad to say that we have almost reached the end of our territorial demands.
Four-and-a-half years ago, we started the most gigantic civil engineering and building programme ever undertaken in this country. This programme is now nearing completion, and it is right that I should mention to the House those which have contributed to it—the staffs of the Air Ministry, under Air Chief Marshal Courtney and Mr. Holloway, the Director-General of Works, who planned and directed it, and the employers and workmen who carried it out. We hear much about Germany's Todt Organisation, but let me say a word for the Air Ministry Works Organisation. Since the war began, working mainly through building and civil engineering contractors, it has erected 1,000,000 buildings and laid down concrete tracks equivalent to a 30-foot road running from here to Pekin. Of course, given enough time and enough labour and materials, any building programme can be carried out, but, as the House well knows, none of these commodities has been in ample supply. It is planning, ingenuity, and, above all, standardisation, wherever standardisation was in any way possible, that has carried the programme through.
We have been able to fit so many bases, for the American Air Forces as well as our own, into this small island because so 1276 much of our training has been carried on outside it, in the Dominions and in the United States. Let me again, as on previous occasions, pay my acknowledgements to the Canadian Government for their imaginative and vigorous administration of the Joint Air Training Plan. Our problem of providing training facilities to relieve the shortage of crews from which we suffered at the beginning of the war, and to match our expanding Air Force, would never have been solved without that help.
At the beginning of our training expansion, we were short of airfields, training aircraft, and, most important of all, we were short of experienced instructors. The best instructors had to be planted out in the new schools all over the Empire. New men had to be trained and this heavy dilution of training experience was inevitably accompanied by an increase in the rate of accidents. Besides the pressure of war and the dilution of instructors, we had to contend with a great increase in night flying and with the tendency of aircraft to become heavier, faster and more complex in their equipment. Nevertheless, as the training organisation became consolidated on its new and wider foundations, we surmounted these difficulties and reversed the upward trend of the accident rate. The rate for the whole Royal Air Force at home—most remarkably, the accident rate at night—has steadily fallen in the last two years. It was 30 per cent. lower in 1943 than it was in 1942, and now it is lower than it has been at any time during the war.
Much credit for the fall in the accident rate is due to the Accidents Inspectorate and to the staffs who have analysed the causes and trend of accidents so that remedies in the aircraft or in training methods can be applied. Far training is the secret of air safety, and Air Marshal Garrod, the first Air Member for Training, and his successor, Air Marshal Drummond, and their training staffs, and the two Training Commands of the Royal Air Force at home, and those in the Dominions, may well feel proud of their work. In the Air Ministry, we are all training conscious, some might say training mad. We have developed every means of instruction—synthetic aids, pamphlets, and even games.
1277 As new aircraft, new weapons and new gadgets are introduced, we have to keep pace with them. If the Minister of Aircraft Production presents us with, say, a new automatic homing device, he gives us at the same time a number of training problems to solve. It will, in the end, save lives and aircraft, but, before we introduce it, pamphlets must be issued to all parts of the world on how to work it, service it, and repair it; we must train instructors, issue warnings on how not to mis-use it and fit all this complicated instruction into a curriculum through which thousands of pupils are passing, without disturbing the steady flow through the machine. But though the statistics show that the accident rate is declining, we are not satisfied. We do not forgot that every accident represents a lamentable waste, certainly of labour and materials and perhaps of precious life and skill. Moreover, as our aircraft become larger more lives are lost every time an accident occurs. It is our duty to see that each member of a crew, whose lives may depend on any one of their number, is as skilled, as practised, and as swift in thought and action as training can make him.
Another source of wastage which has been reduced is sickness. Though more of our units are serving overseas, often in unhealthy areas and under active war conditions, we have had, during the last 12 months, fewer sick than at any other time since the outbreak of war. That certainly means much in avoidance of pain and suffering; but it also means the addition of several thousands of men and women to our resources. The Royal Air Force owes a great debt to the medical profession, both to those members of it whose career lies in the Royal Air Force Medical Branch, and to the many doctors and surgeons who have joined us since the war started. Remarkable strides have been made in the rehabilitation of men suffering from burns, severe wounds and accidents. Our rehabilitation centres work on the principle that it is not enough that a broken limb or a torn ligament or burnt fingers should be mended, if the patient is, nevertheless, to limp or lose part of his skill of hand for the rest of his days. Hon. Members know the tragedy of industrial cases, the fear that haunts the patient that he will never get back to full work again, and they will be glad to know that over 80 per cent. of the patients 1278 in our centres have been able to get back to full duties, in a shorter time than, a few years ago, we should have believed possible. So, under the wise and vigorous leadership of Air Marshal Sir Harold Whittingham, the Director General of Medical Services, and with the unsparing and devoted help of the Royal Air Force Nursing Service, our doctors and our dentists, who also have found scope in our midst for original ideas and practices, contrive not only to heal, but also to pievent sickness and thus to strengthen the Royal Air Force for battle.
It is some time since I brought to the attention of the House the splendid work performed by our Medical Services, and I would now revert to a subject, on which I made the first announcement last year, and that is, the creation and the work of Transport Command. This Command has grown rapidly, but not more rapidly than the demand for its services. It is being expanded to meet the future requirements of the Royal Air Force in this theatre of war, to meet the ever-increasing requirements of the Mediterranean, and the still more rapidly increasing requirements of the South-Eastern Asia Command, and, of course, it still remains responsible for the delivery of aircraft across the North and South Atlantic. Flying largely on established routes, its aircraft are available at any time to be thrown into the battle—carrying supplies to the battle front and moving wounded to the rear. They were in the forefront of the expedition to Italy, they landed under fire on the beaches at Salerno; more recently in Burma, working with the United States Army Transport Command, they fed and supported the Seventh Indian Division and so had their share in the Army's great victory in Arakan; with the long range delivery of aircraft and of a wide range of engines and spares for our squadrons—these are the tasks of Transport Command. Already the Command has earned the status which it enjoys of a fully operational Command of the Royal Air Force, and it will have a big part to play in future operations.
In war-time all air transport is war transport; we have none to spare for purely peaceful purposes; but the burden of air transportation is shared with Transport Command by the British Overseas Airways Corporation. The experience, organisation and resources of each are pooled, and each is allotted the task it 1279 can best perform. When there is a special war job to be done, or special services to be run to forward areas, Transport Command is ready for them. The British Overseas Airways Corporation sticks to the established routes, its operations and services being dove-tailed into those of Transport Command. The fleet of the British Overseas Airways Corporation is gradually being modernised and the number of types of which it is composed has been reduced from 23 to 17 in the past year. The route mileage of the British Overseas Airways Corporation increased by over 20 per cent. in the last year, and, in fact, was, in 1943, four times as great as the combined route mileage of Imperial Airways and British Airways in 1938. That does not look like putting civil aviation into cold storage! Their routes include the North Atlantic Service, on which they have flown regularly during the whole of three winters, services to Stockholm, to Lisbon, down the West Coast of Africa, to Cairo and on to Turkey in the North and India in the South, besides the important route from Durban up the East coast of Africa to Cairo, and so on by Bagdad and Basra to Karachi. So the horizons of the British Overseas Airways Corporation are in no respect narrowed by the co-existence of Transport Command but are, on the contrary, expanding, and its resources are groWinģ.
Meanwhile we mainly depend, and we still, for many years to come, shall depend on sea transport for the carriage of our food, our raw materials, and our supplies to every theatre of war. Therefore, the House will expect me to refer to the achievements of Coastal Command and to our close working partnership with the Royal Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. Hon. Members will have noticed from the accounts of operations against U-boats that the battle of the Atlantic is not a series of single combats between the U-boat and the aircraft or the warship, but is made up of prolonged engagements over thousands of miles of sea, in which the work of the surface forces is at every stage integrated with the work of aircraft. The aircraft and the escort vessel are nicely complementary; the escort vessel carries a bigger punch, and can track down a U-boat, once detected, even though submerged, but the range of vision of the escort vessel is limited; the aircraft 1280 is less certain of its kill but has, of course, an immensely greater range of vision and a better chance of surprising the enemy. A convoy may be assailed along the whole route across the ocean, first by U-boats and then by bombers, and, at every stage, the work of the air and escort vessels on the surface is interlocked. Never has there been a happier period of relations between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force than in the past year. Like the harmony which prevails between land and air forces, the combination of air and naval power is the fruit, not of radical changes of organisation or of direction from above, but of the steady efforts of Commanders and Staff Officers of the two Services engaged in the pursuit of a common enemy.
The war against the submarine is especially a war of wits. The enemy has sprung surprises on us—but we have sprung still more surprises on him. We hope to spring more yet. The many units of Coastal Command, in which American squadrons are now serving alongside our own, stretching from Iceland to Gibraltar and the Azores, sweeping the whole of the. Atlantic, have a long task of vigilance, and of danger too. Most of their work—perhaps the most trying part—is taken up with long and uneventful sweeps over barren seas, but there are many occasions when they have to meet formidable opposition. They fly in low, these coastal crews, to drop their depth charges. The Germans have increased the numbers of anti-aircraft guns carried by their U-boats in order to force up the coastal crews to heights at which the accuracy of their bombing would fall off. But the crews have roundly declared that they will not be forced up—and they have not been forced up. I would recall the action, for which the Victoria Cross was awarded to Flying Officer Trigg, when he pressed home his attack with absolute disregard of the heavy anti-aircraft armament with which U-boats are now armed, though he knew that his aircraft was already hit and in flames and that his only course of safety lay in breaking off the engagement. Admiral Doenitz, the Commander in Chief of the German Navy is reported to have said—though I cannot for the life of me understand how an officer who I suppose to be competent can have made such a remark—that an aeroplane could no more attack a submarine than a crow a mole. 1281 The mole is turning himself into a porcupine, but he still cannot escape Coastal Command's talons.
In operating against surface shipping, the Command has had a year of extended activity and considerable success. We have been giving careful attention to Germany's coastal traffic, particularly the route from the iron mines of Norway to the Rhine ports, and together the Beau-fighters of Coastal Command, with their great variety of armament, and the sea-mining aircraft of Bomber Command have sunk quite a proportion of this traffic. I do not believe all I read about the prospects of the Germans leaving Norway, but the dangers of the sea passage have certainly diminished its usefulness to them.
The House May be sure that we are doing all we 'can to see that the experience gained in Coastal Command is used in that other theatre of air and sea warfare, the Far East. We look forward to the day when victory in Europe will release more of our air forces to fight the Japanese. We foresee that the great expanses of the Pacific Ocean and the Indian Ocean will give play to a broader sweep of air power than the congested skies of Europe. Coastal Command's navigational skill, and practice in naval liaison, will be very much in demand, and must be diffused as widely as possible.
Meanwhile, we have been building up our forces in the Far Eastern theatre and the Japanese have lost the air superiority they enjoyed in 1942. A notable event was the arrival of Spitfires in this theatre. The squadrons we sent to Australia acquitted themselves well in attacks which the Japanese made on Port Darwin and other towns, and more recently in Burma Spitfires appeared where the Japanese had been expecting Hurricanes, and in their first two encounters these Spitfires destroyed 21 of the enemy for the loss of only three of their own. As fast as we can, we shall send more Spitfires. One thing is certain; we shall not forget that in our hour of need Australia sent her forces across the world to help us, and we shall not relax our efforts until our common enemies are utterly defeated.
In the Mediterranean, our air forces have played a vital part in the great events of the past year. The surrender in Tunis of an enemy army of 250,000 1282 men was followed by great amphibious operations, each successfully covered by air power. They knocked Italy out of the war and have drawn down to the Italian fronts large enemy forces badly needed elsewhere. As the Prime Minister said last week, no less than seven extra divisions have been brought down for a determined attempt to destroy our bridgehead.
Besides these forces, we are fighting in that theatre another enemy, the weather. Air Marshal Slessor, the Deputy Commander-in-Chief, under General Eaker, of the Allied Air Forces in the Mediterranean, remarks in a recent report that the present phase of the campaign reminds him of his experience in Waziristan, except that the weather is like a bad English February. As the pilots put it, the clouds are stuffed with mountains. The airmen searching the valleys and ravines for the enemy positions, so far from seeing their target, cannot even see which is valley and which is mountainside. Let us not expect the impossible of them. The Army do not; I am told that the understanding between the air and ground forces is excellent. The good weather should come soon, and then we shall see whether our air superiority will not do again what it did in 1943.
It is often interesting, if sometimes disconcerting, to see ourselves as others see us, and the House will be interested to know how the different methods employed by the enemy and the Royal Air Force in land campaigns have struck so discerning and experienced an observer as General Arnold, the Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Force.
Writing in his recent formal report to the Secretary of War of the United States of the early Libyan campaigns, he says that the enemy kept his air forces under the direct command of the ground forces.Local Army commanders," he says, "wasted air power in penny packets to protect their own sectors or to help advance small detachments. The Royal Air Force, employed in concentrated mass as a true air force should be, completely destroyed some 1,100 Italian planes," He adds, "Many of our present ideas about the Tactical Air Force were evolved in the heat of these desert campaigns. There is no doubt that experience and new conditions modify many of our notions, but the present concept of the Tactical Air Force can be regarded as tested and proved in North Africa, Italy and New Guinea.1283 The Mediterranean campaign has been the chief testing ground for our methods of combining air and surface forces in one great instrument of war. It does not matter whether this instrument is in the hands of a soldier or an airman or a sailor. In this theatre, here at home, the supreme commander will be a soldier, General Eisenhower, but his deputy is Air Chief Marshal Tedder, an airman. What matters is that the air forces should be commanded by an airman and the troops by a soldier, each working to a common plan. The presence of Air Chief Marshal Tedder and of Air Marshal Coningham in this theatre is a guarantee that the methods employed in Air-Army operations in this theatre will be those which have been tested and proved by experience in the Mediterranean theatre.
In this country the Royal Air Force is preparing to play its part, in combination with the Army and the Royal Navy, in the battle for liberating Europe. We have made our dispositions. A year ago we had Fighter Command and Army Co-operation Command. The latter was designed solely for working with the Army. Fighter Command not only defended this country and escorted coastal convoys, but also carried out offensive operations across the Channel. These two Commands have now been combined with the American 9th Air Force into a new organisation described as the Allied Expeditionary Air Force under the command of Air Chief Marshal Leigh-Mallory. This Force has two main components. On the one hand, the 2nd British Tactical Air Force, under the command of Air Marshal Coningham, and the 9th American Air Force, under General Brereton, will be available to support operations on the Continent of Europe; on the other hand, a force for which we have revived the old name of the Air Defence of Great Britain, under the command of Air Marshal Hill, will be responsible for the day and night defence of these islands. We have thus separated and defined the offensive and defensive functions, while at the same time unifying them at the highest level for the great and intricate battles ahead. These squadrons, both in the Allied Expeditionary Air Force and in the Air Defence of Great Britain, are actively engaged in training as well as in operations. They are not standing idly by waiting upon events, but they are con- 1284 stantly attacking objectives in France and the Low Countries, or ships at sea or in harbour, escorting bombers in their attacks on occupied territory, and also giving escort to American bombers on their way out or on their way home from battles over Germany.
In recent weeks the night fighter squadrons of the Air Defence of Great Britain have been tackling what I have frequently warned the House and the public they would have to tackle, a recurrence of the blitz. The kind of attack they have had to meet is one which it is very difficult to counter. Whereas our bombers penetrate hundreds of miles into German territory in a thick stream, fighting all the way into the target, over the target and all the way home, and making while they are over the target concentrated and devastating attacks, the Germans fly very fast across the coast at a great height, twisting and turning, scattering their bombs over London, then diving steeply at maximum speed until they cross the coast at 2,000 feet or less. Probably the whole time spent by any one German bomber over this country is less than 20 minutes.
I do not seek to minimise the hardships and suffering which these attacks bring to many of our people. Some of them have lost their lives, others have lost their homes, in the recent raids. It is little consolation to a family which has suffered to be told that the attack was of no possible significance in the course of the war. On the contrary, the people who have suffered are entitled to the assurance that we keep our defences in the best possible order, and I can give this assurance to the House, not that our defences are perfect but that we are constantly exerting ourselves to improve them by every imaginable contrivance, that there has been a steady growth of improvement from the earliest days of the blitz at the beginning of the war until now, that that improvement is going on, and that our superb night fighter squadrons keep themselves at the highest pitch of efficiency.
Meanwhile, remembering the extraordinary difficulties, which I have attempted to describe to the House, of countering this form of haphazard and militarily futile attack, the rate of casualties inflicted on the enemy is creditable to our night fighter squadrons and to the anti-aircraft gunners and searchlight crews of the Army. The measure of our success 1285 is that in each of the last two months we have been able to inflict on these raiders a higher rate of casualties than all the massed fighter defences of Germany have been able to inflict on our far more numerous bombers penetrating deeply into enemy territory.
On the other hand, we must not believe that the forces which the enemy has sent over here are the greatest strength which he can muster. His power of striking back is far from negligible. I should not wish the country to feel, when the times comes for his efforts to disorganise our preparations and to take the edge off our offensive spirit, that we have been caught unprepared. I shall not say, like Goering, that our defences can ward off any attack. What I can say is that we have foreseen the attack, and whatever shape it may assume, or in whatever weight it may come, we shall be ready to pit our forces against it. Attack, however, is the best form of defence, in the air as well as on land. The only final and complete defence is to destroy the enemy's power at the source. So long as Germany has weapons in her hand some part of her blows must fall upon these islands. We cannot better protect our homes than by increasing the weight of our attack upon Germany.
Meanwhile, the battle which Bomber Command and the United States Army Air Forces are fighting over Germany is on so different a scale that it is impossible to compare it with the German blitz on this country. Huge centres of war industry in the Ruhr, in Hamburg, in Berlin and many other German cities have been obliterated, and in the year under review the United States Army Air Force has entered the battle in full strength. A recent spell of weather of a kind which favours daylight precision bombing also enabled the British and American Bomber Commands to combine both day with night operations and operations from Italian bases with those from British bases. The British and American Commanders were swift to seize this opportunity and to act upon plans which, to my certain knowledge, have been prepared for many months past. It may well be that historians of the future will look back upon this period between the February and the March moons as one of the decisive stages of the whole war.
To assess whether the results we have gained justify the resources we have spent 1286 on our bomber force is not a matter of speculation. I have the impression that our bomber offensive is sometimes thought of as if it were producing no visible results for the time being, but might lead to the enemy's sudden collapse, as if we were hammering at a door in the expectation that the lock might suddenly give way. On the contrary, we are steadily pushing the door open, inch by inch, until we can pass through. Our offensive is producing results which are visible, measurable and progressive.
As soon as possible after our attacks we always photograph the results. We know not merely what factory has been hit—when we can get the photographs, which has been very difficult in recent months oWinģ to the perpetual cloud over Germany—but which shop in the factory and what it was producing. For example, in the recent raid on Stuttgart we know that the Robert Bosch factory, producing the greater part of the magnetos, sparking plugs and fuel pumps for the German Air Force, was put out of action for many months, and the Hesser Maschinenfabrik, producing components for submarine engines, was gutted in the same action. We can also, by piecing together information from one source and another, form an estimate of the production lost by factors that are not shown on a photograph, that is, the man-hours lost through the interruption of communications and food supplies, through disorganisation of administration, and above all through weariness caused by all these factors and by the nervous strain of constant attacks.
In Leipzig, after the great Bomber Command attack of 3rd December, our photographs showed that of the great World's Fair Buildings, which produced components for hundreds of aircraft every month and covered 100 acres of space, not one remained intact; in the American raid on the same town on 20th February the huge Erla complex of factories for producing Messerschmitt 109's was wrecked. In the three great blows which the town of Leipzig sustained in as many months no type of industrial undertaking escaped damage; the railway stations, goods yards and warehouses, tramway depots, gas works and barracks, all essential parts of the war production of that manufacturing centre, are included in the record. The concentrated products of thousands of hours of skilled work, of careful ration- 1287 ing, spoils from the occupied territories, supplies laboriously transported thousands of miles, the precious fraction that gets through our blockade—are all destroyed in one night. Machine tools, generators and transformers, precision instruments, all are buried under a crumpled heap of girders; food, materials, chemicals and timber are piled in a smoking ruin. These are the sinews of war. Repair and replace them the Germans can in the long run, if we let them—some of their efforts at repair have been really remarkable—but it is in these photographs of bomb damage that we can read some, at least, of the reasons why Germany has no longer abundant man-power and materials to throw into the offensive. Repair and defence must have first claim. Far better than capturing or destroying 100 enemy guns in the field, after perhaps they have killed many of our own men, is to destroy them half-completed in the shops, and at the same time the tools with which the enemy could in a month produce 200 more.
And Berlin, the greatest battle of all. Little output can the enemy have been obtaining from its hundreds of factories—those that are still functioning at all—with little efficiency can the administrative centre of the Reich have been directing their vast war machine, when the workpeople, the clerks and the executives know that the morning may see no railways, no trams, no buses running, no electricity, no gas, no water, when the shops are empty, their meals obtained from canteens and their nights spent in a shelter, and their prospects—still greater desolation. Not only have they before their eyes the physical destruction of the emblems of Nazi power, its Chancellories, Brown Houses and Gestapo Headquarters, but in the present confusion and memories of broken promises they see the crack appearing in the Nazi edifice itself.
We should be wearing long faces now if we had lost one quarter of the resources the Germans have lost in the last year. It is not only the overall loss of production and consumption of manpower on repair and replacements; there are many points where the Axis is especially vulnerable, and these points we have not neglected. Some of them have been particularly appropriate—since the specialised targets are usually small—for 1288 attack by day, and it is against such targets, heavily defended because so vital to the enemy, that some of the most successful blows of the American Army Air Forces have been delivered. Ball-bearing factories at Schweinfurt, Stuttgart, Steyr and Villa Perosa, Messerschmitt 109s at Leipzig, Wiener Neustadt and Regensburg, 110s and 410s at Gotha, Brunswick and Augsburg, Focke Wulfs at Oschersleben, Tutow, Anklam and Marienberg, Junkers at Halberstadt and Bernberg, great component, equipment and engine factories for these and other types of aircraft at Berlin—these have been among the chief targets of the British and American bomber offensives, accessible, some of them, from our bases here, some from the Mediterranean, some from both.
In the past year I have drawn attention to the large part of the enemy's resources which our bomber offensive was engaging—a million men engaged in passive defence, hundreds of thousands in making and maintaining fighters and anti-aircraft artillery. The offensive justified itself by the fact alone that we were keeping from the Eastern and Mediterranean fronts aircraft, men and guns that the enemy might have used to turn the battles there. Bomber Command and the United States Bomber Squadrons have compelled the German High Command, as their whole front recoils in the East, to tie down for the protection of their factories full four-fifths of their fighter strength in the West. This is the true strategic employment of air power, turning the course of the land battles by actions fought many hundreds of miles away. Now we can claim not only that we have engaged these forces, but that we have made great gains in spite of them. The effects are identical with those of military occupation; we have destroyed production, we have denied resources, we have interrupted communications and we have carried the war on to German soil.
Certainly, our gains have not been won without losses. From our bombing operations from this country in the last year over 2,500 aircraft have not come back. Taking an average of seven men per aircraft, this means that nearly 18,000 men, drawn from the flower of our manhood, are killed or prisoners. But compare this with the bloody fighting of the Eastern Front, or with the carnage of the last war. 1289 On one day, the 1st July, 1916, we lost on the Somme 21,997 men killed and missing, to secure—I quote the Official History—an advance three and a half miles wide and one mile in depth. Our air crews who have fallen in destroying the weapons of the Nazis at their sources are in the position of the man who dies putting out of action the enfilading machine-gun which is decimating his comrades and so lets the advance go through. I may add that our losses are becoming progressively less heavy compared with the effects we are achieving. The ratio of casualties to the weight of bombs dropped is steadily falling, in spite of the fact that the range of our attacks has been steadily increasing. Berlin received in January of this year, in a single month, as great a weight of bombs as has fallen on London from the beginning of the war till now.
The rising numerical strength of Bomber Command is not, of itself, sufficient to account for these extraordinary achievements. There are other and more important explanations. We have developed navigational aids and safety devices of which I have spoken to the House from year to year as I have introduced these Estimates and the harvest of scientific genius that we were hoping to reap has been reaped. And here a significant point enters. Just as in operations the enemy faces the British and American Forces, not separately but together and acting under one plan and in one battle, so in the scientific field his scientists are pitted not against British and American scientists, but against the combined Anglo-American scientific effort. Pooling between us is complete, one hundred per cent. Thousands of hours are saved because development is not carried out separately on each side of the Atlantic; where one partner makes an advance the other can at once add to it and does not have to catch up on his own. Another great reason to account for the wonderful achievements of Bomber Command is the introduction of the Pathfinder Force and the brilliant conduct of its operations by Air Vice-Marshal Bennett. This has enormously increased the effectiveness of the bomber offensive, It is attributable also to the admirable conduct of our operations by Air Chief Marshal Harris, and his staff and commanders, working under the wise and steadfast direction of the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal—and, above all, 1290 to the excellence of the products of our factories. I said above all, perhaps, in the wrong place, because I feel inclined to say above all to the skill and bravery of our crews. Do not be guided by what they themselves say—this talk of "a fair amount of flak, night fighters a bit plentiful, a routine trip." Every man of them knows the dangers of these long flights, the dangers of icing or mechanical failure, and the risk that fog may have covered their bases before they return. To these are added the greatest concentration of guns and searchlights that any Power has ever mustered and a German fighter force much greater than that with which we fought and broke the enemy in the Battle of Britain.
The events of the coming weeks no man can foretell. Already, while the dust and smoke still billow round his shattered factories, the enemy is driving his toiling millions to desperate efforts to recover the ground he has lost. The wounded tiger is dangerous. But there lies before us, now clearly attainable, the glittering prize of air supremacy—the talisman that can paralyse German war industry and war transport, that will clear the road for the progress of the Allied Armies to Berlin.
§ Mr. Woodburn (Stirling and Clackmannan, Eastern)
The House will have listened to the review that the Minister has just given us of the activities of the Air Force with the greatest interest, and I am quite sure we all feel very humble in our admiration of the splendid part that has been played by the men who have gone out and performed these great operations. It seems we can do little to pay tribute to them. I was very glad that the Minister did not forget to refer to those who are in the front line in London. I have discovered that there is considerable resentment at what seems to be the flippancy with which the present bombing is being treated. As the Minister said, however insignificant it may be in the complete picture of a world war, to the person who is on the spot it is a tragedy of the deepest and most solemn kind, and I think we ought to-day to send out to those people who have been suffering that blitz our sincere sympathy and our hope that they may be able to stand up to, and bear with fortitude, the trials put upon them.
I remember during one of the great blitzes on a Midland town—the whole 1291 place was practically destroyed and there was difficulty in providing the people with food—that at six o'clock at night it was not the question of food or the question of the blitz which worried the people. The greatest disappointment and shock for them came when it was found that on the six o'clock news, nobody mentioned that their town had suffered from the raid. The fact that they had gone through all this suffering and that nobody had had the decency to acknowledge it, was a greater shook to them than the bombs. We have to remember that while the people of this country are prepared to stand up to anything, they do feel that we should acknowledge that they are playing their part in the war as much as those who take part in the more spectacular fighting itself.
There were one or two points on which I had hoped the Minister would touch and which have been points of discussion in this House for many years. The general public are still wondering what has happened in connection with the production or the use of dive-bombers. I find people who are technically qualified and able to judge wondering whether this country is to be equipped in such a fashion as to be able to use this weapon with success in coming operations. It may be that the Minister does not want to advise the enemy of that, but a point that does worry a good many people is whether the promised delivery of dive-bombers from America has ever been realised, and whether those dive-bombers will be available.
Another point which might have been mentioned, and which was much discussed some years ago, is the question of torpedo bombers. As an ordinary man in the street in relation to this affair I have never been able to understand why the bombing of ships in the Pacific has seemed so much more successful than the bombing of ships either in the Mediterranean or in the North Sea. It was said at the time that the Japanese had some special equipment or some special torpedoes which could not be carried by our planes. Have we made progress in this matter of being able to destroy battleships by bombing planes or torpedo planes, or has that point been forgotten in the general building-up of other parts of the Service? We remember the shock our people got as a result of the passing of the "Scharnhorst" and other German battleships 1292 through the North Sea, and the rumours that were current at that time that we had not the equipment capable of sinking them, even if our aircraft could have reached them.
§ Sir A. Sinclair
They did not pass unscathed. In fact, the "Gneisenau" has never recovered from the blows which we struck.
§ Mr. Woodburn
That is so. The rumours were not true in that case but there was an allegation that we could launch only 18-inch torpedoes and that the Japanese could launch 21-inch torpedoes. Some Members of this House who are specialists in that line raised a complaint and it was promised that production would meet that point.
Another point is that out aircraft must be dispersed over the earth, whereas German aircraft have the advantage of concentration. Statements have been made in the Press about the ability of German aircraft to move from one place to another. It struck me that immediately the great air battles over this country ceased, the air battles over Crete started. In other words, Germany has never seemed able to fight en masse in more than one theatre at any time. There has been a great diminution in the attacks on this country. London was the target for a concentrated attack for many nights—40 days and 40 nights, so to speak—an attack which failed, oWinģ to the bravery of our airmen and the stability of our population. Then the Germans started to attack smaller towns with even greater intensity, but these attacks lessened and the distance between them grew longer. That has gone on throughout the war. Therefore, it has seemed that, in spite of wise warnings given by the Minister and other responsible people, the German Air Force has never been as great as the Germans have said it was. It has steadily declined since the Battle of Britain and the victory of London's population. However wise these warnings may have been in order that people should not feel too hopeful about the future, the fact remains that the people are hopeful. They feel that Germany has already been defeated in the air and that her Air Force will decline until it ceases to exist. Although it is not the Minister's business to give that picture, it is, nevertheless, our business to keep it in view.
1293 The Minister has given us to-day a picture of the very fine co-operation between the British and American Air Forces. I am quite satisfied that it is greater than any two nations in the world could have hoped to achieve, when the war broke out. It is a remarkable thing that our two nations have been able to build together in such a way. It seems to me that the Americans do not understand our attitude towards them. It is difficult for us to feel that they are not part of ourselves, and we do not look upon them as foreigners or members of any other nation. They may feel a little hurt about that, but I can assure them that it is only because of the friendliest of feelings we entertain for them. We feel they are "our ain folk," a feeling which makes for a great contribution to the possibility of this kind of co-operation. The greatest tribute that can be paid to this co-operation is that Air Marshal Tedder could be appointed to be Deputy Commander of the Allied Forces in this country and that the great silent Service, the Navy, has not made even a squeak about it. I am sure that everybody, in the past, would have expected almost rebellion in this House at the idea that anybody could have been put in command of combined Forces except an Admiral of the Fleet.
A great deal has been said about our bombing campaign and I think that the point of view of an outsider in these matters would not be out of place. I think it is doing a great disservice to our Air Force, to those in command, to the Minister and to the people of this country to suggest that we are bombing anybody for the sake of bombing. I am sure that that is not true. I think it is a wrong impression to give to our men in the Air Force that it could even possibly be true. I think the Minister's precise description of what has been accomplished by the bombing of Germany shows that it has been strategic bombing, and not bombing merely for the sake of destroying individuals.
There is another aspect of this matter which is worthy of consideration. I do not consider that we are making war at all. We and the rest of the civilised world are resisting and destroying the war-makers; we are preventing them from making war. Therefore, our bombing is a hygienic and sanitary operation and is not a military operation in the aggressive 1294 sense at all. While I feel sympathy with anyone who is within range of falling bombs, we must realise that there is no doubt that the German population are still, in the main, behind Hitler and the German Generals. Until that state of affairs ceases to exist, they must accept some responsibility for war making. I can feel sympathy even for rats that are being destroyed, but when you realise that they may infect children with disease and bring disaster to the community you have to overcome your sympathy for the rats and destroy them. That applies to nations that are running riot in the world and destroying all that mankind has ever stood for. I am reminded of the story of the old lady who felt so sorry for a caged tiger that she let him out. That was misplaced sympathy and sympathy for Germany to-day is misplaced sympathy, Those who express it only do so because of the relative safety of this country. If we accept the point of view of those who advocate non-resistance, then we must wait until the bombs fall on our children before we help them. It is difficult logically to maintain that view if, at the same time, our young men are willing to risk their lives to prevent the enemy's bombs falling on us.
It is even better if the enemy's bombing planes do not reach this country, and better still if they are never manufactured. If our bombing force goes to Germany and destroys the nests from which these destructive insects come, that is of much more importance, and is much more desirable, than waiting until the bombs drop before we help our people. There is no logical difference between rescuing a child from the gutter after it has been bombed, and destroying the nests from which the bombers come. I was glad to hear the Minister describe in detail the destruction of German factories. It would be a waste of time to bomb civilian populations merely for the sake of morale. From my own experience and knowledge of production I know that a lucky hit can do an enormous amount of damage. Once a lucky German bomb struck a factory in England and held up production lines in Scotland for many months. That bomb happened to hit a vital spot and held up production until the factory was reconstructed. A bomb which hits a water main or an electricity works can do so much more damage to the war effort of 1295 Germany than dropping a bomb on the civil population.
I learned with interest of the specific nature of the bombing which is bringing about the destruction of Germany's war effort. If you stop production in Germany, you will render her impotent when our men land on her own or German-occupied territory. Germany started this war to destroy the world. Our men are being asked to prepare themselves for a great invasion of the Continent, and it would be criminal if the Government did not take every step to destroy the potency of Germany before that event takes place. The more you can soften Germany for that invasion, the more grateful will be our Forces and our people generally. Those who are preparing for that great effort will be greatly heartened by the statement which the Minister has made to-day, and I can only wish his efforts greater success between now and the time when the Second Front opens.
I wish, however, that the Minister had said a little more about the work of the Air Forces in the Pacific. He dealt mainly with the Royal Air Force and paid tribute to the American Air Forces in this country but what has been happening in the Pacific has also been most remarkable. In recent months the Americans have popped over the Pacific, from island to island, advancing towards what I hope will now be the "Land of the Setting Sun." Every day they are getting nearer to the shores of Japan itself. Two or three months ago, I am sure that nobody would have thought it possible for America, to have made such progress as has been reported in her recent advances from island to island in the Pacific. With the growth of the land Forces in India, it must seem to the people of China that help is coming to her. From the point of view of stimulating China's morale, it must be a hopeful thing.
The Minister mentioned the production side of our air effort, a side about which I have some knowledge and which I have seen developing in the last four years. We must all pay tribute to those men in the Government and in industry who, between the two wars, were fully alive to the necessity for developing our aircraft. These men have, I agree, been all too few, but tribute must be paid to them, 1296 because had they not pursued their policy, we would have been in a very sorry plight to-day. The efforts made since the war have been tremendous. Undoubtedly, the shadow factories built before the war have played their part, but during the last four-and-a-half years this country has seen almost an industrial revolution in the transition from other kinds of production to aircraft production. A remarkable feature is the way in which the number of man-hours required to produce a bomber or fighter aircraft has been steadily decreased. Perhaps the Under-Secretary, when he replies to the Debate, can give the proportion of man-hours in that respect. If he can say that we have been able to produce three bombers where we once were able to produce only one it will give some idea of the development of training in our factories, and especially of the way in which our girls and women have adapted themselves to this kind of war production.
Tribute must be paid to the people who have accomplished that. I have seen a factory myself where people who had not previously known anything about the work were taught. The man who managed it came from another industry. He started a school of girls, who passed through all the stages of learning the technique of the trade, and learned to measure and how to use instruments. They started on little jobs and in a few weeks passed on to first-class production. The manager paid a remarkable tribute to these girls. He said it would not have been possible for them to do this unless they had had the education available in the last few years. He had 50 secondary-school girls as a nucleus, and they brought their chums in later. Victory will be due in no small measure to the educational system which we have developed, and I hope that will be an encouragement to the President of the Board of Education to see that that system is further improved in the future.
I should like to ask the Minister whether we are thinking ahead and looking to the future. I know that the immediate task is a serious and a difficult one, but the war will end one of these days. Just as in peace affairs, we must be planning for the future, so, in air affairs there must be some thought of what is to happen to the wonderful machines that we have produced. Are they all to be scrapped, as 1297 happened after the last war? I should like to think that war was going to disappear and that an air force would be unnecessary in that sense, but I see no hope of that in the immediate future. Until such time as we get some world air force, able to guarantee security to everyone, in my view it is clear that we shall have to maintain an air force capable of safeguarding us.
I can see considerable objections to a mass air force on the present basis, but that may not be necessary. Quality is of tremendous importance and the nucleus is the thing that must be safeguarded. But that nucleus must not be static. It another war should take place, which God forbid, I hope we shall not try to fight it with the weapons that have been developed in this war. There must be continual progress in research and in the development of aircraft. That is valuable for peace purposes as well. Whatever part of the air force is dispersed, I hope that the great research organisation that has been set up will not be and that a great deal of attention will be given to the building up of this great new element of transit. It will be a tragedy if this is scattered over all the shipping companies, and odds and ends of the country, everyone running his own little research department and building up little bits here and there. It must be the business of the nation to see that the best brains that we have in this department are encouraged and are never starved of resources.
Then there is the question of youth. I understand that the Navy offers a career to youth almost from the age of 12. Nothing has appealed to youth however like the Air Force. It seems to have gripped their minds. Have any plans been made to provide careers, after the war, for young fellows who wish to take up aviation? Is there to be an opportunity for youth and an elimination of class distinctions? Will all the youth of the country have an equal chance in qualifying? Some system of that kind ought to be devised in the very early days of post-war planning. May I quote from "Victory through Air Power"? The writer said:British ascendancy has been challenged again and again throughout history by other countries. Always it has emerged victorious, but to-day's challenge is more difficult and more serious, because it is bound up with a revolution in war-making. To-day's test comes in a new medium, where Britain has still to prove herself master.1298 I think in some spheres, as far as one can judge as an outside observer, Britain has proved herself master of this element and the adventurous spirit of our youth has proved that she can utilise this instrument. I hope that in the future it may be possible to use it mainly for purposes of peace. To whatever purposes it may be directed, I hope an opportunity will be provided for this country to develop its great air-mindedness in the way in which it can make its greatest contribution to the well-being of the world.
§ Winģ Commander Robinson (Blackpool)
I feel sure the House will be grateful to the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn) for expressing sympathy with those who have been killed in the recent attacks on London. At the same time, he indicated that there was some unspecified body of people who failed to take the matter seriously. They are not to be found among the ranks of the night fighter pilots, who go up to challenge the enemy every night, nor among the antiaircraft gunners, who are greeting the raiders with the greatest flak barrage that we have ever known in this country. It was good to hear the Secretary of State report on what has been a year of uninterrupted progress for the Royal Air Force. I feel that the courage and initiative of our air crews will go down in the nation's history. Indeed, they are a real inspiration to those who are privileged in some small way to help them on the ground, and an inspiration to all the free peoples of the world.
The hon. Member raised the question of our bombing policy. During the past month or two there has been a certain amount of ill-informed criticism both in this House and in another place. Some of it has come from people like the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson), who appears to misunderstand what modern war is. They remember the good old days when wars were fought by professional armies and the rest of the world watched the spectacle. Those days have gone. The Germans showed that in the last war, and they brought the lesson home again to us in 1930 and 1940. Their barbarous attacks on civilians ceased only when they lost the means to press them home, and our experience has shown us that immediately they have power to resume those attacks, it is up to us to go out and destroy their produc- 1299 tion, which is the source of power, before they have the opportunity of striking again.
There are other people who criticise our bombing policy. I think we who know something about this work should come here and make it clear that Allied bombing has nothing at all to do with revenge. It is entirely governed by strategic military necessity. No crew has ever been briefed to destroy a German target which has no industrial or military significance. Any suggestion to the contrary is the foulest and most unfair criticism of a fine body of men who are prepared to sacrifice their lives in order to destroy the German war machine and preserve the freedom of our country and liberate the oppressed peoples of Europe. The cities on the Continent that we have attacked have been vital centres of military production or transportation. We are going out to attack the enemy's sinews of war. We are plugging their producing capacity. We can hit it in more ways than one. The primary target is the factory itself, and a vast number of factories have been destroyed. Their iron and steel, rubber, ball Bearinģs, chemical works, production of ships, submarines and tanks have all suffered alike. But we hit it in another way too, because weapon-producing capacity must in the long run depend upon industrial man-power.
An eminent writer on air affairs, Peter Masefield, made an exhaustive analysis shoWinģ how millions of man-hours were lost to German industry through the attacks of Bomber Command. An attack on an industrial area inevitably destroys quite a large number of workers' houses. So long as the worker in Germany, or anywhere else, is without a home, he is an absentee from his work. He does not go back until some satisfactory accommodation has been found for him and his family, so that a great deal of production is lost. Still more is lost when they have to take workers away from the factories themselves in order to re-house those who have lost their homes. In the same way damage to power, light and communications is causing endless delay and loss of production. German industry must be bombed until productive capacity falls far behind the needs of the German forces. While we are destroying their weapon-producing capacity, the tremendous 1300 weight and concentration of our attacks, and the regularity with which they are delivered, must be steadily undermining their morale. We know from our experience that morale does not break very easily and when a nation is held down by the ruthless discipline of the Gestapo a break-down of morale may be held up for a time but it may well be that before long the weigh: of our attacks will become so great that the fear of the bomb may exceed their fear of the Gestapo. It is only when that stage is reached that we can expect the breakdown of the German home front.
It is quite clear that the strategic offensive would never be called off until final victory is won, but I am little concerned about the possibility of a demand for the postponement of the strategic offensive for other war purposes. I am referring to the possibility, in case of an invasion or a bridgehead, of a ground or tactical commander wanting to use the strategic air forces for the tactical support of the armies in the field. I wonder whether the Under-Secretary could say who will be the man who has the final decision when such a request is made. It would be good to have an assurance that a request of that nature would only be met in cases of absolute necessity. I believe that tactical targets such as enemy concentrations or supplies on a beach-head should be destroyed by the Army with its artillery. We have provided a tactical air force to assist it with that work, and, if necessary, the Army could call on the Navy for bombardment from off the shore. I want to emphasise that ability to wage strategic air war is still important even during a time of invasion, and it is especially true now because so many of those who are directing the strategic air war believe that we are on the verge of success. If any diversion is allowed for tactical purposes, it will give the Germans a chance to recover from the cumulative effects of our offensive just when success lies within our grasp.
It should never be forgotten that the strategic air forces are the only ones which can wage a heavy and concentrated attack deep into the heart of the enemy's territory. What can be done may well be judged from the achievements of the strategic air forces during the last two months in their attacks on the German aircraft industry. Figures issued on Sunday showed that the Hun has lost no 1301 less than 80 per cent. of his productive capacity of twin-engine fighters, 25 per cent. of heavy bomber capacity, 60 per cent. of his transport plane output and single-engine types, and in addition many hundreds of German planes have been shot down. I believe that an attack of this nature is really a major contribution to winning the war. In the case of the aircraft factories, the credit goes mainly to the American strategic air force in Europe which has made these factories their target. Such an attack should be continued without any respite for our enemy. Not only must the factories be destroyed, but they must remain destroyed, and that means that some of them may have to be visited time and time again. We must give the Hun no chance of rebuilding his factories or for recuperation. As we continue to attack vital strategic targets of this nature during the next two months or so, the Hun must come up to meet us in the air. He will have to oppose us, and in doing so he will use up his most vital capital resources, his irreplaceable reserves of aircraft. Eventually, when this is done and the Hun has very few fighter aircraft available, the whole of his industry will be at the mercy of our strategic air forces. It is better that they should stay on this work than be diverted to do the work of tactical forces or of artillery on a bridge-head. The situation is very much like that to which the Secretary of State referred when dealing with the enemy's attacks on this country. He said that the best way to deal with it was to go right out to the enemy's heart and hit him there.
Early in his speech the Secretary of State referred to some of the work which was done on the medical side of the Royal Air Force. I would like to ask what steps we are taking to develop a policy of the air evacuation of the wounded. Here our American friends have done a really outstanding job, and I would like to hear the Under-Secretary of State say that we are pursuing the matter with equal diligence. Apart from the provision of ambulance planes, it is now possible to modify freighter and transport aircraft so that, after they have taken their loads forward to the combat area, they can be used for bringing the wounded back from the front. Our American friends have done this with outstanding success, especially in the African and Italian campaigns, where over 58,000 casualties were evacu- 1302 ated in this way. They did an even bigger job in the Pacific. I believe in the policy of air evacuation because it must improve the efficiency of the forward units by rapidly relieving them of their non-effectives; and it has the strategic advantage of reducing the large quantities of medical supplies and equipment which would otherwise be needed for them. The use of a comparatively small number of returned aircraft transport can avoid the need of train loads of equipment and tons of supplies which would otherwise have to be sent up to the forward medical units in the field.
Apart from that, it has now been abundantly proved that speed in returning casualties to well-established hospitals back at the base, where the best medical equipment and professional care are available, and where supplies are to be found in greater abundance, has done a great deal to bring about a reduction in the number of fatal casualties. It has saved many from permanent disability, and by early treatment in quiet surroundings many men have been able to avoid the necessity for a prolonged period of convalescence. It is good, too, for the comfort of the patients, because there is nothing worse than for a wounded man to have to do a long journey over bumpy roads. If they can be given the ease, the smoothness and the shortness of an air passage it will give them a greater chance of recovery. I commend the idea, too, for this one reason—that this swift treatment must do a great deal to improve the morale of the men who are doing the fighting. The Americans have done a good job in the Pacific, in Africa and in Italy. A few days ago they announced that their 9th Air Force in this country is prepared to do the same thing in the coming invasion. Are we ourselves equally prepared to look after our own men in the same manner?
I have mentioned some of the achievements of our American Allies. This matter was referred to by the hon. Member for East Stirling. These achievements serve to stress the fact that we now have two air forces working together in close partnership with a common aim. It has been my privilege to see this partnership grow from its beginning. I served with the 1st Eagle Squadron in the days when the first American volunteer fighter pilots came to this country to give battle to our 1303 common enemy. When the United States came into the war, I was transferred to the headquarters of the 8th American Air Force. They are under the very able leadership of Lieut.-General Eaker. I saw that force grow into the great offensive fighting power which it is to-day. I want to emphasise that in the air and on the ground the British and the Americans co-operated freely and easily and there grew up a mutual respect and understanding the one for the other. The American leader in the air in this country is Lieut.-General Spaatz, who commands the whole of the United States strategic air force in Europe, and under him that same spirit of co-operation exists. It has been developed, and now the Royal Air Force has an almost equal partner to work with.
There is a great deal of co-operation. Indeed, the co-operation and planning have shown themselves well in the brilliant air battles which have taken place during the past few weeks. We have seen our American Allies attack the targets by day, and we have seen the British come back again and finish the job at night, and the attacks have been continued until such time as a vital enemy target has been obliterated. The co-operation which was shown by our planning staffs in the Schweinfurt and other raids are going a long way to assure our common success. A common plan, mutual respect and admiration between those who carry it out, can only be for the good of both of us. It will be a much better world if this understanding between our air forces can be continued after the war so that it permeates the whole of Anglo-American relationship in the years to come.
§ Rear-Admiral Sir Murray Sueter (Hertford)
I am sure that all Members of the House will congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool (Winģ-Commander Robinson) on his very interesting speech. His words, coming from a serving officer, carry great weight. We were much interested to hear what he said about the American Air Force and the part he has played in building it up in this country. I hope that he will be long in the House to give us of his wisdom on air matters. The Secretary of State made a clear statement on our air position in the fourth year of the war, and 1304 I think that it was the best speech he has made in this House. I was glad as an old submarine officer to hear the tribute he paid to Coastal Command. They have done wonderful work in helping the surface vessels, pilots of the Fleet Air Arm and men of the Mercantile Marine in combating the U-boat menace in the Atlantic.
One has to be a sailor to understand what it means when these gallant pilots fly over great stretches of the ocean where they cannot see very much. They have made many great sacrifices for this country, and they have the satisfaction of knoWinģ that they, with the surface vessels and pilots of the Fleet Air Arm, have helped the convoys to reach this country. These convoys have brought not only munitions of war, but many other commodities, including the oranges and lemons that we have had lately and that we have not seen for a long time. Also we have the men of the Mercantile Marine to thank for bringing them to us. The Secretary of State talked about accidents. I was glad to hear of all the efforts that have been made in the Royal Air Force to prevent accidents because this was one of the things to which we paid great attention in the Royal Naval Air Service. Our accidents in those days were much less than in the Royal Flying Corps.
The question of bombing has been brought up in several speeches and in two Debates in another place and there have been many letters in the Press in connection with this subject. The hon. Member for Altrincham (Sir E. Griģģ), in one of the best speeches he has ever made in the House, dipped into the past. In order to see the whole picture of bombing one must also look into the past. In 1899, the first Hague Peace Conference was convened, and one of the Clauses that was ratified was that projectiles dropped from balloons should not be allowed for five years. It was ratified by all the great Powers. Just before the last war the Germans had many passenger Zeppelins. I flew in one for five hours over Hamburg, the Bay of Lubeck and up the Elbe. Those passenger ships were turned over to military use just before the last war. When the war broke out, or shortly afterwards, the Zeppelins bombed London and some of our other cities. They dropped incendiary and ex- 1305 plosive bombs and they were a formidable enemy to attack. The Royal Flying Corps at that time could not take any extra tasks because they were engaged in working with the Expeditionary Force.
The then First Lord of the Admiralty (the present Prime Minister) gave instructions that the Royal Naval Air Service was to attack the Zeppelins. We did so. We dropped bombs on sheds at Dusseldorf and destroyed a Zeppelin. We got one Zeppelin at Fredrickshaven and another one at Evre, while the late Sub-Lieutenant Warneford, V.C., bombed one over Ghent. We got one over Dover and another one in the Thames Estuary. In all, the Royal Naval Air Service destroyed about nine Zeppelins. The Royal Flying Corps came into it towards the end of the war, and they destroyed seven Zeppelins. When the two Forces combined they destroyed five Zeppelins. When we dropped the bombs on the Zeppelin sheds and bombed the Zeppelins in the air, as well as bombing the submarine shelters at Zeebrugge and the nearby canals, we probably struck some civilians. We had a few complaints—I do not know whether they were genuine—that some women and children were killed in Belgium. It was almost impossible to say that every bomb you dropped would strike a military objective. We were faced with the question whether we should go on with the bombing of Zeppelin sheds and stand the chance of killing a few women and children, or should stop. We had to face the question. The Zeppelins killed some 500 people in London in the 12 raids they did here, and about 1,300 were wounded. Something like 1,400 were killed in the whole of Great Britain by Zeppelin and aeroplane attack in the last war. We decided to continue the bombing and we could not help a few civilians being killed. Every airman has humane instincts, and we were very distressed when we learned that any civilian was killed.
In this war, Germany started by bombing Warsaw, Rotterdam, London, Coventry and so on, and we were forced to bomb the factories that produced munitions of war in Germany. There is no doubt that the production of those factories has been very much reduced by the great work of Bomber Command. Some people say that Berlin should not have been bombed, but I do not know whether 1306 the people who have criticised like that have ever visited Berlin. In the course of my duties I was sent by the Admiralty to Berlin to purchase the biggest article any Britisher has ever bought in Germany, and that was a 350,000 cubic foot hydrogen gas capacity airship of the "Parseval" type. I was in Berlin to carry on negotiations for the purchase of that ship and to put her through her trials at Bitterfeldt. There they had airship sheds, which they have no doubt now turned over to aeroplane work. Also they had chemical works nearby. There was a great aerodrome just outside Berlin, at Johanistal, where they had two sheds, one to take two Zeppelins and another to take one Zeppelin. There were many other sheds for aeroplanes. No doubt many of those are now turned over to the use of aeroplanes and the production of aeroplanes. Round Berlin there are hundreds of factories. I submit that it is a right policy for Bomber Command to carry out as many attacks as they can on those factories in Berlin, and so reduce their output.
The Secretary of State referred to what Bomber Command has done. I hope that he will get his whole force of bombers concentrated upon attacking every factory that can produce any article connected with aircraft throughout Germany, because it is the only way that we can save life when we come to send our invasion forces to Europe. Thousands of men, if not a million men, might be saved by reducing the air production of Germany. Every particle of the energy of Bomber Command should not be dissipated by side shows, but should go to knocking out every possible factory or any place where aeroplanes or component parts connected with aeroplanes are produced. I hope that that great man, Chief Air-Marshal Sir Arthur Harris, will not have any of his Bomber Command taken from him for other work. He has a great responsibility, and there is no doubt that what he has done up to the present has been the means of saving a tremendous number of lives. In my opinion he is one of the greatest airmen of this war and believes the bomb is the master weapon.
We have heard the criticism that aeroplanes should not attack ancient buildings and so on. I have been privileged to see some of the greatest antique buildings of 1307 the world, from Assouan, Baalbec, Damascus, the great Acropolis at Athens, to Timgad, the Roman ruins in Northern Africa. I have seen the ancient buildings at Pompeii, Rome and elsewhere in Italy. If I were in command of any unit of the Air Force, and I knew that Germans were firing at our troops under the protection of one of these ancient buildings, I should give orders at once that that ancient building should be bombed and reduced to rubble. I have as much love far the antique as anybody, but it is not right that our men should be mown down by Germans under the protection of a monastery, as in the case in Italy the other day. The women of England would prefer to see their sons come home to the preservation of any ancient building in the world.
Passing from bombing, the Secretary of State for Air gave us a few remarks on civil aviation. I want to ask him whether he will consult with the Postmaster-General to have another air mail panel set up. He had an air mail panel consisting of two Members of this House, of whom I was one, and members of the General Post Office service. We went into the whole question of air mail being sent all over the Empire, to Europe and to distant parts of the world, and we were able to send our mails without surcharge to all parts of the Empire. A little additional charge was made on the mails going to Europe. I ask the right hon. Gentleman to consult the Postmaster-General now, with a view to getting some of the younger airmen placed on to the air mail panel to go into the whole question of this transport of air mail after the war. There must be a number of younger airmen who have to stand off flying and who could do this work, not only in regard to the Empire but to different parts of the world when this war ceases.
I should like to ask the Under-Secretary of State a question. We have read a good deal in the Press about jet propulsion for aircraft. I take it that the jet propulsion engine is about as far advanced as the engines we used in the aeroplanes of the last war. No doubt it is in its infancy. Under this system, you save the weight of the propeller and the shafting and so on, but you have to carry a large amount of additional fuel. Has the Minister in his research department a really skilled engineer, like Sir Roy Fedden, who could look into the whole question of developing 1308 this jet propulsion engine? The jet propulsion system may help us enormously in air development after the war. I do not expect the Under-Secretary to answer that question right away, but he might answer it when we have a Debate on civil aviation on the Report stage. Perhaps he can give us an idea of what is being done about the jet propulsion engines and their development.
§ Mr. Wilfrid Roberts (Cumberland, North)
While the present policy of the Air Ministry is, no doubt, popular in this country, there have been times when the policy followed by the Ministry was not altogether accepted. Probably, as the war developed and the aeroplane took a larger part in every way and in every field in the war, the public began to recognise that on many of the long-range decisions taken in the past, the air staff of the Air Ministry had decided very wisely. There was a time when the absence of dive bombers worried the public very much. I do not want to revive that controversy. In this country, we have seemed to develop the use of aeroplanes in our own way. We have not copied or followed the Germans to any appreciable extent, and the policy is becoming more and more justified by the results, which are becoming more clearly apparent than they were when the bombing policy was under criticism.
Perhaps it was that the daily communiqués of the Air Ministry, telling very similar stories almost every day, began to create doubt in the public mind as to whether the effect of bombing was so very important, or perhaps a sort of boredom arose in regard to the news. It may also be that we over-estimated at one time the value of our earlier bombing. I do not think the public feel that now. They recognise the very great part that strategic bombing is taking in the war. I was very glad that the Air Minister confined his review of the value of bombing to the actual physical destruction of factories and military objectives. The public, I think, are apt to speculate on what the effect on morale of bombing will be. It certainly has an effect but it seems to me that it is an uncertain effect and that it would be unwise to draw conclusions about the breaking of morale or to lay much store on that. The value of bombing, it seems to me, is in the hard physical facts of the destruction of the war poten- 1309 tial of the enemy's war industries and the enemy's capacity to make war, and one must not use extraneous arguments such as that the Germans may revolt as a result, or become listless. That may happen, it may not; bombing might have just the opposite effect. In any case, the real value of bombing is the destruction of the capacity of Germany to make war.
In every field of the war, aircraft are playing a greater part. We are a conservative people so far as the Services are concerned, and I think that in many branches of the war the Air Force has had its way to make. I do not want to raise a controversy but I believe that the part which the aircraft of Coastal Command play in the Battle of the Atlantic is recognised more to-day than it was in the early days of the war. I would like to add my word of tribute to the part which has been played in that long and at one time rather desperate battle by the pilots and personnel of Coastal Command.
As well as being a sea Power, we have to learn to be an air Power in the future. I am one of those who think it important to lay emphasis on that. Unless we can keep our position in the air in the future, other forms of defence cannot now give us the security which they did in the past. The Prime Minister, last week, gave the figures about the part that the British Air Forces had played in the war. I would ask whether it is not very difficult accurately to sum up the part which the British effort has played, because it seems to me that in the Air Force the effort has been so integrated with that of our Allies and the Dominions, that it is difficult to distinguish between their part and the part that we in these Islands have played in the general effort. For instance, it used to be, and I think it still is the case, that there were probably as many Dominion personnel in the Royal Air Force as in Dominion squadrons. Perhaps that is not quite the case now, but with regard to both Allied personnel and Dominion personnel, one of the good things about the Air Force is that they are mixed so freely in all the squadrons, and that it has been found that our Allies from Europe, and our Dominion personnel, and other British subjects, can all work so successfully together in mixed squadrons.
It seems to me that our war effort, too, has been integrated very successfully with 1310 that of America. Again, it is difficult to draw distinctions because types of aeroplanes have been manufactured for us by the States and flown by our personnel. There, again, the war effort has been successfully mixed up in a way which makes it very difficult to say precisely which is our part in the war effort, and which is the part of other people. In passing, I would like to add my voice to that of the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) in asking the Under-Secretary whether he can tell us more about the fascinating subject of jet propulsion. There is another type of aeroplane which has been mentioned in the Press lately; that is the helicopter. I wonder if the Under-Secretary can tell us something about its possible use for evacuating wounded and for similar purposes?
Finally, on the subject of the integration of our war effort, may I say it is integrated in another way, that is, in training? The Under-Secretary has had a special responsibility for developing the tremendous training scheme in Canada which, I understand, is continually working ever more smoothly and more successfully. I believe that the Air Minister for Canada recently made a statement on the way it has been developing, and the Under-Secretary has been conferring again over there recently. No doubt he can give us more information about the way in which that joint enterprise between ourselves and Canada and the Americans is working.
Lastly, could we hear a little more on how our defences are working during this second blitz? One of the features of raids now is the great number of people who stand to watch what goes on. I do not know whether all should do so, but some who are fire-watching have a right and duty to do so. Other people do go to their windows—it is perhaps a very foolish thing to do—to watch the tremendous firework display. They see planes caught in the searchlights, and often nothing seems to happen. Sometimes, if you are very lucky, quite exciting things happen. I do not know whether the Under-Secretary can tell us more about how the guns, searchlights and night fighters are co-ordinated. That is not just curiosity. I think the people who are suffering the raids would put up with them all the better if they knew as much 1311 as can be told without giving away secrets which they ought not to know. I would ask one last question. There are criticisms at times as to the use of personnel in all the Services. Could the Under-Secretary tell us something more about the substition of W.A.A.F. personnel for men in technical trades in the Air Force?
§ Major Markham (Nottingham, South)
On the occasion of these Debates I believe it is the practice to criticise the Ministry. I feel very much in the opposite mood, for instead of wishing to criticise, I would rather wish to praise. It has been my experience as an Army officer, in the constant contacts one has had with the Air Force, that they are a Force of remarkable and consistent efficiency, and from whatever angle one has had contacts with them this efficiency has been most marked. They are also a most co-operative Force, and relations with the Army as far as my experience goes have been uniformly good. I should like to pay my tribute coming, as I might say, from the junior ranks of the Army, to the sister Force.
I am, however, concerned with a matter about which there is at the moment a great deal of talking, about which, indeed, there is always a great deal of talking and very little action—the weather. It was Mark Twain, I think, who said that everybody grumbles about the weather, but nobody does anything about it, but he evidently did not know that the Secretary of State for Air is the one Minister in this country responsible for our weather. He not only observes it and registers it, and produces a most astonishing series of scientific publications about it, but, at the moment, he is responsible, directly and personally, for worsening it. I hope to make this point clear before I conclude. May I explain about the observation and the registration of it? It has been obvious for years that the meteorological service of this country has been very considerably handicapped, and still is, by the shortage of trained staff.
I think the House will [...] that it takes four years to train [...] meteorology. Three years [...] and physics and a yea[...] meteorology are needed be[...] is even ready to begin [...] 1312 meteorological office, or at any one of the Air Ministry stations which has a meteorological staff. It was evident before the war that we were very short, and the Under-Secretary will remember that I raised this question in the House not once but consistently, week after week, with a view to the meteorological part of his Ministry being adequately staffed. There has been an improvement but that improvement has not been sufficient, and my point is that we are to-day faced with this problem, that contrasted with other great Powers, our meteorological service in this country has a lower potential than any of them.
I can speak with some first-hand knowledge of America. I had the privilege of being there a few months ago. As far as I can judge, they have in training between 3,000 and 4,000 young men as meteorologists. These young men are doing a four years' course: three years of mathematics and physics and one year in meteorology. I think it would be difficult to claim that these young men are all designed for war jobs, because in the normal run of things the war will be over, at any rate before the last batches become available. It means that America has in in view that at least 4,000 skilled, trained meteorologists will be required in peace time. What for? Immediately one's mind leaps to the question of civil aviation. If it is to expand as the Americans think, there will obviously be a great demand for trained meteorologists, not only in the United States itself but in every quarter of the world where American air lines will run. If that argument is true of the United States and they are training between 3,000 and 4,000 meteorologists here and now under Army Air auspices it means that we should have at least similar numbers in training.
My information is not only that our number in training is much less but that the course of training is much less thorough. Where the American course is four years before the man takes up a meteorological appointment our training course lasts nine or ten months only—a very intensive course—I hope I am wrong in this is and that the Under-Secretary will [...] that there is a much more thorough grounding for meteorologists, but it is my opinion that we have too few really well [...]d meteorologists. My impression is [...]ine or ten months intensive training, 1313 folloWinģ a preliminary knowledge of mathematics gained at a secondary school, is considered an appropriate period of instruction for young meteorologists in this country contrasted with the four years required in the United States.
But it is not only for civil air lines that meteorologists are required. America realises that the whole field of public health depends for one of its basic essentials on the purity of the air. There was a time when it was universally accepted in this country that sewage should be pumped into rivers and that Dame Nature would do the rest. That has been remedied, but this country still believes that other impurities, such as smoke and grit, may be pumped into the air unceasingly, and Nature will automatically clean the air. How untrue this theory has become may be judged by the fact that fog banks descend for days on end over cities, such as Glasgow and London. This combination of smoke and fog materially affects the public health, but it is nobody's job to do anything about it. By contrast, in every American city there is a staff of trained meteorologists whose task is not only to observe and register the public air, but to see that the public air is kept clean, both by industrial and by private users.
One of the astonishing things in America is the way the public health figures have been improved in Chicago, New York and the other cities as a result. The Air Ministry should not look upon meteorology simply as a science which produces forecasts for the use of aviators. It should regard itself as being charged with the great and almost sacred task of keeping the air of this country pure. To show what a loss we suffer from this pollution of the air, one has only to refer to the recent reports of the Committee on Atmospheric Pollution, which show that Glasgow loses 50 per cent. of its sunshine from smoke pollution and over 50 per cent. of its ultraviolet radiation. It can be shown that Victoria Street, Westminster, just outside here, loses over 60 per cent. of ultra-violet radiation every year. If that is true of Glasgow and of London, about which there has been detailed analysis, what must be the case of Stoke, Liverpool, Manchester, and, as an hon. Member says, Wigan, which have comparable conditions of smoke and fog throughout the winter? I suggest that we are losing in this country one of the greatest assets God has given 1314 us—that is, unpolluted sunshine—because no Minister has taken the responsibility of keeping our air clean, and I suggest that the Secretary of State for Air should extend his functions and become the guardian of the air, and give us back that sunshine which since the industrial revolution we have lost. This pollution has been greatly increased recently by the action of the Ministry in encouraging smoke production, rather than its abatement.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker (Mr. Charles Williams)
I do not think the hon. and gallant Gentleman is really in Order. This has nothing to do with the Vote of the Ministry.
§ Major Markham
I will, of course, bow to your Ruling, Sir, but might I suggest, as a practical step that the right hon. Gentleman should improve the publications of the meteorological side of his Ministry? For a great number of years there has not been an analysis of the statistics which observers gather with such accuracy, such as could be understood by the man in the street. It is high time that the meteorological service endeavoured to attract the attention of the public to this question of the weather at large. In particular, I beg him to see that we do not get again those scandals—I use the word advisedly—of untrue observations from certain parts of the British Isles. A few years ago one of our leading London newspapers ran what it called a "sunshine league." It published, day by day, an analysis of the amount of sunshine at holiday resorts in the previous 24 hours. I think it is beyond question that many of those coastal observers deliberately faked their figures to produce higher totals and thus attract more trippers to their towns. The Air Ministry should, in my opinion, have taken active steps to see that those observations were accurate. As far as I ant aware, no steps were taken. I suggest that the Minister, who is not only the Air Minister but the Minister for meteorology, should see that such records and observations are the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Although I have been rebuked by Mr. Deputy Speaker for being slightly out of Order, I hope that the Air Minister will do his best to give us back again good clean air and such sunshine as England knew two centuries ago.
§ The Joint Under-Secretary of State fox Air (Captain Harold Balfour)
The hon. 1315 and gallant Member for South Nottingham (Major Markham) said that the Air Ministry should be the guardian of the public air. The whole purport of the remarks of my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, in submitting his Estimates to-day, was that the Air Ministry is the guardian of the public air over this country, endeavouring to defend us from the onslaughts of the enemy, and endeavouring to command the air over the enemy's soil. I could not entirely accept the criticisms of the hon. and gallant Member as regards our meteorological service. Perhaps the House will allow me to deal with that question before I come to the speeches made by other hon. Members. I am grateful to my hon. and gallant Friend, on behalf of the Air Ministry, for the generous tribute he paid, as a member of a sister Service, to the Royal Air Force. I regret that his tribute was tempered by criticism of a branch of the Service, because I do not think that our meteorological results justify that criticism. If he had been fortunate enough, as I have on more than one occasion, to have the opportunity of going down to Bomber Command, or of seeing the flight plan made up for a trans-Atlantic flight from Newfoundland to Scotland, and if he had seen the confidence that the captains of the aircraft place in the meteorological forecast given them, on which they base the whole of their flight plans, I do not think he would have cast that aspersion of inefficiency on that service which has given such vital help in our bomber offensive.
It so happened that last week I flew across the Atlantic. We arrived in Scotland within two minutes of our flight plan, made out in Newfoundland. The captain of the aircraft told me that the forecast showed that after 2½ hours we should meet a front; then, after being at 17,000 ft. we should go down to 8,000 ft. Because of high pressure over England, we should have fine weather. His forecast was correct within two minutes. I do not think that that could have been done unless the captain had relied on the meteorological work at his disposal. I hope hon. Members will appreciate that we are working our meteorological service under very strict limitations in war-time, as regards use of radio for signalling information, as regards ability to make 1316 reconnaissances over the North Sea in enemy areas and into areas of air where enemy aircraft are likely to be met, and, finally, as regards the limitation of manpower. My hon. and gallant Friend suggested that we should publish our monthly weather reports. That criticism was on a level with some of the other criticisms he made. If he had gone into the matter further, he would have found that the continued suppression of some of our reports is not because the information might be of direct operational information to the enemy, but because we broadcast that information to His Majesty's ships and the Fighting Forces overseas, and if it were published it would help the enemy to break down our ciphers.
Mr. Montaģue (Islington, West)
Could the right hon. and gallant Gentleman say something about Polar organisation?
§ Captain Balfour
Not without notice, I am afraid. The Air Ministry are thinking of supplying a meteorological service which is best suited to the needs of war. It may be that when peace-time comes there will be changes. I am quite sure that those in charge of our meteorological efforts will read with interest and profit the remarks of my hon. and gallant Friend, but at present I would only, first, refute the criticisms he makes of our meteorological staffs and work, and, secondly, pay tribute to those who use that service which they provide.
§ Captain Balfour
There is a great deal of post-war planning, but there is also a great deal of war activity. I turn to the most interesting speech of the hon. Member for East Stirling (Mr. Woodburn), which my right hon. Friend and I welcomed. It is always the duty of the Under-Secretary who winds up the Debate to pick up the bits and pieces which are thrown around the Chamber, and to try to answer points to the satisfaction of hon. Members. The hon. Member for East Stirling asked what had happened to the dive-bombers: whether we had received our American deliveries? We have received our American deliveries; but practice of the art of air warfare has shown that fighter-bombers have proved much more successful than dive-bombers 1317 for the function that a dive-bomber performs, and the House will be interested to know that the Germans are turning over, as regards both production and tactics, from the dive-bomber to the fighter-bomber, endeavouring to copy some of the methods we have developed. The hon. Member's second point was as regards attacks on battleships by torpedo aircraft. He asked whether we had progressed. My answer is: Yes, indeed we have. I cannot say more to-day, for obvious reasons of security, but the supply of German battleships is limited, and we find difficulty in obtaining an adequate supply of targets. No doubt, if an opportunity comes for those targets to be available, the hon. Member will see the progress which has been made in equipment and training.
The third point was about our dispersed air forces and Germany's concentrated air force. The hon Gentleman touched on a very vital point, because until the Mediterranean vas open, through the conquest of the North African coast, we had to send all our supplies, and the majority of our aircraft that could not do the journey to the Middle East by air, through the West African route. One used to fly from here to Lagos, and at the end of four or five days to be further from Cairo than when one started. The Germans were able to operate on internal lines of communication, to sWinģ the Luftwaffe from the Western front to the Italian front, and from the Italian front to the Russian front. We had to be able to withstand the maximum effort the Germans could impose on any particular front. That was not an easy task, but now the pressure is relieved, thanks to the freeing of the Mediterranean. I am glad the hon. Member mentioned that, because it reflects great credit on those who maintained our air power in the early Libyan and other North African campaigns.
The hon. Member, and also the hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool (Winģ-Commander Robinson) spoke of Anglo-United States co-operation. I am sure the House welcomes the tribute paid by my hon. and gallant Friend as a serving officer, who has first-hand knowledge of the close working of the two Forces. What he said is very true. One has only to go down to an air base to see that they are doing a fine job and are working very well together. I had an opportunity some time ago of attending a party which some 1318 of our fighters were giving for the Fortress leaders of the formation which they had been escorting. Equally, the Americans have close and friendly liaison with those with whom they are working in the actual day-to-day combats. I think one could, broadly, say that the nearer you get to the fighting the less risk is there of any of those silly reasons for friction which sometimes do arise.
The hon. Gentleman paid a handsome tribute to those who kept the art of flying and the aircraft industry and research and development alive between 1918 and 1939. As he rightly said, if it had not been for those who devoted their lives, sometimes with profit and sometimes without, to aeronautical work of all kinds, this country would have been in a sorry way in 1939. I believe that love of the air was the compelling motive of the men who devoted most of their lives to that particular cause. The hon. Member for East Stirling also asked about the aircraft industry in the future, and painted a picture of the regrettable step which we should be taking, if we dissipated this wonderful industry, built up of workpeople, technicians and designers. I quite agree with him. Indeed, we are thinking of the future, and, after Germany has been defeated, we shall still, whatever form of world security organisation there may be, need a very large Air Force for a long time. We have policing work to do, the protection of lines of communication and transport work and the battle againsi Japan, and we have pledged ourselves to put the whole of our resources, enthusiasm and resolution into that fight, as we are doing to-day in the battle against Germany. No doubt, the Minister of Aircraft Production will read with agreement the view which the hon. Gentleman put forward of the need for continued research and development after Germany has been defeated.
Finally, the hon. Member asked what we were going to do after the war for youths who were keenly air-minded. The Secretary of State has made public declarations that the continuation of the Air Training Corps is part of our policy for the post-war Air Force. I can assure the hon. Member that, just as we have no class distinction now as to who shall fly aircraft—and one of the wonders of the provision of tens of thousands of air crews is that they come from every level of society, and from every section of the 1319 community, and we never seem to run short of wonderful young boys of this sort—so we shall do our best to see that there is no class distinction afterwards.
The hon. and gallant Member for Blackpool asked a question about who has the final decision on a demand for full tactical support from heavy bombers by the supreme commander. It is not an easy question to answer and the House will excuse me if I leave it alone. If there ever is a serious dispute—this does not happen often, because they all take a wide view—the combined Chiefs of Staff would make recommendations to the Prime Minister and to President Roosevelt. That would be the ultimate, but the happy thing is that we never seem to have to reach the ultimate in our relations with Commanders-in-Chief of the various Forces. The hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter), who is heand by the House with so much respect, and, if I may say so, affection, and to whom we owe a great deal for his pioneering work, gave us a very interesting discourse, with which I agree, except on his point about the comparative rates of accidents in the old R.N.A.S. and R.F.C. in the pre-war years and in 1914–18. I did make my own contribution to the accidents by crashing a number of maohines myself in the last war, but in spite of that, I cannot possibly accept the view that the accident rate of the Royal Flying Corps was greater than that of the Royal Naval Air Force.
§ Sir M. Sueter
If the hon. and gallant Gentleman went into statistics of the Royal Flying Corps, naval and military Winģs, he would find that the Military Winģ had far more accidents than the Naval Winģ.
§ Mr. Deputy-Speaker
This controversy is not one that we can go into to-day and should not be pursued.
§ Captain Balfour
The hon. Member for North Cumberland (Mr. W. Roberts) referred to jet propulsion, and asked whether the research department had skilled engineers able to carry on the development of the jet propulsion engine. This matter of research and development does not come within the province of the Air Ministry, but within that of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, though I do not think I shall be trespassing on the 1320 province of the Minister of Aircraft Production, if I give an assurance that active work is going on with jet propulsion and that the most skilled and the most knowledgeable scientists are carrying on that task. The hon. Member also asked about the helicopter. I am glad of that because, last week, I had the chance to fly in a helicopter, thanks to the courtesy of the United States Army authorities. I can assure the House that it is a gay experience. We took off backwards from the front of a shed and we had a conversation hovering 30 feet up—the pilot and I—and then went on backwards until clear of the shed, and then forwards to a safe landing on water. The pilot put it down so gently on the water that it would not have sunk a toy boat, and, on land, you could land it without breaking an egg. It is a most remarkable aircraft and we in this country are taking a great interest in its development. Beyond that I cannot go, but having been sceptical in the past, I can assure the House that I came back convinced that it has an enormous future. It is now more an engineering job, as opposed to a technical job requiring basic development.
The hon. Member also asked me how the guns, night fighters and searchlights are co-ordinated. I am afraid I cannot go into that in detail in this House, for reasons which I am sure he and other hon. Members will appreciate. Sufficient to say that all the operations are carried out according to co-ordinated plans, which are reviewed, and, if this co-ordination can be improved in any way, such improvements are put into force in a matter of hours. We try to keep up, day by day, our technique in combating the night fighter attacks on this country. Regarding the substitution of W.A.A.F. personnel for airmen, it is really remarkable the work that our women in the various Forces have done. To-day we have women substituting for airmen in 57 trades and in 25 various forms of duty carried out by officers. If one lands at an aerodrome not far from this House—an R.A.F. aerodrome—a beautiful young lady—they are mostly beautiful—will come along to fill your tank and service your aircraft, and, when you receive the form that your aircraft is serviceable, it will have been signed by a member of the W.A.A.F. Women are carrying out 1321 piloting tasks in the Air Transport Auxiliary, and I should like to pay tribute, and the House would probably like to associate itself with that tribute, to the women of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force.
I have endeavoured to answer the questions put by hon. Members, and I would like to say, on behalf of the Secretary of State and myself, that to-day we must feel grateful for the reception which this House has given to the Estimates presented by my right hon. Friend. We are grateful for the recognition of the rightness of the air policy we are endeavouring to pursue, and the support given to that policy. Finally, we are grateful for the tributes paid to the work which is being done by our Dominion, Allied and Royal Air Force air crews. I know that those who read the Debate that has taken place to-day, will feel that their work has not gone unrecognised by Parliament.