§ 3.36 p.m.
§ Order for Committee read.
§ The Secretary of State for Air (Mr. Arthur Henderson)
I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The Air Estimates for 1951–52 are for a net total of £328¾ million. This is an increase of £105¾ million on the provision made in the original Estimates for 1950–51, excluding the Supplementary Estimate of £10 million recently presented. There is, therefore, a net increase of £95¾ million. The Estimates themselves are based on the £3,600 million programme which was drawn up last summer and do not provide for the additional expenditure that will result in 1951–52 from the further measures recently announced by the Prime Minister for the acceleration and increase of the defence effort. A Supplementary Estimate to provide for expenditure on these measures will be presented in due course.
Vote A, which fixes the maximum number of personnel who may be maintained for Air Force service during the year, allows for the number to rise to 270,000, which is 55,000 more than the number originally voted for in 1950–51 and 27,000 more than the revised number covered by the Supplementary Estimate presented last December. We have embarked on the most exacting expansion programme for the Royal Air Force that has ever been undertaken in peace; and, as my right hon. Friend the Minister of Defence has told the House, air strength has been given the first priority in our defence system. Of the sum allocated to the Forces under the new three-year programme, over one-third will be spent on the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Henderson
No; they are part of the three-year programme. By 1953–54 the Air Estimates may be the largest 241 single element in the defence budget. This has never been the case in our history, in peace or in war, and it reflects the growing importance of air power in our defences.
To show the magnitude of the effort this country is now making in the air, I should like to compare this programme with the expansion programme of the Royal Air Force before the war. The Air Estimates between 1936 and 1939 averaged about £100 million a year. Under the present programme, between 1950–51 and 1953–54 expenditure on the Royal Air Force will average over £400 million a year. Allowing for the change in the value of money, this is double the pre-war rate. Taking manpower, in 1936 Vote A totalled 55,000 and in 1939 118,000. Under the present programme, the strength of the Force may rise from 215,000 allowed in last year's Estimates under Vote A to over 300,000. Compared with the pre-war expansion, the scale of effort and the complexity of the task are very much greater.
This greatly increased effort is accounted for partly by the increased strength of the Force but also by the difference in the quality and equipment of the aircraft. Today, there are more man-hours in the twin-engined Canberra than in the four-engined Lancaster, and, of course, far more than in the Blenheim or Hampden of pre-war days. A modern aircraft, as many hon. Members will know, is not only a most complex assembly of mechanical, electrical and electronic devices, but is also a precision instrument, so that dirt on its surfaces, or the slight deformation that comes from flying stresses, will lower its performance to a critical extent. In these circumstances, it has to be maintained by highly skilled specialists with elaborate equipment and a wide range of spare parts.
The outlet, so to speak, through which all this costly effort is expended is the aircrew in the squadrons. It is the quality of a relatively small number of pilots and navigators that determines whether the work of several hundred thousand men and women in the Force and in the factories is well used or thrown away. I doubt if there is any occupation that calls for a greater combination of mental and physical qualities than that of a pilot or navigator in the Royal Air Force today. At speeds approaching the speed of 242 sound, and under the physical strains of operations at great heights, a pilot cannot perform the intricate and accurate duties required of him unless he acts almost automatically. Above all, therefore, our aircrews require the highest quality of training.
It follows, therefore, that the expansion of our front line is also dependent on the training organisation that backs it. A major part of our effort, therefore, will go in providing this backing. We have enormously to increase the training organisation, not only to supply the aircrew and tradesmen for expanding the front line and to give refresher training to our reserves of aircrews, but also to prepare for a much greater output which will be needed in the event of war. I am glad to say that a good start with this increase has already been made. Moreover, again I think I should carry the House with me when I say that new squadrons are not just formed by collecting together the necessary number of individuals from the various types of training school: they are formed by dividing existing squadrons, and spreading the new intakes evenly.
There is, therefore, a limit to the pace at which any force can expand if a reasonable measure of experience is to be retained in each unit. As a result, however, of the steady effort of the last few years, the Royal Air Force today is in excellent shape to undertake a major expansion. Standards of skill are high, the organisation is working smoothly, and the Force has confidence in itself. What the Royal Air Force can do when called on in an emergency is surely well illustrated by our share in the Berlin air lift, while any hon. Member who visited the display at Farnborough last year can be in no doubt as to the quality of the training and the organisation of the Force.
The studies in operational technique which have been the task of the Central Fighter Establishment and the Flying College, and the collective training of the operational squadrons themselves, have borne fruit in producing a very high level of competence amongst flight and squadron commanders on whose ability the maintenance of quality in the expanded Force will so largely depend. We are determined that throughout the very great expansion upon which we have embarked we shall maintain the very high 243 standards of the past at the highest pitch. Apart from the training organisation, the backing that has served the Force in the past few years will, in the main, suffice for the much larger Force that is now being created. I should like to stress the fact that the increase will be in the teeth, and not in the tail.
I shall now do my best to give the House as much information as is possible within the limits of security about the character and extent of the expansion of the front line.
First, I would say that the present frontline strength of the Royal Air Force is more than half as great again than it was when I first presented my Air Estimates in March, 1948. But from now on its rate of expansion will be very much quicker. I realise only too well that it would give hon. Members a better understanding if I could give them the actual figures of the present strength of the Royal Air Force. Unfortunately, for security reasons, I cannot do so. But it may be of some assistance to the House if I relate the present fighter strength to the fighter strength of the Royal Air Force in 1939. On this basis I can say that its world-wide fighter strength is already today greater than it was in September, 1939, after three years of re-armament.
Under the expansion programme there will, of course, be a large increase in aircraft production. Much of the output will have to be devoted to forming new squadrons rather than equipping existing squadrons, and in consequence some current types of aircraft may remain in service rather longer than had been previously intended. I should like to make this point, that while we must not underestimate the performance of fighter aircraft in service in other air forces, our current types, both Meteors and Vampires, can still be regarded as first-class fighting aircraft and indeed they would give a very good account of themselves in actual combat. But a number of new types of aircraft with performances superior to those now in service will be introduced this year and next year, so that the general standard of the equipment of the Royal Air Force will be improved despite the rapidity of the expansion now planned. In this connection I feel we owe a great deal to our aircraft industry, 244 which, as the result of war experience, is well acquainted with the problems of rapid expansion.
Now I should like to deal with Fighter Command for a few moments. I should like to give the House some indication of the progress which has been made in building up the Royal Air Force in various categories and as I say, I shall deal first with our fighter defences. In view of the international situation the previous plan to which I have referred in previous Estimates speeches has been recast on a much larger scale, and the rate of implementation has been greatly increased. For example, last year I told the House that the doubling of the regular day fighter force in Fighter Command would be completed during the current financial year, and I am glad to say that this corecast has been fulfilled with some months to spare. Under our new programme the strength of the day inter-cepter fighter force of Fighter Command will be very substantially increased and at a much higher tempo. While I cannot give the House details of the increases, I can assure hon. Members that they will give us formidable fighter defence forces.
Meanwhile we have also placed substantial orders for advanced fighters with very much better performance than our existing types. These aircraft will have a rate of climb exceeding that of the best jet fighter in service today in this or any other country and, what is equally important, they will be more manoeuvrable at height and have a greater fire power. As I informed the House last year, a new fighter, the Venom, is coming into squadron service this year. This aircraft will have a performance exceeding that of the Vampire in all respects—a greater speed, a greater rate of climb and a higher ceiling.
Before leaving the day fighter, I would remind the House that 15 of our auxiliary fighter squadrons are now equipped with Meteors and Vampires, and it is intended that the remaining five squadrons will be re-equipped with Vampire 5's in time for them to carry out their three months' training this year. As the House knows, all 20 squadrons are to be embodied for their three months continuous training this year, in order to bring them to the highest standard of operational efficiency.
245 I think it will be agreed that these squadrons which have a vital rÔle to play in the air defences of our country must be so operationally trained that they can take their places in the front line of defence immediately on the outbreak of any emergency. Their operational efficiency, therefore, must approximate as closely as possible to that of the regular squadrons. In this connection I fully appreciate and, indeed, agree with the desire of hon. Members that we should build up the auxiliary squadrons on a two flight basis; but I must be frank with the House and say that I see little prospect of doing this until the expansion programme is more advanced. I would say, however, that the auxiliary squadrons—since I have been associated with them—have admirably sustained their great traditions of voluntary service. They devote long hours to arduous training at evenings and weekends, as well as during annual camps.I cannot speak too highly of the spirit of service shown by the officers and airmen of these squadrons.
We are also building up a powerful force of night fighter squadrons, all equipped with jet aircraft. I told the House last year that we had placed a production order for a British type of jet night fighter, and a number of squadrons equipped with this aircraft, the Meteor N.F. 11, will be formed within the next few months. In order to accelerate the further substantial build-up of the night fighter force, we have now ordered other types of jet night fighter, and we have under development an all-weather two-seater jet fighter to be equipped with a full range of radar and navigational equipment, and with a level speed and rate of climb comparable with that of the more advanced fighter types which, as I indicated a few moments ago, we have also ordered.
But the fighter aircraft which I have just described must, of course, be supported by a network of radar stations, communications, radio navigational aids, and operations rooms which go to make up a modern air defence system. I should like to say something about the radar chain, and if I am not able to satisfy hon. Members on all the points on which they may seek information they will, I am sure, appreciate that there is no sector of our air defence system in 246 which the need for security is more important.
By the end of the last war the whole of the United Kingdom and its surrounding waters were guarded by as complete a system of radar stations as current radar science and operational experience could devise. To have maintained and manned the whole of this system in peace-time would, in the circumstances of 1946 and until recently, have been both unnecessary and extravagant; and, indeed, it would have been impossible with the numbers of men available to the Royal Air Force.
A number of stations were, therefore, sealed in such a way that they could be brought into operation as necessary; other stations were dismantled because it was known that development in radar technique would make them redundant. A manned radar system was, however, maintained within which personnel have been trained and exercised, and new techniques and equipment brought into use. Experience in the exercises which have taken place in both Fighter and Bomber Commands in the last two or three years has conclusively demonstrated that the quality of our radar defences remains high.
We have been engaged, however, in improving the radar system, and when these improvements are completed we shall have a chain of radar stations encircling the United Kingdom even more efficient than was the case in 1945. We are, for example, introducing new radar equipment based on research and experience during and since the war and designed to meet the needs of modern air defence. The number of regular airmen and airwomen manning the radar system full-time is being increased, so that there will be an adequate foundation for the reinforcement of trained auxiliary and reserve radar personnel which will be needed to man the complete system in emergency.
To ensure that the recalled personnel are capable of taking up active duty with the least possible delay, certain special measures are being taken. Realistic training is being given to Royal Auxiliary Air Force Fighter Control Units and Radar Reporting Units; for example, they will carry out training at active radar stations in Fighter Command. In addition members of the R.A.F.V.R. are being trained in Reserve flights at active stations, so 247 that the personnel will be familiar with the particular rÔle of the station to which they will be called up in the event of war. As the House is aware some 9,000 officers and men, the latter from the Class G Reserve, are being called up for a period of 15 days continuous training this year in order to guarantee the immediate and effective reinforcement of the radar system.
§ Mr. Charles Ian Orr-Ewing (Hendon, North)
I am obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for giving way. He said 9,000 but we have previously heard 10,000. Is that the wastage as a result of tribunals, and so on, in the meantime, or is that an alteration of policy?
§ Mr. Henderson
It is an alteration in the numbers, not an alteration in the policy. All the figures originally given, as far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, are ceilings. We shall not call up people unless we need to, and we have decided to call up 9,000 for the C. and R. system.
Complementary to the control and reporting system is the Royal Observer Corps, which provides Fighter Command with vital information about the movements of aircraft. Recruitment in this Corps has come on well in recent months. During the year there was a net increase of 1,200 in the strength of the Corps. The Corps is being re-organised to improve its efficiency still further. Plans are in train to provide new observer posts wherever they are needed. The improvement of the radar chain, and the measures I have described for radar personnel, are part of the general scheme for strengthening the air defence of the country; and they should be regarded as a necessary and parallel process to the expansion of the squadrons in Fighter Command. The whole system—fighter squadrons, radar chain, Royal Observer Corps and, of course, Anti-Aircraft Command—is this country's first line of defence. We are determined to make it fully adequate in all respects.
I come now to land/air warfare. The Royal Air Force contribution will be largely composed of fighter-bombers and light bombers. The number of fighter and ground attack squadrons in Germany is to be substantially increased this year. Our Air Forces in Germany will be allocated to the Supreme Allied Commander 248 Europe. In addition, the light bomber squadrons of Bomber Command will be allocated to the Supreme Commander, and operated by the Commander-in-Chief Bomber Command on his behalf. The medium bomber squadrons of Bomber Command will also be at the general disposal of the Supreme Commander, but in the latter case the British Chiefs of Staff will reserve the right to direct these elements of Bomber Command to other tasks as and when required for the defence of the United Kingdom. The fighter-bomber squadrons to which I have referred are equipped with Vampires. Several new squadrons have been recently formed, and many more will be formed during the next two years. All these new squadrons will all be based on the Continent.
May I now say a word about the Canberra. Production of the Canberra, as I informed the House in my last Estimates speech, started last year, and the first Canberra squadron will shortly be formed. This squadron will be the forerunner of the large light bomber force which will be equipped with the Canberra. The Canberra is generally regarded as a really outstanding light bomber, and promises to fulfil the high hopes which have been placed on it. In due course, we shall have photographic reconnaissance squadrons equipped with the Canberra. Other photographic reconnaissance squadrons are being re-equipped with the latest Meteors, and the first squadron of photographic reconnaissance Meteors is already in service. Photographic reconnaissance remains today, as during the war, indispensable and vital if Bomber Command is to fulfil its functions effectively. It is essential, therefore, that the most modern aircraft and equipment should be provided for this work.
Several production lines of the Canberra have been laid down in this country in order that high output may be achieved. The Canberra is also to be produced in Australia.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
Could my right hon. and learned Friend give us the cost of the Canberra?
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
Could my right hon. and learned Friend tell us if the Canberra photographic reconnaissance 249 squadrons are going to be at the disposal of the European Commander, or of a Command in this country?
§ Mr. Henderson
Those functioning from Germany will be at the disposal of the Supreme Commander in Germany, but we shall also have them based in this country.
Information has also just been received that the Canberra has been adopted for service in the United States Air Force, and will be produced under licence in America. I might also mention that the Americans have bought the manufacturing licence for two of our latest jet engines. One is the Sapphire and the other still remains on the secret list. This fact illustrates the wisdom of pressing ahead with research and development during the periods, such as that immediately following the last war, when the Air Force itself had to be reduced in size. If the United States of America with its immense resources, needs British aircraft and aeroengines, we need not doubt that we retain our position as one of the foremost countries in aircraft production and development. In reminding the House of this, I do not of course forget that the Royal Air Force has received, and hopes to go on receiving, American help in a number of ways with the supply of aircraft and equipment.
§ Mr. Ellis Smith (Stoke-on-Trent, South)
My right hon. and learned Friend has referred to the organisation at the end of the war. He will remember that at the end of the war we had a highly organised sub-let contracting organisation in this country. Is the same thing being done now so that parent companies can sub-let the contracts they are receiving?
§ Mr. Henderson
I think so, through the Ministry of Supply.
We are also retaining a substantial force of medium bombers on Washingtons and Lincolns which in war-time would have certain special duties to perform as well as contributing to our overall bombing effort. These aircraft will, in due course, be replaced by long-range jet bombers, which will greatly increase our power to stage a counter-offensive. As the Prime Minister told the House on 29th January, a production order has been placed for the first British four-engined jet bomber. This aircraft, which will soon be flying, 250 will be faster than the Canberra, which itself has a speed of well over 500 miles an hour, and will be greatly superior to it in load and range. Other advanced jet bombers are being developed. Our ability to resist a potential aggressor depends not only on our power to defend our own bases, but also on our power to strike at the bases of an aggressor.
I come now to sea/air warfare. We have made considerable progress in the last year, in conjunction with the Royal Navy and the United States Navy, in developing the techniques to be used against the modern submarine. We plan greatly to expand Coastal Command during the next two years during which period it will also be largely re-equipped. The Shackleton has at length completed its tests and has been accepted for service in the squadrons. It represents a considerable advance on the general reconnaissance Lancaster in endurance, speed and load. A number of medium-range reconnaissance squadrons will also be formed. These squadrons will be initially equipped with P2Vs or Neptunes which are being supplied from America under the military aid programme. These aircraft will be especially valuable in this rÔle in view of their exceptional endurance which is the primary requirement for maritime reconnaissance work.
§ Surgeon Lieut.-Cominander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
Can the right hon. and learned Gentleman say whether he intends to develop the use of the flying boats for Coastal Command purposes?
§ Mr. Henderson
I could not say. Is the hon. and gallant Member referring to the Princess flying boat?
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas - Hamilton (Inverness)
May I remind the right hon. and learned Gentleman that in July, in reply to a Question, he said that the flying boat to replace the Sunderland is a long-term development and it would not be in the public interest to give the information? I pointed out that the Sunderland was 15 years old and asked whether it was not time we should have a replacement. The Minister replied: 251Yes, Sir, and one is in process of being developed."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th July, 1950; Vol. 477, c. 2239.]
§ Mr. Henderson
I think there is a project, but I do not think we have got very far with it. One firm has a project, but there is no actual development taking place. It is no use my telling the House there is, because there is not.
The P2V, to which I was referring, is the aircraft to which the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) referred in enthusiastic terms in the defence debate in March of last year in connection with certain anti-submarine equipment in use by the United States Navy. Co-operation between us and our Allies over devices of this kind is and has been close and continuous, contributions being made from both sides, but I am bound to say that the problem of submarine detection remains a most formidable one. Sunderland flying boats, two squadrons of which have been giving good service in Korea, will continue to be used for some time yet; but a replacement for this well-tried aircraft is under consideration.
§ Lord Malcolm Douglas-Hamilton
Is that the replacement to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred?
§ Mr. Henderson
May I try to make the matter clear? There is no actual aircraft being developed. There is a project under consideration, but it is in the design stage. It has not gone beyond that stage yet.
The Middle East and Far East Commands are also not being neglected. New squadrons have recently been formed in the Middle East. In this connection, Members will have read of the successful ferrying of 44 Vampires from this country to the Far East. I am sure that there will be general agreement when I state that this operation is a tribute to the high standard of flying in the R.A.F. and to the excellence of the Vampire machines that were ferried.
I should now like to say something about Transport Command. When presenting the Air Estimates last year I said that, in order to find manpower and resources for the strengthening of Bomber and Fighter Commands, reductions were being made in Transport Command. That process has now been halted. Nevertheless, it is not possible at the 252 present time to expand Transport Command once again; this could only be done in present circumstances at the expense of the combat Commands. I would, however, remind the House that both the Middle East and Far East Air Forces have sizeable transport forces of their own; and we shall maintain in the United Kingdom a sufficiently large Transport Command to carry out the bulk of the movements required in peacetime along the trunk routes as well as to form the basis for expansion in war.
Our policy of giving first priority to the needs of the combat Commands lays upon us, of course, the need to ensure that the maximum use can be made of the civil aviation resources of the country, both for any carriage of personnel and freight in peace-time that is beyond the resources of Transport Command and for the greatly increased requirement for air transport that would arise in the event of war. A good deal has been done under both these headings.
Aircraft of the civil Corporations and of the charter companies have been, and are being, chartered for a variety of tasks— movement of personnel and freight to the Far East, movement of auxiliary air squadrons to summer camps and in connection with air defence exercises, and the carriage of married families to Egypt and Singapore. During the last financial year some £250,000 was spent in this way; I think it can be regarded as money well spent, not only because of the value of the service received but also because it has helped to maintain a valuable and considerable potential represented by the civil aviation industry. During the coming year additional use will be made of civil aircraft for the regular movement of troops.
All this, of course, applies in peace. The formation of the first of the auxiliary transport squadrons, primarily with the staff of Airwork, Ltd., who have cooperated wholeheartedly in this experiment, has as its chief aim the utilisation of the skill and experience of the company in the form of an organised squadron in war. This unit will be able to take its place in Transport Command with the minimum delay and dislocation. We plan to form other squadrons in this way. The major task in an emergency will be to ensure that the resources of the civil Corporations are used in the most efficient 253 way. Standing arrangements have been made between my Department, the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Corporations to keep the detailed plans under review.
I now turn to manpower. On present trends the effective strength of the R.A.F., excluding Commonwealth Air Forces and local Forces abroad, should be around 255,000 in March, 1952, compared with 230,000 today and 202,000 a year ago. This build-up of strength has only been achieved by recruiting more Regulars, extending the period of full-time National Service from 18 months to 2 years, and retaining temporarily the services of time-expired Regulars. The Regular content of the Force is now 63 per cent. and should rise by the end of the year to about 70 per cent.
An impetus has been given to Regular recruiting by the introduction of the new trade structure and the substantial increases in pay and allowances and enhanced rates of short service gratuity for aircrew which were introduced in September of last year. Special schemes, due to end in December, 1951, offering tax-free bounties, have already encouraged many highly-trained serving Regular airmen to re-engage and men with previous experience to re-enlist as Regular airmen.
Entries to Cranwell are satisfactory, but the number of university graduates accepting permanent commissions falls short of our needs. Although our full aircrew requirements were being met before the inauguration of the Government's expansion programme, I cannot over-emphasise the fact that the whole of the programme now depends on our getting adequate numbers of pilots and navigators of the highest quality. Under our new programme, with very much larger numbers of aircraft coming into service, we need to take in very many more, both Regulars and National Service men, than we have in the last few years.
Aircraft production can be organised, and works programmes can be organised, but recruiting for service in the air depends on whether the young men of our country realise that this form of service is perhaps the finest contribution they can make to national defence. There is no more worth-while task for a man during his National Service than to train as a pilot or navigator. He will take away with him much that will be of per- 254 manent benefit to him in his after-life, not least the sense of achievement that comes from mastering a difficult and complex task. I have already said that the qualifications are exacting, and I am satisfied they should not be lowered.
It is, therefore, essential to encourage a high proportion of those young men who have the mental powers, the physique and the education for the forefront of our first line of defence to volunteer for these duties. Now that the Government have removed certain factors that have been a discouragement in the past there should be a better response. The responsibilities that aircrews carry are now recognised by the grant of a commission at an early stage of training. Their conditions of service today are excellent, though no better than they deserve. I have recently written personally to the headmasters of some 1,400 schools setting out the position and asking for their help. I am sure I can count on the aid and help of hon. Members on both sides of the House in making known the urgency of our needs and the great importance of service in the air.
Airmen of all trades will be eligible for selection for aircrew duties with facilities for continuing their careers on the ground up to the age of 55 when they are no longer required for flying duties. Certain categories will also be able to reengage to complete 22 years' aircrew service as well as being eligible to return to ground employment until the age of 55. Boys who wish to serve as aircrew during their National Service may now elect call-up at the age of 17½ instead of waiting until they are 18 years old; and boys of 17 who are anxious to become Regular or National Service aircrew may undergo their pre-selection tests before they have to register for National Service.
I now come to the ground trades, which play such an important part in maintaining the efficiency of the Royal Air Force. There has been a substantial improvement in Regular recruiting to these trades. During the six months from September, 1950, to February, 1951, 23,000 tradesmen were recruited to Regular service compared with 7,000 in the previous six months. A substantial proportion of these were National Service men enlisting for three-year Regular engagements, followed by 2½years on the Reserve. These men provide a useful flow of short-service air- 255 men, and there are already indications that the improved conditions of Regular service and the new trade structure will encourage many of them to undertake longer engagements.
In recent years much has been said about the lack of balance between trades in the R.A.F. due to the shortage of experienced Regulars and their uneven distribution, particularly amongst some of the more highly skilled technical and many of the administrative trades. The extension of the period of full-time National Service to two years and the temporary retention of time-expired Regulars have improved the position considerably. The position has also been improved by remustering during the past two years more than 1,500 N.C.O.s and airmen, usually after a special course of training, from over-manned to undermanned trades.
As a result, today, of the 22 trade groups in the R.A.F., only the medical and catering groups are manned to less than 95 per cent. of their establishment. It is true that there are still deficiencies in some of the more advanced trades such as armament fitter and radar fitter. Broadly speaking, however, the position in the technical trades today is much more favourable than it was a year ago, and the force as a whole is much more balanced.
So far as ground trades are concerned, the outstanding event of the year was the introduction of the new trade structure. Under this scheme, airmen today have opportunities of much better careers than ever before. It involves a complete reorganisation of all ground trades, and a radical change in methods of training and employing airmen to accord more closely with industrial practice. It provides a more flexible system of manning, and enables us to offer long-service careers to the age of 55 to a very large proportion of airmen. The new trade structure will also even out the attractions of different trades to the Regular recruit. We are lengthening initial engagements for some of the more popular trades while retaining the shorter engagements for the remainder. Gradually, we hope to place more and more trades in the category requiring longer initial engagements so that the average term of the productive service will increase throughout the force.
256 Now I should like to refer briefly to the increased use we are able to make of our National Service men as a result of the extended period of full-time service.
§ Mr. Henderson
We are still taking into the R.A.F. Jamaicans who come over here and seek to join. There is no colour bar.
The gain in productive strength and efficiency is considerable since the extra six months' service is obtained in most cases with no additional training. Many more aircrew are being obtained from this source, and we shall be able to train them to full operational standards. When certain changes which we are making in aircrew training courses become fully effective, National Service pilots and navigators will be able to fly in operational squadrons for the last four to six months of their National Service, and the other aircrew categories even longer. The additional service also allows men in the ground trades to become more highly skilled and increases the number who merit promotion to the junior N.C.O. ranks. Today there are about 1,300 National Service officers in the ground branches. Our need for them is rising and we hope many will compete for Regular commissions.
As regards the Women's Royal Air Force, the picture is somewhat disappointing. The strength of airwomen has fallen by some 1,500 during the year to about 8,500, and we have little more than half the number we require for the many interesting trades open to women, and especially for the important ground signalling and radar operating trades. The recent pay increases have produced a slight improvement in recruiting but much bigger entries are still needed. The strength of officers has increased slightly during the year to about 550 and we hope that the increasing range of employment will strengthen the appeal of the W.R.A.F. to women suitable for commissioning.
Perhaps I might say a word about the educational side of the R.A.F. In the 257 educational field a notable feature has been the increasing contact with experts in the civilian educational field. I he Education Advisory Committee for the Royal Air Force has recently reported that the plan for education in the Royal Air Force is sound, both in its special application to Service training and in its wider application to general education. His Majesty's inspectors of schools have visited units at home, in Germany, the Middle East and the Far East and nave reported favourably on our methods and made many useful suggestions.
§ Mr. Henderson
Yes. They have also visited and reported well on schools we have set up since the war in the Middle East and Far East to provide Service children with an education broadly similar to that which they would have received in the United Kingdom. I have seen some of these schools and I can certainly endorse from my own observation the favourable views that have been taken by the representatives of the Ministry of Education.
As regards Halton, about a quarter of our aircraft apprentices who passed out from Halton last year were awarded National certificates in mechanical and electrical engineering and three obtained Whitworth Society prizes, which are awarded to the best candidates throughout the country. Eight aircraft apprentices who had been selected for university courses in engineering, leading to permanent commissions in the Technical Branch, successfully completed their three-year courses last June, five of them obtaining second-class honours degrees.
Last year I referred to the importance of ensuring that the Regular should be able to look forward with confidence to obtaining a job appropriate to his age, experience and qualifications when he returned to civilian life, and I indicated that negotiations with the trade unions had resulted in recognition of almost two-thirds of the Air Force trades with civil counterparts. Fresh negotiations have become necessary in many cases through the introduction of the new trade structure, but we hope ultimately to obtain trade union recognition for every appropriate R.A.F. trade. Special arrangements 258 have been made for Service personnel to take examinations for entry into the Civil Service and local government service while they are still serving.
§ Air Commodore Harvey (Macclesfield)
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to Halton and its output. What is the present strength of Halton?
§ Mr. Henderson
I think it is about 90 per cent., but I will check up and ascertain the exact percentage.
The House will, I feel sure, appreciate that increases in the overall size of the Air Force to the extent I have already outlined, entail a great and rapid expansion in the training organisation, particularly for flying training. We have been greatly assisted in meeting this need by the offer of the Canadian Government to train about 200 aircrew annually. The first batch of pupils are already under training in Canada. While we are most grateful to the Canadian Government for what they are already doing, these arrangements go only part of the way towards meeting our greatly increased requirements and, following the acceleration of the defence programme, we have submitted a bid, through the machinery of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, for the increased training facilities which the Canadian Government have recently offered to provide for the benefit of her Allies.
I am glad to be able to announce that our partners in the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation have agreed to allot to the United Kingdom this year the substantial air training facilities which Canada recently placed at the disposal of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. This will enable much larger numbers of R.A.F. aircrews to be trained in Canada, and their training will be carried up to and will include the advanced flying stage.
Last year I referred at some length to training on-the-job. For some time past we have been training airmen on-the-job in the work of many R.A.F. ground trades and this method of training by association has produced most satisfactory results. Under the new trade structure re-organisation which I have already referred to, there will be more specialisation of tasks, particularly in the lower ranks, and we have found that in many trades on-the-job training is much more appro- 259 priate to these specialised jobs than is formal training at schools. Moreover, by providing continuity of employment on a particular job of work, it enables us to obtain the maximum economy and efficiency from National Service tradesmen in the R.A.F. On-the-job training methods are, therefore, being adopted under the new trade structure on a much larger scale than has been possible hitherto, and the number of men receiving such training has doubled in the past few months.
I should now like to say something about the build-up of our Reserve and Auxiliary Forces. Recruiting for the R.Aux.A.F. Fighter Squadrons and for pilot duties in the R.A.F.V.R. has been most successful, but we are not satisfied with the position in other units of the R.Aux.A.F. and in ground branches and trades of the R.A.F.V.R. Though a substantial trained Reserve will in time be built up from the reserve liabilities of regular and National Service engagements, the need for a considerable volunteer effort remains and will remain for a little time to come. In most branches and trades in our Reserve and Auxiliary Forces, we urgently want volunteers, particularly from men and women with previous service or comparable experience. We are taking immediate action to remedy certain problems of equipment and accommodation which have been hampering recruiting, for example, at some Fighter Control Units of the R.Aux.A.F. in the country.
It is vitally important that National Service reservists should help to build up the front-line auxiliary units and the Volunteer Reserve and, up to the present, I regret to say, the result has been disappointing. We are doing everything we can to encourage these reservists to volunteer and join the R.Aux.A.F. and I feel sure that, now that the urgency of the country's need is apparent, many more of them will decide to do so.
The increase in the period of full-time National Service to two years, which has temporarily interrupted the transition of National Service men to the Reserve, will have the effect of producing reservists of considerable Service experience and in making it possible to train many more men in the more skilled trades. There will be some 40,000 a year. When they complete their full-time service from 260 April, 1951 onwards, they can make an outstanding contribution to the strength of our defences by joining the R.Aux.A.F. or R.A.F.V.R. A flow of qualified pilots to the R.Aux.A.F. and the R.A.F.V.R.— which is an important matter as some have more experience than others and some have to be replaced—is now being assured by the training to which I have referred, during full-time service of National Service men who, as a result, undertake to give voluntary part-time service after completing their whole-time service.
The R.Aux.A.F. Fighter Control Units, and the Radar Reporting Unit which was formed last year with the support of the Radar Association, will all have been transferred to Fighter Command by next month. We also plan to form more units of these types. I should like to emphasise that there are many trades in these units in which volunteers without any previous experience can be trained. Within the R.A.F.V.R. we are proposing to introduce more units for specialised requirements as we consider they enhance the attractiveness of this important Reserve without detracting from the essential flexibility of its organisation. The Reserve Flights, to which I have referred, are being formed at Regular control and reporting stations and provide excellent opportunities for productive on-the-job training and for service of the highest importance to the country. We are also forming a R.A.F. Voluntary Radio Service in order to strengthen the reserve behind the Signals Branch of the R.A.F. This will comprise both civilians and volunteer reservists.
May I say a word about the call-up of the 1,000 R.A.F. reservists? These reservists will be trained at special flights which are being formed of Harvards, Spitfires and Vampires, and they will all receive full operational training in modern jet fighter technique. For those aircrew reservists who are only carrying out normal refresher training this year the re-equipment of the Reserve Flying Schools with Chipmunk aircraft is going ahead, and eight of the schools have now been re-equipped.
As part of their annual training, many aircrews of the R.A.F.V.R. take part in Transport Command long distance overseas flights and in Bomber and Coastal Command training sorties, of 261 course, with aircrew of the Regular Service. To meet future aircrew requirements in the R.A.F.V.R., National Service pilots who do not join the R.Aux.A.F. Squadrons will serve in the R.A.F.V.R. in lieu of their part-time statutory liability and similar arrangements are being made for National Service navigators.
We are also making a close study of the present arrangements for flying training in the Reserves, and shall do everything possible to provide the different types of refresher training needed by the many various categories in order to ensure that all are adequately trained for the purpose for which they are required. I should like to pay tribute here to the excellent work which T.A.F.As. have done for the R.Aux.A.F. and in other directions.
I indicated in my last Estimates Speech that we hoped to re-establish three more University Air Squadrons. I am glad to able to state that these squadrons have been re-formed at Bristol, Liverpool and Hull, bringing the total number to 17. Fighter Control Flights for training in control and radar reporting duties have been formed in the University Air Squadrons at Oxford, Cambridge and London.
The Air Training Corps celebrates the tenth anniversary of its foundation this year, and both the A.T.C. and the R.A.F. sections of the Combined Cadet Force are valuable pre-entry forces to which the R.A.F. and its auxiliaries and reserves look for future members. Their strength is now 44,300 cadets. I have now set up an Air Cadet Council and a Scottish Air Cadet Council under the presidency of my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State for Air, replacing the A.T.C. Consultative Committees. These councils will provide advisory bodies for all cadet matters.
We have reduced the age limit for entry to the R.Aux.A.F. and R.A.F.V.R. to 17 to allow suitable young men, including A.T.C cadets, to serve in these Forces before joining the R.A.F. for National Service; such volunteers will undertake to come back to the R.Aux.A.F. or the R.A.F.V.R. after completing their whole-time National Service. The flying scholarship scheme to which I referred last year has proved most successful. Seventy-seven cadets qualified for a private pilot's licence at civil flying clubs in 1950, and 112 were under training when the year ended.
262 Cadets so qualified and a number of other young men and women who have obtained private pilot's licences are now accepted in the R.A.F.V.R. for continuation flying training. I am glad to be able to announce that the number of scholarships to be awarded in the next financial year is to be increased from 200 to 250. Gliding training continues to be a great attraction to the A.T.C. During 1950, 1,729 cadets qualified for the Royal Aero Club certificate and the badge awarded by the International Aeronautical Federation. In R.A.F. Sections of the Combined Cadet Forces at schools arrangements are being made for cadets to have instruction in Eon primary gliders.
I should now like to deal broadly with the formidable programme of works services which the new plan entails. Last year I stressed the need to catch up with our requirements, in living accommodation. While this remains a high priority, and every effort will be made to sustain the greatly increased rate of building achieved in the current year, the weight of effort has had to be shifted, for the time being, to urgent operational requirements.
The revised plan inevitably means bringing back into use, both for operational and training purposes, many airfields which had been released by the R.A.F. Runways at some of these airfields, and those at a number of airfields now in use, will have to be re-surfaced and strengthened. Others need lengthening to make them suitable for the new types of aircraft coming into service. Furthermore a great deal of technical and domestic accommodation will have to be provided.
A good deal of this work has already been started, but much remains to be put in hand. This is far greater in scale than anything that has previously been possible under peace conditions, except in the months immediately preceding the last war. Apart from its magnitude, the time set for its completion is short, and to meet the timetable which we have set ourselves exceptional measures will be needed. I take this opportunity of expressing our gratitude to the local authorities for the way in which they have co-operated when it has plainly been impossible to avoid taking land for purposes of this kind. I should like to ask for their continued co-operation in this respect.
263 I should now like to say a word about domestic accommodation. Last year I said that, with the assistance to be expected under the Armed Forces (Housing Loan) Act, we hoped to double the rate at which we were then building married quarters at home. I am glad to be able to say that this has been substantially achieved. During 1950–51 approximately 1,700 permanent married quarters and 100 temporary quarters have been completed at home, while an additional 4,000 permanent married quarters will either be under construction or about to start. We plan to make a start on a further 4,000 during 1951–52, but I cannot rule out the possibility of setbacks, allowing for our heavy commitments in the operational field. Overseas, 300 married quarters will have been completed during 1950–51, with a further 500 under construction. During 1951–52 we expect to make a start on a further 450.
May I sum up this part of the programme by saying that compared with the 6,700 married quarters in use at home and overseas in September, 1939, we shall have 14,500 completed quarters by 31st March, 1951. With the completion of those under construction, and those planned to be started in 1951–52, this total will be increased to over 23,000. If to this figure is added the 350 flats or houses rented in this country for married personnel, and some 1,700 hirings overseas, the grand total we have in sight is nearly four times the number which existed before the war.
As regards barrack accommodation and messes, while we have made substantial progress in replacing or rehabilitating war-time hutting, which, of course, was never intended for permanent accommodation, much remains to be done in this sphere. We are also faced with the further task of providing the additional programme needed for the expanded Air Force. For this class of accommodation our long-term aim is to build barrack blocks, messes and clubs in permanent construction, so as to give airmen and airwomen a reasonable degree of comfort. But building to these standards takes time, labour and materials, on a scale beyond what can be spared in the wider interests of early completion of 264 more immediate and essential requirements.
Therefore I must utter this note of warning. It is regrettable, but inescapable, that the long-term aim must to a large extent give way, for the present, to the more pressing needs of the immediate situation. For the most part, therefore, new buildings will have to be in semi-permanent construction, both to achieve an accelerated rate of building and economy in the use of labour and materials. I hasten to add, however, that this will not mean any material relaxation in the standards of living conditions of the personnel, and everything will be done to ensure that these are maintained at a satisfactory level.
I am certain that all those concerned with the Royal Air Force are conscious of the great responsibility which rests upon them. Under conditions of modern war, air power may well be conclusive, and I doubt therefore if anyone will disagree with me when I suggest that the R.A.F. has the primary responsibility for the defence of this country. The morale of the R.A.F. has never been higher in peace-time than it is today. I have had an ample opportunity of judging it by my weekly visits to stations in the United Kingdom, and while on visits to Germany and the Middle East. I am confident that the present generation in the R.A.F. will measure up to their responsibilities and also maintain the great traditions of the R.A.F. which they have inherited.
Powerful armed forces in a world based on power politics have never prevented war, but powerful forces dedicated to the principles of the United Nations and never to be used except in accordance with those principles may well play a vital part in preventing war. It is for the latter purpose that we have taken further measures of accelerated expansion to build up a Royal Air Force powerful and efficient, not as an instrument of aggression but as an instrument for the defence of peace and national security.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Eden (Warwick and Leamington)
I have tried very hard indeed to follow the right hon. and learned Gentleman in his amiable gallop through a pretty voluminous brief. I hope that he will not consider me ungracious if I start by saying that, with some exceptions to 265 which I shall refer later, there is not really a great deal that was new in what he told us this afternoon. There is a great deal which we should have liked to learn and about which we still do not know. I hope he will forgive if I stress this point as I go along. The question of secrecy is very complicated.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman made many comparisons showing how much better he was doing now than we were before the war. I am very glad indeed if he is doing better. It would be very distressing if we never learned any lessons from anything. There is one activity in which we certainly are not doing any better than before the war, and that is in the giving of information. It is getting less and less. The only actual figures I gleaned from the whole of the speech—and they were very encouraging figures—were about the building of married quarters. That is very good. I do not think that any other definite figure was given. I picked up any number of adjectives. I got as far as eleven "substantials" and then I stopped: I got to six something else and then I stopped.
I suggest to the Minister of Defence— and this is a serious point connected with the value of our discussions on Defence Estimates—that it might be better to see whether further information can be made available not to individual Members of the House but to the House as a whole. It might be convenient to concentrate in any given year on certain important aspects of the problems we have to discuss. I do not complain about what the right hon. and learned Gentleman did today because that was his duty; but it was physically impossible, however attentive we tried to be, to follow him at the speed which he made his remarks. I do not know what the remedy is, but Parliamentary systems are adaptable and we ought to see before next year whether there is not a better way in which to handle the matter.
I want to make a few observations on the subject of fighters, but before I do that there is one point I want to make about secrecy. We should be careful and fair on the question of whether or not, as Lord Trenchard put it in another place, we are not overdoing security as an excuse for saying nothing, or, to put it a little more rudely, as an excuse for saying very 266 little at very great length. We must be on the watch against that when we discuss these Estimates. I know that the Minister of Defence would say that it would be wrong for any Minister to take shelter behind the veil of security in order to avoid saying something on which criticism might be embarrassing.
I begin this process by taking up something which the right hon. and learned Gentleman said at the beginning of his speech about Fighter Command. There will be no dispute that we ended the war with the best fighters in the world. Since then, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, year after year we have had these magnificent displays at Farnborough which have shown us better and better fighters. That is very creditable to all concerned. But there is another aspect of the problem—the present. I thought that the right hon. and learned Gentleman rather slurred over this. I should like to know how the machines in our fighter squadrons today compare with those of the other great Powers. We are told that consideration has been given to re-equipping with the American Sabre—the F.86. That is probably a very good thing; but, of course, those machines are very much faster, are they not, than anything we have in our squadrons today?
Is it the intention, for the time being, to re-equip with these American machines pending the delivery of the new machines referred to by the Minister of Defence the other day which are now on the drawing board and for which large orders are being placed? I do not say that that is wrong: I only want to see where we are. Are the Sabres an interim contribution so that we may be comparable with foreign Powers pending the arrival of our new types which are as yet only on the drawing board?
§ Mr. A. Henderson
Discussions are taking place with the United States Government in respect of the bid which has been made for a substantial number of F.86s. I want to make it clear to all concerned that there is no question of our saying that the Meteors and Vampires with which our squadrons are now equipped are out of date and of no use. Quite the opposite is the case. We are seeking to supplement the present fighter squadrons, in which we have every confidence so far as the Vampires and Meteors are concerned, with this addi- 267 tional number of F.86s. I think that the right hon. Gentleman would be the first to admit that not even the Russian Air Force or the American Air Force is composed 100 per cent. of any one type of fighter. Every Air Force is mixed, and ours will be.
§ Mr. Eden
I am not making a complaint. I am not trying to put the right hon. and learned Gentleman in the dock. I only want to make clear where we are. I think the position is clear now. I think the position is—there is nothing wrong about it—that we are now going to try to get some Sabres from the United States. There is no reason why we should not do that, any more than there is any reason why the United States should not get the Canberra from us. These Sabres are considerably faster than any machine that we have now in the Royal Air Force.
§ Mr. Henderson
I hope that we shall not go into too much detail, but this is an important question of confidence. The test of a good fighter is not only the level speed but the rate of climb and manoeuvrability. I assure the right hon. Gentleman that, for example, so far as manoeuvrability is concerned, the machines now in use in foreign air forces are no better than those we have in our own Air Force.
§ Mr. Eden
All right. I am glad to hear that. But, presumably, we are ordering the Sabres because they are better than the aircraft that we have got now. We should not be ordering them if they were not as good. There is nothing wrong in this. The Sabres will improve our present position. Then, we shall have the new fighters which are now on the drawing board and which are probably better than anything that anybody else has got. When we have the new fighters, there is no doubt that they will be made available to the United States or any other of our Allies if they want them.
I am not trying to make a case against the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I think he realises that now. We ought to see the picture as it really is. I thought that he gave the impression that the machines we have now were as fast as the 268 American and Russian machines. I do not think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would say that.
§ Mr. Henderson
No. 1 said that the Vampires and Meteors were first-class fighting machines—first-class fighters; but I admitted that they were not as fast as some machines owned by other countries.
§ Mr. Eden
We have now got to much the same place as we were in at the beginning. I should like to know when we may expect—and this is cardinal, apart from the Sabres we are to get from the United States—that the new machines of which we have heard so much will be available for the squadrons—available to the men who have to fly them.
§ The Minister of Defence (Mr. Shinwell)
I think there has been a misunderstanding and we had better clear it up before we go any further. My right hon. and learned Friend did not say that we were going to get these Sabres from the United States. He did not say that categorically. What he said was that the matter was under discussion.
§ Mr. Eden
That is all right. I hope that he gets them. There has never been a Foreign Office debate as difficult as this debate. Perhaps I can get on with my speech now. I think that the Americans should be delighted that we want them, just as we should be delighted that they want the Canberra. Do not let us have too much secrecy and hush-hush.
Now I come to the auxiliary squadrons. Are these auxiliary forces to be entirely a part of Fighter Command? I thought from reading the White Paper that transport and air observation post squadrons are to be added. Are the numbers to be increased to over 20, or will they now have to be slightly reduced? That brings us to the problem, which the right hon. and learned Gentleman mentioned, of the pilots for the auxiliary squadrons—and here I would say that I do not think the position is quite as good as he indicated. We all pay tribute, and we certainly should, to the patriotism of the men who go every week-end to do this work with the auxiliary squadrons, and still more because, when they are called up for three months, many of them have already done more than their share of fighting in the 269 war, and now have to leave civilian occupations for three months to be trained afresh. There is no tribute too high which we can pay to them. Most of these pilots are war veterans, and, as time goes on, an increasing number of them will not be ably to fly our modern machines.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, in the closing part of his speech, to the universities, and showed that they are not providing enough entries to the Royal Air Force. Therefore, these new squadrons from the universities, though welcome, will not help us very much with the Auxiliary force. Before the war, there was a fairly steady flow from the universities into the Royal Auxiliary Air Force, but now this is not so. It is not anybody's fault in particular, but simply because the training required is so much more technical and there is no time for the universities to do it. Although there is not the same flow from the universities to the auxiliary squadrons, the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us that he hoped that National Service pilots would come along at the end of their full-time service and offer to help. We all hope that that will happen, but when will that be and how large a number does the right hon. and learned Gentleman expect to get?
I reckon that this scheme only began six months ago, and it must be 18 months before the pilots come along. What happens in the meantime? I do not think that this position regarding pilots for the auxiliary squadrons is as agreeable as we would like it to be. We must face the blunt fact that flying jet aircraft at terrific altitudes, even with all the training that is entailed in operating these machines, means a rather considerable strain, and that it will never be easy to get men of this quite exceptional quality to do this training, especially on a part-time basis. I think the House must face that fact.
I would like to ask the Under-Secretary if, when he comes to reply, he will tell us a little more about the re-equipment of squadrons with new jets. We were told that the squadrons which had not got jet fighters are now to have them, and that others have had jets for some time. We have discussed this matter more than once. Many of the jets are old in type, and some specimens of particular types have done a great deal of flying. What is being done to re-equip the 270 squadrons that are to play such an important part? I cannot help feeling, in connection with this matter, that it was a pity that, while the manufacturers were being urged to sell their products abroad, a sufficient number of them were not kept back or ordered to enable the auxiliary squadrons to be re-equipped a long time ago.
Then there is the very important question, about which I was glad the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us something, concerning night fighters. The Minister spoke of jet night fighters, and I think that, again, that was in terms of the future. Have we any jet night fighter squadrons now? I should think not, but I understand that we shall have this year. That is very good news, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman did give the impression that this matter was going along very nicely. We hope it will do this summer, as well as next year, though I understand that, at the moment, it is a serious matter.
I would like now to make some suggestions for the consideration of the Government, because, to me, this is very important indeed. It is not only a question of trying to deal with enemy bombers which might get through, but there is also at least the possibility—I do not put it any higher than that—that an airborne landing might be attempted here. It is a possibility, and I have thought about it a good deal more than I will say now. I do not think it is too extravagant to suggest that this might happen; it is certainly not absurd to take precautions against it, both in respect of land forces and fighter defences.
I hope the Government will consider this possibility; no doubt they have done so. It is very difficulty for anybody to make any calculations if he has not had access to inside information, but I suggest that, may be, between 500 and 1,000 four-engined aircraft could be organised to drop something up to six divisions. If that is very far out, perhaps the Government will tell us. If it is not wholly wide of the mark, then it must be reckoned as being possible. We ought to get ready to meet that threat by taking all the elementary precautions both in the air and on the land.
When I was in Germany the other day, I was glad to have the opportunity to learn something about our Tactical Air 271 Force, and, though I have no expert knowledge at all, I fully endorse what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said. It is very good indeed, but I wish it were larger; it is probably one of those other "substantials" which he mentioned. I hope that the Under-Secretary will give us a little more information about the expansion that is taking place, in that arm.
Now I turn to Bomber Command, and on this subject our information is the most meagre of all. At present. we have Washingtons, the borrowed B.29's and Lincolns, which are obsolescent, and we do not know how many we have. The right hon. and learned Gentlman this afternoon spoke of the Canberra and said that it was being delivered to squadrons this year. We are very glad to hear it, but we also heard it last year. Here, I must pause to make a digression in order to praise the brilliant transatlantic flight of the Canberra, and to welcome the fact that the Americans and others are to build this machine in large numbers themselves. It is a great tribute to all concerned, to the skill of the manufacturers and the designer, Mr. Petter.
We welcome the news that four of our firms and one in Australia are to build the Canberra, but we must not lose sight of the fact that the Canberra is classed as a light bomber, which necessarily means that either the range or the bomb-load must be very limited. I understand that several firms are designing a heavier four-jet bomber, and the Prime Minister told us in the House on 29th January that a production order has been placed for a number of one of these types. Can we be told when it is hoped that they will be delivered to the squadrons, because that is what matters?
I now come to what may be fairly called a capital decision. It is most important that a balance should be struck between the production of fighters and bombers. There is no dispute about the fact that we have to seek to protect our cities, harbours and bases for offensive operations and also take steps to meet airborne invasion. How far should we go in trying to meet this with fighters, and how far should we be prepared to attack the bases from which enemy bombers might operate? I know that many of our greatest air authorities are convinced that a strong bomber force is an 272 effective deterrent, and I believe myself that they are right, especially in the conditions now developing.
May I put it this way? I would say that it is more important to destroy the bomber bases and rocket launching platforms of the enemy than it is to attempt to intercept, however good our arrangements are, large numbers of bombers on their way to attack this country. I think we are all agreed about that. The great heights and speeds at which raids may be expected make interception much more difficult than it was in 1940, and I think that we would be very unwise indeed to count on winning a war of attrition between fighters and bombers over our own country. The losses of fighters and the damage caused by the bombers that got through could, I think, be very formidable.
I read with great interest a speech which was made by Viscount Trenchard in another place the other day. It seemed to me that he gave us a most valuable warning, and I have never known the father of the Royal Air Force to be wrong on these issues when he talks about them. I cannot quote what he said because of our Rules, but I can say that he pointed out that we began the last war with distance still dominating air power. Space had not then been conquered. Today, space on this planet has been conquered, at any rate for the purposes of defence and offence. Therefore, the argument runs that if we are to prevent war, we must have a large number of long-distance machines. Then any potential aggressor will himself be vulnerable and will hesitate to start a war.
There seems to me to be much strength in that argument, but that does not mean that I subscribe to the school, if there be one, that thinks we need neither armies nor navies so long as we have a strong enough air force. Those are questions which we shall have to go into on another occasion. For the moment I merely endorse the statement of the Minister of Defence that air strength has first priority in our defence expenditure, and I shall be glad to hear what are the Government's views on the suggestions I have made.
One word about Transport Command. The right hon. and learned Gentleman told us frankly about his difficulties in 273 that sphere, but, of course, what we need there are the necessary transports to carry troops, vehicles and supplies upon which a land force so very greatly depends today. Burma was one example of that towards the end of the last war. Have we gliders for our units? We have heard nothing about that. The Minister of Defence told us last February that he had stopped the running down of Transport Command. That is a relief, but what about a little building up again? It must come.
I thought that we should, perhaps, hear about the Saunders Roe Princess flying boats. We have not heard a word. I heard about it even before I read of it in the newspapers. Are they to be converted to troop transports, or what is the plan? Perhaps I will give the Government a lead over this and say that, if they are to be converted, it is right that they should be. If that will help the Government to come to a decision tonight, that will be good. They could do remarkable work. I am told that six of these aircraft could do the work done by one of the Queens—and a wonderful job it was, carrying 15,000 men across the Atlantic. But I hope we shall hear something about it before the discussion is over, as it has been in the newspapers.
Now a word about Coastal Command, because it is tremendously important. We are glad of the advent of the Shackleton because we know—that is one of the things we have heard before—that the rÔle of Coastal Command will be heavier than in the last war. My hon. Friend raised the question of the ordering of new flying boats to replace the Sunderlands which did so well in combating the German submarines. I think the Government must have something in mind about that. Sunderlands are grand machines, but they are very old, and we must have in mind some new flying boats to assist Coastal Command in its operations. The Sunderlands were invaluable in the last war, but they are slow, relatively, for modern needs, and we have to deal with faster submarines. I cannot help feeling that the Government have something in mind about that. If they have, I hope they will tell us, and, if they have not, that they will soon discover something, because a fast flying boat is certainly necessary.
The Secretary of State for Air spoke about the improvement in recruiting owing to the revised pay code and to the 274 introduction of what he described as a new trade structure. There is no doubt that this new system, under which men can climb the promotion ladder either on their technical qualifications or on their administrative and command ability will be a great help both to regular recruiting and in encouraging men to re-engage for long service. I think it is a very good thing. I do not often congratulate the Government, but I get very near to doing so on this particular issue. We hope that the recruiting which has resulted will continue.
Now I come to the less satisfactory part, which is the question of officer entry. Here, again, I think the House has to face a problem, and I do not think the Secretary of State put it to us quite clearly. I think it is more serious than even he indicated, because it is from the officers that the Service recruits the pilots, and, I understand, most of the navigators. As far as I can see from the breakdown of Vote I on page 12—and I think it is confirmed by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said—the number of officers has to be increased by 2,430. That is the intention. But when we turn to the statement in paragraph 16 on page 5 of the Memorandum, we find these words, which are confirmed by what the right hon. and learned Gentleman told us just now. It says:Entries for pilot and navigator employment have improved but are, nevertheless, substantially below the greatly increased intake required for the expanded force … The increased officer requirements for 1951–52 will have to be met by further extensions of service and the re-entry of war-time officers in addition to the normal practice of commissioning of suitable airmen.In other words, we are to depend mainly on what, in other connections, would be called "drawing upon stocks."
At best this is not a satisfactory situation, and we have still got to find some way of getting these Regulars of outstanding quality and giving them the necessary training. If we do not do that, all this effort, all the expenditure on aircraft, and so on, will be in vain. I raise for consideration the question whether the pay of aircrews is even now sufficient to encourage the right type of man as a captain of an aircraft, or, later, as a senior officer.
At any rate, there is a very serious problem which the House has to face, and if I had to make a forecast it would be 275 that unless something else is done, next year the problem will be more difficult than it is now. After all, the equipment entrusted to a pilot's care is costly enough. Pilots cost £24,000 apiece to train, as well. Nor is there any doubt of what has to be paid, to put it no higher, if an enemy aircraft gets through. It is more important than ever that the Royal Air Force should attract men who have not only dash and courage, but the skill and character to press home their attack. We must get them; and in this context, which is a true one, I am not sure that the pay is yet high enough.
One more word about the Women's Royal Air Force before I say a few general words in conclusion. The right hon. and learned Gentleman referred to the falling strength of that Force—14,500, 11,500 and 8,500 in the last three years. That is serious as the right hon. and learned Gentleman will agree. I believe that during the war there was one member of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force to every four men. Today, it is one woman to 23 men, and we are now in the process of building up the radar chain and strengthening the fighter control units. As the squadrons are formed, there will be more and more jobs for which women are pre-eminently suited. We should reverse this run-down, and women should be employed as far as possible in the clerical and sedentary jobs so as to release airmen for the vital aircraft servicing trades.
Other matters will be raised by my right hon. and hon. Friends, about which they have personal knowledge and experience. I have only sought to emphasise what I believe to be some of the major problems with which we are faced in our air re-armament programme, and in fitting that programme into our overall strategic plans of our North Atlantic Treaty Allies. Above all, it is necessary to maintain quality in men and machines. The nation will never begrudge money for that. The Royal Air Force has a name which is second to none anywhere in the world, and that name has to be maintained. To do that will require unceasing watchfulness, not only by the Secretary of State for Air and his advisers, but by this House. I trust that our discussions today will contribute constructively to that most important end.
§ 5.20 p.m.
§ Mr. John E. Haire (Wycombe)
It has been a welcome change to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) not attempting to make any party points on this occasion. I welcome the change from the sort of approach we had a fortnight ago in the defence debate. Therefore, in following him, I can say quite freely that there was much in what he said with which I can agree. He made a constructive approach and he high-lighted certain dangers which were not referred to in the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Air.
While recognising that the Secretary of State, on this occasion, has to make a wide, sweeping survey I felt that in doing so there was absent from his speech references to the present situation, and the growing danger which has arisen as a result of events in Korea. I do not think that in reading his speech it will be possible for many of us to detect that at present the Royal Air Force is engaged on active operations in Korea. I did not find in that speech a description of our growing danger in the last six months.
Today, we are discussing the Air Estimates as the first of our annual surveys of the Services. That is a significant change. I believe that my right hon. Friends on the Front Bench have acknowledged that in the defence of this island and in our preparations for defence the Royal Air Force must play a leading part. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington made that point when he referred to the added dangers of airborne operations. Last year some of us made an appeal for the Royal Air Force to be recognised as the senior Service, and it almost seems as though we have already won our point.
We are now examining the budget for the Air Force. It shows a substantial increase. We are supporting the expenditure of £1 million a day on the Royal Air Force during the coming year, a sum which was spent on the whole of our Armed Forces at the beginning of the last war. It is only fit and proper that we should try to see that we get value for this increase. My right hon. and learned Friend can say, of course, that he has given proof of the very rapid expansion of the Air Force, and how right he is.
277 We are all in the dilemma that we cannot get behind the security screen. I should like to have more information, but I recognise the difficulties. Those of us who have weekly associations with our old Service appreciate the rapid changes that are taking place. I think we can see that value is being obtained for an expenditure which I believe is 50 per cent. higher than that during the previous year. There has been enormous progress in the last year and my right hon. and learned Friend was quite right in emphasising it. It has been a momentous year, but I believe that this year may be even more momentous and we should be fully on our guard.
I am sure that we did not recognise, and my right hon. and learned Friend did not recognise, 12 months ago, that we would be in the position we are in today. I am sure that at the time of the annual debate last year my right hon. and learned Friend had no conception that by this time he would be required to expand his Service as rapidly as he has had to do. Our congratulations are due to him and to the Royal Air Force upon having risen so well to the occasion.
In today's debate we should recognise that the defence programme which we have discussed so much recently in the House is a programme for the preservation of peace. Equally, we should recognise that our defence of this island depends primarily upon the success of the Royal Air Force. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington referred to our fighter forces and particularly our night fighter force. We should pay more attention to our night fighters. I seem to remember that in the last war they were the weakest link in our fighter defence. Certainly, we should have liked to hear more about it than that this year we hope to have more night fighters in operational strength.
§ Mr. Haire
It must be clear to all hon. Members that we are preparing our Forces for defence against atomic and rocket projectiles. Therefore, we should think in terms of supersonic interception fighters, jet-powered day or night fighters. That also brings us to consideration of our radar equipment and our preparations to meet this new type of destruction. I would have liked my right hon. and 278 learned Friend to have referred to "Exercise Emperor" of last October, which was a highly organised try-out of our defence of this island.
I believe it is one of the lessons of that exercise that aircraft approaching this island at a height of 40,000 ft. must be detected on our radar screens as they cross, approximately, the Dutch frontier. This produces an entirely new picture in the defence of this island and, quite clearly, leads to the conclusion that revision of the placing of our radar chain is very necessary. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend is giving attention to that problem. I would have liked to have heard very much more about the results of that exercise. It was the largest and longest exercise ever carried out in peace-time over this island. Our Western Allies, including the Air Forces of the United States stationed here, participated in it, and surely there were some valuable lessons to be learned from it. I believe from what little I have been able to hear about it that, in fact, the defence of this island did not stand up to the attack.
§ Air Commodore Harvey
I am sure the hon. Member would not want to mislead the House. He referred to aircraft passing our coast at 40,000 ft. He should make it clear that they were jet fighters.
§ Mr. Haire
I think I said that the aircraft approached at 40,000 ft. I agree that they were jet fighters. When my hon. Friend replies perhaps we might hear something of "Exercise Emperor" and the lessons to be learnt from it.
A number of United States aircraft have arrived in this country in the past year or 18 months. That has led to considerable controversy in certain quarters. These aircraft and American personnel are valuable to us in the defence of Western Europe and of this country, and I certainly do not join in the opposition to them which some people apparently feel.
As my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said in reply to a Question—at the end of last year—these personnel numbered about 15,000 and there were about 180 aircraft. They have come as friends. They will go where we require them to go. As the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington said some time ago, those who freely come and freely go should be welcome.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Does my hon. Friend agree with the Leader of the Opposition, who stated in the defence debate, a fortnight or so ago, that the presence of these atom bombers in this island might be a terrible danger to this country as well, because they would attract the enemy?
§ Mr. Haire
I should have thought that there was no lack of targets in this country if there were an enemy, and that the presence of a few American squadrons in East Anglia is not likely to provide an additional target to attract them.
I hope that in omitting reference to the presence of our United States friends in this country my right hon. and learned Friend did not intend any discourtesy to them, because I want to put it on record that the presence of American bomber and fighter squadrons—and I am glad to see in the Memorandum that there are to be fighter squadrons—is welcome to us in helping us to face our present problems. There is no difference between the presence of these American Air Force personnel in this country and the fact that we invited Dutch Air Force personnel to come here and be trained at our base at Londonderry, even though that has met with some disapproval from the Irish Republic, nor is there any difference between it and the sending of our Forces to be trained in Canada. Indeed, I hope that this is a part of the integration which we are attempting to establish under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
I turn now to what I consider to be the next priority in our defences—the protection of our country against the submarine menace. That brings me back to my old Command and enables me to make my annual plea in support of Coastal Command. It has frequently been said in the House, in recent debates, that one of the greatest dangers this country would have to face if there should be another war would be the submarine menace. Figures of the size of the Russian submarine force have been thrown about in the House and 360 has been mentioned. I am not in a position to say whether that is right or not, or to say how operationally powerful they are, or how up to date they may be—whether they include the Schnorkel device, and so on. It is a fact, however, that in the last war we just survived the submarine menace and it may happen that in another 280 war, of a different kind, if we cannot be bombed into submission we might be starved into submission.
For that reason, I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will give the maximum priority to the requirements of Coastal Command, to which he referred today. I was glad to hear his reference to Coastal Command. In the past there have been occasions when we have not been included and I am glad to think that Coastal Command is again coming into its own. I should like to hear something more about the use of the Shackleton, to know how many of these aircraft are with squadrons and how many squadrons of Shackletons we are likely to have during the coming year.
One important point which we must consider in connection with submarine warfare is radar. It is now recognised by the right hon. and hon. Gentlemen that the new submarine is something much more powerful and faster than anything with which we had to deal during the last war, except perhaps just at the end of the war, and those who were in Coastal Command in those days know how difficult it was to tackle the new Schnorkel-equipped U-boat. I want to know whether we have any radar devices which would deal with the problem. I appreciate that my right hon. and learned Friend finds it difficult, on security grounds, to satisfy us on these points, but I should like to know whether we have any radar devices which would enable us to detect underwater craft when they are travelling at 20 knots under water. The defence of our convoys and of our shores depend on that.
A further point on the subject of Coastal Command is that I think we require much more co-operation between this Command and the Navy. When I was acting as a liaison officer at the Admiralty I was conscious that even at the end of the war there was not that degree of airmindedness in our Senior Service, as it is called, that there should have been. It is quite clear to many of us that in trying to apportion the credit for our success in the U-boat campaign in the last war the naval authorities and others gave far too little credit to Coastal Command.
Can we be assured that our friends in the Admiralty recognise the part which can be played by Coastal Command? Is 281 there growing that degree of co-ordination which is necessary between the aircraft carrier and Coastal Command? Should there be another war, it is my opinion that there will be great development in the part played by aircraft carriers. Against the fast-moving submarines which are expected, we must have fast-moving aircraft to detect and follow them, and that would seem to be a part to be played by aircraft from aircraft carriers and not by shore-based aircraft.
I want to refer for a moment to the aircraft forces of Russia and her satellite countries. In recent months we have heard references to the facts. Russia has some 20,000 jet fighters and bombers. Here, again, we are not told where this figure comes from, nor whether it is a peace-time figure. We recognise that these aircraft exist. Can my right hon. and learned Friend, or some other Minister, tell me how much this figure is above what is the normal peace-time strength of the Russian Air Force? Can we be told that? All this helps us to measure the danger in which we may be placed. Are there any forward bases for these aircraft? Have new aerodromes been constructed in the satellite countries? In assessing the potential danger, it is important for us to be told these things.
I was surprised that my right hon. and learned Friend, and indeed the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington, did not make much reference to our experiences in Korea in the last nine months. There have been air operations in Korea fought, I believe, under something like modern conditions, but little reference has been made to them. Our Air Force personnel have been taking part in these operations and some have, unfortunately, made the supreme sacrifice. I should have liked to hear some reference to the lessons to be learned from the Korean operations. One very welcome fact in Korea is the co-ordination which has been established between our Forces, the American Air Forces and some of the Commonwealth Air Forces.
May I turn now to recruitment? One of the aspects of our recruitment drive to which my right hon. and learned Friend referred this afternoon and, which requires more attention, is the recruitment of aircrew personnel. My right hon. and learned Friend gave a good account of his stewardship in other directions and 282 we recognise that the Air Force has grown in strength by some 20,000-odd men. I was disappointed, however, to find that aircrew personnel have not been coming forward in the numbers for which we had hoped. Surely the daring and dash of aircrew life is something which has always appealed to our younger generation. I hope that my right hon. and learned Friend will try to stimulate this once again. There was a period during the last war when the Air Force came to be known as the glamour Service, and we should like to see some of this glamour again. Can there be more of the flying displays in various parts of the country such as was held this year at Farnborough? Does my right hon. and learned Friend propose to invite squadrons from schools and universities to attend these displays? Might that not encourage more interest in aircrew recruitment?
I think it has been proved in the last few months that present conditions of full employment, better pay and better conditions do not necessarily attract all the recruits we need. Nevertheless, as the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington said, one figure which has emerged today is the provision of 1,750 houses for regular serving airmen. Since we know that the housing programme of the Armed Forces (Housing Loans) Act is spread over five years, it is clear that it will be a very slow process if we are to attract recruits into the Air Force by the provision of houses.
I suggest to my right hon. and learned Friend that, within the limitations of materials and labour available, everything possible should be done to speed up this programme, and I ask him in particular to give some attention to the possibility of providing temporary accommodation. A great deal of expenditure is provided in these Estimates for allowances to personnel for living out. These can be saved if, in fact, we can have a drive for temporary accommodation.
My last word is to make a plea for the greatest possible integration of our Air Force within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation. It is quite evident that the cost which we are incurring, and which tonight we are supporting, is a very heavy one for this country to bear. If it can be shared, if we can have integration with our Western Allies, then I feel sure 283 that there need be no waste, there need be no uneconomical developments of the Air Force. We all recognise that our surest shield in defence will be the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, and I believe that it can ensure the most economical use of our own Air Force and those of our Allies.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ Mr. P. B. Lucas (Brentford and Chiswick)
I listened with great interest to the speech of the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire), with which I found much to agree; but I trust he will forgive me if I do not follow him in his argument tonight because I wish to address myself primarily to the development of the Soviet Air Force in its particular relation to Vote 7 of the Estimates which we are now considering, namely, the supply of our own aircraft and stores. For it is against this formidable array of Russian military aircraft that our preparations, and, indeed, our own preparedness, must now be set.
From the limited study—I repeat, limited study—which I have been able to make of this subject from such resources as are open to me in my humble capacity, I am driven to the conclusion that the expansion of the Soviet air force between 1945 and 1951 is comparable only with the development of the German air force between 1935 and 1939. Much has been written lately in the national and technical Press of both America and this country upon this subject, but as yet we have had, as the hon. Member for Wycombe indicated, no authoritative statement from the Government. The Prime Minister has said that the Russians have an air force of nearly 20,000 aircraft, but that, of itself, means very little; it could mean anything.
When I questioned the Secretary of State for Air upon one particular aspect of the Russian Air Force the other day he suggested that even if the answer were available it would not be in the public interest to provide it. I can clearly see that it is unwise to say too much; but so also I say it is unwise to say too little. People now are being asked to make great sacrifices; they are going to be asked to make greater sacrifices still. They want to know what they are up against, 284 and what the perils are; and I think they are becoming concerned today at the great increase in the strength of the Soviet air force.
It is clear, I believe, from a study of contemporary writers upon this subject, without any reference to unpublished facts, that a remarkable development is taking place in the Soviet air force at the present time. In order to understand it, it is necessary to appreciate what the Soviet inherited from Germany at the end of the late war. In 1945, it is pretty fair to say—and I think there will be, perhaps, a general measure of agreement upon this —that in aircraft design alone the Russians were, with one exception, three or four or five years behind ourselves, the Americans and the Germans. But I believe that a considerable portion of this gap has been bridged by their inheritance from the Germans. And here, I think, there is a fundamental misunderstanding.
The general belief at the end of the late war was that we were far ahead in the development of jet propulsion. The great Whittle invention—that engineering masterpiece—had, undoubtedly, given us the lead in design. That cannot be disputed. I would not dispute it; but I believe that in operational development and production of rocket and jet propelled aircraft the Germans were ahead of us. Consider the facts.
§ Mr. Lucas
I am coming to that point, if the hon. and learned Gentleman will bear with me. I am trying to develop the argument, and I trust that I shall satisfy him as I proceed. I think, as I was saying, that the general belief is that we were far ahead in jet propulsion. My personal view is that in the actual production and operational development of jet propelled aircraft the Germans were, in fact, in front. By the end of 1944, we had one squadron of jet propelled aircraft in the line of battle, the Meteors. As I was earlier privileged to command that squadron, I feel hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the 285 House will appreciate that it is not my intention to disparage in any way the remarkable achievements of that squadron, but I consider it is only fair and just to say that this unit—although it was in the order of battle first in this country against the flying bomb and later in Holland after the victorious sweep of the armies through the Low Countries— was designed more for its propaganda worth than for its operational value.
At the same time, late in 1944, while we had just this handful of jet propelled aircraft, the Germans had available 300 jet or rocket propelled aircraft on the Western Front—enough for eight or 10 first class squadrons. Under the weight and pressure of Allied bombing they were pressing forward with jet and rocket development, but most significant of all, was the fact that by the end of 1944, as far as we can see, their production of jet and rocket propelled aircraft had reached the figure of some 200 a month.
In 1945 many of these fruits of research and development in Germany's aircraft industry became potentially available to the Russians. The Heinkel factory at Rostock, the Dornier factory at Wismar, the Junkers factory at Dessau, the Messerschmitt works at Prague and at Gotha, in Silesia and in Hungary. All these, together with designers, technicians and blue prints became potentially available to the Russians. However ironical this may seem, it is necessary for us to consider these acquisitions.
Air Chief Marshal Sir Guy Garrod, who knows more about these things than I do, in a speech on 19th December last, said:The British public must be warned of the menace of the Russian air force… As regards fighter aircraft, information which is available makes it quite certain that the Russians have extremely advanced types flying, some of them in service, and that, for the next three years, at least equal in speed and manoeuvrability to any which the Royal Air Force will have in service.Coming from the Air Chief Marshal these are indeed strong words.
There seem to me to be three particularly interesting features of the Soviet air force which, in relation to Vote 7, of these Estimates, appear to assume great importance. First of all, there is 286 the speed with which they have advanced in aerodynamic design; second, the fact that they have a four-engined jet bomber flying; third, the suggested rate of production of their front line military aircraft. I should like to take these three features into consideration.
I shall not attempt to weary the House with any technicalities of design. All I say is that it appears the Russians have had swept-wing fighters of an advanced design, with all that that means, in service for nearly two years. One Russian-built type we know has been operated in Korea, and it is believed that others are now in service in Russia. Yet at this time the Royal Air Force—and I think it is necessary that we should consider this tonight—has no British swept-wing fighter in squadron service.
One of the outstanding wing-leaders of the Royal Air Force in the late war has recently been observing in Korea— I am inclined to think he has been doing something more than just observing. This most experienced officer, whose word on the subject of aircraft I personally respect very greatly, is reported publicly as saying of the Russian-built MiG-15:It is as good or equal to the American Sabre jet. The Sabre is the best fighter in the Western world. The MiG-15 will give it a good run for its money.In plain words, that means that if the Russians were to attack in Western Europe this summer there would be no British fighter in the Royal Air Force squadrons equal in performance to the MiG-15. I understand the indications are that the production of this aircraft may now be reaching some 200 a month, with a potential and possible monthly capacity of some 400.
But the story does not end here. There are American reports—and I repeat that my information is based on facts published in the technical Press of Britain and America—of two later single-seat fighters, the YAK-25 and the Lovochkin-17. The indications are that the YAK-25 is superior in performance even to the MiG-15 which has been so highly praised. There are further suggestions of a twin jet fighter-bomber in service based on the Messerschmitt-262 and the later plans of the Messerschmitt-363. There 287 are also reports of tests being pressed forward with all vigour with the YAK-21 and a rocket-propelled fighter developed from the German experimental aircraft the Junkers 8–248.
Lest I might appear to be pessimistic let me say at once that, in my own mind, I have no doubt that the genius of the British aircraft industry, given the right opportunity and the right lead, will find the answer to these problems. Indeed, it is my own opinion that they have already found the answer in the fighter field with the development of the Hawker 1081 and the Supermarine 535. I am sure that hon. Members on both sides who saw these aircraft fly at Farn-borough in the great R.A.F. display last summer will agree that in this field we shall lead again, as surely as we once led with the Spitfire and Hurricane. It is the plain duty of the Government to press forward and get these British aircraft into British squadrons as quickly as they can. Personally, I am very glad indeed of the possibility of the North American Sabre becoming available in this dangerous interim period, but I say it is the development of the Hawker 1081 and the Supermarine 535 that we want in our own squadrons.
My next point relating to the Soviet air force concerns the considerable progress they have made in their jet bombers, particularly in the advance of their four-engined jet aircraft. Perhaps whoever winds up for the Government can confirm or deny this, but from what we can see they apparently have had a prototype of the Ilyushin-16 flying since 1947. From what we know of the time it takes to get an aircraft from the drawing board into the squadrons, I would say that the Russians must very soon be thinking about bringing this aircraft into service.
The Minister of Defence has indicated that orders have been placed for our own four-engined jet bomber, and that is very good news; but it has not yet flown, and it must be three or four years away from the squadrons—and this at a time when the Russians may well be bringing their aircraft into service, and at a time when our heavy bomber strength rests on a force of obsolete aircraft.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes
Is not all this elaborate description of the power of the Russian air force an extraordinary tribute to the efficiency of industry and invention under Russian Communism?
§ Mr. Lucas
I thought I had made it clear in my opening remarks that it was my belief that much of this Russian development had been born out of German engineering ability and genius, which I personally think has made a great contribution to the present position in Russian air strength.
My third and last point concerns production, and on this I must say I am very concerned. Wing Commander Asher Lee, who had a great deal of experience in the intelligence service at the Air Ministry in the late war, whose work was of such infinite value to the British and American Air Forces, has written a book entitled "The Soviet Air Force." It was published last year, and of production he says:The capacity of the [Russian] aircraft industry, including the satellite countries, enables it to produce between 30,000 and 50,000 planes a year, and it is doing so… It can be taken with certainty that the Soviet are producing not less than 7,500 single and twin-jet aircraft a year.I am not so concerned with the over-all output of aircraft as I am with the production of advanced military types. If it is true that the Russians are producing approximately 7,500 jet aircraft a year, then I say that these are indeed sinister figures. Their importance can only be seen when they are related to British and German production at the end of the last war.
In 1944 the approximate monthly output of service aircraft in Germany was between 2,000 and 2,500; in Britain it was of the order of 2,500—a bit more than it was in Germany. Now it is suggested that the Russian monthly output of front line military aircraft is between 1,500 and 1,700, and that approximately 600 of these are single or twin-jet aircraft. It is interesting to consider at this stage that in 1939, on the outbreak of war, when the Germans were pressing forward for all they were worth with the production of front line military aircraft, they were producing 800 a month, or half the apparent and suggested present Russian figure.
289 In the light of such comparisons I think we are entitled to ask ourselves: What is our paramount concern today? I say it is without any doubt the security of this British island, and with it the defence of the whole of the land mass west of the River Elbe, for this is most important to our defence in depth. But in our endeavour to secure our own defence let us bewar of concentrating too much upon short-range low-endurance defensive fighter aircraft and not enough upon the establishment of a long-range striking force. The development of rocket and jet propulsion, in all its modern and most hideous forms has increased immeasurably the difficulties of interception by fighters alone; and the more I think of this problem—and I have given it a great deal of thought in recent months—the more certain do I become that the place to meet modern aerial attack is at its source
Lord Trenchard, with all the weight which his authority can bring, has said in a letter to "The Times":The vital over-riding defensive measure to prevent war and in the event of war to win it, is an overwhelming, unchallengeable Air Force of long-range machines.There must be, I take it, some over-all strategic concept with the United States— and in reply the right hon. Gentleman may be able to say something in general terms about this—regarding the responsibility for long-range bombing. I believe that the whole conception of strategic attack in these and future days must be planned on a global and not on a continental basis. I do not believe that we can leave this to the Americans alone. Should a supreme emergency arise in the next year or two, we must be prepared within the British Empire to make our own contribution in this field on a fair basis with the Americans.
In 1942, the moment when Allied bombing compelled the Germans to concentrate on fighter production to the detriment of their bomber production, we knew that we were round the corner, and thereafter we got the upper hand. The confirmation of the effect of our air superiority came, of all places, from the German army. One does not expect it to come from the army. It was Field Marshal Von Rundstedt who said: "Air 290 power was the first decisive factor in German's defeat."
So I say, let us profit from this experience. And while the strength of the Soviet air force grows daily, let us resolve with Lord Trenchard thatthe vital, over-riding defensive measure… is an Air Force of long-range machines,and in the interests of national security let us provide these aircraft while time still remains.
§ 6.2 p.m.
§ Mr. Shackleton (Preston, South)
When I heard the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. P. B. Lucas) beginning his speech, I did not feel inclined to take his words on the strength of the Russian air force with much seriousness, but I must confess that as I listened to him I found that he had gone a long way towards convincing me of some of the facts which he was presenting. One of the points which was of particular interest to me was his reference to Wing Commander Asher Lee, who knew more about the German Air Force during the last war than probably any other man in any country. I found the figures he gave rather alarming. I do not propose to go into that, not because I am not interested, or that I would attempt to deny the seriousness of the hon. Gentleman's remarks, but because there are other points which I want to make.
I would say one thing which I think should be of some encouragement in the present situation vis-à-visa possible attack from Russia, and that is that, although undoubtedly from what has been said there is great strength in their fighter force, men who had experience in the last war in the Royal Air Force will realise that the provision of fighter squadrons is quite different from the provision of effective long-range bomber squadrons. The duties that bomber crews are called upon to perform, the navigational skill and so on, call for a much higher form of team work—and I am not deprecating the activities of the people in Fighter Command—and for a much higher level of educational standard throughout the community, and of training, which did not exist in the last war in the Russian air force. Indeed, their bombing units in the last war were of very little account at all, and no 291 amount of provision of new aircraft will overcome the difficulty which they will have in providing the highly-skilled personnel which will be necessary to man that long-range bomber air force. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will perhaps agree with me that there is some point in that statement, not that I wish in any way to deprecate the seriousness of the situation.
I should like to deal with a number of points which have been raised in debate. First, I want to refer to the Canberra. I am sorry to see that the hon. Member for Preston, North (Mr. Amery), has left the Chamber, but since I am the Member for Preston, South. I may say that we take a great pride in the fact that the Canberra is manufactured in Preston by English Electric. It is a remarkable achievement because up to that date this firm had not hitherto designed aircraft themselves. It is a source of satisfaction to the country that at least in that field we have produced an aircraft which is second to none in the world.
Leading on from the reference to the Canberra, I want to take up a remark of the Minister when he was referring to the use of the Canberra in photographic reconnaissance. He was careful to stress that photographic reconnaissance work was of the greatest importance, as he said, for Bomber Command. I am sure that that was a slip on his part. I think that he will realise that photographic reconnaissance is of the utmost importance not only for Bomber Command but for every branch of the Armed Forces, and not least the Navy. I remember the agonies which we went through in trying to watch the "Gneisenau" and the "Scharnhorst" in Brest, until at last they both slipped out and were a long way up the Channel before anyone knew. I am encouraged by the remark of the Minister that photographic reconnaissance is certainly much in his mind, and I congratulate some hon. Members opposite for having impressed this matter on him so successfully on a previous occasion.
I should now like to turn to the question of Coastal Command. It is a subject, I know, which comes up very regularly. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire) raised it, as I do, and rather 292 reluctantly I feel obliged to refer to the Shackleton. The reason I do so is to protest against the aircraft which is undoubtedly a Lincoln, being called by any other name. Having said that, may I say that my family appreciate the honour which has been done to them in using this name. The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) and the hon. Member for Wycombe referred to the fact that faster U-boats called for faster aircraft, but I would point out that the fact remains that there is yet no U-boat that can catch an aircraft. Indeed, it is of no concern how fast a U-boat travels. That has no effect on the speed of the aircraft. What is of importance is that the aircraft should have long endurance. Indeed, the smaller the aircraft and the longer it can stay up, broadly speaking, the better it is from Coastal Command point of view, and to this extent the Shackleton, like the Sunderland, will, I believe, be very suitable, provided it has the endurance.
It is interesting to note hon. Gentlemen opposite making these pleas for flying boats. During the war the Boating Union was a strongly organised body in Coastal Command, and there will always be people who want flying boats. One has the same sort of sentimental feeling for the flying boat as, I suppose, the Navy has for its battleships. There are great operational conveniences in connection with the flying boat, and however far it is necessary at this stage to drop development of them, I hope, nonetheless, that the technique and operation of flying boats will not disappear entirely from the Air Force.
I hope that it will be possible to get back at least some units equipped with flying boats, because this controversy of land versussea taking-off aircraft is one which, in my opinion, is by no means settled. New developments in the future may return us to the flying boat. In this connection, in view of the possibility of U-boat warfare, I should have liked at this point to go at more length into the whole question of the strength of the Russian U-boat fleet, but since I am hoping to make an incursion into the debate on the Naval Estimates, if I am fortunate enough to catch Mr. Speaker's eye, I shall reserve my remarks until then.
293 I would point out to hon. Members opposite and to the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) when talking about the strength of the Russian U-boat fleet that since they admit that their sources of information are "Jane's" and the naval annuals they should compare the pre-war "Jane's" with the postwar "Jane's." They will find exactly the same U-boats in the 1939"Jane's"as they will find in the 1950"Jane's."A number of these types were there before the war, and from the operational point of view they are of no threat whatsoever in the event of a possible war. I am prepared to say that with the greatest conviction, because I believe that the real menace will only come from new U-boats in the event of new types being available, and I do not believe that there are many of these or that many are likely to be deployed in the near future in a possible war.
On the subject of Coastal Command, I wish to ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether he has anything to say on the position in regard to joint air-naval liaison, particularly in the area combined headquarters. This is an annual plea of mine, that the Navy and the Air Force should be mixed up operationally as far as possible, and that it should be possible for the Navy to serve on Coastal Command stations and for the Air Force to go to sea. I believe it to be of the greatest importance to do that now, because there will not be time to do it in war.
I wish to comment briefly on the question of personnel and recruiting for the Royal Air Force. One of the problems the Minister has been up against in getting recruits is the conditions which National Service men find at certain Air Force stations. We all know of these stations. I am sure that other Members have been approached by constituents, perhaps by earnest fathers who have themselves served in the Air Force and wish to see their sons serving in the Air Force, but who are discouraged from doing so by their experience at their first Air Force station. I know a good number of these stations, but it would be unfair to mention them because the difficulties are not necessarily due to the commanding officers.
I urge my right hon. Friend to do his utmost to improve the amenities at stations where conditions are known to 294 be bad. I urge him to give real priority in trying to improve conditions and to compensate to some extent for the wide dispersal in an area where there is very little by way of recreation. I am sure that this is something that will help him in his problem in getting recruits.
There is little doubt that the new trades structure in the Air Force is a great success from what I have heard of it, and other hon. Members have no doubt had a similar experience. It has been exceedingly well received, as have naturally the new rates of pay. Is there any way by which something similar to the trades structure for the ranks could be made available for officers? I realise that the situation is quite different, but there are a number of officers, many of whom are ex-pilots, serving in ground trades who want to make the Royal Air Force a career but are bogged down on the question of rank, knowing that it will be years before they can get any promotion—not all can scale the greater heights. I suggest that there should be some additional incentive.
I know that there are difficulties and that there are increases in the rates of pay as the years pass. I suggest that this idea should be considered and, if at all possible, should be extended. There should be some sort of recognition for proficiency, even if promotion does not necessarily follow. If something could be done on these lines, it might help some of these people who might become disgruntled.
There is one other aspect connected with ground trades, particularly in the light of the Class G call-up, and that is the position of intelligence officers. During the last war it was necessary very rapidly to fill this branch of the Service largely from amateurs. I suggest that some sort of reserve in this field should be built up. I know that men can join the R.A.F.V.R., but I hope there are some who would be willing to go into this branch in the event of war, men who are unable now to take on an annual training commitment for good reasons of their own. It would be a good thing if some of these men were being called up under the Class G Reserve. I suggest that as an example to the country some Members should be called under Class G. I am quite sure that Members on both sides would be 295 only too willing to go into the Air Force and play their part and show their willingness to contribute towards the preparedness of the country.
My right hon. Friend made a few remarks on the A.T.C. I would urge him to consider the expenditure of more money when the time comes to make greater use of the funds which will be available under the extended scheme of military preparedness. As far as I can see from the Estimates, it is proposed to spend £260,000 to £270,000 on the A.T.C. and the Combined Cadet Force. This is again a very important source of supply, particularly for aircrew. The money may well be spent, particularly on developing some of the week-end flying and, above all, on the A.T.C. scholarship schemes to which the Minister referred. I believe these scholarship schemes to be of very great value. They provide a tremendous incentive to efficiency in the A.T.C, and they are a useful method of selecting people in advance for aircrew, because it will be possible to judge aptitude in the course of that scholarship air training. I believe that an increase in the money spent on the A.T.C. at this moment will well repay the Air Force and the country.
There is a small matter on which I should like to make a protest. It is already causing a good deal of bitterness among the Air Force personnel who are serving in neighbouring aerodromes to the Navy that the Navy are able to obtain their cigarettes and liquor at a much lower price than the Air Force. Personally, I think it is quite disgraceful that the Navy should have this privilege at all, but if they are to have it, then the Air Force should also have it. I hope that my right hon. Friend will bear this in mind. I understand that this concession applies to those serving in the Navy while at sea, where special conditions apply, but I understand that their concession has been reduced in order to spread it over those on land as well as at sea. I suggest that this principle should be adopted throughout the Services and that everyone should benefit equally.
§ Mr. Shackleton
I shall have a chance to develop this, I hope, on another occasion.
296 In conclusion, I should like to return to the basic problem that confronts us all, the fact that we have to debate air matters under the cloak of security. I do not see how this difficulty is ever to be resolved. Whatever Government is in power, there is no doubt that the Opposition will invariably complain that they are being given no information. There will always be a good deal of truth in it. One thing is quite certain, and that is that no information should be given which could be any indication of our order of battle. I am quite certain that that is something of the utmost military importance, something which the Germans did not have in the last war to their great misfortune, when they grossly miscalculated the strength of the Royal Air Force in the days leading up to the Battle of Britain.
At the same time, I support the pleas from the other side of the House that the Minister will join with the Minister of Defence and will really have a go at the Chiefs of Staff to see if there is not a bit more information they can give. I am sure that the broad categories of security have to be safeguarded, but when I hear some of the points which come out quite casually, sometimes in answer to questions and sometimes in reply to cross-examination by the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden), I think that there might be some more information available. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend not to allow the Chiefs of Staff always to put the veil of secrecy over everything.
In conclusion I should like to congratulate the Minister and the Royal Air Force on the undoubted advance that has been made in re-armament. Our rearmament programme is essentially something which cannot be completed overnight. It is a long-term plan, and it will not be until next year or the year after that we shall see the full fruits of our present planning. It is also obvious now that there are certain real accretions to the strength of the Royal Air Force and the country and we should be very grateful for those at a time when the danger, although it may not be very near, is none the less real, and could suddenly arise in circumstances in which the Royal Air Force will be called upon to meet the first onslaught and play a decisive part in protecting this country.
§ 6.21 p.m.
§ Surgeon Lieut-Commander Bennett (Gosport and Fareham)
The hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) has raised a number of interesting points, at which none of us would cavil very much, and I should like to support a number of his observations. He certainly had a lot to say about Coastal Command and he has every right to say it, but I should like to take him up on the question of flying boats and with him the Government, because it seems to me that it is a post-war phenomenon that the flying boat is simply fading out of our civil and military aviation. Surely we should consider whether in the unforeseen contingencies of war we shall always be able to produce air strips of strength and of a thick weight-bearing nature wherever we want them, whereas the flying boat can operate from the most obscure places without any arrangement beforehand. I therefore plead with the Under-Secretary that we should have flying boats, not from their aesthetic point of view, but for the useful work for which they are most essential and because they are compatible with our seafaring traditions.
The hon. Member for Preston, South, mentioned with scepticism the Russian U-boats which, of course, do not strictly come under the Air Estimates, but are covered by Coastal Command when it exists. The hon. Member will not deny that the Russians have inherited them as they have inherited the German aircraft industry or very much of it, and it is giving rise to results such as were mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). In addition, they have also got the skill and the production of the navy yards of the old German Navy, and have been able to take on where the Germans left off.
The most recent information which has come to me reveals that such submarines as may exist will no doubt include those fast electrolytic ones and the high speed battery submarine, and they are very largely to be manned by Germans and not by Russians, a not very pleasant or hopeful thing to hear. I certainly support the remarks of the hon. Gentleman about liaison between the Navy and Coastal Command. I had an intimate acquaintance with the Western Approaches during 298 the war, and I know where the snags tended to crop up, as indeed they did. We have on both sides a certain amount which is bound to create controversy, particularly in the matter of ship recognition. We have the heroic story of the Herefords flying out to attack H.M.S. "Walker" when that vessel was watching the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" and only leaving off when they were attacked by a force of Messerschmitt 101s. Then we know the story of the attack which was unfortunately carried out by a squadron of Swordfish aircraft from the "Ark Royal" on the "Sheffield" when that vessel was shadowing the "Bismark." I believe that in these Services, ship recognition should be encouraged until each Service is acquainted with the other so that they can act as one, although the "light blues" and the "dark blues" live under different conditions, some on the bounding deep and some on terra firma.
We have heard from the hon. Member about recruits and the conditions which greet them when they arrive at an Air Force station. I should like to direct the attention of the House to a very disconcerting phenomenon which undoubtedly does occur, and that is where headmasters of schools turn up their noses at the idea of the entry of a young man into the Royal Air Force and sneer at the R.A.F. as a career for a boy leaving school. That is where most harm has been done in the past. I have heard of such instances, and surely we must attempt to educate the educator in this respect. The best way to do so is to make it quite clear that the Service conditions will be those suitable for a full career.
We have also had complaints about the A.T.C., and I should like the Under-Secretary to understand the grievance of the many young men, who have joined the A.T.C. and have energetically followed its courses, giving up a lot of their spare time for it. It is that they find themselves liable to be drafted into the Army. Could we not have some assurance that the young enthusiasts for aircraft will be allowed to continue when they are called up for National Service and will be able to go into the Air Force and not the Army. If there is no such safeguard, may I suggest that it be made now.
We have heard many remarks about the atomic age. This has been called the atomic age and the atom bomb has been 299 [SURGEON LIEUT.-COMMANDER BENNETT.] called the ultimate weapon. One thing that we want to bear in mind is that the atom bomb may be a very powerful weapon, but it is not going to be any good unless it is transported to its destination. The atomic bomb is useless in America or England unless we have the aircraft that will take it to the proper place. That indeed seems to be the weakness of the present situation.
As regards conditions in modern warfare and the part which air power will play, which may well be conclusive, I cannot do better than quote my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition who made some remarks on the subject when addressing the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on 31st March, 1939. The words which he used then sum up the situation:Air mastery is today the supreme expression of military power, and fleets and armies, however, necessary, must accept a subordinate rank.I cannot feel that any degree of complacency is appropriate at the present time at the fact that the Air Force gets one-third of the Estimates for the Fighting Services. I am inclined to feel that the function of air power is paramount and is going to be the biggest factor in any future struggle or in any near struggle. We know that in any future war conquest of the air over the enemy's territory will be the first thing necessary.
I, personally, am not of the opinion that air power means that we shall be in a position in which we can drop bombs on the enemy. I feel that conquest of the air over the enemy's territory will have to be fought for, and that we must have aircraft of much longer range. Indeed, in the future we shall have to have aircraft of global range, and those aircraft will not necessarily be bombers and fighters but battleships and cruisers of the air, which will only fly in after the defeat of the enemy force, which will get our own bombers through to detroy his bases, his factories and the source of his air power as well as the source of the rest of his military strength.
I feel sure that the large long-range aircraft is the weapon that we need. We must have a large, independent air force, a strategic air force, of aircraft of that kind We do not want to restrict ourselves by failure to develop the longest-range machines, leading to bloody battles 300 for atolls, the sort of fighting that occurred during the last war when we were fighting for bases, and in which we suffered most of our losses. We had far fewer losses in actually punishing the enemy. We want to have long-range aircraft of global range developed from the very first. Apart from those, we need fighters.
What have we in the way of the bombers that we need? We have the Canberra, an excellent aircraft but surely a bit of a fly-weight for the undertakings that we are considering. We have heard with a degree of satisfaction that orders have been placed for four-jet bombers comparable with those that Russia has been operating for some time. During the last war we used four-engined aircraft as bombers. During the 1914–18 war we used twin-engined bombers. In the future we may have a few more engines and produce aicraft of sufficient size to have the range we need.
When engine efficiency has been developed sufficiently, no doubt the actual size of the aircraft will be diminished, but we need not hamstring ourselves by sticking to four-engined aircraft. The B.36 which is operated in this country has no fewer than 10 engines, and it does not seem to suffer from having all those engines by having a short range. I ask the Under-Secretary of State to direct his attention to this matter in the future and also to the question of having full-sized aircraft of strategic value.
We have said in this House that the bombers that exist are either the old propeller-driven aircraft of 1945 vintage, or the American ten-engined bombers. Are we to consider ourselves entirely dependent upon the United States for bombers for some years until, after, say, three or four years, the four-jet bomber, such as it is, may come into service with us? Have we a joint programme with the United States in which the United States provides the bombers and we provide the fighters, and other nations perhaps come in as well? If we have such a joint programme may I ask the Under-Secretary of State: Where are the fighters that we ought to be producing? Surely we have reached rock bottom in this matter.
We are told that we have a very large number of fighters, more than we had in September, 1939. Where are they, and 301 what kind are they? We know that there are plenty of Vampires and Meteors, but the Meteor was breaking the world's speed record six years ago. We know about the Venom but surely that is a night fighter. What fighters have we in this country to carry us over the next few years before these wonderful drawing-board aircraft come into existence? Surely the Russians are not likely to wait patiently until these drawing-board aircraft are produced.
Is it not a fact that this country is, under the present regime, actually dependent upon the Americans not only for bombers but for fighters too? Is it not a fact that we shall require these Sabres? We know there is a lack of strength in our fighter forces in this country, when we discover that the aircraft which was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas), the MiG-15, and other aircraft, have a performance which has been described by an expert in these matters as equal to that of the Sabre. Is it not a fact that British fighers now in service are actually 100 miles an hour slower than the MiG-15, which is in quantity production? That is my belief and I should like to be disabused of that belief if I am wrong.
On the subject of the MiG-15 it has been asked whether the aircraft is in fact driven by a Junkers type of axial or centrifugal engine. The answer appears to to be unknown, but there is no reason to suppose that the MiG-15 is a Junkers derivative or a Nene derivative. We know that the Russians are not very happy about their production of turbo-driven types and regard their engines as expendable after flying for about 300 hours.
I should like the Under-Secretary to inform the House about the specifications for the special alloys going to Russia. Possibly this has been the greatest disservice that has ever been done to this country in this matter. We know that Whittle has told us that we have saved the Russians up to 14 years' research in connection with aerojet engine development by giving them the "know-how."
§ Mr. Shackleton
Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman suggesting that the details and the methods of making those alloys were given to the Russians? If so what evidence has he for making that suggestion?
§ Surgeon Lieut-Commander Bennett
I was asking a question whether the specifications have gone. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman who interrupted me will ask the Minister a question on that point.
We want to know what is happening in Transport Command and whether the run-down has been halted, and there is to be an upward swing. We have seen no evidence of that and we have certain misgivings about the way air charter companies have been treated. They have been progressively snuffed out by what we consider to be the unfair competition of the Corporation, and they have not the strength now to supply Transport Command with the reinforcements that are required. I should like to know when the Shackleton is coming into service on Coastal Command, but I must deplore the excrescences that seem to decorate that honourable aeroplane all over.
It seems that we in this country have been sabre-rattling, talking big and doing little in this air programme, and that we shall continue to do so for some time to come. With all respect to the very courteous and amiable gentleman who is the Secretary of State for Air, he may reasonably be described as "Big chief. Him big smoke but no fire." If we are sabre-rattling like this, it is my submission that we are rattling in an empty scabbard at the moment, and that every time we do it, the Russians can come back on us with very real reinforcements, not paper ones. I have the least possible confidence in the way in which the Government are conducting the development of our Air Force and its deployment. Even though we are at peace—heaven knows none of us wants war—the time and money which are being spent could be very much better used. I hope that we shall sooner or later get a new Administration that will use it better.
§ 6.40 p.m.
§ Mr. Tomney (Hammersmith, North)
Most hon. Members who have spoken have been members of the Forces, but if a contribution made by a civilian is of any assistance, I want to make that contribution, and I shall base it primarily on operational efficiency, the standard of technical equipment and the necessity for developing technical resources and educating the men to the needs of those who man the equipment. We give all credit to the men who flew the machines in the 303 Battle of Britain, but another battle was going on behind the scenes, and that was chiefly concerned with the manning of the machines and keeping them in the air. One of the most important factors at that time was the installation, the efficiency and the performance of electronic equipment in Spitfires and Hurricanes——
§ Mr. J. N. Browne (Glasgow, Govan)
On a point of order. Is the hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), attempting to make my speech for me on my Amendment calling attention to the need for improving the standard of technical personnel in the Royal Air Force?
§ Mr. Tomney
I want to bring to the notice of the Committee the importance to the Fighting Services of electronic equipment. The remarks that I make about the Royal Air Force could equally well be made about the other Services. Despite the educational schemes instituted by the Ministry and the co-operation between headmasters, there is something lacking in the standards of technicians recruited for the Air Force. They may have the "know-how," but they have not the "know-all" background from the factory.
Electronic equipment, which is the brain of the Fighting Services, should be the subject of closer co-operation between the Ministry, the manufacturers and the education authorities. Its production is concentrated chiefly in the hands of a few manufacturers, and I know of no machinery and equipment for testing, development and exploration in the Air Force or Air Force establishments and depots comparable to that in industry. Radar and submarine detection apparatus were two matters of technical importance resulting from good performance by industry which sustained our Forces during the war, but there seems to be no link between the Ministry and industry which is concerned with the manufacture of transmitting valves, cathode-ray tubes and electronic apparatus for radar.
Technicians go to the universities and then to the factories. They attain a certain standard of excellence, but, because of the narrow scope and the limited advancement possible, they are unable to progress as quickly as they would like. 304 I should like to see a special range of scholarship instituted on behalf of the Royal Air Force for these people so that the knowledge and skill which they gain in the factories can be taken into the Royal Air Force, where there should be a central technical chief who would have under his command a full technical staff well grounded in the manufacture of electronic equipment. I have seen how some Service men can knock valuable equipment about. If there was a better understanding of what is involved in the manufacture, more care would be taken in the actual use of this equipment.
I do not agree with the right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) that the Sabre has a better performance than certain types of British aircraft. If it is necessary for the integration of the Fighting Services that we should have the use of American jet aircraft or vice versa,we should make sure that the radio and electronic equipment going into the aircraft is of British design and manufacture. It was suggested just after the war that scientific development for war purposes in this field should in future be vested in the United States. I should deprecate any suggestion of that character. The equipment we manufacture is of the highest possible standard, and even the Americans would admit that. When they came into the war they quickly installed our radar systems, which they found to be superior to their own.
I am not at all sure that the standard of the MiG-15 is what was stated by the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). It is obvious that, as he stated, German technicians who were shanghaied into Russia have been at work. They may produce excellent prototypes, but the progress that they will make in bringing those prototypes into production must be a matter of conjecture. The industrial might of this country and the United States is far in excess of anything which the Russians can attain. The Russians may have 400 or 500 front-line aircraft of that type, but their production-line capacity is far inferior to anything of ours and I do not think that we need have any undue worry on that score. Until these machines are tested in actual performance, we cannot arrive at any conclusions.
I am sure we shall agree that in air warfare, which is essentially a matter of 305 personal combat, no matter how good the man is his machine must be better. I agree that we must use every endeavour to promote better and better standards. I do not know the capabilities of American manufacturers of aircraft, but I do know that during the war when they were charged with the responsibility for putting the Rolls-Royce Merlin on the production line and they saw the prototype, they did not believe that such a machine was possible, and they did not believe that it could be done. Whatever we do, let us not sacrifice the excellence of British equipment to American design or production methods. That would be fatal.
In the Battle of Britain the pilots relied on their machines because they knew that they were good. Future fliers must also have that reliance, and we must ensure that they know that their machines are the best that British industry can produce and are better than anything else in the world. Despite the drawbacks that we may have, if we can do that, we shall have achieved our major battle because the morale of the man in the air is paramount.
I know that I have introduced a new note into this debate, but I was concerned in the production of this electrical equipment with the backroom boys during the last war. I know how nearly we lost the Battle of Britain, not through pilots, not through machines, but because, when the planes were landing, we had to solve the difficulty of making the filaments strong enough in the transmitting valves to sustain the shock. Everyone was working many hours of the day; and I know what is going on today. If hon. Members also knew they would be as satisfied as I am. I left the workshop only 12 months ago and I know that the work is of excellent quality.
Let us not surrender this vital field, the brains of the Fighting Services. The Navy have always recognised it. At Portsmouth they put in their own production plant for testing signalling valves. No doubt they have had to depend on signalling more than the Army and Air Force. That is why I appeal to the Minister for a director general of technical education in the Air Force who will be responsible, if necessary, for the recruitment from industry of technicians with electronic knowledge. If that is done, 306 and if ever hostilities commence, we can be sure that the machines in the air are equal to the men and that the brains behind the machines are as good as we can get them.
§ 6.52 p.m.
§ Sir Peter Macdonald (Isle of Wight)
The hon. Member for Hammersmith, North (Mr. Tomney), has dealt with one aspect of our discussion which is extremely interesting in view of his special knowledge of the subject. It is one to which I hope the Government will pay attention, because it is vital to the future of our Air Force that we should pay more attention to the radar side of our Fighting Forces than we have done in the last few years. I have been shocked at some of the reports I have read about how the radar service has been neglected since the war. I was still more shocked to learn the other day that £50,000 worth of equipment had been stolen from an air station where, obviously, it had been left unguarded for a considerable time.
I want to know how much attention is being paid to that service, because I had a report about a year ago that at many stations radar equipment, so vital to our defence, was being neglected, allowed to rust, and left exposed to anybody who wanted to take it away.
§ Mr. Tomney
The point made by the hon. Gentleman is quite right, but it is the quality of the materials that matters, especially of copper for high vacuum work. It is so valuable that every ounce should be salvaged.
§ Sir P. Macdonald
That is the point I am trying to make. The quality of our radar equipment after the war was second to none in the world. It was vital that we should have preserved it but I am afraid, from reports I have had from various sources, that this is not being done. Should another war occur we might find ourselves, at the beginning of it, in a perilous position because of that neglect.
I intend, in the short time I shall detain the House, to deal with another aspect of our debate, to which reference has been made, but somewhat sketchily, especially by the Secretary of State. I expected that the right hon. and learned Gentleman would make a statement today about the Princess flying boat. When he referred to Coastal Command I thought then that 307 we should hear something about what I consider to be vital to this maritime nation—flying boats, which have played a great part in the hunting of submarines in the past. I was amazed to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman say that there was no prospect of any flying boats being used for this purpose by Coastal Command. If that is so, I consider it to be a serious thing. There may be a few old Sunderlands, but they are so out of date that they are not being used. Would it not be possible to adapt the abandoned Solent for that purpose? It is a tragedy that this side of our aircraft industry has been so neglected in recent years.
A couple of years' ago, at Farnborough, the machine which startled everybody and stole the show, was not a land plane at all but a jet fighter flying boat. Air attachés from all over the world considered it the most astonishing feature of the show. Certainly, it put up a tremendous performance. Why has that machine been neglected? Only three were ordered. Only one exists today. I believe that that is exactly the type of fighter which is wanted at present in the Royal Air Force, and this is confirmed by many of my friends in the Service.
For instance, the only aerodrome at Hong Kong might be put out of action overnight. In that case where should we operate from? The S.R.A.1 is just the type of machine which is of vital importance in an operation of that kind or anywhere else in the Far East, if only the people in charge of the Air Ministry had had the foresight to order a couple of squadrons of them at that time. Is any other type of flying boat being developed? Only about two firms in Britain today make them. One happens to be in my constituency. I have no personal interest apart from that, but I have had an opportunity of seeing what work they are doing, and they are doing a magnificent job in trying to develop new military types. They did not get much encouragement for the S.A.R.l. They are still trying to produce types, still without much encouragement, but they are building the Princess flying boat.
I have read certain newspaper reports to the effect that these are being taken over by the Royal Air Force. I hope that is true. If so, why did not the Minister say so? It is important to the 308 House that we should know. My right hon. Friend the Member for Warwick and Leamington asked questions about it. What is the mystery that the Minister should make no reference to it? I ask whoever winds up the debate to tell us what is to happen to the Princess flying boat. Further, what steps are being taken to develop new military types of flying boats? I am quite convinced that the time will come when we shall have to rely upon flying boats in the many parts of the world which we have to defend.
It is certainly true that with the growth of size and weight of the land plane, the cost of building aerodromes and concrete runways is becoming so prohibitive, especially as the distance required for the latter is so long, that many countries will not be able to afford to put them down. I was out in Africa not long ago when somebody arrived from B.O.A.C. to choose an aerodrome to take the new Comet. There are countries in Central Africa—I will not name them—which have small budgets and cannot afford to put down aerodromes or runways which will take these heavy aircraft. That makes it all the more vital that we should have flying boats which can operate from lakes or stretches of sea, without incurring the extreme cost of putting down great runways.
I hope that some attention will be paid to this matter by the Minister and that he will give us some idea of what is happening and what part flying boats will play in the future history of the defence of this country.
§ 7.1 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn (Yarmouth)
I do not propose to delay the House very long. I should have liked to refer to almost every topic which has been mentioned in this debate, for they have all been very interesting. In fact, I feel that most of the topics which have been mentioned by hon. Members have been more interesting than the facts which have come from the official source.
I join with hon. Members who have said that in these air debates since the end of the war we have overdone this secrecy business. There are at this moment people in various embassies who know far more about these matters than we ourselves do. I myself favour the adoption of some system similar to that 309 which is followed by some of our Allies. I should like hon. Members to meet the Secretary of State and some of his high officials, as some of us already have at some gatherings in this House, and talk round a table; we should be treated as grown-ups and we should be given a certain amount of confidence, since we have the interest of the country at heart. There are many of us who know something about these matters, and we should not let the country down.
We have to rely often on reports in newspapers about the performance of Russian aircraft, and how, according to some statements, they are better than our own aircraft; about the existence of the radar chain; about the use of flying boats, and all those topics which are so vital to the interests of the country. Yet the further one gets from one's own serving days and the longer one stays in this House, the less knowledge one seems to get about these things. I wish the Minister of Defence and his colleagues would get together and try to open out a bit more. These decisions which we are making are vital to the interest of our country—just as vital as the decisions which were made prior to the last war.
I appreciate that if it had not been for the fact that the Royal Air Force was quietly getting on with its business, not forgetting the scientists, things might have been different. I know there was great secrecy even in those days. There are many things which have come as great news to us, for instance, in the wireless programme "Now it Can be Told," such as the activities of our scientists including Sir Robert Watson-Watt. But hon. Members of this House during the last war who joined the Services could come back and speak with authority in this House without giving secrets away, because they were security minded as we should be. One suggestion has already been made that we should set an example to the country by offering to be called up as G Reserve men. I agree with that suggestion, and I hope that some of us will be called up. We should then find ourselves on a station and we should know what goes on; then when we came back to this House we should be able to speak authoritatively in these debates, but we should not give away secrets.
310 The right hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Mr. Eden) trespassed on a topic which I have never heard him mention in this House before. I did not know that he regarded himself as an expert on long-range bombing. It seems that he has been influenced by statements made recently by Lord Trenchard, and evidently he has fallen hook, line and sinker for long-range bombing. Lord Trenchard, as usual, may be right. It is most likely he is right in regarding long-range bombing as the technical weapon which we shall have to use in the future, and that we shall have to go ahead with the development of such a weapon. On the other hand, I wish that at some time we could have in this House a statement on our long-range bombing results in the last war.
Some of us, including myself, could follow the results of long-range bombing day by day in the last war. We have followed investigations, especially American investigations since the war ended, and I have not made up my mind whether long-range bombing achieved the purposes we expected it to achieve. We ought to be considering that now. Perhaps it was worth while. It may be, with these great, modern four-engined jet aircraft which are coming out of the factories, in the changed conditions of modern war, that it is essential that we should get in first and stop the atom bomb leaving for this country. In the later stages of the last war when we were bombing the Pas de Calais and other such places we certainly stopped V.2s coming here in hundreds, and they only landed in tens. We know we did that, and in a future war we may have to do something similar.
In that case we should want long-range aircraft. I am still undecided myself; I try to follow these things, but I wish we could have some guidance. I wish the experts in the Air Ministry would get down to this problem and decide one way or the other. If we are going in for that policy we must applaud the decision to develop the aircraft which is evidently coming off the drawing board—the four engined jet successor to the Canberra. We proved last week that the Canberra is a winner, and we must congratulate the hon. Members for Preston on the fact that their constituency can produce such a wonderful aircraft.
311 Nowadays there is some danger in the statements about splitting up the resources of this country and the resources of America. It has been said here more than once, "Let the Americans make the bombers and we will make the fighters." Somebody else might say, "Let America make the fighters and we will make the bombers." I would say from my experience that we ought to go all out for a well-balanced Air Force all round. We have led in technique in many directions, and we have never given up that lead. The Canberra is a case in point. The Americans evidently are now accepting the Canberra; it is a world winner. It may be that on the drawing board we have a fighter aircraft which will be a winner, beating everything the Americans and the Russians can produce.
As for our experience, it is self-evident that in the last war our experience in the various air commands was unequalled by that of any other fighting force, whether Fighter Command, Bomber Command, Coastal Command—and I wish I could say Transport Command, but we made one mistake; we allowed America to develop the transport aircraft and that is why we have had the Dakota ever since. We ought to have developed a transport aircraft akin to the bombers which we produced, such as the Lancaster.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
That may be, but we should be so arranging our production that we are not faced with last-minute problems of that kind.
I come to my last topic. I know it will interest two hon. Members opposite because we went together to visit a station which is used for photographic reconnaissance. I am sure those hon. Members will have a lot to say on this subject if they catch your eye, Mr. Speaker, and I shall content myself with one or two remarks. First of all, we can all agree that in modern aerial warfare —that is, counting all the Services under the heading of aerial warfare—reconnaissance is essential from the very beginning.
I do not know what target maps are stored up in the Air Ministry these days, but I am sure the public would be amazed if they knew what target maps were ready 312 and available when the last war began. It seems to me, however, that there are many other targets in other fields which are more formidable than the targets we had in Germany. There must be many places which are far more secret than probably PeenemŰnde. I hope that we have targets ready if necessary, but to have a prepared target means that it is necessary to have one's aircraft taking pictures. I was glad to hear that the Canberra is going to P.R. squadrons. I hope there will be something even better for those squadrons.
I think we can leave it to the people who run the photographic reconnaissance squadrons to do so properly provided that they are given the necessary powers. I plead with my right hon. and learned Friend to look into the matter at the Air Ministry and to see whether representatives of the reconnaissance squadrons cannot be placed at the very highest level. I should be in favour of their having a representative in the Ministry of Defence. Whoever was there, could budget for all reconnaissance requirements of the three Services and for Civil Defence if necessary. He should also be able to stand up, with all the necessary rings on his arm, when all the arms of the Service are fighting for their contribution out of the industrial production of this country and have an equal say with them in the matter. Indeed it is vital that his statement of his requirements must be the first, and once he is satisfied the others can come along; they can perhaps wait a little longer than he can.
I have been rather surprised to find the question of flying boats cropping up in this debate to the extent that it has done. It is only two years ago that many of us went to see the mock-up of the Princess flying boat and had the experience of flying across to the constituency of one of the hon. Members opposite in one of the flying boats in the service of B.O.A.C. It was most interesting to study the pros and cons put up by the experts for the continued use or the abolition of the flying boat.
There is no doubt that up to recently there was no more comfortable way of flying than by flying boat. I think that was the main attraction that drew people towards it. On that occasion two years ago to which I have referred, we were even told that in respect of speed the 313 new flying boat could compete with the land planes and, therefore, the pros and cons seemed to be pretty well equal. It is obvious that one snag about flying boats, if they are to be used for military purposes, is that they will have to face the same difficulty as the battleship. That difficulty is that a battleship floats on the sea for another battleship to knock a hole in it, and when a hole is knocked in it it sinks. It is a simple process. Is not the danger about the flying boat that if a small hole is made in it, and it comes down on the sea it sinks?
§ Sir P. Macdonald
Does not the hon. and gallant Member think that it would be as easy to camouflage a flying boat at sea or elsewhere on the water as it is to camouflage a plane on the ground? Has it not been done before?
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
That may be so, but suppose the hole is not caused by gunnery or machine gun fire. Suppose one is landing on a lake, and presumably flying boats would use the lakes of Africa, inland seas, etc. Suppose one runs into a log, as Sir Malcolm Campbell did when he was attempting to break the water speed record on Lake Windermere. On that occasion that stretch of water was being swept, but the accident meant the finish of the effort. Those are dangers. I am not trying to dismiss the flying boat but these are some of the cons; we have already heard so many of the pros this afternoon.
§ Squadron Leader A. E. Cooper (Ilford, South)
I agree that a flying boat may hit a log but it is not unknown for a land plane to hit a bowser or some other object on an aerodrome.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
Oh, yes. I am not attempting to express a view against the flying boat but to correct any impression that the arguments are all on one side. I will state another consideration which we might envisage in the near future. Here we are on a floating aerodrome, if one cares to call it that, situated at the edge of a great land mass. If we are involved in a long war we may have to repeat the long experience we had of the Maquis and the Resistance movements in various countries. Presumably it might be necessary to penetrate even further into Europe than we did in the last war. We might even have to keep in touch with countries such as 314 Sweden which were neutral in the last war.
If there were smaller flying boats than the Princess type, if we developed two-seater machines of about the size of the Oxford or some other small aircraft of that kind, in order to keep in touch with people fighting for liberty behind an iron curtain, they would be useful for landing in fjords and inland lakes, from which they could take off more easily than some of our people were able to take off from emergency landing strips in France. That is a suggestion which might bear examination. I recommend the Under-Secretary to go back to the Air Ministry and see if he can find a paper on this topic prepared by Air Commodore Whitney Straight some years ago. If that were looked into, it would repay investigation and help us to reach a more balanced view on the question of the flying boat.
One would like to speak longer about flying boats. I hope that it will be possible for some of us to go again and see how far progress has been made on the Princess flying boats. I hope that they will not be abolished out of hand, perhaps because of undue influence on the part of the people running the North Atlantic traffic, who never regard the North Atlantic as a place for their machines to land and who think that they have land planes powerful enough to cross easily and land without mishap on the other side. It is only two or three years ago that we lost a Tudor in the Atlantic. It disappeared without trace. Yet, when a flying boat which was taking emigrants across the Atlantic came down, it was able to float long enough for the passengers to be picked up. That is another argument in favour of flying boats.
A good deal has been said about the Reserves, auxiliaries, etc. It is obvious that as the years go by that it is our schools that are providing the future members of the R.A.F., and many of the schools have working arrangements with the A.T.C. About three years ago the A.T.C. was in very low water indeed, and there is much to be said for my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State in that in the last three years he has helped to build up the A.T.C. to what it is today. Its members are coming forward and taking their place in the R.A.F. From the little A.T.C. in my constituency three went last year to do their National 315 Service, five went as boy entrants, two as apprentices and two joined the R.A.F. as Regulars out of a strength of 28. That is not bad going. If that is the general average over the whole country it is pretty good.
I wish to make one plea for the A.T.C. in a matter which affects areas like that which I represent. Our's is a small seaport, and there is a naval tradition. It is also one of the smaller centres for the Royal Norfolk Regiment, which has a long county association. Yet we have for our A.T.C. a rather poor sort of wooden building which has been very difficult to maintain. There was an attempt to put down concrete but the Air Ministry would not co-operate and the A.T.C. had to do without. The building is on marshy ground, as one would expect in Yarmouth, and it is thoroughly unsatisfactory.
The Air Ministry should spend a little more money on these people. In comparison with that state of affairs, I am told that the Army Cadet Force has the full use of the two local Territorial drill halls, and the Sea Cadets have a very good brick building acquired by means of moneys left to the unit, while the Sea Cadets in a neighbouring village have a converted trawler moored in the river. The Army and Navy are much better off. I wish we could come here next year and find that the A.T.C. beats them both.
I was rather surprised to find a fall proportionately in the figures for the Women's Royal Air Force. I thought that after we had dealt with this matter two years ago and complained about the dinginess of their uniforms and the need for at least parity with their Canadian and American colleagues, we had seen the last of those uniforms and that there would be an improvement in the position. Evidently there is something wrong. The Service was attractive enough in the war to secure all the recruits it needed; the Service, was as attractive to young women as it was to young men. I repeat that something is evidently wrong and I hope that we shall be told why that is so. Why are we not in the position of seeing that we have too many volunteers, that we have to turn some away? We should be aiming at reaching that position, and I hope we shall be able to reach it in the near future.
§ 7.20 p.m.
§ Squadron Leader Burden (Gillingham)
The hon. and gallant Member for Yarmouth (Squadron Leader Kinghorn) will excuse me if I do not follow him the whole way, but he was one of a party, including myself, who went recently to a certain Royal Air Force station to look at photographic reconnaissance. I was rather surprised to hear him say that he has not yet made up his mind about the efficiency and the benefit to be derived from long-range bombing. I suggest that the hon. and gallant Member carries his excursion to P.R.U. a little further and looks at "Evidence in Camera," published by the photographic reconnaissance units during the war, where he will see the results of some of our long-range bombing at that time.
§ Squadron Leader Kinghorn
The hon. and gallant Member must have misunderstood me. I was not questioning the accuracy of the bombing, and so on—I could talk on that for a long time. What I am questioning is the long-term policy and whether, when we have bombed and knocked out the factories, we have in the end really achieved the object we are after.
§ Squadron Leader Burden
That must be for future events to decide. I think that that object was achieved in the last war. The Germans admitted that. It certainly deadened the effect of their blows on us, and perhaps as I proceed with my remarks the hon. and gallant Member will come to agree still further on that point.
I am sorry that the hon. Member for Preston, South (Mr. Shackleton) is not now in his place. He, too, mentioned photographic reconnaissance, and he was rather surprised by the remarks of the Secretary of State for Air in referring to photographic reconnaissance as being necessary for Bomber Command to carry out its function. I was appalled by that remark of the hon. Member, for it showed a tragic lack of appreciation of the tremendous importance of photographic reconnaissance and of the intelligence which is derived from this source. I and my hon. Friends on this side feel very strongly about this question and we have given it considerable study. I hope that the Government also will look very closely into this important arm of the Service.
317 Quite obviously, one of the first essentials of war is that one's forces should be provided with accurate intelligence and that that intelligence should be designed and examined by experts in order that it meets the requirements of the various Services. Intelligence from any source or by any one method can never be complete nor conclusive. Indeed, in the last war, when the Germans came down to the Channel ports, there were difficulties in obtaining accurate intelligence quickly from occupied territories against which we might have to carry out an attack. It may well be that in the next war the Iron Curtain will even more efficiently screen our most courageous and valiant efforts to obtain information.
In no small measure, intelligence for the higher direction of the war and the practical deployment, not only of our soldiers, sailors and airmen, but also, our Civil Defence workers, was made possible by photographic intelligence. It gives the greatest advantage with the greatest economy of life and material. It did so in the last war, and I feel sure that in the next war it may well be even more important.
At the outbreak of the last war there was no provision for photography from the air as a primary rÔle nor for the trained interpreters capable of extracting the information that the photographs could give. Soon after the outbreak of war, a special flight was established and a few aircraft were modified with equipment for long-range photography. Photographs that were obtained gave accurate information. They could be obtained quickly and gave much more speedy information to our defence chiefs than was obtainable from ground or other sources. In this small way was begun the organisation that became so valuable to us in the last war.
But the state of our preparedness at the beginning of the last war must not be allowed to exist at the beginning of any future war. It is now that we must look into the whole question of photographic reconnaisance. In the last war, when we had developed this arm to a certain extent, and certainly at the end of the war, it was possible for us to maintain constant vigilance by photographic aircraft over enemy centres that otherwise would have been completely closed to our intelligence chiefs. 318 We were able to obtain information of the enemy's intentions and activities. His concentrations were made obvious by the photographs taken by these aircraft and thus was denied to the enemy the element of surprise that is so valuable in warfare.
Our striking forces were enabled to be directed when the enemy's efforts were most vulnerable to attack and the destruction of his preparations most costly to him. But those attacks, because of the intelligence that could be obtained from the photographs, were carried on only as long as it was necessary to destroy the enemy's efforts to try to launch attacks. Furthermore, the attacks of Bomber Command aircraft could be switched elsewhere as a result of a new threat which might be disclosed by photographs taken in some other area.
Economy was achieved by this new method of intelligence. It enabled us to sharpen our weapons, while it blunted the weapons and the attack of the enemy. Without knowing the complete history of photographic intelligence at home and overseas, we do not know the full contribution it made to our intelligence services. Many people, however, will know of the daily watch which was kept on enemy naval vessels. Confirmation that the "Tirpitz," the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau" were not at sea gave some assurance to the Royal Navy in carrying out its task and ensured the most economical and efficient deployment of our escort vessels.
After the fall of France, the threat of the French Fleet entering the lists to our detriment was constantly viewed through the camera over Toulon and Dakar. Convoys in the Mediterranean were kept informed of Italian ships in Taranto until those ships were finally disposed of. Atlantic convoys were given information concerning submarines and harbours, and we were kept aware of vessels under construction. It was also made clear that progress was being made by the Germans in their submarine yards in the construction of the long-range submarines which have been referred to in the debate today.
The deployment of our own submarines was made possible and aided by reports on the movements of enemy merchantmen as disclosed by our photographic reconnaissance units. From air photographs the Army revised maps 319 which were required for operations, and models of terrain were made on which detailed plans for operations were worked out and briefing given. Armies in the field obtained details concerning the enemy's armour, troops and supplies. The Royal Engineers were able to calculate the quantities of materials needed for the repair of docks, railways, bridges, etc., which might be destroyed by the enemy when we carried out the invasion and which might be essential to our own communications.
From photographic intelligence the enemy's naval, military, air force and industrial targets were selected, and the crews of the appropriate R.A.F. Command were briefed. The enemy's defence and warning systems were examined in detail and measures taken to dislocate his organisation and to secure less opposition for our own aircraft. The attack on the Mohne Dam, which caused the flooding of the Ruhr Valley, was planned from air photographs and models which were made from them. Before the landings in Normandy were planned, the beaches and gradients were calculated, strong points were marked down for special attention, and the enemy's warning system was pinpointed.
Civil Defence was given information regarding the V.l and the V.2, and the impact of those weapons on the morale of our civil population was blunted. Indeed, as many hon. Members on both sides now know, as a result of photography over Peenemunde, attacks on Peenemunde itself and on the launching sites of the V.l and V.2 bases were carried out and many of these weapons were destroyed.
The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Haire), referred to this as being the atomic age and the age of the rocket projectile. Far more than any words of mine that illustrates the importance of photographic reconnaissance and photographic intelligence. By that means we can seek out and destroy those weapons before they are unleashed on our population. Photographic intelligence supplied the public, through the Press, with accurate details and photographs of damage inflicted on the enemy, to the benefit of the morale of the housewife, the man in the factory and the Service man abroad.
320 I have given this brief indication of the way this arm served the Royal Air Force in the war. In 1939 it was an acorn and it grew to a flourishing oak at the end of the war, but, because of economy since the war, its branches have been lopped and much of its benefits have been lost. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State, in reply to the debate, will be able to give the House an assurance that that position is realised and that this matter will be put right.
I turn for a moment to the question of organisation. The organisation of the Royal Air Force at home is based on function and in Transport Command we see the formation responsible on a global basis for the role of air transportation. A separate group is responsible for R.A.F. signals throughout the world. It seems to me, and I believe that my view is shared by hon. Friends, that for photographic intelligence in the Department there should be an officer solely responsible and under him there should be a group operationally responsible to no one command. In that respect, I would refer to the remark the Minister made in opening the debate when he said—and this discloses the danger more clearly perhaps than I could—that it is not necessary for Bomber Command to carry out its proper functions.
What I want to avoid and what I believe my hon. Friends want to avoid is that P.R.U. should be looked upon as ancillary to and under the domination of Bomber Command. If that is done I feel that it will ensure that photographic intelligence has a primary role and will receive full representation at the correct level. By this arrangement the user will then be the master and requirements will be adequately presented to ensure correct selection of personnel refresher courses for reserves in flying maintenance and interpretation, correct design and supply of aircraft capable of the speed, range and height to meet the demands of our own services and our Allies. We shall also ensure the development of supply of special equipment in cameras and, moreover, the stockpiling of essential raw materials.
I would like the Minister to assure the House that it is recognised that photographic reconnaissance is a primary role for special units of the R.A.F. I would like him to assure the House that the 321 intelligence department at the Air Ministry has, or will have, a director solely responsible for policy and planning of photographic intelligence throughout the world to meet the demands of all our Services and Allies. I would like to be assured that there will be appointed a director to be responsible, through the Ministry, for co-ordination with other Services and that this director will through the Ministry of Defence, be responsible for standardisation, through S.H.A.P.E., and that a group will be formed with Command status and—this is very important— responsible directly to the Air Ministry for operations of photographic intelligence and for general supervision of, and advice to, overseas units.
I would also like an assurance that suitable aircraft will be ordered at the drawing-board level and that we shall not rely on obsolescent bombers and fighters, which would be shot out of the sky if sent overseas to their missions. I would like an assurance that cameras and processing equipment will be developed and provisioned to meet in full the necessary requirements immediately on the outbreak of war, if it should come—and we all pray it never will. I also ask that the selection and training of an adequate number of personnel of the Regular and R.A.F.V.R. is being provided, that stockpiling of essential materials is now in hand, that adequate and suitable accommodation for photographic work will be provided and that full co-ordination and co-operation will be provided through the Department of Industrial and Scientific Research, the universities and other capable bodies, for research in technical development.
I believe that any economy in photographic intelligence would be the greatest folly, for it is an insurance that will enable our Forces to be used decisively and economically and, in short, blunt the weapons of the enemy and sharpen our own.
§ 7.36 p.m.
§ Mr. Paget (Northampton)
I do not think any of us will dispute the importance of photographic reconnaissance, nor indeed do I think that anybody will dispute the value of bombing which resulted from photographic reconnaissance. Whereas at Peenemunde we attacked a pin-pointed target, on many other occasions the bombing on the value of 322 which there is dispute, did not result from photographic reconnaissance, but was indiscriminate bombing. I believe that not only was that type of bombing a great crime, but I think it was also a crime which did not pay.
I think the most interesting speech, the most informative speech and, if I may say so, the best speech we have had in this debate, came from the hon. Member for Brentford and Chiswick (Mr. Lucas). I want mainly to devote myself to what he said. Broadly speaking, I agree with the figures and the descriptions of aeroplanes which he gave. I do not know if my sources of information are the same as his, but they are from Germany and, broadly, they coincide with what he said. But I would bring out some additional features and suggest that we should not be too frightened of the Russians numbers of machines or, indeed, of the quality of their machines.
We hear of 175 Russian divisions, and enormous numbers of tanks, very high quality tanks. It is one thing to have a lot of divisions, but another thing to be able to move them, supply them and command them. I hope to say something on that question on Thursday. The same argument applies with regard to the Russian air force. They have this very large number of very high quality planes so far as design is concerned, but my information is that the testing, both of the planes and of the parts, is very inferior indeed, that people's necks are involved in a particular production level and that a great many of these machines would be apt to blow up if anyone actually flew them. It is also my information that there is very little training or flying time in the Russian squadrons. The sort of row that happens when there is an accident, when planes are lost and it becomes a question of industrial or military sabotage because a plane has been lost in an accident, has resulted in very little training flying being done.
There are these large number of aircraft, but I believe that the flying crews are nothing like up to the standard of training which we require. Theirs is an organisation which has not had the experience of conducting bombing operations, because Russia really did not have bombers in the war, and has not the signals or the aerodromes or the whole organisation that goes to make up 323 Bomber Command. One does not have a striking force in the air just by having so many aeroplanes. It is the whole organisation, the experienced, highly educated and trained personnel, which goes to make up these things, and I believe they are in rather short supply in Russia.
So, while we must not under-rate our enemy do not let us be frightened of him. Let us look at his weaknesses as well as his strength. This would not detract from the important defence function of long-distance attack. His bottleneck is in organisation; it is on the ground rather than in the air. Therefore, attacks on that bottleneck will show a bigger dividend than if he had an ordinarily balanced and controlled air force, and that makes it even more important to defend ourselves in that way.
While emphasising the importance of the long-range bomber, I do not think it ought to be our function to produce that bomber. I profoundly disagree with the statement that we ought to have a balanced Air Force in Britain. I believe that Atlantic defence requires a balanced Air Force. By having a balanced Air Force in Italy, a balanced Air Force in Germany, and France and in Britain, and then balanced again in America, the whole defence force is unbalanced.
We must conceive this as Atlantic defence and believe in Atlantic defence. We give lip service to it, but we find the most extraordinary attitude adopted towards it. For instance, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) attacked us the other day for not having produced atom bombs in Britain. If we think of Atlantic defence as a unit what could be more absurd than producing atom bombs in Britain? That is something that should be produced in the back areas, areas which are not subject to attack. I would say that that applied equally to the bomber.
We have a forward area of defence. We in Britain are in that forward area. We have to have ready here what the Americans can make immediately available, and that, in my submission, is the short-range fighter, the fighter-bomber; planes like the Canberra. We also want to have ready and available bases equipped for the Americans from which their heavy bombers can operate. That 324 should be our contribution to the long-range bomber programme. The strategic planning of that area would put the long-range flank back across the Atlantic where it could develop in safety and where it is not vulnerable. That is where its bases should be, and this country should be its transit base in going to the attack.
On the question of manufacture, the industrial organisation of this country has the result that we produce aeroplanes here. We have a potential for producing them here and we cannot afford to waste it. If we had ideal strategic planning we would not produce a single aeroplane in this country. They would be produced in the Americas where they would be out of range and very much safer. That is where we should put our essential production plants. The heavy propelled things would be built in America and this country would produce the sort of things difficult to transport here.
§ Mr. Paget
No, I am sorry but there is not time.
Then there is the question of training. I am delighted that the Empire training scheme is going again. Training is something we want to get out of the forward area and I hope that all training can be distributed about the Empire. There is one other quite different point. A total of 270,000 men is a very heavy call upon the manpower budget of this country. I would suggest that everything possible should be done to reduce that call upon our manpower budget, because that is really much more important in the long run than any financial provision.
So far as ground crews are concerned at any rate, National Service is totally unsatisfactory. It may be necessary, so far as air crews are concerned, to give an opportunity for alternative short training —two years may be enough—so as to have a reserve in the community. But so far as ground crews are concerned time wasted in training, and passing them out in the change-over means that one volunteer long-term man can, on the average, do as much as two National Service men. If we had all National Service men or all long-term men we could do with just half the number of long-term Service men. I 325 am glad to hear that the percentage has risen to 70 per cent, and I hope we can get it up to 100 per cent.
On this point I wish to ask my right hon. Friend certain specific questions. I was glad he said that there is no colour bar operating in the Air Force. In the war we had a very large contribution from Jamaica. Is not it the fact that in the Air Force those coloured men from Jamaica proved every bit as good, on the average, as His Majesty's white subjects? Is not it also the fact they are now as welcome to join the Air Force as they were then? May we have an answer to that? I am told there are 10,000 of those men who were trained in the war on ground services now in Jamaica and that a large proportion of them are only too anxious to join up. Will my right hon. and learned Friend open a recruiting office in Jamaica to collect these men who are most anxious to join?
Further, is it or is it not the fact that Jamaicans wishing to join the Royal Air Force have no transport at their disposal; that they cannot join in Jamaica and that there no provision is made to bring them over here to join when they wish to volunteer? May we be told whether this can be put right? The Royal Air Force, have no right to call upon the manpower of this country when they have available in Jamaica these trained personnel, who proved themselves under war conditions. These men did very well here. They went back to conditions of unemployment and poverty in Jamaica which are inconceivable in this country. Almost nothing was done for them. We owe them a debt and I hope that this matter may be brought into consideration.
Special legislation, which has been continued periodically by Order in Council, enables the Royal Air Force to enlist foreigners. We have had admirable service from Poles and Czechs, who did extremely well in the R.A.F. As far as I can discover, that legislation expired on 10th December last. Has another Order in Council been made prolonging it and, if not, will one be made at once? It would be a great wrong to exclude these Poles and Czechs who were driven from their own country in the cause of liberty, and who have built up for themselves an honourable tradition in His Majesty's Royal Air Force. It would be shady to exclude them now.
§ Mr. A. Henderson
If my hon. and learned Friend is referring to Czechs who have already served in the R.A.F., I can say now that those who have to flee their country are given facilities to come here and to rejoin the R.A.F.
§ Mr. Paget
Will they be accepted as recruits? Many Poles who served in the R.A.F. have brought their families over here. There are among them young boys of admirable quality who are anxious to serve in the R.A.F. We are short of manpower. Why should not they be allowed to join? I ask my right hon. and learned Friend to consider this matter.