HL Deb 17 February 1916 vol 21 cc42-66

LORD ORANMORE AND BROWNE rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the fact that Zeppelin airships raid this country and return to Germany with impunity; and to ask whether it is contemplated to make such improvements in our methods of offence and defence as will give greater security against such raids.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, considerable disquiet, I will not use the word apprehension, has been caused by the immunity with which Zeppelins have approached and wandered over our shores and then returned to their bases. The people of this country are not alarmed by what has happened. On the contrary, they are only too glad to be able to bear their share in the war—a very infinitesimal share it is, and hardly to be spoken of in comparison with what is undergone by our brave soldiers who are fighting for us at the Front. But there is a feeling of resentment that Zeppelins can return in safety in the way they do, and a feeling that something should be done more than has been done up to now to wrest from the Germans that supremacy of the air which at the present time they seem to enjoy. This question was raised yesterday in another place, but I think your Lordships will be glad of an opportunity to hear from the Government in this House their view on the matter. I see that my noble friend Lord Meath has on the Paper a similar Question to mine, and I hope that in the course of the discussion this afternoon we shall hear his views on the subject.

The points on which I seek for information from His Majesty's Government, so far as they think it compatible with the public interest to give it, are as follow. First, what has been done and is being done with regard to the construction of the Zeppelin type of airships in this country; secondly, what has been done and is being done as regards the furnishing of antiaircraft guns; thirdly, what has been done and is being done with regard to the building of aeroplanes, not only powerful machines which could rise into the air to fight the Zeppelins over this country but also aircraft which could cross the Channel and attack in Germany; and, lastly, whether His Majesty's Government do not think that some system of co-ordination of our forces is possible to secure better results than has been the case up to the present. As to the first point, I observed that there was hardly any discussion yesterday in another place with regard to that. I do not know whether that was because many members of the other House belong to that school of thought which is called the "anti-gasbag school." I believe these people are of opinion that because up to the present the German raids have resulted only in the slaughter of a certain number of civilians, of women and children, and have done us no military harm, these aircraft are not worth the cost of their construction and the expense of training crews to man them. But I think no one in this House believes that the German Zeppelins come here merely for the purpose of murder. I dare say they are not sorry to give us an example of German "frightfulness," but their chief object in raiding these shores is to do us military harm by the destruction of arsenals, barracks, munition factories, and other military works, and though they have not succeeded yet in doing so there is no reason for saying that they will not be more fortunate from their point of view in the future. Every time the Zeppelins come they seem to be holder. They go further afield; they learn better the topography of the country. We are told that the German airships are becoming larger and carry more bombs, and we know that every time they come in larger and larger squadrons. Therefore they give us serious cause for uneasiness.

It may be said, in answer to those who hold the "anti-gasbag" theory, that Zeppelins have this great advantage over aeroplanes, that they can remain in the air for an indefinite period. I am informed that up to the present time no aeroplane has been constructed which, when it is armed to fight a Zeppelin—with bombs, with a gun, with wireless, and the other apparatus which is necessary—can remain in the air more than three and a-half hours, and of that time nearly one hour is taken up in reaching the altitude at which the Zeppelin is flying. And we must remember that in the dark it is extremely dangerous for an aeroplane to alight, and the process often results in its being entirely smashed. It cannot be said that we do not know how to construct Zeppelins, because, apart from any secret information we may have with regard to them, there are two facts which are public property. One is that before the war took place a Zeppelin landed at Luneville, in France, and was detained for several hours there by the French authorities, and we cannot doubt that they took that opportunity to find out as much as they could of its structure; and we also know that last year a Zeppelin was captured by the Russians on the eastern front. But apart from this we have constructed successfully airships of our own. There was one constructed, I think in 1910 or 1911, called the "Mayfly." I believe it was an extremely well-built ship, but unfortunately it came to grief during its first flight. I am not sure whether the accident took place in the air, but I rather think it occurred while it was being driven back to its shed; it "broke its back," as the technical phrase has it. Vickers offered to repair that airship and make it as good as new for £10,000; but the "anti-gasbag" school was then in the ascendant, with the result that this airship was scrapped, and the crew, which had been gathered together from every part of England and consisted of picked men who knew their work and would have been competent to train other crews, were scattered.

It is difficult to refer to what has happened since the war began because it might be supposed to be giving information to the enemy, but I think most of your Lordships are aware of what has taken place. But this much I may say, that in the competition between those who are in favour of airships and those who are against them it seems to me that the "anti-gasbag" school have obtained the mastery. Very little has been done in comparison to what might have been done, and those who are in favour of airships complain that, owing to the lack of funds provided, the airships which have been constructed have not been made of the best material. However that may be, t here is no doubt that it would take us a long time to construct such a fleet of airships and to train crews to man them as would be a menace to the Germans. But none of us know how long this war is going to last, and if it came to an end in the near future I submit that a suitable fleet of airships would be a valuable asset for us to possess even in peace time. I therefore ask His Majesty's Government whether they will tell us what is their policy with regard to airships. Do they intend in course of time, as they can manage it, to construct a large fleet, or are they satisfied that there are other and better means of defence?

I should like to say a word or two with regard to anti-aircraft guns. At the beginning of the war I believe I am right in saying that nothing had been done to arrange for the defence of London or any other town, but soon after the commencement of the war the then First Lord of the Admiralty, now Colonel Winston Churchill, entrusted the task to a young officer in the Navy, a lieutenant-commander. This gentleman, I am sure, tried to fulfil his task in the best possible way, but he was set to make bricks without straw. We know the scarcity of munitions of war of all kinds that existed at that time, and in the subordinate position which this officer occupied he found it impossible to procure the guns that were required. He did all that was possible. He trained gunners to fire the guns with which he was provided, but when the first Zeppelin raid over London took place it was found that those guns were quite ineffective. Then the task was entrusted to Sir Percy Scott, not the whole task of the defence of London, but the task of providing suitable guns. He being a senior officer was able to bring more pressure to bear, and a certain number of guns were provided. I had better not say where I believe the guns were found, but this I may say, that I am told they are all, or nearly all, naval guns. Sir Percy Scott has able gunners to work them, men who have been accustomed to working naval guns all their lives, and during the last few months they have been taught how to aim at Zeppelins; and I am told that during the last raid, though no Zeppelin was brought down, these gunners made very successful practice. Now the defence has been taken over by the War Office, and I am told, though I can hardly believe it to be true, that the naval gunners who have been accustomed to work these guns and have had practice against aircraft for several months are now to be removed and to be replaced by garrison artillery, who probably have never seen a naval gun in their lives and have had no practice whatsoever in aiming at Zeppelins. As I say, I can hardly believe this to be true; and I hope I shall receive a reply that I have been mistaken in this respect.

The next point is that of aeroplanes all round our coast. There are a certain number of Royal Naval Air Service stations. These are charged with the provision of pilots and aeroplanes which, on notice of the approach of enemy aircraft, rise in the air to meet them. We all remember the poetic description given by Colonel Winston Churchill of what they were expected to do. A swarm of hornets was to rise, and the Zeppelin was to turn tail if he did not hide his diminished head in the lowest depths of the North Sea. But, unfortunately this prophecy has not proved true, and the reason is not far to seek. It is that we have neither sufficient aeroplanes nor sufficient pilots. I speak as an amateur, for I know nothing about aircraft myself, but I am told that if you wish to have an aeroplane ready to go up in the air at any given moment it is necessary to have at least three in reserve. We all know that parts of the machinery are liable to go wrong in various ways, and also that small accidents occur. Somebody was describing to me the other day a visit to one of these places—I will not say whether it was in this country or abroad—and he said that he was taken into a large shed which had all the appearance of being the scene of a huge railway accident. This was where the aeroplanes which had come to grief were being repaired.

But it is not only the lack of aeroplanes of which we complain, but also the lack of pilots. I have heard stories that when Zeppelins were sighted the pilots were one or two miles off dining out or going to the play, and that the mechanics had to be sent for by telephone from villages one or two miles away. I hope it will not be thought that we grudge the pilots some amusement. We are all glad that these brave men should have every opportunity when off duty for recreation, and that their minds should be diverted from the anxious thoughts which must occupy them when they are in the air. But that is no reason why there should not be sufficient pilots so that some should always be available to go up at a moment's notice. I think it was the Under-Secretary of State for War, in reply to a question in the House of Commons the other day, who stated that you could not expect to ring a bell and find that an aeroplane could go up at once. But that is exactly what we do expect. We have all been accustomed to admire the efficiency of our Fire Brigade. Before the advent of motor power it used to be the boast of the Brigade that within thirty seconds of the ringing of the alarm bell the horses were harnessed, the men were in their places, and the fire engine was dashing out of the station. Surely what can be done for the safety of a house on fire can be done for the safety of the Empire. I should like to ask whether the commanders of these Royal Naval Air Service stations have power of their own authority to order the aeroplanes into the air or whether they are obliged to wait for orders from some superior source, because it seems to me that tins is a matter which ought to be left absolutely to their own discretion. I was told the other day—I do not know with what truth—that in the last raid which took place on a Midland town some of the pilots were absent. One of the authorities having charge of these matters—I do not know whether it was the Home Office or the local authority—gave orders that all lights were to be extinguished and no loco- motion of any kind allowed, with the result that these pilots were obliged to remain where they were and were not allowed to return to the aerodrome until the Zeppelin had disappeared and the danger was past. These are some of the reasons which seem to me to point to the desirability of better and more central control—in other words, to the desirability of appointing an Air Minister.

Let me consider very briefly what is the state of affairs now abroad and at home. At the Front all the aeroplanes are under the command of the local commander, whether he be naval or military; this is absolutely right, and it is an arrangement which nobody would wish to change. They have very important duties to perform, and they perform them well. They make reconnaissances, they drop bombs, and engage in combats in the air, all of which they carry out in the most successful manner. But it is not their business, even if there were suitable machines for the purpose, to indulge in a long offensive. The chief duty of a commander of the troops is to protect those under his command and to harass and destroy those of the enemy. His aeroplanes are his eves which enable him to do this successfully, and one can quite understand that he would be very loth to part with his eyes and send them on a wild-goose chase far into the enemy country to destroy Zeppelin sheds or arsenals, even though it would help us at home and indirectly, perhaps, have the effect of shortening the war.

What is the state of affairs at home? The control is under the Navy and the Army, and I cannot say that this is a good arrangement or one that serves for success. Under it I believe account is taken of the individual requirements of the Navy and of the Army in the field rather than of aircraft as a whole. I think that there is a tendency to regard the employment of aircraft as an extension of the powers of the arms that exist rather than as something which transcends them. Home defence has to take its chance. A long offensive can hardly be considered, much less the question of any great scheme of aerial warfare, because everything is concentrated in the necessity of supplying sufficient pilots, machines, and materiel for the Army in the field. Naval men no longer, I believe, attend the Central Flying School. The result is to differentiate for Navy and Army the use of the air which is common to them both. I am told that in the Navy it has been the habit to be in close touch with various firms, that a special type of machine is chosen, that it is tested and reported upon by their flying and engineering experts and suggestions of importance are possibly made, and that after that a specification is made out and a number of them are ordered. But there is no school of research connected with the Navy, though I believe the Advisory Committee on Aeronautics can be consulted if desired. The practice in the Army is different. There I believe I am right in saving— the noble and gallant Field-Marshal (Lord Kitchener) will correct me if I am wrong—most of the machines are procured from the Royal Aircraft Factory and are built according to specifications supplied. But since the beginning of the war I am told that there has been such need of aircraft that, almost any kind of aeroplane has been bought at almost any price, and this absence of co-ordination leads to wasteful and injurious competition is money, men, and machines. It seems to me that the creation of an Air Minister would cause competition to cease. I should like to see him absolutely free of both the Army and the Navy, supplying them with pilots and machines which would be under their control while co-operating with them.

I know that this is a counsel of perfection which at the present time it would be extremely difficult to carry out. But what I do think is possible, and what I should like His Majesty's Government to consider, is whether an Air Minister should not be appointed who should be responsible for home defence against enemy aircraft, thus relieving the gallant Field-Marshal Lord French of a work which, added to what has already been entrusted to him, makes his task almost herculean. The business of this Air Minister would be not only to provide defence against attack at home, but to take means to carry aerial warfare into the enemy's country. I do not advocate reprisals, but I do advocate such measures as would force the enemy Zeppelins to stay at home to protect Essen and other vulnerable points and prevent them from coming over here to commit murder. I do not say that the Air Minister could do this by himself. I suggest that he should be the head of our Thinking Department, and should preside over a Board consisting of naval, military, technical, and manufacturing experts. It would be his business to take in hand at once the means of bringing about the offensive warfare I have described; and he would also have to decide the types of machine to be constructed and how they could reasonably be procured. He would thus be able to concentrate all the best brains in the country for the purpose, avoid overlapping and waste of effort, and develop the aircraft industry here to its highest possible pitch. Am I asking too much? I think not. I am pleading for the adoption of a policy which I believe NN'i II secure to us that supremacy of the air which ere long may be as essential to our continuance as an Empire as is now our supremacy of the sea.

THE EARL OF MEATH had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether they can assure this House and the country that the most energetic and effective steps are being taken by them not only to defend the British Islands against hostile air raids, but to obtain such a mastery in the air as to be able to carry the war successfully into the enemy's country by aircraft more thoroughly than has been the case in the past.

The noble Earl said: My Lords, perhaps it will be for the convenience of the House and of His Majesty's Government, as my Question is in similar though not exactly equal terms to that which has been asked by the noble Lord who has just sat down, if I put my Question and say what I have to say upon it now. The Question standing in my name appeared on your Lordships' Paper before the debate took place in the other House last night, but in that debate it was only partly answered by His Majesty's Government. I was very pleased to hear that at all events one step in the right direction is being taken. I refer to the formation of a body composed of military and naval elements, who should be able to co-operate for the purpose of preventing these raids, and I hope also of carrying air raids into the enemy's country. But what I think of still more importance was the declaration made by Mr. Bonar Law, in which he said?— We do realise the seriousness of this question, and we are, as well as we can, trying to effect a remedy. I am afraid a good many of us, although we were very pleased to hear that, had thought before that this question of supremacy in the air was not being taken as seriously by the Government as we desired. Mr. Balfour, not being responsible for the errors of the late Government, made an admission in regard to Zeppelins. He said— Personally I think an error was made when we deliberately after consideration refused to follow the German example and try to develop lighter-than-air ships on a considerable scale. Probably there are a good number who will agree with Mr. Balfour's expression of opinion. He added— We are doing what we can at the Admiralty to remedy that state of things. It is a great comfort to know that the Admiralty are doing all they can to remedy it. But we all hope that not only the Admiralty but the entire Government are determined to remedy what is certainly a not satisfactory state of affairs.

The gist of the debate in the other House appears to be expressed in one word, "unpreparedness"; and when we consider how often we heard warnings from that great Field-Marshal who used to sit on the corner of this Bench (the late Earl Roberts), it is indeed lamentable that we should still find ourselves in a state of unpreparedness after more than eighteen months of war. But I am afraid there is no doubt about it. After eighteen months of war we are apparently just beginning to learn that air supremacy is as necessary as sea supremacy for the security of the British Empire. At all events we must be grateful that the Admiralty recognises this fact, and we must hope that the Government as a body are not only repentant but determined not to sin again against the nation. It is apparently simply a question of unpreparedness, and one for the proper solution of which we must wait in patience. We are told to look to the Minister of Munitions and to hasten his labours, and then everything will be right. Poor Mr. Lloyd George! He has had a nasty task. I must say he has been doing his very best to remedy this sad state of unpreparedness, and I, for one, would be the last to try and hurry him. He has a task which he is tackling in the most splendid manner, and we must all be grateful to him for the way in which he is doing it. But it is sad to think that we should have to acknowledge at this date that the reason why we are not carrying air war into the enemy's country is that we have not the matériel.

There is not going to be any panic. The Englishman, thank God! is not built that way. We are going to win this war whatever happens, and of that the Germans may be perfectly certain. We have lasted out before now against far greater odds than are fighting against us to-day; we have carried those wars through and ultimately come out on top, and we shall do the same again. For all that we must remember that if we intend—and it is absolutely necessary that we should do so—to maintain sea supremacy, we must have air supremacy; and we must also remember that the best defence is a vigorous offensive. I quite agree with the noble Lord who spoke last that there is no question of reprisals. In fact, I am very sorry that this was ever brought forward, because there are quite enough fortified places on the Western side of Germany and quite enough factories making munitions of war there to occupy the attention of any aeroplanes or Zeppelins we may build for many months to come. We have once been to Cuxhaven, and we can go there again when we get the matériel. And not far from Cuxhaven is the Kiel Canal, and I hope the time will come when we shall make an offensive against the Kiel Canal. But the point which I am anxious to make is this. Do not let us be satisfied with defence. Let us so arrange our plans that offence shall be our principal idea, and defence only a secondary matter.


My Lords, I cordially agree with what has been said by the noble Lord who asked this Question, except in one particular. I do not rate the importance of Zeppelins quite so high as he does. It seems to me that, broadly speaking, from the military point of view, the Zeppelin has been rather an expensive failure, and I expect that in the future we may see the Zeppelin come to be regarded as rather a naval weapon than a military weapon. The recent raid was, I believe, the twenty-second of its kind, and it has most naturally given rise to profound distrust of our preparations. The range of Zeppelins over the land was very well known, and though at first they confined their attention mainly to London and the coastal towns and villages it was perfectly certain that we were liable at any time to find them attacking our great Midland centres. I am afraid it is clear from what happened on the last occasion that no properly organised arrangements existed either for warning the people of threatened towns or for taking active measures against the Zeppelins themselves.

Several points I should like to press on the attention of His Majesty's Government. In the first place, all towns which are liable to be raided ought to make their own arrangements, subject to general instructions from some central authority, for turning down or covering lights and warning people to take cover—for giving all the necessary instructions for meeting a raid. To stop night work in an important munitions factory may be very inconvenient, but I think the inconvenience must be accepted in order that we may avoid the great risk to life and the great risk Of the destruction of that factory by the raid. The loss of a few hours working time, assuming that the whole of the factory cannot be successfully blinded from vision, is a small thing compared with the destruction of a factory. In the second place, it seems most necessary that warning should be sent from some central authority to all stations where aircraft are placed. And it is evident that stations should exist at all the points on the coast which Zeppelins are accustomed to make in their voyages across the North Sea, and every such station should be provided with orders, laid down by a central authority, covering every contingency which reasonably can be foreseen.

The division of authority which has existed between the Admiralty and the War Office on this subject is evidently impossible, and I am sure that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal will tell us that this division of authority has now disappeared. In my opinion the control of the Admiralty should be limited to aircraft attached to fleets or required for naval purposes at naval ports, all other control being vested in the military authorities. And that implies that all anti-aircraft guns, whether in fixed positions or mounted on motor-ears, should be in the charge of the military authorities. I assume—and I hope we shall be told—that that is now about to be carried out. But for the tendency which at one time existed at the Admiralty to create an army of its own a great deal of the confusion which we now deplore might have been avoided. I have referred only to the arrangements which come under the heading of organisation, and it does not seem to me that the organisation required is really a very difficult task if the questions it involves had been all thought out in advance.

But there is another matter of great importance which seems to me also to have been badly or indifferently handled. Our aircraft are not sufficiently armed to enable them to attack Zeppelins effectively. A bomb dropped on a Zeppelin leads at once to its destruction; but experience has shown that to be a difficult feat. In the first place a Zeppelin can rise much more quickly than most of our aeroplanes—but not more quickly than the Fokker aeroplane which the Germans have recently adopted—and, secondly, our aeroplanes lose speed quickly at high elevations. If you can attack a Zeppelin by gun or machine-gun fire you are in a much stronger position to deal with it. Anti-aircraft guns if supplied with proper projectiles would have a far better chance of destroying the envelope of a Zeppelin than they have armed as they now are. The envelope offers a very large target, but it is one upon which ordinary bullets and the shrapnel balls produce little or no effect. I believe we have the means of providing projectiles which would have the most excellent effect whenever the envelope is struck in any position. It would not be proper for me to describe those projectiles. I am sure that the noble and gallant Field-Marshal will say we have them, and that they will be used.

Owing to unnecessary delays which, as far as I can make out, arise from the large number of persons involved in getting anything made, we are unable to make the fullest use of the means which science has placed at our disposal. It should he an axiom of sound administration that no one should be permitted to have anything to do with any subject on which he cannot bring special knowledge to bear. That axiom prevails in all well-managed private businesses, and is, I believe, at the base of the efficiency of Germany. But I am sorry to say that that axiom is too often ignored in our own Government Departments. My own experience in some cases has been that one has to fight for a simple and necessary improvement through ascending series of officials, each knowing less than the last; until one reaches the deciding authority who knows nothing at all about the matter. This is euphemistically called the "chain of responsibility." I hope the Government will look closely into this matter and insist that when we are able to produce, and quickly produce, the right gun or projectile that is urgently needed for dealing with Zeppelins there shall be no delay in turning it to the fullest account.


My Lords, I do not wish to enter into the general discussion but I should like to ask one question of the noble and gallant Earl before he replies. First of all, may I say that I disagree with my noble friend (Lord Oranmore) as to the creation of an Air Minister. I was under the impression that we had rather more Ministers than were necessary at present, and that the path of safety lay rather in their diminution than in the increase of their number. But the point which I should like to put before the noble and gallant Earl is whether the Government are perfectly satisfied that we have the best type, or the right type, of machine now for dealing with the German Fokker machine? Like the noble Lord opposite I do not pretend to be an expert in thise matters, but I am told by those who have a great deal of practical experience that there is at present an unfortunate divorce between practical experience in flying in warfare and the designing and making of machines—that, is to say, the experience that has been gained at the Front has modified so rapidly the views of those who are engaged in aeroplane warfare that there is at present no means of bringing together the work that is done, say, at Farnborough, and combining it with the knowledge of the young men who are doing the flying in France.

Those who are holding some of the higher commands in France have had necessarily, owing to the rapid development of air warfare, no personal experience of flying themselves, and I understand that when a man over there gets beyond the rank of captain he becomes a ground man and no longer is engaged in flying, and thus he is dealing with persons who are employed in another element than the one in which he is occupied himself. The result, I am informed, is that work is ordered to be done which is unnecessarily difficult, and that great losses are incurred owing to the fact that those who give the orders are not closely in touch with the difficulties of the particular work which they order. It is a mere platitude to say that it takes so long to train an airman that we ought to be minutely economical in the expenditure of such very valuable life. I am informed also—and I am sure one is not giving away any military secret, because the Germans themselves have taken the measure exactly of our aeroplanes—that the type we have there now is not best suited for manœuvring purposes and as regards pace to deal with the very rapid Fokker machines of the Germans. I understand that the difficulty arises from the fact that the construction of aeroplanes at Farnborough is not really in the hands of men who have sufficient practical experience with the needs of warfare in France. I should like definitely to ask the noble and gallant Earl whether he agrees at all with this criticism, whether the Government are satisfied that the machine now in use for fighting the Germans is suitable for the purpose and the best, type they can create; and, further than that, whether the management of the system for manufacturing aeroplanes at Farnborough is really suitable to the very developed business that they are carrying on there? We have seen that a great many of these organisations have been enormously developed for the purpose of the war; that these organisations having been developed, are carried on on very much the same system as when they were small organisations; that, in fact, these organisations have not been thought out or adapted to the very large work in which they are engaged; and that for some purposes, therefore. they are not so efficient as they ought to be. I was going to ask the noble and gallant Earl, further, whether it would not be possible to strengthen the management at Farnborough with men who have recently had practical experience of flying.

With reference to men being sent up to fight in the air by others who have not had practical experience, I hope the Government will be extremely careful that, simply because of the necessity of doing something in the case of Zeppelin raids, such a course is not followed in this country. I am informed that in the case of one of the recent raids a number of men were ordered to go up in a fog, when it was absolutely impossible for them to do anything. Such an order was, in the circumstances, equiva lent to sending those men to their deaths. It might be unwise to state what the figures were, but no injury was done to the Zeppelins, while the results to the men who were ordered to go up were deplorable. This is so large and delicate a business that one would like to put this further point to the noble and gallant Earl—whether or not it is necessary to have the competition which I understand at present goes on with regard to the design and manufacture of aeroplanes between the Army and the Navy, and whether it is not possible to concentrate that business, to gather together the most experienced engineers and persons who have had practical experience in flying and concentrate that work in one hand rather than have it divided as it is at present.

The only other observation I should like to make is this. We were told twelve months ago that we had practically attained superiority in the air in France. That may have been one of those cheerful observations with which the Government are rather wont to try, I will not say to raise our drooping spirits, but to give us cheerful hopes. But if it were the fact, it seems lamentable that at the present moment we should not, by the accounts of those who are there, have that same superiority; and if that is so it surely points to some lack of organisation in the present system. Perhaps the Government will look into the whole matter and see whether the present organisation, suited, it may have been, to the smaller development a year ago, is suited to the tremendous demands that are now made upon us in regard to the work in France and our defence here.


My Lords, before the noble and gallant Field-Marahal replies I should like to make a few remarks. At present we have only two ways of attacking Zeppelins. One is by building dirigibles, which would take months and months to do; the other is by continuing what was done in 1914. At the end of that year Zeppelin bases and sheds were attacked on Lake Constance and serious damage was done; they were also effectively attacked at Dusseldorf and at Ostend, and certain towns on the Rhine were visited by our aeroplanes. If the authorities in France could spare the aeroplanes to do that again, we have there the means of attacking the Zeppelins in their own homes. That is a thing to remember. Like the noble Viscount who has just sat down, I do not see why there should be an Air Minister. I do not think an Air Minister would stop the Zeppelins coining, at present anyhow.

I am told that the Zeppelins always make for a particular bay on the East Coast, and that the one thing they fear when they are flying at a low altitude is the anti-aircraft gluts of our Fleet. To-day there was a most, useful letter in The Times from a naval officer, in which it was suggested that the whole of the East Coast should be watched not only by the existing watchers but by voluntary watchers, so that the moment a Zeppelin appears the news could be telephoned to the wireless stations, which could then inform the Navy, and the anti-aircraft guns of the Fleet could then be broughtintoaction. There is ono matter in regard to which I should like to support the noble Viscount. who has just sat down, and that is with reference to aeroplanes going up to fight Zeppelins at night. It is well known to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal and to many others that aeroplanes have been sent up at night. I know what casualties happened on the last occasion. The men went up very gallantly; they never saw the Zeppelins though, and the casualties were not so serious as they had been before, but they were very serious. I trust that in future the authorities will not send aeroplanes up in the dark, because, as the noble Viscount said, they are sending these men to their deaths.

One word more. If you had aeroplanes enough and to spare you could attack the Zeppelins in their homes, which is more important than anything. If you attack them in their homes you break them up entirely; even if their sheds only are destroyed they cannot start, because they must have a shed to go back to. I think that if the construction of aeroplanes was increased we should be able effectively to deal with the Zeppelin difficulty in the way I have indicated.


My Lords, I should like to offer one remark with regard to the suggested appointment of an Air Minister. One can quite realise the absurdity of thinking of that now, for most of us agree that the Cabinet is plenty large enough as it is. It is not a practical question at the moment; it is rather academical. At the same time the suggestion is surely interesting from this point of view, that you are now dealing with an entirely new element. One remembers that it is only some 200 to 300 years ago that the Navy was practically under the control of the Army. By degrees it threw off the military shackles and became an independent Department because the element was different. Therefore up to the introduction of practical aircraft. we had a Department dealing with war on land and a Department dealing with war on sea; and it is not unnatural that some people should think that it would be wiser if eventually we had a Department dealing with war in the air. It is an entirely different thing. You must have your scouts for the Army and for the Navy, but they would be detached by the Department for those purposes, and that would be a service altogether different from the question of attack in the air and the question of defence in the air. It seems to me to be an entirely different study. I venture to think that if aircraft warfare is going to increase, and it looks extremely probable that it will, it will be inevitable that sooner or later there will have to be a Department for that kind of warfare, independent of the Department that looks after war on land and the Department that looks after war on the sea.


My Lords, I have no reason to complain of the manner in which noble Lords have dealt with this very important subject, but your Lordships will, I am sure, realise that a public discussion in Parliament of our system of defence against air raids cannot but be fraught with risk of giving information and assistance to the enemy. This consideration also hampers very greatly any reply in detail to the questions that have been raised, and I hope noble Lords will forgive me if I do not enter, therefore, into many of the remarks that have been made, but which will receive our most serious attention. I may inform the noble Lord (Lord Oranmore) that in the War Office there is no "gasbag school," and whatever may be the outcome of what we have to do for the defence of this country we shall not he affected by any preconceived opinions. As regards what the noble Viscount (Lord Peel) said about the Farnborough manufactory, I would like to point out that it is really in the closest possible touch with those who are serving in the field and that our aeroplanes are not built at Farnborough except in very small quantities. There is a constant interchange of information and testing of all aeroplanes that are specified for at Farnborough; the specifications are made out at Farnborough and then put to the firms that construct them, and every new type is being tried in the field.

I think we must be on our guard in these discussions lest any observations on this subject made in Parliament or in the Press have the effect of making the enemy believe that the moral and material damage which has been caused by air raids on England has been greater than is actually the case, and t bus encourage the enemy to repeat these raids. Up to the present hostile air invasions of England have had no influence whatever on the military conduct of the war, and, regrettable as are the loss of citizen life and the damage to private property, I agree with the noble Lord that the people of this country do not desire to give too great importance to these attacks or allow them to affect our military operations. We all have full confidence that the great courage and coolness hitherto displayed by the public will continue undiminished in any future attacks by the enemy's aircraft on this country. It must be realised that in war it is not always possible to ensure safety everywhere. Some risks must be accepted in order to be strong at the most important points.

Hitherto in regard to aeronautics the War Office has been primarily interested in dealing with the requirements of the various theatres of war, and although I have observed that criticisms have been levelled in another place at the air service at the Front in Flanders, I can assure your Lordships that these criticisms are unfounded and nomerited. No service in the field has, in my opinion, been more efficient than that of our Flying Corps, directed as it is by officers of the highest technical capacity and manned by pilots and observers whose skill and courage are unsurpassed. I may say that in our Flying Corps there is no officer who has not had full technical knowledge and a pilot's certificate.

With reference to home defence, I may say at once as regards Zeppelin attacks that it is beyond our power to guarantee these shores from a repetition of incursions; but, although we have only one example of a Zeppelin being destroyed by aeroplane attack—I allude to Lieutenant Warneford's gallant action—there have been several cases in which we have so disabled the enemy's aircraft as to bring them eventually to the ground or to render them useless for further service. During the last raid, while we are sure that one airship was lost at sea, we have very good reason to believe that a second was placed out of action.

There are three principles which govern our air defence in this country—(l) good information as to the arrival and movements of hostile aircraft; (2) defence by artillery from the land; and (3) attacks in the air by aeroplane as moving more rapidly than Zeppelins can travel. As regards the first, a system has been adopted which I am confident will give us sufficient warning of the impending arrival and probable movements of airships. Arrangements have been made with the Post Office so that all local centres will have thorough and timely warning, and, as the noble Lord suggested, in order to co-ordinate local efforts for defence and to take charge of artillery action and lights, special officers are being appointed at all the principal centres whose sole duty it will be to organise the defences of the areas entrusted to them. These officers will have power to send up the aircraft that may be at their disposal. As regards the second point—artillery—owing to our largely increased ordnance requirements then has been grave difficulty in securing an adequate supply of antiaircraft guns, but I may inform your Lordships that the construction of antiaircraft guns has now priority over other ordnance, and as fast as these guns are produced by the Ministry of Munitions they will be distributed to the best advantage throughout the country. Guns, though they may make a Zeppelin rise to a height whence observation is probably difficult, cannot with any certainty hit the Zeppelin and thus arrest the discharge of the destructive bombs which they carry. This can only be effected by the annihilation of the machine itself. Hence the third principle I have mentioned is an important adjunct of our operations.

The attack by aeroplanes at night is attended by great difficulties and risk, as noble Lords have mentioned, but these, we believe, with more extended practice, will in a great measure be overcome. One of the most important points affecting the defence of this country as well as our operations in the field is the provision of aeronautical material. As your Lordships know, large orders have been given and large supplies have been delivered and are becoming available in increasing qnantities. But as flying machines, like artillery, are an adjunct of both Navy and Army, it has been found advisable to co-ordinate the supply of engines and machines by the establishment of a sub-committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence to deal with the relative requirements of the two Services. Your Lordships will, I am sure, agree that arrangements for anti-aircraft defence are as important as any other for the service of the country, and, as in all military undertakings against a vigilant enemy, secrecy is a most important factor in our calculations for success. The War Office have during the last few days taken over the responsibility for home defence, and, as your Lordships know, it will be placed in the hands of Field-Marshal Lord French, who will, I am glad to say, have the help of Sir Percy Scott as his expert adviser

The noble Lord who initiated this discussion said that the naval men who had charge of the guns in London are being removed. I am afraid the noble Lord was a little mistaken in that. The new garrison artillery that are taking over guns for the defence of London are for new guns, newlymounted, and they do not take the place of the naval gunners. They are also selected from men who have been shooting at enemy aeroplanes at the Front. I am glad of this opportunity of being able to assure your Lordships and the country that the War Office will leave no stone unturned in its efforts to improve to the utmost extent our home defence against Zeppelin raids, and we shall continue to take such energetic steps in the development of our service in the air as shall enable us to inflict the heaviest penalties on the aggressors. In answer to Lord Peel I am informed that no order has ever been sent to a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps to make an ascent at night to attack a Zeppelin. Notice is given to each station when it is time to ascend, if the Zeppelin is to be intercepted. The decision whether to fly or not is left to the senior officer on the spot, and if he decides that the weather is suitable the senior officer is the first to ascend.

THE DUKE OF RUTLAND had the following Question on the Paper—

To ask His Majesty's Government whether orders have been given to the Post Office authorities to issue instructons to all post and telephone offices throughout the kingdom that when warnings of a hostile air raid are being sent by the Police authorities by telephone or telegraph to their county and borough districts, such messages should have immediate priority over all private messages and calls, except over those which are being sent by the military authorities on the same subject.

The noble Duke said: My Lords, the answer which has been given so fully to the two previous Questions with reference to the aerial defence of this country has touched upon the most important part of the whole of this subject, but there is one point which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice—it is referred to in my Question on the Paper. However important it is that there should be proper aerial defence against possible aircraft raids by the enemy, it is still almost as important that those who live in the country districts and in the great boroughs should have prompt intimation of the likelihood of a Zeppelin raid taking place. The fact will be appreciated by everybody that the more rapid and thorough communication by means of the telephone can be, the more likely it is that our great munition factories and buildings and indeed the whole life of the countryside can be effectually guarded by the turning out of lights and the taking of every possible precaution.

The Police in the country districts are now the authorised authority for issuing the necessary warnings to the various districts, and the reason I have put down this Question is that on certain occasions—indeed, during the last air raid—owing to the unfortunate hanging up of messages from the Police giving warning of the probability of a raid, certain places were not in receipt of information until the lapse of, in some cases, three quarters of an hour. It is not difficult to imagine what such a delay in warning a place may lead to. It may lead to an absolutely unnecessary loss of life or to great factories being seriously injured. Although I am aware that the postal and other authorities have all through this war done their best to meet the requirements of the Police on such occasions, still it does not appear to me that there has always been that decisive action on the part of the Government which might be expected on such a serious subject. What I mean is that up to at any rate a day or two ago, although the postal authorities were told that every possible priority should be given to Police air-raid messages, instead of definite orders to that effect being given they came out, as your Lordships are aware, rather more in the style of an appeal by the Government to the public. The public were begged not to impede the Government warnings as to air raids. In the event of an air raid they were asked not to use the telephones for private messages as such action would lead to delays which would be very deleterious. Surely it would be far better that some definite orders, not suggestions, should be given by the Government to the postal authorities to say that, when they receive from the county or borough definite instructions to transmit information to the other districts that a raid was imminent, those messages should have absolute priority over any private messages that might be going to be put on the line about the same time. It is obvious that that should be the case, and I hope therefore that the noble Viscount who is going to reply will be able to say that it las been done.

On some occasions, owing not to lack of good will on the part of the local Post Office and telephone authorities but to a misunderstanding, perhaps, as to the grave necessity of priority being given to these messages, there has no doubt been serious delay. That delay may or may not in certain cases have led to unnecessary disaster. The noble and gallant Field-Marshal has just said—and it is perfectly clear—that we cannot guarantee that there will not be further air raids, and that it is impossible to make certain of being able to prevent a great deal of damage being done one way or another. Surely it is a serious matter if we do not take every possible step that we can to protect the public in the country everywhere, and minimise the effect of these air raids. One of the most effective ways, to my mind, is by transmitting promptly the information that enemy aircraft may be expected. The coast counties get their information rapidly, and it has been arranged in the Midland district with which I have to deal that they should at once transmit through the Police authority to the central Police authority in the adjoining county the information that there are aircraft coming over. The central Police authority in turn transmits the news to its divisional headquarters throughout the county, and when these Police divisional headquarters get the information it is up to them to transmit it as far as possible to every village in their area. That is so, so far as we have been able to arrange it by means of the emergency committees which sit in my county; every man possible is sent off on a bicycle or otherwise to tell the villagers that they must put out their lights, and motor cars are held up. If information of that sort is delayed unnecessarily by priority being given to private telephone messages then you may be sure that you are adding a considerable risk and danger to the population of the countryside. I really placed my Question on the Paper to make sure that the Post Office and telephone authorities are given strict orders, in the circumstances to which I have referred, to hold up all private messages and to give priority to those which come from the Police, even though such a measure may for a short time inconvenience a certain number of the public.


My Lords, the reply to the noble Duke's Question is in the affirmative, but I should like to go a little beyond that blunt reply if your Lordships will allow me. I have no knowledge of what occurred during the previous Zeppelin raids, but on the occasion of the raid which took place on Monday, January 31, and to which the noble Duke referred, a good many persons were naturally anxious to obtain particular information, not from curiosity merely, but also to know what ought to be done and in what way they could assist. There was a great deal of phoning, and as a result the telephone lines of the Police authorities were in many cases blocked by inward calls, so that those authorities were unable to communicate warnings and to give proper instructions as to the precautions which were to be taken by local authorities, railway companies, lighting companies, and industrial undertakings. In order to remedy these difficulties the military authorities, the Home Office, and the Post Office are arranging—as a matter of fact, I think the arrangements have been completed—for a general system of warnings to the local Police authorities which will be communicated by them to the various local authorities and undertakings who require to take certain precautions in anticipation of attacks. For this purpose the country has been divided into a number of districts of such size as to avoid unnecessary interruptions of the work of munition factories and other undertakings of importance in present circumstances. Preliminary warnings will be sent from certain military centres as soon as hostile aircraft are observed at any point on the coast. These preliminary warnings will enable the Police authorities in the various districts to prepare in advance for the arrangements which will be necessary on the approach of aircraft to any district. Other warnings will be given from time to time, according to the observed movements of aircraft, to districts likely to be attacked, and the Police authority in each district will communicate them to the local authorities and to important establishments so that the necessary precautions may be taken.

In consequence of the very large number of the points to which these local warnings will have to be distributed by telephone it will be necessary to regard the distribution of them as the most important function of the telephone system and to limit its use for other purposes, as may be found necessary, to prevent interference with the distribution of warnings. Owing to the uncertainty of the movements of hostile aircraft it may often be necessary to issue warnings within a short time of the possible arrival of the aircraft, and in such cases it will probably be necessary from time to time to suspend altogether the use by the general public of the telephone system, and instructions to this effect have already been given. It is of the utmost importance that in any factory or establishment where a warning is required some responsible person should be in attendance at the telephone in order to receive the warning promptly; otherwise the Police and Telephone Service will be greatly hampered in the distribution of the warnings. It is hoped that all concerned will do their very best to co-operate in carrying out the instructions.