HL Deb 23 April 1941 vol 119 cc55-75

LORD SEMPILL had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask His Majesty's Government if the supply of complete aircraft, as well as the equipment and spares for these aircraft, coming from the United States of America is in accordance with the programme as laid down by the Ministry of Aircraft Production; and to inquire whether the steps which have been taken to avoid delays in bringing these aircraft into service and maintaining them at the highest standard of operational efficiency have proved completely effective; and to move for Papers.


My Lords, I should like to ask the noble Lord, the Leader of the House, whether he will put the proposal that the House do go into Secret Session after the statement by the Minister for Aircraft Production?


My Lords, although as a rule I have been opposed on principle to Secret Sessions. I do feel that, in connection with the debate which may take place on this matter, there is a case for a Secret Session after the Minister has replied, and I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, will agree to a Secret Session on this occasion. I believe that as a rule the members of your Lordships' House can get into touch with Government Departments and represent their views, which will receive adequate attention, without resort to a Secret Session, but on this occasion I think that a Secret Session may be necessary.


My Lords, I think it will be most convenient if after the Minister for Aircraft Production has made his reply, we resolve ourselves into Committee, so as to give my noble friend greater opportunity of answering any points which may be raised; and, as there is a wish for a Secret Session, the beginning of our proceedings in Committee will probably be the most suitable time to move that the House do resolve itself into Secret Session. If, however, any noble Lords wish to comment in public on my noble friend's statement, perhaps they will give me notice, and I will move at the appropriate time that the House do go into Secret Session.


My Lords, the remarks that I propose to submit for your consideration are those coming before the suggestion which has just been made to your Lordships with regard to a Secret Session, and can be discussed in public. I feel that it would be advantageous to do so at this time. I have been privileged on several occasions to submit for your Lordships' consideration suggestions appertaining to the aircraft industry and the use of the products thereof, whether for purposes of defence or of commerce. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will bear with me for a short time, so that I may expand on the Motion which stands in my name regarding the supply of air material from that very great nation, the United States of America, that is marshalling and dispatching to us with all rapidity so much of the resources of which she is possessed. These matters have been previously referred to in open Session in your Lordships' House, and I submit that it is distinctly to the public benefit that a statement should be made in general terms regarding the dispatch by boat or by air of these most vital supplies, indicating their suitability for active service and the rapidity with which they are being brought to bear against the enemy. Statements have appeared from time; to time which would indicate that undue delays have been experienced, and public confidence will be greatly heartened if it can be shown, as I feel sure will be the case, that such difficulties have been re moved or are being very rapidly overcome.

The importance of air power is becoming greater, as has so often been emphasized in your Lordships' House; and, as one who is justly proud of again serving in the Naval Air Service, I need not emphasize to your Lordships the vital need for us to obtain more aircraft for the Battle of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean struggle and elsewhere. These requirements, of course, are small by comparison with those of that magnificent Service created by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, the Royal Air Force, the deeds of which will decorate the pages of history for all time; but they are vital to our national security as a great Naval Power.

The American aircraft industry produces some of the finest aircraft and aircraft engines in the world to-day; in fact there is no air service, whether of a military or a commercial character, that is without some example at least from this great industry. An appetite once whetted becomes like that of Oliver Twist, and the demand is ever for more. We are the leaders in this demand to-day, and we have an appetite which will not be satiated. American air material is, as your Lordships will be aware, in many respects different from British, and a new technique for the best way of handling it has to be learnt and put into practice. We must remember that the American Naval Air Service and the Army Air Corps, whose distinguished chief, my old friend General Arnold, is once again over here to help us, and to an even greater extent than in the last war, have had an intimate contact with our own Air Services, and we have learnt and can learn much the one from the other to the benefit of both, and to the advancement of our common cause, that of freedom.

The Army Air Corps, as your Lordships know, is represented over here by General Scanlon, who is regarded as one of ourselves and has been ever anxious to help us to solve some of these intricate technical problems which are too involved to weary your Lordships with. I hope we may be lucky enough to see over here before very long Rear-Admiral Towers, the distinguished Director of the Naval Air Service. Perhaps he may come over when General Arnold returns to the United States of America We are fortunate, too, in having Mr. Harriman, the chief expediter of all supplies from the United States, and Professor Warner, the aircraft expediter, a very old friend and a world-known figure in the field of aeronautics—all sent over here specially by that grand personality President Roosevelt, for whom no words of praise can possibly be too high. The nation he leads so proudly is doing all possible. The throttle is being opened, and the speed of production is rapidly increasing in consequence.

We are essentially a people of tradition, and dislike change and novelty. Such a characteristic makes itself evident even in aeronautical development. I suggest that His Majesty's Government did not plan ahead against the inevitable resistance to change by setting up a school in which those who are going to use American air material should be trained in the new technique as might be necessary. With your Lordships' permission I shall illustrate this point. We have, as you will be aware, a number of high-performance bombers from America, the famous DB7, one of the first modern aircraft to be fitted with the new tricycle undercarriage and a new type of carburettor. The effective use of such aircraft demands a different handling technique both in taking off and landing, and through failure to school our pilots in this, damage has been done to many aircraft that are urgently required in the front line, and blame has been improperly attributed to the design. I submit that this type of undercarriage, the tricycle undercarriage, is rapidly becoming the type of the future, and we must inculcate in all our pilots a practical knowledge which will lead to its effective use. We have certain small training aircraft here with an undercarriage of similar design, but so far none has as yet been ordered for so obvious a training purpose. It may be mentioned, however, that interest has recently been shown in one of these, but it was suggested that the tricycle undercarriage should be removed and one of the old design fitted in its place. The utility of such a type, a small type, as referred to, may well be gauged by the fact that that distinguished officer and pioneer, Air-Marshal Sir William Mitchell, Inspector-General of the Royal Air Force, has chosen one of these aircraft for the highly important duties that necessitate his flying all over the country and in all weathers.

The American radial air-cooled engines have a tremendous background of experience behind them, in commercial aviation in particular. It is not at all surprising that some troubles have been struck with military usage as we understand it over here, when engines are called upon to operate at a greater power of output than they would normally do in commercial usage. The troubles are not serious, and do not affect the basic soundness of the design, but they must be dealt with practically, and far more rapidly than has been the case. That such types are very much appreciated is clearly indicated as they are being fitted to a number of important British aircraft, and some indication of this policy might with advantage be given by the noble Lord, the Minister for Aircraft Production, when he replies. May I give your Lordships one example? A good number of engines, one of the most up-to-date American radials, have suffered from bent air-screw shafts, the result of pilots landing with under-carriages withdrawn. Such a state of affairs could never occur on the scale it has in commercial aviation where, perhaps, one or two in a year might be found. We have met with a similar difficulty with our own engines, and have worked out a salvage procedure which has made serviceable a lot of equipment that would otherwise have been scrapped under peace-time conditions. These particular American engines are still lying idle and unserviceable whilst the matter is under discussion between ourselves and the United States of America. A procedure to avoid such occurrences should be arranged for. The American service engineers that we are fortunate enough to have over here are first-rate men, but they are not development engineers with design and development experience, and cannot therefore, themselves alone, deal with this particular problem.

Turning now to American aircraft, these are splendid machines to handle, but war usage has introduced special requirements necessitating alterations and additions in armament, armouring, and so forth. Much delay could have been avoided had what might be termed the mature operational requirements been put to the designers and constructors at the very start. The case of the Lockheed Hudson may be cited as an example of the effectiveness of such a policy. When ordered some four years ago, the Director of Technical Development at the Air Ministry, Air-Commodore Verney, went over to America and outlined operational experience on the spot, with the result that when this well-known aircraft was delivered over here and put into service it was successful from the start. The Naval Air Service has obtained a number of useful aircraft from America, in particular the Grumman Martlet ship fighter, and is ever on the lookout for more of this and other types.

The taking into service of a new type is not easy, and must be prepared for by the receipt of adequate pilotage, technical and practical instructions as to how to operate and maintain these machines in service, and tools to assist in this operation and a list of the essential spare parts that will follow. Without such essential information, unless, of course, pilots and engineers with all such experience are available, delays and difficulties must inevitably occur. Such have occurred, and these difficulties need not have been had there been better planning in advance. The absence of such information has resulted in accidents that could have been avoided, and the absence of spare parts has kept, and is still keeping, these aircraft, or a number of them, out of commission. I fully realise the difficulties that have faced the Ministry of Aircraft Production in this immense task, as a fair portion of the air material which has come from the United States of America was ordered by the French Government and others to specifications not in accord with our standards and requirements at that date. This important point in these discussions certainly must not be lost sight of. I am sure your Lordships will agree that whether the aircraft are of American or of British manufacture, it is essential that special tools, ground equipment and spares must be available in sufficient quantity, as without such effective use cannot be made of the aircraft.

I have submitted for your Lordships' consideration some technical points and would like, if I may, to make some suggestions with regard, to the manner in which our requirements are made known to our very good friends across the Atlantic. It is all-important that they should, one and all, feel that they fully understand our problems and that we are most anxious to take advantage in the most complete manner of their considerable skill in design and efficiency in production. The immense potential of the American aircraft industry has not yet been made full use of. We have some eminent men of business and others equally eminent in the technical field in America, hut this is not enough, as we want more of those who are good mixers and psychologists and can "get over" our requirements to their American opposite numbers. It is essential that we see to this matter, as all will not be happy until we do.

The American aircraft industry has a very justifiable pride in its undoubted genius, and the marrying together of this designing skill, especially in so far as it relates to aircraft, and our up-to-date operational requirements is a work of the highest importance to which sufficient attention has not yet, I submit, been given. The psychological aspect of this vital question of getting the scientific, technological and production effort of America one hundred per cent. with us cannot possibly be overstressed. During the last decade or so, many British aircraft designers and engineers have visited the United States of America. Some return full of ideas and a great keenness to go over again, and others return and say they have learnt nothing. The fault lies primarily with ourselves. We must break down that frigid English reserve and meet American designers and technicians with enthusiasm, telling them of a truth, as we may, what grand fellows they are—how we admire their work and need their fullest co-operation in every direction.

To bring about a fuller and more effective co-operation is, I am sure, the desire of your Lordships' House. It has been said before, and may well be said again and yet again, that "transportation is civilisasation." Transport must play an all important part in these vital American-British contacts. The crossing of the Atlantic, as your Lordships know, is difficult in these days, but we have the means of bridging it regularly and in hours, and should forthwith, I submit, inaugurate a regular passenger service across the North Atlantic so that first-class men of science like Sir Henry Tizard, of Air Operations, like Air Chief Marshal Sir Charles Portal, the Chief of the Air Staff and Service Head of the R.A.F., skilled in the Trenchard tradition, Rear Admiral Sir George Lister, the Fifth Sea Lord and Director of the Royal Naval Air Service, Aircraft Production authorities, like Mr. Westbrook and the senior assistants of all those I have mentioned, can go over for a few days at short notice and tell their opposite numbers what our latest problems are. I am fully aware of the shortage of long-range aircraft, whether flying-boats or land machines, but so urgent a matter demands, I submit, action without delay along the lines recommended.

Then the question of the spoken word demands special consideration too, and I submit that the trans-Atlantic telephone service be more freely used so that like may speak to like and, for example, the running and the development engineers over here can rapidly submit the problems which crop up to their principals in America and settle points at issue far more rapidly than is now possible. The benefits that will accrue are considerable and will far outweigh the possible danger that might result by the enemy being made aware of the particular methods to be used in straightening the bent airscrew shafts to which I referred or of avoiding the carburettor in the Allison engine cutting out under certain flight conditions.

I thank your Lordships for having borne with me for so long, but the questions are of the utmost importance. I have ventured to submit my ideas somewhat fully, having been intimately concerned with the technology and practice of aeronautics for some thirty years, and also having been privileged to act with the late Sir Sefton Brancker and Sir Henry Fowler in the last war as Aeronautical Adviser to the American Government of that day for a period in 1918. The American aircraft industry, as we know it to-day, was born then. I know the designers, technicians and operators well. I am proud to be dubbed one of their friends and have a sure knowledge that they will give us material that will usefully advance our great cause in which they, too, believe. A simple illustration, if I may give it to your Lordships, will show how splendid is the spirit that animates both the men and women in the American aircraft industry. But a few months ago the workers in the Lockheed Vega Corporation gave us one complete Lockheed Hudson, which is doing splendid service with the Coastal Command that co-operates so closely with the Navy, and works under the operational control of the Naval Staff. The workers, too, of the Wright Aeronautical Corporation gave us two Cyclone air-cooled radial engines, quite one of the best of such a type in the world to-day. Each man and woman in these great plants saved for months and then, en masse, made this magnificent gesture. It is not so much the aircraft and the engines that are of account but more by far the splendid spirit that moved these men and women to this generous action. I am sure your Lordships will allow me to ask my noble friend the Minister for Aircraft Production to convey a suitable message from your Lordships' House to Mr. Harry Hopkins, who is doing so much for us in America since his return from this side, where he studied our problems at first hand with great energy and showed a sympathy that we shall never forget.

On July 11 of last year I submitted some suggestions to your Lordships touching the same question, and urged that what we wanted was American aircraft as quickly as possible, and without any undue delay in attempts to make these one hundred per cent. British. It was essential that we should get aircraft quickly and your Lordships may be assured that American aircraft designers are in the front rank, as I am sure my noble friend the Minister for Aircraft Production will agree. The American Naval Air Service and Army Air Corps are fine services and make good use of these aircraft, but they would be the first to admit that the designers thereof have not as yet had the full advantage of war experience that alone can enable them to put the finishing touches to the development of the best fighter torpedo-bombers and reconnaissance types. This essential information must come from us and it is to be hoped that as a gesture in this direction His Majesty's Government may send examples of our latest types to America so that the lessons of our experience may be learnt in the most practical manner possible, by the flying of the aircraft that have proven themselves in the heat of battle. Such a step would achieve a great deal, and we should give our best friends the finest examples of the art of aeronautics and aeronautical engineering that we have. In this manner a new policy could with great advantage be cast as, instead of endeavouring to make American aircraft British with all the fuss and flurry of constant modifications, we should expound clearly and regularly to the brilliant aircraft American designers the problems of an operational nature that we have to face. I recommend this course most strongly in so far as aircraft are concerned. It would avoid an infinity of delay of the kind that we have been facing.

With regard to engines, I would recommend the building of one or two British types in America along lines already partly the policy of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which perhaps my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook may say something about in his reply. I have on several occasions in your Lordships' House been privileged to refer to the very splendid and highly useful services rendered by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook as Minister for Aircraft Production. I do so again with pride and a certainty that I am right in stating that he was the one man we needed, and that he has performed his task with a superhuman energy and a clear vision of the needs of the hour. I appeal to him now as the father of a distinguished son recently decorated for gallantry in the air, a brother pilot of mine, and also as the Minister for Aircraft Production, to take full note of the suggestions I have had the honour of submitting to your Lordships, which I hope will find favour in his eyes and receive the Beaverbrook touch, thus ensuring instant action. I beg to move for Papers.


, who had given Notice that he would ask His Majesty's Government whether, without detriment to the public interest, they can make any general statement as to the production and acquisition of aircraft, said: My Lords, I do not rise to make any observation on the Motion that has been presented with so much knowledge and ability by the noble and gallant Lord, but intervene only for a moment to make a suggestion on procedure which may be for the convenience of the House and of the Minister who replies for His Majesty's Government. It may be that the Minister for Aircraft Production is in a position without breach of the necessary secrecy to make a statement on the supply of aircraft generally on which such vital consequences depend. Such a statement would, of course, be received with the greatest interest by the House and by the country, and beyond. I therefore put down the question which stands next upon the Order Paper. If the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, can make such a statement perhaps he would find it convenient, in addition to replying to the points specifically raised by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Sempill, and without derogation of the importance of his Motion, to answer my question in the same speech. If so I should be very grateful and in that event my question need not of course be put.


My Lords, I came prepared to deal with the general issue of aircraft production, so that I am in a position to meet the suggestion of the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel. With your Lordships' permission I will reply very briefly to my noble friend Lord Sempill on the question of American aircraft. I propose first of all to do what I can to dispel any doubt in my noble friend's mind about delays. The delays in delivery are not serious. Some of the firms are quite up to time and some of them even ahead of time. My noble friend spoke of the engine difficulties—the difficulties with the air-cooled engine. They have been overcome. We now find that the American engines are quite as good as any other engines in the world, and are most useful and most valuable. My noble friend spoke, too, of sending fighter and bomber aeroplanes to America. That is being done at the present time. Practically all the operational types are being sent out. Some of them are being sent by sea, and some of them are being flown over, but very shortly the Americans will be in possession of every type, and they will also have available several types of engine. I will deal shortly with the question of the manufacture of engines in America. As my noble friend knows, we have already embarked upon one engine programme, and I will deal with the second which is in contemplation. My noble friend also spoke about the telephone. That is in daily and in constant use between the Aircraft Ministry and the British Aircraft Commission in Washington. It is not neglected in the very least; sometimes I think it is used too much and too freely. There ought to be restraint on it rather than any further encouragement to our staffs to use the telephones to the extent they do.

The last time I spoke in your Lordships' House I dealt with this very issue of American aircraft, and then I told you that we were ordering American machines in great numbers. I said that we had made immense American purchases, and now I am in a position to tell you that we have received immense American deliveries. There are very many of these American machines in operational use. We have handed over to the Royal Air Force nearly 1,000 assembled American and Canadian aircraft. I am sure your Lordships will agree that that is a very large addition to our equipment here, and I am prepared to say on authority that they are fine machines and that they are ready to fly and to fight. There is the Liberator, a very fine type. I had a thrill the other day standing on the airfield with the American Ambassador when the first Liberator arrived in Great Britain. It has four big engines. The wing span is less than that of the Stirling but it is a very big aeroplane, and it is said to be faster than the Stirling; certainly it carries a very fine bomb load. Then there is the Tomahawk. The Tomahawk is the subject of discussion, but the Air Marshal who makes use of the Tomahawk told me the other day how pleased he was with this aircraft. I have just seen a report on the Tomahawk. It is a report of performance in comparison with Hurricane I. The report claims for the Tomahawk a better climb, and that it is more manœuvrable than Hurricane I. It is said that the pilots feel that their view is better too. That is a very fine account. Then there is the Catalina. The Catalina has a splendid range and a most reliable engine. Our need for the Catalina is very great and the supply is considerable. The Glenn Martin, another American aircraft, is doing excellent service in the Middle East. Then there is the Brewster Buffalo, a most excellent machine, and the Navy were very glad to have it. Admiral Lister tells me that pilots are delighted with its performance. We have always praised the Hudson. It has been a most admirable aeroplane and has served us magnificently.

Everything I have told you so far, all these details of aircraft, have been published in the newspapers, but here is something new. The First Lord has told me that he has received in the last few days ninety-five aircraft by sea, 355 tons of aeroplane parts and 326 engines—surely a first-rate consignment. These engines are needed. They are of excellent quality and necessary to us just now for particular purposes. There has been, of course, a steady drain on our shipments by sea of aircraft from America due to losses in convoy. We deplore greatly the destruction of splendid aircraft so suitable for our purposes, but the disappointment we have sustained is somewhat dissipated by our knowledge that the flow of aircraft from the United States is now increasing with such rapidity that we shall, one day for a certainty, reach the supply which I was authorised by the United States to promise just six months ago.

We have been ferrying aircraft, too, bringing them over by air. We have had a ferry service by air ever since last autumn, all through the winter months. We have brought over a great many. The air service has been big and it has operate most satisfactorily. One aeroplane made the journey from coast to coast in seven and a half hours. Another made the journey from the airfield in Canada to the airfield here in less than nine hours. You will know what that means when I mention that the American Clipper to Lisbon takes twenty hours or more. The German broadcast has just announced that we are about to discontinue ferrying our aircraft because our losses have been so severe that we cannot stand the strain any longer. That is not very convincing to us, because I am in a position to tell you that during the whole ferry service up to this moment we have only lost one aeroplane—only one. That aeroplane we lost makes a sad story. Five aircraft started out from Newfoundland for our country; four arrived. One sent a message asking for bearings, turned back and landed in the trees, and Sir Frederick Banting, the Canadian scientist, lost his life. He was the only passenger we were carrying in those five 'planes and we were so unfortunate as to lose that particular machine. But let it be said that the ferry system by air is not only continuing but is likely to be developed and extended, for it is quite a possibility that we will be able to fly over some of our fighters before long. It will be by a route somewhat different from that taken by the bombers, but none the less we hope the day is not far distant when both fighters and bombers will be brought to this country by air.

It was very sad that Sir Frederick Banting, the scientist, should lose his life while in our keeping, for the scientists are more necessary to the aircraft industry possibly than to any other industry. We have a great many scientists. I take pride in our scientists and our technicians. I think they are the best scientists and technicians in the aircraft industry to be found in the whole world, and I say that after close relationship with them. I would not change for any others. The number of our scientists and technicians is very great. If I were to tell you that the increase in their numbers since I have been Minister is something like 25 per cent. you would not be much impressed by my percentage, but if I were to tell you the actual numbers you would probably say that I was so extravagant in the conduct of the Ministry in regard to scientists and technicians that I ought to be curbed. This is certain, that in scientific pursuits in the Aircraft Ministry and also in technical pursuits, you can rely with absolute confidence on the distinguished men in our service. They can be trusted to make the plans and to launch the projects for the future, which will give us the improvement in aircraft design that we require.

It has been said in your Lordships' House that technical staffs should be given the opportunity to apply themselves to operational uses of their own devices. In the Aircraft Ministry they are given that opportunity, and not only are they given it but they take it, and they take it with extraordinary results. A few days ago—perhaps it was two weeks ago—one of the officers in our development branch who is engaged in the design of bombs actually went off to the airfield after he had tested his great bomb and found it satisfactory. He left the Ministry at 4 o'clock and arrived on the airfield in the evening. He loaded his big bomb upon the aeroplane and off he went with it to Emden. There he dropped it on the town. Back he came and arrived at the Ministry at 9 o'clock in the morning. At 10 o'clock he told me his experiences in technical terms. He had gone so far in the pursuit of his vocation as to see the bomb through to its final destination. That bomb created the greatest interest not only in Germany but in the newspapers here. It was the biggest bomb ever flung out of an aeroplane and the name of the officer was Squadron-Leader R. H. Gardner.

Then there is Air Commodore Huskinson. He has pursued the application of science very persistently. During Wednesday night's great attack upon London, Air Commodore Huskinson left his bed and went to the window and there he stood watching to see what the effects of the explosion of the bombs might be. Unfortunately an explosion resulted in the loss of his sight. I am glad to say there is some possibility of his sight being restored, and we are anxiously waiting his return to the Aircraft Ministry.

The task is always the same whatever the contribution of the scientists may be. The task is to build bigger bombers, faster fighters, higher flying aircraft and night flying aircraft. That is the job and scientists and producers are alike engaged in it. This is what they have achieved since I became a Minister, but let me make it perfectly plain that I am dealing with achievements that were initiated by my predecessors and not by me. I am not claiming credit; I am giving credit. We have launched three fighters—the Beaufighter, the Fulmar and the Whirlwind. We have launched three bombers, the Stirling, the Halifax and the Manchester. These aircraft I can describe to you. Where do I get my information? Out of the American newspapers. The Whirlwind has two Merlin engines and the Stirling has a wing span of 127½ feet, a range of 3,000 miles and a speed of 330 plus. It has four engines, is faster than the Flying Fortress, the American aircraft, and faster than the Consolidated B24, sometimes called the Liberator. The Manchester has a. span of 90 feet, a maximum speed of 325 miles per hour and two engines. The American newspapers do not tell us what these engines are, but I will tell you; they are Vultures. The American newspapers do not give us any particulars of the Halifax. They make up for that neglect, however, by telling us about the Tornado, a single-seater fighter with a speed of 425 miles per hour and one engine of 2,000 horse power.

That brings me to the subject of new engines. We have brought into use since the Ministry was formed five new types. There is the Sabre, and there is the Vulture which develops 2,000 horse power, and I must here give credit to the firms responsible for these two engines—the Napier and Rolls-Royce concerns. We are working on some other new engines, engines of very interesting types which will be quite surprising in the matter of the power that can be developed from limited size and small weight. These new products, as I say, are all the work of my predecessors with the exception of the Sabre. The Sabre was put into production in my time and it was put into production without waiting for any tests, without being quite sure of how it would turn out and what the results would be. But, fortunately, I am in a position to tell you that the Sabre is a great engine, perhaps one of the greatest engines that has been produced.

We have other activities, too, in the Ministry of which you will want to hear. We have activities which do not depend upon scientists or producers but upon our men of business. That is true with regard to the system which we have carried out of dispersal of plants. We have carried it out on a very large scale. We took the decision to disperse over the countryside just about the time the Ministry was formed, and dispersal has been carried out on a very daring basis indeed. It might have led to trouble in production, and it certainly led to criticism. It was launched against opposition, but that I find is essential to good judgment. I have good judgment. I asked for Cabinet authority for the dispersal and I got it. The sums of money involved were very big indeed. Now there are criticisms sometimes directed against the Ministry because dispersal is not carried out fast enough or far enough. We have got to balance ourselves nicely on the desire for dispersal on the one side and on the intention to maintain production on the other side. Dispersal does do damage to production and sometimes very considerable damage. However, the system, as I say, has worked out very satisfactorily and has proved a success.

When bombings have taken place, your Lordships may occasionally have heard on the German wireless and elsewhere of our immense losses in aircraft and aircraft capacity, but they have turned out, in fact, to be nothing at all because our aircraft production had gone away. We were out of the bombed areas altogether. One plant which used to occupy a single site is now scattered over five counties, with forty-two separate centres of production. In order to destroy the production of that undertaking the enemy will have to find a great number of these plants, but of course, we take precautions when dispersal occurs on that scale to equip ourselves with duplicate production in order to avoid just such a contingency. The dispersal of aircraft factories still goes on and also the dispersal of the raw material plants. We carry out that dispersal on an extensive scale also. We find that it is a very satisfactory thing to do because, of course, we do want to conserve all the raw materials we can.

It is not only in regard to raw materials that we find our difficulties but also in the fabrication of raw materials. In the past, we have not had enough capacity in fabrication. We have had plenty of capacity always—and it was left to me by my predecessors—for the production of air frames and the manufacture of engines. We did not need to increase our capacities in these respects, but the fabrication of raw materials for aircraft and engine factories had not marched along with the large expansion of aircraft factories and engine works. The reason why the fabrication of raw materials had not kept pace was that it was assumed that, as fabrication was in the hands of private individuals and great firms of high standing, they would develop their fabricated output as the necessities arose. It was thought that the operation of the law of supply and demand would have provided for the necessary increase. Unfortunately, nothing of the sort occurred. There was a lag on the part of fabricators, and also a considerable lag in the manufacture of tools, presses and so forth for the production of raw materials.

So it was in that branch of production that we found our greatest difficulties and most of our troubles. We were confronted with an urgent need for increased output. We are now in a better position—our position has somewhat improved. I sent a telegram a few days ago to aircraft factories. I have that telegram with me and I want to quote from it. In it I referred to a gentleman named Mr. Mitman, who was an American citizen when the war broke out but after France fell he became a British subject. I am pleased to say that I have had some part in securing his naturalisation. He has acted in a voluntary capacity for the Ministry as Controller of the fabrication of raw materials specially for the fighter output, and it was in accordance with a conversation between him and myself that I sent this telegram to the factories on March 26. I said in the telegram: I have seen Mr. Mitman who assures me that no fighter aircraft for the Royal Air Force or for the Fleet Air Arm are held up this day on account of steel alloys, light alloys, forgings and stampings including magnesium. Survey shows that the position in this respect is, if anything, better than before war broke out. That telegram met with immediate response from every manufacturer save two. There were only two who disputed Mr. Mitman's claim. I concluded the telegram by demanding that there should be refutation of Mr. Mitman's claim if that was the position, and that there should be more production on the other hand if Mr. Mitman was right in his statements. I am bound to tell you that only two factories made a protest against Mr. Mitman's telegram.

Equipment has also been a trouble to us. By "equipment" I mean guns, radio apparatus, navigational devices and so on. We were not in a position when the war broke out, and for some little time afterwards, to put aircraft into immediate operation because of the lack of equipment. It has been a difficult job to build up our equipment requirements, and in particular the providing of guns has been a hard and tedious business. Equipment shortages still exist, but these can perhaps be overcome by more drive and more energy. That, however, means taking advantage of every opportunity.

I come now to a very important development in the Ministry, and that is repair and maintenance and salvage. Repair has really added to our strength, and salvage has been a first-rate venture with us; for instance, we have salvaged an enormous amount of aluminium. We have salvaged so much aluminium that we can now say that we require only eleven months of raw material instead of twelve months. In other words, out of the salvage of aluminium we have been able to supply one month of our necessities in the form of raw materials. The repair of engines has also been an interesting job, and a great repair organisation has been built up which can be relied upon in the day of adversity and when difficulties confront us. The repair of aircraft and engines and the collection of salvage have been on a fine scale, and have made a first-rate contribution to our resources. Here let me say that we find that serviceability is of the first importance not only to an Air Force but to a mechanised Army also. Everything depends on the success of repair and maintenance if a mechanised Army is to be kept in the field. I am certain it will be found that many mechanised Armies will fail completely and crash absolutely in the days to come for want of serviceability in the form of repair and maintenance. Generals commanding vast mechanised Armies will pay more and more attention to repairs and serviceability.

While the importance of salvage, repair and maintenance must be very plain to all of us, you will ask me what is the present production position. During the last nine months, three types of aircraft have been withdrawn from operational use to service with the Training Command. They have been abandoned as operational aircraft and turned over to the Training Command for the training of pilots. I refer to the Anson, the Botha and the Battle; all three have been removed from the list of operational aircraft. Yet, rapidly as the Royal Air Force is expanding, strengthened, too, by the flow of pilots and crews from the Dominions, the aircraft in storage—that is, aircraft in storage at the back of the operational aircraft, and awaiting use—show a satisfactory condition. In fact, of the five principal operational types, we have a reserve now in our storehouses, scattered far and near, that is equal to the total operational strength—a 100 per cent. reserve. That applies to the heavy bombers; if we add one light bomber, then the reserve comes to more than 100 per cent. But do not let it be supposed for a moment that we are satisfied with a reserve of 100 per cent. Very far from it; we think that the Royal Air Force is entitled to a reserve of 200 per cent. or even 300 per cent., and that ought to be the object and purpose of the Aircraft Ministry

My noble friend Lord Sempill spoke of the production of engines on the other side of the Atlantic. When the Ministry was first formed, we made a contract in America for the production of the Merlin 20. That contract was made with the Packard Company. It is our money, our design and our pay-roll The Packard engine in America, the American Merlin, sometimes called the Packard Merlin, should be in production very shortly. In the last day or two we have received a message from Washington to say that it is the intention of the American Government to produce in America for their account the Sabre engine. That has been settled and is concluded. All the same, we must continue our own production. We must step it up as fast as we can and as far as possible. Our own production is and always must be of first importance, and we recognise that fact. We must never let help from America, for which we are so grateful, turn us from our main purpose; on the contrary, the mere fact that they are dealing with us so generously and are giving of their assets so freely should make us more determined in furthering our own resources to the uttermost.

In production, things are not bad. In February we produced more bombers and fighters of the operational type than ever before, and the month of March outstripped February; March was a record output, the biggest output of operational types—fighters and bombers—that we have had. In March the output of fighters and bombers and other operational types was two-and-a-half times the production of March last year, and our March output exceeded our target programme.


My Lords, I beg to move that the House do resolve itself into Committee in Secret Session to consider the statement of the noble Lord.

Moved, That the House do resolve itself into Committee in Secret Session to consider the statement of the Minister for Aircraft Production.—(Lord Moyne.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee in Secret Session accordingly.

At the end thereof:


My Lords, I should like to congratulate my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, the Minister for Aircraft Production, on the fact that he has arranged to send, and may have already sent, certain of our first-line aircraft by boat or by air over to America. This is a really splendid move. I would ask that to-day's proceedings as set out in the Official Report be circulated to the heads of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, so that they may be carefully studied and effect given to the various suggestions as far as possible. I beg leave to withdraw my motion.


My Lords, I will see that effect is given to the noble Lord's suggestion.

Motion for. Papers, by leave, withdrawn.