HL Deb 18 June 1941 vol 119 cc445-84

LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to recent war events in the Mediterranean area and to related matters affecting our war effort, and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, it is appropriate that at this meeting of your Lordships' House we should have a review of certain recent war events, which may perhaps in a measure contribute towards the elucidation of some of those events and, I hope, towards the learning of some lessons. One of the most notable events that have occurred, apart from those referred to in the Motion on the Paper, was the remarkable meeting in London of the Allies and their exceedingly important declaration. I do not propose to stay to discuss that meeting, because I believe my noble friend on my left is going to refer to it, but when reading the statement issued after the meeting one was inspired by the hope that, better than last time, those intentions and resolutions to bring about a better order of security in the world will be continued into the period of peace and not forgotten when victory is achieved.

Since the Notice was given there has also been the sequence of events in Syria. It seems to be a slow sequence. There may be good reasons for its being slow—I am not in a position to criticise, because I do not know the inside facts—but it is notable that, having inveigled Vichy into this opposition, the Germans, it is said, are not themselves intervening actively in their support. If that is so, it is a fact of great significance, but I say nothing about it more than merely to call attention to it. I turn to Crete. Even in the days when we were engaged with our history books, and long since that period, we have all been acquainted with the importance of the island of Crete, and I think we all rejoiced in our hearts, when Greece decided to oppose Italy, that it gave us an opportunity of acquiring that magnificent base. From the points of view of the Navy and the Air Service we were told—and no doubt told truly—that it was of first-class importance. It was therefore the more tragically disappointing that, in the course of a few days, we were bundled out by air attack. We had been there more or less for seven months, and I think it is appropriate and necessary to inquire how it was that at the end of that time there were still only three aerodromes all inadequately defended. It was that central fact, so I understand, which made it impossible to provide the necessary air defences as a base for the squadrons of the Fighter Command.

I confess that I myself was not altogether comforted by the speech which the Prime Minister made on this matter in another place. If Crete was—as I am sure it was—of the importance that we have been led to believe, then it clearly was necessary, even at the risk of making great sacrifices, that those aerodromes should have been adequately defended. One feels misgivings as to who was responsible for advising the Government that it was not necessary to equip them with adequate defences. Whoever was responsible for that decision was clearly responsible for giving a piece of advice which was lamentably bad. But I am not going to dwell on that very long. I do, however, wish to inquire a little as to what this means in terms of the higher direction of our war effort, because that is a thing which is of vital consequence. If it was defective in Crete it is extraordinarily important that defects should be remedied as speedily as possible and that we should not run similar risks in our home defence. There is nothing new about insisting on the importance of the adequate defence of our aerodromes. I can claim no vestige of originality for anything that I am going to say; but this case focuses in a dramatic. manner what I think is an outstanding need, and it is appropriate to inquire what the Government propose to do about it.

Up to the present I believe it has been held that the responsibility for the defence of aerodromes is with the War Office, but I was interested to see in the Press as recently as last week that the Air Ministry itself is setting about the organisation of an Airfields Defence Corps. I should like to know what that means. Is it a separate Command under the Air Ministry, or is it to be under the War Office, or what? I must be careful what I say in public, and I shall be careful not to say anything which has not been made public before; but the defence of aerodromes hitherto has been allotted to Home Defence units, and in some cases to companies of Pioneers, and to various other mixed forces. It is quite clear, I think, that these forces have borne no organic relation to one another and have not been specially equipped for that service.

The noble Lord who speaks for the War Office has often complained that large numbers of men whom the War Office would like to be training have been taken away for the defence of innumerable posts and for various other services. I myself, in quite another capacity, am responsible for the employment of one or two hundred men in khaki doing drainage operations. The noble Lord has more than once complained that this abstraction of men for miscellaneous services of this kind has meant that they have not been available for the proper training which a mobile, highly-equipped Army requires; and I think that that is a just complaint. If that is the case, however, it means, and can only mean, that the abstraction of large numbers of groups for the defence of aerodromes is unsound in itself; and it means, and can only mean, I think, that there is a waste of man-power going on owing to inadequate organisation. It seems to me that the ill-defined responsibility for, and inadequate organisation of, this vital section of defence mean, and can only mean, that there has been an inadequate amount of first-class Staff work devoted to the problem. I shall be glad if the noble Lord will tell us what system it is proposed to adopt.

This matter has often been recognised as serious by men on the spot, and I was responsible in March and April of this year—long before the battle of Crete—for bringing to the notice of the War Department and of the Air Ministry a very serious memorandum on this subject. I have here a copy of the memorandum, which the officer who drew it up was instructed to send to the Area Command. It was also discussed at the Air Ministry. Nothing happened. Pressure from this source to improve the organisation of the defence of our aerodromes has been going on for several months, and as far as I can tell—and I know that I can tell—as a result of these efforts nothing whatever has happened. This is significant too. I have a letter here—I am tempted almost to read an extract from it—but what it comes to, apparently, is that, under the system which I hope the noble Lord will reform, officers even in command of units, as this man is, are extraordinarily nervous about making suggestions. When I first began some months ago to take a close personal interest in this particular matter I was warned over and over again that whatever I did I must not give anyone away; I must not make any statement which might lead to the identification of the person making the representation. I dare say that this nervousness on the part of officers is often entirely ill-founded—I think it is—but still it is a reflection on the system. He says here: Much of the home defence work has been relegated to retired officers, easy of nature, comfortable in mind, but scarcely modern in outlook. I should think that that is an entirely accurate description of a good many of those who have been in command of this vital service.

I suggest that this division of responsibility which has persisted hitherto, and so far as I know still persists, as to this vital matter of home defence, the lack of comprehensive organisation of the Service, bespeaks inadequate Staff work unmistakably. More than once I have joined with the noble Viscount (Viscount Trenchard), though I am not an expert, in opposing the absorption of the Air service in the War Office. Entirely apart from technical considerations, on which one is incompetent to express an opinion, what has moved me all the time is that I am afraid of the deadly, paralysing effect of the War Office system. It is a deadly, paralysing system, and if we are going to win this war we have got to give brains a better chance. I cannot help thinking that the reason this great problem of the adequate defence of aerodromes proved to be so critical, and has not been apprehended and adequately deal with, is that we have not given enough play to brains at the top. I am not criticising any particular individual. It is the system. If anybody tries to develop originality or initiative within the War Office system, as all of us know who are aware of the masses of paper that beset it right down to the simplest transaction, he is a bold man and likely to be disappointed.

I am saying these somewhat unkind things deliberately because it is of urgent consequence—and the lessons of Crete prove it to be so—that the neglect, which clearly must be neglect, or we should not find the Air Ministry last week appealing for special forces to defend aerodromes, must be ended. We ought to fasten on the need of getting decision as to the responsibility for this section of home defence; we should get decision as to the necessity of bringing to bear upon it the best minds and the best equipment. It seems to me that what is clearly required, apart from what I may call local delaying defence, is to have small mobile forces perfectly equipped, perfectly trained, available in suitable centres at a moment's notice. But whatever may be the system, there is no apology needed on my part for putting forward a plea that we should be provided without delay with an adequate and perfectly equipped system of defence for our home aerodromes. I beg to move for Papers.


My Lords, the Motion that the noble Lord has put before the House refers in particular to the Mediterranean area. Undoubtedly the most significant event in that theatre of war which has recently taken place is the fact that British and French Forces find themselves in conflict. It is probable that history, when it relates the events of these times, will point to that as one of the most surprising and, it may be, one of the most important events in the course of these campaigns. The action taken in Syria by His Majesty's Government was undoubtedly most necessary, and indeed unavoidable, but the fact that it should have been so strongly resisted is deplored by all of us. Those of us who know France well, who have often been stimulated by her history, who are attached to her people, regret profoundly that events have so turned out. After centuries of warfare the Entente Cordiale at the beginning of this century, followed by the Anglo-French Alliance, placed the relations of these two great countries on a different footing, and it was hoped that this close friendship would long continue, or indeed be permanent. Yet these unhappy occurrences have taken place.

But contrast the conditions under which the Anglo-French Alliance was made and those that now prevail. That Alliance was the work of a regularly functioning French Constitution. It was endorsed by a President, a Senate, a Chamber, an electorate, a free Press, and by great manifestations in Paris; but this misalliance between France and Germany has behind it no free Press, no electorate, no Chamber, no Senate, no President, only a Government of self-appointed Generals and Admirals meeting at a health resort, and represented in Paris by a French Ambassador. Yesterday was the anniversary of the French surrender, and it is painful to see how far during these twelve months the authorities in France have moved. Admiral Darlan, M. Laval, and their associates do not show a reluctance in co-operating with the German aggression. They do not express bitterness of soul at the hard necessity which compels them to this action. On the contrary they display alacrity, even gusto. Some time ago I came across a passage in Romain Rolland's great book Jean Christophe, of which I made a note at the time, for it seemed so well to describe a certain type of French politician, and now it appears to have a particularly cogent bearing. He wrote this of these politicians: When things do not go in France according to your liking you resign with a flourish. One would say you take a pride in declaring yourselves vanquished. People have never been known to lose their cause with so much spirit. That the action taken by His Majesty's Government in Syria was necessary cannot be doubted. If Germany had occupied that country, as she undoubtedly would have done but for this intervention, there must have been a profound effect, both moral and strategic, on all the neighbouring countries of Iraq, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey, throughout the Middle East and far into Central Asia. The present task, therefore, had to be undertaken, intensely distasteful though it is that we should be engaged in such hard fighting against some at least of those who were our comrades of yesterday. But we all hope that when France has been liberated and when a free people, with a knowledge of the facts now concealed from them, shall have repudiated Vichy and all its works, this episode may be allowed to be an episode only and to fall into oblivion, and that they will recognise it is not our doing but the work of a self-appointed Government without authority from the French people.

The undertakings in Greece and Crete, to which my noble friend has just referred again, had to be attempted. If they had not been attempted, if Greece and Crete had been allowed to fall under the Germans without a fight, then indeed the Government would have been subjected to a censure far more severe than anything that has now been addressed against them. The very great strategic difficulties of conducting a campaign with the present means of communication should of course be remembered. All supplies and forces from our ports to the Piraeus had to be sent by way of the Cape of Good Hope. The delay was most grave, and in these matters of communications by sea a month is a worse danger than a minefield, because a minefield you can sweep away, but a month is always a month, unless, as an Irishman might say, you are travelling by air. But upon these matters of strategy and tactics it is difficult, indeed it would be impertinent, for any layman to express an opinion, and we are fortunate in this House in having noble Lords who can speak with expert knowledge, some of whom, Lord Trenchard and Lord Milne, will, I hope, take part in to-day's debate.

I do not propose to enter that field. I would refer, in the few remaining observations I shall address to the House, to a remark that was made to me immediately after the defeat in Crete by a British public man who said to me: "After all we are bound to admit that Hitler has succeeded in everything that he has undertaken." After that I took a piece of paper and wrote down a number of important occurrences in this war in which Hitler has failed. I do not want to fall into a fault for which I reproached the late Government here again and again, the fault of complacency. Far from it. We shall undoubtedly have ordeals to face, and possibly defeats to suffer, but it is, after all, a mistake to think that if anything goes right it is wrong ever to refer to it.

Take first this special theatre of the Mediterranean which is the subject of the Motion before us, and remember, although it is now almost forgotten, the incident in Iraq of the rebellion of Rashid Ali. There we were told: "This shows the extraordinary efficiency of German propaganda and German intrigue." I remember a newspaper article pointing to the coincidence of this action in the East with the success of Germany and Italy in Cyrenaica and the attack in Greece, and saying that this showed the perfect timing of Hitler's diplomacy and strategy. And, indeed, if the people of Iraq had responded and had risen, and if the air bases had fallen into the hands of Germany and troop-carrying planes were day by day pouring in Divisions into Iraq, then people would have said: "See how successful are the Germans in their conduct of the war compared with our own Government." But now that British Forces are in fact occupying the whole country, including the oil fields and the pipeline, and the unhappy dupes of Hitler are refugees scattered over Asia, we forget about it and pass on to the next thing.

Again, after Cyrenaica had been reconquered by the Germans and Italians, most people in this country had alarming visions of the possibilities of fresh motorised German forces sweeping across the desert and taking Egypt unprepared, even making their way to Alexandria and attacking the main base of our Fleet in the Mediterranean. Tobruk, it was thought, would be quickly overwhelmed, and it might be that a very violent onslaught would be immediately delivered against an Egypt unprepared, and denuded of troops by the campaign in Greece. That attack may well come. Do not let it be thought that I am suggesting that the danger is over; far from it; but at all events that particular eventuality that was then regarded widely as being immediately possible has not occurred.

Thirdly, last year, after the collapse of France and when German troops were alleged to be on the Pyrenees, most of us envisaged the possibility that the roads and railways of Spain would be utilised by great German Armies with heavy artillery making their way to Gibraltar and engaging there in a second siege which, whether successful or not, might have the effect of denying the use of that harbour to our Fleet. That, again, has not occurred. The assault may be made. Heaven forbid that I should suggest that preparations ought not to be undertaken to meet the possibility, but a year has gone by and Spain still maintains her neutrality. One cannot imagine that that is Hitler's desire. Then next, he threw his protecting shield over his Ally Italy, and indeed succeeded in defeating the Greeks, assisted as they were by British Imperial Forces. And now the streets of Athens are resounding to the furtive footsteps of the most inglorious conqueror that has ever invaded her during all the vicissitudes of her long history. In Libya, again, the Germans succeeded in turning back the tide, bet if you look at the rest of the Italian Empire, the Ally of Germany cuts no great figure. In Eritrea and Abyssinia Italian Armies of hundreds of thousands of men have been defeated and dissolved.

Next, with regard to the Eastern Mediterranean, the attitude to Russia is of importance, and no one knows what the immediate future may bring. When, before the war, Hitler made his Pact with Russia, and again, on subsequent occasions, it was declared that his eastern front was secured and that he could rely upon the assistance of the vast resources of Soviet Russia, but now it appears that the affection and mutal confidence of these Allies is best shown by each side massing Armies of 2,000,000 men facing each other along their mutual frontiers from the Baltic to the Black Sea.

Again, in regard to the alliance with Japan and the much-heralded Treaty which was a direct threat to America, and which it was thought would frighten the United States from taking any overt action for the assistance of the Allies here, for fear that she should be subjected to an attack from Japan in accordance with that Treaty, there has been no such effect, rather the opposite, in fact. American supplies, in spite of the treaty with Japan, are now coming by sea direct from America to our Forces in the Middle East. Possibly, it may be, the Japanese are not unmindful of the fact that the great new 35,000-ton battleships of the British and the American Navies are now taking to the sea, one by one, month by month. Next, a point that is not often referred to is that America's action must be greatly influenced by the attitude of the sister Republics in Central and South America, and we know that Germany has been making intense efforts through propaganda to influence many of those States. There again the failure has been complete, and President Roosevelt is able to act with the knowledge that the whole of the twenty-one Republics of America are in step and that the Pan-American union remains solid and effective.

The German Army, it is true, has had great and continuous successes. The failure of her Navy has been almost equally remarkable. When one speaks of Hitler succeeding in all that he has undertaken, the fate of the "Bismarck" and the "Graf Spee" and the immobilisation of the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" tell a different story. The Battle of the Atlantic is far from having been won by us, but it certainly has not been won by Hitler.

The chief failure of all was last September. We were told in the German Press that Goering had announced that the German Luftwaffe had attained air control over the British Channel. The whole German people then anticipated any day that the vaunted invasion would cross the Channel and that the end of the war would be in sight by the occupation of this country. But it was not the Luftwaffe that won air supremacy over the Channel; it was the Royal Air Force. That again must be ranked as another, and the greatest, of Hitler's failures.

Lastly, the attempt that was made to break British morale by indiscriminate bombing by night, which has gone on for so many months. British morale has not been broken; it has not even been dented. We saw the great declaration to which my noble friend has referred made at St. James's Palace a week ago which reaffirms in terms of the utmost clarity and emphasis the resolve of this country, with the Dominions and Allies—fourteen countries in all—to maintain the struggle to the end until victory is won. Such a declaration was not needed by our own people, we knew that that would be so, but it was useful as being expressed in every circumstance of solemnity to the people of countries abroad, to America, Spain, Turkey, Russia, Italy, Japan. All of them can now have no doubt that this country will pursue its efforts to the bitter end.

Hitler's achievements have been great. Wherever his Army can reach, it is true to say that he has succeeded. But there is another side to the account. Carlyle quoted a saying and applied it to Napoleon that may be particularly apt, perhaps, in application to Hitler, especially in view of his own early life: "You may paint with a very big brush and yet not be a great painter." The Germans have had, then, many failures. They do not proclaim them, and as a rule we do not trouble to do so, because we concentrate our attention, and quite rightly, on our own defeats, on learning the lessons of those defeats, and in preparing measures to turn back the tide. Parliament is right to criticise the Government of the day, as my noble friend has done, to condemn their mistakes and omissions and to stimulate them to further efforts. I submit that it is right also that in Parliament voices should be raised from time to time to take note of our own successes and to applaud the initiative of the Government when that initiative is taken, to assure them that energy and unwavering resolution will ever command the nation's support.

VISCOUNT DUNEDIN. My Lords, I thought that the noble Lord who began this debate would have moved for Sir Ronald Storr's Despatches from Cyprus. He did not do so. I have not seen those Despatches, but I am informed that time and again he urged that there should be an aerodrome fitted out in Cyprus, for which it seems there is an almost natural place. What was the result? We have these ugly facts. We were turned out of Crete and we lost many men there because we could not give them proper air support. If we had had an aerodrome in Cyprus we could have given them absolute support. I do not think this should be simply put off by a juggle between Departments. If those Despatches are what I was told they were I do not think the Prime Minister of the day, Mr. Baldwin, can possibly get out of the responsibility. I think the loss of men in Cyprus and Crete is all due to the fact that they were left in Crete without proper air support, whereas if there had been, as there should have been, an aerodrome at Cyprus, there would have been ample support in Crete and none of those lives would have been lost. I hope somebody will take up this who knows more about it than I necessarily do, but I do not think it should be simply put off by a question of a juggle between Departments as to what Department is particularly burdened with the question of the supply of aerodromes.


My Lords, I would like to refer to four points that have arisen in the criticisms, suggestions and discussions that took place in another place on the subject of Crete. The first is on the evacuation of Crete and the criticism of the Government and of their Service advisers regarding the air support given to the Army and Navy. This criticism has been voiced in many quarters, but I refer particularly to that of Mr. Hore-Belisha. I have not seen a full report of his speech, but I read in the Evening Standard the following, which is similar to a lot: It was stated that without airfields the Royal Air Force had been unable to give adequate support to our troops in Greece. Within eighteen days of our evacuation the Germans were using these non-existent airfields for the most formidable invasion hitherto undertaken. Crete, where we had been installed for seven months, was, we were assured, a defensive position which we intended at all costs to hold. There could be no question of evacuation here. After an attack lasting only twelve days the island was abandoned. These statements are highly misleading and, coming from an ex-Secretary of State, they are extremely reprehensible.

Air power is now thirty years old and the broad factors underlying air operations are generally understood. It would probably not be much of an exaggeration to say that Germany has the advantage of a chain of aerodromes forty miles apart all the way from Berlin to the Greek coast. That means that, right from the centre of production in Germany to the air battle zone, aircraft and aircraft supplies could roll forward continuously to sustain the air battle day and night. In the fight for Greece they had the advantage of all these aerodromes in what might be called the back areas. We were fighting with our backs to the sea, using only a small area in which aerodromes were possible. To suggest that eighteen days after our evacuation the Germans were using non-existent airfields for the most formidable invasion hitherto undertaken begs the whole point.

I should scarcely have thought it necessary to explain the severe geographical disadvantages under which our commanders laboured in the air defence of Crete, but there is so much misunderstanding that I hope your Lordships will bear with me if I give an explanation. A glance at the map shows that the island of Crete lies in close proximity to aerodromes in German occupation—not only in Greece, but in Bulgaria, in Rumania, in Yugoslavia and in the islands of the Dodecanese. Behind those aerodromes in Greece there is a continual line of aerodromes, as I have said, right back to the centre of production in Germany. From those aerodromes aircraft and supplies could roll forward continually to sustain the battle in the battle zone. In preparation for the attack on. Crete, the Germans had built up a most formidable concentration of aircraft on all those aerodromes. The short distance separating Crete from the German bases made it possible for them to employ not only their long-range bombers such as the Junkers 88 and Messerschmitt no, but also dive bombers and short-range fighters.

The air defence of Crete against this threat was a matter of great difficulty. The aerodromes available in the island were limited in number, while the shape of the island made it impossible to provide adequate depth in defence. Unless provided on an overwhelming scale with anti-aircraft defences the operation of fighter aircraft from these aerodromes was impossible. The three hundred miles which separated Crete from our bases made it impossible to bring forward our fighters in regular reinforcements; neither could the bombs, stores and all the equipment be brought forward as and when required. If more aerodromes had been built in Crete, they would have been subject to the same disabilities. In fact, the fighters and air equipment could never have survived the scale of bombing attack which the Germans could bring against them. From the outset, therefore, it must have been clear that the air defence of the island was mainly a question of static defences—static defences such as anti-aircraft guns, together with such long-range fighters and other air support as could be brought to bear by Royal Air Force squadrons operating from Egypt. As I have said, the use of short-range fighters with bases in Egypt was impracticable.

It is essential to remember that the operations in Crete followed closely upon the evacuation of Greece. The wisdom of our operations in Greece has been the subject of wide discussion but the decision to go to the assistance of our Allies has received universal approval. A part of the price paid for these operations was the loss of much valuable ground equipment, including anti-aircraft guns, indispensable for aerodrome defence. The operations in Crete began before it was possible for these serious losses of equipment to be made good. Whether it was ever possible to accumulate enough equipment adequately to defend the aerodromes in Greece as well as in Crete during the seven months of occupation in Crete is a point which only full knowledge of the supplies available can answer. I am not in a position to know whether the island defences of Crete were adequate to prevent the capture of the Cretan aerodromes. I have no knowledge of whether there were sufficient guns of all types in the island to enable the defenders to deal with air-borne invaders. I do not know whether more aerodromes could have been constructed and equipped in Crete. No one can form a judgment on these matters unless, in the words of a recent article in the Daily Telegraph, he is in a position to study the whole picture, and the scope of that picture is far wider than Crete, and wider, indeed, than the whole of the Mediterranean theatre.

But no one who has studied the employment of Air Forces can fail to point out that the defence of Crete was not a simple problem of stationing there a certain number of fighter aircraft. No one commenting upon these operations from a responsible standpoint could fail to remark that the construction of more aerodromes than it was possible to defend owing to the shortage of guns and equipment, would have been a very serious handicap and not an advantage It has always to be remembered that the facilities at the disposal of the Germans for bringing up aeroplanes and supplies are, as I have pointed out, incomparably superior to our own. The Germans can reinforce with their long chain of aerodromes with the greatest ease. We have to send our machines sometimes thousands of miles by sea, with the job of reassembling at the end, while supplies have always to come by this long route. The only fair point of criticism or inquiry in regard to Crete is whether in these conditions we should ever have tried to defend the. island. The answer to that question requires a full knowledge of many things which is only possessed by the Government.

If your Lordships will bear with me a little longer I want to come to another point and that is with regard to reserves. I have been much exercised by recent statements, particularly one on Friday June 6, in which I read: For we have also been informed that the nation possesses 100 per cent. reserves in aircraft. The same article went on to say: Why reserves? Presumably if we had more pilots we would have fewer machines in reserves and more machines in actual operation. A great deal is being said on the same lines. These statements show a complete misunderstanding of all air operations, and, indeed, of any operations of war. It is a misunderstanding so complete that I could not have believed anybody in these days could have penned it, when our one continual cry has been for more reserve equipment in order to sustain the battle in the same way as the Germans sustain it.

Of course, I have no means of knowing whether this 100 per cent. reserve of aircraft is of any value or not. I read in The Times this morning that one does not know whether it consists of machines of the right type. But I do not intend to deal with this point at present, nor do I think it advisable to do so in Open Session. What is so extraordinary is the fact that a certain section of people, to which I have often referred in your Lordship's House, should come out in an attack on having any reserves at all, when it will be remembered that the late Minister of Aircraft Production, Lord Beaverbrook, replying to the noble Viscount, Lord Cecil, in Open Session, said 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 industry. Yet just over a month later the same people say the opposite.

We know well how people change their opinions almost before the words are out of their mouths, or even give expression to contrary opinions in the same speech. But I would like to say a word on this point of the necessity of having reserves. You cannot keep your reserves in the battle zone as some people seem to think. It is well known, too, what a bad effect it has on a fighting squadron if the personnel, the strength, the equipment and the aircraft are not kept up by an almost daily or weekly flow of new supplies. Reserves have to be brought up continuously, and it is a serious matter if aircraft losses are not immediately replaced. For this purpose a fighting reserve in depth of aircraft far greater than 100 per cent. is required just as reserves of other equipment, such as tanks, ammunition, motor vehicles, bombs, etc., are necessary to maintain the battle.

Why not put all 'planes in the front line and have no reserve? You might just as well have a million rounds of ammunition and a million rifles issued and say that a million men should fire one shot each. On that system you would lose the battle, and that is why we have lost many, and the sooner people in this country realise it the better. The question of reserves of guns, ammunition and all the necessary impedimenta of war rolling forward from behind the battle zone applies just as much to the Army holding Crete as it does to the Air Force. Another point to be remembered in connection with reserves is that there will always be a large proportion of the reserves for the Middle East locked up in transit along the long lines of communication. Also it must be remembered that if, for some reason or other, the flow of aircraft and the necessary spares, munitions, fuel, etc., is stopped for a month, or two months, or three months for any reason at all—and during a battle it is so easy to stop reserves being sent—it can never be made up in the circumstances prevailing in this war; it is lost for ever. The ships that were meant to transport the aircraft and the spares are diverted for other work and are not allowed to lie idle. It may be that a base near the front of the battle has lost three months' supplies. It is no good then thinking that if you give orders to resume the shipping of reserves you can send the whole three months' supply out—you cannot. Once you have stopped the flow for three months you have lost three months' supply at the front, in the present circumstances. You can only send what was the maximum that could have been sent before, for the reason that there is not the shipping space, the docks and the other facilities to enable three months' supply to be taken in one month. That must not be forgotten.

I do not want to take up too much of your Lordships' time, but I do desire to touch on the matter of the protection of aerodromes in connection with Crete. The lessons which I have tried to bring out up to now, I feel certain, have been studied and learnt by the Army and the Air Force from their experience in Greece and Crete and even in Benghazi. I know that this matter of the protection of aerodromes is exercising people's minds just as it is exercising your Lordships' minds, after the experience in the East. There have been many questions and many discussions in public, and letters have been written to the Press on this subject. Everybody you meet discusses what is being done in this country. I have heard the question asked whether the Army or the Air Force is responsible for the protection of the aerodromes. Some have advocated taking a large part of the Air Force to do Army work under the Army, and (he taking of a large part of the Army and turning them into Air Farce, so as to make the Air Force do an Army job—the defence of the aerodromes. All this absurdity in the name of "unified command." Somebody else proposes that the: responsibility for the defence of aerodromes should be handed over to the Army. Now, in my long connection with the Air Force, this is a subject which I thought was settled in my day when it was the Army's responsibility to protect our aerodromes. I seem to remember the handing of it over and asking the Army to have it and the Army accepting it. The only reason at present why the defence of our aerodromes is a "dual" job is that the Army have not carried out their protection. Therefore this Army, this Blackpool Army, as I call it, of Air Force men, has been raised to be used for the defence of the aerodromes which have never had adequate protection provided for them. The Air Force, it seems to me, had to take the law into their own hands and do it themselves; that is how I view it. There is not the slightest doubt that this question of adequate aerodrome defence is vital.

I come now to the last point arising out of the criticisms which have appeared in the Press and out of the questions that have been asked in another place. I have seen in that section of the Press which is always raising these matters, that there should be an Army Air Arm for the Army and a Fleet Air Arm for the Navy. I cannot help feeling that this continual raising of the Fleet Air Arm and Army Air Arm question sows dissension between the Services. Many people in the recent debate on Greece and Crete said that we should learn from the Germans. I hear it asked, why do not we take a leaf out of their book? Well, the Germans have no Army Air Arm, but a separate Air Force. The reason for the German successes in Greece and Crete was the same as in Poland, Norway, Belgium, Holland and France—air supremacy, air superority. It was not because the German aircraft are an integral part of their Army; they are not. It was not because the dive bomber is a new and terrible machine—it is not new or terrible; indeed, it is a very inefficient machine in itself. It was because in every one of his campaigns Hitler has had the initiative in the choice of time and of the theatre in which he could concentrate his overwhelming air power. It was because in Poland, the Low Countries, France, Greece and Crete the enemy were able to concentrate huge superiority in numbers of bombers under cover of enormous superiority in fighters against enemies whose anti-aircraft equipment was, in every case, by modern standards, either negligible or non-existent and whose aerodrome facilities were totally inadequate.

We are told that the German aircraft are an integral part of their Army taking their orders from the Generals and we are urged to emulate their example. The German Air Force, by Goering's own admission, was built on our model. They have, as we have, reconnaissance squadrons under the orders of their Army Corps and armoured Divisions. But their bombers and fighters are part of the Luftwaffe, a separate autonomous service, and are concentrated in support of their Armies as and when required to take part in a land campaign. It is true that they have specialised more than we have in types of aeroplanes such as the dive bomber and the troop-transport machine that are useless for anything else. That is only natural in a Continental nation whose whole tradition and policy is one of invasion of their neighbours. Although I do not underrate the dive bomber and the troop carrier in the special circumstances in which the Germans have so far been able to use them, I think we may be devoutly thankful that the resources absorbed by those squadrons in production, personnel and effort generally, were not devoted to equivalent numbers of heavy, longe-range bombers, capable of attacking this country and our shipping.

I do not dispute the need for adequate air support for the Army. It has had to fight in the last eighteeen months with inadequate support in defence of our honour and of our national interests, and it may have to do so again if the Germans continue to concentrate their air strength against us in the Middle East. You cannot alter the inexorable facts that there are only so many ships to spare for the Middle East; that only so many aircraft will go into each ship, and that each ship takes so many weeks or months to reach the Mediterranean round the Cape. I know that the Air Force will give the Army every ounce of support which its material resources will allow and that the Army will fight gallantly and—in defence—could fight successfully even against an enemy with greatly superior air strength.

We are concerned, however, with long-term planning, and it would not be right to expect our relatively small Army to take the offensive in future without the essential condition of air superiority. The way to gain that superiority is not to break up the Royal Air Force into separate components, each armed with specialised types of machines, incapable of anything else. Our resources are not unlimited, and we cannot super-impose these added specialised arms on our existing programme. An Army Air Force could be formed only at the expense of the Fighter Command and the Bomber Command. Would anyone seriously suggest that in the Battle of Britain last autumn we should have had a number of our fighter squadrons tied up as part of the Army armed with a type of machine which could not play its full part 100 per cent. in the defence of this country? The question has only to be asked to be answered.

Situated as we are, with a German bomber force, superior in numbers, based, from Narvik to Cherbourg, within short range of our vital centres, are we to cut down our production of the long-range heavy bombers which alone can reach the vitals of Germany, and equip a number of our squadrons with a short-range specialised type for close support of the Army? The first essential to enable the Army to resume the offensive is air predominance; until we can achieve moral and material superiority over the German Air Force, and wear down the resistance of the German people by relentless and unremitting attack on their war industries and communications throughout the length and breadth of Germany, it is vain to think of pitting our small Army against the land power of Germany. For that essential preliminary we must build up as rapidly as possible a great Air Force of bombers and fighters of the most efficient types, which, while possibly not ideal for the specialised rôle of Army support, will be quite capable of fulfilling that rôle once air predominance is achieved. Until it is achieved, nothing can fulfil that rôle. Meanwhile, we should see to it that the necessary number of squadrons get the right sort of training to fit them to support the Army when the time comes, taking full advantage of the lessons learnt from the enemy, who are past masters at that job. We must see to it that they have the necessary transport and special equipment to enable them to be moved quickly overseas.

The Army, for their part, must learn their lesson—how to co-operate with the Air, what to expect of Air support, how to look after themselves without calling on Air support for tasks which they should do themselves, such as destroying tanks in the forward area, and so on. The Army must learn what we hope Crete and Libya have taught, that the Air cannot support them effectively unless they, in their turn, ensure the adequate defence of the aerodromes from which the Air Force must work. Neither Air nor Army, however, can pull their full weight unless there is a clear and consistent national policy for them to work on. In these days the machinery of war is too vast and complicated to produce results if our strategy is to be deflected and deviated by every passing wind and circumstance and every move of the enemy. We must have a firm strategic policy as to how we are to win this war, and we must stick to it through thick and thin, regardless of diversions and temporary setbacks. We must remember that our resources, vast as they are, are no; unlimited. If we try to be strong everywhere, we shall be strong nowhere. Until we can answer the question of the great French General, "What is the object?" we cannot hope to defeat an enemy with the ruthless single-mindedness of Hitler.


My Lords, I should like first of all to congratulate the noble and gallant Viscount on the illuminating and very instructive speech which he has made. I thank him especially because he has left me with absolutely nothing to say; but I should very much like to call attention to two points in his speech. He said that the only lair criticism of the Battle of Crete in the conditions in which it was fought was whether or not we should have tried to defend the island. The answer to that question requires a full knowledge of all the facts, and I have not that knowledge; but one great lesson which I think that we have learnt from the defence of Crete is that military operations are impossible and no place can be held, however gallant the troops, however much they may be prepared for sacrifices, unless we have full support from the Air. That is the great lesson which we have learnt from Crete, and I hope that that lesson will be understood by everybody who is prepared to undertake operations on land.

Secondly, the noble Viscount referred to the necessity of looking far ahead in this war. A great plan for victory is. essential for victory and we must, I am afraid, regard what I look upon as a disaster—Crete—as an incident, though a serious incident, in the course of the war. There are many criticisms which I might make, but I do not think it advisable to make them in Open Session. There was one criticism, however, which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, to which I take some exception. I hope he will pardon me for doing so. I think that he was a little severe in his reference to the authorities at the War Office. What he said might give the impression that we have not the best men at the head of the Array in the War Office. I feel that I have a responsibility for standing up for these men. They are certainly the best brains which we have in the Army to-day. They are young men and they are men of vision and of experience. I want to say one word in their defence, after what has been said about them.

That, however, was not my reason for intervening in the debate. I should like to make an appeal on behalf of the relatives of those who are fighting for their country with regard to what happened in Crete and in Greece. There is naturally very great anxiety among the relatives as to what has happened to the men who took part in the fighting in Greece and in Crete. We have been told the names of the units, but I wonder whether your Lordships realise that some of those units arrived back in Egypt as mere skeletons. What has happened to them? One unit with which I am connected has disappeared altogether; the War Office can give us no information about it, because they have no information to give. Four months have elapsed, and the relatives do not know what has happened to their sons and their husbands. It has been suggested that the authorities are still busy, that they have got other things to think of, but there is a branch in every Army to deal with casualties. I have a letter here from a high official in the War Office which even suggests that it is the duty of those in this country to find out by private telegram to their relatives whether they are alive or not. How is it possible for anybody to telegraph abroad and ask whether relatives are alive? I have done it, and the answer has been nil.

I do not think it is fair. Enough time has now elapsed. It should be pointed out that this war affects the whole nation, and if this sort of thing goes on, the nation will be seriously perturbed. We have had one disaster after another, luckily two of them close to this country, when the relatives knew pretty soon; but this delay has taken place. I know that the noble Lord who represents the War Office is in sympathy with me, and I hope he will convey to the authorities that a little more open-mindedness and sympathy for those in this country will do away with what I may call, as Lord Addison's speech has shown and I know myself very well, the hostile feeling that prevails in the country about the inner workings of the War Office.


My Lords, it is suggested that perhaps I might intervene for one moment on the particular point which the noble and gallant Field Marshal, Lord Milne, has raised. I can assure my noble friend that this matter is one which is exercising us at the War Office very deeply, and we are taking every step to see if we cannot get this information speeded up. When the Forces were evacuated from Greece and from Crete to Egypt they immediately became very widely dispersed, and the noble Lord will be the first to realise that we are most anxious in certain cases not to raise false hopes by giving premature information or, on the other hand, to cause needless anxiety and distress owing to the fact that we are not absolutely certain. I can promise the noble and gallant Field Marshal that the moment we get this information it is sent out. It is necessary for us to get the information from Egypt, and we shall press to see if that information cannot be speeded up, although we realise the immense difficulties placed on the authorities owing to the great sequence of events which have occurred.


My Lords, I am sure the House will have heard with great gratification what has just fallen from the noble Lord. I hope he can do something, because undoubtedly the anxiety is very great, and everything that the noble and gallant Field Marshal said is amply justified. I do not propose to make any attempt to follow—indeed I should be hopelessly unable to follow—the arguments to which we have listened from the two last noble Lords who have spoken. I, personally am very much in sympathy with, and am extremely grateful to Lord Samuel for, his speech. I think there has been too much of this wringing of our hands over Crete and other incidents. I do not say people have not been much affected, but there have been many statements in the papers, which I could quote, which were very unfortunate and made by people of great authority. I cannot understand how they came to do it, because, after all, the position, broadly speaking, is not unsatisfactory. I do not mean to say that we expect to dictate to Berlin to-morrow or anything of the kind, but, broadly speaking, if we look back, every month almost has shown a decided improvement in our position compared to that of our enemies.

There have, of course, been incidents and, more than incidents, events like the Battle of Crete, which was a very serious setback; but, taking a wider view of the general course of the war, it is absurd not to recognise that, compared with our state a year ago, compared with even six months ago, we are in an immensely superior position to-day. I shall not repeat all the figures, because your Lordships are tired of hearing them, but there has been the immense increase in all our Forces, land, sea, and air, which has taken place—it may not have been so great as it ought to have been, but certainly it has been very great—and then of course there has been the growing attitude of favour of the United States, which is an event of surpassing importance. On the other side, there are some very disagreeable features. I certainly am not going to make any prophecy as to the attitude of Russia, but still that is a matter which must be one to which we look with a considerable amount of interest, perhaps rather more than interest—anxiety even—as to what attitude that mysterious Power is going to take.

Then, of course, there have been these events in Greece and Crete. Personally, I felt immensely relieved by the Prime Minister's speech on Crete. I think he made a very strong case indeed, and one of the things he said is most frequently disregarded—namely, that it is a mistake to treat Crete by itself. It must be treated as part of the general battle and general struggle, not only in the Mediterranean but everywhere. Taken in that way, deplorable as it is, I do not think it would be at all right to describe it as a disaster. There is another thing. Not only must we regard these events as part of the general history of the war, but we must have regard to what led up to them. Why were we in Greece, why were we in Crete? We must go back to the events before the war in order to understand that. When the war was on the point of breaking out we found ourselves without any Allies in Europe except France, which turned out afterwards to be of less assistance than we hoped. Why was that? I am not: going into the rights or wrongs of it now, but it is mere historical fact that it was because we proceeded on the policy, continually insisted upon, that we would make no commitments, we would not bind ourselves definitely to defend anybody else; but we hoped they would come to our assistance and we should go to their assistance if it became necessary. Against that we had the policy of Germany, which was prepared to make any amount of commitments, prepared to promise absolute defence to this or that country if it would come in with her and the greatest vengeance if it would not.

The result was that we found ourselves in a condition of great international poverty when the war was on the point of breaking out. Then we went and did what was perfectly proper and right—we sought an alliance with Poland, unhappily too late. We sought an Ally in Turkey, whom I am glad we still have. We sought an Ally in Greece, and that was. right. Nobody protested against it at the time. Certainly I personally had the strongest view that it was the only thing to be done. Then, when that happened, when we had made this alliance and our Ally was attacked, we had, of course, to go to her assistance. There could not be any question about it; we had to do it whether it was going to be disastrous or not, though it is quite true you might say that that did not directly apply to Crete. Personally, I think it would have been exceedingly repugnant to have said at the moment Crete was threatened by Germany that we ought to have withdrawn and left it to its fate. No doubt we have suffered very lamentable losses in Crete. We had an example of it in the little conversation that has just taken place. That, unfortunately, is one of the chief horrors of war. We cannot expect to avoid them from time to time. The only thing is whether we really had any chance of success in defending Crete, and, as the noble and gallant Viscount so truly said, that is really the only point that can be made on the subject.

As to that no one can judge except those who have more information than I have, such as the actual Government and officials. That being so, I do not think there is anything to complain of. It is just one of the events that must happen in war. Other steps might have been taken which might have been better, but, personally, I very much doubt whether there were any steps which would have made a great deal of difference. Then it is said: "Well, why not abandon Crete; the defence of Crete has been absolutely useless." I do not think that is a position which can be maintained at present. I am only a looker-on, one of the men in the street. I can only know the things which we are allowed to read. It certainly does look as though, if we had not defended Crete, we should have been, by this time, lamenting the occupation of Syria by the German forces. I cannot tell, of course, but it looks very much as if the delays, partly owing to the actual fighting in Crete and partly due to the tremendous losses which we undoubtedly inflicted on the German forces, have just given us that time which it is necessary for us to have in order to make our preparations for defending Syria. My noble friend Lord Samuel justly said that during that time, or partly during that time, we succeeded in defeating the movement in Iraq which might have been very serious, if not fatal, to our arms. I cannot help thinking that these things must be considered when you are weighing the justice or injustice, the desirability or undesirability, of our action in Crete.

I come back personally to my original observation, that once we had made our alliance with Greece it would have been almost impossible for us to take any other course than that which we took in Greece first, and in Crete afterwards. As to the present situation, I am not going to make anything in the nature of a criticism of what we are doing in Syria. I dare say we are doing exactly the right thing, and that no time has been lost. There have been—and here I can judge only by the daily prints—more than one suggestion that we are not going on in Syria as fast as we might because we wish, or some parts of our Forces wish, to give an opportunity for repentance to the Vichy forces. That seems to me a very dangerous calculation. I hope we shall not allow that kind of motive to weigh too much with us. After you have once begun your attack, if you make your attack less effective in the hope of producing surrender on the other side, that seems to me to be relying on a psychology which very rarely exists in military affairs.

That is all I desire to say about the actual fighting, but there are two other observations I want to make before I sit down. I think it is often too much forgotten that a great deal may be done even in war-time by setting out your case in the strongest and most effectual way, not only for the encouragement of your own people but for the influence you may have on the public opinion of the world. From that point of view I think that the meeting at St. James's Palace and the resolutions there passed were of the first importance. There we had represented a list of nations, a very impressive list, and though it is perfectly true that in many cases the German forces are in occupation of their territories, I think there is very little doubt that the persons who were there representing those nations really did represent the vast majority of the peoples of those different countries. There were ourselves, of course, and our Dominions—Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa—Belgium, Czecho-Slovakia, Greece, Luxemburg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Yugoslavia and Free France. That is a very formidable list. Though it is perfectly true that in a great many of those countries the Germans at present are in control of the actual material forces, yet I believe the opinion of those countries is entirely with us and ultimately will prevail against the German forces.

I would specially draw your Lordships' attention, not only to the first two resolutions passed there, which pledged everyone present to pursue the war to the end we have in view—namely, victory and the restoration of the independence of the countries there represented—but also to the third resolution which, shortly, read thus: That the only true basis of enduring peace is the willing co-operation of free peoples in a world in which, relieved of the menace of aggression, all may enjoy economic and social security. I think that is a very important declaration made with great emphasis and great authority. There is no doubt that the Germans are putting their case with tremendous energy. They are perpetually putting out propositions which amount to this:—" The only chance you have of peace in the world is by joining the German movement, the New Order. It is perfectly true that Germany will have to fight the battles necessary in order to preserve the peace, but she is willing to do so, and you, all the other countries, will enjoy the supreme advantage of having an orderly, stable, well - administered Government under which you can live and thrive and prosper." I am sure that that is producing a great effect, not perhaps so much on the peoples, because the peoples see what German occupation means and they do not like it, but on the "bellwethers" of the various countries where considerable differences of opinion still exist as to the desirability or otherwise of the Fascist movement. The answer to that is the answer that is contained very briefly in the resolution which I have read—to restore the co-operation of free peoples for safety and for prosperity.

Put very shortly, I agree that that is the case which we have to make to the peoples of the world if we are to receive the support which I am sure they are ready to give us the moment they appreciate and believe in what we are doing. I agree that it is possible to say that the resolution or the declaration of policy should have been more explicit. I would venture to make this distinction. I think the Government will be very gravely to blame unless in their own minds they have got a much more explicit policy than that. They ought to know what they are really going to try to put forward ultimately as a consequence of victory. That is not, perhaps, an immediate proposition, though I think it would be very foolish to put it off too long. Whether they publish it is a different matter, a matter which they must judge, taking into consideration all the circumstances of the case. But they should have a definite clear policy, a definite clear set of objects for which they are fighting—not merely victory: that is not enough; we must know what you are going to do with the victory—I am speaking as an ordinary European—before we come to your assistance in order to achieve it.

As far as it goes, I think the resolution passed at St. James's Palace is admirable, and it should be read in close connection with the speech made by the Foreign Secretary at the Mansion House a little earlier. In that speech, as your Lordships will remember, he went with considerable elaboration into the economic and social position which would obtain at the end of the war. He quoted President Roosevelt's four freedoms: free speech, free thought, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. He expressed his adherence to them. Then he went on to explain what he thought "freedom from want" really meant. He explained in the first place that you would have two periods; you would have the immediate period after the war, in which you would have to supply the immediate wants of the people of the world, and the ultimate and more permanent period when you would have to do your best to fight against the tremendous economic difficulties which would undoubtedly result from the crash of all ordinary government which is brought about by a war of this description. For that his chief recommendation was greater freedom of commerce, greater freedom of trade throughout the world. All that is very valuable, very important. I myself feel absolutely confident that if we can get: that kind of policy, both on the political and the military side—the co-operation of free peoples—and on the economic side the freeing of commerce, the abandonment of what we used to call economic nationalism—if we can get those conceptions clear and definite, not only understood but believed, then we should have done far more for our cause than Goebbels with his elaborate falsehoods or Hitler with his offensive boasts, has ever been able to accomplish for Germany.


My Lords, I have listened to-day with the very greatest interest to the wonderful speech of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I hope that it will be given the very widest publicity. I should like to mention one particular fact which he dwelt upon. It is the question of providing adequate reserves. This particularly applies to the Air Force, and anyone who had served either in the Air Ministry or the Admiralty will realise that the efforts of a large number of people are necessary to see that the Air Force at the front is provided with the hundred and one things it requires in men—not only pilots but tradesmen, technical supplies, wireless, and stores of every kind. Due to the enormous amount of equipment that the Air Force requires, it is a very immobile service. That is a fact which I feel is not generally realised throughout this country. At the time of the operations in Norway I do not think it was altogether realised by the Government. Now, I think, it is realised in Government circles, but throughout the country I do not think it is altogether realised, and I feel it is a fact which should be most widely put about. The fact that you send an extra twenty or thirty aircraft to a certain theatre of war does not mean that you add a squadron to that command. Before you can add one squadron to that command you would probably have to send out one or two ships and, in this case, perhaps, go right round the Cape. I hope these facts will be widely realised.


My Lords, I will not detain you more than a few moments before your Lordships hear the noble Lord who will reply on behalf of the Government. One point I would like to mention first Is in connection with the protection of aerodromes, which the noble Viscount referred to a few moments ago. I understand that he is satisfied with the old arrangement under which the War Office was responsible for the protection of our aerodromes, and it is difficult to understand why that arrangement should have been altered. I hope the noble Lord who replies on behalf of the War Office will be able to assure us that the War Office is still the responsible authority for the protection of our aerodromes. Another question I would like to ask is whether any Government Department other than the War Office and the Air Ministry is also supposed to be responsible for the protection of vital points. I understand there have been some negotiations with the Ministry of Health in regard to matters of this kind. I always thought the duty of the Ministry of Health was to kill germs, not Germans. I believe it is an entirely wrong principle that any Government Department, other than the War Office, should be held responsible for the protection of vital points, not only of aerodromes but other points, including important places which are vital to the success of our war effort, and which, if they were destroyed, might bring about the paralysis of our industrial machine.

The other point I wish to refer to is what my noble friend described as the higher direction of our war effort. Some of us in this House have already suggested that there should be an Imperial War Council upon which our Dominions should be directly represented. I am not going to reiterate the argument in favour of that proposition, but merely to point out that as a result of what has happened in Crete there has been a considerable amount of perturbation and apprehension in Australia and New Zealand, and a large section of public opinion in those countries believes that it ought to be represented in the discussions from which emerge decisions as to our general policy and strategy in the war. Therefore I would venture once more to suggest that a supreme Imperial War Council should be constituted at the earliest possible moment in order to allay those misapprehensions, which, of course, have been stimulated by enemy propaganda.

The last question I want to ask is in regard to the statement that was made on May 20 in another place, that German parachutists had landed in Crete dressed in British uniforms. Your Lordships will remember that the Prime Minister in his speech on June 10 repudiated this statement. Three weeks elapsed between the time the statement was made in another place and its repudiation, and I want to ask the noble Lord why there was this long interval. I venture to suggest that one of our great assets is that we have a reputation for veracity and for authentic information. It would be a terrible blow if that reputation was in anyway undermined, and one cannot understand why there should have been this long delay in repudiating a statement which, although no doubt at the time believed to be true, turned out to be quite incorrect.


Will my noble friend allow me to point out that he did not complete the sentence? It was added that they had been using wounded as a screen.


Still there was a delay. An impression was created in the minds of the public and the German propaganda made no end of capital out of it. If the repudiation had been given a week or a few days after it was first made nothing could have been said. I hope the Government will learn the lessons which this unfortunate débâcle in Crete has impressed upon us, and that officers sent to the Commands to explain matters and to give their advice will be listened to.


My Lords, I should like to deal with the last point made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, before I reply to the general debate. The noble Lord seemed to think that the Germans had been exonerated from a breach of the laws of war by the statement by the Prime Minister that they did not dress parachute troops in New Zealand uniforms. He overlooked the fact that it was further stated that they perpetrated an equal or greater crime in seizing on wounded and putting them in front of their defence troops as a screen. I think it is very easy to understand that in all the confusion of a battle which went on for twelve days, which involved tremendous difficulties in communication and which was followed by a division of the forces into fragmentary units, the collection of information and the correction of any wrong impression must take some time. Certainly the Germans have nothing to, complain of that they were allowed to rest under this unfounded charge, when in fact they had committed an equal or greater crime.

This debate has ranged over very much the same subject that was covered by the Prime Minister in another place, and I am afraid there is very little additional information which I am in a position to give; but at the same time I am sure that this discussion has afforded a very valuable and balanced appreciation of what has been happening in the Mediterranean and a very valuable commentary on the speech of the Prime Minister which under the conditions of another place was not there discussed. There is no doubt that provided deliberation does not jog the elbows of those responsible for operations it can only serve a useful purpose. It reassures public opinion and enables us to deal with mischievous Nazi propaganda. The Nazis made prophecies about the British Empire, that the peoples were being dragged reluctantly into war, and when those prophecies were falsified by spontaneous offers of support all over the Empire, they have been eager to seize on any possible opportunity of making mischief. I am glad that we have had a complete answer to the Nazi lie that the whole force of the German attacks in Greece and Crete was borne by our gallant Anzac troops. The truth is that British troops in these operations have been equal in number and have exceeded in casualties to some extent the total of Anzac troops involved.

But apart from such mischievous statements by the enemy it is very discouraging to the war effort if there is a suspicion that the sacrifice of our troops is being wested by wrong direction. For that reason the appreciation given by the noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, was a most valuable and impressive balance sheet, showing that we have much to be thankful for, and I hope that it will receive the widest possible publicity. It was in refreshing contrast to much ill-informed criticism which has ignored the very material victories in this war of time and distance. It is necessary for the country to be reminded that these sacrifices were vital to our main strategie purpose and were not due to blundering direction. The Germans had much greater manpower that we had, they had seven years start in training and material, and they possess at the moment the great advantage of interior lines. They, therefore, had uninterrupted and unbroken opportunities of reinforcement while our reserves had to travel thousands of miles. In the interests of wider strategy it was clearly right that in the Mediterranean we should play for time. Although the modern instruments of warfare have been so transformed the basic principles of time and distance and the value of delaying action still remain unchanged.

The noble Lord, Lord Addison, dealt with the Crete episode rather from the point of view that its justification had failed because it had not achieved complete success. I think it would be unfortunate if it were assumed that its failure was due to any mistake in the higher war direction. The operation cannot be considered in isolation from the whole strategic situation. If we are to judge an operation merely by the test of complete victory or complete defence, are we never right to fight except on ideal terms or for such purposes as gaining time? There is also a great purpose on this war of killing Germans. If we can kill three or four Germans to ore British soldier, surely an operation is well justified on its own merits, although it may be that only major considerations would justify deliberately engaging on terms which involved equal or greater loss to ourselves. Well, in this battle the first test has been amply satisfied because in Greece, and in Crete especially, the German losses in dead were more than fourfold as many as ours. The total of the German dead, in fact, exceeded the total British losses in killed, wounded and missing. In Crete we lost relatively little military material, and we can set against that the tremendous price which the Germans paid in the loss of at least 430 of their costliest type of aeroplanes which were brought down, quite apart from those which crashed outside the range of our main defences. Undoubtedly in the course of these operations great numbers of highly specialised German personnel have been killed, and it is clear that for the moment the teeth of the Luftwaffe have been blunted.

My noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard has told us, very convincingly, of the geographical conditions, so that there is very little on that subject that now needs to be said. The point is that the Germans were organised in depth in a way that we could not be owing to the geographical conditions. We were in fact limited to organisation in line because of those conditions. In Greece we were only on the fringe of the Continent, and we were up against a German organisation which stretched back for a thousand miles from Cape Matapan to the borders of Silesia with an unbroken chain of aerodromes based on the huge arsenals of reserve aeroplanes and munitions in Germany itself. The noble Viscount, Lord Dunedin, suggested that we could have avoided this geographical handicap if we had established aerodromes in Cyprus. The difficulty is that our fighter planes—the single-engined machines—can only remain in the air for somewhere about two hours. Cyprus is 350 miles away from the nearest point in Crete. Aerodromes in Cyprus, therefore, would have been even more useless as taking off points for single-seater aeroplanes than aerodromes in Egypt, which were already unsuitable for use by that type, although situated little more than half the distance away from Crete than Cyprus.

There is another extraordinary fallacy which has been very widely written in the Press. That is that if there had been another 100 aeroplanes in Greece it would have given a margin to break the enemy's supremacy. That curious statement was quoted with approval by Mr. Hore-Belisha. How long is it conceivable that 100 aeroplanes with no reserves could have resisted the continuous assault of wave after wave of German aeroplanes based on aerodromes which offered continual reinforcements for 1,500 miles back. Another mischievous suggestion made by Mr. Hore-Belisha was that lack of air support had been largely due to interference with local Command. That is completely without foundation. The Commander-in-Chief, as the Prime Minister stated, with the advice of General Freyberg, recognised that to put up an air defence based on a line of aerodromes against this attack in depth, was useless. Our aeroplanes would have had to come to ground on these restricted spaces and they would have been blown to fragments by incessant enemy attacks.

That, I think, is the answer to my noble friend Lord Addison, when he asked why more aerodromes were not prepared. Had we prepared more aerodromes it would not have made it any easier or more practicable to fight with fighter defences, and would only have increased the facilities of the Germans for landing with their glider aeroplanes. The ground defence, of course, was admittedly insufficient in Crete, but it is impossible here to judge as to the explanation in detail. We have to remember that our resources are still very limited and their distribution was a matter which has had to be left to the Commanders in the Middle East. It would have been, I think, very mischievous, and indeed quite out of the question for any interference to have been attempted from London.

Another point which has been made in the course of this debate has been the need of applying the lessons of the Near East in increasing co-operation between aircraft and surface troops. Army co-operation squadrons have, for a long time, been working in intimate relationship with the ground troops. It involves the working out of complicated and extremely difficult combined training. We know that the Germans, from the start of the war, were in possession of methods of wireless co-operation of very great efficiency. I am assured that our armoured formations are now building up a system of close co-operation and association of ground units with particular aircraft whose function it would be to support them in battle. As our resources increase this will, of course, develop still further, but already in technical skill and flexibility the Royal Air Force is fully equal to this very important function, and it will not be found in any way inferior to the German example when these new arrangements reach their full development.

Naturally, every effort will be made to avoid repetition of the terrible experiences which our Armies have hitherto undergone in the absence of adequate air support. I can only say that these purposes are receiving the highest priority, although the same geographical handicaps are not likely to arise in the theatres in which operations are now going on. I cannot, of course, give details as to the arrangements which are being made. As to the matter of ground support in the defence of aerodromes, the conditions are, of course, very different where the enemy holds complete air supremacy to those which obtain when he is in a position of inferiority, as we have every reason to believe that he would find himself to be if he attacked this country, where the advantage of defence in depth would be ours and not his. Here the defence of landing grounds is a matter of co-operation between air and surface troops. Already, long before the fighting in Crete, those responsible for the combined arrangements were not blind to this problem, but the possibilities have always been conditioned by priority in men and materials. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Addison, that the highest priority possible is being given to this object. The question is, of course, of great importance in view of the possibility of invasion, which would put our British aerodromes in the front line of battle. While the lessons of Crete will not be neglected, I can give the assurance that much more is done than is obvious to the public; it is to a certain extent a measure of their efficiency if the defences of the aerodrome are not plain for all to see.

Both Lord Davies and Lord Addison raised the question of who is responsible for the defence of our aerodromes. The Army, from the early stages of the war, has been responsible for the very substantial military defences which were, from the start, devoted to the vulnerable aerodromes. There is now added to this a Royal Air Force defence force for the local defence of certain aerodromes. That is supplementary to the Army defence and would be backed up by the Army with further resources in case of need. New aerodromes are being developed, so that these resources have continually to be increased, and that is why the recruiting appeals which have been referred to have been made It would be quite wrong to suggest that these new steps are an admission of past neglect; indeed, that would be a very dangerous line of argument. In all these matters we are making as steady an advance as our resources permit, and I can assure my noble friend Lord Davies that the foundation of static defence is, and will remain, primarily the responsibility of the Army.

As to the general justification of operations in the Eastern Mediterranean, the handicap of distance is being steadily counteracted by time. Greece and Crete have given us four invaluable months to strengthen our main position on the Suez Canal. If we have suffered a dent in our outpost line, time has been gained to bring about a vast improvement of, and strengthening in, the vital positions of defence for the Nile Valley. During that time the Italians have been completely cleared from the threatening positions which they held in Abyssinia, Eritrea and along the Red Sea coast. This has enabled South African troops and others employed in the Red Sea operations to be brought up to reinforce the main position on the Mediterranean. It has enabled our right flank to be saved from the treachery of the usurping Government in Iraq, and of Vichy Syria. Meanwhile, from Great Britain, the United States of America, India and South Africa a growing volume of armament and transport has been pouring in and far exceeds the losses of material. It is interesting to note that in the Syrian operations Australian troops are already flying American 'planes which have reached us across the ocean.

Germany has, of course, during this time been making desperate efforts to reinforce Tripoli. If we had surrendered our resistance in the Archipelago and given the Germans free passage into Greece and Crete, can anyone doubt that the situation on the Suez Canal defences would have been far more anxious than it is to-day? We have used the time to good purpose. The Italian Navy has been mauled, and heavy losses in German personnel, material and shipping have been brought about by our Fleet in the Eastern Mediterranean and on the way into Tripoli. The prospects of the present furious tank battle would have been very different if the Germans had been able to get in all the tanks that they wished and if we had not had four months in which to reinforce our resources. The improvement in the position is, of course, directly due to the heroic resistance of the British, Australian and New Zealand Forces in Greece and in Crete, and to the four months' respite which they have given us. The dislocation and losses which they have inflicted on the highly-trained German Air Force and Panzer Divisions have certainly not been in vain, and the future may show that the sacrifices and sufferings which have been undergone by our fighting forces in Greece and in Crete have not only caused a serious setback in Hitler's Near Eastern plans but may still bring about their final wreck.


My Lords, in asking the leave of the House to withdraw my Motion, I should like to take the opportunity of remedying an omission which I quite inadvertently made at the beginning. I should like to thank the noble Viscount, Lord Elibank, for making it possible to have this discussion to-day by agreeing to postpone his important Motion on Propaganda for a week. I am sure that many of us, for different reasons, very much appreciate his kindly co-operation. Every one of us joins fully in the tribute which the noble Lord, Lord Moyne, has paid to those heroic defenders who fought the splendid delaying action in Greece as well as in Crete, and I am sure that he would be the last to wish to read into anything I said anything other than a serious and genuine desire to learn what lessons are possible from our misfortunes. We are not in any way lacking in appreciation of the splendid work which our men have done in Greece and in Crete.

It is no good going over this again, but I confess that I am not impressed by the case which the noble Lord made for not putting the aerodromes in Crete into a defensive position. I quite appreciate, of course, his point that the Germans had these immense supplies in depth, whereas we were operating only on a line; but, of course, speaking as a mere ignorant layman, the question will pop up, "If that was the case, then why struggle to defend them at all?" Whilst it is no good raking it over, I confess I am not particularly impressed by that ingenious case. However, whether that be so or not, the point is that it is important that we should be clear as to what is to be done about the defence of our aerodromes at home.

I am still not altogether converted. There is still this divided responsibility. There is still this double-barrelled force to some extent. The War Office's responsibility for the defence of the aerodromes is of an ill-defined and unorganised character, and at the same time there is this new force which the R.A.F. is bringing into being. Who is in command of this double-barrelled arrangement? I am not happy about this double-barrelled arrangement. I am quite sure it is not sound, and I hope it will not be long—perhaps these debates will help—before we shall get a better arrangement for this vital section of national defence. Whatever we may say about the case which my noble friend opposite made, bringing the story up to date as well as he could, I am quite sure he was as convinced in his own mind as any of us that it was not the complete story, and that it will be improved upon in the near future. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.






My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend the Duke of Devonshire, I beg to move the Motion which stands in his name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Orders made by the Secretary of State for the Home Department, under the Sunday Entertainments Act, 1932, and laid before the House yesterday, be approved.—(Lord Snell.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.