§ LORD WINSTER rose to direct attention to the question of co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name I should like to make it clear at once that I hope that nothing that I say will be regarded as in any way attempting to raise contentious matters between the Services concerned. I have noticed a tendency in certain quarters to suggest that, whenever one tries to raise such matters as we shall be debating this afternoon, the danger exists of arousing contention between the various Services. Nothing could be further from my intention, and I believe, from everything that I hear, that no such feelings exist in the Services themselves. Those Services are working between themselves in the happiest possible spirit; in the words used by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, in a 588 recent debate in your Lordships' House, and which are almost the words of the Athanasian Creed, there are in fact not three Fighting Services but one Fighting Service. That is the spirit in which the Services are operating to-day; and although, of course, each Service will always have its little jokes at the expense of the other Services, yet behind that there is a great spirit of mutual respect and admiration between them.
§ I am glad to think that this debate may give us the advantage of hearing a contribution from the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I understand that the noble Viscount has repudiated those who have credited him with holding the view that the principle of war—that is, the overcoming of the Armed Forces of the enemy—does not apply to the Royal Air Force, because the Royal Air Force is able to strike directly at the will of the enemy. Many held that to be a most dangerous theory, and I may say that I think immense harm can be done when a man of great status and prestige happens to be backing a theory which is wrong, because in such a case the measure of the man's reputation is the measure of the harm which he can do. Napoleon said that he feared the man of one idea. Well, I think we all do, especially when the idea happens to be a wrong idea. I do not know if anyone now can be found to endorse what has been recently described as a most pernicious doctrine—namely, that wars can be won by aircraft alone. I think that is a pernicious doctrine, although it seems to have received some measure of endorsement in a publication called Bomber Command, issued under the auspices of the Air Ministry. And then again, there is the theory of the possibility of obliteration by bombers of German industries. That also I think is wearing rather thin, and has recently been described as a task which is impossible of achievement. I mention these matters as a preamble to what I am going to say because I wish to emphasize that I do not think that any such royal road to victory exists, and that air power alone cannot achieve a quick decision against a strong enemy.
§ To deal with the question of co-operation between the Navy and the Air I must give a brief account of the genesis of the matter. I feel that the Navy has, to a very large extent, been 589 the victim of the theory of an Independent Air Force, and in my view naval aviation was wrecked on that theory and remained a disembodied spirit until 1937. In that year the Navy obtained control of the Fleet Air Arm, that is to say, it gained control of ship-borne aircraft, but it did not control our flying boats or our shore-based aircraft engaged in naval operations. That was in 1937. It meant for all practical purposes that the Navy only obtained control of the Fleet Air Arm immediately before the war broke out, and it was therefore confronted with immense difficulties—difficulties in particular which included the fact of an enormous expansion of personnel, which means that the Naval Air Staff has always been starved and at a disadvantage. The Air Force has always had many more Staff officers employed than the Naval Air Staff has had at its disposal.
§ If I mention these difficulties against which the Fleet Air Arm has had to struggle, I would like in one short sentence to pay a tribute to the present Fifth Sea Lord, Admiral Lyster, and to say that, from everything which I have heard, the Fleet Air Arm feels the most immense confidence in him as a man to whom all idea of intrigues or back-scratching is entirely abhorrent. The Fleet Air Arm knows that the Fifth Sea Lord at the Admiralty, where the Fleet Air Arm has not always enjoyed the support which it should have from officers of an older generation not completely in sympathy with the air-mindedness of the present generation, will do everything that a man can do to secure for it the machines and the equipment which it should have. When I mention machines and equipment, let me say that in those days when the Navy was dependent upon the Fleet Air Arm for its aircraft and equipment there often was great reason to complain. Design alone was very often extremely unsatisfactory. The Fleet Air Arm had to put up with machines which were designed primarily for the Royal Air Force and modified for the Fleet Air Arm. In those days five or six years might elapse between demand for and the supply of equipment. Training was very unsatisfactory. In those days the Admiralty had no control over training or over design or over materials. After 1937 the Admiralty still had no effective control over design 590 or supply, and the fruits of these eras are still with us to-day. Our Fleet Air Arm is still struggling with semi-obsolete machines and with too few machines.
§ Let me take the question of too few machines. Your Lordships may or may not have noticed an article which appeared last October from the naval and military correspondent of the New York Herald- Tribune. He there alleged that at Matapan the aircraft carrier "Formidable" had twenty-seven aircraft instead of seventy, which is her complement, and that the "Illustrious," in that gallant action at Taranto, had to borrow eight torpedo bombers from the "Eagle" in order to make up a striking force of twenty-one. He also said, in regard to the search for the "Bismarck," that the "Victorious" had on board nine Scout bombers and six fighters instead of her complement of seventy, and that the "Ark Royal" had twenty bombers and nine fighters instead of her complement of sixty. Of course, I cannot vouch for these figures—I merely quote them—but if these figures which have been published in America are not correct, it is very important that some, I will not say denial, but some correction should be published.
§ Let me say that I quite appreciate the difficulty of publishing exact and effective figures on this matter. It might not be proper or safe or wise to do so, but it would be very interesting to your Lordships to have some comment on these figures which have been published in America. If any comment is made, I hope it will not be merely in the nature of a broad statement that the figures are inaccurate. If this correspondent said that the "Formidable" had twenty-seven aircraft instead of seventy, whereas in fact she had twenty-eight instead of seventy, it would be quite possible for the Government to say that his figures are inaccurate. If the figures are indeed inaccurate, I hope we shall have some substantial contradiction of these statements. Again dealing with this question of too few machines, the Norwegian campaign is a long time back now, but in these events in Norway there were no long-range flying boats available for reconnaissance or for action against newly-landed and vulnerable enemy troops, and many of the aircraft operated from carriers in the Norwegian campaign were out of date.591
It might interest your Lordships if I quote some comments from officers in the Fleet Air Arm bearing upon the points I have just raised of the inadequacy and the out-of-date nature of the aircraft with which the Fleet Air Arm is called upon to operate. Here is an extract from a letter from an officer of the Fleet Air Arm written after the campaign in Greece. He says:
There is certainly plenty of excitement—fifteen hours a day on duty, and nearly half that in the air, with some fairly alarming contacts with Hitler's first-line squadrons and we, in rather ancient and battered aircraft, heavily outnumbered.
Here is another comment from a flying officer who took part in that convoy action in which the "Illustrious" and the "Southampton" were involved:
The story could have been very different if there had been machines in the air which could climb. The last message sent out on the R.T. before things started' to happen was 'For heaven's sake climb.' It was not much use to reply, 'Not possible except very slowly,' with the result that the bombing run was more or less undisturbed except for antiaircraft fire.
On the general issue of the obsolete nature of the machines, here is an extract from another letter:
Compare the Fleet Air Arm pilot in a Skua with an R.A.F. pilot in a Spitfire. The Fleet Air Arm pilot has only his own morale to support him, as he knows that he is inferior in every other way as a fighter. The Spitfire pilot knows he has the very best.
The whole thing is summed up in this comment:
The Fleet Air Arm has not had parity of priority with the Royal Air Force, although it has had to bomb Air Force targets unsuitable for the Fleet Air Arm.
§ To turn from that to the question of how far the Navy should have control of certain aircraft, there was a time when the Prime Minister, in discussing this matter, used to use a rather cumbrous phrase about the Navy having what he called "integrity of operational control of its aircraft." In my view that is what is wanted to-day in respect of all the aircraft which operate with or against ships. That is the simple proposition upon which I base my remarks—namely, that the Navy should have control of all aircraft which operate with or against ships. That operational control must in my opinion carry with it control of design, of equipment, of training and of disposition. In regard to disposition may I make this 592 remark? We have all been saddened by the loss of certain ships in the Far East, and so far as the question of air cover is concerned I would ask this question. Did the Air Ministry allocate as much out of what was available as the Admiralty would have allocated had the Admiralty had power to give an order instead of having to ask? That, I believe, is the crux of the matter. There is such a world of difference in these matters between having the power to give an order for what you want and having to ask for what you want.
§ I think the proposition which I have advanced, that the Navy should have full control of all aircraft which operate with or against ships, is reasonable, because aircraft operating with or against ships should be regarded as ships themselves. They may have been lifted out of the water into the air, but it is all the same thing; they should all be regarded as ships, and to draw a distinction in regard to such operations between shore-based aircraft and ship-borne aircraft is misleading. As regards sea operations, in course of execution they are all one, and the Navy should, in my opinion, have full control of them. Air power is not likely ever to supplant sea power. It is essential to sea power, it is an indispensable element of success in many types of naval operation, but when working with a naval force or an army force an air force, however indispensable, can never be more than an auxiliary, and on this account alone the more knowledge which an airman who has to escort ships has of the inwardness of what he sees below him, the more he will appreciate the needs and the difficulties of the ships which he is escorting.
§ Observation at sea is an extremely tricky business. What appears very simple in reality requires years of training, and only those years of training enable a man to assess rapidly and accurately what he sees going on below him. Some noble Lords present to-day will agree with me when I say that even very highly trained naval officers after years of experience make mistakes during Fleet exercises. During manœuvres or in action even highly-trained naval officers make mistakes about what they observe at sea. I do not want to refer to personal matters, but on one occasion I myself happened to fire upon a porpoise. 593 These mistakes are very easily made, for observation at sea is an extremely tricky business. On that account alone, in my opinion, naval aviation must be in every way a part of the Navy, and ships and aircraft engaged in a naval operation must be members one of another and not accessories of each other.
§ Almost every sea or land operation requires air action, out the fact remains that the decision will always be reached on the surface. The decision will be reached on the sea or on land, it will not be reached in the air. The Commander on sea or land should, therefore, control the Air Force, and the air forces must be trained to understand the technique of the sea and of land forces so that they can do what is wanted even if, as may happen on certain occasions, there is no means of telling them what is wanted. They must have the training which enables them to do what is wanted in the absence of specific orders. It is a matter of training. War at sea requires all concerned to give their full time to what is involved. Men employed in aircraft operations over the sea should have a long and specialized knowledge of the sea, and only if such aircraft are under naval control can the personnel involved be given adequate training.
§ That leads me to the question of cooperation. I think in this regard "co-operation" is a bad word. I prefer a word which has been used by Admiral Richmond, who is a great authority on these matters. Admiral Richmond said he would prefer the word "integration" to that of "co-operation." Integration between the Navy and the Air Force is what is required. Well, co-operation is a very blessed word, but it takes two to co-operate. Co-operation may mean one party meets the other party's needs, or it may mean docile acceptance by one party of non-co-operation on the part of the other party. I believe that co-operation in the Mediterranean between the Fleet Air Arm and the Air Force has been fairly good. The Air Force has attacked naval objectives, and the Fleet Air Arm has attacked military and air objectives. Whichever Service could best attack a given target has done so, and that seems to be the right idea; but I confess I would like to hear more about this co-operation in the Mediterranean. Things have worked, 594 but have they worked as well as they might? I ask this because I have seen a very striking criticism of this co-operation in the Mediterranean. That criticism speaks of faulty reconnaissance and reporting by the Royal Air Force, and, in particular, says that Admiral Somerville's indecisive action off Sardinia might have been turned into a very decisive victory but for these faults.
I have referred to that convoy action in which the "Southampton" and the "Illustrious" were concerned. I notice that General Wavell's push in Libya was prepared for by attacking the enemy's air base. I read of no such preparation for this convoy action in which the "Illustrious" was involved, but I did notice that after that action the Air Force bombed Sicilian aerodromes, and they claim to have put thirty aircraft out of action. But they did that after the action, and the question naturally arises, why did they not do it before the action? which might have greatly facilitated the proceedings. Then, in regard to the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," the Prime Minister, in his statement on that subject, said Admiral Phillips took steps for fighter protection up to the limit of the range of the short-range fighters available, but he went on to say that only after he left harbour was the Admiral informed that fighter protection could not be provided in the area in which he intended to operate. It all seems to me to lend great point to recent remarks of Admiral Drax in which he said:
If the public want the truth let them ask the large numbers of officers and men who have suffered from a measure of air co-operation not as effective as it might have been.
Indeed, my Lords, I think that we might hear a little more of this question of cooperation between the Navy and the Air Force.
§ I turn for a moment to the question of Coastal Command. Again I think that is a bad phrase. It induces confusion of thought because to protect our coasts and to protect the trade off our coasts are quite different jobs. Fighter Command protects our coasts; Coastal Command defends the waters off our coasts. I think that the term Coastal Command is misleading and a bad one. Coastal Command was entirely under the Air Force at the outbreak of war. The Admiralty were directly responsible for protecting the shipping off our shores. We ought 595 never to have entered into this war under such a ludicrous system which had the most unfortunate results and of which Admiral Drax recently wrote that it was "an error which came near to costing us the war."
§ Even now Coastal Command is a matter of compromise. The Admiralty only exercise operational control. What are the working arrangements between Coastal Command and the Royal Air Force, especially as regards reconnaissance and fighter patrols? I should like to ask in particular whether Coastal Command was strong enough to carry out such constant and effective reconnaissance of Brest as to ensure that the slightest movement of any ships in Brest was noted. If they were not strong enough, was any assistance available from the Royal Air Force? If sufficient aircraft were available and if the co-operation between Coastal Command and the Royal Air Force is satisfactory, then one can only say that the escape of the German ships from Brest is most alarming. I do not know if it is suggested that the operational handling of Coastal Command by the Navy was faulty. In Norway, again, Coastal Command, not having trained personnel, did not know what to look for or the meaning of what they saw, and they failed to report German naval movements accurately. We look at the story of the Western Approaches. Before Coastal Command was put under the Navy the results were very unhappy. I have seen them described as preposterous.
As I have mentioned the matter of the German ships at Brest I would like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, who I understand is going to reply to this debate, if his attention has been called to a passage in the publication Bomber Command, which I understand has been published by the Ministry of Information under the auspices of the Air Ministry. The passage to which I refer is this:
There is very little doubt that by keeping the 'Scharnhörst' and 'Gneisenau' in port Bomber Command compelled the German Admiralty to send out the 'Bismarck' in a desperate attempt to regain the initiative which it was rapidly losing. The sinking of that great ship is thus indirectly, but none the less surely, due to the part played by our bombers.
I should be very interested to hear from the noble Lord if the Air Ministry support that statement made in Bomber Command, because if so, I can only suggest that he tells it to the Marines and I advise him not to try to tell it to the mariners.
§ I would like to say a word also about the inquiry into the escape of those ships. The terms of reference in that inquiry were obviously designed to dodge the main issue which was in question. Three assessors were appointed to inquire into this matter. They have issued their Report and, like the three monkeys, they have reported that they "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." That is the gist of their Report. The Dominions Secretary in another place was questioned about that Report. He replied that there is nothing of real importance revealed by it and that there is nothing worth troubling anybody about. If that is true, if nothing of real importance has been received from that Report, then the only thing that we can deduce is that German capital ships are at perfect liberty to promenade the Channel whenever they feel they would like a little fresh air. When I read such statements as that I can only say that I really wish this Government might be put on points rations in regard to whitewash.
§ The real issue in this inquiry is whether the Navy or the Royal Air Force had the right weapons available. In the case of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," the right weapon to use against them was the torpedo bomber. The Japanese had the weapon available and they employed it and the ships were sunk. In the case of the "Dorsetshire," the "Cornwall" and the "Hermes," the right weapon to employ was the dive bomber. The Japanese had the dive bomber available and again the ships were sunk. In the case of these German ships going up the Channel, the question is whether we had the right weapon to employ against them. Undoubtedly we had not the right weapon to employ against them. As I have mentioned this question of weapons, let me refer to the question of dive bombers and ask when our Air Arm is to be supplied with dive bombers. Bombing in the horizontal plane has been proved demonstrably ineffective. The dive bomber is 30 or 40 per cent. more accurate. Experience everywhere at sea—in the North Sea, the Channel, the 597 Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean—has proved the value of the dive bombers.
§ I am not going to quote figures of ships sunk because I do not know whether they have been published, and I want to say nothing about what may not be published, but the deadliness of the dive bomber has been proved by experience over years and in instance after instance. Yet we are to gather from reported speeches by authorities at the Air Ministry, that there is still a conflict of opinion at the Air Ministry as regards the efficacy of the dive bomber. One authority says the dive bomber is "obsolete" and another authority says, on the contrary, that "we are exercising all the pressure we can to hasten their delivery from America." What is the position of the Fleet Air Arm regarding the dive bomber? Is the Fleet Air Arm to be supplied with this weapon or is it not? As compared with aircraft capital ships move and turn slowly. Therefore the air-borne torpedo is a very formidable weapon when employed against capital ships. When the torpedo bomber is employed against our ships the ships are sunk, but when we employ aircraft against the enemy the ships are merely winged and proceed quite comfortably to their destination.
§ A great many of the points I have endeavoured to raise are really points connected with another subject which I ventured to mention upon previous occasions when addressing your Lordships' House. The interesting comparison is with the Wehrmacht. I have been trying to get all the information I can upon that subject and what I find is that in Germany all agencies for attaining victory are co-ordinated into a High Command under a General. That General at one time, I believe, was General Keitel. I do not know whether it is General Keitel at this moment. This General is a member of the War Council, and he is assisted by a Combined General Staff which coordinates the work of the heads of the three Services each of which has its own Staff. For any given operation this Combined General Staff selects the best man regardless of the Service to which he belongs and regardless of his seniority. Experience, ability and efficiency are the only qualifications. This man in turn selects his own Staff and draws up his own plans. In such plans, or in such an operation the Air Force will not operate 598 as an independent Force, but in co-ordination with the other Forces, because it is considered by the Germans that independence would impede and not assist the success of the operation. So that we see that while Germany has a separate Air Force it is a co-ordinated Air Force, it is co-ordinated into the Wehrmacht.
§ In addition to independent operation the German Air Force has two main missions; co-operation with the U-boats in their attacks upon our shipping and cooperation with the Army. Now the important point to my mind is this, that a co-operatively trained Air Force, as is the case in Germany, can also act independently; but the converse is not true: an independently trained Air Force is not able to act co-operatively. We had very little co-operative training before the war, and in consequence during the war improvisation is the order of the day, often with the most unfortunate results. Whereas in any given operation Germany enjoys co-ordination and control we rely upon co-operation and agreement. The German system of co-ordination and control results in decision. Our system of co-operation and agreement results in divided responsibility, in compromise and in half measures. Crete is a classic example of that. It is a classic instance of our divided responsibility. Crete was a defeat for which the responsibility can be assigned to no particular individual, because divided responsibility allows of excuses for everything and allows for the covering up of every mistake. This system of divided responsibility is simply the Civil Service system introduced into the conduct of the war so that responsibility can be fixed on no individual at all. Compare General Wavell's operations between Sidi Barrani and Benghazi; in that case all Air Forces were put under the control of a General and the result was a success. In Crete the operations were not put under the control of one authority and the result was a most disastrous defeat.
If I may emphasize the advantages of the co-ordination and control enjoyed by the Germans as compared with our system of co-operation and agreement, I think the matter has been admirably summed up in a letter which Admiral Drax, whom I have quoted before, wrote to The Times this year. He wrote that he wanted "every strategical move and every tac-
tical encounter" planned as a combined operation. And he went on:
In my own wide experience of working with the Royal Air Force I have only found it necessary to state one's case with logical reasons in support of it. As soon as the arguments are seen to be sound and incontrovertible the Royal Air Force ceases to be independent and real co-operation begins.
That sounds very well. But war goes on at three hundred miles per hour. Time is the essence of the bargain, and it is essential to shorten the chain of command by cutting out every link that one possibly can. Admiral Drax states that he has only found it necessary to state one's case with logical reasons in order to secure support. I remember that at one time in regard to the Naval Staff the great word was "mobility' and lectures and articles and so on all contained this word. A caricature was published depicting an Admiral marching up and down the bridge of his ship with shoulders hunched, cap down over his eyes, and saying to himself: "Am I mobile, am I mobile?" Apparently we have got to add to that picture. An Admiral at a time of great crisis has got to get into his motor car and drive off to see the Air Command saying to himself "Am I logical?" because unless he is logical there will be no help forthcoming and his ships will be sunk. That, I think, illustrates very clearly what I have been endeavouring to impress upon your Lordships.
§ In conclusion, may I say that I know it will be useless to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, who is going to reply, to enlarge upon this question of co-operation between the Air Force and the Admiralty? These are great secrets. I would no more expect the noble Lord to reveal details of this matter than I would expect a man and a girl found in an embarrassing situation to produce their marriage lines. I think that, of course, the noble Lord will say that everything is perfect as between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, that nothing could be more perfect than the relations which exist between these two Departments. He will say that it is a marriage of twin souls, and the public can only regret that the fruits of this marriage are so frequently miscarriages. I would ask the noble Lord if he would be kind enough to deal with the axiom that I ventured to put forward that all aircraft engaged with 600 or against ships should be under the control of the Navy. I would ask him if he can tell your Lordships anything as to when the Fleet Air Arm will be equipped with the proper machines and the proper equipment to carry out the hazardous and dreadful duties which they are ordered to perform from time to time, and, in particular, if it is possible for him to say something on the question of the provision of dive bombers for the Fleet Air Arm. I beg to move.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, only recently I spoke to your Lordships on the subject of the Coastal Command and the Royal Air Force. I have addressed your Lordships far too often on this subject, but I fear that I must say a few words on the Motion now before the House. When the noble Lord who has placed this Motion on the Order Paper made his maiden speech, I remarked to your Lordships that in him we had added to this House another member who could express himself clearly. The noble Lord will always be clearer than I shall ever be; but I naturally have great sympathy with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, who, in a recent debate, said that "oratory is a great snare." At the time the speech to which we have just listened may sound very convincing, but when one reads it through one will see how radically unsound is every argument which has been advanced by the noble Lord this afternoon. His speech might have been delivered in 1912. It really appals me to think that it should be delivered now, and delivered with the remark at the beginning with which I shall deal later—that the noble Lord did not want to be provocative. I cannot imagine a speech more mischievous to the Royal Air Force and more destructive of good feeling. It is more so than any speech which I have ever heard in your Lordships' House or anywhere else.
The noble Lord was recently reported as having said, in a speech made outside this House, "Let us drop nagging at each other and save our breath for the enemy." I agree with that. Yet he brings forward this Motion to-day in such deplorable terms. There is no other word which will describe it. The subject of co-operation between the three Services was discussed and argued long before 1930, when I made my first speech in this House. The noble Lord is not an 601 exception in bringing it up; it is usually brought up in the Press by retired naval officers. The noble Lord has come only very recently from a position in that great Department, the Admiralty, where he was in touch with its higher direction, and he put this Motion down almost within his first week as a member of your Lordships' House. He then postponed it, but left it on the Order Paper until he considered the moment propitious to launch his attack. In his speech on February 26, referring to the battleships which escaped through the Channel, he said that he deprecated any idea of this affair being used to stir up ill feeling between the Air Force and the Navy, and he added that there could be no wish on the part of anyone concerned to do such a reprehensible and deplorable thing. He used those words at the beginning of his speech, but his whole speech was a contradiction of them.
He has made his speech to-day to direct attention to what he thinks is a failure to co-operate between the Royal Air Force and the Navy. Why does he say that co-operation is not close enough? Does he really mean, not cooperation but subordination? From my experience in the last war, when there was no separate Air Force for the major part of the war—part then belonged to the Army and part to the Navy—antagonism between the Navy and the Army was much greater than it has been in this war. Nobody had a greater experience of it than myself and a noble Lord who now sits on the Liberal Front Bench. The friction between the Navy and the Army was much greater at that time, when the Air Force was split in two between them. We have in fact taken a great step in the right direction; but, Instead of trying to bring the three Services closer together to perform their tasks on land, at sea and in the air, so that they could help each other, for some incomprehensible reason it looks very much as though some people were purposely misunderstanding and misinterpreting what has been done.
The very wording of this Motion, which is "to direct attention to the question of co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force," is significant. There is not a word about the Army; it deals simply with the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. This shows very clearly 602 how narrow, if I may say so, is the mental outlook of these critics of a Central Air Force. Your Lordships will realize that it is not possible to discuss this question of the Navy and the Air Force without also considering the Army. The three Services must work not as two but as one, but it seems to me that the noble Lord does not realize this. The omission of the Army from the wording of this Motion shows how far the noble Lord is divorced from reality with regard to the Air Force and the Navy.
I have already said in innumerable speeches in this House that if you make the Navy and the Army more self-contained you will not have less friction but more; you will have separatism complete. A letter in a newspaper recently made the same point. You will have separatism complete if you make the Services more self-contained. The Air Force is the connecting link between the three Fighting Services. Take, for instance, our campaign in the Middle East. Our Air Force there works with the Fleet, which is the right flank guard of the Army. Does the noble Lord really recommend that this flank guard should come under the Army? The Air Force also works with the Army; it protects our Army, provides air cover and attacks the enemy's forces on the ground. It provides air cover for the Navy, and attacks enemy ships. It also carries out distant bombing on such places as Benghazi, and on the southern shores of Europe. Another part of the Air Force, hundreds of miles away from the Army in Egypt, and out of sound and sight of them, has been co-operating with that Army from Malta by bombing the enemy supply ships and Tripoli and the lines of communication on land. Our submarines and other warships are also attacking these enemy supply ships. Thus our Air Force have been at one and the same moment co-operating tactically with the naval forces and strategically with the land forces.
This combined action by the Navy, the Air Force and the Army in the Mediterranean against supplies to the enemy's forces in Libya has been an essential feature of our combined plans, which culminated in General Auchinleck's advance, and they formed the first part of that campaign from April until November, when the advance started This shows how indivisible are our three Fighting Ser- 603 vices. The noble Lord quoted the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, who said that in modem war the Services cannot be split up into separate parts. There is one Fighting Service in three parts, but it is only one Service. The division of the Air Force into separate contingents would inevitably mean inability to concentrate all our air resources at the decisive point, and would entail defeat in detail by the enemy, whose Air Force is one and who can thus concentrate it to the maximum extent.
If the Navy were to be more self-contained and the Army were to be more self-contained, and there was an Air Force for long-distance bombing, think of the confusion which would be caused in North Africa. They would all have to use the same aerodromes in Libya. Supplies would come along the same route for three different Services. I wonder whether the noble Lord would advocate different markings on the aircraft for each Service, in the same way as he apparently wants to have different uniforms. I shall not deal to-day with the duplication of training and of overheads in the administration of the different Air Services; that has been dealt with many times in your Lordships' House, and it is too technical a matter to discuss this afternoon. But what would be the object of turning over the Coastal Command to the Navy? The Admiralty already have the operational control of the aircraft. If Coastal Command to-day were officially part of the Royal Navy the crews would be exactly the same, with the same experience, though they might be wearing darker blue. Replacements would still have to come as they do now—and I ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government to pay attention to this—from the keen young volunteers from civil life, with no specialized naval or military knowledge. Surely it is obvious that the long and intimate experience and highly specialized training so often claimed as essential for effective air support of sea and land forces simply is not forthcoming after the first few months of war. The first essential of an airman is to be an airman, to be able to operate his aircraft efficiently in whatever task he is employed upon.
I notice that the noble Lord referred to the question of the German battleships 604 escaping from Brest. He did not seem satisfied with the explanation. All that I can say is that I have not seen, any more than he has, the Report, or even heard what its contents were, but I do feel that probably, if it has disclosed any faults, they will have been or are being remedied. But I am certain that if the faults were found to be the faults of the Air, we should have heard of it somehow by now. In any case, the primary responsibility must be with the Admiralty, from what I have stated about the Coastal Command being under their operational control, and in view of the fact that the disposition of the machines for the Air Arm is the responsibility of the Admiralty, and the Admiralty are also responsible for the construction of torpedoes. I do not think that the question on the Paper has been addressed to the right quarter if it is going to be answered by the Under-Secretary of State for Air. I want here, though, to say quite plainly that I am not complaining of any action the Admiralty have taken. I am not criticizing; all I say is that they have that control, I am not saying that they have carried out that control wrongly.
It is often assumed that the German Air Force is completely subordinate to the German Army and Navy in its operations. Not that I attach a great deal of importance to what the German organization is, but it is often quoted by the critics of the autonomous Air Service, who try to prove that the German Air Force is under the German Army and Navy. I have recently given instances showing that that is not correct. I do not want to weary your Lordships, but I would ask the noble Lord who is going to reply for the Government to say whether I am correct in saying that the German Air Force is more autonomous than our own. As recently as the 26th February I told your Lordships the German basis of the allotment of machines to Army Corps or armoured divisions, and I am not going to repeat this. There is no known case in which the German bombers, dive bombers or fighters, when operating in close support of the Army or the Navy, have ever been put under the command of an Army General or a German Admiral.
The German Air Force is more autonomous than our own because the German anti-aircraft guns and searchlights are under the Air Force. Surely this is borne 605 out by the statements made by the German High. Command. I read an extract only six weeks ago. I would like to read two more extracts, one in June, 1940, the other in March, 1942. In June, 1940, in the Order of the Day issued by Goering he states, in his usual bombastic style:You, my parachutists, you my air-borne troops, you flyers of mine have, together with your comrades of the Army, under the proved leadership of all ranks, accomplished unique achievements.On the fighting in Russia the German High Command report stated on March 2, 1942:In the Crimea, on the Donetz front, and south-east of Lake Ilmen, heavy defensive lighting continues. By co-operation with the Luftwaffe many further tanks were destroyed.I would like to turn to what the Royal Air Force have done in this war. Have they shown themselves to be so behind the other Services in their work? Yet one hears continual carping, as we have this afternoon, at the organization of the Royal Air Force, which one seldom hears about the organization of the Navy or the Army. Surely no one can deny that the only Service at the start of the war that had anything like superiority over the German equivalent service, before Italy and others came in, was the Navy—even without the French Navy. It has been generally admitted that the Army—through no fault of their own—were inferior, both numerically and in equipment, to the German Army—and bound to be so. In the air we were hopelessly outnumbered. Yet the responsibilities of our Air Force, like those of the Navy, were far larger, we being an island power, than those of the enemy's Air Force and Navy.
Even so, within nine months of our declaring war the Air Force had to fight for our very existence, though it was hopelessly inferior numerically. They won the Battle of Britain. They won and have maintained ever since, for nearly two years, superiority in the air in Western Europe. They have gained and maintained superiority in the air in North Africa. I say that is a thing they can all be proud of. Surely this does not show that the Air Force have shown themselves less efficient than either of the other Services. Why, then, is it continually insisted either that the Air Force should be split up into two, or that large parts should be knocked off and handed over to the Navy and Army? I was much in- 606 terested in a letter I read in the Daily Telegraph this morning from an Army officer under the heading "Air Prelude to Victory." He envisages that the essential prelude to any invasion, whether by the Germans of this island or by a new B.E.F. of the Continent, is victory in the air in which the opposing Air Force or the Luftwaffe is beaten to the ground and kept there. My Lords, that applies to the Navy and to the Army. The whole history of this war has proved it.
Now I would like to say a word about the Army. I am still, as you know, connected with the Army. It was in the Army that I made my original start in life and I have feelings of great affection for my original Service. The Army has had the most difficult time to contend with, reduced numerically to a very small force in comparison to its great responsibilities and starved of equipment and training. Consider, too, the number of changes there has been in the Secretaries of State for War. There have been many criticisms of the Army and its work. The Army is not one whit less keen than either of the other Services to get to grips with the enemy as early as possible. But we do know one of the reasons why the Army was let down so badly in the years of peace. One of its numerous Secretaries of State—who was in office before the war and at the beginning of the war—admittedly spent much of his time trying to attack the organization of the Air Service. He tried to get a large part of the Air Service transferred to the Army, instead of doing that monumental task which was crying out to be done, of seeing that the necessary equipment of tanks, guns, etc., was provided, and instead of looking after the Army generally before the British Expeditionary Force was sent to France.
Your Lordships may remember that the Army went to France without an armoured Division, which seems fantastic in these days. In reading Lord Gort's Dispatches on the question of the paramount importance of equipment, I notice that he said in referring to the ten armoured Divisions that the Germans had, each with about 400 tanks, that:The British armoured forces in the theatre of war amounted to seven divisional cavalry regiments equipped with light tanks, one regiment of armoured cars of an obsolete pattern, and two battalions of infantry tanks, the 607 latter, except for twenty-three Mark II tanks, being armed with one machine gun only.Well, we may thank our stars that the Air Force organization was not altered, as, anyhow, we sent an Air Force to France with the Army though we did not send an armoured Division. Our Air Force may have been small, but it must be remembered that our fighters had eight machine guns in each aeroplane against one in our out-of-date tanks.
I see that the self-same ex-Secretary of State who attacked the autonomous Air Service before the war is taking an apparent interest in the work of the Coastal Command, like the noble Lord who put down this Motion. He said that the public would not be satisfied with the Deputy Prime Minister's answer in another place on the subject of the battleships escaping from Brest, and asked if further information could not be given in Secret Session—though how that can influence public opinion I do not understand. I agree that the Army must have the closest co-operation with the Air Force. I speak as one who has had some experience when I say that co-operation between the Army and the Air Force today is far closer than it was between the Army and the Royal Flying Corps for the first two years of the last war, when it was all part of the Army. Wherever I go I find young airmen, commanding officers at air stations, all wanting to know how they may help and co-operate more closely with the Army and Navy.
All through history there has been a great deal of argument between the Services. That is bound to be so in such a difficult art as war, when all that is unforeseen so influences the situation daily, hourly. There have been the same arguments in the past between the artillery and the infantry, between the cavalry and the infantry, between the Navy and the Army, and between different parts of the Navy. It is in the higher direction that these difficulties must be overcome. There must be, at the top, some form of Combined Staff for the day-to-day direction of the war. We have gone a long way towards it, but we have not put the finishing touches on it. At the risk of wearying your Lordships, I must repeat what I said on February 26 in your Lordships' House on the subject of the Combined Staff. I mentioned the Sub-Committee of the Chiefs of Staffs 608 Committee and the Planning Committee. Then I said I felt that the plans approved by the Planning Committee, in their execution, were liable to proceed into watertight compartments, and I added:Operations move so fast nowadays, whether in the air or at sea or on land, that the day-to-day—sometimes even the hour-to-hour—decisions that are essential cannot be made by the heads of the three Services unless they, or their responsible representatives, the Operational Staff Directors, have a common Battle Headquarters, a Battle Headquarters where all the latest information is readily available, and where the situation can be discussed and agreed decisions arrived at, without all the delays that are inevitable if the operations of the three Services are being directed from three different buildings connected by the telephone.I went on to say:I seem to remember that some time after the crisis of September, 1938, it was originally intended to have a combined Battle Headquarters for the three Services. Its original design was based on the old Admiralty War Room in the last war, but has it been fully developed?Recently there have been letters and articles in The Times on this subject of the Combined General Staff, particularly letters by Lord Swinton and Lord Hankey. This is a subject I wish some noble Lords would put down on the Order Paper to be debated so that we can spend at any rate one day on it. That is one part of the noble Lord's speech with which I am in much more agreement than with any other part. The subject deserves a whole day to itself. It is a big subject. There are many points in this very difficult question that have not been sufficiently thought of in this correspondence in my opinion. If I may take one point, it must be remembered that the Combined General Staff would control three separate Services, each of which works on a different basis. The Admiralty controls naval operations a great deal from the Admiralty. This is bound to be. The Admiralty really acts almost as Commander-in-Chief of the naval forces in these days, and has done so for a long time, whereas the Air Ministry commands the air war from the Air Ministry in a much lesser degree, though it does control it to a certain extent as a sort of half Commander-in-Chief. But the War Office, once Armies have left this country, have much less control of the operations, and in no sense act as Commander-in-Chief. I have put the matter crudely, 609 but broadly your Lordships will, I hope, understand what I mean.
In Lord Swinton's letter it is not quite clear whether the head of the Combined General Staff which he advocated should be appointed—and I am in large measure in agreement with him—should have executive authority under the War Cabinet and the Prime Minister. In other words, should he act as a sort of Commander-in-Chief and Deputy Minister, with the Prime Minister answering for his deputy's work in Parliament? There are many other points that I should like to see brought out in this very difficult problem, and therefore I earnestly suggest that some noble Lord should put this subject down for debate, leaving no doubt as to what it is we are going to discuss. For that reason I am not enlarging on the matter to-day, though I am in agreement with what the noble Lord said on the point.
I hope that the noble Lord who replies for the Government to this Motion to-day will make it quite clear that co-operation shall not become subordination. I hope he will give the Government's assurance that the organization of that great Service which has done so much for the Empire under the most difficult conditions will remain unchanged. I hope he will also make it clear that you cannot discuss the Air Force and the Navy without discussing the Army and Air Force—all three Services. It is impossible, and I hope the noble Lord will make that clear. The success of the Royal Air Force up to date has been due a great deal to the gallantry of the pilots and air crews, which is of course second to none. In this war they have added to the glory of the pilots and air crews of the last war.
But the success of the Air Force is also due to the unity of the Royal Air Force, and to the organization under the Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal. The noble Lord said that the whole Fleet Air Arm acknowledged the services of the Fifth Sea Lord. I should like to pay my tribute that the whole of the Royal Air Force acknowledge the debt they owe to the present Chief of the Air Staff, Sir Charles Portal, and also to those great Commanders—Air Marshal Sir Sholto Douglas of the Fighter Command, Air Marshal Harris of the Bomber Command, Air Marshal Sir Philip Joubert of this Coastal Command, which we have been discussing, and also Air Marshal Tedder 610 in the Middle East. In the last war the great Commanders in the Services like Lord Haig, Lord Milne, Lord Byng, Lord Allenby, and others, and in the Navy Lord Fisher, Lord Jellicoe, Lord Beatty, and others, were well known and trusted by all, and they pulled us through the last war. So will the leaders I have mentioned in the Royal Air Force in this war, and the present Commanders of the Army—the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir Alan Brooke, and also General Wavell, General Auchinleck, and General Sir Bernard Paget, commanding the Home Forces. I have mentioned these leaders as I served in both Services, but it would be improper for me to name the equally great leaders in the Royal Navy.
The Services under these leaders must work as one. They must help each other to the utmost of their ability, whatever the colour of their coats may be, and if they do that they will fight as one, if all this bickering ceases. We on our part, I feel, must show that we trust them and support them in Parliament, in public, in the Press, and everywhere. By showing our confidence in them, they will have more confidence in themselves, and will be heartened, in bad and good times, in their steady march forward towards final victory.
My Lords, the debate in which we are engaged this afternoon is really the continuation of a series of debates that have taken place in this House during the last three or four months on the conduct of the war. Though it may this afternoon be confined to rather narrower issues, it does raise questions, very important questions, of strategy and tactics. Both noble Lords who have spoken have stated their case with force, with conviction, and with expert knowledge to which I, for my part, do not for a moment pretend. Nor would I attempt to intervene in the differences which appear to exist between them. I would rather approach this matter from the point of view of the man in the street who is somewhat uneasy in his mind when he considers the recent trend of events, especially in the East.
For the loss of Malaya he was, to some extent, prepared. The loss of Singapore, with its vaunted impregnability, came to him as a big disappointment; and more disturbing than anything, perhaps, has been the loss of some of our best and most 611 powerful warships which it is not easy for us to replace. They make indeed a formidable list. Besides the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," there were the four cruisers "Exeter," "Dorsetshire," "Cornwall" and "Perth," one sloop, four destroyers, and the aircraft carrier "Hermes," and in addition the loss of American and Dutch battleships in the Far Eastern war zone. I think it is noteworthy that the most powerful and valuable of these ships have been lost by air attack, and we must realize, making every allowance for their superior strength and superior numbers, that the Japanese have developed combined sea and air tactics better and more efficiently than we have done. It is obvious, I think, that we have leeway to make up, and that our methods must be improved. The question for us is how this improvement can be effected. I think one way—and probably it is the only way—is by closer co-operation between the Services, and by careful training in combined operations. That has been seen on a comparatively small scale in the training of Commandos in this country, and by the appointment of a distinguished naval officer, Lord Louis Mountbatten, as Chief of Combined Operations. I think what has been done on that comparatively small scale should be done on a great scale. It should apply to all the Services. In order to do that I think we shall have to start at the top.
So I come straight to the recommendations which were made in this House about six weeks ago by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, and by my noble friend Lord Swinton. I think I may add that this recommendation, which was for a Combined General Staff, was also made in a powerful speech made in another place some two months ago by Professor A. V. Hill, a very eminent scientist, who has done great work already on our behalf in this war. The speeches made on that occasion about six weeks ago by Lord Cork and Lord Swinton scarcely received the attention which was their due. It is often the case in these days that speeches made in this House are rather inadequately reported in the Press. That is due perhaps partly to the fact that the newspapers have been reduced in size, and partly also perhaps to the fact that it has not been thought worth 612 while to appoint a member of the War Cabinet to represent the Government in this House. There may be other reasons. But we have to thank The Times for a leading article on Saturday last, and a very interesting contribution by Sir Edward Grigg, resurrecting the proposals made by Lord Swinton and Lord Cork with regard to a Combined General Staff, which I notice was advocated by Lord Trenchard and by Lord Winster this afternoon.
It seems to me that something of this kind will have to be done. The name or title of this body, it seems to me, does not matter very much. What we do want are representative men of the three Services who are not overburdened by departmental work to meet regularly to carry on the operations of the war from day to day, subject, of course, to the general control of the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet. In my view the Chairman of this body should be a Service man. I do not think it matters to which Service he belongs, so long as he can get the three Services to combine and to use their authority to effect co-operation in all the different theatres of war. I notice, by the way, an interesting letter in this morning's Times from the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, dealing with the question of a Chairman of a Combined General Staff, and I hope that later in this debate we may hear both from Lord Swinton and Lord Hankey their views on this very important matter.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
My Lords, I think it must have appeared to many of your Lordships strange that a Motion the terms and object of which were to secure closer co-operation should have been moved in a speech, so far as I could follow it, the main purpose of which was to make co-operation more difficult and to encourage a greater separatism between the Services. It would indeed be strange if the solution of a problem which we all admit is there, the problem of getting closer co-operation between the three Services, lay in wider separatism and in divorce. In saying that I am not for one moment saying, nor do I believe it to be the fact, that the co-operation is as good as it should be at the present time, but I think we should be very careful, in any advice we give or any recommendations we make, that we are pointing to a better way. I am sure Lord Cork was right in the principle, to which indeed the mover 613 of this Motion, Lord Winster, paid lip service, that properly understood the three Services were all branches of a single Service. I remembered that when Lord Cork and I were working together some years ago to make co-operation better, he put it to me in more familiar terms, that he wondered whether we could ever get this job really right till we all wore the same overalls.
Fortunately, we have an example in the field to-day of Lord Cork's maxim proving itself in practice, an example where, in so far as human institutions admit of perfection, I believe the cooperation between the Air Force and another Service is as good as it can possibly be, and where I never hear a word of criticism, but, on the contrary, unstinted praise, and that is in the Western Desert. There you have an Air Commander and an Army Commander living together, thinking together, planning together, seeing the battle through each other's eyes. That seems to me practical proof that the principle is right. There really ought to be no room for any thought of jealousy or prestige in these matters, but only unity of purpose. There ought not to be any question of who controls or who owns a partnership asset. Rightly conceived the fact that the Admiralty have under them, as part of the Navy, ship-borne aircraft, is not an exception to the rule of co-operation but rather the reverse. These aircraft which are carried on ships are always on the ships, their pilots are in a peculiar sense part of the ship's company and the sole purpose of these machines is for service with the Fleet. Operationally, tactically and administratively they form a part of the Navy, but even so I think the majority of naval officers who have to work in and for that limited Fleet Air Arm would admit that they value greatly the cooperation and the pooling of experience and ideas which they get from the Air Staff.
Let me now, if I may, put a few considerations as to how co-operation where it fails should be improved. In the first place, there are not enough aircraft to permit exclusive allocation. I am not sure whether, even with British and American resources combined, we shall ever have enough aircraft for every possible contingency. Certainly there will never be too many. It would be a hopelessly uneconomic use of aircraft to concentrate aircraft which are 614 perfectly capable of being used for several purposes and allocate them to one single purpose. The range, mobility and capacity of those aircraft for different kinds of operations would be lost, and there would be great waste if you confined those aircraft to a single task. Nor do we know how many aircraft might be needed on a particular occasion. We have before us a more difficult and wider problem than in the last war, when so many of us in this House were famlüar with the great attacks. Then the mass of artillery was moved up and concentrated on a single battle front. In this war you do not want to limit the number of aircraft available for such a purpose. You want to be able to concentrate every type of aircraft. If there is a great sea battle you do not want just a few aircraft, or, indeed, many aircraft designed for a single purpose, allocated to the Fleet.
The noble Lord, Lord Winster, gave the whole position away when he was claiming that there should be closer cooperation. You may want all the long-range bombers you can put in, with fighters as cover for the Fleet, with dive bombers, and heavy bombers following ships back to their ports and bombing the ports as ships emerge from them. You cannot put this into watertight compartments. The whole of strategy now is three-dimensional and not one-dimensional. At the critical moment you want overwhelming force and that means overwhelming force of every character. That does not mean that when the Fleet and the Air Force and the Army enter together into one operation there should not be absolute operational control in the hands of one leader for that particular operation. I believe, indeed, that there should be that absolute control in one man for that operation. But, if we adopted a policy of separation, there would not only be the waste of which I have spoken; there would be loss of all that knowledge and experience—strategical, technical and tactical—which the Air Force has acquired and which must always be accumulating.
I am not going to enter into controversy, because this is not a time for controversy. It is a time for getting closer together. The Navy needs, as all progressive sailors recognize, the particular knowledge of the Air Staff. Suppose we had had before this war a large part of 615 the Air Force entirely at the disposal of the other two Services, I am not imputing blame—each Service naturally knows its own job best, and sees its problems through its own eyes—but we know that many men in the Navy quite sincerely believed that the risk from the air was greatly over-rated. I remember one great Commander-in-Chief saying he was so satisfied with the anti-aircraft defence on ships—not fighters on the ships but anti-aircraft guns—that he felt absolutely immune from air attack and that he would welcome an air attack even when his ship was in port let alone when moving at sea. What would be said to-day on that? We have all learnt by experience. If we had had two Air Forces, one naval and the other military, I feel absolutely certain we should not have started this war with anything like the quality of Air Force as that with which we did fortunately start.
The arguments are all in favour of cooperation and against separatism. Each Service has much to get from the others and much to give to the others. It is not dictation by the Admiralty to the Air Force or by the Air Force to the Admiralty that is needed; what is needed is partnership. We do not want sectional plans by one Service or the other. My noble friend Lord Hankey, in a letter published this morning, quotes an expression used, I think, by Mr. Lloyd George in the last war, which describes exactly the position that results when you have three Services each making its own plans. That expression was: "Stitching is not strategy." What is wanted in strategy is a common object envisaged from the start. All three Services must think together. That is a matter for a Combined General Staff, who must conceive the plan, say how many aircraft are necessary, and what is the best allocation of priorities.
We talk now about priorities in every walk of life. We talk about priority in production. What are those priorities? They are supposed to be consequent upon a strategic plan to which the Services are working. How equally important, if not more important, is it to have priority settled by a Great General Staff as to where the instruments which that Great Staff has at its disposal are to be used and ought to be used; and believe me, myLords, these are not matters which can be dealt with from hand to mouth. These 616 are matters which require consideration months and months in advance if you are to have proper air support. You must have plans calculated by the Combined Staffs. You have got to have your ground arrangements made, your stores ready, and your runways prepared as they should be prepared if runways are going to be used in operating from the shore, for shore-based aircraft are much more efficient than any operating from a ship. All this should be a matter of combined strategy and combined planning in advance. A great deal can be done in the way of preparing aerodromes and in the way of improvisation, particularly in places where you have a large amount of native labour available. These things can be done, but they mean thinking ahead, and they mean thinking ahead by the General Staffs together. It is not a matter for one Service alone. It is a matter for the Air Staff and the Admiralty thinking together about what is the kind of attack we shall develop, what is the kind of torpedo we shall need, how we are to carry them and fire them if we get them in sufficient numbers, and so on. These are not sectional problems, they are common problems.
It is no good talking to-day about designing new machines. God knows how long they take to design, and to get into production. People complained to me at one time when I insisted on having machines of a high quality produced instead of having produced machines that could be turned out "off the rack." Thank God the Air Staff backed me up in that, for we should not have made much of a show in the Battle of Britain had we not followed that policy. I am not claiming any credit to myself and to those who worked with me, in that respect, in the least. I do not think that the noble Lord who is going to reply would reveal many secrets if he were to state how many aircraft are now fighting our battles which were not started in the time when I was at the Air Ministry. Even to-day with the war in progress, with control of industry, and with priority, it takes a very long time to design a new machine, see it through its teething troubles, and get it into production. It is not a matter of months but of years. People talk of aircraft as though you could obtain them in much the same way as you buy a suit of 617 clothes. That is nonsense. The design and production of new aircraft is a matter of years. Thank goodness we have got very versatile aircraft at our disposal. Even with quite small adjustments these aircraft can be adapted for use in various operations under modern conditions. That again is a matter of joint strategy, joint planning and joint thought. It is not separatism you want. What you want is the best brains of the Air Staff and the best brains of the Admiralty working together.
Again, you want concentration on combined training. The ideal, of course, is that every man, whether on a ship or in an aircraft, shall have a specialized and expert knowledge of what he is going to do. It would be very convenient, for instance, if everyone sent out on reconnaissance had had a long training on such matters as how to pick up ships and recognize all the necessary details. But my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard gave the real answer to that. It is particularly true with regard to the air. You may start the war with a number of expert pilots, but you have got to shepherd these people. They will all want to go into battle every time, but you have got to keep some back. One of the tragedies of the last war was the sacrifice made of trained officers and N.C.Os. in the early days of 1914. These men will go out and they will be killed, and as the war goes on you become under the necessity of having to fight with men who cannot have the same expert knowledge. They will have courage, they will be good flyers, and they will become pretty good navigators, but it stands to reason that they cannot have the expert knowledge which people who have made a lifelong study of their trade have got. Nevertheless, we shall do very well with them.
Now, you must have training in combined operations. It would be intolerable if whatever is possible in that way were not done; if one Service did not provide the machines and the men to co-operate fully with the other so that when they do go into battle together they may operate to the best advantage. I think, if I may say so, although he paid me a compliment, that what Lord Denman said is true. In all these debates, whether on co-operation between the Navy and the Air, on this or that aspect of the conduct of the war, on economic planning—or, at any rate, on making sure that our econo- 618 mic needs are assured—we go back, as Lord Denman said, to the machine at the top. Is it right? We go back to that and I make no apology for bringing my King Charles's head again into this because it is the essence of the problem. We go back to the Combined General Staff, the need for a Combined General Staff facing their strategic problems together, not compromising on separately conceived plans; no stitch-work but a pooling of experience, and the evolving of the best combined strategy and the best combined plans. That, I believe, is what is needed. It is only if you have that, if you have that spirit and that practice inspiring and animating the Combined General Staff, that you will-have that same spirit operating through all the Services. My Lords, there is no short cut to victory, but on that way, the way of co-operation, there lies the open road.
My Lords, I have some small excuse for intervening in this debate as I have served both in the dark blue of the Royal Navy and the light blue of the Royal Air Force. In fact I once held the ranks of Lieutenant-Commander, R.N., and Flight-Lieutenant, R.A.F., at the same time. Perhaps, therefore, I can look upon the subject of co-operation between the two Services with some knowledge of both sides of the question. Let me say at once that in general there is great good will between the Services. Each realizes its dependence on the other and each if called upon to help the other does so whole-heartedly. But that is not enough. In order to show you why it is not enough, perhaps your Lordships will allow me to state briefly one or two facts about the war situation to-day as I see it.
Hitler's object is, and always has been, the destruction of our sea power and commerce. He had hoped to hasten the end by invading us, but was baulked in his plan by failure to obtain air superiority in September, 1940. He had no reason, however, to abandon his original campaign, which he believed ultimately would be successful. Let us see how far he has succeeded. He has acquired naval and air bases from the North Cape to the Bay of Biscay, and so provided refuge and air cover for his naval forces operating against our sea communications in the Atlantic. He has demonstrated that the English Channel can be used for the passage of 619 his warships. He has, in co-operation with Italy, denied to us the use of the Mediterranean, and so compelled us to use the Cape route, with its consequent drain on shipping. He has taken a heavy toll of our aircraft carriers, capital ships, cruisers and destroyers, and has sunk some millions of tons of our merchant shipping. This measure of success, coupled with Japanese successes in the East, must encourage Hitler to intensify his efforts against our sea power and commerce in the Atlantic and in home waters. It is clear that Japanese strategy aims at depriving us of our sea power in the Indian Ocean. As soon as Japan has consolidated herself at Singapore and Penang, she will advance westward and try to establish herself in Ceylon, or even in Madagascar, and so be in a position to carry out continuous surface, air and underwater attack upon the Cape route to the Red Sea and upon our sea communications with India and Australia. In regard to results, Japan has so far, by means of the effective use of air forces highly trained in sea warfare, had considerable success over our naval forces and merchant shipping.
Although this picture is a black one, it is not overstated, and we have to face it. It is not a defeatist attitude to admit that the odds are very strong against us at the present moment, and to suggest measures to meet them before it is too late; but it is a defeatist attitude to put our heads in the sand and refuse to face the facts. We cannot delay longer the drastic measures necessary to meet the combined Axis attack upon our sea power, which in fact is already launched, and, in order to deal with it successfully, we must be prepared for the worst conditions. The attack may develop in many directions. There may be an intensification of the attack on our ships in the Atlantic. There may be a Japanese attack upon our sea communications in the Indian Ocean and the approaches to the Red Sea. If this plan were to succeed, we should lose control not only of the Eastern Mediterranean but also of the vital supply routes of the Indian Ocean. All our Armies operating in the Middle East would be cut off, and would suffer the same fate as did Napoleon's Armies after the Battle of the Nile. All our Middle East oil supplies would be denied to us and become available 620 to the enemy. Neither our prestige nor our latent power could survive such a blow.
Control of the sea is vital to the British Empire; if we lose it, we lose the war. Our sea power is gravely threatened at this moment, and, whether we like it or not, we have to concentrate all our resources to hold on to it. Bombing attacks on Germany, no matter how effective they may be, can do little to counter the existing threat to our sea power. Even Germany has realized that she has little to gain by bombing the United Kingdom until she has dealt with Russia and ensured her oil supplies. Germany and Japan know that they can win the war by cutting off our vital supplies at their source and acquiring them for their own use. The first step for us to take is for the War Cabinet to get the Air Ministry to accept equal responsibility with the Navy for keeping open our sea communications. The next step is to decide the best means of exercising joint command. On the highest plane this is done by the Chiefs of Staff, and it may well be a case for the Greater General Staff, presided over by an outstanding sailor, soldier or airman, as outlined by Sir Edward Grigg in a recent article in The Times, and as mentioned by several speakers to-day.
There should, I think, be a large extension of the principle of exchange of officers between the Navy and Air Force, not merely as liaison officers but in executive positions. Naval co-operation with Coastal Command is good, but it is essential that other Commands should be coordinated and trained to work together in attacks upon sea targets. The immediate threat is a sea threat, and it is so serious that all our energies and resources must be marshalled to meet it without the loss of a moment. The Navy is fighting against great odds, owing to the continually increasing risks which it has been compelled to undertake in every theatre of war. The Royal Air Force must realize the seriousness of the situation and willingly produce that whole-hearted major co-operation which is so necessary at the present time.
With regard to training, the most important factor, as I have already said, is the extension as far as possible of the principle of interchange. With a leavening of personnel trained in sea warfare from the Navy and Coastal Command, it 621 should soon be possible to spread knowledge of sea warfare throughout the Royal Air Force. There are two points with regard to training which I particularly wish to emphasize. The first is navigation, and particularly navigation over the sea; the second is the dropping of torpedoes from the air. Let us take navigation first. The importance of this subject cannot be stressed too much. I venture to say that far more aircraft have been lost in this war due to errors in navigation than from enemy action. I should like to see a propaganda campaign in the public Press and in the Royal Air Force to improve the status of the navigator. Naturally the ambition of every keen young man who goes into the Royal Air Force is to be a fighter pilot and fly a Spitfire. His second choice, accepted with resignation, is to be a bomber pilot. At the bottom of his social scale is the navigator. This can be illustrated by the words of the son of an Admiral, who wrote:They have turned me down for fighters and I have got to be a navigator. Isn't it too ghastly? The navigators are such an awful lot, I think I shall resign.I suggest that everything possible should be done to combat that attitude of mind in the Royal Air Force; otherwise we shall not get the best navigators. The Navy has succeeded in this respect by encouraging the naval observer and allowing him to command a squadron.
Let us now turn to the torpedoes. With some brilliant exceptions, we have not had great success with this weapon, although it is far the most deadly against ships, as the Japanese have shown us in the case of the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse." One of the reasons for our lack of success is, I think, that the Navy and the Royal Air Force have not pooled all their resources, but have been working too much apart, both in development and on the training side. The torpedo is a weapon which the Navy have used for years, and is the same in principle whether fired from a ship or dropped from an aircraft. There is a strong case for naval direction of the whole range of torpedo warfare.
The change of policy which I have endeavoured to suggest may entail switching over strong air forces from their present task of bombing the enemy in Germany to operations which will assist 622 in maintaining our control of sea communications in the Atlantic, the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean. It is clear from what I have said that the Royal Air Force is confronted with a colossal task if it is to bear its full share in securing our sea communications, a task so great, in fact, that it must take precedence over everything else. We have no choice. It is essential for us to keep control of our sea communications, to prevent the enemy from obtaining his raw material, and to procure what we need for ourselves. We are concerned now with a world war in which our existence must depend, as it always has done, on sea communications. Recent events have proved that fleets cannot operate without the close co-operation of air power; and, if we arc to hold our own during this vital year, it is essential that the whole of our naval and air strength should be concentrated and employed in this battle for sea power, the protection of which is as much the business of the Royal Air Force as of the Navy. On it depends the safety of the whole nation. If we lose our sea power, we lose the war.
My Lords, I should like to be allowed to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Gifford, on the very interesting and, if I may say so, inspiring speech which he has just made. I was particularly struck by hearing, and very distressed to hear, that in the Fleet Air Arm or Royal Air Force—I was not quite certain which—the art of the navigator is looked upon with disdain. That is terrible news. And there is something very wrong with the Higher Command when they allow that to exist. In the Service in which he and I began the navigator was spoken of as the salt of the earth—at least the navigators speak of themselves as the salt of the earth, and I was a navigator myself. They inherit the spirit of the greatest of all navigators, Vasco da Gama, and this spirit should animate the Air Navigation Service. The senior officers should be teaching to their juniors the same doctrine so that the cream of the young men should become navigators and be very proud of their calling.
May I also make a remark about the speech of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who set about my noble friend Lord Winster with great gusto? I must say, however, that it seemed to be 623 a backwash from a former speech of my noble friend Lord Winster, because I noticed that the noble Viscount had very carefully prepared his phrases beforehand. But I congratulate him on the vigour he put into it. May I also make a remark with regard to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton? I read the letters and listen to the speeches of the noble Viscount with the very greatest pleasure, but then I am reminded of the career of the noble Viscount, and I wonder what steps he took to implement his admirable sentiments and ideas and constructive proposals when he was in a position to do so.
I have not quite finished. For practically all the years between the wars he was a Cabinet Minister of great authority, and for the last eight years of that period he served as Air Minister and Colonial Minister, and if any Department of State is under fire at the present time it is the Colonial Office.
§ VISCOUNT SWINTON
I am quite prepared at an appropriate time in debate to defend my administration of the Colonial Office, but I thought the speech and the letters to which the noble Lord referred were letters advocating a Combined General Staff and a Chief of Combined General Staff. It is common knowledge that I consistently pressed for that in the Cabinet, ultimately carried it, and had the pleasure of introducing a proposal for it into this House, where it received unanimous approval.
I do not want to draw the noble Viscount into betraying Cabinet secrets, and I will not follow that any further. But why is there so great a need to press now for a Combined General Staff when he was in such a responsible position in all those years before the war? The time to make such a change was in peace-time. I agree that, not having done it in peace-time, we have to make the best of it and set up some similar organization now in war-time. In that connexion I am really astonished from one point of view at the organization that the Prime Minister announced in another place apparently with great pleasure—it certainly gave me great pleasure to read it—this Combined General Staff under the distinguished leadership of Acting Vice-Admiral Lord 624 Louis Mountbatten. That is an admirable arrangement. There you have the combination of the three Services, the Holy Trinity referred to by the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Cork, in a previous debate. And, in order to make the combination absolutely close, Lord Louis Mountbatten, a very distinguished officer, holds the honorary rank of Lieutenant-General and Air Marshal for combined operations.
According to the newspaper accounts—given out, of course, by the appropriate department at the Admiralty—he apparently is responsible in this position for organizing the last three Commando raids. But why have this organization only for that comparatively minor part of our war effort? May I particularly draw Lord Trenchard's attention to this: Why only a Combined General Staff for Commando raids? Why not in the whole field of our war effort? If it is right for the smaller operations on the enemy-occupied coast it is right for your whole operations of war. If Lord Swinton has forgiven me for reminding him of his past, may I recommend the example of this organization for the next time he writes one of his admirable letters to the public Press? What is right in small things must also be right in great things, and there you have in this new organization a perfect illustration of co-operation or co-ordination or integration for war purposes.
May I make the following suggestion to your Lordships, and particularly to the noble Lords who sit upon the Government Bench? I am going to suggest that there is a great need at the present time—and I particularly address myself here to the representative of the Admiralty—of a tactical rule which must never be departed from except under the most desperate necessity, a rule that large warships, important units, which have to engage in naval operations where they are likely to meet air attack, must have air cover. We had to make a similar rule after bitter experience in the last war with regard to submarines. After we had lost a number of tall ships by submarine attack, a tactical rule was at last laid down that heavy ships entering submarine-infested waters must have a destroyer escort or screen. Now you never send your heavy ships into waters threatened by enemy submarine action without a destroyer escort; it is never done. The "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" even had destroyer escort. As things have 625 developed in this war we must lay down a similar tactical rule or doctrine for warships operating in areas where they arc exposed to enemy air attack, that they must have air cover.
May I remind your Lordships of a few examples in this war in which I suggest that that rule must have been neglected, and what has happened in consequence? The "Bismarck" had no air cover and she met a well-deserved end. The Battle of Cape Matapan was won because we had the means of attacking the Italian Fleet by air in the first phase and they had not the means of defending themselves. The "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" I referred to just now; those fine ships were lost through lack of air cover. In the Battle of Java a combined Allied Fleet was annihilated—a Fleet of British, Australian, American and Dutch warships—because the Dutch Air Force had been wiped out by enemy action and could not afford cover—it was very largely because of that. Now we have the case of the "Dorsetshire" and. "Cornwall." There may be a case for not having provided air cover there, as they were apparently a long way out at sea, but certainly I think more explanation is required for the loss of the "Hermes." She was only ten miles from land, from the island of Ceylon.
The Prime Minister declares that it is not possible in all cases to provide air cover for warships on their ordinary warlike operations. That is perfectly true. Take, for example, the very brilliant action of the "Exeter" and her consorts when they defeated the German pocket battleship the "Graf Spec" off the River Plate, where it was obviously unnecessary to provide a destroyer escort or air cover. Vessels on long ocean convoy also do not need air cover though you are careful to provide air cover where you can by the use of catapults from liners and other ships. But where it is known that aircraft carriers are operating, or where your ships are likely to come within reach of enemy shore-based aircraft, you must give them air cover, except in the case of the most dire necessity, and I would very much like to know whether it was necessary to risk the "Dorsetshire" and "Cornwall"—part of our all too meagre Fleet of heavy cruisers—without air protection.
The case of the "Hermes" is really amazing. Either there was lack of team work between the Air Command in Ceylon 626 and Southern India and the Naval Command—and this is very much what my noble friend Lord Winster has been trying to bring to your Lordships' attention; I do not forget that a distinguished Admiral is Commander-in-Chief in Ceylon—either there was lack of team work, which would be criminal, or there was a failure to send to Ceylon and Southern India enough aircraft after four months of war with Japan, which would also be criminal, showing a woeful lack of foresight in planning ahead. I suggest that there are other' cases where in our air cover we have been much more successful, and the enemy as well. There is the case of' the Mediterranean convoys referred to by my noble friend. They have won through again and again with air cover, and we have the notorious case of the escape of the "Scharnhorst," "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen" from Brest. They were able to make the Channel passage because they had adequate air cover, so there you have the other side of the medal. I suggest it would be as wrong to send warships without armour or projectiles into waters where they are liable to air attack, as to send them to sea now without air cover. If that reasoning is accepted, certain changes in strategy must follow in order to allow this tactical rule or doctrine which must be adopted to be put into force.
I gave notice to the noble Lord who is replying for the Government that I intended to raise these matters, and I hope we shall have some reply. I particularly asked him, if it is agreeable to the public interest, to tell us about the air situation in India and Ceylon. Its bearing on the events we have been discussing this afternoon has been referred to also by Lord Denman and other noble Lords. Have the runways on the aerodromes in India been lengthened? Have the aerodromes been enlarged so that modern long-distance heavy aircraft can use them? Was that done when war broke out in September, 1939, or between then and now, or has it been done in the last four months since Japan intervened? Has that need been foreseen and provided for? What air defences have been provided at Trin-comalee? I thought the account of the damage done, as given in the statement read by my noble friend Lord Snell on Monday, rather disturbing. Trincomalee is our only adequate naval harbour in that part of the Indian Ocean. It is a magnificent 627 natural harbour, one of the finest natural harbours in the world, and it should have been heavily defended. There was time to do it. There was time to do it after the fall of Singapore, or when we knew Singapore was going to fall. Everyone in authority should have known that, after the fall of Singapore, Ceylon would resume its position of first-class strategical importance for the naval control of the Indian Ocean, and the necessary defences should have been provided.
I believe I am speaking for a very large body of opinion in this country when I say there is grave disquiet about the continued lack of air support for our ships in dangerous waters and also for the troops in that part of the world. My noble friend Lord Winster spoke of priority. I should have thought that the Fleet was the highest priority of all where air protection or air support was required. It is possible to ask too much of the Royal Navy. Its morale is wonderful, its efficiency is of the highest, its officers and men are devoted to the country's cause, but you must treat them fairly, and you must not send unprotected warships to be dive-bombed or attacked by torpedo bombers by the enemy who often has the right weapons in the right place. I refer to the Indian Ocean particularly, but my remarks apply also to the position of our own and our Indian soldiers in Burma and of our Chinese allies who are exposed to air attack continuously without cover, though apparently more protection has been sent recently. The suspicion which is growing in the mind of a very large body of serious people is that there is no concerted strategy, that our strategy is of the ad hoc character, drifting from emergency to emergency, and never foreseeing in time what is likely to happen. For these reasons alone the greatest attention should be paid to the pleas of Lord Hankey and Lord Swinton and of my noble friend who introduced this Motion. I trust that those of your Lordships who have far greater weight and authority than I have will take these matters up in the right quarters and press for improvement.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, this Motion to-day appears to me to be singularly opportune in view of recent events in the Far East. The subject seems to fall into three particular headings. There are, first, the question of organization; 628 secondly, the question of tactics; and, thirdly, policy and strategy. On the question of organization, I made a modest contribution the last time I spoke and I agree very much with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that it is a large subject which really requires a debate to itself. Therefore, with your Lordships' permission, I shall not respond to-day to the appeal made by the noble Lord, Lord Denman, that I should go into that subject in detail. Tactics have been dealt with by several noble Lords who are more competent to speak on the subject than I am—the noble Lord who moved the Motion and the noble Lord who has just sat down. I should like, if I may, to dwell very briefly on certain questions of policy and strategy as bearing on the subject of discussion.
The text books tell us that the object of all strategy is superiority at the point of contact. That is a policy of perfection, an ideal which applies to all Services and cannot always be reached, but I suggest we might keep it at the back of our minds in examining the events of the last few weeks. I should like to begin with Singapore and Malaya. We knew that our enemies desire above all other things the destruction of the British Empire. We knew that Singapore is the key-point of the Eastern half of the British Empire. We knew that Malaya is the principal source of the world's supply of rubber, and that rubber was of great importance to all the Allies, especially to ourselves as a great manufacturing nation using it, to the United States of America, and to the U.S.S.R. In a word, we knew that Singapore was a great British interest, a great imperial interest and a great Allied interest. Now what warnings did we have? The first warning took place in September, 1940, when Japan joined the Axis, and gave us warning that she might become an enemy. That was a yellow warning. The second warning took place in July, 1941, when Japan obtained from Vichy the right to occupy Indo-China with two very useful potential naval bases and with aerodromes. That was the red warning. From that time on we knew that as soon as Japan had time to occupy those territories and to make the necessary reorganizations, Singapore lay within reach of the metropolitan naval forces of Japan, and that Malaya at once, and Singapore perhaps later, would be liable to air attack. 629 Did His Majesty's Government neglect those warnings? They did not. They sent troops, large numbers of troops, perhaps they over-advertised the troops almost to the point of the appearance of a bluff. They also sent the two capital ships, the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" into those waters at that dangerous time, and the ships arrived there shortly before the outbreak of war. But they did not send the modern fighter aircraft which have proved so necessary in all the operations of this war, whether naval or military, for the support of the other Services. Poland, Norway, Finland, Belgium, Holland, France, Dunkirk, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of the Atlantic, and, as the noble Lord, Lord Strabolgi said, the "Bismarck," the umbrella put over the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau," the Mediterranean, Libya, Greece, Crete, Malta—all those operations have turned largely on the absence or otherwise of aircraft. But aircraft were not sent to Singapore.
There appear to me, therefore, to stand out two very large questions. The first question is why the capital ships were sent to such a dangerous place at such a dangerous time, and the other, why aircraft were not sent. As to the ships, prima facie it looks as though they were too many and too few—that is to say, they were too many in proportion to our total strength in capital ships (they were too many to put at risk) and they were too few because they could hardly by any possibility come within that strategical definition that I gave at the start of superiority at the point of contact. The second point is as to why the aircraft were not there. We have been told that all the aircraft that could be spared from this country and Libya and so forth were required for Russia, but, as I mentioned before, Malaya was a great Russian interest, and I should have thought there was a strong case to go to Russia and say: "You want rubber, we want to give it to you; America wants rubber, we want to give it to them; but we must have some proportion, a very small proportion, of your own output of aircraft plus what we are going to send, plus what America is going to send, to make the position more secure in Malaya." That may be, or it may not be, but those seem to me the two great points arising out of that part of the recent events.
630 Then we pass to Java. I say little about Java, because I know little. I know there was a very gallant action in which the sailors of the four nations, the United Kingdom, Australia, the united States and Holland, showed themselves to be worthy of the very best traditions of those countries and of their respective Navies. We know that there were the most terrible losses, and, as the noble Lord who has just sat down said, those losses were largely due to the old question that there was not any air cover, because the Dutch Air Force had been practically wiped out. Now that does provoke the thought as to whether those ships ought to have been there. It would, of course, have been a very hard thing to ask those ships to come out and leave in the lurch on shore their comrades who were fighting gallantly, and putting a brave face on it. I know the effect it would have had from the point of view of morale. I know that Napoleon said that the moral is to the material as three to one, but I sometimes wonder whether in this war there has not been a tendency to make our dispositions too much from the point of view of sentiment, to undertake too many forlorn hopes and not pay enough attention to strategy and the importance of superiority at the point of contact.
That brings me to the third of the three episodes to which I wish to refer—that is, Ceylon or the Indian Ocean. I suppose that after the fall of Singapore most people who were thinking about this question thought rather as I did—"I do hope these fellows will be more careful next time and that they will not be caught in another Japanese trap." That was my constant pre-occupation for five or six weeks. Yet when the day came important naval units were once more without adequate air protection and once more we sustained heavy losses. Now I want for a moment to consider the three operations together. What was the gain and what was the loss? The gain I cannot tell you—I hope we may hear later—but the loss seems to have been two capital ships, one of very great value, nine cruisers of which four or five (I am not quite sure about one of the Dutch cruisers) were large ones, several destroyers and an old aircraft carrier. If these ships by a different strategy could have been preserved that would have formed a very nice little Fleet in being on which to concentrate those reinforce- 631 ments which sooner or later—I have not the slightest idea which—the Allies will be able to concentrate to re-establish sea-power in the Far East.
I have dealt with each separately and with the three together. What are the lessons in relation to to-day's debate? It seems to me that the big lesson is that our worst naval losses, and our worst losses on shore too, were due mainly to the lack of modern aircraft at the point of attack. In that vital respect the present system failed. That does very much emphasize the importance of tuning it up. I do not feel that very much light is shed on the Motion before us. I doubt if it would have made very much difference if there had been some different responsibility for allocating the aircraft. If the aircraft did not exist—that may be the case or may not be the case—then whether the Navy allocated them, or the Air Force allocated them, or the Army allocated them, there would not have been many there. On the contrary, it seems to me the present system is really a more elastic one. We are always being called upon to find aircraft for new campaigns or new purposes. One day it is the Battle of Britain, another day it is the North Atlantic, another day it is Russia, another day it is Libya, or Greece, or Crete, or Singapore. It does seem easier to meet such demands if they all come from a common pool. It really comes back to the importance of strengthening the machinery of Government that has control of that pool. In other words, the system of control on which the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and Sir Edward Grigg and the Press have insisted. Broadly speaking, I find myself in agreement with them subject to some remarks that I made in a letter published in The Times this morning. I feel very much with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that it is a matter that requires a rather longer debate.
In conclusion, I would like to return once more to the point that all these events, as the noble Lord, Lord Denman, said, have roused anxiety in public opinion. If inquiry was necessary when we last debated the subject surely it is ever so much more necessary to-day. I very strongly hope that there may be an inquiry, not into what happened on the spot, because we cannot get the evidence there, but an inquiry into what happened 632 in London. What was the advice, what were the decisions on that advice, and what were the reasons for that advice?
My Lords, the service and political experience of the noble Lord, Lord Winster, has enabled him to gain a wide view of the all-important problems of inter-Service collaboration. Up to a month or so ago, and since the beginning of the war he was in the thick of it as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty, and had he felt able to do so he could have told your Lordships a great deal more about the manner in which naval personnel, whether Service or civil, have worked to achieve the happy relationship that exists to-day between the various units of the Navy and Royal Air Force. Noble Lords of great experience in naval, air and political matters have spoken and touched on some of the important aspects of past history as well as given their views on the present situation. I think your Lordships will agree that the difficulties that have been, are well marked in a letter which you will all have read in to-day's Times from my noble friend Lord Hankey who, writing about the Chiefs of Staffs Committee and referring to the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton's letter of yesterday, says:This [the setting up of such a Committee] is an immense improvement over the former state of affairs, when Ministers had constantly to decide technical questions on conflicting pro fessional advice. Nevertheless, disagreements have occasionally arisen; before the war, for example, on such important questions as the use of aircraft for coast defence, the capital ship, and the Fleet Air Arm, which had to be settled on the Ministerial level.As your Lordships will remember, the Navy was shorn of its Air Service on April I, 1918. History shows but too clearly what a mistake was made—the greatest, I suggest, in naval history. The policy now forced on us is to recover in the face of the enemy what we once had—a Naval Air Service that led the world. As my noble friend Lord Chatfield has pointed out time and time again, all the problems that we are now faced with are adversely affected by lack of ships of various kinds and so it is all-important that we should be sure that the aircraft that fly with the fleets, whether of the Royal Navy or the Royal Mercantile Marine, are both sufficient and effective. The problems involved have been hotly disputed in the years that have intervened between the wars and 633 questions of a psychological as well as a material nature are involved. The history of the Royal Air Force is, as it should be, well known throughout the world, and most of 113 have seen its unequalled personnel in action against the invader. But for the splendid and overwhelming success in the Battle of Britain your Lordships might not have been sitting here to-day. To the inception of this Service and its unconquerable spirit we owe a debt to the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I cannot do better than quote the words used by the Leader or your Lordships' House but a few weeks ago when he said of the noble Viscount that he speaks "with the greatest authority on air policy of anyone in this country and probably in the world."
The number of naval aircraft, as your Lordships are well aware, is small by comparison with those of the Air Force, and, in general, operations are carried out far from land, of which, for reasons of security, but little can be told. It is strange, but none the less true, that no complete history adequate to the greatness of the subject has been written of the Naval Air Service. Your Lordships will, I am sure, agree that such should be known net only by the public but by those in the Naval Air Service of to-day, very many of whom are not aware of the unique traditions' touching air developments that they are carrying forward.
The history of power flying in this country dates from 1909 when Colonel Moore-Brabazon, who will shortly take his seat in your Lordships' House, made the first flight in this country and carried a stage further the pioneer work of the Wright brothers in America who were the first to make a free and controlled power-driven flight in the world. One or two of us in your Lordships' House served in the Royal Naval Air Service in the last war. I think I can claim the privilege of being the only one who has served in the Royal Naval Air Service in the last war and in the Naval Air Service for the first two years of this war. In the circumstances, I hope your Lordships will permit me to call to memory one or two facts that are not sufficiently known, but should be, marking as they do a unique record of achievement in the development of aircraft for naval purposes. Such must be a great inspiration to us all and, in particular, to those in that Service today. It requires no expert knowledge to 634 see that the Naval Air Service has a hard time ahead. The personnel, fully inspired by the great traditions of the Service, will make very effective use of the growing amount of material which is being delivered. The Navy first became interested in flying in 1909 and ordered an airship to be built by Vickers at Barrow. She performed in a manner true to her nickname—" Mayfly."
After various lighter-than-air adventures in which my noble friend Lord Mottistone had a very prominent part to play, my Lords of the Admiralty became interested in the aeroplane in a restrained manner, spurred on to some extent by the fact that the air battalion of the Royal Engineers was quite air-minded. No naval air facilities of any kind existed, but my Lords of the Admiralty allowed four officers—Longmore, Samson, Gregory and Gerrard—to draw full pay whilst learning to fly at someone else's expense. The man of vision who made this possible, himself one of the earliest pioneers of flying, was Sir Francis MacLean, whom we must salute as the inventor of that technique now known as "Lease-Lend," and applied internationally for the benefit of all humanity by President Roosevelt. Sir Francis MacLean provided not only the aerodrome and all the aircraft and equipment, but spare aircraft, the best flying instructor of the day, and mechanics. From this beginning sprang the Royal Naval Air Service which has served as a model to all the other Naval Air Services of the world, both great and small. The Naval Air Department was formed under the direction of that great naval officer "Jackie" Fisher, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Fisher, who appointed Captain, now Rear-Admiral, Sir Murray Sueter as the first Director. Sir Murray Sueter, as your Lordships know well, is as active as ever on air matters to-day in another place.
From these small beginnings a position of world-acknowledged leadership in naval air matters was built up until the Royal Naval Air Service was disbanded on April 1, 1918, after some ten years of activity. I think it is interesting to recall that in that period the Royal Naval Air Service had encouraged those pioneer designers Handley Page, Short, Fairey, Sopwith, Blackburn. Royce, Mitchell, 635 Barnwell and Fidden and given direction and scope to their genius, and jointly developed, as the first of their kind, the flying boat and the float seaplane, the torpedo carrier, the heavy bomber, the air-cooled radial and the V-type liquid cooled engine. And so was born the British aircraft industry that is playing so vital a part in the world and is our mainstay to-day. Approximately the next twenty years are covered by the period in which the Royal Air Force acting through its instrument, the Fleet Air Arm, looked after naval air requirements. On May 1, 1939, the Navy regained the full control of its aircraft and thus the Naval Air Service was reborn, but with this important difference from the past period in that the same measure of control over the scientific and technical and manufacturing side is not exercised. The re-establishment of that scientific and technical side of the Naval Air Service is most important and I would like to suggest that the confusion as to nomenclature should be cleared up. As I have said, the period up till April 1, 1918, so far as the Navy was concerned, was covered by the work of the Royal Naval Air Service, the period from that time until May, 1939, was covered by the Royal Air Force acting through the Fleet Air Arm, and then on May 1, 1939, the Naval Air Service was reborn.
I fully endorse what Lord Winster has said in referring to the Director of the Air Services of the Admiralty, the Fifth Sea Lord, Rear-Admiral Lyster. His record at sea in command of aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean, particularly his record in the "Illustrious" when he planned and effected the conspicuously successful action off Taranto, was one of the most successful in the long annals of naval aviation at any period. Torpedo-carrying aircraft, which had first been developed by the Royal Naval Air Service some thirty years previously, were brought into effective use on a grand scale. That action has shown the Fifth Sea Lord of to-day to be a brave man and a man of immense resource. He carries on in the most splendid manner the high traditions of the late Admiral Sir Godfrey Paine and of Admiral Sir Murray Sueter, who played so vital a role in the Royal Naval Air Service between 1909 and 1918. That he will and can, given the 636 equipment, lead the Naval Air Service in this war to play as vital a part in securing victory as did the Royal Naval Air Service in the last is a foregone conclusion.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, before my noble friend Lord Sherwood replies I have something definite to say and, indeed, an appeal to make to the Government. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, raised this subject; it has given an opportunity to many of your Lordships to make most valuable suggestions. Of course we need closer cooperation, and it is quite true that a way of achieving this has been suggested by almost every speaker. The British Empire has suffered a series of shattering blows, under which it is reeling. The way to achieve what we want has been described in cold, unimpassioned words by the man who knows more about it than any other man living—Lord Hankey.
I remember that when he was first appointed it fell to my lot to recommend his appointment. The late Lord Fisher said, in one of those extraordinary letters of his, written as though he were writing with a quill pen, that "Hankey was made by Almighty God for the discomfiture of William the Second of Germany." I think that that is quite true. All your Lordships have listened to Lord Hankey, who for twenty-five years has known more about strategy, tactics, policy and politics than any other man living. You have heard him describing to us how these mistakes arose. In spite of this, he is not in the position of adviser to His Majesty's Government. I would say to the Government: "If you want to avoid further disasters, call back Hankey; from the moment that you parted with him, disaster has followed disaster." What we need is that clear, resolute brain, the lack of which has been referred to by almost every speaker in your Lordships' House.
What happened when what I will really call that master brain was withdrawn from all those activities of the Committee of Imperial Defence which have been consistently successful, with hardly one mistake, for the last twenty-five years? At the moment of our greatest crisis he just faded away. It is easier for me to speak, because I know that he has left the House. I think it is time that I called on this House—and I see many of my friends here who agree with me—to say that it is really a tragic thing to be bereft of all this 637 knowledge and of all this clear vision on which we have relied. The proposal has been made in The Times and elsewhere that the Chiefs of Staff should meet as they always have been meeting, but that somebody should be there to co-ordinate their thoughts and to present them. I am quite sure that the reason why things have gone wrong is that the directing brain has suddenly been taken away. That is what has happened.
I will go further and say that the disasters which have befallen us, in Malaya certainly, in Hong Kong possibly, in Singapore certainly and in the Bay of Bengal certainly, would none of them have happened had Lord Hankey been in the place where he has been and should be. It is a tremendous thing to say that, in view of the issues at stake, when the whole Empire has its fate trembling in the balance; but I think that those who know most will not dispute the truth of what I say. Before my noble friend addresses us in reply, I ask him to represent to His Majesty's Government that in the opinion of a great number—I think an overwhelming number—of my noble friends, the Government should call back Lord Hankey to their counsels.
§ THE JOINT PARLIAMENTARY UNDER-SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD SHERWOOD)
My Lords, there are many questions which have been raised in this debate with which it will not be possible for me to deal, nor do they really relate to the very large matter which is before us. Such points as my noble relative has just raised will, no doubt, be considered in the proper quarter, but I cannot deal with them now. Many noble Lords have brought up the question of a Combined General Staff, which has been aired in the newspapers and in some measure developed in the debate to-day; but I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that this is such a big subject that it is impossible wholly to cover it, and no one will expect me to answer in detail, or even on broad lines, that part of the debate, because not only does nothing about it appear on the Paper but what does appear on the Paper is of enormous importance, and requires to be dealt with frankly and openly.
The noble Lord, Lord Winster, began his speech in a way to which no one could take the slightest exception. He said that he was not going to cause any bad feeling by any remarks which he made. 638 When he said that, I know that both I and the noble Lord, Lord Bruntisfield, hoped that his speech would bear that out, but I for one was very soon and very clearly dispossessed of that idea. I do not think that his speech, if I may frankly say so to him, bore out what he said that he was going to do, and there were many words in it which I am certain that, on reflection, he will wish he had not uttered, even with the facts as he knows them to-day. I resent in particular one word he used. Referring to the occasion when the "Scharnhorst," the "Gneisenau" and the "Prinz Eugen" went down the Channel on that stormy day, he said it was like "promenading" down the Channel. There were lives lost on that occasion, and all the Services did their best; and I think that this is not the moment to say that it is easy for these ships to "promenade" down the Channel.
There are certain big points which the noble Lord brought up, however, and with which I should like to deal. As has already been said, this is not a new subject, and it is, indeed, one which does not relate solely to the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force. I agree strongly with the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, when he said that this Motion ought to have included all three Services seeing that it is a question of co-operation. You are not going to win this war unless you have co-operation among the three Services. Of that I am absolutely convinced, and I do not see any great advantage in debates which only bring in two, instead of three, Services. I should like to add that on this question of co-operation between the Navy and the Royal Air Force, the reason why I am answering is perhaps that we in the Royal Air Force are more able to co-operate with the Navy than they are with us from the very nature of the two Services.
It is out of the question for us to set apart specialized aircraft for the Navy, specialized aircraft for the Army and specialized aircraft for the Royal Air Force, and to think that you could have three totally different Services, which are what they would be. It would be idle to think that in that way you could win the war. I do think people must remember what is the function of the Royal Air Force and what it has achieved. There is the air defence of this country, and remember that had the 639 Battle of Britain gone the other way no one could deny that it would have been a considerable set-back to this country, and would have had a considerable effect on the course of the war. There is also the air offensive against Germany. Only the Royal Air Force could at this moment bring the war to the German people. Make no mistake about that. By the destruction of the enemy's factories you can bring the war into the enemy's country. When we knocked out the Renault works the other day we destroyed as many tanks as have often been destroyed in a battle fought by land forces. Do not think it is merely by one force that you can destroy the armaments of another similar force.
I admit that we must have a limited number of specialized aircraft for work with both the Navy and the Army. That has always been accepted. But the main striking force and the main directive force must remain with the centralized Royal Air Force. Take what has happened in Libya. Before our attacks started in that campaign our chief purpose was to prevent supplies reaching the enemy in North Africa. To achieve this aim the same squadrons which were one day attacking ships were the next day attacking supply targets, ports and harbours from Naples to Benghazi, and at the same time our fighters had to escort convoys along the Egyptian coast. When the battle was fought we then achieved air superiority. There are many people who think that we did not have real air superiority, but the messages we have had from the Commander-in-Chief and the letters coming from the front show quite clearly that superiority in the air was held by us. There is only one letter I would like to quote. It appeared in the Daily Telegraph the other day. The writer said at one point:The enemy did not stand a chance in the air. Wave after wave of our bombers, protected by very powerful fighter escorts, are smashing the enemy, while we ourselves are almost free from attack.That is completely unofficial and unsolicited. The writer ends: "Tell these things to the people at home." I think the people ought to realize this, because a great deal of talk goes on about non-co-operation and people do not realize that this co-operation exists and that only by it will you get success.
640 The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, mentioned the position of the Germans in this matter. A lot of people seem to think that everything we do is wrong and everything the Germans do is right. But the Germans have made many mistakes. They have also, however, done a great many things that are right, and no man should mind following them in the art of war, because it is one which they have studied for a great many years, and a great many brains are turned on I that subject. Of course the Luftwaffe contains neither a Naval Air Arm nor an Army Air Arm. The squadrons of bombers and fighters which fought in Norway, in the Low Countries and in France and Russia, are the same squadrons which were defeated in the Battle of Britain, the same that are attacking Malta so fiercely now and attacking our ships in the Mediterranean. The cloud of German fighters which brought the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" down the Channel were fighters which were drawn from the Russian front, and brought for that special reason. They were not members of a German Naval Arm; we know that they came from the Russian front.
We, however, do differ, and when we can I think we differ with advantage. We have a Coastal Command which the Germans do not have. This perhaps has developed more owing to our knowledge of the sea and the advantage one can get from having specialized persons on such a Service; and the squadrons of Coastal Command will at the present time be found supplementing and supporting the work of the Navy in many theatres of war. Coastal Command do not think of it as a small Command. I cannot give your Lordships facts and figures on a matter such as this, but I can say that the size of Coastal Command to-day is very much the same as that of the whole of the Royal Air Force in 1937–38, which shows that it is no negligible Command, no assembly of a few aircraft sent to help on certain occasions. It is a great Command, with great forces at its disposal, and I must say that I did not quite understand Lord Winster when he said that the only thing that the Royal Navy could do was to exercise complete operational command over it. I do not think that is a small thing by any means, nor one which suggests they have very little say in the matter.
641 As has been said by many speakers—and I feel it strongly—if we are to have co-operation, we must have the will to cooperate. Speaking for the Royal Air Force, I can say that in all ranks and all through the Service we have got that will and wish. I am quite certain that the noble Lord who started this debate, with his knowledge of the Royal Navy, will agree that there is that desire for cooperation in the Royal Navy. Some people think that some of the senior officers in the Royal Air Force do not understand the needs of the Navy, do not even know the workings of what was, as Lord Sempill said, the Royal Naval Air Service before, but in Ceylon to-day, where everyone must admit it is of vital importance to have co-operation between the Services, you have in Air Vice-Marshal D'Albiac an officer who has served not only in the Air Force but also in the Royal Naval Air Service. Therefore do not let anyone think there is a narrow Air Force mind. We have drawn from all three Services, and there is a complete wish and will to co-operate.
Lord Strabolgi kindly sent me three questions which he said he proposed to ask. One was the question of aerodromes both in Ceylon and India. I cannot go into details as to what is happening, but I can assure him that all the matters he brought up—the lengthening of runways and things like that—are being dealt with and being pushed on. Action is being taken.
Would my noble friend add to that a little? I can understand it is being done now, but were the steps taken during the four months before the Japanese intervention?
§ LORD SHERWOOD
Oh, yes. Where we should have aerodromes and questions of that kind were dealt with before this attack was made on Ceylon. There were two other questions which the noble Lord put to me, but which I do not think I can answer because one related to the big question of combined operations and the relationship between the Chiefs of Staffs. That whole question, as I said earlier, is obviously one for another debate. The third question related to the appointment of Lord Louis Mountbatten which was only announced the other day, and I have no doubt further questions will arise on that. He also put one other question about ships and their sinking. I cannot go further than the Prime Minister went 642 on that subject, when he said he could make no statement about the reasons which led Admiral Somerville to make the dispositions of his Fleet for which he was responsible. I cannot go further than that, but I would say one word because I think the noble Lord and certain other people are under a little misconception on account of the statement that the "Hermes" was ten miles from land. These ten miles from land were not ten miles from her base, but ten miles from the nearest point where survivors could have got to land. They were actually a good deal further away from their base.
On the question of Coastal Command, which, as I have said, is the Command which is most closely interested in this question of naval co-operation, it cannot be made too clear that the operational control of Coastal Command itself is vested in the Admiralty. The general policy of Coastal Command operations is guided by the Admiralty. The detailed arrangements from day to day are agreed between the naval commands and the Royal Air Force groups concerned. Naval Commanders-in-Chief and their staffs are also in direct touch with the Fighter Command and Fighter groups. For Coastal Command we must have men specially trained for work with the Navy. The only limit imposed on the special training given to them is that imposed by the need to maintain a steady flow of air crew personnel to the operational squadrons. In war-time men must come straight from civil life to be trained, and here I want to add a word to what Lord Trenchard and another noble Lord said. I know this training cannot be perfect. Of course, if you had people trained in the long service such as the Navy need, nothing could be better, but we must remember that casualties in the Air Force are very heavy indeed—I do not think that people quite realize that—and the flow of replacements must not be checked. If you have people specially trained, and you are only drawing from a very small pool, you will find you will get a check in your replacements, and though some may be well trained, you will find a lack of people to man your aircraft.
I cannot claim that the training for a pilot in Coastal Command is the same as that which he would have if he were brought up in the Navy and had the same Service knowledge as naval personnel have, but there is a very close liaison be 643 tween the Royal Navy and the School of General Reconnaissance to which all pilots and air observers destined for Coastal Command go, and we are happy to have the co-operation of the -Navy in this training. If that co-operation can be made even closer, the Royal Air Force would welcome any suggestions towards that end, because of course it is of the greatest importance. Your Lordships may be interested to hear that at the reception centres now, where all pilots come after being trained and before being sent to their final stage of operational flights, they are doing a fortnight with the Navy and a fortnight with the Army so as to get some idea of the needs and requirements of the other Services. Such things may seem small, but even the smallest things in cooperation can prove to be the biggest. It is that feeling of being one Service and not three separate Services which we consider of such importance. Lectures are also given by naval personnel to pilots in the Royal Air Force, so that they may know what the difficulties of other Services are.
Lord Winster brought up the question of the aircraft now being used in Coastal Command. At the moment they are the Sunderland and the American-built Hudson. Both these types have proved their worth. The Germans, as they have said themselves, treat the Sunderland with great respect; they call it the "Porcupine" because of its very bristling armament. The value of the Hudson would be very difficult to put into words. For general reconnaissance there is the Catalina, which is now supported by Wellingtons and Whitleys, and there is the Beaufort, which is a torpedo bomber. Its only fault is that we cannot have it everywhere, or everywhere we wish it to be, but arrangements are being made for other machines to carry out those duties. I cannot of course develop that in detail. There is also the Beaufighter which is being used now, and was used in the Commando raid in Norway. It is taking the place of the Blenheim, which is the older machine used with Coastal Command fighter squadrons.
I would like to say a word on what Coastal Command has achieved. Its duties are great and varied. It has watched the seas, sunk ships, and has attacked harbours from Trondheim to Brest. It has also had to concentrate 644 on the Battle of the Atlantic. From Iceland to Gibraltar, for this battle, as we know is one of enormous scope, it has had to harass U-boats, and in many cases has driven them out further and further into the Atlantic. In 1941 aircraft of this Command flew 143,000 operational hours, which represents some 17,000,000 miles during that year. It has covered enormous distances. That is what was done in 1941. Under its Commander-in-Chief, Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert, it is doing everything it possibly can, and no credit can be too high to give to it.
§ LORD AILWYN
May I interrupt the noble Lord to ask one question? Can he inform me if the Air Officer Commanding Coastal Command attends the Naval Staff meetings at the Admiralty.
§ LORD SHERWOOD
I understand that he can attend, and does if there is a Joint Council. The Royal Air Force's effort in support of the Navy is not confined merely to the Coastal Command. I do want to make this clear because it is important. In addition to the Coastal Command you have the whole of the Bomber Force, and constant attacks have been made on naval bases and shipbuilding yards in North Germany. It has raided hard and often such places as Hamburg, Kiel, Emden, Wilhelmshaven, Stettin, Rostock and Warnemunde. It has attacked submarine bases, shipyards, ports and harbours in occupied territory. It has raided the bases from which the Focke-Wulf aircraft come out to attack us. From the fall of France to February, 1941, 46 per cent., and from February, 1941, to February, 1942, 49 per cent. of the tons of bombs dropped by Bomber Command were on targets chosen by the Royal Navy, including of course Battle of the Atlantic targets.
The other day that force raided Lubeck and there is no dispute as to the success of that raid. We have pictures, which noble Lords may have seen, and other information that prove that not only were some 3,000 houses totally destroyed, but something like 40 per cent. of the whole centre of the town was destroyed. The success of the raids on those ports where submarines arc being built and where all the repairs are going on has all been achieved by Bomber Command. As I have said, something like 49.6 per cent. of Bomber Command bombs are directed 645 upon naval targets. This has been done by Bomber Command under Air Marshal Harris, and I am quite certain that the longer this war goes on the more ruthless will the Germans find him to be. We have had other targets to bomb, and the aircraft have had to go out and lay mines in the nooks and crannies of the coast of Norway and all round the German shore. That also has been largely done by Bomber Command. The places at which this has been done are often far outside the range of the Royal Navy, and the duty of doing it falls upon us.
Then there is something else. This, to my mind, answers a question put by Lord Winster. He said he wished all aircraft which operated with or against ships could be under the Royal Navy. Well, what about Fighter Command? Fighter Command plays a big part. Over 50 per cent. of Fighter Command's duties in this country consists in defensive operations devoted to the protection of shipping. That is why our coastal convoys have suffered comparatively light losses and casualties as a result of daylight bombing. This defence comes from Fighter Command. It is nothing which the Royal Navy could do; it is something which has had to be dealt with entirely from the flying point of view. I am quite certain that the noble Lord must realize what an immense difficulty there would be if the Navy had to take over half the Fighter Command. The crews of the ships in the convoys that come down the coast—and I can assure the noble Lord that I have seen many of them—have a feeling of security when they have the knowledge that Spitfires and Hurricanes are escorting them in cases where at any moment the enemy Dormers may come out of the mists. That affords to the convoys a continuous patrol and protection which is carried out with the fullest co-operation with the Service.
I would add this. Sir William Sholto Douglas, Commander-in-Chief of the Fighter Command, in affording this protection, does not believe in anything less than full co-operation. It is well worth while for noble Lords, if they have a chance, to see how carefully this is done, how those convoys are given the fullest support to which they are entitled. After all, we sunk with Hurricanes and Spitfires with the cannon-gun some thirty-six merchant ships besides attacking flak 646 ships, minesweepers, E boats and barges. Finally, our Fighter aircraft have been operating from our own merchant ships.
I mentioned at the beginning that the task of co-operation fails very largely upon the Royal Air Force. Nevertheless the picture I should like to draw would be incomplete if I did not mention that it is not merely co-operation from us. We have to thank the Navy for the great cooperation which they have given to us. There have been instances, to which I cannot refer in detail, where the Navy at considerable risk to itself has been able to render signal service to the Royal Air Force. Although we operate in the air do not think that we are not conscious that the Air Forces are dependent upon the Navy for the transport overseas of personnel, stores, and in some instances aircraft. There is also the Air-Sea Rescue Service which has been the means of saving many lives of pilots and air crews. That has resulted from close and careful organization on the part of both Services, and the success achieved has been in no small part due to the active assistance of His Majesty's ships. We are grateful for that co-operation and I would add that assistance has come also in some cases from the Army, who, on one occasion, saved several lives.
Several other points came up during the debate but, as has been said, this is really a question of co-operation. I think your Lordships will agree that if the matter is considered impartially there is a great deal to be said for a centrally controlled Air Force such as we have now. I have no reason to believe that it will be altered, but when I say that your Lordships must not take me to mean that I am not fully alive to the needs of the Admiralty or that we shall fail to do all we can to meet them. But this is a hard war that we are facing now and it is not going to help if anyone tries to sow the seeds of dissension between various Departments. One noble Lord said the system was not perfect. Nothing is perfect, and of course we have got to get greater co-operation and a greater war effort directed, as my noble friend Lord Hankey said, to the most important places. That, however, is not a matter for us. No one Department is going to alter that. That must be a matter for Cabinet decision. What we have to do is to make co-operation work.
THE EARL OF MANSFIELD
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Winster, replies, there is one observation I feel I must make, although I came here to-day with the intention of listening and with no intention of speaking. A great deal has been said about the appalling series of disasters we have suffered in the East. No co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force could have avoided those disasters, for the simple reason that there does not seem to have been any Air Force there, with which the Navy could have co-operated. For that reason this debate must be regarded merely as a curtain-raiser to another debate which sooner or later must take place in which all our strategy for the defence of our Eastern possessions and aid to our Dutch Allies will have to be put on trial. But the matter of co-operation, as I have said, is quite beside the point because we had apparently no aeroplanes. Someone—and someone in this country—bears a very heavy responsibility and that matter in a subsequent debate will have to be dealt with most carefully.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, I feel that I should thank those noble Lords who, in the course of the debate, have been good enough to say that this Motion was opportune and has served a useful purpose. I feel very proud that a Motion standing in my name should have been the occasion of such remarkable speeches as we have heard from the noble Viscount, Lord Swinton, and the noble Lord, Lord Hankey—speeches which I think will be a matter of reference for those who are interested in these matters for many months to come. I have listened also to the criticism which has fallen to my lot at the hands of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I hope I shall profit by it. I noticed that the noble Viscount displayed appreciation of a very soldierly quality, that is the attempt to forecast what your opponent is going to do, or in this case say. But I do not think the military quality was equal to the appreciation because the noble Viscount entirely failed to forecast what I was going to say and displayed a singular lack of elasticity in dealing with what turned out to be the case.
If I may refer for a moment to the reply made by the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, I would say that I am quite sure 648 that the officers and men of the Royal Navy will greatly appreciate what the noble Lord said about the co-operation the Royal Air Force receives from the Royal Navy. There was only one remark made by the noble Lord to which I in any way take exception. He was under a complete misapprehension in thinking that I referred to the escape of the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" as a promenade up the Channel. I assure your Lordships that I should be incapable of referring to such an episode as that, when lives were lost so gallantly, as a promenade. What I was referring to was the reply given by the Dominions Secretary to a question addressed to him on the subject of the Report. I paraphrased that reply by saying that the Dominions Secretary said the Report had only brought out small matters, minor matters, and I said if that was so the conclusion one must draw was that German capital ships were at liberty to take a promenade in the Channel whenever they felt they would like a little fresh air. I think my noble friend will agree that that is entirely different to the construction he put upon my remarks.
§ LORD WINSTER
I think that nothing I have said could in any way be regarded as criticism—carping criticism, as the noble Viscount said—of the Royal Air Force. I am quite sure that if anyone is kind enough to read the report of my speech it will be found that I made no such criticism. In fact I went out of my way to express unbounded admiration of the Royal Air Force and of the happy relations which exist between the Services. I am grateful to the noble Lord opposite for his reply. I quite realize the difficulties at the present moment of replying in detail to many of the matters I raised. I confess I would have liked to hear a little more on the question of how soon the Naval Air Service is likely to be equipped with modern up-to-date machines and weapons, but I realize the difficulty of replying on this subject and I know also how very difficult it is to get any blood out of a Government stone in these days. I thank the noble Lord who has given as full an answer as was open to him within the narrow confines of what 649 can be done at present and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.