§ 3.47 p.m.
§ Debate resumed.
§ VISCOUNT ALEXANDER OF HILLSBOROUGH
My Lords, I join with the Minister of Defence in his opening tribute to the noble and gallant Viscount who has introduced the Motion on the Paper this afternoon. The Minister spoke of the noble Viscount's sincerity on these matters about which he has been speaking. I should like to add just one other word to that tribute. I know no one on the air side in this country who has for so long been not only sincere but completely faithful to the cause which he has always advocated for so many years. I remember well how, during the course of the Schneider Air Cup race many years ago at Portsmouth, the noble Viscount initiated me, as a very young Minister, into this question which we are now discussing, in the course of the arguments between him and his famous naval brother-in-law. I have been more or less in touch with the general arguments of the noble Viscount ever since. But what is transcendent is the sincerity—and we all recognise it—with which, first and foremost, he places the safety of the country which we all love. I am sure that the one thing which every noble Lord desires is to have adumbrated and put into practice such defence arrangements as would be most likely to lead to the prevention of war, but in any case to ensure the safe defence of our nation. The way in which the noble Viscount spoke this afternoon has certainly shown the sincerity which we have all come to admire.
Arising out of my experience from another angle, the political and administrative (I never had the opportunity of becoming a great staff officer, as the noble Viscount was), I must say that there are certain reservations in my mind with regard to the case put by the noble Viscount. I agree with him that it would he a great mistake to formulate our policy and to make our plans on the basis of experience gained in a previous war. Nevertheless, when we consider the things which are before mankind in the world at large to-day, we are bound to have a general policy and to keep our mental eyes, as it were, wandering round the horizon of our general experience.
1326 I remember in the course of 1940 to 1945 being very concerned about the results which faced me, as First Lord of the Admiralty, of the practice obtaining in the peace period up to 1938 in regard to the control of air forces—the setting up of the In skip Committee, which the Minister has mentioned this afternoon, and the change over at a late period. I could not help feeling all the time, especially in 1940, that, if there had been Naval control in that peace time of their own air defence at sea, we should have been freed from a good many of the difficulties which I then experienced.
I would say this, too: that when the noble Viscount speaks about the distances that can now be covered by shore-based aircraft, he reminds me very much of the difficulties which faced myself and the Staff Officers of the Navy in 1940, and up to well on in 1941, over that blank centre spot in the Atlantic in which we found it impossible to get air cover during the anti-submarine campaign. We found then that, largely I think because of the general state of management of air development right up to 1939, we had not in Coastal Command the kind of aeroplanes that would have been able to provide that cover. I admit at once that it was not merely with regard to long-range survey craft of Coastal Command but also with the other long-range aircraft of the Air Force, that mistakes have been made. If there had been different aircraft carrier development between the wars, we should have been more immediately equipped than we were for shore-based aircraft to be used from carriers. In consequence, we suffered heavily at that time.
I must say, therefore, looking back on that experience, that I feel not only sympathy with, but a great deal of support for, the arguments of the Minister. At the present time, I do not see how, for a considerable period ahead, we can possibly do without the aircraft carrier. It will be needed in the joint task with the long-range air force of maintaining the sea lanes which are so vital, not only to the existence of our own island community but to the ultimate stability and security of the whole of the Commonwealth. Therefore, at the present time I should not he inclined to support the noble and gallant Viscount in the kind of wide terms of reference which I read into 1327 his Motion for the setting up of a committee to raise once more the old issue—an issue which we thought had been settled in the course of the consideration of the Report of the Inskip Committee of 1938–39.
As to the references made by the noble and gallant Viscount to the future, no one yet quite knows, with these great developments that are taking place, which part of the Commonwealth is going to be the most effective air base. I agree with him how vulnerable the aircraft carrier is, but, equally, from my experience in the war, I know how extraordinarily vulnerable also the land-based aircraft were, and how much it affected the strategy of the whole combined operations of the three forces when important strategic places, land-base aerodromes, were suddenly put out of action. If they were not actually bombed out of action in defence, it was often absolutely essential, to save our limited aircraft, that they should be evacuated; and areas, both on land and at sea, were therefore left to exposure at a most awkward and inconvenient time. That is another side of the question.
Moreover, with development of researches into the use of the aircraft carrier—upon which, in the present state of research, and having left any sort of interest or control in it for some years, I cannot speak with firmness—I do not know who can yet say whether or not the movable base is not more difficult for the enemy to discover than well-known, charted and almost surveyed land bases; whether it cannot be used to great advantage, not only in defence but in attacking the enemy. I do not speak with firmness, but I want to see the results of those developments before we go too quickly into the actual changeover which the noble and gallant Viscount has pressed this afternoon.
I have not, perhaps, quite so strong a feeling of opposition to that part of the Motion which asks for an inquiry into other matters. The question of the rate of development, and thereafter production, of aircraft is one of vital interest to the welfare of our country, and one in which our experience in the past has some special value. Here again, I look back again upon my own experience in the war. And although I am not sure 1328 that I would go all the way with what the noble Viscount has referred to as being possible in the rate of actual development, when he referred to his experience concerning the time factor in the repair and the return to service of damaged or well-used engines, my mind went back at once to the vital month in the history of the British Commonwealth, May, 1940, leading from there up to that great Battle of Britain of which he has spoken. For, in May, 1940, when already we had sustained very great losses in the gallant Royal Air Force, we were not seeing aircraft produced and made available to the Service in anything like the time we desired.
We found, as your Lordships may remember, that the rate of production since we had commenced the war in 1939 had greatly expanded, but within the Service itself, in the aircraft service units, there was such a choke that, until, at the time Lord Beaverbrook became Minister of Aircraft Production, that matter was specially investigated, we were in even very much graver danger than we were when the Battle of Britain took place. It was only when that matter was cleared up, and the rate of delivery of aircraft to squadrons through the air service units had been greatly increased, that we had anything like the numbers with which we went into the Battle of Britain. It may well be that a committee of the kind which is asked for in the Motion could be of considerable value, subject always to what the Minister has said as to the proper timing of such an inquiry, but that the committee should inquire into that matter, to prevent that sort of choke occurring, I fully agree.
However, when it comes to the question of development of new types of aircraft, I should have thought that it was true to say that with almost every class of weapon, or the production of antidotes to weapons which can be produced, almost the same practice is to be found throughout our history—namely, that during war it is vital to try out thoroughly the prototypes which are likely to be the best in actual warfare. Therefore, on that point I agree with the Minister of Defence; you must go through these things in order to discover the best. On the other hand, as has often been said by Ministers of all Parties, it would be fatal to delay obtaining an adequate supply of this, that or the other weapon, ship or 1329 aircraft until you had made up your mind for certain that you had the final and the best proved prototype, You must, in the meantime, have something coming on the line which will stand you in good stead if, at a period when you expect a number of years or even months of peace, trouble blows up. In that case you must have these other supplies of the best you have been able to produce in line production at the time.
The noble and gallant Viscount, when he conies to reply, will correct me if I am wrong, but it seemed to me that he thought we were not as forward in these matters as other countries. We all welcome his remark that he is certain that if we had an overwhelming strength in these matters we should not want to use it for forcing a war or for aggressive purposes; but he would not trust the other people. It seems to me to be the fear of the noble and gallant Viscount that these other people already have machinery on the way towards, or have achieved, superior strength in these matters. That may be so. My own view, however, is that in the air, as in other spheres of British ingenuity and production, we have not shown ourselves to be lacking in technical skill and, if I may put it so, in technical imagination as to what is the next job to be turned out skilfully and usefully. In the air, at sea and elsewhere we have managed on most occasions to lead the world. I should not like to think that we were going to have a committee which would be likely to rush into production; I do not think that is really the idea of the noble and gallant Viscount. I think that if we are going to have a committee to speed up the supply of machines (if we can so speed it), the actual trial and improvement of prototypes and the securing of the best replacements in prototype production is the great task of peace time.
I hope that the Government will repeat something along the lines of the Minister's previous remarks and will pick up all the other points which are likely to be raised in the debate. How much can he done on these two points alone, as distinct from the other point covered in the noble and gallant Viscount's Motion? Personally—and I think I can speak for my noble and learned Leader—I should not have any objection if the Government, 1330 in order to meet the noble and gallant Viscount's view, were to decide to appoint a committee to deal with the speeding up of some of the operations which have to be gone through. I certainly should not raise any objection, nor, I gather, would my noble and learned Leader. Other points of view may be expressed during the course of the debate, but I think I shall be well satisfied when I listen to what the Government have to say after they have heard the rest of the debate. On one thing I am sure this House is united. It is unanimous in its tribute to the noble and gallant Viscount for his service to the country, and especially to the Air Force with the building up of which he has had so much to do. We pay that tribute. But we also pay a greater tribute, not only to the noble and gallant Viscount, but also to all the others who, though they hold contending and differing views in peace time, have but one desire: to do the best they can for the safety and defence of our country.
§ 4.6 p.m.
VISCOUNT CUNNI NGHAM OF HYNDHOPE
My Lords, may I also join in the tribute that has been paid to the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for the way he overcame his difficulties in delivering his speech. I have the greatest admiration and respect for the noble and gallant Viscount, but I do not think there are many things between our two Services on which we should agree. I propose to deal only with the first part of the Motion, that part which I look upon as an attack upon the Navy. I deeply regret that this question, which all in the Navy had hoped was dead and buried for all time, should again be raised. I strongly deprecate inter-Service strife and I hope that nothing I shall say presently will contribute to it.
I hope it will not weary your Lordships if I go back a little and touch on the more relevant factors of the amalgamation in the year 1919 and onwards. Many of your Lordships will remember that towards the end of the 1914–18 war the Royal Navy possessed a very strong and efficient air service. In round figures there were 3,000 aeroplanes and a large number of airships, and 67,000 men. Therefore it can be seen that the Navy was a real pioneer in Service flying. For reasons that seemed good to them at the 1331 time, the Government of the day then amalgamated the Royal Naval Air Service with the Royal Flying Corps, and all naval flying came under the Royal Air Force. In the subsequent years the rapid development of the carrier as an integral part of the Fleet soon brought the Admiralty to see that for them to have the carriers and for another Ministry to have the planes, the crews and the pilots for those planes and the maintenance personnel, was a highly unsatisfactory arrangement. Everyone in the Navy thought the arrangement was a complete failure—it was the negation of efficiency; it caused inordinate delays and hindered development. Service in the carriers was very unpopular with R.A.F. personnel. They were constantly being changed. Few of them did more than one tour of duty in a carrier. As I think your Lordships will appreciate, it was a highly wasteful way of providing for flying personnel in the Navy.
In these circumstances, the Admiralty and the Air Ministry were in a constant state of discord and contention. The Air Ministry, busy with its own problems, not unnaturally took no interest in the Fleet Air Arm. Air developments at sea were a long way behind other developments in the air, and the Navy was starved of planes. However, the Air Ministry were not inclined to give up control of the Fleet Air Arm without a struggle. The noble and gallant Viscount mentioned many committees—and there certainly were many—but I think it was the Salisbury Committee, in 1929, which foreshadowed control of the Fleet Air Arm passing to the Navy. The unhappy state of affairs I have mentioned lasted until 1937, with the Admiralty all the time complaining and trying to get it altered. In that year, 1937, the Government decided that the sea-based planes, the carrier-borne planes, were to be placed under the control of the Admiralty. This was, I think, two years before the opening of the war, and it was only just in time. The numbers were short, but the Fleet Air Arm entered the war efficient and pretty well trained, though with sadly indifferent aircraft. I hope I can claim that they rendered valuable service to the country during the war. Perhaps I may just mention Taranto, the "Bismarck," the "Tirpitz," operations in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, 1332 the Atlantic and Mediterranean convoys and, most arduous of all, the Russian convoys. There was a good deal more, of course, but I think those examples will show your Lordships what a valuable and essential weapon the Fleet Air Arm was in the hands of the Navy.
The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, now suggests that this weapon, perhaps the most valuable that the Navy possesses at the present moment, should again be placed under the Air Ministry. Is it seriously proposed that this weapon, which has been raised to a very high state of efficiency under naval control, should revert to the conditions of 1919, a period which we all knew in the Navy was one of complete inefficiency, and one during which the existing situation was the cause of bitter discord between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry? The noble and gallant Viscount has based his case mostly on the need of economy.
§ VISCOUNT CUNNINGHAM OF HYNDHOPE
I am afraid there is no efficiency in returning to the conditions of 1919. And there is no significant economy to be gained by putting the Fleet Air Arm under the Air Ministry again—if,indeed, there is any economy at all. The joint schools and establishments dealing with common services are already combined under one or other of the Services. The noble and gallant Viscount wishes to do away with the carriers —that, presumably, is where the economy is to come from. In my view, carriers are an essential and important part of the Fleet for many reasons, into which I will not go. I shall undoubtedly be told that I am looking back to the last war. I agree heartily with the noble and gallant Earl, the Minister of Defence, when he says that we cannot ignore the lessons of the last war. At the same time, naturally, we must look ahead. Your Lordships will remember that in the debate on April 16, the noble Lord. Lord Fraser of North Cape, set out with great clarity the case for the carrier. I agree with everything he said on that occasion about the carrier. It will be remembered that, speaking from his own experience, he pointed out that the joining up of a carrier with a Russian convoy on one occasion produced a result 1333 which I think he described as "terrific." In convoy operations, the opportunities for attacking enemy units threatening the convoy are fleeting and must be seized at once. The attacking force must be on the spot. In other words, you require actually with the convoy carrier-borne fighters and anti-submarine 'planes. It is no good trying to call up forces from afar. The opportunity will have passed long before they arrive.
It is an interesting fact that, in tine late war, of all the merchant ships sunk in the Atlantic theatre only 1 per cent. was sunk in convoys which included air escort. Nor was there anything in our experience in the last war to show that the carrier is unduly vulnerable. In that war no British carrier was sunk by shore-based aircraft, and only one by naval aircraft. As the noble and gallant Earl, Lord Alexander, pointed out, the carrier is on the move and she has to be found before she can be attacked. I shall be told that the atom bomb has altered all that. I doubt whether it has altered very much at sea, and I look confidently to the Royal Air Force in their development of the guided and horning missile to restore the balance between the attacker and the attacked before many years are out. There is no question but that the noble and gallant Viscount would achieve economy by the abolition of carriers, hut it is an economy that would be paid for dearly by the country in shipping losses in time of war.
May I say again how much I regret that this question has been raised? At the end of the last war one had hoped that these inter-Service rivalries and jealousies would, perhaps, if they were not entirely ended, at any rate have been damped down; that the Services fully realised that they were absolutely interdependent, and that they had a sympathetic understanding of each other's problems. This stirring up of old controversies will do nothing but harm. It will be resented in the Navy and will probably cause bad feeling again between the two Services. I doubt whether the noble and gallant Viscount has many supporters in his own Service on this question. I am happy to know that the young men of both Services in the joint schools and establishments work together in great amity, understand each other's problems, or try to, and realise that they are partners and not opponents. I was 1334 extremely glad to hear the noble and gallant Earl say that it was not intended at the present time to make any great changes in this type of organisation. I think that is what he said. But if the relations between the Navy and the R.A.F. are to be called in question now, a case can be made, and a very strong; and logical case, for putting Coastal Command under the Admiralty. As I said, at the outset, I have no wish to contribute to bad feeling between the Services, and. so do not press this point now; but what I do say, with all the emphasis I can command, is that there is not a shadow of a case for putting the Fleet Air Arm back under the Royal Air Force.
§ 4.22 p.m.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, one of the privileges we have in this House is to hear the views of great Air Marshals and Admirals of the Fleet on these great questions, differing, as they do, so fundamentally. Frankly, I am a little unhappy about this debate, because I have taken part in too many. I well remember, at one time in my life in another place, almost once a month having tremendous arguments with my noble friend Lord Howe. At that time the argument was not so much on narrow questions such as this, as on the main question of whether the Royal Air Force should disappear and our air forces go back to the Army aid the Navy. We won that battle. Never will that be raised again, I hope. The Royal Air Force stands securely now as one part of our national defence.
I thought that this question of aircraft carriers had been settled for the time being, but it has been advanced again today. In this changing world, have we not, as taxpayers, the right to question any piece of armament from the point of view of efficiency? If somebody criticises the aircraft carrier, is that to be construed automatically as an attack on the Navy? I hope that that sort of attitude will not be allowed to grow, because it curtails criticism of defence at a time when many people should be looking at it with critical eyes. The Navy must not overplay the carrier. It can easily be overplayed. I feel deeply for the Navy, because they are running into a sad time. The capital ship has gone. The great 1335 commands now can be only on the carriers. Consequently, by virtue of the disappearance of these great ships, one sees the future with no great posts for great seamen to occupy upon the sea. It is certainly true to say, as has been said to-day, that the carrier played a part in that extraordinary war of America against Japan, but there were circumstances there which had never occurred before in warfare and which may not occur again. We must not plan on the basis of thinking that the next war is going to be like the last. In considering modern weapons, I hope that Admirals of the Fleet will not think that the guided missile is going only towards aircraft. If guided or homing missiles are to be directed to objects on land or sea, the aircraft carrier, with all the eggs in one basket, is in a bad way. The homing missile directed against the aircraft carrier is a very serious thing.
The noble and gallant Earl said that we cannot ignore experience. Nobody could agree with him more than I do. I will tell your Lordships the experience of the Fleet Air Arm in the last war—I have got these figures with all the accuracy that I can, and I would ask the noble and gallant Earl, when reading the debate, to take them into consideration when planning future policy. There were 58 aircraft carriers commissioned in the Royal Navy during the war. The strength of the Fleet Air Arm at VE-Day was just under 1,300 aeroplanes. In nearly six years of war they destroyed 20 enemy submarines, 23 other German and Italian naval craft and 27 merchant ships. British shore-based aircraft destroyed 220 enemy submarines at sea, plus 16 by mining and 21 by bombing in harbour. They destroyed 339 other enemy naval vessels in Atlantic and North European waters, against 12 by carriers, and 553 enemy merchant ships, against 21 by carriers. In the Mediterranean, British and American shore-based aircraft destroyed 300 enemy merchant ships, totalling 800,000 tons, as against 6 destroyed by carriers. I hope the Minister will look at these figures and base his decision on the future on that experience.
During my life I have had the great privilege of serving under the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and I know very well what an irritant he can be. He never spares his punches, and 1336 he has this terrible virtue: he is always right. One can say that about few Service men, but never have I found the great Air Marshal wrong. I have noted one or two words he said to-day, which I think are very true. He said that if we cannot be ready to hit the enemy in his own country, then the battle is bound to be fought over our country. Those are significant and wise words. Then he said: Make them fight to defend their own land, instead of attacking ours. Again, wise words. He said that for many years his policy has been bombing deep into enemy country. I sometimes wonder whether the other Services appreciate the help that is given to them by deep bombing.
Let us take the case of the landing in France and the bitter battles that were fought there. Do your Lordships think our troops realised sufficiently the terrible disorganisation that was going on behind the enemy lines, due to our deep bombing? Did they realise sufficiently that reinforcements could not come to the enemy because the same had been stopped by air power in deep bombing? What a different story it might have been if we had not had that tremendous weapon, with adequate and suitable aircraft for deep bombing! It is the same in the Navy. Had it not been for deep bombing, which destroyed submarines in port and upset their manufacture by the enemy, they might well have had twenty for every ten which they employed. And let us not forget what an expensive thing this was for the Air Force. It cost us 20.000 lives. But it meant so much to us in that war, that it was worth it. I hope the Chiefs of Staff will weigh up those figures I gave them, to see whether they are spending every penny of our money efficiently. That is what we are entitled to ask of them, if nothing else.
I should like now to say a few words on the second part of the noble and gallant Viscount's Motion. He wants a committee to be set up to investigate the immense waste of time that takes place between the birth of an idea of an aircraft and its appearance in squadrons. First of all, I should like to say to your Lordships that you must never get into your minds that aeronautics is an exact science—it certainly is not. As chairman of the Air Registration Board, I see many machines come up. I have never 1337 seen one that was correct and perfect. In war, of course, it is possible to order direct from the drawing room. That is a terrible risk, but it shortens the time tremendously. But the delay occurs partly because you cannot make up your mind what you are going to order. A great deal depends on new advances. Take the question of our great bombers, the Delta and the Valiant. The Valiant is more or less a standard type development; but the Delta is quite a new thing. It is bound to take more time to study, to get the bugs out of it and make it efficient. I believe that it would help the time if the Ministry of Supply, instead of ordering two prototypes, would order more. It might be more expensive, but the experiments and development of them can go along so to speak, not in series but in parallel. You can get through much more with many prototypes.
But it must be realised that it is not now only a question of the airframe: the engine development is tremendously long. Those Proteus engines that should have been in the Brabazon five years ago have only just been produced. We lag behind terribly in some of these things. At the beginning of the last war, the Hampden was one of our representative bombers. That bomber had 56 lb. weight of electronics in it, which carried eight valves. The Valiant now carries three and a half tons of electronics, with 1,000 valves and 13 miles of wiring. These bombers now cost over £1 million, and it is difficult to get all these complicated parts together to make an efficient war machine. After all, it has got to be that: it is not just for making a noise in the sky, but has to be a hardworking, operating machine. The complexity is enormous.
Since I saw the proposal of my noble friend, I have taken the trouble to compare the United States and the United Kingdom. The United States is pretty good at producing something quickly, and probably better at it than any other nation in the world. But I can find little difference between ourselves and the Americans. They do one thing a little different from us, however; they often put their modifications into the machines after they are produced, whereas we get our modifications into the production 1338 line, if we can. If I may make a suggestion, I think we might employ that curious race known in America as production engineers, because many times, in my experience at the Ministry of Aircraft Production, I found that a designer will design a perfect machine, but that in designing it he does not take into consideration ease of production. If he could have at his side a production engineer, some needlessly difficult piece of manufacture might be avoided. I will not mention the machine, but there was one in the last war which was popular and which could have been made so simply, although in fact it was the most complex thing to make.
Supposing we have a committee, who is to sit on it? That is a little difficult. There are only the people who at present know about that side of life. On the whole, I should not like, by a Resolution of this House, to force a committee upon the manufacturers, upon the Air Ministry, or upon the Ministry of Supply. I feel that that would be rather an insult, and would be rather resented. However, I agree with my noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard that it would be a wise thing for those concerned to have a look at this problem amongst themselves, to see whether this time can be reduced.
§ 4.36 p.m.
My Lords, I hope your Lordships will be prepared to listen for a few minutes to a somewhat more junior officer than any who has spoken to you up to now. The noble Lord who has just sat down said the course of his remarks that shore-based aircraft had sunk many more ships and submarines than aircraft from aircraft carriers. I suggest that what he has forgotten is the number of attacks that have been warded off by the presence of carriers with their aircraft on board, either with the convoys or somewhere near them.
It is nearly eighteen years since I had the honour of making my maiden speech in your Lordships' House, and it was on the very subject that we are debating to-day. I could use almost the same arguments, because undoubtedly they would be applicable. It was, in fact, at that time that the Government of the day decided that control of naval flying should revert to the Admiralty. I would ask the noble and gallant Viscount who 1339 moved this Motion: Why did the Government of the day come to that decision? They came to that decision because, under the threat of war and the urgent necessity for an efficient Fleet Air Arm, it was realised that all was not well while the Fleet Air Arm was under the control of the Royal Air Force. The Royal Air Force in the year 1936 had little use for the Fleet Air Arm, and their minds were wrapped up—as I think they are to-day—in so-called strategic bombing. They held the view that, in any case, surface ships would be of little value, and shore-based bombers would quickly dispose of them. We have seen how false that presumption was in the past, and I think that experience may veil be borne out in any future war—certainly in the next few years.
In spite of the arguments put forward by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, as to the saving of money with a unified Air Force, I suspect that the real reason for his Motion is twofold. In addition to saving money, it is that the Air Force are determined, by any means within their power, to secure as large a bomber force as possible, at the expense of the Fleet Air Arm, or even any other Service. The noble and gallant Viscount is doing his utmost to support this aim. Has he really forgotten what happened in the inter-war years?—or perhaps he does not want to remember. Does he remember that as early as 1920, only two years after the unification of the Fleet Air Arm with the Air Force, so many mistakes had been made when operating with the Fleet that it became necessary to establish a Naval Observer Corps for operational duties? Perhaps the noble Viscount has also forgotten that two years later it became necessary to provide naval officer pilots as well. I still maintain that the Fleet Air Arm is a specialised service and should be manned by officers and men who have been trained in the Navy, who understand its systems, methods and discipline, and who have that sea sense ingrained into them which is so necessary for marine operations. There is no doubt that the Fleet Air Arm to-day is an efficient fighting force with the aircraft at present at its disposal. Had it not been for the blunder perpetrated in the year 1918, when it was handed over to the 1340 Air Force, the Fleet Air Arm would be more advanced than it is to-day.
The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham, mentioned the very large figures of aircraft and men which the Royal Naval Air Service, as it was called then, had in the year 1918. I would repeat the figures, because I think they are important. We had 67,000 officers and men and nearly 3,000 aircraft before the R.A.F. came into existence—when the R.A.F. was nothing more than a flying wing of the Army. I think it is true to say that the great experience and knowledge gained by this naval air force in the first war became largely dissipated when it became unified with the R.A.F. I am sure that most of your Lordships will agree that, in spite of this setback from which the Admiralty suffered for nearly twenty years, they have certainly made up the ground lost in the inter-war years when the Navy was starved of planes by the Air Ministry and when it was difficult for senior naval officers to gain experience in flying duties. I am sure all your Lordships who have served in the Navy are glad to note that we now have a senior naval officer appointed on the executive side of the Ministry of Supply in place of, as we had before, merely a naval representative; so the supply of aircraft for the Navy will have specialised attention.
In a debate on defence earlier this year I ventured to suggest to the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that he was doing a disservice to both the Royal Navy and his own Service by pressing for a unified Air Force in the light of all that has gone before, and I much regret that this Motion is being debated to-day. I suppose it is a truism to say that success in war is largely the success of combined operations of all three Services, and anything that tends to antagonise one Service against another is surely a disservice to the country. That is what this Motion would do if it were accepted by Her Majesty's Government to-day. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, no doubt feels that his proposals for a unified Air Force would be of great financial benefit to the country. No doubt it all looks so nice and tidy on paper, like the proposals for nationalising an industry; but unfortunately it does not always work out as we think. Even if it were possible to 1341 make a considerable saving, this saving would have to be balanced against the improbable efficiency of a Fleet Air Arm controlled by the Royal Air Force, a set-up which, from past experience, we know has proved a failure.
I should like to mention also the question of Coastal Command, which was raised by the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham. In 1941, operational conditions in this Command were so un- satisfactory, as many of your Lordships are aware, that operational command became invested in the Royal Navy. Now in peace time it has again reverted to the Royal Air Force. I suggest that as things are at present it is by no means certain that the Admiralty would again recover operational control in the event of war. I maintain that to divide the Navy from control and operation of its seagoing aircraft is a fundamental error, and one, that will have to be rectified if we are to have efficient protection for our convoys, and thereby ensure that there comes to this country sufficient oil without which the Royal Air Force would be grounded in a very short time. I appeal to the noble and gallant Viscount to withdraw his Motion and realise that the saving of money, although of great importance, may well result in impaired efficiency, that the Fleet Air Arm is now a very efficient, specialised force, and that it would be the height of folly to break it up in the way he suggests.
§ 4.45 p.m.
§ LORD BALFOUR OF INCHRYE
My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot subscribe to the general condemnation of my noble friend who put down this Motion, because surely it is good that we should debate all these issues, controversial as they may be, provided we do so, as the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham, said, in the spirit of cooperation and not of jealousy between the Services. It seems to me that sometimes we have grave difficulty in debating these great issues of strategy because many of us are conscious that we know so little; but, on the other hand, we feel that there are some who know too much.
Before I pass to the few remarks I wish to make, there is one speech to which I should like to refer, and that is the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough, when he spoke of his 1342 memories of 1939 and 1940, and his criticism of the policy in the inter-war years with regard to aircraft, with particular reference to carrier aircraft and other long-range aircraft. I do not think it does us any good to rake over these old controversies. There is always an answer to them. The answer is long-range aircraft. It was under the Secretary of State-ship of the late Lord Londonderry and my noble friend Lord Swinton that the Air Force developed the big bomber—the Manchester, the Stirling and the Halifax. It was in those inter-war years that we developed the Hurricane and the Spitfire, which were the foundation of our fighter force that won the Battle of Britain. If the noble Viscount wanted to have a controversial debate, I could remind him that before the war the Navy refused to accept the view that the capital ship was vulnerable to aircraft. Perhaps he remembers the Inskip experiments. Perhaps he remembers the time when the claims were made that the capital ship was virtually unsinkable. Perhaps he remembers that, at the end of the war—and quite rightly—the Admiralty would not move a capital ship anywhere without fighter cover. When he condemns the Governments before the war for their financial policies on aircraft, he must remember that we were short of money. Again, I do not want to be provocatively political, but we were not exactly helped by the noble Viscount's Party and their followers as regards expenditure on rearmament in the interwar years.
This question of air defence is now a matter which affects every single home and every single citizen. The day when war was largely the concern of the professional soldiers, sailors or airmen is over. Therefore, I think it is perhaps worth while for a moment to think how the ordinary citizen of reasonable intelligence looks upon this question of air defence. He says, "We must have the Navy. The vital rôle for it is to keep the sea lanes open. Of course, we must have the Army, which has a vital rôle in peace time of policing the world and helping us in our contribution to Western European defence. In a major conflict we must be prepared for sudden attack on this country, with virtually no warning, by aircraft which may be carrying an atomic weapon." He says that it is the 1343 first battle which may well decide the future of this country. I think the ordinary man says that the sea battle or the land battle cannot be won unless you have first won the air battle. He also says to himself that unless we have won the air battle first, this country may be defeated.
The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to the old statement that, "the bomber will always get through." I think we can amend that to "some bombers will certainly get through," and such bombers as do get through in the next war are going to do infinitely greater damage than the individual bomber which got through in the last war. We have just had some defence exercises. I am not in the secrets of the Air Ministry, and I do not know what was the percentage of interceptions by our fighters of hostile bombers coming to our shores. Let us say, for argument's sake, that 10 or 15 per cent. of the bombers were intercepted by the fighters. Let us say that, with new strategic devices, such as radar and so forth, which will vastly improve the defences, we shall achieve 20, 30, 40 or perhaps 50 per cent. of interceptions by our fighter forces of bombers coming over. Of the bombers that do get through, some will drop their bombs unsuccessfully and some will drop them wrong. But some will drop them right and successfully. Britain, it seems, will have to prepare to withstand a harsh period of perhaps twenty-four hours. Afterwards we shall have to depend on our aircraft to prevent a repetition of the devastation by going out and raiding the enemy bases, in order to prevent their continued use against us. If there is static defence by fighter aircraft and strategic bombers, surely Bomber Command is as much a part of the defence of Britain as is Fighter Command. If our policy to repel enemy attack is to depend on a strategic bomber force which is able to keep up a consistent effort against enemy bases, then it seems to me that the air must have priority for all its essential requirements.
What I think the ordinary man in the street says to himself is "In Government circles is the Royal Air Force getting essential priority for air defence, in terms of men, of money and of general staff considerations?" If the Secretary of State, in his reply, can tell us that the Royal Air 1344 Force is obtaining that essential priority, then the ordinary man in the street like myself will feel that as much is being done for air defence as is possible. Until we can get an assurance that the Ministry themselves are satisfied that they are obtaining that priority, I submit to your Lordships that we cannot rest content with the air defence of this country.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ EARL HOWE
My Lords, I feel rather diffident in taking part in a debate in which such distinguished national figures have been taking part, and speaking with such authority. There is no member (I hope the noble Viscount will forgive me for saying this in his presence) of any of the Services of this country for whom I have a greater respect or admiration, than Lord Trenchard, who has brought forward this Motion to-day. I do not resent this Motion; I agree with what has been so well put by the noble Lord, Lord Balfour of Inchrye, and the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon—that it is well that occasionally we should have a look at the Services and at the general organisation for defence in this country.
Unfortunately, however, this question is not quite so simple as that. All of us know the dreadful controversies of the past, the dreadful and barren controversies of the 1920's, in which I myself became somewhat involved, for I had to appear before the Committee of Imperial Defence on one occasion in order to argue the case for the Fleet Air Arm from the point of view of the Navy. The defence organisation that existed at the beginning of the war came into being because it was found that the old arrangement, whereby the Fleet Air Arm was part of the Royal Air Force, did not work—and I do not see how it ever could work. After all, the problems of the Fleet Air Arm are predominantly naval, and the strategy involved must be predominantly naval. The task of the Navy in war is to keep open trade routes. If the Navy fails to discharge that duty, the Royal Air Force will not get the oil. We can argue too much about the vulnerability of aircraft carriers. The Americans showed us, and we know from our own experience, that it is possible to work aircraft carriers at sea; but the strategy and strategic dispositions of the Fleet and such matters must be adjusted to meet whatever attack may be levelled at them.
1345 We know that if war should come upon us we should probably have to meet a tremendous air attack as we did last time; but we shall almost certainly have to meet a submarine attack stepped up beyond anything we as a people have experienced. It seems to me that we have to consider what we ought to do for the best. I cannot help feeling very doubtful as to whether the organisation of Coastal Command under the Royal Air Force is really the most efficient way of keeping attacks on our trade routes within bounds. Many of us have thought since the war—and there have been agitations about it at times—that we should raise the whole question of the responsibility of Coastal Command. Many of us have also resisted temptations to do that because what we feel—and it is what I personally feel—is that these two Services, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, have been learning how to live and work together. I cannot help feeling that co-operation between those two Services to-day is better than it has ever been—at any rate, I hope so. For that reason I hope that the noble Viscount will not press his Motion too far.
I feel that here is a tender plant which is beginning to show results. To uproot that plant at the present stage to see whether the roots are spreading, might almost kill it. Give it a chance. If we do that, I hope that these two Services, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy, working in the closest possible co-operation, will be able to keep within bounds any attack on this country. I feel that we have a very different spirit in these Services to-day. Whether that is due to the new colleges, the Imperial Services College, the Staff Colleges and so forth, getting together more than in the past, I do not know. I am certain that it would be a great mistake to put the Fleet Air Arm under the Royal Air Force at the present time. It may be that in the future, with the development of weapons in all parts of the world, we may have to set up a different organisation. But at the present time it would. I feel, be a great mistake.
With regard to the rest of the Motion, I agree with the noble Viscount. I think it deplorable that it should take such an infinity of time to get new aircraft into the squadrons and into the air. If there 1346 is nothing the Government can do, perhaps a committee might be set up, as suggested by the noble Viscount. If that would help, I should support the idea for all I am worth. I only hope that the first part of the noble and gallant Viscount's Motion will not be pressed.
§ 5.0 p.m.
§ LORD DOUGLAS OF KIRTLESIDE
My Lords, I do not want to fight battles of long ago. I agree with several noble Lords who have deprecated that. What I prefer to do is to live in the present and look forward to the future, and I hope I shall be able to confine my speech as far as possible to that. In passing, I would just deprecate one thought which was uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, who seemed to say that the only reason why the noble and gallant Viscount raised the first part of this Motion, and why other noble Lords besides myself are speaking on it, is in order to get as much money as possible for the Royal Air Force. I think that is not at all the right way to look at this problem. We have to look at it objectively. We have to look at it, as the noble Viscount, Lord Alexander of Hillsborough has said, from the point of view of the good and safety of this country as a whole. In the course of my speech I certainly have in my mind no such object as the noble Lord, Lord Teynham, suggested.
I found the wording of the noble and gallant Viscount's Motion slightly ironical by the time he had finished his speech. In the Motion he talks about economy being securedby unifying the air forces of this country",which, of course, means unifying the Royal Air Force and the Fleet Air Arm. But his method of unification appeared to be to abolish aircraft carriers and thereby abolish the Fleet Air Arm, so it was not so much unification as abolition. That, I agree, is a possible solution and one day may be the right solution, but I do not think it is at the moment. At the present time, we do need some carriers. I also agree with other noble Lords who have said that it is better to leave well alone and to allow the Fleet Air Arm to be manned and organised by the Navy. It is a convenient arrangement. I rather agree with the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham of 1347 Hyndhope, that the experiment of placing Royal Air Force officers and maintenance personnel in carriers was not a great success. It was not entirely their fault. I am afraid the Navy did not welcome them with open arms. But, even so, the experiment was not a great success. I think it is better to leave things as they are at present so long as we have carriers.
Do we need aircraft carriers in the circumstances of to-day? First of all, I should like to say that that is a perfectly proper subject for discussion, particularly in your Lordships' House, and I do not think that too much should be made of the possible repercussions in the Services and the possibility of reviving quarrels. We should be able to discuss this question coolly, impartially and objectively. My own view, for what it is worth, is that I cannot, in the first place, see the use of the big Fleet carrier. Apart from the question of its vulnerability, what is it going to do in the only war that at the moment we can contemplate? Where is it going to operate? In the last war, we could not operate in the Baltic or the Black Sea. I am very doubtful if in the next war we shall be able to operate carriers in the Mediterranean. If the Fleet carrier is to be forced as far away as that from enemy territory, it seems to me that it would be better to rely upon shore-based aircraft for offensive work.
But, when we come to the defence of convoys, I think that is a different picture. The only potential enemy at the moment has nothing much in the way of a surface fleet, but has potentially a large submarine fleet. He also has a large air force, and there is no doubt that in the next war we shall have to protect convoys from probably a greater threat than in the last. I am inclined to think that in the wider oceans the escort carrier is of great assistance in that task. So I think that for the present there is justification for escort carriers, and those escort carriers should be manned by the Fleet Air Arm under naval control. We do not want to raise the issue of Coastal Command this afternoon; it may not be quite germane; but I am firmly of the opinion that Coastal Command must remain with the Royal Air Force. There are numerous reasons for that with which I do not think I ought to worry your Lordships this afternoon. But I also think it essential that Coastal Command should be 1348 under the operational control of the Admiralty, as it was in the days when I was Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Coastal Command.
Even so, I still feel that there was much unnecessary heat and temper engendered on this question of operational control. There were great arguments about it in the early days of the war and, finally, the matter was settled, rather to the annoyance of a good many Air Force officers. But, when we really got down to work, it made very little difference. I do not know whether the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, will forgive me for telling this small anecdote. Before the invasion in 1944, I naturally wanted some instructions as to how Coastal Command was expected to operate, and I did not get them. I applied to the Admiralty, which was my proper authority, for a directive as to how Coastal Command should operate during the invasion. The answer I got was: "Well, you know perfectly well what you have to do, and what your job is." I said, "Nevertheless, I should like a directive." Finally, I had to line up the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Cunningham of Hyndhope, and ask him for a directive, which he gave me. It was a very short and sharp one of about four lines. However, I agree that Coastal Command should, in war at any rate, be under the operational control of the Admiralty.
As regards the second part of the noble and gallant Viscount's Motion, I must say that I have every sympathy with him. I admit the complexity of modern aircraft and the complexity of their production. That was touched upon by the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon of Tara. Even so, I think that the time it has taken to get these modern bombers and fighters into service has been much too long. There is a certain amount of complacency floating about. I even detected a little of it in the speech of the noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence. I also detect it in my dealings with my friends the aircraft manufacturers. I have recently had the privilege of going over one or two American aircraft factories, and I am bound to say that the impression I got is that they are a good way ahead of us in mastering the technique of producing aircraft quickly and in quantity. Therefore I am inclined to agree with the noble and gallant 1349 Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that it would be a good thing to have a committee to look into the whole question of trying to speed up the process of producing aircraft from the drawing board stage until they get into the squadrons.
§ 5.9 p.m.
§ LORD TEDDER
My Lords, it was a pleasure, almost a joy I may say, to find my old friend and enemy, if I may use the phrase that he himself has used to me —"an old friend and enemy"—up to his old tricks in the best of his old form. He was always in the Mediterranean days spoiling for a fight with anyone, from me or a General to an Italian or a German. He was at his old games this afternoon, trailing his coat. So also was my late Secretary of State trailing his coat. He and another speaker paid much lip service—I call it "lip service"—to not arousing the old antagonisms, but they dropped their little bits of bait into the water, with allegations which I will not follow up: I will merely say that there are other points of view about all the allegations they make. But I do agree on this: Do not let us go back over that around. Surely, my Lords that long-drawn-out fight which the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, fought against what I would call hidebound tradition, prejudices, and vested interests, for the unity of air power, has been justified up to the hilt. I am sure that history will say that we—and when I say "we" I do not mean the Royal Air Force, but we as a nation, and we as a free world—owe as much to that one man, to his vision and his single-minded tenacity on this issue, as to any other individual.
It has been said that in the last war air power was the decisive factor. I do not go so far as to say that. I would say that it was the dominant factor. We secured dominance in the air, which was vital for our home front, and essential if air power was to help our operations at sea or on land, because we and the Americans, who had followed our suit, had built up air power, and particularly air striking power, on the basis of the unity for which Viscount Trenchard had fought so long. The noble Lord, Lord Pakenham, on a previous occasion objected to air protagonists, or whatever one may call them, talking so much about what the air can do and has done. I 1350 think he accused us of having an inferiority complex. Well, I plead guilty to neither an inferiority nor a superiority complex. I do not believe that any one Service is inferior or superior to another. But I have found it necessary in the past again and again to point out some of the facts about the air aspect of the last war, because so many people are completely ignorant of those facts, or any rate of their relationship to other facts in the war. I suppose it is fair to say that that ignorance is not altogether surprising, because if air operations are going well you do not see them—in other words, the more successful a nation is in exercising air power, the less that nation is going to see of it.
As has been pointed out before in different words, that is the essential characteristic of dominance in the air, air superiority or whatever you like to call it. Yet I myself can see that it is not an easy proposition for the man on the ground, and still less for the man at sea, fully to understand and appreciate. Not infrequently, in practice, the sailor is the exception that proves the rule. Air cover for him is justified because of his vulnerability. Again, often I could not but have a sneaking feeling of sympathy for the soldier, who in those early days so earnestly but so misguidedly asked for that snare and delusion, the air umbrella. No signal in the war, I think, was so welcome or so helpful as the one we had from a "Former Naval Person," which denounced the umbrella as a mischievous practice which no air superiority will stand.
Taking the Battle of Britain, to which Lord Trenchard referred, I wonder how many people realise that what we call the Battle of Britain, which was won by our guns, our radar and our fighters, was really only the first round in that contest—dangerous and critical because it was in our skies and over our heads. How many people realise that when our days and nights got quiet, and the sirens were silent, it was not because that battle was over but because it had moved? And it moved because our Air Forces, late, but fortunately not too late, were building up striking power and pushing that battle further and further away from our skies into enemy skies, until the Battle of Britain became the Battle of Berlin. As has been said before—and I will say 1351 it again and again—there is only one way of achieving and maintaining air dominance, and that is to hit your enemy and go on hitting him: hit him until he can do nothing but try to cover up. When you get to that stage, the bout is completely in your hands. When the enemy had a million people manning the fixed ground air defences in Germany, when their fighter production exceeded the total fighter production of this country and America, and their bomber production had dwindled virtually to nothing, then the foundations of victory were pretty firm. Then it became possible not for the Air Force alone, but for the forces of land, sea and air, to sweep forward and gain a victory.
My Lords, I do not want to weary you with the technical or tactical aspect of air power, with the selection of targets and all that sort of thing, and some of the questions which have been raised in connection with operations over the sea. All I want to do is to emphasise that the exercise of air power in the way that I have described, unseen except by the enemy and our air crews, is the very first principle of air strategy. It is vital to our national defence and to our security, and is essential if air power is to give the help that is needed for our strategy at sea and on land. It is unseen, and consequently unknown. It will remain unseen but it certainly must not remain unknown. It is just as important that it should be known and understood as maritime strategy is broadly understood in this country.
I feel that in naval circles there may be support for this view because, after all, the Navy have had to face much the same problem. As long as they are going well—I do not refer to the Medway and things like that—naval operations are right outside the sight and ken of practically everybody in the country except the people who are actually concerned in them. For centuries, ever since the days of the former Fellow of my own College, Samuel Pepys, the Navy have maintained a steady and very effective campaign to educate the public—or, as the Americans would say, indoctrinate them—in the fundamental principles of marine strategy. That they have done so is what I should call a good thing. I trust that they will go on doing so, but I hope they will also 1352 accept one proviso. In the old days, before war stretched into the third dimension, it could fairly be said that British strategy was maritime strategy—and that was that. But those days are over. The "silver sea" is no longer "a moat defensive." Nor, for that matter, is the Rhine our "moat." The days of moats are over. If and when we talk of maritime strategy, or of land strategy or of air strategy, let us consider each, and remember the whole time that each is only a part of a combined national strategy.
I support this Motion because I feel that this renewed segregation of naval flying was unnecessary and unwise. It involved an attempt—an attempt fortunately that failed—to destroy the unity, and thereby reduce the strength, of British air power. To that extent, to my mind, quite frankly, it was purely reactionary. Certainly, one had hoped that some of our bitter experience during the first years of the late war would have convinced all three Services that they are not independent but interdependent and that self-sufficiency is suicidal. Yet we have had this attempt to put back the clock, which suggests that the old Adam—or perhaps I should say the old Sinbad—of Navy self-sufficiency is still lurking in some corner of the Admiralty, kept alive, perhaps, by hearing of the achievements of his big and wealthy young Brother Sinbad across the Atlantic.
Nevertheless I am not, perhaps, quite so concerned about it as is the noble and gallant Viscount. I have a lot of faith and confidence in the younger generation in all three Services. To put it quite frankly, they are in much closer touch with modern conditions and modern problems than we are, and they know that co-operation is not merely possible but essential. And I have good reason to believe they have already done much to minimise a lot of the losses, the waste and so on, which are caused by this segregation. Personally, so long as the control of Air Forces is unified, I do not think it matters two pence what coloured uniform a pilot or a navigator wears. In the Middle East days I—I say "I" merely because I was in sole control of the Air Force perhaps I should say "we," the three Commanders-in-Chief—had naval air crews in naval aircraft who did great service over the desert at night with parachute flares, hunting out Rommel's 1353 transport and dumps as targets for our night bombers. At the same time, we had Royal Air Force air crews out over the Mediterranean carrying torpedoes and chasing Rommel's transports and tankers. I was never sure that my friends quite liked it, but anyway it worked extremely well.
As regards aircraft carriers, I made some comments on the previous occasion which were, perhaps, misunderstood; so, if I may, I would just state briefly the problem as I see it. I do not believe that methods which, though expensive, were successful in the Pacific in the last war, are in any way appropriate for the narrow European waters. At best, I think they would be an extravagant gamble, and I fear they are more likely to prove a tragic folly. On the other hand, there is no doubt that in peace time an aircraft carrier is a most useful thing to have. It is useful in emergencies for "showing the flag"; it is useful in emergencies for transport. I am sure it is useful as well as a focus for command, leadership, authority and morale. I can see a limited use for carriers in the middle ocean areas in war time—if we can afford them. It is unfortunate that by their very nature they are both expensive and vulnerable. The comparison which the noble Viscount, a former Minister of Defence, made between a bombed aerodrome and a sunk aircraft carrier struck me as being rather difficult to understand. One other point about carriers. It would not be my view that they should be given up in order to get more money for the Air Force. One reason why the problem of the carriers should perhaps be examined again is to see whether naval money might be better spent on other craft. The answer to that I do not know. That is as far as I would go in that respect.
I therefore support the first part of the noble and gallant Viscount's Motion. but I would hope, and I think quite justifiably hope, that the Service chiefs themselves would have the common sense, the good judgment and the courage to sort out these problems on an inter-Service and not on a sectional basis, and that in their advice to the Government they will ensure that the three unities of sea, land and air power are organised so as to ensure that they fit smoothly together into the greater unity of national defence. I have spoken fairly frankly on this question because it raises issues vital to the 1354 security of our country and of our civilisation. I stand by those views. I hope that I have not inadvertently framed them in terms which will help to resuscitate these pathetic old bickerings or make things more difficult for those who now carry responsibility for defence.
On the second part of the Motion, I will try to be as brief as I can. I support the noble and gallant Viscount's proposal for some investigation into the speeding up of the production of new types of aircraft. I support it because of the ever-increasing importance of the time factor. Superiority in performance is, of course, one of the essential factors in securing and maintaining dominance in the air. Aircraft performance is not merely a matter of speed; it is a composite of speed, climb, manœuvre, hitting power, radius of action and half a dozen other characteristics, but together it can be the ultimate and decisive factor in the struggle. As we saw in the last war, the lead in aircraft performance has a way of swinging like a pendulum from one side to another. During the last war, every time the Germans managed to push up performance of their fighters just a bit better than ours, we were, fortunately, always able to push ours up a stage further ahead of them. But it was a continual contest in the field of design, development and production and time was always crucial.
In our present situation it was to be expected that the new types now coming forward would probably take longer in the design stage than the normal replacement of the "next generation" would take, simply because they mark a big step forward, involving he introduction and solution of a lot of new problems. In new types like these there may be unexpected snags in the development stage, too. Nevertheless, with science and technique advancing so rapidly, there is a grave danger chat, by the time the new types are in service, their obsolescence is already in view. That is a pretty unpleasant proposition financially, in peace time, but in war time it is a very dangerous one, since it might mean that the pendulum of performance would stay for an uncomfortably long time on the wrong side. Having myself been in the thick of it for some two years, from 1938 to 1940, I have seen something of this problem. I know from 1355 experience that there is no simple shortcut to quick production. I know, also, that too often attempted short cuts in development mean only extra delay, and emergency drives sometimes merely create bottlenecks, leading to further delay. Of course, there is one way of speeding up the rate of production, and that is quite simple. It is to give larger orders at the outset, orders which will justify designing, jigging and tooling initially for quantity production. That is a simple issue. But, quite apart from that, I think that an investigation on the lines suggested cannot but do good, even though it does not—and I am quite sure it will not—provide any spectacular solution.
Just one other point. The need to avoid early obsolescence is not the only reason for urging a speed-up in new production. I am sure that noble Lords are familiar with the saying of a certain American naval officer, which I cannot resist quoting again:It behoves countries whose people, like all free peoples, object to paying for large military establishments, to see to it that they are at least strong enough to gain the time to turn the spirit and capacity of their subjects into the new activities that war calls for.I believe that, broadly speaking, that advice is as sound now as when it was given; but its application has to be adjusted to fit our utterly different time scale. So far as attack from the air is concerned, there may well be virtually no time, not even the twenty-four hours we have heard mentioned—there was not that time at Pearl Harbour. A few years ago it might have been justifiable to gamble on having just a little time to spare; but not now.
Here I would put forward a strong plea that the British people be told exactly what these latest weapons mean. I know that it has been said that the atomic weapon is just another weapon, and that its advent does not affect the basic principles of war. That is a very good staff college principle—but I wonder. The armoured knights of old said precisely that about gunpowder. Incidentally, they also said it was unethical. I have a shrewd suspicion that these weapons are a threat to our very existence as a nation. But I do not know; and the British people do not know. Yet the only Power which I can 1356 see could conceivably use these weapons against us does know their potentialities. I feel that it is unjust, unwise and, indeed, dangerous to leave the people in their present state of more or less complete ignorance. As a nation we can face up to unpleasant possibilities, and we are all the better for it when we know them. However, ignorant or not, the fact remains that, so far as air war is concerned—the air part of the war, I should say—we simply must be strong enough at the very outset. We must have the strength to hit, and go on hitting, from the outset. As the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, said, we cannot afford to risk another Battle of Britain.
This possibility of nations slogging bigger and better atomic bombs at each; other may sound rather gloomy and rather fantastic. Well, it is fantastic, and if it were to happen, it might well amount to mutual suicide. But that is precisely why I see a glimmer of light in the gloom. The advent of these new weapons does at long last bring nations face to face with the stark ultimate realities of war. To put it at its lowest, with the prospect of being atomised would anybody think it worth while going to war? After all, most previous wars have started because somebody thought they were worth starting. I think the real danger lies in weakness, weakness which invites attack and invites a chance of an easy, short war which may be thought to be worth while. Safety and hope lie in strength, in power which is clearly ready, able and determined to strike, if necessary, at once and hard, with the latest and biggest and best weapons science can produce. That is the best, and as I see it, the only possible effective deterrent that will make it clear to the world that war will not pay.
On that analysis, Britain is not yet strong in terms of modern power: and until we are strong again I do not believe that we shall be able to have the influence or exercise leadership in the world, which our experience and knowledge justify. That is why I support the second part of the noble Viscount's Motion. I do so in the hope that in this way we may find methods of speeding up the growth of our air power, and especially of our striking force. I believe that we are entering a critical stage in the history of the world, and I believe that Britain can and should 1357 play a leading part in world affairs during those years. But to have the authority to do that we must be strong now.
§ 5.41 p.m.
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AIR (LORD DE L'ISLE AND DUDLEY)
My Lords, my noble and gallant friend the Minister of Defence spoke measured words in reply to the first part of the Motion of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I would say at the outset how much I enjoyed listening to his splendid speech on this occasion. Therefore, I will confine my remarks to some rather general observations about priorities, which really are the link which ties together the two parts of the Motion of my noble and gallant friend. The provision, financially and physically, for the defence of this country—and in that I include, of course, the defence of our Dependencies and the meeting of our international obligations—cannot be the sum of all the separate requirements to deal with this or that anticipated threat. I doubt if any country, least of all ours with its limited resources, could bear the cost of the fulfilment of such a policy. Therefore, it must be the duty of Government to assess as carefully as it can the various threats to our security and devote the largest share of available resources to meeting those which it considers most dangerous. It is not enough to demonstrate that a particular threat exists in order to prove that resources ought to be provided, or provided on a more ample scale. We must constantly ask ourselves—as I think Lord Tedder was asking to-night—what is the major threat, when it will develop and to what intensity. Can a potential enemy attempt, with any hope of success, a knockout blow? Or is slow strangulation the major danger?
We must all acknowledge that as a nation we are carrying an exceedingly heavy burden of defence. Total expenditure on defence has risen from about £670 million in 1948 to over £1,500 million last year and over £1,600 million this year. This is the burden of bearing the responsibilities of a great Power. It is a heavy burden, but, I must add, a great deal lighter than the expense of not being a great Power. In these circumstances, the responsibility of any Government arid those who direct policy in this field is very great; and I entirely agree with 1358 those who have said to-day that policy ought to be made, so far as possible, in a dispassionate atmosphere. Our aim must be true economy of force and effort. To attempt, and attempt in vain, to be strong everywhere, must lead to weakness everywhere. I should say, in passing, that the Government adhere firmly to the view that, in present circumstances, with the existing balance between offensive and defensive power, it is imperative for us to have a strong offensive arm in the air, and this is to be found in the long-range bomber force.
The pace of technological development, with its ever-widening field, makes the exercise of choice at once more difficult, more critical and more essential. It can now be said—and have considerable scientific authority for saying it, or otherwise I should not do so—that any research project which does not violate a natural law, such as does, for instance, perpetual motion, can be solved in time; but the speed at which it can be solved depends upon the resources applied to it. Therefore, the field of research is indeed limitless and the problem of selection acute. With the world in its present state, this is a fact which we must all seriously ponder upon. Such a prospect has never been offered before and we have no precedent to guide us. What seems clear—as the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Tedder, said—is that the pattern of the past is most unlikely to be repeated. In these circumstances, research and. development assume an every-increasing importance, and the question when to introduce a new weapon or a new range of weapons becomes a matter of the highest consideration, both strategically and economically. Present strength must pay a continuous tribute to future preparedness. I believe, however, that in defensive terms such a premium is not an excessive rate: indeed it may be said to be relatively cheap. But there must be present strength, and research and development must net be an excuse for putting off production of new weapons until the Greek Kalends. Indeed, research and development cannot proceed in what I might call an operational vacuum. The practical experience of a weapon in service is most necessary in the process of designing its successor. Therefore, as I have said, both parts of the Motion of the noble and gallant Viscount are connected by this link of priorities in the 1359 strategic field and, flowing there from, priorities in research and development, and in production.
My noble and gallant friend Lord Trenchard wants to speed up production. So does my noble and gallant friend the Minister of Defence. So do I. So do all of my colleagues. But when we are dealing with the production of an aircraft we want to be very careful to define our terms, because it is a most technical process. Otherwise, considerable confusion might well arise in the public mind. When is the earliest moment then that the production of a new type of aircraft may be said to have begun? The most concise answer I can give to that, within the limits of the time I have set myself, is to say that it begins when what is called the operational requirement, specifying a new type, its armament and so on, goes from the Air Ministry to the Ministry of Supply. Development of the aircraft, on the other hand, begins when the Ministry of Supply lets a development contract to a manufacturer. After that, the next definitive step is the placing of a production order. This production order, as noble Lords know, may be placed before or after the prototype flies. In the case of the Hunter, Swift, Canberra and all the V type bombers, the Valiant, Victor and Vulcan, a production order was actually placed before the prototype flew whereas in the case of the Javelin, where two development contracts were placed to meet the same operational requirement, it was necessary to compare the actual aircraft in flight before a production order could be given.
The first flight of an aircraft is certainly an exciting moment for the spectators and perhaps the pilot, but it is only one stage—an important stage—in development. The fact, with modern experience of design, that an aircraft flies nowadays is no surprise. Therefore, I think it right to say that it is more a popular than a technical term when we say—perhaps we may be standing at this Box and pretend to have great boldness—that we are ordering a particular type "off the drawing board." It means that it has been ordered before it has flown. In reality, the drawing board remains the chief source of our knowledge about the performance of aircraft until much later in its development. The first flight of a 1360 prototype and the time which elapses between this first flight and first delivery to the Royal Air Force is generally the feature upon which public criticism is concentrated. That is not unnatural. The appearance of a new aircraft, perhaps of strikingly advanced design, at Farnborough at the annual show of the S.B.A.C., is a great national event, and one which arouses widespread interest. But it ought to be realised that when an aircraft first flies it is only about halfway through its development. Therefore, it is the total time from the initiation of the development contract to the delivery of the first aircraft to the Royal Air Force which really matters. When I speak of delivery to the Royal Air Force, I mean delivery of an aircraft which comes off the production line with a certificate releasing it to the Royal Air Force, at the head of a smooth flow, because a production aircraft must be a fully-developed, operational weapon and it must be one, if possible, which does not need serious retrospective modifications.
Let me take an actual illustration. In the case of the Canberra which, as your Lordships know, is a twin-engined light bomber with two axial flow engines—the first axial flow engines to go into British aircraft—the time between the date of the development contract and the time of the first delivery to the Royal Air Force was five years and five months. With the Hunter it seems likely, on the best estimates that I have, that the comparable time will be five years and nine months. With the Valiant, still, as noble Lords know, in development, the time will be one year longer than the Canberra—six years and five months. I must add that in these two cases they are estimates. This, in view of the greater complexity of this Valiant aircraft, is a natural difference. In a strong speech the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, set out some of the statistics which illustrate the complexity of the modern bomber. The noble Lord has gone—he apologised to me—and I told him that I was going to inform the House that he must have been referring to the cost of a prototype bomber and not a production bomber when he said they cost £1 million. They cost less than half that.
It is difficult to give comparable information about production of similar types of aircraft in other countries, but 1361 from what we know comparisons with the United States are not in the least unflattering to this country. The problem is not only to perfect new airframes and the equipment that goes with them: there is also the problem of new engines. It is perhaps a striking tribute to the British aero-engine industry that the efficiency of our engines is taken for granted. Certainly they have been well liked across the water in the United States, where at least four of their military aircraft are powered by British engines. But the most exhaustive tests on the factory test bed can never be a substitute for tests in flight, and sometimes unforeseen and unexpected delays add to the development time, because engines do not function perfectly at all heights at all speeds and in all manœuvres which they must perform in a perfected military aircraft. I cite that fact as showing that the time of development and production cannot be exactly calculated. Difficulties can arise at a very late stage.
There is one example which may be uppermost in the public mind at the moment. It was an unforeseen installation difficulty which prevented the Valiant from undertaking the long-range tests necessary before it could take part in the race to New Zealand. It was discovered at a late stage of development. I am happy to say that the difficulty has now been overcome, but it could not have been foreseen. We must say how much we regret that this aircraft could not take part in that magnificent race, but I am sure the House will join with me in congratulating the successful crew of the Canberra of the Royal Air Force which won in the remarkable time of 23 hours 53minutes. We should like also to congratulate the Royal Australian Air Force, flying the Australian-built Canberra which did so well.
I have talked about this matter, not to appear complacent, but to place it in proportion and to illustrate the complexity of the problem about which we are talking. As the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, truly said, Ministers should be the judges about whether they ask outside committees to come in and whether they ask them about these matters. It is sometimes a very valuable device, but no one but the Minister can bear the responsibility for it. In these matters he should be the 1362 judge as to whether or not a committee of that kind will be helpful to him. I know that my right honourable friend the Minister of Supply is fully seized of the importance of the most rapid and fullest development of new fighters. He and his Department and the heads of our great aircraft industry are constantly reviewing their methods so as to reduce to the minimum the time taken between the development contract and the arrival of an aircraft in the Royal Air Force. It is not unhelpful to the Minister that he has to deal with several independent firms and has, therefore, a comparative check on their efficiencies. Aircraft are becoming not less but more complicated as they are set more and more difficult tasks to fulfil. Like the Red Queen in Alice through the Looking Glass, who ran as fast as she could to keep where she was, I must say that I think we shall have to run as fast as we can to keep production time for future aircraft down to the level for the types now in production.
I take it that it is these technical processes of production about which the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, was asking, and not specially those difficulties which have arisen in some of the years since the war, when the rearmament programme, at any rate in its early stages, was heavily overloaded. I think it may be for this reason that the noble Viscount, at any rate not to-day but in a letter he wrote to The Times, was a little unfair about super-priority. It is easier for those outside to dismiss this as irrelevant, but I am absolutely certain, with the knowledge I have, that it has been of great service in overcoming the special difficulties to which I have referred. I gave some examples to your Lordships in the debate last February. I now add another which I think is very striking. A manufacturer of undercarriages and aircraft equipment reported that there were no fewer than thirty-seven items on which improvements in delivery were necessary if he was to meet production demands, and nine further items for which no supplier could be found. Nine months later that same manufacturer reported that as a result of super-priority all materials he required were coming in time. So that, although it may be a special device to meet special conditions, we ought not to write it off as having failed, because I believe that 1363 it has improved the time of production of this aircraft covered by the scheme.
The noble and gallant Earl the Minister of Defence has already referred to the difference between production under wartime conditions and production in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves. I do not think anybody in this House, or elsewhere, has seriously contested that it is for us a question—to use the Prime Minister's expressive phrase—of "a long pull and not a sudden jerk." Extraordinary devices which are justifiable in war are not only not justifiable but positively harmful in present circumstances. In particular, they may harm production for the Royal Air Force. We have to consider not only types now being produced, but the whole burden of research and development which is concerned with a much more far-reaching field. We must not allow anxiety to get new types to shoulder out long-term research, with its long-term benefits. We cannot arbitrarily separate the factors of development and production. It is impossible to develop fully an aircraft and hand it to the manufacturers to produce, since time does not allow us to do so. There will be unforeseeable difficulties. In my view, therefore, the really controlling factor about date of delivery of a new type is quite a simple one: it is the date on which the development contract is let to the manufacturer. This, as I say, controls the date of its delivery within fairly narrow limits.
There may be, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said, something in the question of numbers of prototypes ordered, but what we have to remember is that they are extremely expensive hand-made machines; and the more we spend on prototypes, the less we can spend on the front line. There is another sphere where greater efforts are being made—our research and development resources. They are, and have been, greatly improved, and the possibility of testing various components of aircraft by various devices, such as wind tunnels, is very beneficial in cutting down development time. There is no doubt that a nation as richly equipped as the United States in the research field has a great advantage here; but I think great credit is due to our scientists and designers, and to the Ministry of Supply, for the fact 1364 that we are able, despite our less ample equipment, to compete with America. We have, in fact, by a concentrated use of brainpower, andsacrifices—which arise in both cases from necessity—to save our economy much of the great expense entailed in the proliferation of research equipment.
The noble Viscount will, I am sure, forgive me if I have gone into considerable detail. I know how conversant he is with all these matters from his vast experience in the air, but it is necessary, I think, not only because some noble Lords are perhaps not so conversant as others, but because we may even hope that our debates are read outside. At the modern pace of development, an aircraft must be outclassed by the concept of its successor, the characteristics of which can be plainly foretold, although the details of its production may not have been invented. But though it may be outclassed by this concept, it does not mean that it is outdated or outmoded, even though we may say, before it comes into service, that its days are numbered. Therefore, we must be careful about using the word "obsolescence" about aircraft. We have come a long way since the days when a new type could be produced in, perhaps, six months. That it now takes sometimes six years is not. I think, evidence of inefficiency or lack of imagination. It is perfectly true that the speed of life has enormously increased, but the complications of modern aircraft have increased in even greater ratio.
I agree that we must not be satisfied with our performance, and I welcome warmly any pressure that may be put upon us to do better, because I am certain that it is vital to our safety that we should not relax in this field. Therefore, although we must all be deeply aware of the responsibility which rests upon us to shorten this time of production, we must not escape the conclusion, which I think is all-important, that an error or a misjudgment in the timing of the original order cannot be easily retrieved by short cuts—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Tedder, said are not short cuts but take longer in the end. Thus it is that intellect—intellect and the power of choice—has a far larger contribution to make than is generally recognised. If this is lacking, our country, with 1365 its comparatively restricted resources, cannot hope to recover by any extraordinary industrial devices. It is possible to start too early just as it is possible—and I fear much more probable—to start too late. That is why I am sure that those who have spoken to-day about the necessity of clear thought, and of choice between priorities, are absolutely right in their argument.
My conclusion, then, in attempting very inadequately to sum up this highly informative and interesting debate, is that in modern times, with all the complexity of armaments, it is selection of our strategy, and selection in the technological field, which is all-important. I am sure that, whether or not we agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in the burden of his Motion, we all agree with him that we must force ourselves—and if we will not, he must force us—to make these choices, not merely on the past and its authority, but in the context of developments which have taken place. I, for one, will echo what Lord Tedder said when he spoke of the great threat to this coal-try. It is that threat which will make us, to the best of our ability, and the United States, too, concentrate those resources which are available for defence, so that we may get the best dividend from them and so that we can not only maintain our place in the world as a great Power but also play our part in the important task of preserving peace.
§ 6.9 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, you will not wish me to detain you for long at this late hour. I have found the 1366 debate a very interesting one, and I think it will have done good. I thank all the noble Lords who took part in it and who were so informative. I felt that there were only two speeches which introduced perhaps a little unnecessary acrimony in the debate, but otherwise I welcome what has been said. There is one other point which struck me as rather curious: that the debate was interrupted so that the Government could make a statement that they were setting up a Royal Commission to inquire into something—I will not say what—in order to help them to make up their minds on a difficult point. That is exactly what I was asking them to do. I regret to say that they have not seen fit to say that they propose to set up the committee I have suggested, as they have done in this other case. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, with-drawn.