Air Estimates, 1940.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1940.

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Photo of Colonel Josiah Wedgwood Colonel Josiah Wedgwood , Newcastle-under-Lyme 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

I know; in the last war I was in the same position as the hon. and gallant Member is in now. But there is some difficulty about following two different lines. Not being in uniform now, I say, it is as well that the Air Ministry should realize that there is, in this country, not only an enormous admiration for the men in the Air Force, who are doing the fighting, but also a serious amount of criticism of the Ministry itself and of the way in which it is conducting the war. It is no good slurring over the fact that people have been desperately shocked by the failure of the coastal patrol to protect unfortunate ships from being bombed and riddled within sight of our shores. It has become worse week after week, and people are saying, "Surely the Government will stop this." All the time the Admiralty say that it is the Air Ministry's fault, the Air Ministry say that it is the Admiralty's fault, and nothing is done

. It has been said that these troubles in the North Sea and the Channel have arisen owing to dual control. I am not a specialist, and I do not know whether that is so; but when the Navy took over part of the Air Force they were then considering a war on the high seas. They were thinking of using their aircraft carriers for these comparatively slow-flying aeroplanes. Now, if they have an aircraft carrier left they had better send it over to New York, to join the "Queen Elizabeth." Aircraft carriers are too dangerous, and the aircraft on these carriers are no longer the sort that could be used for fighting the German bombers. It is a different situation. Anything that we can use to drive off these raiders from Germany must come from a fixed aerodrome on shore. Those moving platforms on the aircraft carriers were never any use, in my opinion; and now they are quite out-of-date. As the Navy are responsible for protection on the narrow seas, they had better have the means of protection in their own hands, and not be given this opportunity to make the excuse, "Please, sir, it is not my fault." That is one question which is really exercising the minds of a great many people. This House may adopt the attitude, quite naturally, that we must not swop horses when crossing the stream; but it may be that the time will come when we shall have to swop horses.

I come to my next point. Do hon. Members think the country likes seeing every day in the evening papers that another lot of aeroplanes has flown over Berlin or North East Germany, dropping confetti? People are sick of it. We are making ourselves the laughing-stock of the world. These aeroplanes are going up in squadrons; I do not know whether they are all coming back. We are risking £30,000 in each of these bombers, with their equipment and the lives of the men in them; and all for nothing whatever. All we hear afterwards is that the Bremen radio closed down. Could anything be more silly than sending out expeditions of this sort, risking at least £1,000,000, and wasting capital which really might be better used for civil aviation? Whose idea is it that we should go on doing that, long after the Germans have discovered that these planes do not do any harm? Then there is the daily patrolling of the Heligoland Bight, in order to prevent German aeroplanes coming out. You cannot prevent them coming out; and this is the most expensive way of trying to do something, when it should be left to the coastal patrols to shoot them down when they do get out. The people regard these long flights over Germany as a farce, and as a sample of our lack of earnestness in fighting this war. I hope that soon our aeroplanes will raid Germany with something more serious than leaflets; that we shall tackle the Germans with their own weapons, on their own ground—against military objectives, of course. Meanwhile, let us stop wasting these lives and valuable machines and petrol, which we shall need later.

Then there is the question of evacuation. Do you think that the people of this country do not know that this evacuation bluff, this panic which was caused in this country in September, was the work of the Air Ministry? Everybody knows that it was the Air Ministry's extraordinary estimate of the number of casualties that would be caused by German air raids that "panicked" this country into such a disgraceful state of funk. Why did they make that estimate of 200,000 casualties? Why had they not the courage to revise that estimate, and save us from the waste of money caused by the black-out and evacuation? Finland has been raided constantly for three solid months, with more bombs being dropped than would be dropped in raids on London; and the result, I saw the other day, is that 400 people have been killed. Where did these experts of the Air Ministry get their estimate, which nearly emptied this House?