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 Commander Sir Archibald Southby Commander Sir Archibald Southby , Epsom 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

I want to reinforce and support the plea made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes), because I believe the matter to be one of immense urgency to the country. I want to press upon the Minister the consideration of that plea and, if possible, something being done to restore to the Admiralty control of aircraft employed on the sea service. I join with my hon. and gallant Friend in paying a tribute, which has indeed been paid in all quarters of the House, to the officers and men who man our aircraft for their magnificent efficiency, for their steadfast disregard of danger and adverse conditions and, above all, for their invincible and unshakable courage. An hon. Member opposite spoke of my hon. and gallant Friend's plea being a hardy annual, but the fact remains that my hon. and gallant Friend is right. The Royal Naval Air Service was a magnificent and efficient Force which should never have been amalgamated with the Royal Flying Corps into the Royal Air Force. Indeed, many distinguished soldiers say that Army flying should belong to the Army but that is a matter which they must settle with the Air Ministry. About 20 years ago I heard the late Marshal Foch, one of the greatest soldiers and strategists who have appeared during this century, say, with regard to the amalgamation of the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Flying Corps, that it was a fundamental mistake in policy and one to which he would never have agreed. He said that the aerial arms should never be amalgamated and that naval flying should remain naval flying, and that Army flying should be under the control of the Army officer engaged in a military operation. We have only to look across the ocean to the United States of America to see the magnificent Naval Air Service which has been built up there quite separate from the Army Service. If it be true that production is as great as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air has said, it ought not to be impossible to provide the Admiralty with sufficient machines of the right type to carry out the duties which the Admiralty wish to have carried out.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House have expressed to-day the perturbation which undoubtedly exists in the public mind at the ordeal which is the lot day by day of our fishermen, and of those men who man our lightships. Their work is done comparatively close to the shore. They are attacked from very low altitudes, and it seems to me that they ought to be capable of protection. Failure to afford adequate air protection to the fishermen and the lightships seems to argue either a faulty direction or faulty co-operation. The responsibility should be that of the Admiralty, who ought to be provided with the necessary aircraft to enable them to discharge it.

I listened with interest to what was said by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) and also by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), and I confess that I too wonder at the continuation of the flights over military objectives and naval bases in Germany, where no other action is taken other than photographing and reconnaissance. From Heligoland, Wilhelmshaven and Borkum come the aeroplanes, the seaplanes and the submarines which are making life for our fishermen and our inshore trade well nigh intolerable. From there come the aeroplanes to carry out the dastardly machine-gunning and bombing of our lightships, and yet only this evening in the paper we read that our aeroplanes have been over Wilhelmshaven and Heligoland. One day we shall have to smoke out these nests if we are to win the war. One day, in the interests of our own people, we shall have to take more action than merely flying over these German bases. If these continued attacks from the air, close to our coast, are not dealt with sooner or later the apprehensions of the public on this matter will become very great.

Already people are saying that if we can fly over these German bases, from which their machines and submarines come, we ought to do something more than just fly over. I am not suggesting the bombing of undefended towns, but of purely military objectives. If we can fly over Borkum and machine gun it, we ought to bomb the sheds where the machines, which are used to attack our fishermen, are stored. In the interests of efficiency and in justice, both to the Navy and the Air Force, it is essential that the Admiralty should be put in full control of all aircraft which are engaged on sea operations, and that suitable machines should be given to them to enable them to carry out their duties. The present position is neither fair to the Secretary of State for Air nor to the First Lord of the Admiralty.