Navy Estimates, 1942.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons on 26th February 1942.

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Photo of Mr Charles Ammon Mr Charles Ammon , Camberwell North

I will say no more about that, except to say that it raises the question of the equipment of our own Fleet Air Arm. The only torpedo bombers the Navy seems to possess are these old Swordfish machines, with a speed when loaded of about 100 miles an hour, carrying one small 18 in torpedo incapable of inflicting vital damage on a modern battleship unless it is fortunate enough to hit the propeller, as happened in the case of the "Bismarck." The only thing one can say regarding the attack of the Swordfish is that, like the charge of the Light Brigade, it was splendid, but it was not war. It put us in a very difficult position. I freely admit that the disaster which befell the American Navy added tre- mendously to our burden. It has made the duty of convoying more difficult for our Fleet. These criticisms are no reflection whatever on the gallantry and skill of the men engaged, but it is the duty of the House to inquire whether these people who are carrying out their duties on the high seas are receiving from the higher command that protection, help and guidance to which they have every right.

There are one or two other points I want to put to the right hon. Gentleman in the hope that answers will be made to them. A good deal of anxiety is being felt regarding the design of our ships. Whether it is by accident or otherwise, we have to notice that our ships have gone down very much more quickly in action than have the ships of the Germans. They seem to have sunk more easily. The "Ark Royal," the "Hood," the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" all went down quickly, whereas we remember what a number of hits were necessary to sink the "Bismarck" and others of our enemy's ships. No doubt there is a large element of luck in the matter, but nevertheless it is a question which is being discussed again and again. I hope we may have some assurance that the question of design is being given keen consideration.

I would also like to ask whether there is any prospect of the Fleet Air Arm getting suitable machines at an early date to replace the somewhat obsolete ones. Also, what about torpedoes? The torpedoes we use seem to be a very great deal behind in power and efficiency compared with those used against us. Our 18 inch torpedoes seem very ineffective compared with the enemy's 21 inch torpedoes. That seems to indicate a lack of foresight. It is no use talking about the quantity of any weapon if its power and calibre are less than are being used against us. We have a right to receive answers in regard to this sort of thing. The results obtained from our motor torpedo boats are so far disappointing. Can we not be told what is wrong? If there is anything which the right hon. Gentleman wants which the House can give him, it will be given to him gladly. There will not be the slightest trouble about that, but we have the right to ask what the difficulties are and to ask further that they shall be brought to the House so that we may have the opportunity of reviewing them.

There is one further suggestion which I wish to make and which has already been made again and again by my hon. Friend the Member for Seaham (Mr. Shinwell), namely, that we should do everything possible to reduce the work of our Merchant Navy by taking more vigorous action to cut down unnecessary imports. I was glad to see that yesterday the Lord Privy Seal made a statement which seemed to indicate that something might be done in that direction. But this point has been hammered at for 18 months; it has taken all that time to come to a decision, and then only because of the Lord Privy Seal, who has been away for a couple of years and has heard what is going on outside, so that he comes back with a fresh point of view. Even so, I saw in one of the papers to-day that he did not mean what he said and that nothing is to happen. But the cutting down of dog-racing and so forth means, after all, a reduction in petrol consumption and in the quantities of other things which have to be conveyed from overseas. Rationing should be put on a uniform system for all of us, and greater encouragement should be given to increasing home production, both here and in the Colonies. Everything possible should be done to reduce the demands on shipping space and to reduce convoying work, so that the Navy can attend to its other duties more than it does at the present time. I hope attention will be given to the question of providing faster vessels, particularly for the Merchant Navy. I understand that some of the convoys can hardly be seen to move. That is alarming, and one only wonders that our casualties have not been even greater. We should like some information on these points.