I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
When I introduced the Air Estimates a year ago our thoughts were preoccupied with the menace of the night bomber. Our fighter pilots had already established in the Battle of Britain the mastery of the day-light air. But at night it was different. Some memories are short, but in the minds of most of us who morning after morning read the reports of heavy loss of life, of homes destroyed, of hours of work lost, of valuable machinery smashed up, of communications dislocated, the memory of the battle against the night bomber will not readily fade. I told the House a year ago that while attacks more severe than any we had previously experienced might come upon us—as in fact they did—we should exact from the night bombers an increasing toll. By the skill of our scientists, engineers and technicians, by the hard work and resource of the Air Staff, the aircraft industry, the anti-aircraft gunners, and above all by the achievements of our night fighter crews, that assurance was amply fulfilled. It is true that the German bomber force has acquired other occupations since a year ago, but there has never been a time during recent months when there has not been a very substantial number of bombers within easy reach of all the cities of this country. Our temporary exile from our own Chamber is a warning against discounting too light-heartedly the menace of the bomber, but I feel sure that hon. Members will join with me in giving credit to the Royal Air Force that so much remains intact and that Britain's armourers can work almost unhindered by the German Air Force.
The operational activities of the Royal Air Force during the past year have been many and varied, but I would ask hon. Members to consider with me three main aspects of them to-day. Since June the main task of the Royal Air Force has been—in harmony both with the clear will of Parliament and the British people and with the requirements of sound strategy—to give the utmost possible help to our Russian Allies in their gigantic battle against the main German armies. To the Royal Air Force, as the House knows, has fallen the privilege of fighting alongside our Russian Allies. Our squadrons acquitted themselves admirably in Murmansk. It was never the intention that these squadrons should remain in operation there during the winter months. Their function was to demonstrate the Hurricanes in action to the Russians and then to hand them over with their equipment. This successfully accomplished, and with a fine fighting record behind them as well, they were withdrawn by agreement with Premier Stalin some time ago. Increasing numbers of our aircraft are in operation on the Russian front. We could man them ourselves. It is not easy for us to spare them; but they are in good hands and well employed, for they are helping the Russians to maintain the air superiority which they now enjoy along their entire front.
These, however, are not the most important ways in which the Royal Air Force has been helping Russia. Not only have our squadrons in Malta and in Africa engaged large numbers of German fighter squadrons; but also by fighter and bomber sweeps over North-Western France; by constant fighter patrol activity in the same region; by fighter and bomber attacks upon shipping in the narrow seas; and by our bomber attacks upon indus- trial Germany and targets of great importance to Germany in the occupied territories, we have succeeded in keeping a larger number of German fighter squadrons facing west than the Germans can spare for their Eastern front. The coal mines and factories in Belgium and Northern France, which are working perforce for the enemy, have suffered severely. For five months, for example, the industrial activity of a wide area around Lille has been curtailed—for many weeks by as much as 50 per cent.—on account of damage to the power plants. Moreover, the House will remember that during the Battle of Britain, when the enemy suffered from the disadvantage of having to fight over this country, there were very few days in which he did not sustain substantially heavier casualties than we did, while the balance over the whole period of the battle was overwhelmingly in our favour. The remarkable thing is that, although the fighting over the enemy's territory has of course been hard, our fighter squadrons have managed to keep the balance of casualties in their favour. In offensive fighting from this country during the last twelve months we have destroyed 823 enemy fighters against the loss of 537 of our own.
The second main aspect of our operational activities which I would mention is our co-operation with the Navy in the Battle of the Atlantic. It would be inappropriate for me to express any opinion about the recent passage of the enemy warships through the Straits of Dover. The results of the official inquiry, which has just been completed, will be the subject of immediate examination in the Admiralty and in my own Department, and any necessary action will be promptly taken. Meanwhile the House is entitled to know that, in combined action with the Navy, we have virtually closed the Straits of Dover to the passage of the enemy's merchant vessels. Prior to last September, an average of 25 enemy merchant ships of 1,000 tons or over passed through the Straits of Dover each month. During the succeeding five months, passage by merchant vessels has been confined to all intents and purposes to a few fast motor vessels which contrive occasionally to slip through our patrols by night. With the French coast, French harbours, and French aerodromes in German hands, to block the Straits to enemy merchant vessels has been no easy task. Its accomplishment has increased German transportation difficulties in Belgium and Northern France. Working closely with and under the operational control of the Royal Navy, in all its widespread activities from Iceland to Gibraltar, Coastal Command is reconnoitring, photographing, hunting the U-boats, protecting the convoys, sinking enemy ships, and bombing ports and harbours from Trondhjein to Bordeaux. Together with the Royal Navy they have driven the U-boats right out of the Western approaches. Our East Coast convoys have been so well protected that between Harwich and Newhaven it is hardly an exaggeration to say that they come through with clock-like regularity.
But it is not only to Coastal Command that the Royal Navy can look for co-operation. Bomber Command, of which the entire strength is available when suitable opportunities occur, has worked untiringly on the Navy's behalf. They have kept three of the most formidable warships in the German navy ignominiously confined in the harbour of Brest while the battle raged outside. They have attacked the U-boats in their nests when they have come home to refit or repair; they have attacked the U-boat slipways, their engine factories and accumulator factories; they have laid many hundreds of mines; and during the past year altogether 40 per cent. of Bomber Command's total effort has been expended upon targets which the Navy has asked them to bomb. So with Fighter Command. During the past 12 months, in protective patrols over our convoys and shipping, Fighter Command has flown over 50,000 sorties. I am far from claiming that nothing can be done to improve still further the co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy. I do, however, unhesitatingly claim that the two Services have worked together loyally, willingly, and effectively. The Royal Air Force certainly—and I am sure the same is true of the Royal Navy—is constantly striving to improve the methods of co-operation in the light of experience and technical developments.
The third main aspect of air operations during recent months has been co-operation with the other Services in the Middle and Far East. For reasons which Parliament has approved, our Forces in the Far East have had to fight under grievous shortage of air power. Hon. Members know that, in spite of their extreme tactical mobility, air forces are not strategically mobile. The maintenance crews and equipment, the petrol, bombs and ammunition have all to be moved by sea. Fighter and Bomber squadrons cannot fly to the Far East from this country or from the Middle East and operate effectively on arrival without their ground staff and equipment. Nevertheless, we have sent large numbers of aircraft to the Far East and have taken extreme risks to get them there. We have lost some on the way, and we have lost many in heavy fighting, but reinforcements continue to arrive in that theatre.
I am most anxious, as I am sure the House will see in the course of my speech, to give the utmost possible information to the House about operations, but I really think that it would be a mistake for me to discuss the destination of our reinforcements. I would only add that our fighter, bomber, and general reconnaissance squadrons there have fought with splendid courage and resource against great odds and that they have co-operated closely and successfully with the Army. Hon. Members will already have read in the newspapers the accounts of the brilliant air victories gained by our pilots with American pilots in Burma; but they may be interested to know that those Squadrons are not only fighting their own vitally important battle in the air. They are also giving direct support to the Army; for only a few days ago a signal arrived from the General Officer Commanding the troops in Burma in which he said, "Fighter cover has been afforded continuously during the withdrawal and targets have been engaged successfully by close support bombing." In the Middle East heavy and persistent air attacks upon the ports of Libya and Tripoli, Sicily and Italy, upon the aerodromes, and upon the convoys crossing the Mediterranean, formed for many months the essential prelude to the battle and deprived General Rommel of many men and much material that he sorely needed. During the six months preceding General Auchinleck's advance the Royal Air Force and aircraft of the Fleet Air Arm sank some 175,000 tons of enemy merchant shipping in the Mediterranean. To send a ship to the bottom with 50 tanks on board is a big contribution to success in the land battle. When the battle was joined, our air superiority, which by hard bombing and fighting had been gradually acquired during the preceding weeks, was quickly asserted. It enabled our air forces to throw their whole weight into the land battle. In the words of an Army Officer, "It was like France, only the other way round." The same air superiority and the same slashing attacks by our fighters and bombers upon enemy troops and vehicles supported General Auchinleck both in his advance and in his withdrawal. Remarkable evidence of the protection given by the R.A.F. to our advancing troops is that during the first three weeks of the campaign, captured German Army Intelligence summaries record only two attacks by the German and Italian Air Forces against our formations on the ground.
To hon. Members who will show me how the co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Army can be still further improved I shall listen with respectful attention. I am sure it can be improved. The word "satisfaction" is unknown in the Royal Air Force. We live in an atmosphere of swift development and revolutionary change; we welcome new ideas. But I do most strongly deprecate that mischievous agitation which misrepresents the willingness of the Royal Air Force to work with its sister Services. Night after night, at the proper behest of the Admiralty, crews flew into the world's heaviest antiaircraft barrage at Brest. Night after night Bomber and Coastal Command crews have sallied out on dangerous expeditions—bombing, mining, reconnoitring, and photographing—and glad to help the Royal Navy to win the Battle of the Atlantic. It has been a poor reward for them to read that their work is being continuously disparaged, and to be told that they are stubbornly refusing to help the Navy, and that the Royal Air Force ought to be dismembered.
So with the Army. The pilots and crews in the Middle East know that their job is to do all they can to help the Army to win its battles in the Western Desert. They are not sparing themselves. General Auchinleck has given them full praise. The success of the advancing Eighth Army, he stated—I quote from one of the many messages received from him, in the same strain—
would never have been achieved without the wholehearted co-operation of the Air Force, whose work has been magnificent throughout.
But we have received other unsolicited testimonials to the effectiveness of the co-operation between the Army and the R.A.F. The following is an extract from the diary of a German officer:
The night was terrible, the English bombers came in force and dropped their eggs. We had no cover, not a hole nor a building, and when they had dropped their bombs they made low flying attacks and shot us up. So it goes on night after night. In broad daylight the English fighters attack our motorised columns with success
Here, too, is an official tribute taken from a captured German Army Intelligence Summary:
On all parts of the front the enemy continues to have marked air superiority. Our own air reconnaissance has been considerably hindered.
Another German Intelligence Summary says:
The enemy continues to have air superiority and his air forces are co-operating with his land forces with great effect.
Does the right hon. Gentleman propose to give the House any detailed information as to this co-operation, or does he intend to confine himself to a general statement?
I think it will be very much better, and I think the House will appreciate it more, if I try to keep my speech within reasonable limits and if I give the actual results of the work that is being done, according to unimpeachable testimony—the testimony of the leading commanders of the troops in the Western Desert and of the enemy. This work for the Army is dangerous. Royal Air Force pilots and crews do not grudge the risk—but when they get back and read in their newspapers that the Air Force is not out to help the Army, and that the Squadrons they are proud to serve in ought to be handed over to the Army, they resent it deeply and bitterly.
It is doing harm. The Commander-in-Chief in Middle East, and officers of the Royal Air Force at home, have represented to me that unless this criticism is moderated and brought into some relation to the facts, co-operation between the Air Force and the Army will become less cordial. It makes for the very fault—illfeeling between the Services—which it affects to condemn. The strong forces in the Services, and in Parliament, which make for unity in the face of the enemy will, I am confident, prevail. I believe that the House will rightly hold me, and the other Service Ministers, responsible for fostering the closest possible working together between the Services. We shall do so, and we shall be grateful for the help and influence of the hon. Members in carrying out that task.
The Royal Air Force has beaten the Germans in every other form of air fighting, and it means to beat them at Army co-operation. Together with the Army, we mean to go on getting better at it—not only in Africa but here at home. We are determined to improve the methods and efficiency of the squadrons in Army Co-operation Command. Substantial numbers of squadrons in Bomber and Fighter Commands are being constantly practised in Army co-operation. The Army co-operation squadrons, because their primary role is to train with military formations, have been deprived for the most part of the opportunities of meeting the enemy for which they are eager. I am glad to inform the House that, with the agreement of the Commander-in-Chief, Home Forces, these squadrons will be given an increased measure of reconnaissance activity over enemy territory across the Channel. The status of Army Co-operation Command is no w hit inferior to that of the other three operational Commands. They will have their share of the fighting, and we are now about to re-equip the tactical reconnaissance squadrons with aircraft of a new type, which have been described to me as the best of the American fighters now in full production.
I am also glad to inform the House that a new arrangement has just been made to foster co-operation with the other Services from the very bottom. All our young pilots and air crews who are trained in such great numbers overseas spend a little time at reception centres on arrival in this country. I have sug- gested, and the Admiralty and the War Office have readily and cordially agreed, that in future much of this time will be spent with the other Services. Each man will go to Army and naval units and will live for a week at each, before he goes on again with his air crew training. By this means, at an early stage, these young men will begin to think more and to learn more about the sister Services.
Before I leave this review of the recent operations of the Royal Air Force, I feel that the House would like me to pay a special tribute to the gallant defenders of Malta. Upon that island fortress increasing fury has fallen. Day and night, almost without intermission during the last two months Malta has suffered 394 air attacks. Always the Hurricanes go up, handicapped as they are by the short warning, and the guns fire, and the defenders meet the enemy. And still the bombers sally forth to return the enemy's visits and to harry his shipping. These achievements and the heroic fortitude of the people the House would wish to acknowledge with grateful admiration.
Now, all these operations are only made possible, as the House well knows, by much unspectacular but untiring and devoted work of organisation, administration and training and providing equipment and aerodromes. We want more aerodromes, longer runways and more accommodation for our expanding air force. I am well aware of the hardships thus caused to many people, and I am grateful for their forbearance. Particular disappointment has been caused, I am afraid, in some cases to people living on the edge of aerodromes when, after they have put up with the disturbance which this entails, it has become necessary later on to tell them, for example, that their houses must be demolished. I understand their distress. The House can be assured that in every case the fullest examination is given to alternatives, before such courses are adopted. Theo there is a second conflict with which we are faced, the old one between war requirements and food production. Large areas of land to meet the exacting requirements of modern aerodromes are becoming harder than ever to find. Nevertheless, the relations between the Ministry of Agriculture and the Air Ministry have never been closer or more harmonious. As the danger of a clash has grown, so has the liaison between us. The Ministry of Agriculture is represented on our Aerodrome Board and we are working very closely with the county war agricultural executive committees.
There has been a huge expansion of our training organisation during the past year. The immense organisation in Canada, where air crews recruited in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Newfoundland and the United Kingdom are trained side by side, was completed months ahead of schedule. Considerable training organisations now fully developed in Australia and New Zealand have been providing trained air crews in substantial numbers. Our squadrons fighting in the Middle East have been reinforced by pilots and crews trained in Rhodesia and South Africa. Pilots trained in India have been in battle against the Japanese. Last summer the United States Army Air Corps placed at our disposal a substantial portion of their pilot training organisation, and the United States Naval Air Service also undertook to train crews for us. We were also able to organise flying training at civil schools in the United States of America. For all these arrangements made for us before the United States entered the war, we are much indebted to President Roosevelt, to the United States Air Forces and various civil flying organisations. Training methods have been developed to incorporate the lessons learnt from operations and as new aircraft and new equipment have come into service. We have been at particular pains to secure uniformity of training standards throughout the world-wide training organisation. Our policy is, not only to reach the highest standards of training in the technique of the tasks which fall to the various categories of air crews, but also to develop in each man the fighting spirit and those particular personal qualities which, matched with the best obtainable equipment, have given our airmen an individual ascendancy over the airmen of Germany, Italy and Japan.
The closest attention has been paid to the provision of the great number of skilled maintenance staff which the Royal Air Force requires. Sir William Beveridge's Committee stated that the R.A.F. technical training schemes were
equally impressive by reason of their scale and by reason of the efficiency with which they are conducted.
The Committee's criticisms have been investigated and, except on certain minor points of detail, accepted.
The importance of the proper utilisation of skill is very widely recognised in the R.A.F., which is itself so technical a Service. All cases of reported misemployment are followed up and men are re-mustered or posted. A film has been produced for showing at R.A.F. units in order to impress upon all officers and men the need for making the best use of each man's skill. I saw in a newspaper a few days ago a picture of the late lamented Colonel "Blimp" fitting square pegs into round holes. We have a team of psychologists doing exactly the opposite thing—[Laughter]. Let me correct myself—working on the opposite principle of fitting square pegs into square holes and round pegs into round holes. They work at the recruits receiving centres and assist the Central Trade Test Board in selecting recruits, both airmen and airwomen, for trade training. During the last six months no fewer than 10,000 men and women in the R.A.F. have passed through the hands of these psychologists, and the results have been helpful and encouraging.
The House will expect me to tell them something of the equipment of the R.A.F. The process of installing in our older and well tried types of fighter more powerful engines and offensive armament has gone steadily ahead. The armament of our fighters is very greatly superior to that of the German fighters yet encountered. The latest marks of Hurricane and Spitfire are so improved as to be virtually new types of aircraft, and although the basic designs are quite a number of years old, there is plenty of life and capacity for development left in them yet. This year will see still further improvements in those two famous breeds. Further new types, however, some of revolutionary design, are ripening. The Americans also, who have given us the Tomahawk and the admirable Kittyhawk, have some very fine new types coming along.
The Americans are also sending us dive bombers. Two years ago there were large numbers of dive bombers in the German Air Force. They were used with great effect in Poland, in Norway, in Holland, in Belgium and in the Battle of France. In these campaigns no adequate air power was available for the support of the defending armies. They were used with success in Greece and Crete, and by the Japanese in Malaya and Singapore. They are effective against ships which are not too heavily armoured when they can catch them without fighter cover. That is one side of the picture. The other side is that in the Battle of Britain the Stukas lasted precisely two days, after which owing to the enormous rate of casualties inflicted on them, they disappeared completely from the battle. In Libya, in the campaigns both last year and this year, the enemy has not used dive bombers to any great extent, and when used they have caused remarkably little interference with the movement of our troops. In short, the dive bomber has been proved by experience to be an effective weapon only in a theatre where a complete or very large measure of air superiority has already been gained. The Germans realise this, and the proportion of dive bombers to the total bombing strength of the German air force has over the last two years been much reduced. Nevertheless, in June, 1940, within a few weeks of the new Government being formed, after the fighting in France, at a time when all the operational experience was in favour of the dive bomber, dive bombers were ordered; the orders were placed with factories in America, where they could most swiftly be produced. Accordingly, aircraft of a type which as a dive-bomber is markedly superior to the Ju.87, will shortly be available. It would be a complete mistake to suppose that the Air Staff does not want them. We could not afford them, when we were desperately short of aircraft, in place of less specialised types, but now that we have obtained, with more efficient fighting aircraft, the mastery of the air in more than one theatre of war, we hope to find good use for them.
The heavy bombers, the Stirling, Halifax and the Manchester, the Manchester already emerging in a new, bigger, and stronger form known as the Lancaster, with their great range and heavy bomb loads, high speed and powerful defensive armament, are coming into service in increasing numbers. These bombers are the most powerful in the world.
The development of bombs is being kept in step with development of aircraft. Bombs of a size which were regarded as exceptionally large a year ago are now in full supply, while others of still larger size and still greater powers of destruction are well advanced in design and should shortly be available for delivery to the Axis Powers.
We intend to resume the bomber offensive against Germany on the largest possible scale at the earliest possible moment. The delay in doing so has been due to a number of causes. A substantial part of our bomber effort has been directed to other theatres. A still larger part has been employed on attacking the cruisers in Brest and other targets connected with the Battle of the Atlantic. Moreover, as the Prime Minister recently told the House, we suffered some disappointments in the delivery of aircraft, and those disappointments pre vented us from taking all the advantage we had hoped of such spells of good weather as were available last autumn. By far the most important cause, however, of our disappointments has been the weather, which, since October, has been the worst for air operations—with the exception of 1937—for 15 years.
Nevertheless, quarter by quarter, comparing 1941 with the active months of 1940, we have dropped twice the weight of bombs of the previous year. That excludes the still more greatly increased weight of bombs dropped upon the enemy in the Mediterranean theatre. In spite of the exceptional inactivity of the past two months, the tonnage of bombs dropped by Bomber Command in January and February this year is 50 per cent. greater than that dropped in January and February, 1941. There is a steady increase in the mine-laying activities of the bomber squadrons. Reports of damage to the enemy's war potential accumulate. At Wilhelmshaven, out of eight U-boats due for launching by a certain date, only three left the slips; at Hamburg only three U-boats were launched instead of eight, and vessels of a type normally launched after two months have been seen still on the slips after three months. Aachen and Munster are certainly in a worse condition than Coventry and Plymouth. In many places in the Ruhr, in Wilhelmshaven and Emden, our photographs show, to the expert examiners, areas devastated by our bombing. At Dusseldorf, in a recent attack, after one of our heaviest bombs had been dropped, a whole built-up area, in the words of the pilot, "appeared to boil." There is steadily increasing material destruction; while neutral and independent observers agree that the compulsory retirement to the shelters has told on the morale of the German people, and has slowed down production. These results have been achieved, in spite of the very considerable increase in the German defences, without significant rise in the rate of losses per hundred sorties on operations. Indeed the rate of loss for the three months ending 28th February, was lower than the rate of loss in the preceding three months. In particular, as we expected, the heaviest types of bomber have proved to be less vulnerable than the Wellingtons, Whitleys and Hampdens.
As I have said, we have not had all the aircraft we have wanted. I would remind the House that the set-back in British production has been mainly the result of German bombing. Not only the direct result, which was not negligible, but the indirect result—the adoption with ruthless energy by Lord Beaverbrook of the necessary policy of dispersal. We know from bitter experience in this country that even ill-directed and ill-planned bombing produces serious effects on industry. The effects of our bombing on Germany have also been serious—light in scale as it has been compared with our own plan. And the increase in our bombing power does not depend only on numbers of aircraft and weight of bombs. As tactical and technical methods develop, in spite of the developing German defences, we are able to drop our bombs with increasing accuracy. As new bombs become available, a given weight produces increasing destruction. I therefore have full confidence in the judgment of the Air Staff, which has the endorsement of the Chiefs of Staff and the defence Committee, that the bomber offensive against Germany is one of the indispensable means of winning this war. Not only that, there is work for Bomber Command to do now, urgent work for which our crews have been waiting during these months of frustration. Hitler is preparing his spring offensive. Soon he will launch it. The impact will fall upon Russia. We shall not stand helplessly aloof. Bomber Command will strike hard at the vital centres of German war industry and transport.
Nor can we allow German production of tanks, aero engines, and lorries to go on unhindered merely because it is situated in occupied territory in France. The Renault Works at Billancourt, near Paris, are notorious for their activity on behalf of the enemy. Accordingly, Bomber Command delivered an attack upon them last night. I have just been talking to the Commander-in-Chief, and he says that the operation was highly successful. A large part of the works is on an island in the Seine. A number of our heaviest bombs fell on the island and in other parts of the target, bursting with shattering effect. Buildings collapsed like packs of cards. Pilots described some of the buildings as coming up at them hundreds of feet into the air, while one pilot saw a gasometer doing what he believed to be, for a gasometer, a record flight. I am glad to say that casualties were light. In all our operations last night we lost two aircraft. We are being asked whether this attack indicates a change in bombing policy. No, Sir. It has for a long time been part of the plan, which the weather has prevented us from putting into operation. It indicates a change in the weather and not in policy.
The talk about the futility of bombing is dangerous. If it bears fruit in any relaxation of precautions here, the Germans will be swift to take advantage of it. Let me make it plain that the Royal Air Force cannot guarantee immunity from bombing by day and still less by night. All I can say is that our night defences far excel those of the Germans and that, failing more far-reaching development by the Germans of bombing technique or method, we shall make bombing a more costly undertaking for them in the future than ever before. The Royal Air Force started this war in a marked inferiority to the Germans. It has risen to superiority over all its enemies in day fighting and night fighting. I believe that events in the not distant future will remove all doubts about its superiority in bombing from the minds of the most sceptical. There can be no doubt that these achievements are in no small part due to its youth, its freshness, its freedom from old, hampering prejudices and its receptiveness to new ideas. The achievements of the Royal Air Force do not spring from complacent adherence to old traditions and conventional methods. Tactics, training principles and practice, scientific equipment and design are all in rapid evolution.
Last year I gave the House an assurance that we should retain throughout 1941 our technical superiority over the German Air Force. To-day I will say that, during the coming year, the Royal Air Force will reap the fruits of much hard work in several directions over many months past, the work of scientists, users, suppliers, technicians, staff officers, pilots, air crews, workmen, executives in the factories, their brains and energies welded, through the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Air Ministry, into one interlocking, powerful hard-driving mechanism of technical progress and operational achievement. So the material assets of the Royal Air Force will be increased in number and quality during the coming year and its greatest asset will remain—the splendid spirit and superb fighting quality of the pilots and air crews, and, let me add, the untiring loyal and devoted service of the ground staffs. Together they have met and defeated all our enemies in every kind of air fighting. These men are conquerors. Well-armed, highly-trained and inflexibly determined, they are the only force upon which we can call in this year, 1942, to strike deadly blows at the heart of Germany. They are ready. They will not fail you.
The House has listened to a very polished and interesting speech from the right hon. Baronet, the kind of speech we are accustomed to expect from him. If it had a fault, I should say it was that the speech was in the nature of a departmental statement. It told us all about the things we know to be true of the Air Staff arid gave us very little in the way of answer to the criticisms that have been made about the long-distance bombing policy of the Air Staff—very little answer, that is to say, other than to express the contempt which junior officers feel at the criticisms that have been made of that policy. At the outset, I should like to say that I repudiate, with great respect to the right hon. Gentleman, the statement that there is any resentment in the junior ranks of the Air Ministry among flying officers at the political criticism that goes on in regard to the direction of the higher Command.
Surely that is a political question; but I have yet to learn, both from my own recollection and from my current knowledge of the officers who carry out the practical operations of the Royal Air Force, that it is their concern to dictate or to suggest strategical policy. Moreover, I am satisfied that they are not concerned or discouraged in the manner indicated at the suggestions which are being made. Tactically, and in the air, we must acknowledge with gratitude that the Royal Air Force is a magnificent organisation. It is alert and keen, and displays courage and initiative unmatched in the whole story of war. Anything that we say by way of criticism of the Air Minister or the Air Staff must certainly not be deflected upon the heads of the operational officers.
The speech of the right hon. Gentleman was a little too much a repetition of the old process of selecting the favourable and ignoring the unfavourable. For instance, he told us that 40 per cent. of the bombings of the Royal Air Force recently had been directed upon targets selected by the Navy. That statement was intended to convey to the House an idea of the proportion of bombing carried out at the behest of the Navy and the proportion carried out in fulfilment of the long-range bombing policy upon Germany. Yet, if that figure of 40 per cent. is taken alone, it is an extremely selective figure, giving the House an entirely wrong impression of the proportion of long-range bombing of Germany which has gone on for a prolonged period and which, unless the policy is changed, it is intended to carry out.
And increase, in proportion to other air activities as well as in volume, within the next few months. The figure of 40 per cent. which the right hon. Gentleman gave included the enormous concentration of bombing effort upon the "Scharnhorst" and "Gneisenau" at Brest. When he told us that there was a number of vessels upon the slips in German dockyards which normally would take two months to launch and which now had only been launched after three months, I think the right hon. Gentleman had searched very hard in order to bring up every point he could find in favour of the long-distance bombing policy. I wonder, if German reconnaissance aircraft have been taking photographs of our shipbuilding and aircraft manufactures, whether they would have found any examples of industrial operations which had taken three months instead of two months, and, if so, whether they would have attempted to convince themselves that the delay was the result of their bombing operations or of other causes.
Just one word about the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau," because I know the report will not be published but will be hushed up in precisely the same way as the causes of the sinking of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were hushed up, and we shall not hear the true causes of that failure. I do hope, however, that we shall not be given sentences like that which said that these ships were for many long months ignominiously confined to harbour at Brest, when in fact the ignominy, if any, rested upon that part of our organisation which was responsible for the failure to sink them when they came out.
There are, in my view, two weaknesses in this mighty machine the Royal Air Force, which may, if not repaired, prevent the fighting airmen from applying their full power against the enemy. One of those weaknesses is in the sphere of strategical policy, and although that is holy ground, I shall move on to it in a few moments. Before I come to that I want to deal with another shortcoming of a less colourful but equally important character. I refer to the organisation for maintenance and mobility of the Royal Air Force on the ground and, of course, upon the sea. Sometimes I believe that we and the Air Ministry are inclined to forget that aircraft in operation are only the sharp spearpoint of an enormous ground organisation. The Royal Air Force is not only an air force; it is an enormous ground force, and for every machine which is operationally engaged at one time, even if our maximum strength is being applied, there are anything from 400 to 600 officers and men engaged on the ground. Therefore, if there is any weakness in that part of the organisation, it is bound inevitably to have a lowering effect upon the number of aircraft that we can put into the air at any one time.
If I were to give the House now the total number of aircraft of the most modern types, Wellingtons, Spitfires No. VI, and others, which are grounded at present owing to the lack of equipment which was not ordered at the time it ought to have been ordered, the right hon. Gentleman would have an extremely uncomfortable afternoon. From time to time some of us have hopefully interrogated the two Departments concerned, but we have not received very satisfactory answers, and so vital a matter is this question of spare parts that I am going to ask the House to bear with me while I repeat one Question which I put to the Minister on this subject and which really expresses, in succinct language, the root cause of the immense confusion—I do not exaggerate, I choose my words—which exists in the provision of spare parts and maintenance for the operational machines of the Royal Air Force.
I differentiate to this extent, that the position in regard to American aircraft is better in the case of some machines and worse in the case of others than in the case of British aircraft, but I sincerely hope that we shall not be referred to the type of machine to which the Prime Minister referred me last July when I raised the question, when he said that the delays applied only to aircraft which had been ordered on French account, for which different equipment had to be supplied. It is notorious in the Royal Air Force that it did not only apply to them, and since that date the spares of French aircraft have become a joke among those whose job it is to administer the maintenance equipment of British machines.
The Question I put was this:
To ask the Secretary of State for Air whether he is aware that the director of repair and maintenance under the Ministry of Aircraft Production is stationed in one town, that his technical staff are stationed in another town, that the Air Ministry organisation for the provision of spare parts is situated in a third town, and that the actual supply of spare parts is the function of a director of depots
situated in a fourth town; that this system involves inordinate delays due to correspondence and other paper work; that important communications upon which the supply of equipment depends frequently take two or three months to make the complete circuit of reference; and whether he is prepared to consider proposals for a better arrangement?"—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 21st January, 1942; col. 328, Vol. 377.]
The prepared answer was the usual complacent one. I endeavoured to press my right hon. Friend further, and he gave me some assurances that the matter would be looked into, but nothing has been done. Until something is done, I say with confidence and with the authority of men who are actually engaged in this important branch of aircraft maintenance, that the position will not improve. I will leave this subject with this statement. The Ministry of Aircraft Production has been suffering almost equally from its troubles and from its quack remedies, but the cure will not come until the matters referred to in the Question which I have just quoted are dealt with by the Ministry of Aircraft Production and the Air Ministry in co-operation.
If the House would now allow me, I should like to pass over to what I described a moment ago as the "holy ground" of strategy. I almost think that hon. Members ought to apologize for dealing with this subject at all—athough I do not propose to apologize myself—because, much as it is canvassed in the Press by persons obviously in close contact with the Air Staff, the Army Staff and the Naval Staff, immense as are the numbers of books, articles and speeches about it, never is any explanation of our strategical policy and operations in the different theatres of war vouchsafed to hon. Members of this House. We have to pick our way in that intricate maze with the aid of such information as we can obtain from private and public-spirited sources in the Services. This House would have a much more useful contribution to make on that subject if Ministers did not regard it as their own private sphere. With regard to strategical control of the R.A.F., I will begin with this statement, despite what the right hon. Baronet said. The R.A.F. must show greater readiness to understand the air needs of the two other arms. It is not entirely the fault of the Air Staff if that readiness is not shown. I listened to the Secretary of State for War the other day, delivering a speech lasting more than one hour about the Army to-day. There was one short sentence about the air. He said that the Army now has a number of parachutists and air-borne troops. That was all he said about a revolution which has now completely changed the face of military operations. That was the perspective which the Secretary of State for War asked the House to take. Nevertheless, the professional viewpoint at the Air Ministry is almost equally to blame. I say what I have to say about this in the hope that it will not be thought unfriendly or unsympathetic to a branch of the Forces in which I spent three full and happy years, and to which I still have strong feelings of attachment.
I believe that some people are beginning to realise that the exclusive view of air strategy taken by the Air Staff has a close connection with the policy known as the long-range strategic bombing of Germany. I am not going to suggest that the long-range strategic bombing of Germany should stop altogether, but I would point out at the very outset that, whereas the bombing of this country by Germany, even if it is renewed, will be carried out by aircraft extremely useful for other purposes, the bombing of Germany by our big bombers is carried out by aircraft of very little use for other purposes, magnificent as they are. Lord Trenchard is the chief advocate of this bombing policy. He originated it in 1917. [An HON. MEMBER: "No."] Yes, he did. He infused his ideas into the minds of the Air Staff and of subordinate officers, and today he is the public voice of the Air Staff. The public controversy is not all on one side. We all know the affectionate nickname by which Lord Trenchard was known in the Service. He certainly lives up to it in his advocacy of the long-range strategic bombing policy. He contributes speeches in the House of Lords, he signs letters to the "Times", and he writes signed articles in the rival "Daily Telegraph".
He signs them and writes them, or has them typed, whichever the hon. Member likes. He also has signed articles in the "Daily Telegraph." I do not know whether that excites any professional resentment. I have the greatest admiration for the services that Lord Trenchard has performed in the past for the R.A.F., but I believe, and many others who are competent to form an opinion agree with me, that he is wrong in his advocacy of the long-range bombing policy. A few weeks ago he wavered in his advocacy of that policy, and I hoped that it had begun to wilt; but since then it has been revived with renewed zest, and now the Secretaries of State, the Under-Secretaries, and the Private Parliamentary Secretaries attached to them have all returned to the charge in support of the long-range bombing policy.
I detected the wavering from the wording of a great many communications which he was making, which he was writing and uttering, a few weeks ago. I am afraid that if I were to satisfy the hon. and gallant Gentleman as to the grounds for my hope that Lord Trenchard was wavering, it would involve an analysis of those writings. I have them with me, but I fear that it would only weary the House if I endeavoured to expatiate on that point. I think the House should discuss this matter without reserve, because our production policy depends in large measure upon our attitude to the problem. I would ask the House, first, to consider the results obtained by the German policy against Britain, all the time remembering that that was delivered by a more versatile bombing force, more useful for other purposes, than any that we used against Germany, and by a much heavier force than we ourselves possess. At any rate, with the exception of a very few raids, a heavier attack was made upon British objectives by German bombers than any that we have ever made against Germany. With all the advantages that the German Air Force had in carrying out that policy, I believe that it is correct that not more than 10 per cent. diminution in industrial production during that period could, by any calculation, be attributed to that bombing. Therefore, I was very mystified when the right hon. Gentleman produced a figure of 50 per cent., not over the whole range of German effort, but for one small zone at Lille. The production at Lille was reduced 50 per cent. by our bombing operations against that town. In any case, that is not a figure that ought to be produced in this connection. What was the effect on production at Coventry? That is the appropriate comparison with Lille. We can only judge this policy in the light of the results obtained over all the widespread industrial operations in the whole of enemy-occupied territory.
I have made a simple calculation, which I will give to the House, in the hope that it will not be thought too obvious and simple. The five largest German cities, cities with a population of over 500,000, are located at an aggregate mileage from the nearest United Kingdom air base of approximately 2,500 miles. That is the total mileage, assuming that we were going to make one operation against each of them in turn. The only five British towns with a population of more than 500,000 are located at an aggregate distance from the nearest German air base of only 1,100 miles. So, taking as fair a figure as I can, I find that we have at least two and a quarter times the distance to carry our destruction as the Germans have to carry theirs. If you take another figure, the figure for the capitals, you find that it is 100 miles from the nearest German air base to London, and 550 miles from the nearest British air base to Berlin. The Germans possess a density of population less than half that of Britain, Then there are the growing defence forces of Germany—about which the right hon. Gentleman could have told the House a great deal, but about which he said very little—increased weather difficulties and immensely longer flights over enemy territory than they have to carry out over ours, and, as my noble Friend the Member for Horsham (Earl Winterton) says, shorter days. From weather difficulties alone we lost 37 aircraft in one unfortunate and exceptional flight, but that is a continuing handicap which operates much more severely against our long-range bombing flights than it does against the Germans, when we remember the bombing operations carried out by aircraft in the destruction of which the Germans can afford to lose 10 of their fighter aircraft if they succeed in bringing down one of our bombers. Ten Messerschmitts in man-hours, equals one Stirling bomber.
We ought to approach it if possible without any preconceived ideas. One of the arguments advanced in favour of this policy which has sounded most attractive and is continually repeated by the Minister and other spokesmen of the Ministry is that we must not allow our air policy to fluctuate and change with every breeze that blows and with every gust of public opinion and so on. But has this policy, in fact, been carried out with the un-fluctuating resolve which, it is said, is an essential requirement of our strategy? Certainly there has been great vacillation in the choice of targets. First it was the German naval dockyards, then the marshalling yards of Ham—and it took us a long time to find out that you cannot knock out railways by bombing a few railway sidings—and then it was the oil refineries at Gelsenkirchen, and then, after a careful warning in the technical Press that power stations were really the key point of the industrial war effort of Germany, we switched on to the power stations of Germany. Each in turn had their vogue. There is only one target which has received a prolonged, continuous and concentrated attack by the Royal Air Force, an immensely, greater attack than upon any other target, the narrow zones—and the Prime Minister has bold us that in that case there were 3,200 raids, 4,000 tons of bombs dropped, 247 valuable personnel and 43 of our finest aircraft lost, with the result which, I am afraid, will be notorious in the annals of war.
Now we know that these heavy bombers cannot operate except from extreme altitudes or by night. In the former case they cannot hit their targets; in the latter case they cannot find their targets, and have not found them, unless they were zones and not targets. As far as direct hits on specified industrial targets by high-flying aircraft by night are concerned, we might as well send the long-distance bombers to the moon. That statement is no exaggeration of the value of that particular form of air attack. And now a few words about the moral effect. The moral effect is of immense importance, and for that reason I would do nothing which would endanger the maintenance of that effect, but that can be obtained by a policy and with types of machines very different from the tremendously expensive types of machine, in production and personnel, which we are using at the present time. I believe that the correct bombing policy is to carry out widespread, continuous attacks by small forces on zone targets of an industrial character, easy to find and easy to hit. When it is necessary to carry out raids on specific industrial or naval towns, the only effective way to do it is by day, with the proper escorts of fighter aircraft.
Why is it that the Air Staff, supported as they are by the Ministers, maintain this policy and pursue it so inflexibly? It almost seems as if some people are bent upon making every strategic principle conform to the desirability of maintaining the independent status of every branch of the Royal Air Force effort. Every change in the situation and every new circumstance can be adapted by the expert to serve as an argument in favour of this project. First, the long-range policy was urged upon us because it would assist the blockade. Then we were told that it would destroy the German communications, and then it was the German morale which was the principal target, but now we have new recruits to the policy on the ground that it will help Russia. Everything has been switched over now to the claim that the long-range bombing policy is the best and only way in which we can help Russia. It is a well-known weakness in every sphere of knowledge of the expert who has not got a first-class mind. Taking an ever narrower view of the subject, he comes to know more and more about less and less, and finally forgets about anything which will not fit into his theory. In the sphere of medicine I heard about a wise physician, a general practitioner, who told his patients that he could send them to any one of six specialists in Harley Street and he would tell them in advance what would be the diagnosis and what would be the different remedies prescribed.
I wonder whether all our air-marshals, generals and admirals are completely free from this human claim, but it seems. very plain to me that some of them are misled by their wishes. They do not all have the same unless they belong to the same force, and on the most burning aspects of defence a tremendous controversy in every realm is going on, participated in by the Ministers of the Departments, between them and their nominees. Who are the nominees to whom I refer? I will ask the House to consider what role the Service Ministers play in this controversy. What rôle does the Secre- tary of State for Air play? He told us to-day that they have recently succeeded in closing the Straits of Dover from enemy merchant ships. When was that done? Why was it done so late? Did the right hon. Gentleman ever suggest previously that it would be a good thing to do? Has he ever advocated unity of command of the three Forces in combined operations? Has he ever urged any view contrary to that of the Air Staff in regard to the control of aircraft by the Army and Navy? I see my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty here, and I put to him the same point, although I must say—if I can do so impartially—that I believe he has more right of speech than has the Air Minister. Does the Air Minister exercise in his Department, his political ability, what I have called before his Ministerial functions, or is he, in our mortal danger, a mere Departmental mouthpiece? I believe it would be a good thing for the Air Ministry, and perhaps some of the other Departments concerned—certainly some Service personnel and the public would welcome it—if the Minister would give an occasional growl in his Department. The right hon. Gentleman has never been known to growl. Indeed, he is so much afraid of being thought a growler that he always purrs, and we have had a long purring speech from him to-day. I remember a great figure at the Admiralty whose policy was the direct opposite—the late Admiral "Jackie" Fisher—and if I were compelled to choose one of these two temperaments to-day, I am not sure that the temperament of Admiral "Jackie" Fisher would not be more effective in supplying us with what is required.
I hope my right hon. Friend will not think what I have said is too blunt to be of any help to him or will be antagonistic to any suggestions which I am about to make. These suggestions have a large body of support among all three branches of the Services. They deal with the allocation of aircraft according to priority basis, not upon Service interests but upon strategical realities. This is the order of priority which would gain acceptance in their view. First, adequate fighter defence of this country; second, full equipment of a comprehensive Fleet Air Arm in all main theatres of naval war to include shore-based reconnaissance planes, torpedo bombers—and I do not mean Swordfish aircraft able to carry only an 18 inch torpedo—and long-range fighter aircraft where necessary. This force should pursue further its policy of obtaining for itself more strategical mobility. The Air Minister said that the Air Force is not strategically mobile. Of course it is not if you do not make it mobile. There has been an immense neglect of such things as floating workshops to transport fighter and other aircraft used in distant theatres of war. I believe it could be better and more appropriately done by the Navy than by the Air Force. The third priority would be adequate aircraft to be provided to form complete Royal Air Force support, air units for each armed division or corps, consisting of reconnaissance, tank-busting and fighter aircraft, and they should be formed into air brigades under divisional commanders advised by the Air Staff officers. Lastly, medium and heavy bomber fleets should be divided according to strategic requirements in the main theatres of war. We should maintain, say, not more than 500 in this country for action against invasion and other objectives and divide the remainder between the Far and Middle East and other overseas theatres of war.
Once that principle of the proper allocation of priority—not on the basis of Service divisions, because they are as obsolete as the Dodo—is adopted, then our production policy can be turned without dislocation to carrying it into effect. I earnestly hope, although, perhaps, it is rather a large hope, that these proposals will be put into effect by the War Cabinet. It may be hard for them to do something so disagreeable to many devoted officers of high rank, but if we do not do so, even more disagreeable consequences may fall upon us and them. What must be done at last had better be done now. Such proposals would not involve any dislocation. The greatest single cause of dislocation is Ministerial indecision. The Minister still has time, but not much time, to leave his mark upon the organisation of our air power and, therefore, upon the enemy. Tactical control of the Royal Air Force is, as I have said, beyond all praise, but in the realm of strategy the right hon. Gentleman must seek further inspiration. There must be inspiration, accelerated tempo, abridged distances, ruthless technique, and above all an essential unity of the three arms of the Forces. I hope that what is said in this Debate will strengthen the right hon. Gentleman to do his high task with the vision and vigour which it demands.
I first want to congratulate the Secretary of State for Air on his speech and the wide survey he has given of our air position. I think he has done uncommonly well, but he rather neglected going into some details to which I will come later. I was glad to hear him put his foot down and say he would not tolerate any breaking-up of the Royal Air Force. Everybody knows that the reason for the establishment of the Royal Air Force was because of the friction between the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. That friction concerned material, engines, personnel and so on, and superimposed on it was the attitude of the Sea Lords in retarding their Naval Air Service and also the hostile attitude of certain Generals in the Army. Some airmen advised Lord Curzon, who was the first President of the Air Board, to set up an independent air service to go into the whole question of proper air development. Lord Curzon advised the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George) that a separate Air Force was necessary. The right hon. Gentleman brought this before Parliament, which approved, and a separate Air Force was created early in 1918.
In Lord Beatty's days at the Admiralty every effort was made to break up the Royal Air Force again, and it was resisted by Members of this House and also by the Air Minister of that date, who prevented it from being broken up. The question is, Has the Royal Air Force justified the faith of those who advocated its being set up? I submit that it has. It has done wonderfully well. We have only to take the Battle of Britain, where our gallant pilots, in Hurricanes and Spitfires, beat the Germans. Can anybody in this House say that that could have been done if we had left the Admiralty and War Office to develop machines? Most certainly not. I attribute the whole success of the Battle of Britain to the existence of a separate Royal Air Force. As the Minister has said, the Force has done great work in Libya and on other
fighting fronts. Nobody admires the work of our gallant pilots more than I. There have, however, been one or two criticisms. In the first place, there is the criticism that the Royal Air Force do not co-operate sufficiently with the Army. I thought that my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Knutsford (Sir E. Makins), in speaking in the Debate on the Army Estimates, answered that question uncommonly well. He said that he was living at Salisbury Plain, and that frequently he watched manœuvres, chiefly tank manœuvres. He said:
I remember attending one specially important field day on the Plain when all available mechanised forces were engaged. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff and several senior staff officers came specially from London. There was a large contingent of the Press, and everybody of importance was there. I attended with two serving staff officers, and one of the first questions I asked was "Where are the planes, where is the air reconnaissance?' I was told that there would not be any and that there practically never were any. I asked the reason, and they said that there were so many difficulties in making arrangements between the two Services, with the result that there was no training between them. I cannot say whether that was the fault of either of the Services, but certainly there was no co-operation between the two, and this vital part of training was not carried out."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 19th February, 1942; Col. 1946; Vol. 377.]
That is what my hon. and gallant Friend noticed before the war, in 1939. Let hon. Members compare that with what the Germans did in the Battle of France. There was the closest co-operation between their air force and their fighting forces, particularly the tanks, and whenever a point of resistance was met, the mechanised forces simply sent a wireless message to the air people, and bombers came immediately and knocked out the point of resistance. We must not blame the Royal Air Force because there is not sufficient co-operation with the Army. Surely, the Army might have gone a little into the matter before the war and not have left it until now. I have heard the Royal Air Force accused of not being Army-minded, but I think the Army cannot be praised for being air-minded. I am certain that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will go into the whole question of the creation of these co-operating squadrons and their transfer to the Army for use by Army people.
Another criticism I have heard in my constituency has been about the bombing of Brest. We were told by the Prime Minister that the Royal Air Force had dropped 4,000 tons of bombs on Brest. The question I want to put to the Secretary of State is whether there are not in this country any nationals of the over-run nations who could have gone to Brest to find out what was happening there. The other day, we read in the Press of a Belgian air officer who went to Belgium and dug up a flag that had been presented to an air unit by the King of the Belgians, and which was very much valued. The air officer risked his life in going over from this country to Belgium to get that flag. Surely, we could have got somebody to go to Brest to find out what damage had been done by the 4,000 tons of bombs. During the last war, every Zeppelin that was in its shed and was moved out of the shed was reported to me in my office at the Admiralty. We were able, as a result, to gain many hits on the Zeppelin sheds and also to destroy Zeppelins in the air. I submit to the Secretary of State that the fact that we did not find out a little more about the results of the bombing of Brest shows that there is something wrong. I do not know whether the three ships were camouflaged in a small arm of the harbour and dummy ships put up for our pilots to hit, but something was lacking in the whole organisation if we could not find out why the bombs were not so effective as we thought. The three ships went into the Channel and proceeded at full speed. I ask the Secretary of State whether he will give a reply to this criticism.
Another criticism I should like to make concerns co-operation between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty. Is there co-operation between the members of the Air Council and the Fifth Sea Lord, who is in charge of the naval air service? He is a very gallant officer who planned the attack at Taranto and carried it to such a successful issue; it was the greatest torpedo attack in history. Is there close co-operation between the members of the Air Council and the Fifth Sea Lord, and does he get from the Air Ministry all the assistance to which he is entitled? That is a point that ought to be gone into, because there has been some criticism to the effect that the Fleet Air Arm do not get all that they ask for from the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
I am very glad to see the first Lord of the Admiralty in his place, because I want now to touch upon the question of torpedo-carrying aircraft. In the last war, we developed torpedo-dropping seaplanes, and we sent a flight of them to the Mediterranean in the "Ben Ma-Chree," which was commanded by a former Member of this House, a very gallant officer, Lt.-Commander L'Estrange Malone, who used to sit on the Socialist Benches. He carried out his duty in a very efficient manner. Three seaplanes were sent off from the "Ben Ma-Chree" and obtained three hits with three shots on enemy ships in the Dardanelles—100 per cent. of success. That was the only weapon in the last war that got 100 per cent. of hits. The whole operation was under the then Chief of Staff, my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes). It was a very fine torpedo attack, and justified those of us who developed the torpedo-carrying seaplane. We then developed the torpedo-carrying aeroplane. I happened to be sent on duty to Southern Italy. What happened to my torpedo-carrying aeroplane? An officer, Squadron Commander Arthur Longmore, now Air Chief Marshal Sir Arthur Longmore—whom I hope to see in this House before long—saw that machine triced up to the beams in Messrs. Sopwiths' works. It was tried and found an excellent machine, and Lord Beatty ordered 200 of them, and they were delivered too late to be of any use in the last war.
In this war, the torpedo-carrying aeroplane has come into its own. In the Battle of Taranto, the Battle of Matapan, the destruction of the "Bismarck" and of any amount of supply ships, these torpedo-carrying aeroplanes have shown their usefulness. We have read in the Press that the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were attacked by Japanese torpedo-carrying aeroplanes; we have been told that they carried two 21-inch torpedoes with a very high explosive in the war-head. I want to ask the Secretary of State for Air how it comes about that we have been out-torpedoed by the Japs with torpedo aircraft. It is heartbreaking to read in the Press and to be told by Lord Beaverbrook that our tanks were out-gunned in Libya. He tells us that our tanks had 2-pounder guns and that the German tanks had 4½-pounder
guns. That is bad enough, but then to learn that we were out-torpedoed by the Japanese in a weapon which we started, makes the old pioneers pretty wild. The First Lord stated in his speech during the Debate on the Navy Estimates that
the experience in the case of the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse" points to the fact that every possible drive has to be put into further equipping ourselves for the development of this form of attack. I have strong views on the question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th February, 1942; col. 382, Vol. 378.]
He can have no stronger views than I have on this subject, and I should like to ask the Secretary of State for Air whether the First Lord has requested him, or the Minister of Aircraft Production, that more efficient and better torpedo aircraft be provided for the use of the Naval Air Service. It is a very important point; if this is not the case, somebody has been negligent, and I ask who it is. I also wish to ask my right hon. Friend whether he is satisfied with the Beaufort aircraft. The Beaufort is a fairly old machine which is now being used to drop torpedoes. Have his technical staff asked for better torpedo machines, and have they been going into that question since the war started? We have the Secretary of State for Air sending out Beaufort machines, and the First Lord of the Admiralty sending up Swordfish machines, which I know to be at least six or seven years old, to attack the "Scharnhorst," "Gneisenau" and "Prinz Eugen"; I think it is a perfect scandal that we have not developed this important arm better, and that we have allowed the Japanese to get away with it.
The Secretary of State may say, "It is all very fine to make these destructive criticisms, but what creative suggestion have you to offer?" Well, like the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), I am going to tread on rather delicate ground. On 6th February, 1936, we debated in this House whether we should set up a Defence Ministry. I moved a Bill, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Mallon (Mr. Lambert) spoke in support of that Measure. Sir Austen Chamberlain spoke in support of setting up a Ministry of Defence. The Prime Minister of that time, Lord Baldwin, appointed Sir Thomas Inskip as the first Co-ordinating Minister of Defence, and he was followed by Lord Chatfield. Soon after the present Prime Minister took office he took on the post of Minister of Defence—he was the first Minister of Defence in this country. I have the greatest admiration for the Prime Minister. I served under him in the last war, and he was most helpful in creating the Royal Navy Air Service. But he cannot go into all these war details. I submit that the Secretary of State for Air should pass it on to the Prime Minister that he should create the post of Deputy-Defence Minister to go into some of these details, and also create an Imperial General Staff of officers with young alert brains who have worked with these new weapons of war, to study not only the technical use of these weapons but higher strategy, and advise him as Minister of Defence on the main problems of tactics and strategy.
I always bow to the Ruling of the Chair, but, with great deference, may I point out that I was trying to indicate that someone is wanted to co-ordinate the work of the three Fighting Services? We must have someone to do it. I want to see him working night and day, with a staff of young officers with alert brains of exactly the same type as we had in the Royal Navy Air Service in the last war. They were fine thinkers, and they produced some of these new weapons. If we could get these people to work hard and give the best possible advice to the Minister of Defence, the Prime Minister could bring these questions before the Cabinet, who could take them or leave them. I am quite certain that the proper co-ordination between our three Fighting Services is the key to victory, and the sooner we understand that the better. I submit my few remarks to the Secretary of State for Air, and I hope that he will pass them on to the Prime Minister.
I take the view that it is a great mistake that these Service Estimates should now be debated in Public Session. It seems to me that little can be said by the Secretary of State for Air or by anyone taking part in the Debate which is not either helpful to the enemy or boring to the House. I wish the Secretary of State for Air, who made a brilliant speech under great limitations, would report to the Prime Minister the desire that we should not debate these very intimate matters in public. For that reason I shall try to avoid saying anything which may be of use to the enemy. The hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) said a number of things and, however much they may have wanted saying, I think it was a pity they were put in such a form that they would be conveyed to the enemy. All these matters of policy, of bombing strategy, and of the role of the various branches of the Air Force can properly be debated in private, but can only be most helpful to the enemy when they are debated in public.
I was delighted with the remarks of the Secretary of State for Air about longdistance bombing. It is most significant that at the moment when first he is outnumbered in the air and deeply engaged on a second front the Boche should put it about that night bombing is a waste of time. I am very glad my right hon. Friend gave the assurance that we are going to use our new and numerous heavy bombers to the full effect, and where they will most hurt the Boche. I am sorry that the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) has left the Chamber, because I wanted to say a word about the speech he made on the Navy Estimates. I beg leave to differ very sincerely from his views about the employment of aircraft in the Navy and his demand for splitting up the Royal Air Force. Again, I think this is a subject which should not be discussed in public. I agree very strongly with the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) in wishing that we had, what I have been pressing for in this House for something like eight years, a proper Joint General Staff to work out these problems. Why is it that such as the hon. and gallant Member for North Portsmouth and myself are in continuous opposition in this House on this very important strategic point? It is simply because there is no independent Joint Staff with all the available data to work out these problems. No doubt, there are needs for minor evolutionary adjustments between the three Services which can be met, but let them be made on the recommendation of a proper thinking machine and not on the clamour of this House. We Members must be inadequately informed, and we must be obsolescent, if not obsolete.
I deplore the present tendency which is steadily creeping in of naming individual performers otherwise than in the "Official Gazette." It is a most harmful system. In the last war the Bodies and the French followed this practice. They created individual heroes and star squadrons, with the net result that they got a few very good squadrons and depreciated the whole currency of the rest of their air forces. I suppose it is because of the era of vulgar publicity in which we live that this demand is made and is yielded to. I hope the tendency will be checked. It is deleterious to the individual. We knew cases in the last war of first-class pilots whose heads were turned when they had made a few scores. Their reports became unreliable. They became over-optimistic, and the others were discouraged. It leads to another disadvantage. One day, say, an Australian is boosted in the Press, and the next day a Canadian. Then comes a demand for a Britisher, and it goes on until someone says, "We have some magnificent free Finns. None of them has been mentioned." Something of the sort actually happened in the last war in the Army. I hope this Press pressure will be resisted. Modern air war is largely a matter of teamwork and not individual work, and teamwork is harmed by individual naming. Of course, when it comes to the award of decorations it is a totally different thing. The whole country has been thrilled at some of the exploits which have been recorded, but let it come in the "Gazette." I may, in saying this, appear to be emulating Colonel Blimp, but at least Colonel Blimp was in the habit of winning his wars, which the "new school knickers" are not always in the habit of doing.
I should very much like the Minister to tell us how many welfare officers and subordinate Press officers are employed in the Air Force in squadrons and other lower formations. I hope the Air Force will not follow the Army example. The Army is encrusted with these useless individuals. A commanding officer who is worth his salt looks after his men's welfare, and, if he does not, he ought not to be a commanding officer. There are far too many of these people about, and many of them are men of fighting age. Let them either be in formations or in civilian clothes. Why should they masquerade as operative Air Force officers when they are not? I hope Members of the House will be sternly discouraged from this sort of occupation, and I apply that to Members of the House of Lords, too. There are, of course, specialised jobs which Members of either House may be well qualified to perform, but I am talking about officers attached to comparatively junior formations.
I hope that the Under-Secretary will say something about Sir Robert Brooke-Popham. There were no grounds whatever for the aspersions cast upon him by one peculiarly ill-qualified individual. There has been too much tendency in the war already for politicians to shelter themselves behind serving officers, and I hope we shall be told quite definitely that, whoever was to blame for the Singapore misfortune, no blame attaches to that distinguished and devoted public servant.
The Secretary of State has given us an eloquent account of the exploits and doings of the Royal Air Force, and I am sure there is not one of us who would not desire to do everything we can to make clear our profound admiration for all that they are doing, and no one would say a word in any sort of criticism which would discourage them in the dangerous tasks which they have to pursue by day and by night. My right hon. Friend made some reference to the inquiry now taking place into the escape of the "Scharnhorst" and the "Gneisenau". I hope that, when the report has come into the hands of the Government and been studied, there will be some public statement made on the subject. It may be that the whole report is not suitable for publication, but there are profound in-terest and anxiety in the country on the subject, and there are all sorts of rumours abroad. All manner of interests are affected, and I think it will not be possible for the matter to be merely dismissed sub silentio. One question that people are asking is this: It is noted that there was a posthumous award of the Victoria Cross to Squadron Leader Esmonde for "serenely challenging hopeless odds". The question is being asked. Why was he asked to challenge hopeless odds? That is a legitimate question in which the country will be profoundly interested, and I hope that from that point of view the Government will consider making some statement.
I think we all realise that this war is primarily dominated by air supremacy. The Battle of Britain was won by the Air Force, and in Crete, Greece and Singapore we lost because we had not' got supremacy of the air. I very much regret the reappearance of the controversy which crops up from time to time with regard to the independence of the Royal Air Force. We do not hear suggestions for abolishing the Navy or the Army or dividing them up. I suppose it is done with reference to the Air Force because it is a new and junior Service. There might be a good deal to be said for the Air Force taking over part of the Army. Certainly the aerial defence of Great Britain, the searchlights, gun-sites and that sort of thing, which are now under Air Force operational control, should be brought in as part of the Royal Air Force. So far from the Royal Air Force giving up part of its functions, I should have thought that it might quite well absorb parts of the War Office. We have only to ask ourselves what chance the Air Force would have had of becoming the sort of thing it is now if it had been maintained under the Army. It is obvious that we should have had practically nothing worth speaking of.
It is true that there is friction between the Services, which unfortunately appears from time to time, but we have to bear in mind that there is such a thing as friction inside the Services. I have heard it suggested on occasion that intra-Service friction is sometimes greater than that which takes place between the Services. It could be obviated by supreme control by the Minister of Defence. It is his duty and the duty of his Staff to see that proper interlocking and co-ordination take place between the three Services at every stage. My hon. Friend the junior Member for Cambridge University (Professor Hill) put it very well the other day when he suggested that this matter required the full-time attention of a technical section of a combined General Staff. Other hon. Members in this Debate have referred to the question of a suitable Staff being provided to see that the sort of questions we are discussing no longer come into public controversy.
May I say a word in reference to the co-operation of the Royal Air Force with the Navy and the Army? The Air Force have bombed a large number of naval targets at the request of the Admiralty. I imagine that the Air Force are not at liberty to pick whatever targets they like. It is a matter of high strategy, and I imagine they are told what targets have priority at a particular time. In that way they have done a great deal of bombing of naval targets. Then there is work which is perhaps not nearly so well known as it should be, the work done by Fighter Command in helping the Navy with regard to shipping. I understand it often happens that as much as 50 to 75 per cent, of the air sorties are used for the purpose of helping the Navy in connection with shipping. That deserves recognition and to be better known. With regard to the work of Coastal Command, as it is operationally in control of the Navy the question whether it is satisfactorily done or not is one with which the Air Force are not concerned. We ought to bear in mind in connection with the proposals that are now being made for taking away sections of the Air Force and handing them over to the Navy, that if the Navy controlled all the shore-based aircraft, they would control something like 70 per cent, of the whole of the Royal Air Force—a very serious figure. It seems to me a question of proper coordination and control from on high, and the question of handing over parts from one Service to another really ought not to arise.
We know the magnificent part that has been played in Libya by the Royal Air Force in co-operation with the Army. Through command of the air the Air Force have been able to render enormous service in the battles there. In fact, they could not have proceeded without that superiority. Reference has been made to dive bombers. I understand that the German dive bomber, Ju 87, an obsolescent machine, needs fighter protection and is very good when dealing with poorly trained demoralised troops. It is very vulnerable when dealing with trained defenders and is very much subject to fighter attack. We have gone on other lines. We have concentrated on Hurricanes, bombers and cannon fighters, and we have been doing the same job in our own way, which is more modern and more efficient. The Secretary of State alluded to the dive bombers that are now coming over here, but I think it is a mistake to go mad about the dive bomber and to suggest that it is the supreme weapon which we ought to have. It has grave disadvantages, and there are other ways, which we have pursued, of obtaining the same result.
Reference has been made and no doubt will be made in the course of the Debate, to the policy of heavy bombing. The only thing I have to complain about is that there has not been nearly enough of it. It is clearly the right policy and ought to be pursued with the utmost vigour. I was delighted to hear the remarks by my right hon. Friend on this subject to-day. There has been a great deal of disquietude and disappointment in the public mind owing to the events of the last few months. Towards the end of the summer we were told by various Ministers of the stupendous attacks that were to be made in the near future on Germany, and we were waiting for the results. The Prime Minister referred only the other day to our ever-increasing offensive. So far, however, from it having been ever-increasing, it has been ever-decreasing since that period last summer when the Germans made their attack on Russia and the Royal Air Force put up a magnificent second front. It went on for about three months, but during the whole of the winter, for causes explained to-day, we have been able to do very little. These causes may justify the inaction, but what is not justified is the optimism of Ministers in forecasting events which have not taken place. I hope that my right hon. Friend will be very cautious in holding out hopes to the public which cannot be realised. I was delighted to hear of the raid last night on the Paris factories. It is about time that sort of thing was done. Wherever people are doing the work of the enemy, they ought to be dealt with in that way.
I hope, by the way, that the Ministry, in their communiqués, will not give so much prominence in future to what we call nursery slope activities, raids which are done we understand for practice purposes and have no operational value as regards the enemy, because they are giving a false impression of what we actually are doing. In this connection I do not know how many months it is, but it must be at least six months, since there was an attack upon Berlin. I hope that under the policy which is now becoming possible we shall hear before very long that heavy raids have taken place on Berlin. The mere fact that the Germans have been putting out propaganda in the last week or so to the effect that bombing is useless and they do not intend to go in for it themselves shows how much they fear it, and how anxious they are that, by whatever means, we should be deterred from going on with it. But we ought to be quite clear what bombing can do and cannot do. At night, and from great heights, it cannot, except by a great stroke of luck, hit small and precise targets, but it can do immense destruction over wide areas and can play an essential part in winning the war. Furthermore, it can destroy the morale of the people of Germany, it can prevent them sleeping. We have only to read the account given by Mr. Shirer in "My Berlin Diary" of his own experience of the British raids when he was in Berlin and the effect they had on the Germans to see the great value of this policy if thoroughly and effectively carried out.
Some Members of this House have had opportunities during the last few months of visiting some of our bombing squadrons. I found it a most impressive, indeed, a most moving, experience. Those young fellows, in the early twenties, go out with their heavy bomb loads as though they were going on a motor cycle ride. That is the spirit. They come back in the same spirit. I hope that nothing will be said here to discourage them by making them think they are not doing work of the greatest importance. Also, I hope that, whatever happens after the war, we shall never let those young fellows down.
To turn for a moment to a rather smaller matter, I would ask my right hon. and gallant Friend to deal with the question of training machines. It seems rather curious that when the monoplane has been adopted for all operational purposes not only in this country but almost everywhere abroad, and is used very largely for the later stages of training, that when airmen first learn to fly they should be trained on biplanes, Tiger Moths. It obviously delays their training, because the two types of machines are different in many ways. It is the case, I believe, that some time ago a prototype Magister was got out which had flaps and brakes and various other things which would be useful in the training of those who will later have experience of larger machines. I should like to know why we are still using biplanes and have not proceeded with that prototype. I hope the Air Ministry have it in mind to develop training upon the lines I have suggested. Another small point I wish to make is that I find there is difficulty in civilian controlled units over the question of rations. The men in those units are not allowed to buy from N.A.A.F.I. and the usual Service sources, with the result that their scale of rations is lower than it is in service units. Men who have been for a time at a service station may be transferred to a civilian controlled station, and they find they are put immediately upon a lower standard of rations. I submit that that is wrong and ought to be looked into, and I hope that my right hon. and gallant Friend will take note of it.
Finally, I understand that later there is to be some discussion upon civil aviation. All I want to say about that is that I hope that when this war is over we shall look at things from a different point of view both in the realm of civil and service flying. I hope that on the service side we shall have an international air police force. We have the beginnings of one now. We have the gallant Poles, Czechs, Free French and others fighting in the British International Air Force. Let us keep that for ever. I hope also that civil aviation will be developed on international lines, so that this wonderful invention of the human mind will be used for the happiness of mankind in future and not for its destruction.
There has lately been, not so much in this House, although there have been dim echoes of it here, as outside, what the Secretary of State rightly described in his illuminating and interesting speech as a mischievous agitation. That is the agita- tion which tends, and I say tends deliberately, to the disruption of the Air Force and the transfer of some of its most important functions to the other Services. On account of the great importance of this subject to the nation and to the Services concerned, I think it worth while to submit the ideas that underlie this controversy to close and critical, although it must be brief, examination. The fundamental reason of the controversy is the experience, repeated, alas, with lamentable frequency, by British Forces in the field of inadequate support from the air. In consequence there has arisen a demand which is somewhat crudely, perhaps, though not inaccurately expressed as the demand that the Army shall have its own Air Arm. I believe that the Army does not really want its own Air Arm. What the Army wants is more air support: and the two things are quite different. In a notable despatch sent by the special correspondent of the "Times" from Batavia and published in the issue of 18th February, he said, "Give us air support" was the constant cry of our men at Singapore. That is what the British Army demands—air support. Not its own Air Force: that, I utterly oppose.
I do not mean that we must not have an organisation which ensures the closest unity between the Royal Air Force and the Army; and if we have not yet got it, we must get it. But I say that aircraft supporting military operations must constitute an integral part of the Royal Air Force and must remain under the command of officers of the Royal Air Force. The reason of this principle—and I suggest that the reason is fundamental—is this. The air is a separate element, as the sea is and as the land is. It has its own character and its own high fascination for those who fly in it. It imposes its own conditions upon those who use it. And therefore no one can understand the business of fighting in the air and the use of aircraft in battle quite so well as those who are accustomed to use it as their chosen element.
If the whole principle of the autonomy of the Air Service is put in issue, as it is by this controversy, I suggest that it is justified by the reason that there are important air operations which have no necessary tactical connection with the operations of fleets and armies. Logic and common sense alike demand, on account of the absence of this connection, that they should be carried out by an independent Air Force. Let me give first an example of defensive operations. The best is the so-called Battle of Britain, the attack by the German Air Force on these islands in the autumn of 1940. That attack was certainly intended to be the first stage in the whole process of invasion; and had it succeeded, movements of fleets and armies would have followed. But it did not succeed, so no such operations followed. It was an operation complete in itself. It had a character all its own. It was solely a battle between air forces. In its very nature, it was independent of the operations of fleets and armies. Certainly no organisation could be so good as one which entrusted the conduct of that baffle to the charge of the competent branch of an independent air force. Let me give another example,—one of offensive operations, and one of which we have heard a good deal to-day. I mean the attack—more than an attack, rather a long-sustained campaign—carried on by Bomber Command against targets in hostile territory and in France. These are examples of such independent operations as I have described, and I say that they are the justification of the independance of the Air Force.
Now there are other air operations which have the closest connection with the operations of fleets and armies: and these demand the closest unity, the closest co-operation between the Services. I do not intend to say anything about the relationship between the Air Force and the Navy, but I wish to say something upon the relations between the Air Force and the Army. There must be the closest unity and co-operation between these two Services. Have we yet secured that nature and degree of co-operation, that unity, which we require? It cannot be said that we have. There is a practical point which I should like to mention under this head before I go on with the main argument. It is that the extent of co-operation that can be developed between the Royal Air Force and the Army depends very much upon the quantity of aircraft that are available: upon the supplies of aircraft. One of our great difficulties hitherto has been that we simply have not had enough aircraft, of different types, to put into practise the co-operation that we require between the two Services. How can we expect satisfactory co-operation without a sufficient supply of all the required types of aircraft necessary to the training of the personnel involved, and to operations as well?
Now I wish to say a word about the Army Co-operation Command. I was very much interested to hear what the Secretary of State had to say upon this matter, and some of it seemed like on intelligent anticipation of questions which I proposed to put. The House would be interested to know what really is happening in the Army Co-operation Command, and I should be glad, and have no doubt other hon. Members would also be pleased, if the Minister who replies to the Debate could say a little more upon this subject. Is he satisfied that the Army Co-operation Command is really performing the function for which it was intended? In any case, what originally was intended to be its function? Was it intended to be limited to tactical reconnaissance; or was it to include all air operations required by an army in the field? Surely no less than this function is suggested by the very description of the Command itself. And if the function of the Command is nothing less than the execution of all the operations required by a British field force, then to discharge that function the Command requires not merely reconnaissance aircraft but fighter aircraft and light and medium bombers, to say nothing of other types. Does this Command dispose, and was it intended to dispose, of those types? Does it dispose of them to-day in sufficient quantity, and if it does not, can something be said of the reason why it does not?
The organisation of the Royal Air Force rests upon the basis of function. That organisation has produced very excellent results. Probably without it we should not have had that high concentration of effort which has produced those results. It is the high concentration of effort upon the training of pilots and air crews, upon research, and upon the development of particular types of aircraft, that has produced in our Fighter and Bomber Commands the best fighter and bomber forces in the world. It is that concentration of effort that has given us what we have throughout this war always maintained: technical superiority—it may be by only a slight margin, but nevertheless we have maintained it—technical superiority over our enemies. I cannot, however, help thinking that the very success and efficiency of the Fighter and Bomber Commands carries its own danger: and that is the development of a too departmental attitude of mind within the Air Force itself. In these islands we have been chiefly preoccupied, through the necessities of our situation and the facts of geography, with two things: the offensive campaign carried on by Bomber Command, and the defensive battle fought by Fighter Command in the autumn of 1940. It may be that we shall now have to carry out some re-orientation of our general view. I cannot but think that by the circumstances I have mentioned too rigid a pattern has been imposed upon the organisation of our Air Force and upon our own thinking on these matters. What, I suggest to the House, is required is a more flexible organisation of the Royal Air Force which will at all times permit the more easy and rapid combination of reconnaissance, bomber and fighter aircraft, and whatever other types of aircraft are required, whether for operations independent of the movements of fleets or armies or for operations dependent upon them.
In conclusion, I wish to say that in spite of what has been done—and something, certainly, has already been done—I am convinced that to-day the Army and the Air Force know far too little of each other. I think that co-operation is better at the lower levels than at the higher. The House was much interested to hear from the Secretary of State of the arrangements that are now being made in the reception centres which he mentioned, to communicate to the younger Air Force pilots and members of crews a greater knowledge of the affairs of the other Services. That is admirable, and I was delighted to hear it. But I hope that this principle will be extended higher, because as I have just said I consider that cooperation at present is more satisfactory at the lower levels than at the higher. I hope the principle will be extended, because I believe that it is particularly the staffs of the Royal Air Force and of the Army which need to be brought into closer union, and it is particularly in the staff work of the two Services that closer integration is required. Finally, the suc- cessful combination of air and land operations depends to-day still far too much upon personal considerations. It depends ultimately too much upon the personal relationship existing between the Commanding Officers. I think that is wrong. It should not depend upon personal relationships: it should be secured by the system of command. I hope that these problems will receive the serious attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air and His Majesty's Government.
I am most grateful for this opportunity of addressing the House to-day, because I wish to go further into this all-important matter of co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Army. For that reason I am delighted to follow my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Emmott), who made some extremely sound remarks on the subject. In 1939 we started a race with the great German people. We have had many races before, but if we do not win this one, we shall have no more. We made a very bad start. The pistol went off when we were looking the other way, but I have no doubt of our ability to catch up provided that we concentrate on the race, and nothing else, and strain every sinew and every nerve to the uttermost. There are some things which are beyond our control. There are a few matters which we cannot improve, but when I come across conditions and organisations which could be greatly stimulated and usefully adjusted, and yet find that the only steps taken are steps sideway rather than forward, I must confess that I find myself filled with an almost irresistible desire to get behind the responsible Department of State with a heavy boot.
This question of co-operation between the Army and the Royal Air Force is one for which no particular Department is solely responsible. However, it has recently become a matter of much public speculation, of many speeches, and of not a little criticism. I make no apology for pursuing the matter further, because having been for some considerable time a personal eye-witness of what is at present known as Army Co-operation, I am definitely of the opinion not only that something must be done, but that it is vital to all future land operations whether on our own nation's soil or in any other arena of warfare, that something drastic should be done without delay. The last time I ventured to bring this subject before the House of Commons, I said that I thought the present system of cooperation might have to be completely reorganised. This time I would go further, and say I am absolutely certain that that is necessary. The first thing to be changed must be our whole conception of co-operation. We must cease to regard the Army and the Royal Air Force as different species of individuals, as independent entities, and we must look upon these two sister Services as complementary and inter-dependent components of a perfectly co-ordinated precision machine.
I have heard it expressed in many quarters, and recently in this House in a speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), in a most forceful and constructive speech, that the Army should have their own air arm. Like my hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey, I cannot subscribe to that view. I believe that the administrative and technical difficulties at this particular moment would be insuperable. Apart from this factor, we must consider the morale of the personnel who would have to change their Service, and this is a matter which is only too apt to be overlooked in newspaper articles and in public speeches. Even if this were not so, I myself hold that it is fundamentally unsound, as a matter of policy, to lock up a certain proportion of our aircraft and flying personnel only for the use of the Army. The men and women of this country demand, as indeed do the conditions of modern warfare, that never again shall our Army go into action except when completely supported by all branches of the Royal Air Force. The Army needs fighter cover, bombing support on the field of battle and on enemy lines of communication, it needs reconnaissance, it needs ground strafing, and it also needs supply and troop carriers. It is my belief that no Army air arm that we could conjure into existence at the present moment, our national resources and man-power being what they are, could possibly meet these demands. The Royal Air Force, on the other hand, can and will fulfil those functions; as the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State told us in his remarks when opening the Debate, they are doing so with unqualified success in Libya at the present time.
Rather, then, must we weld these two Services into closer co-operation as a whole. I have often heard the R.A.F. criticised for the part they played at Dunkirk, in Greece, and in Crete. It was not a lack of desire on the part of the R.A.F. to co-operate at those times, but a lack of equipment and personnel on the spot, which has given rise to such a derogatory conception. What does exist between the two Services is lack of understanding and of knowledge one of the other. For some time, I shared a billet with a wing commander. Each morning we walked down to our aerodrome together. On the way we had to pass an infantry training centre. As the wing commander, as the senior officer, was taking the salute from soldiers, he said to me one morning, "It is so nice to live with you; before you came, not one of those men saluted me. It is not me they are saluting, but you." As we passed the officers, I noticed they did not salute. They did not know what a wing commander was. I do not know how much time hon. Members have, under the stress of war conditions, to visit public houses, but it is not an infrequent relaxation in the Services. If only hon. Members were to accompany me on one of these harmless expeditions, they would notice a definite line of demarcation between men of the R.A.F. drinking and what are known to them as the Brown Jobs. This is the sort of thing that should be eradicated without delay. It is an essential preliminary to real co-operation.
Fighter cover and ground strafing can be provided by Fighter Command. Bombing support and troop carriers can be supplied by Bomber Command. That leaves only the very essential reconnaissance, which has been the prime function of the so-called Army Co-operation Command since it came into being in 1940. Its birth was a political compromise, as a result of public clamour. It was thought then, and is still, unfortunately, held by those who do not know, that a very specialised highly trained pilot is needed for this function. That may have been so once, but, with our new methods— into which I do not intend to go, for security's sake—this is not so now. Any fighter pilot who has been trained to read a map can carry out these jobs. Yet we have these splendid, but frustrated, pilots locked away on non-operational work in a Command, which, because of its non-operational character, enjoys the lowest priority in all matters. I submit to this House that these squadrons and their pilots, some of the flower of our airmen, should be granted full operational status during the periods when they are not training with the Army. The result would be an immediate increase in the striking power of the R.A.F., and operationally-trained squadrons when eventually they do co-operate with our land forces in action. For long enough has so-called Army co-operation been the Cinderella of the R.A.F.
About a year ago I secured an interview with a high official in the War Office—not, I may say, my right hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Rugby (Captain Margesson), who did everything in his power when he was at the War Office. I put my misgivings on this matter in front of this official. I was told that the War Office were most concerned, and that at the earliest opportunity the whole problem would be studied, but that at the moment the A.T.S. were being reorganised. Nobody has a greater admiration for the A.T.S., or for any other of the women's Services, than I have. I only cite this as an instance of the lack of realisation of the urgency of the matter. Anyway, nothing happened. My next step was to obtain an interview with another official, of even greater importance, whose name was a by-word for ruthless energy and organising ability but who was outside the Service Ministries. On that occasion I was given to understand that the whole problem was being thrashed out, and that we might expect a definite change in the near future. I went away feeling a little less disillusioned. Still nothing happened. Then in June last year the Prime Minister gave an undertaking in this House that something would be done. Quite frankly, I have noticed no difference.
Since then, I have been most courteously received by the Secretary of State for Air, to whom I submitted an idea which, I with many other officers in my particular command, believe would take us a long way on the road that we all desire to travel. I believe the right hon. Gentleman when he tells me that something will be done, and I am elated by his obvious desire to improve matters.
I am equally delighted, as I think every officer in the R.A.F. will be, with his remarks to-day. But I beg him to lay this whole matter of co-operation between the Army and the Royal Air Force before the highest authorities without delay. One final condition I believe to be absolutely essential to perfect co-operation in any arena of warfare—even in this country, which may be attacked any moment—and that is the immediate appointment of a supreme commander of all Forces. That is extremely important, and I should be very pleased indeed if something was said about that when the right hon. and gallant Gentleman replies to this Debate. We cannot go on patching an old boot. If we are to win this war we must have something far bolder and far better than the present apology for Army co-operation, and we must have it now.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering (Captain Profumo) has made a most interesting and constructive speech. I shall attempt to reinforce, very briefly, some of the points he has made. The House is indebted to the Secretary of State for the eloquent speech he has made, and for the comprehensive review he gave of the work and achievements of the R.A.F. in the last 12 months; but, quite frankly, I found myself in agreement with the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) when he said that the speech of the Secretary of State suffered from an undue degree of optimism in some respects and bore too deeply the imprint of his Department. Certainly, there is no tribute we can pay to the courage of the pilots and other personnel of our aircraft that would be too high. We should never forget the conditions of numerical disadvantage in which only too often they have had to face the enemy in theatres of war overseas. There is a heavy responsibility on Members of this House to ensure that the lives of these men are not risked in vain, and that they are supported with the very finest equipment and material that can be provided. Certain information which reaches one gives rise to doubt whether in all cases we are doing all that can be done in that respect. I want to raise one or two minor points which have been brought to my attention. There is the matter of transport at certain stations in this country.
I understand that there is a very definite shortage of transport in certain cases and that this falls very hardly upon officers and air crews who happen to be billeted out some distance from an aerodrome. There have been instances of pilots who have returned after long operational nights tired out, often very late at night, and then have found that they are kept waiting for very long periods before they can get to bed. I would ask the Secretary of State to look into this point and see whether something can be done to meet the position where these shortages exist.
There is another matter which has also been raised by the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), and that is with regard to the provision of equipment and spare parts. I have in mind one particular instance that has been brought to my attention where these deficiencies have arisen at a station overseas. I understand that pilots passing through that station have experienced great inconvenience and many difficulties and that it has led to much delay and to great loss of time, and there has been very severe adverse criticism, in particular by Dominion pilots who have passed through this station. I have communicated with the Secretary of State on this matter, and I hope that he will be able to give some assurance that the matter has been looked into and that these deficiencies have been made good.
The Secretary of State very rightly devoted a considerable portion of his speech to the all-important question of the relationship of the Royal Air Force with the other two Services and to the criticisms that have recently been voiced of the arrangements that at present exist in securing the necessary degree of cooperation between the three Services. I do not think at all that these criticisms and misgivings are groundless, and I could not agree more wholeheartedly with the speech which was made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettaring (Captain Profumo). Nevertheless, I would like to reinforce what has already been said in this Debate. There seems to be rather a tendency to ignore the great achievements and the brilliant successes that the R.A.F. has to its credit as a separate Fighting Service. Whatever difficulties there may be and whatever room there may be for improvement, let us never forget that the successful defence of this country and the great victories in the autumn of 1940 were due in no small measure to the policy of creating and building up a separate Air Force as we know it to-day. I am confident that it would be supreme folly at this time to question that main principle and to embark upon any policy that meant detaching units of the Royal Air Force and making them part of another Service.
However, I do not think there is any room for complacency or satisfaction with things as they are and there would, in many directions, appear to be a great deal of justification for the misgivings that are felt and for the views that have been expressed in the House to-day. From my own experience earlier in the war in the anti-aircraft defences of this country, I know something of the-difficulties that exist in practice when it comes to securing really effective co-operation between two separate Services, wearing different uniforms. However good in theory may be the organisation that has been set up, I would like to offer this as my own personal opinion, and I know that it is an opinion which is shared by many senior officers of both Services, certainly in the Army and the Air Force—that the difficulties that exist are more often to be found lower down than at the top. At the top, effective machinery for securing co-operation exists and usually works smoothly in practice, probably because personal contacts at that point are easier, but lower down, too often, we find a certain amount of pettiness and inter-Service jealously, and perhaps the reason for that is that communications are often not so good at those levels and take a great deal longer. Much inevitably depends upon personalities and the contacts that are developed, and it is in the lower levels and at lower headquarters that improvements might be made, and it is from that angle that the question should be most closely scrutinised and inquired into. There is another point I would like to make in that connection. Where close co-operation is necessary and is possible, it is an enormous advantage if joint headquarters can be established. That point has recently been put to me very forcibly by a distinguished senior officer of great experience in the Army who has recently returned from abroad. I put that point as strongly as I can to the Secretary of State for his consideration.
Lastly, there is the question that has been raised of bombing policy. I feel that Members of this House should voice opinions on this question with some restraint. There must be a mass of information which is not available to us and without which it would really be a presumption to offer very definite opinions, but there are certain facts which seem incontrovertible and which emerge from our experiences since the beginning of the war. In the first place, I believe that in very heavily defended areas accurate bombing of selected targets has become practically an impossibility, and I hope that pilots in future will not be ordered to risk their lives in making these attempts; the Germans have certainly never done so. That in itself is certainly no condemnation of bombing policy. There is always to be considered the moral effect and further the enormous immobilisation of man-power that bombing or the threat of bombing holds over a whole country. I believe that bombing should be both more ruthless and more concentrated within the limits of our capacity and our resources.
There is a second point which seems to emerge from our experiences of the war, and that is the supreme importance of the fighter above any other weapon in the conduct of warlike operations. The importance of the fighter and of the fighter-bomber can be judged by the fact that every disaster we have suffered in this war has been due to our lack of fighters and to our lack of ability to provide cover both for our land forces and for our ships. When we consider the cost of the heavy bomber and the expenditure of man-hours in producing it, its vulnerability and the heavy loss in skilled personnel, when a heavy bomber becomes a casualty, I question whether we are sufficiently adapting our ratio of production at the present time as between the fighter and the long-range heavy bomber. I understand from officers in the Air Force that there have been recent developments in the utilisation of the fighter for purely offensive purposes and that great successes have been achieved by the provision of certain equipment. I suggest that that is a development that should be pursued to the utmost of our capacity.
I shall not occupy the time of the House any further, but I would ask the Minister to take these points into account. We are engaged to-day in a life and death struggle; we are living in a great and heroic age. Deeds of valour are being carried out daily on land, sea and in the air, and when the full story of these days comes to be written it will be difficult to do justice to the matchless courage and heroism of the men of the Royal Air Force. They have already won laurels that will never tarnish.
It is very gratifying to me to return to the House after an absence of two-and-a-half years with the Royal Air Force—with the exception of a few sporadic visits for Divisions—and to find such universal acclamation for the Service for which I have formed a very great and deep affection. It was rather a shock to me when I attended a Debate the other day on the Navy Estimates, to find the hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir R. Keyes) standing up and demanding in his very persuasive manner that Coastal Command should be handed over to the Royal Navy. My experience of the Royal Air Force, in both Bomber and Fighter Commands, is that there has always been the closest feeling of affection—if I may put it as strongly as that —between the Air Force and the Navy. For my own part, the fighter squadron I formed in 1939 became operational very early in 1940, and five minutes after it was passed out operational its very first operational flight was in co-operation with the Navy. All the time I was in Fighter Command there was close and intimate co-operation with the Navy, and very good feeling. In fact, my own squadron trained some Fleet Air Arm pilots and was sorry indeed when they were called back to their own Service.
As regards the Army, I confess that I have a good deal of sympathy with the excellent speech made by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering (Captain Profumo). I do not think we have the same co-operation and intimate feeling between the Air Force and the Army as exists between the Air Force and the Navy. I have often tried to fathom the reason. I served in the Army in the last war, and I have a natural affection for the Army. I understand their feelings. At the Air Force stations where I have been there was always a certain restraint, shall we say, between the Army and the Air Force. I do not know who is responsible. I never could make it out, but I often felt rather sorry for the few Army ground types, as they were called, when they were in station messes and were being chaffed all the time because they belonged to another Service. I think something should be done—I do not know what—to try and bring about a better feeling between these two Services, because, obviously, they must work closely together.
I would like to put a question which has already been put by two or three Members about the Army Co-operational Command. I anticipated before the war started that this controversy would arise. The controversy about the Army having its own Air Force arose in 1938. I thought this sort of thing would happen in the middle of a war, and I and others pressed for a decision at that time. We were given a decision that we thought was final, namely, that the Air Force should not be dismembered. A Committee had been set up composed of representatives of the Navy, Army and Air Force, and they had agreed that at that time it would be inadvisable to have a separate Air Force for the Army. Although concessions were made in regard to the Fleet Air Arm and Coastal Command, it was agreed that at that time, so far as the Army was concerned—and I understand high Army authorities approved this decision—no separate Air Force should be brought into being. So, I was rather shocked the other day to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) boast that while he was at the War Office he devoted a lot of his time in trying to get a separate Air Force for the Army. I should have thought that he could have better devoted his energies to providing tanks and other weapons for the Army instead of trying to disunite the Services and create "feeling between them when they were working amicably.
Whatever arguments there may have been for a separate Air Force before the war—and I have a perfectly open mind on it myself—there is no ground whatsoever at the present time for trying to dismember the Service. It would only weaken it and cause complete chaos between the two Services. I agree with my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering that the administrative and technical difficulties would be almost impossible, but there is strong ground for much closer co-operation between the Army and the Air Force. If this Army Co-operational Command, about which we seem to have heard nothing since it was set up, was carrying out its proper functions to-day, you would not have all this clamour about a separate Air Force for the Army. I ask the Minister to find out what is happening, to give some account of the stewardship of Air-Marshal Barratt, to tell us what is happening and what co-operation he is giving to the Army at the present time. I was glad to hear the Air Minister say that bombing operations were to be carried out again over Germany. There again controversy seems to have sprung up; different points of view are expressed about the efficacy of long-range aerial bombing. I am convinced that the war cannot be won by bombing alone, but it cannot be won without bombing and, especially, more bombing of Germany. I think the higher command of the Air Force have been at fault. They have not conducted these bombing operations on the proper lines.
Instead of sending over 300 or 400 planes over Berlin one night and picking a bad night—I do not know whose fault it was last time—and having as many as 37 casualties, which caused a great deal of disquiet and doubt in the minds of the people as to whether this was a sensible operation—instead of doing that and then leaving it alone for months, as they have done, it would have been far better to have sent over half-a-dozen planes every night to Berlin. You do not have to have precision targets. It is not essential. The reports of independent witnesses, like William Shirer, who wrote "Berlin Diary," and who was in Berlin during the whole time we were bombing the city, show that our bombing operations, even when they were on a small scale, had a very detrimental effect upon the morale of the Germans. I would say, with Lord Trenchard, "Keep the sirens going and the people in their shelters," and it is not necessary to use 400 or 500 bombers to do that, for half a dozen might well have the same effect. To send half a dozen night after night would bring far better results than would the sending of 400 or 500 one night and then leaving the attack for four or five months.
There are one or two questions I would like to put to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State to which I have not been able to get answers while I have been in the Service. Perhaps I may be able to get answers now. At a time when there is a crying demand for steel, iron and scrap metal, at a time when the railings round Hyde Park are being torn up—I admit that steel barbed wire is used to replace them—why is it that on every bomber and fighter station that is being built to-day, the Air Ministry Works Department are still putting up enormous hangars, although it is well known that these are no longer used. I urge the Secretary of State to take steps to see that this wasteful expenditure of public funds and labour and material does not go on any longer. At one station on which I was four new hangars were being constructed, and we were told that we would not be allowed to use them. They are simply targets for enemy aircraft when they come, and to find evidence of this, one has only to go to some stations and see the hangars in ruins. Their destruction caused the destruction of other technical buildings that might otherwise have been saved. I should like to make a suggestion with regard to the use of these hangars. There is at the present time great need for factory space; these hangars would make very good factory buildings. Instead of erecting them on stations, I urge that those that have been erected already and are not in use should be pulled down and put up somewhere else where they could be used as factories for the construction of aircraft. The farce goes even further than the construction of hangars. On one station on which I was, they were erecting steel lamp-posts. I admit there was quite a number of dogs on the station, but I do not think it was essential to put up lamp-posts. Deep shelters were also being erected at dispersal points which were supposed to be defended. There is, indeed, a great deal of wasteful expenditure of this kind. The Secretary of State and other Ministers go to these stations and do not seem to notice these things. Perhaps my right hon. Friend will give some consideration to these matters now.
The Secretary of State referred to the employment of psychologists at recruit centres. I admit that psychology is a very important thing, but what is more essential than anything else at the centres is better organisation. There are constant complaints about recruits being rushed in from civil life, arriving after long train journeys at the recruit centres, not being met by anybody from the depot or the recruit centre to which they are supposed to report, having to march long distances, carrying their kits, and then finding on arrival that there is no hot meal for them and that nobody is expecting them. This is bad organisation, it is still going on, and it is not necessary. I had a case not very long ago on the opening up of a new station; we had to try to cope with the accommodation while postings were going on. We implored Records not to send any more men until enough accommodation was available, but in spite of that the men poured in, having come long journeys, arriving in the middle of the night without any warning, and no transport being provided for them. That is something which I deplore, and it is absolutely unnecessary. I urge the Secretary of State to pay some attention to Records, who are responsible for posting the men and the women, and to see that nobody is ever sent to a station without previous notice being given to the new command. If this matter is remedied, there will not be that constant stream of questions in the House, and Members will not have numerous letters complaining about the organisation of the Royal Air Force.
In conclusion, I have been very gratified to find such universal acclamation of the operational personnel of the Royal Air Force. I hope that the question of the dismemberment of the Service is as dead as the dodo after this Debate, because as far as the House is concerned, opinion seems to be unanimous. I hope the question will have been settled for all time. I hope also that the question which was raised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering concerning cooperation between the Operational Command and the Army will receive close attention.
My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has received such excellent advice from so many quarters of the House that I shall be forgiven, perhaps, if I switch from those subjects that have already been debated to the Vote for Educational Services in the Royal Air Force. I do so because it was originally intended, I think, if time permitted, that we should have a discussion on the question of the educational and physical training of the personnel of the Royal Air Force. I do not think the Under-Secretary of State will be surprised at my raising this matter, because, through his courtesy, I had the opportunity some time ago of talking over this question with Air Marshal Babington and the head of the Educational Establishment.
There is a very distinct grievance on the part of the educational officers of the Royal Air Force. For some reason or other, the educational officers in the Royal Air Force and educational officers in the Army or the Navy are treated differently. When these educational officers were invited to apply for commissions in the Royal Air Force, they understood that they were to be pukka mobilised officers in the Royal Air Force. I have looked very carefully at the original letter of invitation, and it seems to me that there is not the slightest doubt that this was the intention expressed in the letter drawn up by the Air Ministry on 13th February, 1939. For some strange reason, which I have not yet been able to understand, in the following October the position was suddenly changed and the educational officers were demobilised. I would point out to the Secretary of State for Air and particularly to the Under-Secretary that there is a feeling these men have been subjected to a really harsh and unwarranted breach of faith, although no doubt the Air Council cannot allow that view to go unchallenged. Because of the treatment they have received, the men put their case in the hands of their own organisation which is recognised by the Ministry. If my information is correct, the officials of that organisation were not allowed to bring the case before the Ministry. I understand that these men then did something which may be wrong from the military or Air Force point of view, although it was a very natural thing to do. They went back to the organisation to which they formerly belonged, namely, the National Union of Teachers, and put all the facts before them. No one who knows anything about educational matters would say that the general secretary of the National Union of Teachers is not a most discerning, able and competent judge—I know he is so regarded by the Board of Education. I believe that he has sent a memorandum to the Air Council stating that in his opinion and in the opinion of his union these people have had very unfair treatment.
I am speaking to-day solely with the idea of removing any friction which may exist in the educational machine under the control of the Air Council. Let me sum up the position in a few sentences. Why does the Air Force adopt a different attitude towards its educational servants or officers from that adopted by the Army and the Navy? You get a sort of hybrid officer, what they call in the Royal Air Force a demobilised officer. He wears the full uniform of his rank, but is treated for purposes of privileges and pay on a civilian basis and is regarded as a civilian.
That does not alter my argument. Why cannot they wear their uniforms in the same way and under the same conditions as any other officer? Why should there be a differentiation between men who are R.A.F. dentists or physical instructors and those who are teachers? When I interviewed the Chief Education Officer I felt sure that he realised the injustice which had been meted out to these men who were suddenly put on a demobilised basis. I had hoped that after my intervention the Air Council would reconsider the whole matter, and would treat these teachers on the same basis as other professional men who joined the Air Force. I am asking now that the door should not be closed, and I hope that the question is being reconsidered, so that these men may be put on a mobilised basis. I cannot see why this should not be done in the case of these professional men who are in a position of great responsibility, in training the personnel of the Royal Air Force. Why should they be demobilised or, if I may put it that way, degraded, because that is how they feel about it? I suppose there are something like 800 of these men, many of whom have high degrees, but in spite of their qualifications they are specially marked out and degraded in the manner I have described. I should like an answer one way or another to the question I have raised.
When I entered the Chamber half-an-hour ago I had no intention of intervening in this Debate, and, therefore, I am not at the disadvantage of having copious notes with which to detain the House. Furthermore a great deal of what I have been thinking has already been said by the hon. and. gallant Member for Kettering (Captain Profumo). I wish to draw the attention of the Secretary of State for Air to the feeling in the country and in the Army on this question of air co-operation. It was said by the hon. and gallant Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) that the unanimity of opinion shown on this matter in the House had led him to believe that this question was buried for ever. I can assure the House there is no such unanimity of opinion outside this House or in the Army. I would suggest to the Secretary of State that if he would get together with his opposite number in the War Office and decide on a method of solving this question it might then be buried for ever.
To my mind it is not a question of cooperation or even integration. What is required is that any army engaged on any operation should have its own aeroplanes regardless of whether these are to be considered as co-operating or as an integral part of that army. We are given to understand that there are plenty of aeroplanes and a large personnel at the disposal of the country, and it is essential that no army should ever operate again without an air support which is under the command of the army commander. It is not a question of co-operation. What is required is unity of command. It is often said that the Germans themselves do not use that method, because the aeroplanes that they use in support of their army operation's in fact belong to the Luftwaffe. That may be true, but there can be no doubt that they operate under the command of the army commander who is carrying out the operation in question.
It is almost sacrilege to criticise the Royal Air Force in any way because they rightly acquired a reputation when they saved us from disaster in 1940. But the Air Ministry have no right to hide behind a reputation which was acquired not by the Air Ministry but by the men who fought in that action. Too often we are fobbed off by being told, "You must not criticise the Royal Air Force. Remember what they did for us." We shall never forget it, but as I say it was not carried out by the people at the Air Ministry, and I am asking that the Air Ministry should consider this question and that cooperation should be established between the Air Ministry and the War Office. The inevitable result which follows from the use of two different Services in land operations is that the command is divided. It has been said that that difficulty has been overcome in the Libyan campaign, but one rather doubts to what extent it has been overcome because, while it is apparent that there is closer co-operation between the land forces and the air forces there, there is still an absence of this unity of command. The army commander must be able to dispose of the aircraft himself. The criticism that is often made of that suggestion is that army commanders have no air experience and would not know how to use aeroplanes if they had them. I do not know why that should be said, because it has never yet been tried, and if it were tried, at least one would know where the responsibility lay and it would be possible to decide whether the army commander or the air officer commanding was responsible for any failure that took place. At the moment we never arrive at any satisfactory solution because, when any failure takes place, each is likely to blame the other.
Perhaps I might give one or two examples of what is being said with regard to this lack of co-operation. It has been said that in the campaign in Libya difficulties have been caused by the not unnatural independent-mindedness of the personnel of the Royal Air Force. They are asked to co-operate in an action, and in the course of it they are inclined to go off on little side actions of their own. A task is allotted to them which is intended to facilitate the progress of the Army, but they find some other and more attractive task and divert themselves to that job. When that happens there is really no redress for the Army commander. He, naturally, reports it to the Air officer concerned, who probably has a very good reason to show why the Royal Air Force should have directed itself to that particular side issue. There should be complete responsibility in the Army commander. He should be able to insist on his instructions being carried out whether they are right or wrong, and it should be his responsibility if they fail.
In a case of which I was told, a fighter aeroplane sent to do an allotted task, left that task in order to deal with a small ship which the Navy already had plans for dealing with. The naval officer who told me of this incident said that, afterwards, the flying officer spoke to him with pride and explained how he had come down to deal with the ship at 100 ft. and the naval officer not unnaturally replied," If you had not got in the way, I could have dealt with it at ground level." That is the sort of lack of co-operation that is taking place. It is essential that there should be one commander who, when an incident of that kind happens, will be able to deal with it and see that it does not happen again. All this trouble would disappear for ever if the Army had its own aeroplanes, and if an Army commander could insist, before going into any action, on having those aeroplanes and the disposal of them. He should be able to give them their task and, whether he was right or wrong, it would be his responsibility to see that they did the job allotted to them. There could then be no question afterwards of an argument between the Army commander and the Air officer concerned.
One has often heard the arguments which are put against that kind of collaboration. It is said it will not succeed because of the lack of experience of the Army commanders; it is said that dive bombers are vulnerable. There are other arguments which are repeated until one is tired of hearing them. The fact remains that by that method the Germans blasted their way through Europe, and we shall never be able to blast our way through anywhere until we have an Army which is not merely able to use the services of the Royal Air Force but is supplied with its own aerial artillery. It is that solution of our difficulties which I urge upon the Secretary of State. I ask that he and the Secretary of State for War should get together and put these aircraft at the disposal of the Army. Then, certainly, there never would be any further argument as to whether co-operation was desirable or necessary. One has an uncomfortable feeling that there is a sort of pig-headed-ness at the Air Ministry on this question and that the Ministry are actuated by the fear that once the Army gets hold of aeroplanes the individuality and the personality of the Royal Air Force will begin to disappear. There should be no fear of that kind.
To my mind, the position is this. There are tasks for the Royal Air Force which are quite different from those of supporting Army operations. The Royal Air Force has its own sphere, and the aeroplanes which should be at the disposal of the Army have their own sphere. The two should be so completely separated that it would not become a question of co-operation or rivalry at all, and in that way I believe the desired solution would be arrived at.
I listened with great interest to the speech made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), who showed his great knowledge of the subject under discussion. I felt at times somewhat sorry when listening to him, that instead of making his speech from the Opposition Bench he was not making it from the Government Bench, from which position he would have also been able to give more direct effect to the very well-framed suggestions on priority he put forward at the end of his address. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) laid stress on the resultant dismemberment of the Air Force, which would follow the Army having its own Air Corps. I do not think that is a suggestion that should have been made, as it need in no case arise. The question of the transfer of certain squadrons from the Air Force to the Army has also been referred to by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State. That is not the way in which I look upon the subject when advocating that the Army should have its own Air Corps. I would like to see the Army permitted to build up its own flying corps and not in any way have transferred to it, personnel and squadrons which are now in the Royal Air Force.
I am afraid that that is not a point for me to answer, but I understand that there are in the Army some 2,500 qualified air pilots, and in addition there must be other personnel who could be used in sufficient numbers to start the nucleus of an Army Air Corps. For each pilot 600 men are required on the ground. The Army have these 600 men already in each case. The fact that the Army has not an air corps is caused, I believe, by the fact that the Royal Air Force do not want to see the Army have such a force. We have however to consider what such a corps might develop into if it were given birth and freedom. I remember a great scientist replying to some critic who, referring to a small spark he had discovered, asking "What is the use of that tiny spark?" He replied, "What is the use of a newly born child?" It is not what a certain thing is to-day, but what it will develop into. The creation-of an Army Air Corps should have been done long before, but it is still not too late to take the right step. What we must realise is, that the special types of aircraft which would be specially useful to the Army would have been developed in large quantities if the Army had had its own air corps from the start. It is unfortunate that we have only one word for a flying machine, namely, "aeroplane." If we could have had some such names as "tank-buster" or "flying cannon," or "leaping Ford," to indicate the kind of weapon which the Army could use, there would not have been such objection from the Royal Air Force to the Army having its own aeroplanes. The Air Force is jealous of its monopoly of the air.
This brings me to another point, and that is the construction of aircraft. It may be said that we cannot build sufficient aeroplanes for the Army to have their own air corps. Yet such machines would be of a type much easier to produce, equipped with less and more simple navigation instruments. I would like to ask the right hon. Baronet whether the idea of constructing wooden machines for operational purposes has been completely abandoned. If I may be permitted to make a personal reference, I feel somewhat qualified to talk about the construction of aeroplanes in wood and metal, because during the last war I served on the Directorate of Research of the Air Ministry, under the command of Air Chief Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham. There was a metal construction department of the directorate run by myself and Major Thurston, and we evolved our first all-metal machine. It was the first aeroplane entirely in metal ever built in this country. We were made much fun of and were considered cranks attempting to build an all-metal machine designed to fly because all aeroplanes up to then had been built entirely of light wood. Now all Royal Air Force machines used for operational duties are built in metal throughout. May I ask the Minister, is it not possible to build in wood special types of dive bombers and other Army co-operation machines in wood that could be used by an advancing Army? We have in the country a great number of wood workers who could build such machines, or am I to understand that the wood working industry is being disbanded? The construction of the machines apart from the engines, which would be of the smaller and less durable type, would not interfere with the metal construction programme covering the construction of other machines. The manufacture of aeroplanes in wood takes much less time in mass production than the construction of metal machines, and the advantage would be that we would have extra machines which, otherwise, would not be in our possession built by a totally different trade which would otherwise not be utilised.
I would now like to pass on to the question of torpedo-carrying planes. The country has become much interested lately in this important British war weapon. We owe its development to a distinguished Member of the House, my hon. and gallant friend, the Member for Hertford (Admiral Sir Murray Sueter), under whom I am proud to have served. I would like to ask the right hon. Baronet whether he can without disclosing anything that might be against security tell the House to what extent the Royal Air Force has been training its personnel and has been practising with torpedo-carrying planes. As an ordinary back bencher, I have no other information at my disposal than that which I am able to gather from well informed individuals with whom I come in contact or by the Press. From these sources of information I gather that the Royal Air Force have attacked on many occasions German merchant ships sailing along the Dutch, Norwegian and French coasts, but all the reports have referred either to the raking of decks with machine-gun fire or cannon or the dropping of bombs on the ships or in their vicinity. We never hear of concerted attacks being made by torpedo-carrying planes, with the obvious resultant sinking. Such torpedo planes should be used daily and it should be their duty to fly across the Channel as soon as the presence of enemy merchant ships are reported. Such occasions should give much greater operational opportunities to these aeroplanes and their crews for training and practice in the sinking of ships by air-borne torpedo. The torpedo as a weapon is the classical one in such case and from the point of view of sinking ships this weapon has an enormous advantage over the bomb. When bombing an objective the aeroplane has to make a three-dimensional attack, whereas with the torpedo it only need make a two-dimensional attack. The torpedo travels on its course towards the ship after it has been launched, and the pilot has therefore only to consider the direction of launching. In dropping a bomb, however, the pilot has to watch not only the direction of the bomb but also the aim with regard to the distance. The second advantage is that the torpedo strikes the ship below the water line which is naturally more suitable for the purpose of total destruction by sinking. The third advantage lies in the fact that low attack can be successfully made with torpedo; with the bomb which needs piercing velocity an attack from great height has a chance of success, but then accuracy of aim suffers.
We have had sufficient examples in the naval campaign which is being waged in the Far East to realise the immense value of the torpedo bomber as a weapon to resist invasion. When 5,000 or 6,000 armed men are afloat in a transport complete with their arms, tanks, guns, and munitions, that is the moment to attack them and destroy them. One single torpedo can do this. Nine torpedo-carrying planes per ship could make this torpedo certain. To wait until the invaders have landed and then try to attack and repulse them is courting disaster. The best time and position to attack the landing army is when they are at sea, concentrated in large transports near the coast and well within range of land borne torpedo-carrying planes. I would, therefore, ask my right hon. Friend whether the crews of these torpedo aeroplanes are given sufficient training and whether experience is continuously acquired by their use on operational flights as and when opportunity arises. I am assured that had we had 1,000 torpedo-carrying planes distributed at Singapore and in the Dutch East Indies, it would have been possible to have halted and destroyed all the Japanese invading armies before the landings were actually made. I would also like to ask my right hon. Friend, if he is allowed to disclose it, whether the torpedo planes that we have, the Beauforts, carry full-size 21 inch torpedoes or only the reduced 18 inch. I understand that the machines used by the Japanese, which were reported to be of the four-engine and bomber type, which flew 400 miles from shore bases before torpedoing our two battleships, carry two torpedoes of the 21 inch size. Does the right hon. Baronet think it possible for us to build similar or comparable aeroplanes over here for the defence of this country against invasion, or in view of the urgency could he consider, with efficiency, the conversion of some of our present type to use as torpedo carriers?
I have concluded the few remarks I wanted to make upon this subject and before sitting down I wish to say only a word or two on the question of troop carriers. I believe that the hon. Lady the Member for Frome (Mrs. Tate) will be talking about civil aviation in a few moments, and I should like to ask my right hon. Friend whether we are developing sufficient troop-carrying planes, because to a certain extent they can be regarded as a fleet of merchant aeroplanes. I feel that in this war we need to build up a large fleet of merchant aeroplanes, because, as I pointed out during the Debate on the Navy Estimates last Thursday, such merchant planes could be used very efficiently during the war for the carrying of cargo. Owing to their great speed they can cover so many journeys in a given time, and also thanks to their speed they are always available at the shortest notice wherever they be. I pointed out that some twelve 50-ton cargo flying boats could carry across the Atlantic the same amount of cargo as a slow speed 5,000 ton ship. Cargo aeroplanes can carry a higher pay load than passenger machines as armchairs, sleeping and kitchen accommodation is not required. In addition cargo can be loaded and unloaded piecemeal more conveniently than is the case of a big ship when a great amount of cargo arrives all at once, as happens when a 5,000 ton ship docks.
The turning round delay is reduced. We have also to visualise the fact that the moment may come, though I hope it will not, when our shipping lanes across the Atlantic may become more vulnerable to attack, and we ought to be prepared with a ready merchant flying fleet. This aerial fleet could in any case transport those key goods which are at all times vital in connection with our war effort and often without which a vast quantity of material already in our possession might become unusable. A merchant flying fleet would be invaluable for that and other purposes and it could at the same time be available within 24 hours' notice for troop carrying purposes. Therefore, I hope that my friend the right hon. Baronet will let the House know whether he is keeping in mind the necessity of the construction of a large number of large troop-carrying aeroplanes, and will also be good enough to reply to the other questions I have put to him regarding the formation at once of an Army Air Corps formed entirely of personnel already in the Army at this time, and the extensive and continuous use of land-borne and sea-borne full size torpedo carrying planes.
It is two-and-a-half years or more since I addressed the House, and in that interval I have had some very useful experiences. In 1939 I had the honour of serving in Coastal Command, and there, at Plymouth, I saw the Navy, the Army and the Air Force working together in the closest co-operation. The Senior Commanding Officer there was a Naval officer, and working under him were Air Force officers and Army officers. During the six months I was there I saw an example of perfect co-operation. I agree with hon. Members who have urged greater co-operation, and particularly I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Kettering (Captain Profumo), whom I had never heard before. When I noticed that he belonged to the Army Co-operation Squadron I had expected from him a rather strong speech as regards dismembering the R.A.F. and passing on part of it to the Army and the remnant to—God knows where. Hon. Members can imagine my surprise when I found that, while he put forward a case for greater co-operation, towards the end of his speech he asked that nothing should be done to weaken the Royal Air Force.
That is what I would ask the House most seriously to consider. Why choose a time like this, when we are in the middle of the most terrible war the world has ever seen, even to discuss such a thing as the dismemberment of the R.A.F., because I do not see how we could build up strong Army squadrons on the lines suggested by some people without some dismemberment of the R.A.F. As the hon. Member for Mossley (Mr. A. Hopkinson) asked in his little interruption, how long would it take to build up this private air force for the Army? Or is it the suggestion that we are to have two Royal Air Forces, one working as the Royal Air Force and the other working with the Army? It seems to me that in view of the wonderful work which, as is admitted on all sides, has been done by the Royal Air Force, it is far better to leave that wonderful instrument alone, particularly in this time of war. By all means develop the idea of co-operation. Undoubtedly there have been mistakes and we should take steps to eliminate them, but do not let us make the greater mistake of doing something to impair the efficiency of the Royal Air Force.
But I did not come here to speak about that. I came here with the intention of putting forward a rather small matter on behalf of some of the officers serving in the Volunteer Reserve of the R.A.F. Certain Air Ministry orders have been put out since 1940 dealing with the question of promotion, and they are a very sore point with most junior officers, hardly second in importance, I should say, to the question of pay in the Services. This question of promotion has often cropped up in the different messes where I have been, and as I listened to the conversation of those junior officers I made up my mind that if ever I got the chance to ask my right hon. Friend to take some notice of this little heartburn, shall I call it, of those junior officers I would do so. The Air Ministry order was put out last September. It said that when an officer got an acting rank he had to hold that acting rank without pay for 12 months. If a junior officer gets the acting rank of, say, flight-lieutenant, he has to serve 12 months without getting the pay of that rank. What may be the reason for that I do not know. Perhaps the Treasury can explain. Since then a rumour has got round that no further acting rank is to be granted to an officer holding one such acting rank unless he be a member of the G.D; Branch. I hope that I may have the attention of my right hon. Friend.
The hon. and gallant Member need not think that I was talking with my right hon. Friend on matters which are not connected with his speech. I was consulting him on the matters with which his speech is concerned.
I thought perhaps my right hon. Friend was not listening. The reason why I particularly wanted him to listen was that shortly after he took office I asked him to grant me an interview, and I was not accorded that privilege. Therefore I ask him to listen to me when I am putting forward a subject which is really causing heartburning among junior officers of the R.A.F. (V.R). I may add that it does not affect me personally. If it be correct that officers had to hold acting rank for 12 months unpaid and then if instructions are put out by the Air Ministry that they are not to be given a further acting rank, it simply means that they can get no further promotion. Whether that was the intention or not I do not know, but that is the logical consequence of it.
If that is to be allowed to continue, I assure my right hon. Friend, from what I have gathered in living in messes for the last two and a half years in the Royal Air Force, that there will be great discontent. Even regular officers whom I know, and who are not affected by these orders, are not pleased that it should be found necessary by somebody to put forward such orders at all. If an officer is chosen, whether it be by his commanding officer or by his group, to fit one of these posts—I am speaking of chief flight-lieutenant posts—and if he has filled that post for three months or six months and there has been no adverse report on his carrying-out of those functions, why should he not be given something more substantial than acting rank for a further six months?
It is worse than that. I know of officers who have held acting ranks—now I am speaking of V.R. officers, and it does not affect the G.D. officers at all—in the Army F.V.R., and who have been holding those acting ranks for two years. If those officers, through sickness or some accident, are taken to hospital and kept there for over 21 days, they lose that acting rank. I came across an instance in the last few days. A friend of mine has been posted overseas. He has held a certain acting rank for two years or more. When he arrives overseas, because of there being no establishment post for him to fill in that acting rank, he must go down to the lower substantive rank. That is all right for officers and men in the Services; they understand these rules, but I ask my right hon. Friend to think of the effect upon the men's relatives and friends at home. They do not understand these matters. In fact, I know an officer who had to take down his acting rank, and he told me that he was so ashamed at having to explain to everybody he met that he felt inclined to take no more leave until the end of the war.
This matter of acting ranks has, to my mind, got worse instead of better since 1940. Previously, before my right hon. Friend took office, the rule was much better. The man who held an acting rank, say for three months, so long as he was well reported upon, was at least paid for it; whereas to-day the common expression in R.A.F. messes is, "We have now got cut-price officers." That is true. What on earth is the reason for this sudden penury in policy regarding the pay of officers? Surely my right hon. Friend has come into contact with some of the officers and knows the struggle that some of those fellows have to make, in these days of high prices, rent racketeers and so on. It is difficult enough when a man is fulfilling such a post as, say, adjutant in the acting rank of flight-lieutenant, and in 12 months will only get a flying-officer's pay, although he is holding down a very useful post in the R.A.F. There is no doubt about that. These are the reasons why I asked my right hon. Friend to pay attention to me when I was putting forward these grievances. For two years approximately, since he took office, I have heard nothing else but this grouse about the unpaid acting ranks.
Before I sit down, there is a small point on a subject which has been dealt with very often before, namely, aerodrome defence. The point is so small that I could take my right hon. Friend to one station where they have actually removed the only Ack-Ack guns they had. I do not know whether my right hon. Friend remembers, but some time in the autumn of 1910, it must have been, after the visit of Lord Trenchard to the station where I was, we were attacked and bombed. In view of that fact, I drew the attention of my right hon. Friend to the fact that we had no defence whatever, in my opinion. I happened to know from my experience in the last war the range of a Lewis gun. When that German aeroplane came over and dropped out of the clouds on to that station, the only defence we had were a few Lewis guns. When that German came over I watched him drop his bombs. Fortunately, he was a bad shot, and the bombs went beyond the station, but it amused me to hear those Lewis guns rattling away. What did those lads think they were doing? That fellow was up approximately 4,000 or 5,000 feet, and the use of the Lewis guns was a sheer waste of ammunition. After that, we got some Bofors. I would like to ask my right hon. Friend why those Bofors have quietly disappeared. There is just as much valuable stuff on that station, and more personnel than ever there was. I would like to know why the station is left in the condition it is. There must be some very grave reason for it. He will agree with me that it does not help the morale of the young trainees to discover that they have no Ack-Ack defence to protect them in case of air attack.
I find myself in considerable agreement with what has been said by my hon. and gallant Friend on the subject of unpaid acting ranks, but I think he was carrying his case a little too far. Some of the things he described were only the natural price to pay for the incredibly rapid promotion that takes place in war-time. I recall certain officers with whom I have made friends since I have had the honour to serve, who had served ten years or more in peace-time as flight-lieutenants. I do not know that any war-time officer has very much to complain of. In common with my hon. and gallant Friend, I have not addressed the House for about two-and-a-half years, except an occasional interjection at Question time. At this moment I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few minutes. I want to address myself to a statement made by the Secretary of State in his speech referring to the difficulty of moving squadrons overseas at short notice. He explained that the Royal Air Force after all was not mobile, on account of the difficulty of moving ground staffs and ground equipment, and the hon. Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones) very properly replied that the Royal Air Force is not mobile because no attempt has been made to make it so. I would like to make a proposal in this connection, and it does not require very deep thought, since we can take a leaf out of the book of the Germans.
What I would like to propose is that we should have, possibly as an experiment in the first stage, a mobile mixed group—basing my argument on the group system, which has been the basis of all operations and has proved satisfactory. At the present time a Royal Air Force group is only partially self-contained, since it must resort to other commands, particularly Maintenance Command, for all repair work, salvage and the like. If we had a group which had its own bomber, fighter and reconnaissance squadrons, its own repair department, workshops and salvage section, and above all had ground personnel trained in defence duties—I say that because of some rather unpleasant recollections of shepherding ground personnel during certain evacuations—we should have a group which could move at short notice to any part of the world and be self-contained. It is perfectly true that in Egypt, which is after all a sort of home-from-home to the Air Force, you would find all those branches represented, but that does not apply to any other part of the world in which fronts have, alas, a habit of suddenly opening up. In addition, therefore, to the type of mixed group which I have in mind, we should also require, as was emphasised by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge), transport planes in which to move at least a skeleton of the ground crews and the most important ground equipment. A good many jokes have been cracked at the expense of the Junkers 52, and it has undoubtedly proved itself a vulnerable machine on a number of occasions, but it has served a useful purpose more than once during the war.
I said that I would refer to only one subject, but I should like, if I may without putting myself out of Order, to mention one other matter before I sit down. I think that it probably comes under the Ministry of Aircraft Production rather than the Air Ministry, but since it is a concern of the equipment branch, which is very fully represented at the Air Ministry, I may perhaps be forgiven if I once again refer to the question of spares. I will limit myself to this. I will ask my right hon. Friend whether, in co-operation with the Ministry of Aircraft Production, he could not see that a proper proportion of aircraft factory space is allotted to the manufacture of spares for existing aircraft instead of, as I believe to be the present system, concentrating too much on new aircraft.
We have had an extremely interesting Debate, and a very large number of important and instructive suggestions have been made by hon. Members in different parts of the House, so many that it will be difficult for me to cover all the points in the time available. I will, however, endeavour to do so as quickly as I can and to make my replies as brief as possible. My hon. Friend the Member for North Aberdeen (Mr. Garro Jones), in the speech in which he followed me, dealt with the important subject of strategy, and said that members of the Government made fuller speeches on strategical questions outside than they did in this House. I do not know what members of the Government he had in mind, but my conscience is certainly clear; he did, however, mention members of the Government, and he also mentioned speeches in the country. He said that speeches on strategical questions were made freely in the country; and the implication was that we shut up like oysters when we came into the House of Commons. That is very far from being the truth. I studied my speech very carefully before I made it, so as to be able to give as much information as I safely could. Subject to the consideration that the Germans are listening to all the speeches we make here, I try to give the House of Commons all the information I can.
My hon. Friend said that the Air Staff take an exclusive view of strategy. It would not be possible for them to maintain that view, if it were true, because, in fact, all the large decisions in the field of strategy are, as was explained in the House not many days ago by the Prime Minister, taken by the Chiefs of Staffs and the Defence Committee of the Cabinet. Moreover, I can assure my hon. Friend that this effort, which is being made in different quarters inside and, more particularly, outside the House, to represent the Air Staff as taking a narrow air view of strategy, is most unfair to them. Most of these suggestions are made by people who do not know what views the Air Staff are expressing in the confidential discussions between them and the Government. In fact, most of the high officers of the Air Staff have been through the Imperial Defence College. Many of them have been instructors at the College. They have been trained there to take the broadest view of strategical questions. My hon. Friend went on to say that the German Air Force had dropped a heavier weight of bombs in certain months of last year than we had ever succeeded in doing. He was right. He confined himself to the past. It will not be true in future. He went on to say that we should have great difficulty in sustaining our bombing offensive when the days became shorter. But our heavier bombers are also faster; and they will be able to maintain a sustained and continuous offensive over the main centres of German industry far into the summer.
The hon. Gentleman, who, in the earlier part of his speech, had been making much of the alleged rigidity of Air Staff opinion and their refusal to change their policy—and of my refusal to do so, because I take full responsibility—in the light of changing conditions, proceeded to complain of the Air Staff's vacillations in the choice of targets. It is essential that there should be flexibility and adaptation to the changing circumstances of the war. There is one target, for example, which the hon. Gentleman mentioned. Hamm is a communications centre of vital importance in a great many circumstances, of which one example is when there are large movements of troops east. It was in such circumstances that we have bombed it heavily, and may well do again. He inquired what opinions I expressed in confidential discussions on matters of policy in the Air Ministry. I am afraid that these discussions are most confidential. He was particularly anxious to know whether I growled. I can assure him that my growls are the most private parts of our con- versation. He went on to make very interesting suggestions as to the priorities which, he thought, should govern our decisions in matters of war policy. He put first adequate fighter defence, and I entirely agree with him. Adequate fighter defence, particularly in this country, is always our first preoccupation, and he went on to mention the Fleet Air Arm—which is not a matter that I can discuss—and then on to strategic mobility, and he made a very fair comment of what I had said on strategic mobility in my speech. He said that we ought to make ourselves more mobile. I agree, but at the same time I would ask him to consider that it is an extremely difficult matter for us to-day. To make ourselves mobile we have to construct aerodromes and instal and make provision for bombs, spare parts and so forth, and we simply have not had the resources to do so. But it does not at all follow that we shall not have the resources, and we shall certainly bear in mind in the future the importance of the point which my hon. and gallant Friend and also my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for South-East St. Pancras (Sir A. Beit).
He then passed on to Army co-operation, and, lastly, heavy bombers, and went on to say that the Government should adopt the principle of allocating our resources according to the priority requirements in the interests of the war as a whole. I assure him that that is being done now, and, as I said in my speech, talking of the long-range bombing policy, it has been endorsed by the Chiefs of Staff and by the Defence Committee. It is their policy as much as ours. At the same time, I do not at all divest myself of the responsibility to this House for it. I believe that it will succeed, but if it does not, I shall not attempt to compromise or hide my responsibility for that policy. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight (Captain P. Macdonald) suggested that our choice of objectives from day to day is not very apt, but that, for example, we ought to send frequently small numbers—he suggested six—of bombers to Berlin on a night. The suggestion is not one that I want to turn down. It can be considered. I am not saying that it might not be possible to send a comparatively small number of bombers there, but this is not a question that we could decide in the House and the House would not expect me to give a decision on a point of that kind. There are considerable difficulties about it, and a small party of bombers would receive a very hot reception from the very formidable defences around Berlin.
I can assure the hon. and gallant Member that that is not our policy. Let me state in a sentence or two what is our policy. In choosing targets we have to consider military and political pros and cons, even, possibly, in some cases, diplomatic pros and cons, economic pros and cons, and, finally, the factor which has to be taken into account in the actual choice of a target on a particular night is the overriding tactical consideration. That is decided by the chief of the Bomber Command and his group commanders. The hon. and gallant Gentleman said he did not know who chose particular targets for particular nights, and that is the answer to his question. They are not, of course, decided in the Air Ministry. Nobody lays it down in the Air Ministry that planes should go to Berlin once a month or anything of that kind. Bomber Command decides when it is suitable and what size force should be sent out. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Aberdeen said we produced from time to time every sort and kind of reason to support our long-range bombing policy and that Russia was now being put forward as the pretext for it. I would rather say that our bombing policy was not designed to help Russia. I never claimed that. Bombing policy is the best means of hitting hard at the vitals of German war industry, but, incidentally, it has the advantage that at the time when the impact of a great German offensive is likely to fall on Russia, it has been able to interfere with it and take some weight off the Russian Armies.
The hon. Member for Shrewsbury (Mr. A. Duckworth) adjured us to remember the necessity for maintaining the balance between fighters and bombers and emphasised the importance of the fighter. I can assure him that that is very much in our minds, and I do not at all disagree with what he said on that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for East Wolver- hampton (Mr. Mander) called upon us to develop a more consistent, continuous and relentless policy of long-range bombing, and I can assure him that I have every hope that we shall be able to satisfy him. Then the hon. and gallant Member for Hertford (Sir M. Sueter) asked why we did not find out what was happening to the German ships at Brest, and he referred to the excellent information which he had at his disposal when at the Admiralty during the last war about the movement of German airships to and from their sheds. I am far from claiming that our Intelligence in this war is as good as was the hon. and gallant Member's in the last war, but I think he knows that circumstances make it much more difficult in this war than in the last to obtain information. The ruthlessness of the German methods is one reason. At the same time I would claim that we did know a good deal about what was going on at Brest. We did know that a good number of hits were scored on the ships there, which repeatedly put them back into dock. My own belief, for what it is worth, is that one or two hits would have had a very much greater effect on a ship being out at sea than in dry dock, as it was. It is true that the ships were patched up so that they could steam away, but whether it was because they were partly damaged before leaving Brest or whether it is true that they were damaged during their passage, they have certainly gone back into dock in Germany.
My hon. and gallant Friend then asked whether the Fifth Sea Lord obtains all the help and information that he requires. I have never heard anything to suggest to me that he does not. He is a personal friend of mine, and I should be extremely sorry to learn of any failure on the part of the Air Ministry to give him all the assistance he requires. I give my hon. and gallant Friend an assurance that I will look into the matter, following what he has said.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Surrey (Mr. Emmott), referring to the question of Army co-operation, said he thought we were too departmental. I hoped that I had dealt with that matter. The flexibility of the Royal Air Force is our chief asset. We must be prepared, if necessary, to move the whole of our Forces, bombers and fighters, sometimes it may be to support the Army, sometimes to support the Navy, sometimes to pursue our own plans. Flexibility is absolutely vital. I hoped I had made it clear in my speech that I was doing my utmost to encourage this co-operation with our two sister Services. My hon. Friend asked whether the Army co-operation squadrons have suitable types of aircraft. They are getting the best we can give them. I will tell the House frankly that certain production disappointments, to which I have previously referred, have affected the Army Co-operation Command, but the period of disappointments is now coming to an end, and I hope soon there will be no cause for complaint on that score.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Kettering (Captain Profumo) asked that the two sister Services should be regarded as complementary and combine in an interlocking precision machine, and he agreed with me that there should be no dismemberment of the Royal Air Force. I agree with him that there should be the closest combination, in training and operation, between the Army and the Royal Air Force, and that the Royal Air Force can, and will, fulfil the functions required by the Army. As I think I made clear in my opening remarks, I agree that the splendid but frustrated pilots should be given the opportunities of taking part in operations, and that has already been arranged. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for the Isle of Wight said that co-operation had been less good with the Army than with the Navy, and that there was restraint in the personal relations between officers and men in the two Services. I will tell the House frankly that I have had some other evidence to the same effect, and I can assure hon. Members that we are doing everything we can to break down those inter-Service barriers. I have heard with regret of messes, for example, in which Army officers sit in one corner and Royal Air Force officers in another. We are doing all we can to discourage that sort of thing and to break down those barriers.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Brighton (Major Marlowe) was almost the only Member who struck a discordant note, and insisted on expressing complete dissatisfaction with the co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Army and in demanding that we should cut the Army co-operation squadrons from the Royal Air Force. He demanded that there should always be one commander in charge of operations, and he gave as an instance of that requirement, and of failure to co-operate between the other two Services, the case of a fighter pilot who is alleged to have got in the way of a naval officer in the Vaagso raid. It was an unfortunate incident for him to cite in support of that case because that raid was carried out entirely under the command of one officer appointed for that particular task. I may add for the information of the House that the Director of Combined Operations rang me up as soon as the operation was over to thank me personally and to congratulate the Royal Air Force on the splendid co-operation which was given to the sister Services on that raid.
The hon. Member for North Aberdeen raised the question of the shortage of spares. He said that for certain types spares were not ordered in time for the Royal Air Force. I am assured that in those cases, as in all cases, spares were ordered at the same time as the aircraft. Spares for the first two years must be produced within 18 months of the order—
So frequently have I had assurances on these matters that I am going to ask my right hon. Friend to agree to receive from me to-day details of the items which were not ordered, according to a very high authority. I want to ask him, if he finds that my statements are correct, to do something to prevent a repetition of the false assurances he receives and which he frequently passes on to the House.
I should be very grateful for the help of my hon. Friend. This is the first time he has been good enough to offer to give me the list of these missing spares, and I will gladly have an immediate investigation made if he will give it to me. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge) said that our torpedo aircraft were not as good as they ought to be, and asked whether we were trying to get something better. Of course it is true that the Swordfish is a very old type of aircraft, but production of the Swordfish had to be restarted because of troubles which were experienced with later types. I can assure my hon. and gallant Friends that both the First Lord of the Admiralty—and I had a discussion with him on the Front Bench while my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hertford was speaking—and I are fully persuaded of the necessity to develop the most effective means of torpedo attack.
My right hon. Friend has referred to the Swordfish; is he not aware that these are small seaborne aircraft which have to fold their wings? I have always urged that the Navy should have powerful shore-based torpedo bombers under its control.
Perhaps my hon. and gallant Friend has not fully understood what I said. Of course, this is long before my time, but I understand that every effort was made to produce a more efficient type of torpedo bomber, but very great difficulties were experienced in getting that torpedo bomber fit for operation, and that was the reason why the older types had to be ordered. In the meantime, however, we are doing, and have for some time past been doing, all we can to make the best of the material which is at our disposal and to provide ourselves with the best possible means for aiming torpedoes.
In view of the urgency of the matter, I hope my friend the right hon. Baronet will not overlook the possibility of certain conversions that could be made of existing types, pending the mass production of new designs.
I would only say that the Air Ministry has developed what I believe to be a good type of torpedo-dropping aircraft. My right hon. Friend and I are now doing in our respective spheres our utmost to increase the means of effectively attacking enemy warships with torpedoes. The hon. and gallant Gentleman also raised the question of construction in wood. I can assure him that it is not by any means abandoned, but it would be more appropriate to pursue the subject in greater detail on the Estimates of the Ministry of Aircraft Production.
The Minister of Aircraft Production will be here for his Estimates, and I am here for mine. The hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) raised a subject which is of some public interest, the question of naming individual officers and men who take part in operations. He deplored the departure from the previous anonymity rule and thought it militated against teamwork. I can assure him that his arguments received respectful and careful consideration before we made any departure, but it seems to me that there is a strong argument on the ground of public interest and morale for giving these names in certain instances. There is a great deal of criticism of this country in other countries on the score that a great deal of fighting is being done by men not of British race. It is a good thing that we should be able to know that immensely the greater part of the fighting has been done by men of British race. The departures that we have made are on the lines, hallowed by Admiralty tradition, of giving the names of officers commanding substantial units of the Service.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Wellingborough also raised the question of the attacks upon Air Chief Marshal Brooke-Popham. They have been adequately answered by the Prime Minister, but if there is any doubt about where I stand, let me say I deeply resent the imputations which have been made against the honour of an exceedingly gallant officer who has rendered fine service to the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury said that my speech bore too deeply the imprint of my Department. I reply that my Department is me, and I can assure him that I said nothing of the truth of which I am not convinced and for which I am not prepared to accept full responsibility to the House. He also raised the question of the shortage of transport. That is an extremely difficult question, but I will certainly look carefully into it. We are doing our utmost to increase the transport accommodation available. My hon. Friend raised, too, the question of the conditions in a particular aerodrome, and I can assure him that his complaints have been met to a considerable extent.
My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Withington (Squadron-Leader Fleming) complained that he asked for an interview with me and was not able to get it. I am always prepared to see any Member of Parliament, and I think there must have been a breakdown in the arrangements. I am sorry that he should have thought my conversation with the Leader of the House was on any subject except one connected with his speech, to which I listened with close attention. The House is anxious to get on with the Amendment, and I do not think it will wish me to go in detail into the complicated questions he raised. I would only tell him that there was a real difficulty to be met in view of the fact that administrative officers were getting so much more rapid promotion than officers who were doing the fighting. It is my intention to do only even-handed justice.
This has been a most useful Debate. The issue of the dismemberment of the Royal Air Force has been killed in the House of Commons, which clearly shows that while it is true, as I said in my opening speech, that the Royal Air Force will not fail the country, so it is true that the Royal Air Force can rely upon Parliament to sustain it in all matters affecting its honour, welfare and integrity.