Libyan Operations.

Oral Answers to Questions — Royal Air Force. – in the House of Commons on 24th June 1942.

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Photo of Sir James Henderson-Stewart Sir James Henderson-Stewart , Fife Eastern

asked the Secretary of State for Air who was responsible for the officially inspired statements, issued last week, to the effect that the Imperial Air Forces in Libya had retained superiority over the enemy throughout the recent campaign; that the greatest concentration of enemy dive-bombers never exceeded 30 and that the Royal Air Force were now using a new antitank aircraft; how did the enemy succeed so swiftly in bringing up troops, guns and transport and establishing forward air bases on the heels of our retreating forces; and, in view of the conflicting evidence and the unexpected defeat suffered by our arms, whether he will institute an immediate inquiry into the facts and report the results to Parliament with the least delay?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I would ask my hon. Friend to await the full Debate promised yesterday by my right hon. Friend the Deputy Prime Minister, when these and other questions can be dealt with.

Mr. Stewart:

Surely my right hon. Friend is instituting urgent inquiries into this matter so that the House may be informed in the Debate as to the facts of what appear to be a series of disastrous misstatements?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I can assure my hon. Friend that I am in constant communication with the Commander-in-Chief, who keeps me very fully informed, and if the opportunity is afforded me I shall be very glad to make a statement on the subject,

Photo of Viscount  Turnour Viscount Turnour , Horsham and Worthing

Do I understand that the right hon. Gentleman will then be prepared to answer the specific question as to who is responsible for issuing these misleading communiqués? Is he aware of the deplorable effect upon Service men of being told things which they know not to be true?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

I cannot be held responsible for newspaper correspondents' articles, but for anything which is issued with official inspiration I am fully responsible.

Photo of Hon. Hugh O'Neill Hon. Hugh O'Neill , Antrim

Can my right hon. Friend say whether it is or is not a fact that we had air superiority during the Libyan campaign?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

My right hon. Friend must have heard General Auchinleck's testimony to that effect, which the Deputy Prime Minister read out in this House yesterday.

Mr. Stewart:

But surely the right hon. Gentleman cannot escape responsibility for officially inspired statements which were reported in the Press by military or air correspondents, and it is that question which I put to my right hon. Friend which he has not answered?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

There is no question of escaping responsibility. I have just asserted in reply to the Noble Lord opposite that I am responsible.

Photo of Captain Sir Peter Macdonald Captain Sir Peter Macdonald , Isle of Wight

Is it not the fact that quite independent sources of information outside General Auckinleck's statement have testified to the fact that we did have air superiority, and that there was the utmost co-operation between the Royal Air Force and the Army in Libya?

Photo of Sir Archibald Sinclair Sir Archibald Sinclair , Caithness and Sutherland

Yes, Sir, my hon. and gallant Friend is quite right.