On 7th October, 1941, before the winter battle in Libya, I gave a ruling on this subject as follows:—
"Upon the Military Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East announcing that a battle is in prospect, the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief will give him all possible aid irrespective of other targets, however attractive. The Army Commander-in-Chief will specify to the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief the targets and tasks which he requires to be performed, both in the preparatory attack on the rearward installations of the enemy and for air action during the progress of the battle. It will be for the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief to use his maximum force for these objects in the manner most effective. This applies not only to any squadrons assigned to army co-operation permanently, but also to the whole air force available in the theatre."
This direction is agreeable to both Services and has been in force ever since.
Will my right hon. Friend consider the desirability of something stronger and more effective than even a direction from him? Would it not be desirable for these two Services even before battle is joined to act in closer co-operation in training than they are doing at the present time?
The joint training of the Army and the Royal Air Force is already proceeding on a considerable scale and is being continually extended. The aircraft of Army co-operation command, which is itself being substantially expanded, are occupied solely on such training. Squadrons of Bomber and Fighter Command are also regularly used for this purpose.
Of course, this subject is capable of extensive discussion, but we have to try and find the true and proper course between, on the one hand, not having aircraft attached to the infantry, which would be a misfortune, and, on the other, keeping large masses of aircraft which are required for major purposes standing by on specialised functions.
I would not say it is quite satisfactory, but it is being pressed forward with the utmost energy, in complete accord with both the Services concerned and the technical branches which are at their disposal.
The whole question of air-borne troops, whether it concerns the gliders which may be attached to machines with power, whether it concerns parachute troops themselves, or whether it concerns the aircraft which are power driven and tow the gliders—all these are under one organisation and are being studied as a whole.
If my hon. Friend read my statement at leisure, he will see that I go further than that. The entire Air Force is subordinated to the purposes of the military commander; he says what he wants them to do, but naturally you must not interfere with the characteristics of a particular arm. How the purposes are carried out is a matter for the Air Officer Commanding.