History of the Second World War: United Kingdom Civil Series

Edited by W. K. Hancock

British War Production

By M. M. Postan

Fellow of Peterhouse College, Cambridge

Professor of Economic History in the University of Cambridge

London 1952


Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Introductory: The Lean Years

‘No Major War’—The Naval Standards—The Rations of the RAF—The Disarmed Army

Chapter 2: Early Rearmament, 1934–1938

Obstacles, Financial and Industrial—The Re-equipment of the RAF—The Renovation of the Navy—The ‘Cinderella’ Service—The War Potential

Chapter 3: From Peace to War, October 1938 to June 1940

The Munich Inquests—The Two-Power Navy and Emergency Programmes—Aircraft Production ‘To the Limit’—The Size of the Army—The Blueprint of War Production—The End of Financial Limitations—The Beginning of Controls, Priorities and Stockpiling—The Problem of Skilled Labour—The Progress of Industrial Mobilisation

Chapter 4: From Dunkirk To Pearl Harbor

The Emergencies—The Strategic Plan—The Bomber Programmes—The Irreducible Army—The New Administration—The Mobilisation of Labour—Priority and Allocation—The Bombers Delayed—The Shells and the Guns—The Tank and its Gun

Chapter 5: From Pearl Harbor to Victory in Europe: The Offensive Strategy

Introductory: The Two Summits—The Offensive Strategy—The Economic Strains—Machine Tools—Raw Materials—The Labour Famine—The American Munitions—The New Need—Self-sufficiency—Towards a Merger—A Common Pool—The Ministry of Production—The ‘Gap’—The Personal Office—The Production Staff—The Growing Authority—The Designation of Work—The ‘Might Have Been’

Chapter 6: From Pearl Harbor to Victory in Europe: The Ebb and Flow of Munitions

Ebb and Flow—The Offensive Tools—Bolero—Pluto—Mulberry—Landing Craft—Naval Construction and Shipbuilding—Escorts and Landing Craft—Buoyant Output—The Merchant Ships—Aircraft Production—The ‘Realistic’ Programmes—Production Lost and Redeemed—Repairs and Spares—The Quality of Aircraft—The Doctrine of Quality—Expectations and Delays—Abridgement of Timetable—Modifications—Equipment for the Army—The Initial Expansion—The Cuts—The Resilient Output—Production of Radio—The ‘Inter-Service’ Weapon—Capacity Transcended—The Valve Programmes—The Industrial Problem

Chapter 7: The Demobilisation of Industry

The ‘Run Down’—Stage I—Stages II and III—The Reconversion

Chapter 8: The Structure of Munitions Industry

The Division of Production—Production Specialised and Unspecialised—Inheritance and Necessity—Sub-division of Production and ‘Free Issues’—Groups

Chapter 9: Government and Industry

Public Ownership and Management—Private Ownership and Control—Prices, Profits and Assisted Investments—Programmes and Plans


Appendix 1: Naval Programmes of New Construction

Table A. ‘Deficiency’ Programme, approved November 1935

Table B. ‘Accelerated’ Programme of 1936 and 1937 and ‘Rationed’ Programme of 1938 and 1939 up to outbreak of war

Table C. Estimated requirements of small vessels, 1940 and 1941

Appendix 2: Development of German Air Power, 1933–34

Table D. First-line strength, August 1938-December 1944

Table E. Aircraft production, 1933-44

Appendix 3: Principal United Kingdom Aircraft Programmes, 1938–44

Table F. Scheme L (as revised in September 1938)

Table G. ‘War Potential’ Programme of July 1938, based on the hypothesis of a war commencing 1st October 1939

Table H. ‘Harrogate’ Programme, dated 19th Jan. 1940

Table I. Mr. Hennessy’s ‘Target’ Programme, dated 2nd October 1940

Table J. Revised Draft ‘Target’ Programme, dated 3rd July 1941

Table K. The ‘Bomber’ Programme, dated December 1941

Table L. The ‘Consolidated’ Programme, dated July 1942

Table M. The ‘Realistic’ Programme, dated January 1943

Table N. The ‘Realistic’ Programme, as revised in April 1943

Table O. The ‘Realistic’ Programme, as revised in September 1943

Table P. The First ‘Manpower Allocation’ Programme, dated 1944

Table Q. The Second ‘Manpower Allocation’ Programme, dated August 1944

Appendix 4: Deliveries of New Aircraft in the United Kingdom by Main Groups: Monthly Deliveries, 1938–44

Appendix 5: Estimated Total Requirements of Machine Tools, 1942–45

Appendix 6: Notes on Compositions of Tables 1, 54 and 55

Unpublished sources



1. Expenditure on armaments and warlike stores, 1924–33

2. Estimated annual expenditure on rearmament, 1934–39

3. Numbers of aircraft programmed and delivered respectively, January-June 1939

4. The naval standards, 1939–36

5. Estimate of expenditure of ‘deficiency’ programmes of the Army for the five years beginning 31st March 1936

6. Average number of naval ships of corvette size and above, in hand for large refit and repair at the end of each month, April 1940—December 1941

7. Number and types of vessels converted for war service, 1939–41

8. War Office requirements of certain items, December 1938 and April 1940 respectively

9. Distribution of the industrial labour force, 1939 and 1940, expressed in percentages

10. Deliveries of some war-stories during the period October 1938—June 1940

11. Anti-Aircraft Guns: requirements, forecasts and deliveries

12. Output of principal army weapons, British and German, September 1939—May 1940

13. War Office requirements under the pre-Dunkirk and post-Dunkirk requirements

14. War Office requirements of cruiser and infantry tanks, August 1940—December 1941

15. War Office requirements of certain war-stores, August 1940—December 1941

16. War office requirements of principal types of ammunitions, as communicated to the Ministry of Supply in April 1940, August 1940 and May 1941

17. Production of some essential raw materials, 1935–41

18. Supplies of certain raw materials in the United Kingdom, 1939–41

19. Structure weight index of aircraft production corrected by man-hour equivalents, 1940 and 1941

20. United Kingdom ‘production-expenditure’ on aircraft 1934–42

21. Index of Ministry of Supply output of war-stores, May 1940—December 1941

22. Ministry of Supply: deliveries of important groups of stores, May 1940—December 1941

23. Production of ammunition during 1941

24. Production of Bofors guns, tank and anti-tank guns, May 1940—December 1941

25. Production of tanks to December 1941

26. Commitments approved for machine tools and plant, 1936–42

27. Admiralty expenditure on plant and machine tools for naval shipbuilding and marine engineering contractors, 1940–44

28. Estimated requirements and actual supplies of machine tools to supply departments, September 1939 to December 1944

29. Supplies of machine tools, by numbers, 1939–44

30. Supplies of small tools, by value, 1940–44

31. Production of some essential raw materials, 1942–44

32. Manpower allocations to the end of 1943 as authorised in December 1942

33. Manpower allocations to the end of 1943 as revised in July 1943

34. Manpower allocations for 1944

35. United Kingdom requirements of army weapons, as submitted to the Victory Conference, September 1941

36. Supplies of groups of certain war-stores from the United States and production in the United Kingdom and Empire, September 1939—August 1945

37. Landing craft: number and tonnage under construction, 1942—June 1944

38. Smaller naval vessels: production forecasts in July 1941 and actual production to April 1942

39. Naval tonnage completing between January 1941 and June 1944

40. The ‘Realistic’ programme for 1943 and the previous aircraft programme

41. Output of aircraft, 1942–44: numbers, structure weight and structure weight corrected man-hours

42. Number of aircraft going to the Metropolitan Air Force: (a) from new production, (b) from repair output, January 1941—July 1945

43. Heavy bombers: number going to the Metropolitan Air Force, 1942–44

44. Aircraft awaiting spares as percentages of all aircraft with the RAF Home Commands, June 1941—June 1945

45. Aircraft: stages of design and development

46. Labour force in the munitions industries of the Ministry of Supply, January—December 1943

47. Index of Ministry of Supply total output of warlike stores, 1942–44

48. Index of Ministry of Supply output of guns, small arms, ammunitions, tanks, engineer and transportation stores, 1942–44

49. Total expenditure of the Admiralty, Ministry of Supply and MAP on radio and radar, 1939–44

50. Estimated reductions in manpower in the supply departments during the first eight weeks following VJ-Day

51. Estimated size of munitions labour force in supply departments, August—December 1945

52. Labour force on munitions production in the Ministry of Supply, August 1945—March 1946

53. The numbers of insured persons in certain industries, June 1939 and November 1946

54. Average number of wage-earners per establishment in the United Kingdom (1935) and the United States (1939)

55. Percentage of total number of wage-earners in establishments employing less than 100, 101 to 500, 501 to 1,000, over 1,000 wage-earners in the United Kingdom (1935), the United States (1939)

56. Summary of the Government’s actual annual expenditure on fixed capital for war production, 1st April 1936–31st March 1945