Chapter 4: From Dunkirk to Pearl Harbor
(1) The Emergencies
In the history of war production the eighteen months between the summer of 1940 and the end of 1941—the time when Britain stood alone—were the period of great achievement. Readers need not be reminded how and why the events of the summer of 1940 drew a dividing line across the sequence of the war years. The rigours of a total war, psychological as well as material, came to this country all at once; and under a new and determined Government the country rapidly reformed itself to meet the demands of a life-and-death struggle. It was in the nature of the reformation that war industry should have been stimulated to a very great effort. Both its ambitions and its performances rose to a height which only a few months previously had appeared impossible; and stayed at that height, or very little below it, all through the hard years that followed.
War industry had now to satisfy requirements far greater than before, and what made them great were the immense long-term programmes of rearmament. But, in addition, industry was called upon at this period to meet a succession of immediate demands from the frontlines of battle. The losses of equipment in France, the Battle of Britain, the threat of invasion, the German night-raids, the crisis of the Libyan campaign, the Battle of the Atlantic and, as the period was drawing to an end, the German invasion of the USSR: each of these events raised urgent problems of production which for a time absorbed the attention of the public and a great deal of war industry’s time and effort.
The emergency needs of the Navy have already been described.1 In a sense the entire wartime programme of the Navy in the first year of the war was made up of urgent short-term requirements. From this point of view the pressing demands for small vessels for the defence of the Channel against Hitler’s invasion forces and for the Battle of the Atlantic presented nothing unusual. Much more sudden and in a sense more pressing were the emergency requirements of the
RAF with which the Ministry of Aircraft Production had to cope at the outset of its career. The new Ministry, under Lord Beaverbrook, was set up at the same time as the new Government was formed. It was a new expedient, as dramatic as an administrative expedient can be, and was in itself an indication of the store Mr. Churchill and his Government now set by aircraft. The RAF had suffered heavy losses in Flanders and in France: between 17th May and 1st June 458 operational aircraft—more than current production—were lost; and almost as soon as the Battle of France was over, the Battle of Britain began. Aircraft, therefore, had to be provided in much larger numbers and at once; and the new Minister addressed himself to the task with the energy and the élan expected of him. Immediately on the formation of his Ministry he issued urgent appeals to workers and manufacturers for greater exertion, but appeals were by no means his only instrument. In order to speed output he decided to concentrate on the few operational types which were already in quantity production and of which the production could be immediately stepped up. This meant giving a special and exceptional priority to some types and suspending development and production of others. On the 15th May representatives of the Ministry of Aircraft Production agreed that at least until the end of September 1940 all efforts were to be concentrated on the production of Wellingtons, Whitley Vs, Blenheims, Hurricanes and Spitfires.
The aim was to get the maximum number of the five types into the air. Hence the truly overriding force of the priority they now acquired. It covered everything needed for their manufacture, for it not only safeguarded the supply of materials and equipment already earmarked for the five chosen types, but also made it possible to divert from other types the necessary parts, equipments, materials and manufacturing resources. Arrangements were to be made wherever necessary and profitable to transfer labour from other aircraft work to factories engaged on the specified types. Nothing was to stand in the way of such rearrangements, and it was specially pointed out that financial considerations were not to impeded the programme.
Output of the favoured types soon responded to this preferential treatment and to the Minister’s revivalist influence. The delivery of new fighters rose from 256 in April to 467 in September2—more than enough to cover the losses—and Fighter Command emerged from the Battle in the autumn with more aircraft than it had possessed at the beginning. The most spectacular, as well as the most important single incident in the history of war production was thus crowned with success.
The urgent requirements of the Army over and above its long-term
programme of rearmament were not so conspicuous as the great aircraft crisis of mid-1940 or even as the ‘small ship’ crisis of the Navy; and they did not at first enjoy the same industrial priority. There was, however, no doubt either about their urgency or about their magnitude. In the first place the Ministry of Supply had to replace the arms and stores lost in France. The stores the British Army left behind were equivalent to the equipment of eight to ten divisions, and included 880 field guns, 310 guns of larger calibre, some 500 anti-aircraft guns, some 850 anti-tank guns, 6,400 anti-tank rifles, 11,000 machine guns, very nearly 700 tanks, nearly 20,000 motorcycles and 45,000 motor cars and lorries, to say nothing of large dumps of ammunition. These losses had to be made good at once. For having shipped to France every possible weapon necessary to maintain in action the expeditionary force, this country found itself in June 1940 standing not only alone but also unarmed. The whole of the army equipment available at home on the morrow of Dunkirk was barely sufficient to equip two divisions: and that at a time when a German invasion appeared imminent and Britain’s survival depended on the success and speed with which an adequate home defence could be mounted.
The urgent needs of home defence, however, went further than the rearming of the existing Army formations. The whole nation had to be drawn into garrison duty, and to begin with, the Local Defence Volunteers (the Home Guard of the later phase) had to be supplied with uniforms, infantry weapons and certain other military stores. Fortunately much of this equipment could be drawn from the first-aid shipments of American arms. For, in response to the Prime Minister’s appeal, the American Government sent to this country with the greatest dispatch a large consignment of weapons, including over half a million rifles, 22,000 machine guns, 55,000 ‘tommy’ guns, 895 75-mm. guns and supplies of ammunition for these weapons. But, large and important as this shipment was, it did not provide for more than the initial instalment of the home defence requirements. Above all, the demand of the Home Guard for grenades, Sten guns, Smith guns and clothing had to be met from domestic sources.
The defence of Great Britain also meant a large increase in anti-aircraft weapons and in equipment for air defence, some of which was additional to the current army programmes, and all of which had to be made available with the greatest possible speed. And as the German air attacks by night reached their climax the needs of air defence rose.
Before long heavy requirements of an emergency character began to come in from the new field of battle in the Western Desert. It will be shown further3 that the Desert campaign helped to swell the
current army programmes, but the influence of the campaign was not confined to current programmes and planned output. As it was nearing it s climax the demand for some types of equipment became so great and so urgent as to create another ‘emergency’. The Desert Army’s needs of transport appeared insatiable—by the end of 1941 more than 94,000 wheeled vehicles were held in the Middle East: considerably more than the number allowed for under the scale laid down in the current army programme. Even more urgent and burdensome was the Desert Army’s ‘emergency’ demand for tanks and anti-tank guns. From the very outset the war in the Desert developed as a tank campaign, and when in the spring of 1941 Rommel, aided by superior armour, was able to defeat the British vanguard in Cyrenaica and to drive Wavell’s Army to Tobruk and beyond, tanks—more tanks and different tanks—became the ordre du jour at home. The tank programme had by then been much enlarged, but what was wanted was not only a greater supply of tanks for the armoured division then in process of formation, but immediate supplies of the largest possible number of tanks good enough to match Rommel’s. There was also a crying need for large numbers of anti-tank guns of more advanced design and of larger calibre than the standard 2-pounder equipment.
It is, therefore, no wonder that by the summer of 1941 tank and anti-tank guns had become almost as much emergency requirements as fighter aircraft had been a year earlier, and it was not a mere accident that in June 1941 Lord Beaverbrook was translated to the Ministry of Supply. To Lord Beaverbrook himself the tank was now ‘the thing’. He regarded his new appointment as an invitation to perform over tanks the same operation as he had performed over fighters, and he set about the task with his habitual hustle. If, in spite of his endeavours, the Army’s demands for tanks still remained unsatisfied and British tank production did not come up to what was needed, this was not due to any lack of attention on the part of the Ministry or any lack of effort on the part of industry.
Towards the end of the period, i.e. in the second half of 1941, another series of urgent and unexpected demands for supplies arose as a result of the German attack on the USSR. Hitler’s involvement in Russia provided an immediate relief to this country and greatly strengthened the chances of victory. There was no hesitation in welcoming Russia’s accession to the Allied ranks. Nor was there much doubt in the Prime Minister’s mind, or in that of his immediate advisers, of Russia’s ability to resist and to inflict heavy damage on the enemy forces. It was therefore taken for granted from the very outset that this country would have to do its utmost to sustain Russia in her military struggles. Steps to prepare for military assistance had been taken even before the actual day of the German invasion of
Russia. Some supplies were rushed almost at once, and under the ‘First Protocol’ of October 1941 this country accepted a standing commitment towards Russia. The British share in the Allied supplies to Russia until the following June was to consist of some 1,800 aeroplanes, some 2,250 tanks, 1,800 Bren-gun carriers, a large quantity of machine tools4 and other industrial machinery, large quantities of medical supplies, raw materials, principally aluminium, and foodstuffs. Added to the totals of current British programmes these undertakings imposed a heavy burden, made all the heavier by the political and military urgency of maintaining the regular shipments to Russia.
(2) The Strategic Plan
The instances so far mentioned are not more than examples, but they should be sufficient to show how important were the emergency calls on industry. Yet for all their importance they will not give a true measure of the additional industrial liabilities. Emergency requirements could not be segregated from the rest of war production. As a rule they were met by advancing outstanding orders and by accelerating deliveries, but they often led to order not covered by current Service programmes and thus swelled as well as disturbed the flow of production. Yet they did not represent its main current. War production was still in the main devoted to the building up of Britain’s armed strength and was occupied by the long-term programmes of the Services. However insistent the military demand from the fields and the skies of battle, Britain in 1940–41, even more than Britain in 1939, was still primarily engaged in rearmament.
From this point of view the fundamental difference between the periods before and after Dunkirk was mainly one of spirit, methods and achievement: not one of aim. In the minds of the men responsible for the strategic plans of the spring and autumn of 1939 the first three years of war were a time of preparation. The need for preparations equally protracted also followed from the strategic ideas of 1940 and 1941, even if the character of the preparations was no longer the same. In the summer of 1940 as in the autumn of 1939 the country was still compelled to hold back from active operations while its striking forces were being built up. In the third week of May 1940, when the Chiefs of Staff were asked by the Prime Minister to report on the problems of the defence of Britain, they could not avoid stressing the overwhelming superiority of the enemy on land and in the air—a superiority which forced this country once more into a
defensive strategy until its deficiencies in men and material could be made up.
This meant a long wait—two years or perhaps more. Thus, when in the last week of August the Chiefs of Staff were for the first time able to survey in detail the military position and prospects, it appeared to them clear that neither the air nor the army programme could come to fruition until 1942, and that in order to achieve the aims in 1942 the first-line expansion during 1941 must be limited. Their view was that to attempt without success to force a decision in 1941 would be to mortgage Britain’s capacity to build up Forces of decisive strength by 1942. Nothing, not even America’s entry into the war, would justify Britain endeavouring to accelerate her own efforts in 1941 at the risk of impairing her strength in 1942. In the following summer when the principle was stated again, and the dates were put still further ahead, the Chiefs of Staff thought the proper date for an offensive should be somewhere at the turn of 1942 and 1943. The Army and Navy should attain their maximum strengths by about the same time; the equivalent of the existing Air Force ‘target’ programme would have been completed by the autumn of 1942, but it was intended to continue the expansion of the Air Force after that date in order to make certain of absolute air predominance.
The need for holding back for a number of years was thus as great as ever. At the same time it went further and meant more than mere necessity of waiting. Behind the strategy of preparation lay another and a far broader assumption which was so self-evident that it was seldom put into words and may not even have been consciously considered. In theory the same choice was open to Britain in 1940 (and for the matter to Britain in 1939) as, we are told, presented itself at the outbreak of war to Hitler.5 The preparations could be either ‘broad’ or ‘deep’. ‘Broad’ rearmament would have aimed at a quick military decision and would not have demanded an industrial effort any greater or a waiting period any longer than was necessary to enable the greatest possible number of fighting men to take the field at the earliest possible time. Rearmament in ‘depth’, on the other hand, assumed that the armed forces and industrial employment would be so balanced as to make sure that the military forces were fully equipped and could be maintained in action for an indefinite time.
But, except in theory, this was not Britain’s dilemma. To British statesmen and Service leaders the choice never presented itself. No matter how quickly British armed forces were mobilised the changes of their achieving a quick victory were very small; the chances of their being equipped except through a protracted industrial effort
appeared smaller still. In theory the only alternative to rearmament in ‘depth’ was greater help from the United States of American, and it will be shown later6 that the necessity of relying upon the United States of America for a further supply of weapons came to be accepted in the closing years of the war. Some such prospect must have been in the minds of some British representatives in Washington—Mr. A. B. Purvis and M. Jean Monnet—and of Sir Arthur Salter, then chairman of the North American Supplies Committee in London, all of whom on the morrow of Dunkirk proclaimed the need for an expansion of American output of weapons sufficient by itself to achieve victory.
Mr. Churchill himself doubtless based his constant hope of victory on the expectation of ever-greater American assistance; and on one memorable occasion made a public appeal to the Americans to give Britain the tools she needed to finish the job.7 But neither he nor any of his advisers ever intended a division of labour whereby the United States of American would supply all the ‘tools’ while this country would do the entire ‘job’. Such hope of a division of labour as the men of the Purvis-Monnet school may at one time have entertained was more or less scotched in the course of the negotiations about ‘types’ at the turn of 1940 and 1941. It will be shown later8 that during these negotiations the British Army representatives failed to persuade the Americans to adopt the British type of field and heavy anti-aircraft gun, and remained themselves unconvinced by the American arguments in favour of their own designs. And without pooling of designs there could be no question of Britain by rearmed by America.
For a good time to come supplies from the United States consisted mainly of food, raw materials and machine tools; and the American Government was not to be asked for more than a relatively small proportion of the British requirements of weapons. The exact proportion may have varied from Service to Service; but in the main Britain’s plan of preparation was self-sufficient. The size of the armed forces, the magnitude of war industry and the duration of the waiting period, were all fixed on the assumption that Britain would no be capable of passing to the offensive until her Forces had been fully armed with weapons made at home.
In this respect the main strategic plan was the same as in the opening months of war. Where Mr. Churchill’s policy of preparation differed from Mr. Chamberlain’s was in the spirit which animated it and the manner in which the waiting period was to be employed. Neither country nor its Prime Minister were in a mood
for sitting down with folded arms while weapons were being forced; and the gathering menace of the German offensive would have made it impossible for this country to indulge in mere waiting even if its Government and people had been willing to do so. At the beginning of June 1940 the Prime Minister pointed out to his advisers that in the defensive state of mind created by the withdrawal from Dunkirk and by the possibility of a German attack, the country might suffer from ‘the mental and moral prostration to the will and initiative of the enemy’ which had ruined the French. As a remedy he recommended repeated small-scale inroads on the Continent—hence the development of the Commandos. But above all, in his own mind, as in the minds of his advisers, the time of preparations was to be given over to a long-range attack against the power of German. The strategy of the attack was bound to be indirect. Now that the French Army was no longer at our side and the continent of Europe was lost, all hopes of decisive operations by land (at any rate in the near future) had to be abandoned, and hopes had to be pinned on the other instruments of war available to this country. In the words of the Chiefs of Staff, Britain’s immediate action should be to ‘destroy all upon which the German war machine rests—the economy which feeds it, the civilian morale which sustains it, the supplies which nourish it and hopes of victory which give it courage’. All this was to be done by blockade, by air bombardment and by organised risings in the occupied territories.
Military preparations accompanied by acts of attrition were the guiding principles of British strategy throughout the eighteen months that separated the fall of France and the entry of the United States of America into the war. In time greater emphasis came to be placed on the defence of the British positions in the Middle East and on the possibility of defeating Italy. There was also a tendency, already mentioned,9 to put off the date of the final offensive to 1943 and beyond. But the general forecast of the course of the war, of the chances of victory and of the means of attack, remained the same throughout the period and were not affected either by the entry of Russia into the war or by the approaching entry of the United States of America.
A plan thus conceived was bound to determine the entire shape of the rearmament programme—its size, its timing and the distribution of its emphasis. The changes were far from radical. In spite of the higher scales, greater urgencies and more clearly defined priorities, the rearmament programmes of the three Services were not reshuffled. In the strategic position and in the economic conditions of 1940 there was little room for a revolutionary transformation in the
balance of rearmament. It was not until well after the period covered by this chapter—not until 1942 or even later—that Service programmes were recast to suit the logic of changing strategy.
(3) The Bomber Programmes
The delay in adjusting the RAF programmes was the longest. The Air Force was now as much as ever the chosen instrument. Both in the war of attrition and in the final campaign of victory it was expected to play a part no less pre-eminent than the part it had been allotted in the pre-Dunkirk plans for defence. There was thus every reason why the country should ‘go all out’ for a vast bomber force. Such were, however, the conditions in the months immediately following Dunkirk that in spite of all the favour which the RAF enjoyed, its supply of bombers could not be secured—indeed could not even be planned—until well into 1942. Even then the plans fell short of their strategic: far shorter than the munitions programmes of the other Services fell of theirs.
The problem of bombers was in essence the same as that of aircraft production as a whole. For delays in their output the general unsettlement of the time, including bombing, and the more chronic difficulties of aircraft production (more about them will be said later) were to blame. To some extent, and to begin with, the disturbances brought about by the events of summer 1940 also had their effect. The success of the mid-1940 spurt had not been bought without disturbing for a while the normal flow of aircraft production. Stocks of materials and components and reserves of production capacity were drawn upon for immediate use, and the whole cycle of production was brought forward in a manner which sacrificed future prospects to current output. The sacrifice was well understood and willingly faced. For with the Battle of France lost and with the German invasion of Britain drawing near the Minister of Aircraft production was justified in thinking—as he did—that the war was going to be decided—as it was—there and then, and that nothing but immediate reinforcement of the RAF could save the country. But the salvation had to be paid for, and a disturbance of production was part of the price.
The disturbance, however, was only a passing one, and could not be blamed, as it sometimes was, for failures of production in later years. Within two months of the priority orders of May 1940 the Ministry was considering again its long-term prospects and reinstating
into the programme the types suspended in May. By October a programme for two years ahead, the so-called ‘Hennessy’ scheme (Mr. Hennessy of the Ford Motor Company was at the time Lord Beaverbrook’s personal adviser) could be put down on paper. But on paper it was destined to remain. According to the scheme, monthly production was to reach 2,565 aircraft by June 1941 and 2,782 by December 1941,10 and experience was very soon to show how impossible the figures were. They were based on carefully worked out coefficients of floor space and machining capacity available to the industry, but they assumed a balanced supply of the factors of production—materials, components and labour. Above all they assumed the industry’s capacity to utilise its manufacturing resources to the full, including multiple shifts in all stages of production. It is therefore more than doubtful whether the figures in the programme could ever have been reached. The disturbed and dramatic circumstances of 1940 and 1941, including German night bombing and the dispersal of aircraft factories, placed the programme beyond all bounds of possibility. So by the end of the winter the Minister, much as he disliked the necessity (scaling down programmes was anathema to Lord Beaverbrook), had to agree to the reduction of the ‘Hennessy’ programme, if only by successive stages.
Indeed, for at least another year, the MAP programmes was a record of ambition gradually reduced to conform with the inexorable facts of industry and administration. Under each successive programme—and during the year beginning October 1940 there were several—the expectations of aircraft in the immediate future were brought lower.11 True enough, the total of aircraft to be produced under each programme remained the same or was even increased. But to make this possible the planners in the Ministry added to the expected output in the distant future the numbers that had to be cut from immediate expectations. To use a contemporary expression, they ‘lifted a tail of the production curve’. As time advanced the tail got higher and longer, and the prospects of peak production at 2,500 a months and above were receding ever further into the future.
From every point of view and above all that of Britain’s offensive strategy the prospect was not good enough. What made it worse still was that the ambitions of the Ministry of Aircraft Production had to be cut most in relation to heavy bomber. The new ‘heavies’ had figured very prominently in the programmes of 1938 and 1939 and were then expected to fly by the summer of 1940. But so
great were the difficulties of development and of initial production that in spite of continuous prodding by the Ministry the new bombers obstinately refused to appear. The early stages of the Stirling both at Austin’s and Short’s were very ‘sticky’; the development of the Manchester, though quicker off the mark, was dependent on the Vulture engine, and by the middle of 1941 the Vulture was showing that lack of promise which was eventually to bring about its demise. The Halifax proved at that time to be the only reliable heavy bomber about to be produced in respectable numbers, but even the Halifax was threatened with further and further delays.
Yet all the while the industry was continually pressed by the Minister of Aircraft Production, and MAP itself was under continuous and heavy pressure from the Air Council and the Prime Minister. The pressure was brought to a head by the Prime Minister’s instructions of the 7th September 1941 requesting a drastic increase in bomber production. Britain’s entire attack on Germany hinged upon bombers, yet the supply of bombers was insufficient. In order to achieve a first-line strength of 4,000 medium and heavy bombers, the RAF required 22,000 to be made between July 1941 and July 1943; of these 5,500 might be expected from American production. The latest forecast showed that of the remaining 16,500 only 11,000 would be obtained from British factories. This in the Prime Minister’s view was very unsatisfactory, and he was therefore forced to give instructions for a plan to be prepared for the expansion of the effort to produce a total of 14,500 in that period instead of 11,000.
The forecast of 11,000 to which the Prime Minister referred may have been that of the programme of the 3rd July or else that of the subsequent programme which was to be made public on the 11th September.12 But whatever their origin the figures meant 3,500 additional bombers in less than two years, and the demand was obviously very difficult to meet. The Ministry of Aircraft Production did nothing to hide the difficulties. It pointed out that the current programmes had absorbed a vast amount of tools and labour, that continuous shifts had turned out to be impossible to work, that housing and transport were difficult, that certain types of fabricated alloys were short. The best it could do was to meet the Prime Minister’s request half-way: to accept his figures but to dilute their composition and to prolong the period of delivery. The dilution was to be achieved by enlarging the output of the Wellington—a tried old stager which was at that time the type most amenable to quantity production. The extension of the date meant that another nine to eleven months were then added to the final date at which the Prime
Minister’s 14,500 was to be reached. By 31st July 1943, the Prime Minister’s terminal date, only 1,074 additional bombers instead of the Prime Minister’s 3,500 could be promised.
Yet even these promises turned out to be excessive and in December they had to be cut again.13 The planned additions to the output of heavy bomber in 1942 were scaled down below those of the ‘September’ programme. Additional output was scheduled to come in 1943, but even in that year the monthly additions over the July programme were to reach only fifty in June and about 100 in December compared with the 157 originally planned for that month. The additions to the medium bombers were to begin a few months earlier and to rise to a peak of 300 per months by September 1943 compared with the peak of 280 to be reached by the end of May 1943 under the ‘September’ programme.
In 1942 came further downward adjustments accompanied by the ‘lifting of the tail’. These later adjustments, however, and the circumstances in which they were carried out differed in many respects from those of 1940 and 1941 and will be more conveniently told in the next chapter.
With plans of aircraft construction failing to fit the strategy of air offensive an even greater value attached to American deliveries. The Ministry of Aircraft Production from the very beginning put high hopes on American deliveries of complete aircraft and did much to stimulate their production on Britain’s account. As time went on the American contribution began to play an increasing part in the aircraft programmes. The Middle Eastern theatre was to a growing extent dependent upon American fighters and bombers. By September 1941 more than 600 American aircraft of all types had been shipped to the Middle East. American Catalinas, B-24s (Liberators) and Hudsons also formed an important part of Coastal Command. The figures already quoted show to what extent the chances of the bomber offensive had come to depend on American supplies. Yet even than America’s entry into the war in December 1941 made a great difference. More about this will be said later.14
(4) The Irreducible Army
In spite of the secondary place which the prevailing strategic doctrine assigned to the Army, its establishment and demands for munitions were great enough to absorb a large part—much more
than one-third—of the resources engaged in war production. It will be shown presently that strict quantitative limits and a clearly defined timetable governed the expansion of the field forces. Thanks to these limits and to this timetable the Government found it possible in the last two years of the war to wind up a great deal of the industrial effort devoted to the Army. But in the years which immediately followed Dunkirk, the War Office and the Ministry of Supply were more conscious of the Army’s high and expanding needs than of its time-limits and of its restricted size.
The accepted strategic principles were bound to impose close limits on the Army’s size. In the discussions which immediately followed Dunkirk, ardent spirits in and out of the War Office might occasionally speculate in terms of a great land army to match the Germany Army strength; a figure as high as 100 divisions was sometimes mentioned. But the dangers of the British military position and the limited potentialities of British economy put all such ideas out of court. In their first general survey of post-Dunkirk projects—that of August 1940—the Chiefs of Staff declared themselves against producing an army on the continental scale or running a major campaign on the western front against the German Army in its present state. Apart from defending the country from invasion the main contribution of the Army to victory would come at the end of the war, when some field forces might be called upon to clinch the victory. In the meantime the Army had to confine itself to tasks of secondary importance and to home defence.
This view came in the end to be embodied in Mr. Churchill’s famous directive of 6th March 1941. Harking back to his own advocacy of a larger number of divisions,15 he now admitted that when in the autumn of 1939 the War Cabinet approved the formation of a full army of fifty-five divisions, it was not realised that a division as contemplated by the War Office, with its share of corps, army, headquarters and lines of communication formations, would require 42,000 men exclusive of all training establishments and of all garrisons, depots or troops not included in the field army.16 His main argument, however, was strategic and economic. In the conditions of 1939 it could be assumed that the bulk of the Army would stand in line with the French under conditions comparable to those of the last war. But there was no question now of advancing in force against the German armies on the mainland of Europe. The bulk of the Army had to stay home and defend the island. Apart from resisting invasion, it would be impossible for the Army to play a primary role in the defeat of the enemy. That task could only be done
by the staying power of the Navy, and, above all, by the effect of air predominance.#
The strategic limits thus set were, however, much narrower in theory than they turned out to be in practice. The size of the Army may have been fixed at fifty-five divisions: the figure which Mr. Chamberlain’s Government had in the last months of its existence chosen as the final target of Army expansion. The identity of the two programmes, however, was merely one of form. In the autumn and winter of 1939 the fifty-five divisions were not more than a general indication of the Army’s final aims, and did not as yet determine the current plans of the Ministry of Supply. In the summer of 1940 the fifty-five divisions became the firm basis of all planning. By one of its earliest decisions Mr. Churchill’s Government laid down as the general aim for the War Office and Ministry of Supply the formation of thirty-six divisions by Z + 21, i.e. by 31st May 1941, and of the rest of the fifty-five divisions by Z + 27, i.e. by 30th November 1941.
Moreover, it soon became clear that however modest the role of the Army in strategic theory, its full demands for stores would overflow the limits of the fifty-five division programme. As the War Office pointed out in its comments on the Prime Minister’s directive, the responsibilities of the Army, however ‘secondary’ in accepted strategic doctrine, required a very large establishment—in fact a larger establishment than anything contemplated before Dunkirk.
The needs of the final operation, i.e. the landing on the Continent, as assessed in 1940 were neither great nor definite. At that time it appeared that for some year at least a large-scale invasion of the Continent would not be possible. Long after the events of 1940 plans for army landings on the Continent continued to be case on a very modest scale, and on the very eve of America’s entry into the war Mr. Churchill still found it necessary to explain to the Russians that although Britain had every intention of intervening on the Continent—in the spring of 1942 if that could be done—all ideas of twenty or thirty British divisions being sent against the Germans on the Continent were without foundation in reality. In his directive he had spoken of a striking force of eight to ten divisions, mostly armoured, and this was also the estimate most commonly contained in the papers of the Chiefs of Staff.
The ‘victory contingent’ was thus conceived on modest lines, and had the army programmes been wholly or even mainly devoted to it the War Office demands for men and weapons would not have been very large. Future plans and ambitions in this respect were deliberately played down so as not to swell the Army’s share of national resources. Swollen it nevertheless was. In the conditions of 1940 and 1941 the other commitments of the Army absorbed men and
arms in quantities far greater than those which in theory were necessary to equip the small landing army of the future. In the first place, home defence was bound to absorb a large and ever-growing volume of resources. By March 1941, the date of Mr. Churchill’s directive, there were, in addition to the regular divisions of the ‘field forces’, nearly 490,000 men in the Air Defence of Great Britain, in anti-aircraft defence of merchant ships and in the defence of factories and vulnerable points; there were a further 158,000 men in garrisons and defended port abroad.
Army requirements were also piling up as a result of changing tactical conceptions. There was a marked tendency for certain types of army weapons to grow out of all proportion to the army programmes as a whole. Thus throughout 1940 and 1941 additional requirements continued to come from the new and special formations, such as the Commandos and the Airborne Divisions, to say nothing of the unfolding programme of action in the territories occupied by the enemy. But the most prolific sources of new demands were the armoured formations. The emphasis on armour appears to grow from programme to programme. In the summer of 1940 Mr. Churchill laid it down that the Army should, to begin with, contain not less than seven armoured divisions, and the programme of August 1940 was based on the assumption that the equivalent of about ten armoured divisions would be formed. By the beginning of 1941 the official programme of fifty-five divisions came to be conceived as one of forty-eight infantry divisions plus the equivalent of twelve armoured divisions. In the spring of that year the proportion of the armoured units was raised again, to the equivalent of some sixteen armoured divisions. By the end of July the long-term plans grew to comprise the equivalent of about eighteen armoured divisions.
The actual expansion of armoured formations did not, of course, keep pace with the plans. Moreover, the plans, however ambitious, did not require a corresponding increase in the total Army establishment or in the total requirements of war-stores, for the personnel of the armoured divisions was about twenty percent less than that of an infantry division with a corresponding economy of clothing, hutments, infantry weapons and transport. But it did necessitate a great rise in the demand for tanks—a rise which has already been mentioned and will be discussed again.17
Even more expansive turned out to be the needs of the Middle East. Acting in a mood of characteristic confidence and courage, the Government may have sent to Egypt reinforcements greater than those which in the summer of 1940 cautious men thought the country could safely spare. Nevertheless, the total forces engaged in Wavell’s first campaign were not so heavy as to upset the strategic plan, and
had the fighting continued on the same scale and remained equally successful, they could probably have been maintained—as the Government hoped they would be—without undue strain on the Army establishment or on its supply of munitions. But as it turned out, the needs of the campaign grew with every turn of military fortune. They were heavy enough at the time of Mr. Churchill’s directive. In the spring of 1941 there were twelve divisions in the Middle East, of which three were from the United Kingdom. In Mr. Churchill’s view three or four divisions were the most that could be sent from home and maintained in the Middle East. The main reinforcements would have to come from the other parts of the Empire, with later on munitions from the United States. Yet, by October 1941 the ‘Army of the Nile’ had swollen to sixteen divisions, of which six were from the United Kingdom, and it was intended to reinforce the Middle East with two more British divisions from the United Kingdom. And although by then the Middle East theatre was in appreciable measure supplied from North America (some thirty percent of its wheeled transport and some twenty percent of its tanks had come from there), and the bulk of the equipment was still drawn from home.
Thus in the conditions of 1940 and 1941 the Army and its demands on war industry were bound to be greater than strict logic of the long-term strategy might appear to require. No wonder the formal statement of the War Office requirements under the post-Dunkirk programmes presented a great addition on earlier demands—how great will best be shown by comparing them with the War Office requirements as stated in April 1940.
Table 13: War Office requirements under the pre-Dunkirk and post-Dunkirk programmes
|Requirements as stated|
|Number of divisions for which required Date by which delivery was to be completed||36|
|Z + 24|
|(31 Aug. 1941)||55|
|Z + 27|
|(30 Nov. 1941)|
|Tanks: medium, light and infantry||7,096||10,444|
|Wheeled vehicles and motor cycles||376,299||575,008|
|Field, medium and anti-aircraft guns, including conversions: equipments||12,677||22,676|
|2-pdr. tank and anti-tank guns||13,561||20,670|
Further additions were to come before long. Under a written arrangements between the War Office and the Ministry of Supply the
former undertook to provide every six months a revised set of requirements covering two full years ahead. In accordance with this arrangement revised programmes were submitted to the Ministry in the late spring of 1941 and these were followed by another revised programme in the autumn and winter of 1941–42.18 At each of these stages the estimates for a number of stores (both cumulative total and the monthly rates of supply at peak) were raised. As has already been suggested there were spectacular increases in the requirements of armoured fighting vehicles and of anti-tank guns to suit the expanding plans of armoured divisions. The number of cruiser and infantry tanks required by the end of November 1941 (Z+27), as estimated in August 1940, was 10,444. As estimated in May 1941 the requirements to the end of that year (Z+28) had risen to 17,501 and cumulative requirements to cover the 1942 programme to 19,700. In December 1941 it was estimated that requirements during 1942 and 1943 would be as high as 36,720.
Table 14: War Office requirements of cruiser and infantry tanks
|Date of estimate||August 1940||May 1941||December 1941—January 1942|
|Date by which delivery was to be completed||30th Nov. 1941|
|(Z + 27)||31st Dec. 1941|
|(Z + 28)||31st Dec. 1942|
|(Z + 40)||Total demand 1st Oct. 1941 to end 1943|
|Provision for Russia and other Allies||9,000|
The demands for other armoured fighting vehicles and for anti-tank guns were to match. A glance at Table 15 will also show that the War Office requirements for some other types of equipment were growing at very nearly the same rate.19 But highest of all were the demands for ammunition, and it was on the figures of ammunition that the discussion of army programmes was largely to centre.
Table 15: War Office requirements of certain war-stores, August 1940–December 1941
|Date of estimate||Aug. 1940||May 1941||Dec. 1941—Jan. 1942|
|Date by which delivery was to be completed||30th Nov. 1941|
|(Z+27)||31st Dec. 1941|
|(Z+28)||31st Dec. 1942|
|(Z+40)||Between 1st Oct. 1941 and 31st Dec. 1942||
|Tanks: medium, light and infantry||10,444||18,601||21,705||21,367*||7,270*|
|Armoured and scout cars||5,132||7,300||9,250||10,000||3,500|
|Wheeled vehicles and motor cycles||575,008||567,145||688,970||498,300||169,316|
|Anti-aircraft guns: equipments||15,177||15,250||…||12,500||990|
|Medium artillery, including conversions: equipments||1,397||870||1,070||1,090||110|
|25 pdr.: equipments||6,102||5,900||6,800||3,800||900|
|2 pdr.: tank and anti-tank guns||20,670||19,400||25,100||5,650||650|
|Other tank and anti-tank guns||459||11,100||21,910||13,820||3,650|
* See footnote21
† See footnote22
… not available
One of the main reasons why the requirements of ammunition in the army programmes were so high that the wartime programmes were not so exclusively devoted to ‘initial’ equipment as the narrow sense of the term might suggest. The anti-aircraft artillery was from the very first days of the Battle of Britain engaged in air warfare and was expending its ammunition and wearing out its gun. War-stores were also being expended in the Middle East in great and ever-growing quantities. But from the purely quantitative point of view even more important were the provisions for ‘wastage’ which were comprised in the ‘initial’ equipment of field divisions. The latter included large quantities of ammunition and other stores for immediate reserves and for stores in transit, and also reserves large enough to cover all operational wastage in the period between the outbreak of fighting and the complete deployment of war production.
However modestly estimated these various provisions for maintenance were bound to add up to a great deal; and it so happened that
the estimates were far from being modest. The expenditure rates for a number of stores like transport and clothing were very high, but the highest of all and the most burdensome were wastage requirements for bullets and shells. The War Office requirements for the maintenance of field guns including tank and anti-tank guns but excluding anti-aircraft guns, at the rate of 1,850 per month, or 22,200 per annum, were equivalent to the ‘capital’ equipment of some twenty-five divisions. Not counting the very high demands of the RAF and the Navy, the requirements of small arms ammunition at November 1941 (Z + 27) stood at 277 million rounds per month. According to the Ministry of Supply forecast, in order to fulfil the requirements of gun ammunition, as stated in August 1940, 64 million shells would have to be provided for field guns by June 1941, and a monthly rate of 8 million rounds per month would have to be reached by December 1941. If maintained in 1942 this requirement would have necessitated an output of nearly 100 million shells in a year, or about twenty-five percent more than the total British output of gun ammunition for the BEF in 1916, and some thirty-five percent more than in 1918.
These requirements were obviously impracticable. In the opinion of the Ministry of Supply they prejudiced the changes of the entire programme. Not only did the total requirements over the entire Z + 27 period (i.e. to 30th November 1941) represent a vast industrial task, but they were also so spaced out that for a year, or possibly two, the Ministry could not possibly avoid a large deficit; and the accumulated deficit of the earlier years would make it all but impossible to meet the final requirements in full. As early as the 7th August 1940 the Director General of Programmes in the Ministry of Supply had to warn his Minister that there would be substantial deficiencies on the Z + 24 programme, that further deficiencies were also very likely, and that unless some of the items in the War Office lists—and more especially ammunition scales—were cut, the Ministry’s task would turn out to be impossible.
No sooner, therefore, were the ‘August’ programmes passed to the Ministry of Supply than the question of ammunition had to be examined more or less ab initio. The issues then raised are sufficiently important and went sufficiently far back into the history of war production to deserve a slight digression. The occasion for the first doubts about the ammunition programme occurred during the discussions of the Army plans in the autumn of 1939. The argument was Mr. Churchill’s and was mainly tactical and strategic. It will be remembered that at that time the chief objection to a larger army rested on grounds of supply.23 It was, therefore, inevitable that Mr.
Churchill’s criticism should have been primarily directed against the War Office estimates of supply needs. In a note he submitted to the Military Coordination Committee of the War Cabinet on the 9th February 1940 he questioned the War Office assumption that an army of fifty-five divisions would require 66,000 guns and would ‘consume’ in the field some 25,000 guns. He observed that such a prodigious output of artillery would exceed the output of field, medium and heavy artillery in the whole of the First World War. At the peak of production in that war Britain was stated to have produced 8,500 guns of all calibres. How forlorn then must be the position of the German Army which aimed at having 240 divisions by August 1941. Under the War Office hypothesis, the Germans would have to produce some 290,000 guns of all calibres and maintain a supply of 108,000 guns per year. But Mr. Churchill’s chief criticism was directed against the wastage rates of ammunition. The War Office, he said, derived its figures from the rates of fire of the new guns, which had greatly increased. But what had not increased was the means of conveying the ammunition from the rear to the guns, and this, Mr. Churchill proceeded, remained the limiting factor. The War Office, therefore, was not justified in assuming a greater expenditure of ammunition merely because of the greater rapidity of fire. The greater rapidity of discharge enabled a more intense burst of fire to be achieved for a short period. Economy of ammunition in accordance with the tactical and administrative conditions would have to be enforced now as formerly.24
These and similar arguments were on that occasion urged very strongly. If in the end the fifty-five division plan was not at that time put into operation, it was largely because Mr. Churchill’s arguments were not fully accepted. In August 1940, however, the issue was revived. A memorandum submitted by the Minister of Supply, Mr. Herbert Morrison, to the War Cabinet on 29th August 1940 officially reopened the discussions which were to continue all through the late autumn and winter. The discussions brought out most of the old arguments as well as a few new ones. The output of guns developed relatively slowly, and ammunition was being piled up for non-existing guns; the problems of storage and transport of ammunition scales put the rest of the army programme in jeopardy. This time the argument won the day. By the last week of February reduced rates were worked out. These and further reductions resulting from the Prime Minister’s directive of 6th March 194125 were embodied in the
War Office requirements as communicated to the Minister of Supply in May 1941. How great the reductions were in comparison not only with the requirements of August 1940 but also with those of the pre-Dunkirk era will be seen from Table 16.
Table 16: War Office requirements of principal types of ammunition, as communicated to the Ministry of Supply in April 1940, August 1940 and May 1941
|Type of ammunition||
|FIELD AND MEDIUM|
|25-pdr. Smoke and Gas||1,412||11,400||4,300|
|18-pdr. HE and Smoke||1,947||2,724||150|
|4.5-inch gun HE||1,511||3,456||580|
|5.5-inch gun Howitzer HE||1,286||3,876||680|
|6-inch Howitzer HE||2,467||2,640||700|
|3.7-inch HE and Shrapnel||3,638||4,632||6,086|
|4.5-inch HE and Shrapnel||230||432||1,052|
In fact the only requirements of ammunition to increase were those for anti-tank and anti-aircraft types—a reflection of the emergency calls already described and of the growing emphasis on anti-aircraft and armoured formations. The reductions in gun ammunition were matched by other reductions, especially in reserves of guns and barrels and ‘general stores’ such as clothing, bedding, etc., but it was chiefly through the reduction in ammunition that the Ministry of Supply could contemplate the rising requirements for a number of weapons with some hope of fulfilling them. This should not be taken to mean that, even with the ammunition requirements reduced, the programmes for Z + 27 were capable of being fulfilled at their appointed date. The discussions within the Ministry of Supply and the information which that Ministry gave to the War Office and the Defence Committee (Supply) still reflected the general impression that the field forces would take longer to equip than the timetables of 1940 allowed. But what mattered was that the activities of the Ministry
of Supply could now be planned on the assumption that sooner or later the programmes would be fulfilled and that sooner or later a peak point would be reached beyond which its operations might begin to contract. The assumption which always underlay War Office plans was that its requirements would come down as soon as the stores necessary to equip the entire complement of divisions had been delivered. The end of November 1941 (Z+27) was the terminal date named in the summer of 1940; the subsequent additions to the programmes and the difficulties of industrial mobilisation put the date much later. But until the outbreak of hostilities in the Far East the Ministry of Supply could hope that the peak of its activities would be reached and the equipment of the Army be completed some time in 1942.
Thus, for all the fundamental changes in Britain’s military position after Dunkirk, the general aims of war production and even the separate supply plans for the three Services did not undergo a radical transformation. The programmes of re-equipment expanded, but for the time being spectacular changes in individual Service programmes were ruled out by the economic and strategic position of the country. The continuity of the naval ‘emergency’ programmes was to be expected and was indeed planned for.29 But the records of the other Services were almost equally continuous. The RAF’s rank as the favoured arm was higher than ever before and stood the way of any possible plans to expand the field forces beyond their essential minimum. Yet even the most essential minimum equipment of the Army turned out to be so large as to make it impossible to increase the Air Force as far as strategic plans demanded. And although industrial activity was now much greater than before, some of the increase resulted from earlier preparations; and for the rest, the growing scale of industrial activity reflected not so much the changed aims of the planners as the more rigorous execution of their plans.
(5) The New Administration
After Dunkirk the execution of the Service demands altered more radically than the scale and structure of the demands themselves. What changed was the behaviour of the country: the spirit in which the people shouldered the burdens of the war and the resolution which the Government imposed them. This may not be a subject to which a study of munitions can do justice. In an industrial and administrative
study of this kind the spirit of the times must remain in the background and be taken more or less for granted. The behaviour of the Government on the other hand is an essential part of this history, even when the changes in government were also largely those of attitude and behaviour and were not solely concerned with administrative and institutional forms.
Administrative changes were bound to follow the great emergency of 1940 and the accession of the new Government.30 In the administration of war production the earliest as well as the most conspicuous innovation was the formation on the 17th May of the Ministry of Aircraft Production.31 The separate ministry symbolised the urgency which was now attached to the output of aircraft, but from a purely practical point of view its birth need not necessarily have been accompanied by an radical operation. In the course of the preceding ten months, the production department of the Air Ministry in Harrogate under Sir Wilfrid Freeman as the Air Member for Development and Production (AMDP)32 and Sir Charles Craven as the recently appointed Civil Member for Development and Production (CMDP) had grown to rival in both size and authority the Ministry of Supply. It could easily be elevated to the rank of a fully-fledged ministry and be translated to London without great changes in its machinery. It is therefore not surprising that after the transfer the layout of the new Ministry remained for a time little different from what it had been in Harrogate.
If before long the Ministry appeared to break both with the men and the methods of Harrogate, this was not due to any lack of performance or administrative order in the production branches of the Air Ministry. On the contrary, the output of aircraft on the early months of 1940 was rising very fast and was ahead of programme: the first and very nearly the only period in the development of the war industry when this happened. The subsequent history of aircraft production also showed that the methods and attitudes of the planners and the industrial administrators active in the Air Ministry during that period were not deficient in either initiative or forethought. They did not however conform to what the new Minister of Aircraft Production thought was necessary in the exceptional circumstances of the summer of 1940. He did not believe that people he described generically as ‘air marshals’ were suited by temperament or training to the running of aircraft production. His intention was to make his department into a fast-growing enterprise run by men who knew how to make their enterprise grow fast. Another predilection of the Minister was for administrative methods more spontaneous and
informal than the established practices of government departments. The latter spelt routine, paper work or, in general, ‘organisation’ was ‘the enemy of improvisation’. So even if organised hierarchy and orderly procedure were allowed to continue at the lower level of the official pyramid, the Ministry at the top was to an increasing extent run by an informal group of the Ministry at the top was an increasing extent run by an informal group of the Minister’s personal advisers drawn from business. By degrees the group with Mr. Hennessy of Ford’s at its head superseded both the AMDP and the CMDP In the autumn Air Chief Marshal Sir Wilfrid Freeman returned to the Air Staff and was, in part, replaced by Sir Henry Tizard; Sir Charles Craven returned to Vickers-Armstrongs and was not formally replaced. The Permanent Secretary was left alone in the Minister’s entourage to represent the properties of a department of state. On paper the field of his official duties may have been narrow—consisting mainly of establishments and finance including contracts—but his authority was high, and his influence sufficiently great to enable him to preserve continuity in the affairs of the new Ministry as a whole.
The régime reflect the personality of the Minister and the critical urgency of the tasks he had to face in the summer of 1940. The urgency was more or less over by the winter 1940–41, but it was not until the summer of 1941, when Lord Beaverbrook was translated to the Ministry of Supply and Colonel Moore-Brabazon, as he then was, became the Ministry of Aircraft Production, that the administration of the department could be sorted out, redefined and brought into line again with the methods of the other ministries. A number of Lord Beaverbrook’s personal advisers left MAP; Sir Charles Craven was persuaded to return as Controller General. Under him a network of directorates of production, under five directors general and deputy directors general, took shape. The Secretariat, under the Permanent Secretary, supplied the common administrative services of the Ministry as a whole, and its functions had by this time come to embrace such diverse tasks as labour, construction, regional services and aircraft distribution. And at the very top of the Ministry, the Aircraft Supply Council, comprising the Minister, the Parliamentary Secretary and the four or five heads of departments, established itself as the principal deliberative organ of the Ministry. Except for gradual changes in later years this was in principle to remain the structure of the Ministry for the rest of the war years.
The other production departments escaped most of the administrative experiences of the MAP. They all had to undertake duties of industrial administration new and strange to the Civil Service; to tackle emergencies which required hustle and improvisation; and to choose recruits from among businessmen and dons. Yet compared with MAP they took their new men and new methods in smaller
and perhaps more agreeable doses and thus escaped some of MAP’s internal unsettlement.
The dosage of the Admiralty was indeed so small as to leave the organisation and method of the department almost unchanged. Naval construction between the two wars had been sufficient to keep in being a fully organised production department under the Third Sea Lord (the Controller of the Navy). The war and even Dunkirk did not bring with them an increase in naval construction great enough to require an expansion comparable with that of MAP or the Ministry of Supply. The department therefore continued to be run more or less as before. Its main body at Bath was separated from Whitehall by a distance of more than a hundred miles, but it continued to be an integral part of the Admiralty organisation. Its various branches were often headed by naval officers; its high Civil Service members continued to look after matters of finance, contracts, secretariat and establishments; its recruits from outside were not as a rule given posts of great responsibility. The only exception was the newly-founded branch in charge of merchant shipbuilding and repair, whose head, Sir James Lithgow, and whose second-in-command, Sir Amos Ayre, were leaders of the British shipbuilding and ship-repairing industry, and whose higher personnel mostly came from the same source. To this extent, the department bore some resemblance to many branches of MAP; yet the resemblance was largely superficial. Its production problems and the habits of its experts did not favour that post-haste improvisation which was so marked a feature of MAP in the early stages of its development.
The administrative problems of the Ministry of Supply were equally difficult, for the Ministry was called upon to expand the production of an infinite variety of stores at rates which, measured by employment and expense, were little different from those of MAP. Yet its administrative record was unspectacular and to the uninformed might even appear uneventful.
Under Mr. Morrison33 the department came up against a number of problems inherent in the original conception of the Ministry of Supply, but for none of these problems was a radical solution found or indeed sought. The most ambitious of the new appointments was perhaps that of Sir Walter Layton (later Lord Layton) as Director General of Programmes, with a seat on the Supply Council and in charge of the Statistics Branch. The Supply Council set up in September 1939 acted as a regular conference of departmental heads of the Ministry, but it was not destined to continue as the main directing committee within the Ministry. Before long it proved too cumbrous and even, in a sense, too representative a body to provide
a convenient place for regular discussion of the Ministry’s problems, and its business largely passed into the hands of a much small Executive Committee which was set up in March 1941.
In July 1941 the advent of Lord Beaverbrook as Minister led to a more general reshuffle at the top.34 Research and development of weapons were taken out of the competence of the production divisions and brought together under a centralised department, and placed under Mr. Oliver Lucas as Controller General of Research and Development. To match this appointment and perhaps to compensate for it the Director General of Munitions Production was raised to the position of Controller General with a general oversight over all the production divisions, including some not previously under his control. The appointment which was perhaps most characteristic of the Minister was that of Mr. (later Sir William) Rootes, head of the motor-car firm, as chairman of the ‘Minister’s Council’ which consisted of the personal advisers of the Minister. the Supply Council, as hitherto understood, was put into suspense though not formally abolished.
More enduring than some of these personal and institutional innovations were the changes in the functions and the organisation of the Secretariat. Its principal duties in the early stages of the Ministry’s history were little different from those which commonly fell to the secretariat branches in the Service and supply departments, i.e. establishments, finance and contracts, parliamentary business. On the other hand, the structure of the Secretariat and the distribution of duties within it was bound to be more complicated than elsewhere. Some of its functions were discharged by secretarial departments common to the Ministry as a whole and subject directly to the Permanent Secretary. Others were discharged by two autonomous branches of the Secretariat corresponding to the two-fold division of the Ministry: the secretariat of the Raw Materials Department and that of ‘Supply’, i.e. of the division responsible for the procurement of war-stores. Both branches were bound to grow in the early years of the war, but it was in the ‘Supply’ branch of the Secretariat that some of the most significant developments occurred. The original nucleus of the branch was the small secretarial branch (‘MPC’), which had been attached to the Director General of Munitions Production in the War Office and had migrated with him to the Ministry of Supply. Early in the life of the Ministry this branch had multiplied into a group of secretarial bodies each of which was attached to a director on the production side of the Ministry in the same way as the ‘MPC’ was attached to the Director-General of Munitions Production. This general system of ‘bedding-out’ civil servants helped to coordinate
the activities of production directorates better than any formal machinery could have done. By May 1941 the branch had assumed responsibility for priorities, overseas activities and labour supply. But nothing was more characteristic of its growing importance than the functions it assumed in negotiating Service requirements: a development about which more will be said later.35
The changes in the central administration of war production at the War Cabinet offices were more general, though there too the significant changes resulted from the personal outlook of the Prime Minister. One of the most important institutional innovations was the replacement of the Ministerial Priority Committee by the Production Council. The entire system of committees was rearranged.36 Originally under the Ministerial Priority Committee there had been two separate sub-committees for production and for materials;37 the two were now renamed the Joint Materials and Production Priority Committee. Two other new committees concerned with war production inherited their functions from their predecessors: the Manpower Committee and the Works and Building Priority Committee. Later two other committees appeared in the field: the Industrial Capacity Committee which was set up in July 1940 and the ad hoc Manpower Requirements Committee set up in August to examine labour requirements.
In the course of the subsequent six months the machinery of the Production Committee and its committees acquitted itself with varying degrees of success. The Industrial Capacity Committee succeeded in reorganising the Area Boards and did some useful work in considering and sometimes allocating surplus production capacity, in investigating the potential resources of industry and establishing principles for the best use of capacity which was being set free for war production by the Limitation of Supplies Orders. The ad hoc Manpower Requirements Committee with Sir William Beveridge as chairman worked out the first approximation to a manpower budget, and, generally speaking, functioned as an investigating satellite of the Manpower Committee. The Joint Production and Materials Priority Committee succeeded in a relatively short time in establishing a workable system for the allocation of raw materials between departments, about which more will be said presently.38 The highest expectations, however, had been placed on the main ministerial committee, the Production Council, and it was that committee which drew upon itself most of the public interest.
The interest was apt to be kept alive by criticism in Parliament and the Press. Viewed in historical perspective some of the criticism might appear unjustifiable. The Council proved to be slow and unwieldy, but it was not wholly ineffective or inefficient. During its six months’ existence it met thirteen times and was responsible for initiating the reorganisation of the Area Boards and for launching the Manpower Requirements Committee and its very important inquiries, and it will be shown further39 that it played its part in the gradual transformation of the priority system which was taking place at the time. Yet to public opinion, even to so well-informed an opinion as that of the House of Commons and its Select Committees, the Production Council was bound to seem inadequate. At a time when war industry was still in the process of deployment and the needs of the Services were not yet full satisfied a certain amount of public impatience was inevitable. And it was only too natural that the administrative feature to be singled out for criticism should have been the body nominally at the head of the machinery of war production. It was said to be incapable of stimulating and coordinating the activities of the three supply departments,40 and it did not seem to function as an initiating and directing body. To all appearances the Council did not act at all unless departments made formal complaints, and its decisions about priorities and ‘bottlenecks’ invariably came as a result of applications by departments.
Various proposals to give the Council greater power and authority were made from time to time. In the summer of 1940 its secretary put forward a plan whereby all the common services of the three production departments would be brought together under a new Department of Raw Materials and Priorities somewhat on the lines of the pre-war blue-prints. A similar proposal was made by the Select Committee on National Expenditure in August.41 In December Mr. Churchill himself, in answer to criticism in Parliament and the Press, drew up a scheme for the reform of the War Cabinet machinery which was later debated at length in Parliament42 and carried in to effect in the new year. A Production Executive, a small and more compact body than the Production Council, took the latter’s place. It consisted of the three Supply Ministers and the President of the Board of Trade with the Minister of Labour as chairman, and the underlying idea was that the whole business of production and supply would now be
gripped at the top by a compact directing body consisting of ministers who would themselves be responsible for the necessary executive action. Under the Production Executive there was established a number of sub-committees which were largely the same as those which had taken shape under the Production Council, dealing respectively with materials,43 industrial capacity, labour, works and buildings, and transport. The whole of this organisation was linked with the highest direction of economic policy through the Lord President (Sir John Anderson).
The reorganisation did not however meet the main points of public demand, for it did not establish a central department or a Ministry of War Production. Against these demands, it could still be argued that a super-department would merely duplicate departmental machinery, but the real reason was that Mr. Churchill did not think that the gap which the critics deplored in fact existed. Where supply problems were merely part of general economic policy, the Lord President’s Committee and above all Sir John Anderson himself could be relied upon to lay down general principles and to reconcile departmental differences; and this they did with great and ever-growing efficiency. Where supply impinged upon the main conduct of the war on questions of military policy, the coordinating and directing precepts came from the Defence Committee (Supply) or, to be more exact, from the Prime Minister in his capacity as Defence Minister. Indeed the Prime Minister’s main argument against a Minister of Production was that it would merely duplicate what he thought was one of his essential functions as Prime Minister and as Minister of Defence.
The argument agreed with facts more closely than public debate could reveal. Mr. Churchill was indeed performing many of the functions which the critics thought were not being performed, or were being performed badly. The Defence Committee of the War Cabinet, over which he presided and which he dominated, and no settled constitution and no hard and fast membership; but its ‘supply’ meetings often dealt with requirements of the Services and the quantities and qualities of weapons demanded by them; and it stimulated, instigated and criticised the plans and performances of the supply departments. This activity, being largely Mr. Churchill’s, was irregular in procedure and sometimes unexpected in its results, but it was anything but laggard and, on matters of weapon policy, was more often right than wrong. Even his critics had to admit that Mr. Churchill knew a good weapon when he saw one, but unlike most experts he could appreciate the points of a weapon he had never seen.
These personal qualities of the Prime Minister were responsible for one or two expensive adventures into unusual types of equipment; but they were also responsible for some of the highly successful instruments of war which were such a marked feature of the British war effort—the Mulberry among them. On questions of design, scales of equipment and current output Mr. Churchill never lacked advice, and was seldom wanting in information. Above all, he could always call upon the services of an organisation capable of carrying out independent exploration and investigation on his behalf.
That organisation functioned as a part of the secretariat at 10 Downing Street and was managed for the Prime Minister by Lord Cherwell, who in December 1942 was appointed Paymaster-General. From every point of view it was highly unorthodox. It had grown out of the statistical service which in the first eight months of the war Lord Cherwell (Professor F. A. Lindemann as he then was) had run in the Admiralty for the benefit of the First Lord. When full deployed in association with the War Cabinet Secretariat, it consisted of a group of young men from the universities trained either as economists or scientists, who appeared to enjoy a roving commission over the entire field of war government and administration. Being what they were and doing what they did, Lord Cherwell and his ‘boys’ could not help becoming unpopular; in one or two fields their activities may also have turned out somewhat unremunerative. Yet, taken as a whole, their work meant a great accession to the Prime Minister’s knowledge and grasp of what was going on in the departments and to his command over relevant facts and considerations. They may thereby have duplicated some of the work done by the other economic and scientific agencies of central government; they mat sometimes have disturbed the orderly sequence of stages by which official advice normally comes to prime ministers. But paraphrase a contemporary verdict, they helped to infuse logic into the Prime Minister’s logistics. They certain reinforced it with technical and statistical argument. To this extent they could claim some credit for the miracle of Britain’s Government in the war: a Government which was largely personal and yet free from the intellectual limitations of an autocracy.
It was the energy and ubiquity of Mr. Churchill’s activities rather than his failure to appreciate the uses of coordination that prevented the formation of a Ministry of Production until the entry of the United States into the war. For the rest, the working of the War Cabinet machinery and the part the Prime Minister played in it exemplify the truism that the changes after Dunkirk affected the spirit of war policies more than their form; and the truism applies with equal relevance to other features of the administrative machinery in charge of war production. The proof of the new administrative
set-up was not to much in its design as in its functioning. Whereas the hierarchy of departments and committees differed little from that of old, many of the men and most of the measures were new. And newest of all was the general trend of policy. Rapidly, by a series of inevitable stages, the Government called into being a fully-fledged war economy wherein every interest, private or public, present or future, was utterly subordinated to the demands of the war. The change was one of attitude, buts its practical effects were unmistakeable. What with the new outlook of ministers and the accumulating experience of officials, the business of industrial mobilisation could now proceed more swiftly and with far greater efficiency than had been possible in the first six months of the war.
(6) The Mobilisation of Labour
The field in which new attitudes and administrative devices were felt most was that of labour supplies. The political atmosphere had at last become favourable to comprehensive labour policies. Not only was the mood of the working people different, but the official representatives of labour, the Labour Party and the trade unions, were no longer in the position of anxious observers of a suspect Cabinet. Above all, the new Minister of Labour, Mr. Bevin, could be relied upon to win for the problem of labour, as well for the Minister of Labour, a due share in the councils of the war. He fully realised that the military position and the spirit of the country dictated a radical and forceful labour policy; but his experience as a labour leader also taught him the dangers of precipitate action in the handling of working men; and the habits of his departmental officials were not such as to lead him into drastic action before he was ready for it. He therefore applied to the labour problems of the day that mixture of legislative audacity and administrative circumspection which was to be the hallmark of his régime. The Orders which he caused to be passed were more than sufficient to give the fullest possible advertisement to the authority he now possessed;44 but in its daily routine his department made a sparing and unwilling use of the new powers and for a long time merely kept them in reserve.
In any case the labour situation was not yet so acute as to compel the Minister to draw on his entire reserve of powers. The problems with which the Ministry of Labour had to deal during this period did not at first differ fundamentally from labour problems of the first six
months of the war, and were still very largely those of skilled labour. Indeed until the end of 1940 the Ministry of Labour appeared to be less troubled by shortages in the general supply of labour than by lingering problems of local unemployment. The number of unemployed men stood near the half-million mark between July and November 1940 but rapidly dropped in the first half of 1941. By June 1941 there were only 158,000 men out of work,45 but small as this figure was it happened to be made up of large local pockets of workless.
The pockets were partly due to the natural dislocation of civilian industry and partly caused by the Board of Trade restrictions on industries producing for the home market. Greatly as the production of munitions expanded in the summer months of 1940, it had not expanded far enough to absorb all the local unemployment. What is more, contracts and war factories were not being entirely confined to areas where the Ministry of Labour believed supplies of general labour to be most plentiful. Supply departments found it sometimes difficult to obey the Ministry of Labour’s directives on location, for labour supply was not the only consideration they had to take into account in placing contracts or in sanctioning extensions.46 The preferred their own lists of approved tenderers based on detailed knowledge of the manufacturing capacity, the technical qualifications and the industrial efficiency of individual firms. Their reluctance was all the more difficult to combat for the inevitable imperfections in Ministry of Labour forecasts. On several occasions in 1941 the Ministry of Supply was still able to find labour in areas in which according to the Ministry of Labour classification, labour was or could soon be expected to be short.
Generally speaking, labour was still not very hard to find. Some shortages of unskilled workers were bound to appear from place to place and from time to time, and they were becoming more frequent in the course of 1941. But until quite late in that year they were mostly local and relatively easy to remedy. Aircraft production as yet suffered very little from lack of unskilled labour. In the shipbuilding industries only Barrow and Merseyside complained of many unskilled vacancies in the spring of 1941. The Ministry of Supply alone could justifiably complain of shortages of unskilled labour in the winter 1940–41. It was responsible for several occupations of an unpleasant nature, such as iron ore mines, for which recruits were not forthcoming. Some of the heavier metal industries, like drop forging and non-ferrous metal plants, were concentrated in the Midlands where there was no reserve of unemployed labour, and where workers who had been with difficulty transferred from other
areas were apt to drift away to more attractive work in the many engineering and aircraft factories in the neighbourhood. Above all, the Ministry of Supply had to cope with the special problem of women for filling factories. Although at this time there was no shortage of women labour in the country as a while, the filling factories were bound to present a problem of employment at the very outset owing to the nature of their work and their location away from inhabited places. The difficulties were from the beginning reflected in the high rate of labour turnover. At Chorley well over half the number who began work there left before production had been full started, and quite early in the summer of 1941 officials complained that they were ‘expending great energy in trying to fill a leaking tub’. Of the women sent by the employment agencies at Preston and Blackburn to filling factories in November 1940 only half accepted employment. By the beginning of 1941 the shortage of ammunition threatened by insufficient labour in the filling factories had become so serious as to draw the attention of the Prime Minister. By the summer of 1941, however, the supplies had greatly improved. The reduction of hours following the introduction of three shifts, better travel facilities, canteens and hostels, as well as further releases from civilian industry greatly eased the situation.
In general, the shortages of unskilled labour which were occurring in 1941 could still be overcome by a variety of local and ad hoc expedients, and such more general measures as were considered and passed at the time were largely preparatory. As part of the preparation the Government set afoot the Beveridge inquiry into labour supplies.47 By the summer of 1940 the figures which were then available, those of Wolfe’s report,48 had become out of date. But the figures which the Beveridge report made available in December 1940, though much more conservative, foretold great shortages of unskilled labour. Not only were the demands of war industry bound to become higher within a year or so, but the demands of the Services also threatened to produce within the same period a famine in men of military age. The famine could only be met by withdrawing men from munitions industries and by recruiting women into munitions and essential civil industries. According to Beveridge’s estimates employment in munitions industries was to be increased within a year by 800,000 from the 1,450,000 employed in august 1940. In addition, to meet these requirements, about thirty-five percent of the male labour employed in non-munitions occupations would have to be transferred to munitions industries within two years. Some of the vacancies thus caused would have to be filled by women (the number was estimated
at 750,000) and over one million additional women would also be required in munitions factories by August 1941.
The figures were thus very large, and the stringency they prophesied very great. Special preparations had, therefore, to be made to meet it. Limitation of Supplies Orders were from now on to be used not only to conserve raw materials but also to release labour and were soon to develop into the Concentration of Industry scheme.49 More important still was the Registration for Employment Order which came into force in March 1941.50 The Order as applied to men outside military age was not expected to achieve more than to mop up the few remaining reserve of male labour. Its chief object was the mobilisation of women.
The mobilisation of women was a drastic act of total war—more drastic than anything done in the war of 1914–18 or anything that even Hitler could contemplate. It was, therefore, not surprising to find the Ministry of Labour approaching it with the greatest caution. Until July 1941 the Ministry applied the Order only to women not already occupied in industry, and in doing so proceeded slowly and haltingly for fear that anything indiscriminate and swift might alienate public opinion. But by the early summer of 1941 it was seen that the number of ‘unoccupied’ women was very small; meanwhile demands for women for essential civil industries and for war production were increasing. The Ministry of Labour concluded that greater firmness and expedition were needed. More ‘age groups’ of women were called up for registration, and arrangements were made with certain industries to release young women for more essential work.51 Even so, the total number of women transferred to war work or to vital civilian industries between the middle of April and November 1941 was rather less than 200,000. The control of the transfer of women became easier when in early 1942 as a result of the Employment of Women (Control of Employment) Order52 women between the ages and twenty and thirty could obtain employment only through employment exchanges.
Before that, the Ministry of Labour could in justification of its hesitancy argue that the general problems of labour was not yet sufficiently acute .To repeat, the main problem, as well as the main preoccupation, of the Ministry was still that of skilled workers; and the problems was now much more acute than it had been before Dunkirk. Towards the end of 1940 and in the early months of 1941
new factories and expansions planned before Dunkirk were approaching their full rates of production. And most of them were now threatened with hold-ups through shortages of skilled labour.53
The full force of the Ministry of Supply demand for skilled labour came early in 1941, but there had already been serious difficulties in the ROFs and among private contractors in the closing months of 1940. In the shipbuilding industry the supply of electricians, turners and fitters was becoming difficult at the end of 1940, and what made difficulties still worse was the continued drain on workmen in these trades from shipbuilding to other branches of the munitions industry. In the last six months of 1940 Cammell, Laird and Company, Birkenhead, had to record that far from increasing their skilled cadres they had lost 140 men, mostly electricians, to Napiers, Rootes and other firms.
The shortages intensified the evils of poaching and excessive turnover which were already in evidence in the first months of the war. To combat them the Ministry of Labour issued in June 1940 the Undertakings (Restriction on Engagement) Order54 under which all new engagements in building, civil engineering and general engineering had to be made through employment exchanges or recognised employment agencies, so as to prevent poaching by ‘advertisement’. But the Order could not prevent men from dismissing themselves. It was, for instance, alleged in July 1940 that the number of people who left BTH magneto factory each week was sometimes two-thirds as great as the number of people engaged. In the autumn of a new problem arose with the German bombing, for a number of important firms situated in vulnerable areas found that some of their skilled men moved themselves and their families to places of greater safety. The Ministry of Labour tried to use against them its powers of direction, but was not very successful. There were difficulties in tracing the workers, and in addition neither the divisional controllers nor the representatives of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who had been given power to act for the Government, had the ‘heart’ to use compulsion against men who evacuated themselves. The Ministry of Labour, therefore, tried to find some means of keeping skilled workers in their jobs which would avoid the defects and unpopularity of the leaving certificate system of the previous war. The Essential Work Order of 5th March 194155 was the result, and the procedure under the Order whereby the National Service Officer, and not the employer, was the judge of whether a man could leave, removed one source of workers’ opposition. The necessary quid pro quo
for workers was found in the proposal that the employer receiving protection should be directed to keep all his workers subject to a week’s notice to the employment exchange. Moreover, in accordance with the Ministry’s general reluctance to force men to return to job where earnings were low or conditions unpleasant, the Essential Work Order was not to be applied to any establishment where conditions were unsatisfactory.
Keeping skilled workers in munitions jobs was, however, not the only labour problem the industry and the Government had to face. To overcome the shortage it was also necessary to transfer to munitions industry the skilled labour engaged in occupations not absolutely essential to home or export trades. When in August 1940 the registration of engineering labour was introduced56 it revealed that there were 50,000 men formerly occupied in engineering and now engaged in other work, and 100,000 maintenance engineers in industries other than engineering. The Beveridge Committee estimated in November 1940 that 20,000 of each group could be transferred to munitions production, but it is difficult to say how many of them in fact moved into munitions industry in the course of the following year. The total figure of all labour—not just skilled—in the motor vehicle, aircraft and general engineering industries employed on work for the home and export markets fell between June 1940 and September 1941 from 254,000 to 152,000, and most of this reduction can be taken as an addition to the munitions industries. The transfer from other industries, however, was more difficult to trace and to measure, and the general impression was that there was not enough of it. Moreover, the transfers which were taking place did little to correct the uneven distribution of skilled labour between different areas. Disparities in local supplies were getting if anything worse. This in 1940–41 there was a permanent shortage of toolmakers and setters in the new factories and particularly in the engine ‘shadow’ factories in the North-West, while the Coventry and Birmingham districts remained the greatest potential source of skilled labour for transfer.
A demand for organised or even compulsory transfer was, therefore, bound to arise. But here again the Ministry, confronted as it was by a number of stubborn problems, proceeded with great circumspection. There was first of all the problem of travelling and lodging allowances which had to be paid by the Ministry. Even with these allowances there was the obstacle of differences in earnings. Thus the rates of earnings and shipbuilding were low relatively to other engineering and metal-working industries. In the iron and steel industries the highly-paid skilled workers from tin-plate mills, where work was contracting, were now being offered much lower earning in drop forging plants. Within the aircraft industry the earnings for
a forty-seven hour week in October 1940 were £5 10s. 9d. at de Havilland’s in the Home Counties, £5 0s. 10d. at Napiers in the Home counties, and £4 2s. 6d. at Napiers in the North-West. It was not until June 1941 that the knot could be cut by an agreement between the Amalgamated Engineering Union and the Engineering Employers’ Federation whereby employers agreed to make up the difference in basic rates of earnings of workers transferred to areas where lower rates prevailed.
By that time the Ministry had tackled also the problem of compulsion. It had fought shy of compulsory measures throughout 1940 and early 1941. It would not use compulsion against the unemployed on the ground that it would be unjust to subject the unemployed to treatment from which their more fortunate fellows in employment were spared. In general the Ministry tried not to provoke opposition from the men. It would do nothing to force the unemployed electricians in London to go to Tyneside as they would have had to accept lower rates of pay and might make trouble. The threat so often employed in the war 1914–18, that of revoking reservation, could not now be used very freely as the Services were anxious that the call-up should not be regarded as a penalty. In the spring of 1941 the Schedule of Reserved Occupations was amended so as to take into account the factories in which men were working as well as their occupations.57 This made it possible to raise the reservation ages for the Army with the minimum of harm to munitions production. But although this measure also made it easier to apply the threat of military service it was very seldom thus used. Generally speaking, compulsion continued to be treated as an ultimate sanction—not to be invoked except in a few extreme cases.
To the problem of transfers between occupations and areas was added the purely administrative problem of allocating new labour among individual contractors. At the beginning of its career the Production Council assumed that priorities for labour would follow general priorities. The great industrial disturbances of midsummer 1940 following upon the production drive at MAP and the overriding priorities which aircraft production enjoyed brought out the defects of the priority system in relation to labour. A number of vital branches of the munitions industry, e.g. machine tools, were threatened with a dangerous hold-up, whereas firms with overriding priorities were found ‘hoarding’ skilled labour which they had acquired. At the end of September 1940 the War Cabinet decided in favour of the allocation principle. Priority lists were to remain but they were to be used simply as a guide to allocation. On 15th October the Prime Minister laid down that where MAP’s demand for labour equalled the total supply of labour of that type, a special
allocation must be made for the minimum essential needs of other departments. From this time on priority no longer gave an exclusive right to all labour available, and in spite of lingering opposition from MAP labour was as far as possible distributed with due regard to the indications of priority received.
The other problems to be tackled were those of dilution and upgrading. In November 1940 the Beveridge Committee had estimated that it was possible to dilute the skilled ranks in engineering and allied industries in the proportion of 1 in 4 by September 1941. The Committee was here thinking more of breaking down and de-skilling the work than of upgrading the men. Even so, by December, the hope that dilution to this extent could be achieved was seen to be over-optimistic. The ease of dilution varied with the job and with the type of factory: for in new factories the layout and plant made possible a greater degree of dilution. In the summer of 1940 the Ministry of Labour departed from its previous attitude and was willing to accept the responsibility for pressing dilution; but progress was sometimes obstructed by opposition from both men and employers, and not all the supply departments appeared able to exercise the necessary pressure on their contractors. Considerable dilution took place in 1940–41 of shipwrights and electricians on Admiralty work, although little progress was made in the dilution of platers and riveters, which remained a stubborn problem throughout the war. Some of the new factories, such as the new Royal Ordnance Factories, were economical in skilled labour from the very outset, but many engineering and aircraft factories still employed a high proportion of skilled labour in 1941. Throughout war industry variations in the proportion of skill in different firms persisted till the very end of the period. To a large extent they were inevitable for in no two firms were technical processes and the managerial practices the same. But they were to some extent also due to the failure to press dilution as far as possible. The position lightened itself by degrees in late 1941 and 1942.
(7) Priority and Allocation
Important changes also took place in the flow of raw materials and in the way by which they reached war industry.58 Supplies were getting short or were about to get short, even though some of the shortages were so to speak local and ‘particular’ and were in the
nature of ‘bottlenecks’ reflecting a changed balance of requirements more than general insufficiency of supplies. Of the special shortages the most acute and the most troublesome occurred in the provision of drop forgings. The demand for drop forgings was bound to grow with the rising production of aircraft and guns, and the threat of stringency had hung over the munition industry since 1938, but the situation did not become critical until the summer of 1940. The ‘crisis’ was one of planning and distribution as well as one of supply. Orders had been allowed to accumulate far in excess of existing output, and by early July 1940 there was an accumulation of order of 64,344 tons and weekly deficiency in delivery of 3,500 tons. This in turn was due to a number of causes. Under the existing system the Iron and Steel control did not possess a clear picture of specific requirements and was unable to differentiate between them. But even with fuller and better information at its disposal it would have found it difficult to introduce a general and rational scheme of distribution while government orders were still exempt from licence,59 and while the newly-created Ministry of Aircraft Production, acting through a Drop Forgings Committee of its own, did all it could to obtain primacy for aircraft needs. In this MAP was support by the special Priority of Production Direction of 31st May 1940, which laid down that certain hammers should work exclusively for aircraft contracts. As long as it was in force this Direction threatened to play havoc with the whole munitions programme in general and with the tank programme in particular, and led other departments to place their orders as far ahead as possible, thus adding to the general congestion.
To resolve the crisis it was necessary to deal both with the requirements and with the supply. An interdepartmental Drop Forgings Sub-Committee of the Materials Committee was established in August 1940 ‘to examined and coordinate requirements’ as well as to supervise the supply situation, including import. At the same time the Drop Forgings Sub-Control was established at Birmingham to direct and expand production. This Sub-Control was given authority to check all requirements in collaboration with user departments, but it continued to be handicapped by the Priority Direction and by the activities of the internal Drop Forgings Committee of the MAP. It was not until the spring of 1941 that the main Drop Forgings Sub-Committee established its authority over the MAP Committee; and by this time arrangements for allocation were changed sufficiently to release drop forgers from the plethora of priority certificates inflicted on them. The consuming departments were told to formulate, for a period of three months ahead, their requirements of various
types of drop forgings within the forging capacity allocated to them by the Drop Forgings Sub-Committee. Departments were also asked to replace drop forgings wherever possible by other components and to make their specifications less rigid so that the fullest advantage could be taken of available capacity and of semi-skilled and unskilled labour.
So much for requirements. The supply of forgings had to be tackled from several angle. Importation from the United States was an obvious remedy, but it could not bring quick relief. Between October 1940 and May 1941 orders were placed in the United States for drop forgings for various aircraft parts, vehicles and gun carriages, etc., to the value of approximately £5 millions, but the time-lag in delivery was expected to be about nine months, and proved even longer. In 1941 imported drop forgings represented only six percent of total deliveries to consumers; it was, therefore, from home production that the increased supplies had to be, and were, mainly found.
At home radical measures of the more obvious kind were adopted, but they too could not be expected to solve the problem at once. During 1940 and the first half of 1941 the Ministry of Supply put into operation a number of plans to increase total forging capacity in the United Kingdom, including plans for the building of specialised capacity, e.g. for Merlin and Bristol crankshafts, bearing-rings, etc. Most of these plans, however, were not expected to bear fruit until the latter half of 1941 or later. Increases in production which too place in the summer of 1941 must largely be attributed to the intensive use of existing capacity, to piecemeal extensions and to improvements in labour supply.
In this field as in others the first labour problem to arise was the scarcity of skilled workers. Before the war the occupation had not been attracting recruits, for physical conditions were unattractive and wages were low. The release of 200 skilled men from the Services in July 1940 alleviated the position somewhat, but the first attempts of the Sub-Control to recruit new workers was met by the reluctance of the Ministry of Labour to apply special direction without an improvement in wages. At the beginning of 1941 the rates of pay of trainees and workers were raised; and what with the new wage scales and with the new training schemes and hostels the position gradually improved. The problem of unskilled labour was solved by migration. The Ministry of Labour undertook to import unskilled workers, mainly from Ireland and South Wales, and the Ministry of Supply undertook to provide adequate accommodation. In January 1941 it was estimated that 4,600 additional men were required at the rate of 1,000 per quarter to ensure maximum shift-working on existing hammers, and the demand was met almost in full. The following
table shows the number of employees in drop forging works in 1940 and 1941 respectively:
By April 1941 the chairman of the Drop Forgings Sub-Committee was able to report the view of departments that ‘while certain difficulties were still being experienced, the position had definitely improved during the last three months’. By May it could be claimed that the supply position showed a very great improvement. This was attributed to ‘a considerable increase in substitution, a scaling down of requirements and an increased output from home sources’.
Other special shortages differed from those of drop forgings only in scale and were solved largely in the same manner. But as the special ‘bottlenecks’ appeared and disappeared the problem of raw materials in general, i.e. of the total supplies available for war production, was bound to intrude itself upon the attention of administrators. During this period a number of important strategic materials became scarce as a result of political and military events. The defeat in Norway in April 1940 deprived this country of some of her main peacetime sources of timber, paper-making material and iron ore. Later in the summer when the contacts with Europe and North Africa were virtually broken, Britain found herself deprived of a very large proportion of her imported steel-making materials, of phosphates, flax, hemp, pit props and a number of other commodities almost equally essential. The gradual closing of the Mediterranean route and the final interruption of trade with the Balkans removed yet another source of timber and minerals.
The growing scarcity of raw materials was not, however, wholly due to the cutting off of customary sources of supply and would in any case have developed with the increased requirements of war industry. Some such scarcity had been foreseen in the pre-war plans of rearmament, and its prospects had been frequently discussed during the first six months of the war. By June 1940 the production of war-stores had not yet developed sufficiently far to make the threat a reality, but the situation changed rapidly in the summer of 1940. While exports of finished products consuming raw materials began to decline, demands of the Services and of the munitions industry expanded very rapidly, and supplies became or were on the point of becoming tight over the entire range of raw materials, especially in steel and non-ferrous metals, timber and building materials.
The Ministry of Supply was thus called upon to remedy at short notice a series of shortage, some of which were immediate, others merely probable. One of the measures it now took was to extend the earlier schemes for developing domestic sources of supply and to improvise a number of new ones. Table 17 illustrates the changes in home production which took place as a result of the new measures.
Table 17: Production of some essential raw materials, 1935–41
|Scrap for steel-making||5,800†||6,379||6,527||6,622|
* See footnote60
† See footnote61
‡ See footnote62
§ See footnote63
Source: Cmd. 6564
Development of home sources inevitably created difficulties and problems for the users. The iron ore mined at home was, as a rule, of inferior grade, and especially of lower iron content than the import ore. Home-grown hardwood was not always a good substitute for imported softwoods. Nevertheless, by the end of 1941 industry had adapted itself to the changes, and in this way the country became more self-sufficient in its supplies of raw materials than it had been in peacetime.
Additional home supplies alone could not, of course, meet the situation. In other circumstances the main remedy would have come from increased imports of strategic materials and, above all, from substitute sources of supply; and this remedy was not neglected in 1940. In spite of the approaching exhaustion of dollars much greater reliance had to be placed on supplies from the United States. In steel requirements of imports from the United States had grown manifold overnight. Whereas in April 1940, when the policy of dollar economy was still being rigorously pursued, the total estimates of iron and steel requirements from the United States for the year amounted to £12.6 millions, the requirements for the second year of the war, as estimated in July 1940, came to £100 millions. A far greater
proportion of raw materials was also expected from Canada (now the chief source of timber), from South Africa, Australasia and the Far East (now the chief source of steel-alloying materials).
This policy, however, could not be pursued regardless of other considerations. With the passing of the Lend-Lease Act on the 11th March 1941 currency difficulties (the Government had abandoned the policy of dollar rationing long before then) were no longer the obstacle they had been, but other difficulties and, above all, the shortage of shipping still prevented the country from making fuller use of the sources now opened to it. With shipping getting scarcer—both in fact and in prospect—the Government had to meet the raw materials problems not only by larger orders in regions yet untouched by war, but also by various measures of economy at home. In order to economise shipping, the import programmes laid an ever greater stress on semi-finished and finished materials. Expenditure on raw materials from the United States between June 1940 and December 1941 was at an average monthly rate little more than half that of the first half of 1940, whereas the average monthly rate of expenditure on manufactured and semi-manufactured articles nearly trebled. But the main remedy was to reduce the total imports of raw materials. In the period July 1940 and March 1941 the United Kingdom import programme for raw materials was reduced from the optimistic 1939 estimate of 24 million tons per annum to programmes which ranged (the estimates rapidly changed) between 19 and 15 million tons per annum.
Thus, at the very time when war industry was at last approaching its full wartime rates of production, current supplies of some vital raw materials, such as steel ingots, timber and lead, were not only smaller than those assumed in the pre-war plans of war production but actually smaller than those available at the beginning of the war. Table 18, overleaf, showed that, with the possible exception of iron ore and aluminium, the supplies of a number of raw materials available in 1941 were less than those available at the end of the first year of the war. Even the supplies of iron ore, which were now swollen by much increased home production, were largely made up of low-grade ores and, measured by their metallic content, were if anything below the supplies available in 1939.
Hence the overwhelming need for greater economy in the use of raw materials and for more efficient distribution of available supplies. The Lord President’s Committee had agreed on 21st June 1940 that steps should be taken as soon as possible to eliminate all unnecessary domestic consumptions of materials which entered into the war effort. This decision was followed by more detailed directives from the Lord President’s Committee. Emphasis was laid for example on the need to divert as much as possible of the declining supplies of wool left for
Table 18: Supplies of certain raw materials in the United Kingdom
1. Home production
(… not available)
Sources: Cmd. 6564 and Statistical Digest of the War
civilian consumption to ‘clothing of the cheaper kind’. Only very small quantities of flax required to meet essential demands were to be released for civilian home consumption, and steps were to be taken to economise in a number of non-essential uses of steel, copper and zinc. For example, certain direct steel exports were to be reduced and the consumption of copper and zinc was to be reviewed with the object of eliminating non-essential home uses.
In June 1940 came the first of the Limitation of Supplies (Miscellaneous) Orders68 designed to reduce the consumption of raw materials in a number of civilian industries.69 Restrictions had been imposed on sales of clothing since April 1940.70 And economies were not to be confined to civilian requirements. At the end of 1940 the
War Office was invited, when estimating steel requirements, to distinguish between the needs for vital points in defensive positions and those for the ordinary protection of military personnel, so that the needs of the latter should not make a call upon a scarce material greater than the reduced requirements for civilians. Early in 1941 the Lord President’s Committee approved the proposal that certain raw materials, such as cotton, rubber, asbestos and calcium carbide the Services should accept cuts in supplies comparable with those imposed on civilians.
The various measures so far enumerated reflected the gradual expansion of government control over supplies of materials. But of the administrative process now evolving none was more effective or more overdue than the changed methods of making raw materials available to industry. Towards the end of the period the priority system as it had functioned in the early stages of the war fell largely into disuse, and the existing system of allocations was extended more widely and effectively. Order was thus brought into a field on which chaos had threatened to descend more than once.
The efficiency of the new system was to some extent due accumulating knowledge and expertise. The Raw Materials Controls, the Raw Materials Department of the Ministry of Supply and with them the Materials Committee at the War Cabinet Office were by the end of 1941 able to obtain from consuming departments and sometimes from industry the information on which a more rational estimate of requirements could be founded. The consuming departments themselves knew better how to scrutinise the requirements of the contractors and how to differentiate between their various needs.
The improvement was, however, one of principle as well as one of routine, even though the improved principle—that of allocations—took a long time to establish itself. In this respect the problem of materials was no different from that of capacity, was closely involved with it. In both fields the choice lay between the system of priorities as practised in the opening months of the war and the system of allocations. It has already been mentioned71 that by the spring of 1940 the officials in charge of raw materials well understood the inadequacy of priorities and that by that time something in the nature of an alternative system was in use. Indeed, it looked as if the distribution of raw materials would be improved and rationalised there and then.
The summer of 1940, however, led to a sudden and probably an inescapable revival of the priority system in a form more extreme than was ever previously thought of. One of the earliest acts of Lord
Beaverbrook was to assert the prior claims of aircraft and to do so by direct action, mostly in the form of confidential telegrams instructing them to concentrate on aircraft orders even if this meant setting aside other urgent work. The effects were instantaneous, and most contractors proceeded to slow up work on munitions orders not included in the instructions from MAP.
In the form in which it was being applied the aircraft priority obviously could not continue. On the 27th May 1940 the Minister of Supply raised the issue with the Production Council proposing that anti-aircraft equipment and certain other army stores should be given equal priority with fighters and bombers. This was accepted in principle and led to the Priority of Production Direction of 31st May 1940. This Direction, which represented a new departure, legalised and also broadened Lord Beaverbrook’s overriding priorities. Firms were instructed to give first priority to fighter or bomber aircraft, to instruments or equipment for such aircraft, to anti-aircraft equipment, especially Bofors guns, to small arms and small arms ammunition and to bombs. Tanks, anti-tank weapons, machine guns and corresponding classes of ammunition were given priority 1B. Two weeks later a revised Priority of Production Direction dated 14th June included trainer aircraft among the items to be given priority 1A and field artillery among those to be accorded priority 1B.
The system of priorities thus re-established was still so drastic as to endanger the entire flow of war production. Before long MAP itself had to issue telegrams to remove causes of complaint. The Admiralty soon began to press for a review of priorities in favour of the naval repair programme and other needs. The execution of the War Cabinet’s decision of 26th May giving priority to defence measures against invasion was creating acute shortages of cement and other building materials. The Ministry of Supply had to ask for high priority for tanks and other army equipment in its efforts to make good the losses of material in France. On the 16th August 1940 the War Cabinet refused an application by the Defence Committee (Supply) for priority 1A for tanks, but at the end of September it laid down that every effort was to be made to complete the programmes of the three Services by the due dates. Instructions were given that the available resources of labour, material and industrial capacity were to be allocated proportionately to the existing supply programmes, the basis of the allocation being determined in relation to strategic priority.
In principle, however, the issue was not yet resolved for Lord Beaverbrook was unable to part with the overriding priorities for aircraft as long as he continued at the head of MAP All that could be done was to redefine the scope of priorities and to ameliorate their
administration. It would be out of place here to trace any but the main phases of that process.
The first phase was ushered in by a spate of wholly legitimate claims to preferential treatment such as those of factories and power stations damaged by bombing. It culminated in an agreement between the Minister of Supply and the Minister of Aircraft Production, to take effect from the 1st January 1941 to extend the Priority Direction of 14th June to cover fresh items, such as radar and machine tools.72 The final phase was reached in June 1941 when the Committee of Principal Priority Officers73 initiated a discussion which led to the new Priority Direction of 14th November 1941.74 The new Direction reasserted the principle of priorities in relation to capacity but not in relation to raw materials. The use of industrial capacity was still to conform to priorities, but the priorities were to be laid down not by general instructions to manufacturers but by certificates. Special priorities served by certificates in the early stages included plant and machinery for balloon-barrages, decoy work for the Admiralty and Air Ministry, chemical shell, laggard elements in the production of cranes, pumps for fire-fighting, bomb-disposal equipment, plant for cordite, smoke generators and telegraphic network for defence.
Yet while the system of priorities was thus being redefined, the practice of allocation revived and grew. It re-established itself first in the administration of raw materials. In October 1940 at a meeting between the Prime Minister, the Minister of Aircraft Production and the Ministry of Supply it was laid down that if each ministry kept within its own allocations priority was a matter of administration. Thereafter, materials were increasingly by the method of allocations, a method of which officials were now gaining statistical knowledge and practical experience. Where in certain categories of materials ‘bottlenecks’ were threatened, e.g. in alloy steel, drop forgings and castings, special periodical allocations were made within the total allocation for the material as a whole. After the spring of 1941 priority directives for raw materials ceased to be issued and, as already said, the revised Priority of Production Direction of November 1941 specifically excluded materials from the field of priority.
In dealing with industrial capacity the Central Priority Committee
and the departments did away with priorities somewhat more slowly and more discreetly. Priority certificates were issued very sparingly and were slowly allowed to fall into disuse. Thirty certificates were issued in the first eleven weeks; but in the eight months after the date of the Direction only fifty-three were issued in all, often of limited or temporary validity; and none were issued from May 1941. In the memorandum issued with the Direction of November 194175 the chairman of the committee had looked forward to the time when planning and other interdepartmental arrangements would tend more and more to make priority ratings superfluous; and this forecast was justified by events. The Central Priority Committee consistently took the same line and refused to recommend the issue of special certificates where production was planned centrally, on the ground that under such planning the problem was more properly met by allocations. With the development of production planning by interdepartmental arrangement the importance of the Direction constantly diminished, and indeed hardly any meetings of the Central Priority Committee were held after June 1942.
The change-over was so discreet that for a long time the public and even the well-informed Select Committee on National Expenditure failed to notice it. Reporting at the end of April 1941 the committee thought it necessary to draw attention to difficulties still being experienced in relation to priorities and allocations at the factory level.76 The reply of the Ministry of Supply was that, while there may have been minor difficulties at the factory level in particular cases, which had been resolved when brought to the notice of headquarters, the allocations system could now be said to be working satisfactorily over practically the whole range of capacity and materials.
Indeed there was some ground for satisfaction. Assisted by better estimates both of requirements and supply the officials had in the course of 1941 succeeded in fully organising the distribution of materials and capacity. Towards the end of the year allocations of materials generally took one of two forms. They could be made, as in the case of steel, cotton and timber, on a departmental basis, i.e. the Materials Committee would allocate to each department a certain tonnage and leave it to the department to determine whether or not the Control should issue the material to individual contractors; or else the material, such as rubber, paper and jute, would be allotted not to the department but the ‘end use’, i.e. the store to be manufactured .In that case it was left to the Control itself to determine how far an application for a licence conformed to the Materials Committee’s
allocation for that particular use. Allocation of capacity worked on roughly the same basis and, still in broad outline, conformed to the allocation of capacity worked out before the war by the Principal Supply Officers’ Committee.77
Needless to say the system, like all systems, had its shortcomings and its blind spots. Some firms (on occasion entire branches of war industry) may have been over-provided while others went short, or at least shorter than they need have done had the system of allocations worked with unerring efficiency. But then on system, be it ever so perfect, not even the system of free markets in conditions of plenty and of perfect competition, could have adjusted the supplies and stocks of materials to needs with perfect foresight and precision at every point of war production. There were also other imperfections in the system of allocations as it emerged by the end of 1941. In moments of emergency, which the subsequent two or three years were to experience, urgent demands of the Services were not easy to accommodate within the orderly system of allocation, and more will be said about it later.78 Above all, the system did not cover with equal efficiency the entire field of raw materials. The Materials Committee did not concern itself much with materials which were not yet scarce, with the result that stocks of rubber, tin and a few lesser commodities, plentiful in 1941, became perilously low on the morrow of Pearl Harbour. But it was not the duty and certainly not within the competence of the supply departments or the economic branches of the War Cabinet Office to plan the distribution of materials in 1941 with an eye to the strategic revolution which was to take place in 1942. That revolution was sufficiently great to upset many other things in addition to the supplies of raw materials.
(8) The Bombers Delayed
The actual production of munitions—the output of stores and the build-up of productive resources—grew to match the rising intensity and efficiency of the national war effort. Some such growth would in any case have resulted from earlier preparations, and more especially from the rearmament programmes of 1938 and 1939, for most of the eve-of-war or early war plans for the production of aircraft and army weapons were so spaced out as to reach peak rates of production some time during 1941 or at the turn of 1941 and
1942.79 But there is little doubt about the impetus which production received from the events and policies of 1940 and 1941. The peak rates were now higher than before, and war industry was moving towards them with greater speed.
At the same time it would be too much to expect that production would everywhere advance at a uniform rate or that the entire chain of summits would be conquered on the dates laid down in the plans. Least of all could this be expected of aircraft production. The peaks of aircraft production proved to be so high as to be almost unscaleable; but what finally put them out of reach were the conditions under which the aircraft industry now worked. In moments of exceptional resolution and optimism, such as October 1940 when MAP resumed its long-term plans, the planners tried to project into the future the steep trends of the summer of 1940. Events, however soon proved that the midsummer spurt could not go on forever. People in factories who had been working hard in long shifts of twelve to fourteen hours (the averages day shifts in the main airframe factories were 63.6 hours per week in July 1940 and the average night shifts were 64.9 hours) were by the end of the summer beginning to show obvious signs of fatigue. By the autumn the authorities in MAP resigned themselves to some easing off in the factories and even advised the firms against excessive overtime and Sunday shifts. By that time the stocks of raw materials and components, which were so heavily drawn upon during the spurt, were reaching the point of exhaustion.
On top of all this came the bombing and the dispersal. The programme of 2nd October 194080 was initiated in the midst of Hitler’s bombing attacks. The first to suffer was an engine repair organisation in Surrey. Then followed the destructive raids on Short’s works on 9th and 15th August; the heavy raid on a Vickers’ factory in the Home Counties on 4th September; the heavy day raid on Bristol on 25th September, the effects of which were aggravated by an earlier night raid on the 22nd August; and finally the heavy day raid on the Supermarine Aviation Works on 26th September. The period of heavy night bombing began on 7th September. On 1st December the Supermarine works were badly bombed at night, on 14th November Coventry was ‘blitzed’, and from 19th to 22nd December there were heavy raids on Birmingham.
Bombing affected aircraft production in several ways. Some of its effects were immediate, others delayed and indirect. The direct destruction wrought by the bombing, though by no means crippling, was somewhat greater than public reactions at the time made it appear.
Here and there the destruction was quite damaging, and most damaging of all was the effect on certain key plants, especially the BTH (the British Thomson-Houston Company) works. As a result of this attack production of magnetos, and with it of engines, was retarded for several months, and the repercussions continued to be felt for nearly a year. No wonder people in the Ministry were getting worried.
Lord Beaverbrook’s answer to the danger of further destruction was dispersal, i.e. the removal of factories to alternative sites and the distribution among several small units of output hitherto concentrated in single large units. To begin with, the evacuation did not go much beyond the enforced removal of bombed factories. But in the early autumn the prophylactic dispersal of factories, hitherto carried out in special cases, became Lord Beaverbrook’s general policy. There is no doubt that thereby the industry was saved from complete dislocation during the later and heavier raids of 1941. It is also certain that the effects on production were neither uniform nor permanent.
The branches most affected were those of engine and propeller production. They had been concentrated in a small number of large units and at the same time lent themselves comparatively easily to thoroughgoing dispersal. Most other branches either could not be easily dispersed or else were not greatly in need of dispersal. Thus the production of most items and equipment and many components had, to a large extent, been dependent on numerous small factories and was thereby sufficiently immunised from effects of bombing. On the other hand, few of the main assembly shops could be distributed in smaller makeshift units, since the assembly of most types, and especially the assembly of bombers, demanded buildings of suitable height and floor space.81
In branches in which dispersal was carried very far, some permanent burdens were imposed upon the industry. The limited resources of management were strained by spreading them over a large number of units; the provision of labour and transport was made more difficult. On the other hand dispersal undoubtedly increased in the long run the potential capacity, for in many cases of dispersal it was necessary to provide some balancing plant in order to set up complete production lines in both the old factory and the dispersal point. When in 1941 the danger of bombing grew less and the policy was officially suspended, the factories previously emptied out by dispersal rapidly filled up again, and the dispersal points in many cases merely provided additional productive facilities. Judged by purely technical standards the additional capacity thus created was
not ideal and did not lead to the most economic employment of resources, but it was made available cheaply, quickly and with great economy of constructional labour.
Thus, in the long run dispersal, if not a blessing, was not the curse it had at one time threatened to be. Its ‘short-term’ effects, however, were most unsettling, and there is no doubt that for a time output suffered to a far greater extent than the public realised. Less acute but equally damaging to output were the recurrent shortages and ‘bottlenecks’ in the supply of raw materials (mostly light alloys) and components.
The difficulties in the supply of raw materials have already been discussed.82 In addition, production throughout 1940 and 1941 was repeatedly held up by shortages of manufactured parts and components. These were ‘bottlenecks’ in the narrow sense of the term, for they were to a far greater extent due to accidents of industrial managements than to real shortages of supplies. In a sample of over ten hold-ups due to absence of components between the outbreak of the war and the end of 1941, which has been assembled for the purpose of this study, eight were due to the absence of components or articles of equipment which, in the industry as a whole, were not at the time unduly scarce. They were mostly due to defects in the firms’ planning, their progressive technique and their administration of stores. Some such defects occurred in peacetime in the best regulated of firms and were inevitable wartime, but the general impression is that in 1940 and 1941 the incidence of self-inflicted shortages was higher than it need have been or, in fact, had been or was to be later. Not all the aircraft firms had as yet acquired either this knowledge or the people needed for the smooth administration of quantity production. While some firms either inherited the necessary technique from their peacetime experience or were quick to learn it, other firms were continually struggling with sudden shortages which were largely of their own making.83
‘Bottlenecks’ in the narrowest sense of the term did not, however, account for most of the recurrent shortages. At least as important were the deficiencies of components of a more general kind, which were due to production difficulties or to faulty planning or to both. The best-known examples are perhaps the engines and propellers. Throughout 1939, 1940 and 1941 the aircraft industry laboured under a gathering shadow of engine shortage. The menace had two aspects—one general and one special. The menace of the general shortage was due to chronic under-provisioning of engines which
characterised all the aircraft programmes before 1942. The menace was recognised in 1939, was implied in the plan for the ‘war potential’ and deplored at least once by the Director General of Production. But until the estimates of requirements were put on a new footing in 1942 and until the Merlins began to come from the United States, the chronic shortage of engines had a depressing effect on both programmes and output.
The special shortages were those of certain types. These were due to a very great number of causes, but chiefly due to hazards of engine development and to the independent status of engine firms. A number of engines of which much had been hoped either failed altogether or were available for operational use much later than originally scheduled. The Peregrine, the Vulture, the Sabre, the Hercules VI, the Centaurus, the Griffon are outstanding examples of hopes either disappointed or deferred. And every time an engine failed to appear, or was late in coming forward, a type or mark of aircraft had to be scrapped, modified or postponed, and a gap appeared between programme and output. The difficulties of planning future production will be discussed later:84 here it will suffice to mention that the complete autonomy which a firm like Rolls-Royce enjoyed over their policy of development, and to some extent over their production—an autonomy which in the case of Rolls-Royce may well have been necessary to sustain the remarkable progress of their engines—made it difficult for the Ministry to lay down well in advance which type would be available and at what time.
The propellers were also a ‘hardy perennial’. If the threatening shortages did not materialise it was only because the demand was often eased by failures in the output of airframes and engines. Moreover, the absence of propellers did not delay production in the sense in which other shortages did, and should not perhaps be described as a deficiency. They could be fitted after the aircraft had left the assembly line and been ‘ferried’ with borrowed propellers to storage units. Shortages there nevertheless were. The supply of electric propellers was especially precarious, chiefly through difficulties in the parent firm (Rotol), and in 1941 the shortage seriously affected supplies of aircraft to the RAF.
Other shortages, in components like under-carriages, in instruments and in armaments, were apt to recur at frequent intervals, and the record of aircraft production was beset by them. The irregular and inevitable character of the shortages as well as the other difficulties of the time must be borne in mind in considering the achievements of the Ministry.
The achievement was most complete and the targets were
approached nearest in what, for want of a better term, has been referred to as the ‘build-up’ of resources. As a result of five years of continuous preparation the productive capacity of the industry in 1941 stood very high. Towards the end of that year Lord Beaverbrook formed a settled conviction that the aircraft industry—more especially its airframe and aero-engine firms—possessed all the plant and machinery it needed to satisfy the planned demands and even to meet the Prime Minister’s recent request for more bombers.85 Put as baldly as Lord Beaverbrook was in the habit of putting it, this estimate was not generally acceptable either to officials in MAP or to observers outside, but, broadly speaking, it was not far out. Throughout the preceding five years the industry had greatly added to its floor space and equipment and had accumulated great reserves of productive capacity. Lord Beaverbrook had therefore some reason for thinking that by the end of 1941 not all the reserves had been fully taken up. Some such reserve capacity had indeed been inherent in the peacetime planning of production and was part and parcel of the Air Ministry’s schemes under Lord Swinton and Sir Wilfred Freeman. The general assumption of the pre-war plans was that at the outbreak of war, production would be raised to the scales of the ‘war potential’ by working the existing capacity with several shifts. This assumption was not borne out by the first year of the war. Under the conditions of late 1939 and early 1940 continuous shifts and shift-working of assembly plant proved very difficult. The increases in wartime output had, therefore, to be based on additions to factory space rather than on fuller use of the existing capacity.
In this way much of the reserve of buildings and plant originally created for the purpose of the ‘war potential’ continued to be carried and added to in wartime, and its existence war only partly concealed by the somewhat haphazard way it was allowed to grow up. Before the end of 1942 it was not even measured; indeed, accurate estimates of the floor space or of machining capacity in the aircraft industry as a whole were not to be had at any time, and were not even available for the purposes of this study. Moreover the reserve was not a fully balanced one and could not have been easily drawn on in time of emergency without some supplementary provisions. Thus, when in the autumn of 1941 the Ministry had to meet the Prime Minister’s demands for bombers, it found that four additional factories for heavy bombers would be needed unless shift-working were substantially extended, and that it could not make use of existing capacity without recommending extensions in almost every firm making bombers. But allowing for the additions, the experts in the Ministry were, on the whole, acting on the broad assumption that
by the beginning of 1942 the aircraft industry would, in terms of floor space and plant, more or less have reached the limit of its expansion. The best evidence of the generous provision which at the time existed is that to the very end of 1942 multiple-shift working was very exceptional in the assembly plant and was not general even in the machine shops or in the engine plant.
This verdict applies not only to buildings and plant but also to that part of productive capacity about which the pre-war planners had been the most pessimistic, i.e. machine tolls. It will be shown86 that local shortages in special types of machine tools in general were overcome or were on the point of being overcome by 1942, and the story of how this was done will, when told, disclose an industrial achievement second to none. In the aircraft industry the general problem of machine tools had lost most of its terrors by the middle of 1941 or even earlier. Even after 1941 it may still have limited the ambitions of the programme makers and circumscribed some of the future plans, but the actual flow of machine tools was more than sufficient to support the rate of expansion in most fields of aircraft production.87
So much for the growth of capacity. Still more spectacular, even though disappointing to the Air Staff and at times to the Prime Minister, was the output of aircraft. Measured in units of complete aircraft, the total produced between Dunkirk and Pearl Harbor reached 29,000: monthly deliveries of new aircraft are shown in Appendix 4. There was thus a continuous growth of mere numbers. The average monthly production in the first six months of 1941 was fifty percent above that of the first six months of 1940, and it was to rise by another twenty-five percent in the subsequent six months.
Needless to say that, measured in real terms, i.e. in terms fully representing the industrial effort, the output rose even more steeply and reached an even higher level than the monthly figures of aircraft would suggest. For in the meantime the unit of account itself, the finished aircraft, increased in weight and complexity. The new fighters which were beginning to come in early 1942 and which were, in fact, occupying the production line at the end of 1941, the Typhoon and Spitfire IX, were heavier and more complicated structures than the fighters which were turned out in early 1940. Above all, the four-engined bombers which were now coming into production were very complex and embodied an amount of raw materials and man-hours much greater than the lighter bombers they
displaced. The airframe structure weight of the Manchester at 16,130 lb. exceeded that of the Wellington and the Whitley by about 5,000 lb. The Halifax at 17,925 lb., the Lancaster (which was not however available in numbers until the second quarter of 1942) at 18,000 lb. and the Stirling at 22,250 lb. were still heavier.
In theory the ideal direct measurement could have been found in the man-hour equivalents of aircraft and spares produced. Unfortunately in the unstable conditions of war production the man-hour figures available to MAP did not provide a wholly satisfactory unit of account. They measured not only the objective value added to raw materials by the aircraft industry, but also the varying efficiencies in the utilisation of labour from firm to firm and from time to time. There were also other statistical objections to man-hour figures about which more will be said later.88 For what they were worth, the figures of man-hours of airframe production appeared to rise after the beginning of the war by the following stages:
|Date||Man-hours per month in 000’s|
|Average for March—July 1941||30,440|
|Average for August—December 1941||34,610|
|Average for January—May 1942||41,153|
For purposes of general demonstration the Deputy Directorate General of Statistics and Programmes employed the measurement of structure weight which brought out a rise of production far more striking than that suggested by the number of aircraft or the figures of man-hours.
The figures are as follows:
|Year||Approximate structure weight of aircraft in million lb.|
Needless to mention errors are also implicit in a measurement based on weight. Ordinary common-sense would suggest that the amount of productive effort, i.e. economic value added per pound of weight, does not rise proportionately to the total weight of aircraft. Whereas in 1940 the weight of the Stirling was eleven times that of the Spitfire, their man-hour equivalents differed only in the ratio
of 5 : 1.89 This means that a ton of heavy aircraft represented less added value and a smaller industrial effort than a ton of lighter aircraft. And this also means that, with the rising proportion of heavy aircraft in the programme, the index based on structure weight carried the danger of over-estimating the ‘real’ output.
To meet this objection the statisticians in MAP attempted in 1943 an index of production based on structure weight figures corrected for each of the three main classes of aircraft by their corresponding man-hour equivalent for 100 lb. of weigh. Thus corrected, the index of production probably approaches nearest to real measurement of aircraft output, and the monthly figures reflect very closely the fluctuations in industrial achievement. (See Table 19.)
These figures are well supported by indirect indices of production: the financial turnover, the throughput of raw materials, the labour force. The average annual cost of aircraft purchased from industry by the Air Ministry and MAP is represented in the figures of the so-called production expenditure.90 These figures as shown in Table 20 reveal nearly an eighty-fold growth between 1934 and the end of 1941 and an increase of nearly fifty-five percent from 1940 to 1941.
Table 19: Structure weight index of aircraft production corrected by man-hour equivalents
(Production in January 1942 = 1,000)
Table 20: United Kingdom production-expenditure on aircraft, 1934–42
The other indirect indices—materials and labour—expanded in roughly the same proportion as money costs. The volume of fabricated alloys produced in the country under the Ministry’s control and allocated for the production of aircraft rose from about 4,000 tons in September 1939 to 10,300 tons in December 1940, and to about 14,500 tons in December 1941. The total labour force in the various trades engaged in aircraft production rose from approximately 840,000 in August 1940 to 1,015,000 in January 1941, and to 1,326,100 in December 1941.
The measurements whether direct or indirect, thus make it abundantly clear that over the period as a whole production expanded at a striking rate. The different indices may exhibit different rates of growth, but even the most conservative measurements, such as those of complete aircraft or of man-hours, cannot obscure the achievements of aircraft production. From the point of view of the Ministry the achievement appears all the more remarkable for its other activities. It had to conduct a vast amount of research and experimentation, the results of which were not directly reflected in
the quantitative measurement of output. It had to equip whole factories for aircraft so advanced as to be wholly outside programmes. It had to organise the repair of aircraft on an unprecedented scale, to run emergency services in connection with air raids and defence and to supply a vast amount of ancillary RAF equipment—everything from bombs to balloons. In addition, it placed orders in the United States and the Empire for which productive capacity had not only to be found but also to be created anew.
The achievement was thus truly outstanding; yet, great as it was, it was less than the plans. Throughout the period there were wide gaps between expectations as reflected in programmes and achievements as measured by current output. At certain periods gaps between programmes and output were fully expected and were, in a sense, even intended. The ‘Harrogate’ programme of January 19840 was perhaps the last fully realistic programme which its makers expected to be achieved in full. After that time the whole conception of programmes appeared to change. They came to be regarded as ‘targets’, i.e. as points set sufficiently high to prompt the industry to greater efforts. This was certainly Lord Beaverbrook’s theory.91 In so far as he had any use for programmes he employed them as stimulants to performance. He believed that an object outside the industry’s reach would set it straining at the leash and would also reveal the weak points and the potential ‘bottlenecks’ for the civil servants and the industrialists to clear. It was on this theory that the ‘Hennessy’ programme of the autumn of 1940 was constructed. With the downward revision of the programme in March 1941 the more optimistic of Mr. Hennessey’s margins were reduced, but they were not cut out altogether. And before long the administrators in MAP began to take the unrealistic margins for granted. During the discussions on the Prime Minister’s bombing programme the Ministry officially informed the War Cabinet that fifteen percent of the programme would, as a matter of course, remain unrealised. Indeed, it was not until the days of Sir Stafford Cripps and the so-called ‘realistic’ programme of January 194392 that a definite attempt was again made to plan aircraft production without fictitious margins.
As long as the optimistic margins were there the lag between programmes and production was unavoidable and need not have bothered the observers any more than it worried informed people in the Ministry. What was worrying was that now and again the lag was far wider than the mere doctrine of optimistic programming allowed, and that it was, as a rule, widest at the points at which the fulfilment of programmes was most vital.
Over the entire field of aircraft production the leeway may seldom
have exceeded the conventional fifteen percent but frequently, and more especially in the second half of 1941, the ‘overall’ gap of fifteen percent concealed large and obviously unpremeditated ‘shortfalls’ of the aircraft types most in demand, and principally of naval types and heavy bombers. Whereas the easy and well-established types of fighters and reconnaissance aircraft kept up with forecasts, the bombers, especially the new and heavy ones, fell behind sometimes by as much as forty-five percent. The drag in the bomber output became most pronounced and most disturbing during 1942 and 1943. Its significance and causes will, therefore, be more conveniently discussed in a later chapter.93
(9) The Shells and the Guns
The output of war-stores for which the Ministry of Supply was responsible had also been mounting very fast. The combined index of production worked out by the Statistical Department of the Ministry of Supply showed that total output during the period between May 1940 and December 1941 rose by more than 100 percent. The movements from month to month are shown in Table 21.
Table 21: Index of Ministry of Supply output of war-stores,94 May 1940—December 1941
(Average of four months September to December 1939 = 100)
This index was based on the money value of output calculated at fixed prices and gives a good indication of the actual volume of deliveries. It reflects closely the other indices of industrial effort. Thus the number of operatives employed on Ministry of Supply work in engineering and allied, explosive and chemical industries grew from 774,900 in January 1941 to 1,206,400 in December 1941, a rise of fifty-six percent. There was thus a steep and general rise.
The Ministry of Supply’s general index, however, greatly over-simplified the actual movements of production. Like all indices of this kind it aggregated a large assortment of trends, and it so happened that the output of the Ministry of Supply was much more varied than that of MAP, and the stores it produced could not in the end be expressed in terms of a single equipment like the aircraft. It is, therefore, not surprising to find that behind the trend of growth extending over twenty months lay concealed achievements both higher and lower than the aggregate trend. The detailed record of the principal stores taken individually is show on Table 22.
Individual stores lagged behind the programmes in varying measures. As in the previous period, production of most ‘general stores’ was buoyant even though their total output did not grow as fast as it had done in the earlier months. This was partly due to cuts in army requirements and partly due to the very success with which earlier requirements had been met.95 Much more uneven was the record of the three main classes of munitions: of ammunition, artillery and tanks.
The ammunition programme presented the greatest difficulties. From the outset it was in the output of ammunition and, above all, in filling that deficits were greatest. When in the winter of 1939–40 the Military Coordination Committee of the War Cabinet surveyed the requirements of the BEF in France, ammunition of almost every class was included in the highest or the ‘worst found’ category of deficiencies. And right until the end of 1940 the deficits from the earlier requirements added to the Ministry’s liabilities under current programmes weighed on the Ministry like a millstone.
The difficulties arose from the very nature of ammunition regarded as an industrial product. The making of small arms ammunition, and most of all the filling of shells, had ex hypothesi been regarded by the planners as a task for which the greatest and most difficult preparations would have to be made. Not all branches of ammunition production were equally ‘difficult’. In the manufacture of ‘empties’ and of most other components the fruits of preparatory planning could be reaped quite early. By means of new technical
Table 22: Ministry of Supply: deliveries of important groups of stores, May 1940—December 1941.
|Month and year||Tanks||Guns||Rifles|
|(all filled shell)||
Small Arms Ammunition97
Wheeled Vehicles: Army98
|25-pdr.||3.7-in. AA||Other guns: 2-pdr. Bofors and over||Army battle-dress trousers||Army and RAF greatcoats|
|(Deliveries during four- or five-week periods)|
methods and with the help of specialised plant ordered and installed during the years of rearmament it was possible to use the manufacturing capacity of ‘outside’ firms100 in the engineering and other industries and thus to avoid the delays and expense of brand-new factories. Similarly, the manufacture of explosives could at least in part be planned as an extension of the peacetime activities of the chemical industry. New factories for the making of explosives had, however, to be planned and erected, and at least eleven new explosives factories were approved for construction between 1936 and the end of 1939. But the work of technical preparation and the responsibility for the erection of factories and their managements could be shared with the chemical firms in the country, and in the first place with ICI. From 1929 onwards ICI and the Royal Ordnance Factories collaborated over the technical problems of explosives production, and from 1936 onwards their collaboration extended to the design and construction of explosives factories.
The ability of private industry to share in the work doubtless facilitated the smooth and early completion of the explosives programme. By the end of 1941 almost the entire programme of explosives factories was completed (only one ROF in the North-West was still under construction and that factory was completed by the middle of 1942). This does not mean, of course, that production in 1940 and 1941 was sufficient for all needs, present and future. The scale on which new capacity was provided fell short of what the War Office considered necessary for the full war potential. but such gaps as appeared between 1939 and 1941 were met by developing further capacity in North America; and, in general, the output of explosives and of the chemicals needed for them at no time fell below the demand of the filling factories.
The crux of the problem was in the filling of gun ammunition. The experience of the last war showed that the expansion of filling capacity was fraught with many difficulties. There was no private industrial experience on which to draw, very little peacetime equipment to serve as a nucleus and no peacetime buildings capable of being adapted for filling. From the very beginning of pre-war planning it was, therefore, assumed that filling would have to be done in the Royal Ordnance Factories and that responsibility for the erection and management of the factories would be entirely in the hands of the Ministry of Supply, or, to be more exact, that of the Directorate of the ROFs within the Ministry.
A large network of filling factories was in fact planned, though the size of the new capacity provided under the earlier programmes was, from the point of view of the War Office, insufficient for the needs of
the war potential.101 Under the pre-1939 plans ROF Hereford had been reconstructed, ROF Chorley and two other large filling factories had been commenced, and, when in the spring of 1939 the thirty-two-division plan was formulated, six more filling factories had to be planned. Of these, three were laid down in the autumn had winter of 1939–40, and in the spring of 1940 two more were laid down. When in April 1940 the final wartime scales for the thirty-six divisions at Z + 34 (31st August 1941) reached the Ministry of Supply, another ten small (half-size) factories were designed, of which six were actually laid down. The scales of August 1940102 were met in November and December 1940 by plans to erect sixteen additional factories, of which six were mainly to meet the new demand for anti-aircraft rockets (UP) and aircraft bombs.
Whether a programme of nearly forty filling factories (by November 1940 some thirty-six factories to employ 287,200 workers on a two-shift basis had been projected) could have been completed and manned in time for the programme is very doubtful. Fortunately, by the early summer of 1941 the Ministry of Supply found itself in the enviable position of having its programme of current output of filled ammunition approaching fulfilment, with the necessity of completing its factory programme in its entirety. Some incidents of this ‘success’ story have already been told;103 others will be dealt with later,104 but most of them deserve re-telling here. For one thing they suggest an interesting comparison with contemporary developments in the aircraft industry.
The filling factories had by the summer of 1941 accumulated a reserve capacity which was, if anything, greater than that in aircraft firms. Some of the excess capacity was intentional in so far as it had been planned as an insurance against various contingencies, and in the first place against attack from the air. Generally speaking, it had been assumed that the filling capacity overseas, situated principally in Canada and equal to fifteen to twenty-five percent of the home programme. But filling capacity abroad was itself subject to risks, chiefly those of transport. Consequently some extra capacity for insurance had to be provided in this country, and in at least one case was specially asked for by the ‘user’ Service (the Admiralty).
Even greater excess was bound to result from the conservative planning of the ROFs. In computing the numbers and the layout of filling factories the technicians at Woolwich had to assume efficiency per square foot of floor and per workers lower than that
theoretically possible. Hand labour had to be planned for and unskilled hand labour at that. It is not that the processes could not, or were not in fact, successfully mechanised. A committee, with the chief mechanical engineer of the Woolwich factories, had worked out various ways of mechanisation as early as 1936 and the subject had been periodically raised on several occasions in the intervening years. But mechanisation in filling factories had many and obvious limits. Some of the processes, especially those of multiple filling, lent themselves badly to mechanised mass production, while those processes, which in theory were capable of being mechanised, proved difficult to standardise owing to continuous change in specifications. In any case the layout of factories would have it impossible to employ much large-scale machinery. In spite of the immense scale of the first ten ROFs, the individual units within them had, for safety reasons, to be kept small in scale and much dispersed. Production was therefore seldom concentrated in single block large enough to allow the use of large-scale machinery and, above all, conveyor belts. Factories were therefore planned very largely as ‘manufactories’ in which the operations, done mostly by hand or by small tools, would be carried out by large masses of hand workers.
In addition, the technicians had to assume that the labour force available to them would be of low average quality. Not only had they to make an allowance for the difficulties of recruitment, but they also knew that trained labour in the country was very scarce and that the skilled cadres in Woolwich capable of training new labour were very exiguous. They therefore planned on the assumption that future production per head would start very low and that it would take as long as eighteen months to reach the pre-war levels of output at Woolwich. Nor did they think it safe to count on the introduction of all the possible incentives and efficiency devices or on the working of continuous shifts. Two shifts were considered a practical maximum, and this alone was bound to lead to a margin of capacity above the minimum required under three-shift working.105
In these respects the record of the ROFs in the first two years of the war was somewhat different from that of the aircraft factories. The latter had been planned on the assumption that their productivity would grow much faster and that continuous shift-working would be introduced more generally than in fact proved possible in 1940 and 1941. On the other hand, the ROFs succeeded in introducing all the efficiency schemes on which the Woolwich planners in their caution had refused to bank. In the first place, continuous
shifts proved practicable. In response to tentative promptings from various quarters—from the War Cabinet and the Prime Minister personally, as well as from within the Ministry itself—the Director General of the ROFs decided at the end of January 1941 to re-organise the work in all the factories on the basis of three shifts. The transition was quickly carried out, and, as a result, the output of the existing factories was expected to rise by at least thirty-three percent, and in fact rose higher, as shown on Table 23; and this alone was sufficient to make the latest provision of sixteen factories, and even some of the ‘second ten’ factories, redundant.
Both before and after this decision other marked changes in efficiency were taking place in nearly all the ordnance factories. The work of the factories was not greatly interrupted or disturbed by air-raids, the managerial staff were becoming more expert, the workers more skilled. But the most powerful impetus to higher output came from the various efficiency measures adopted in several of them on the initiative of the headquarters of the ROFs themselves. Between January and the summer of 1941 piece rates and output bonuses were introduced. ‘Time and motion’ studies, statistical controls of quality, improvements in welfare and in background conditions followed. In January 1941 when the policy of incentives was first adopted its sponsors expected a rise of from ten to fifteen percent, but subsequent experience may well have exceeded their expectations. It is, of course, difficult to assign to each factor its right share in the growing efficiency of labour. The fact, however, remains, that by the end of 1941 the Ministry could plan with the knowledge that the efficiency of filling labour was fully forty percent above its level eighteen months previously.
This in itself would have made much of the planned capacity redundant; and when in the summer and autumn of 1941 the Ministry agreed on a lower scale of ammunition requirements, this redundancy became still greater. The Ministry was now able to concentrate filling in a much smaller number of factories, most of which were already in operation and all of which could be, and in fact were, fully manned and working in the summer of 1942. Of the ten filling factories in the second batch, i.e. those planned under the thirty-two-division programme of 1939, three were cancelled. The sixteen small factories planned in the summer of 1940106 were not proceeded with at all.
Needless to say, the effect of the situation on the numbers of people employed was relatively small, since the whole purpose of the reorganisation was to enable the existing factories to carry a greater amount of manpower. Nevertheless the higher efficiency of labour
made it possible to plan for a much smaller intake. In a note circulated in May 1941 the Director General of Programmes could report with obvious satisfaction that, whereas the rate of filling in 1942 would be two-and-a-half times as great as in the second half of 1941, the labour force would grow from about 125,000 to 175,000. Thus 150 percent more output would be coming from fifty percent more labour.107 In the event, the additions to the labour force turned out to be even smaller than the DGP’s note assumed. Employment in the filling factories which had risen from about 70,000 at the end of March 1941 to 145,000 at the end of December, rose only slightly above that level in the subsequent six months and remained at the level of approximately 155,000 for the remainder of the year. With the planned supply of ammunition as well as some requirements for special types of ammunition which had been added to the programmes in the meantime. By then the problem of filling factories as it figured in a report of the Select Committee on National Expenditure and in Parliamentary debates108 had ceased to be one deficiency and had become one of over-fulfilment. There soon grew up an impression that as a result of faulty planning the country was over-provided with manufacturing capacity. The Ministry had no difficulty in rebutting the argument. For by the time the programme of filling factories was suitably reduced and reorganised, i.e. by the spring of 1942, productive capacity for ammunition was not much in excess of 40 percent above current requirements. And this proved to be not too wide a margin to be kept in hand for the time when fighting should flare up.
The supply of small arms ammunition was another difficult problem.109 It had always been assumed that the nature of small arms ammunition was such as to necessitate special and largely self-contained factories for its manufacture. But before 1939 the demands of the Services were not yet very great, and the vast wartime programmes of small arms ammunition were still a thing of the future. Compared with existing demand and with current expectations of future demand the potential capacity available in peacetime at Woolwich, Imperial Chemical Industries and Greenwood and Batley was quite large. There was thus little need for additional factories until the summer of 1939 when the requirements of the Army and of the Air Force were reassessed. By January 1941 some
eleven new small arms ammunition factories had been approved. As at least twelve months had to elapse before production in the new factories could begin and at least eighteen months before it could be brought up to a peak, it is not surprising that output of small arms ammunition appeared to lag. Maximum planned rates were not achieved until well into 1943; for 20-mm. ammunition not until 1944. Yet considering the late start, the expansion of production by the end of 1941 was very rapid. That thereafter the insatiable appetites of the Air Force and the Army for small arms ammunition could be satisfied was a remarkable achievement.
Table 23: Production of ammunition during 1941
|Gun ammunition||Small arms ammunition|
|Thousand rounds||Million rounds|
Source: Statistical Digest of the Second World War, Tables 123 and 125
Ammunition was an instance of a difficult problem solved. OF the other difficult items some were in a position almost equally good, others were not. The teething problems of the 25-pounder and its carriage were solved, and by the turn of 1941 and 1942 the makers (ROFs and private firms) had reached the peak rates of production.110 The makers of some small arms were approaching their peak rates of production; rifles were still coming through slowly, but Sten guns began to be turned out in large and growing quantities once the production line was equipped and set up at the ROFs in the North-West and in a number of private firms.111 The production of anti-aircraft equipment developed more slowly, but in the end caught up with the programmes. The production of the 3.7-inch medium anti-aircraft gun was one of the first production jobs tackled by the Ministry in the early years of expansion, and the first of the new engineering ROFs was mainly devoted to this task. But so complicated was the equipment and so great were the requirements for it
that the output, although high,112 lagged well behind requirements. The Bofors gun, on the other hand, which took a long time to get into mass production, was at last beginning to be turned out at a really good pace, and output promised to catch up with programmes in the course of 1942.
Table 24: Production of Bofors guns, tank and anti-tank guns, May 1940—December 1941
|Year and month||Bofors guns||2-pdr. T. and AT guns||Year and month||Bofors guns||2-pdr. T. and AT guns||6-pdr. T. and AT guns|
If the record of the anti-tank and tank gun did not appear in quite as favourable light, the explanation was to be sought no so much in industrial difficulties as in the policy of the departments and in the uncertain and constantly changing requirements of the War Office. From this point of view the problem of the anti-tank and tank gun was closely bound with the tank itself.
(10) The Tank and its Gun
By the summer of 1941, largely under the influence of Rommel’s first offensive in Libya, the public suddenly woke up to the deficiencies of British tanks. The problems of tank design and production had been exercising the Prime Minister, the War Office and the Ministry of Supply for some time, but now criticism in Parliament and in the Press, combined with alarming reports from the field of battle, made the production of tanks appear as the sore spot of the munitions industry. A sore spot it was to remain until the later stages of the European battle in 1944.
The making of tanks was of course fraught with very great difficulties. On the eve of rearmament the country possessed hardly any of the equipment or experience needed to make up-to-date tanks. Between the two wars the manufacture of armoured fighting vehicles fell into desuetude, and Vickers-Armstrong alone had some of the necessary plant and skill. New capacity had therefore to be created and educated, and by no means all the capacity drawn in the production of tanks at that stage turned out to be as suitable as had once seemed probable.
Production of tanks in quantity did not begin until several months after the outbreak of the war, and no sooner had it begun than the difficulties common to all war industry, above all shortages of skilled labour and materials, piled up. To overcome them sooner than they were being overcome in other branches of war industry, tank production needed preferential treatment. But the general priority direction of 14th June 1940 did not give tanks the highest priority, and certainly not the overriding priority which was enjoyed by aircraft production.113 On 22nd July 1940 the Ministry of Supply formally drew the attention of the Defence Committee (Supply) to the fact that the production of tanks did not figure in Priority 1A, whereupon the Committee on the Prime Minister’s recommendation invited the Production Council to consider the inclusion in Priority 1A of the manufacture of tanks. The Battle of Britain, however, prevented this instruction from bearing fruit,114 and throughout the subsequent six to eight months the Ministry of Supply continued to complain that tank production was suffering from the overriding claims of aircraft production, especially in the matter of stampings and drop forgings. It may well be—as it was at one time alleged—that the chief effect of the absence of highest priority was psychological; but some of the effects were more material than that. Even though the system of priorities was soon superseded by the fixing of allocations between the different branches of war industry, higher priority was still accorded to aircraft, and the old system was still exercising a drag on tank production. At the first Tank Parliament—a name given to a series of conferences on tank production convened in 1941115—it was made clear that the two branches of production clashed in machine tools, gauges, tool-making capacity, and, to a certain extent, skilled labour. It was not until 9th July 1941 that the Production Executive decided to put on record at once for the guidance of departments, committees, etc., that the production of tanks (including spares), 2-pounder and 6-pounder guns and armour-piercing ammunition should be treated as on a footing with the production of articles of
which first priority was given under the General Priority Direction of 14th June 1940.
Production was, nevertheless, rising all the time, though very slowly at first. In the pre-Dunkirk period of the war, i.e. from the beginning of September 1939 to 1st June of the following year, 739 tanks were produced and the average monthly rate was about 82. By the end of 1940 the total produced since the beginning of the war rose to 1,713 and the average monthly rate in the last quarter of the year approached 150. A year later still, at the end of December 1941, the total produced since the beginning of the war was 6,554 and the average monthly rate in the last quarter was 626. This total was within about twenty percent of the full Z + 27 requirements as defined in August 1940 (see Table 25).
Thus, judged by figures of production alone, the supply of tanks at the end of 1941, or even in the early summer of that year, would not have justified the prevailing sense of great inferiority to the enemy. The evidence which has since come to light shows that German production of tanks in 1941 measured by numbers was not superior to the British. But the supply of tanks was not, and could not have been, judged by numbers, even had the British and the German numbers been known at the time to the critics in the Army and in the Press. The success of British tank production was judged by performance in the field, and thus judged the British tanks were unequal to all the battle requirements at that time and were to remain unequal for at least another two or three years. This should not, of course, be taken to mean that British tanks were in every respect inferior to the German tanks encountered in the early years of the war; but there is little doubt that, except for armour, the inferiority of British tanks became more marked in this period.
Of the various characteristics that determine the quality of the tank as a weapon—armour, armament, speed and reliability—armour was, to begin with, and remained for a long time fully equal to the demands of battle. Ever since the decision taken in 1938 to provide an armoured force for operations in France,116 the General Staff had laid continual stress on heavy armour. The British infantry tanks, including the Matilda and the Valentine, carried armour capable of resisting such artillery and anti-tank weapons as the Germans were known to possess at the beginning of the war. When, early in 1940, it was realised that the Germans were developing a better anti-tank gun (the 50-mm.), the War Office specification for armour rose accordingly. In the design of the A.22 (the future Churchill), 3-inch armour for the more vulnerable parts was laid down in the original specification; this was, on the insistence of the War Office, increased to 3½-inch to safeguard against the anticipated developments in German
Table 25: Production of tanks to December 1941
|Total deliveries September 1939 to December 1940||1,713|
|Total deliveries September 1939 to December 1941||6,554|
|Total deliveries including pre-war||7,702|
|Total required by 30th November 1941 (Z + 27)—as estimated August 1940||* 9,926|
*Exclusive of 518 cruiser close-supports shown in Tables 13 and 15.
anti-tank weapons. The cruiser tanks operating in the Desert were, of course, relatively lightly armoured, but the design of the Cromwell, as defined in the second half of 1941, was based on the assumption that it would be as heavily armoured as the infantry tanks of 1940.
As a result of the General Staff’s emphasis on adequate armour, British tanks were in this respect equal to the demands of battle until the Germans Tiger tanks appeared in the Battle of Normandy. The bulk of the tanks with which the Germans overran Poland were apparently of the thinly-armoured light type. They had relatively few heavy tanks in France, and those they had did not carry heavier armour than the infantry types with which the British Army was at that time being supplied. Nor were Rommel’s heavy tanks more thickly armoured than the British types which they confronted in the Desert. The bulk of the German heavy vehicles in Libya, KW.3 and KW.4, carried armour which in its more heavily protected parts did not exceed 65 mm. In comparison, the armour in the vulnerable front parts of the Matilda was 75 mm. in the turret and 78 mm. in the hull, and in the Valentine 65 mm. and 60 mm. respectively. The corresponding figures for the Cromwell were 76 mm. and 65 mm.; the Churchill carried an armour of 88 mm. in the turret and 101 mm. in the hull.
Much less satisfactory was the relative speed of British tanks. Until the arrival of the Cromwell, engined by a Rolls-Royce Meteor, most British tanks suffered from an unfavourable weight-to-power ration. This was in part a penalty paid for their defensive qualities, for all attempts to increase armoured protection invariably made inroads on speed. The Infantry Mark I (Matilda I) tank was the outstanding example of encroachment of armour on speed, but the speeds of the Mark II (Matilda II) at 15 m.p.h. and of the Valentine (Infantry Mark III) at 13 m.p.h. also proved inadequate for operational requirements, and the explanation in each case was the weight of armour relative to the power of the engine. As a compromise, the War Office had accepted in 1938 the low speed for the Valentine and Matilda tanks; but the Battle of Flanders was to reveal how unsatisfactory the compromise was. Although the British tanks were, type for type, superior in armoured protection and fire power, some of them, particularly the infantry tanks, were outmatched by the speed and manoeuvrability of the German tanks.
For this in the final resort the engines were mainly to blame. In this respect more than any other, British tank production paid the price for the neglect in development between two wars. German tank designers were able to drawn upon well-developed tank engines of high power; in Great Britain tank designers had, until 1940, to use in infantry tanks engines which did not much exceed 150 horsepower and which had been designed for commercial vehicles. The only
engine of greater power specially designed for infantry tanks was the Vauxhall which was used in the Churchill, but it unfortunately proved to be insufficient for the ever-growing weight of that tank.The two highest powered engines to be used in British tanks—the Liberty and the Meteor—were adaptations of aircraft engines. The former, dating back to the 1914–18 war and adopted in British cruiser tanks in 1938, provided adequate power, but proved in many ways unreliable and difficult to maintain. The Meteor—at over 600 horsepower it was by far the highest powered tank engine—was not to be available in quantity until much later.
The design and development of the Cromwell (a tank which was to form the backbone of the British armoured formations in the battles of 1944) hinged upon the supply of an engine of very high power. Two such engines were considered and developed. One was the Ford V.12 which was being developed in the United States, and the other (it became in the end the standard engine for the tank) was the Meteor, an adaptation for tank purposes of the Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine. But unfortunately the Cromwell programme had to be launched with the supplies of Meteors not yet full secured, and the deficiency of Meteors had for the time being to be made up by the Liberty engine. It was not until late in 1942 that the supplies of Meteors became sufficiently assured to solve for the time being the problem of tank engines.
The point at which the British tanks of 1941 suffered most in comparison with the German, and which drew to itself most criticism, both amateur and professional, was their firepower. The problem of the tank gun on the British tanks was, however, closely interwoven with that of the anti-tank gun, for both were fundamentally the same and differed only in their respective mountings and operational uses. The story of the anti-tank gun will be discussed below.
The various shortcomings of British tanks could be accounted for by a number of causes both old and new. The most fundamental cause was the gap in development after the 1914–18 war. During that period design and development of tanks was confined to what Vickers-Armstrongs were able to do in conditions of peace and to the very restricted activities of the rudimentary design departments at Woolwich. The rearmament period saw some improvement. The cruisers Mark I to VI and the infantry tanks, Matilda and Valentine, were developed and brought into production.117 Additional firms, including
Nuffield Mechanizations, were employed on the design and development of tanks. Nevertheless, when the Ministry of Supply took over from the War Office responsibility for the manufacture of tanks, there were no advanced designs on the drawing-board, no prototype suitable for future development and very limited experience of the practical difficulties of tank design.
The earlier neglect of tank design and development made itself felt in the difficult years of 1940 and 1941; and despite the subsequent efforts of the Ministry of Supply it continued to affect tank development throughout the war. The very few fundamental advances in design—mainly in steering and transmission—evolved in the immediate pre-war and early war periods were achieved mainly by drawing on the skill and ingenuity of individual engineers rather than on accumulated experience in tank development. In the absence of proved designs, tanks had to be developed and produced more or less simultaneously and had to be supplies to troops long before all their shortcomings had revealed themselves in tests and had been eliminated. As a result, not only was production continuously held up by teething troubles, but tanks in service with the Army were apt to be imperfect in performance and unreliable in service.
The lingering effects of the pre-war gap in design were aggravated by the conditions under which tanks had to be designed in wartime. In 1941 (for that matter in 1942 and 1943 as well) the task of the designers was not made easier by the ideas of the General Staff about the use and composition of tank forces and about the desirable qualities of a tank. For a long time the General Staff insisted on tanks conforming to a number of features cramping to the designer. There was the insistence on the transport of the tank by railway which limited its width; there was the insistence on the tank being built to cross standard bridges which limited weight; there was the insistence on a low silhouette which limited its weight. These requirements were backed by tactical and ‘logistic’ arguments reasonable enough. But by the end of 1941 it became apparent that the General Staff requirements in these matters need not have been laid down as the sine qua non of tank design. For by then the War Office was ready to welcome the delivery in Libya of American tanks with a high silhouette, while the Ministry of Supply was staking out claims in America for transporters capable of taking tanks by road, and beginning to design special bridging equipment (some of it tank-borne) capable of supporting tanks much heavier than the old War Office minimum. In the end the latest British tank to be designed during the war broke nearly every one of the limitations imposed upon tank design by the General Staff in 1940 and 1941.
Even more important was the influence on tank design of the fluctuating notions about the tactical use of tanks. For the ideas of the
General Staff fluctuated at frequent intervals, and when they finally became stabilised they had to be embodied in a compromise design which presented a number of engineering difficulties. In order to understand the nature of the early vacillations and the eventual compromise it is necessary to bear in mind that in the early years of rearmament the War Office clearly distinguished between two functions of the tank in battle and between two corresponding types of tank: the slower and heavier tank for ‘infantry’ and ‘assault’ duties, and the faster and lighter ‘cruiser’ tank for cavalry action. But even though the distinction was clearly drawn, the preferences of the General Staff were apt to alternate. At first (i.e. in the last years of peace) the possibility of a clash with Italy in the Middle East dominated the War Office plans and simulated the demand for light and fast tanks of the cavalry or cruiser type. In this period the only representative of the ‘assault’ or ‘infantry’ type was the Infantry Type Mark I, a slow and heavy vehicle armed with a machine gun. With the approach of the war with Germany and the prospect of an expeditionary force in France, the emphasis was shifted to tanks capable of acting against troops in fortified positions. The two infantry types, the Mark II, later known as the Matilda II, and the Mark III, the Valentine, were developed, the former in 1939 and the latter in 1939.118 In November 1939 specifications were issued for the heavier A.20, out of which the A.22 (the Churchill) was later to grow. The ‘deficiency’ programme for the Army, as agreed on 21st April 1939,119 not only raised the total requirements of tanks from 997 to 2,172, but also increased the proportion of infantry tanks from thirty-six percent to fifty-one percent of the total requirements. As a result, in the early stages of the Ministry of Supply new production of tanks was largely devoted to the Infantry Mark II. The policy of the Ministry at that period was best summarised in a memorandum by the Minister of Supply to the Military Coordination Committee on 7th March 1940. The memorandum makes it clear that the Ministry put into production intermediate models of cruiser tanks halfway to the real programme, all with 2-pounder guns (cruiser A.10 Mark I and cruiser A.13 Mark II), as soon as it was realised that conditions were changed and that heavier arming was essential, but that it was the shortage of infantry tanks which had given the greatest concern and where the greatest effort was being made to increase and accelerate production.
Ideas changed again after the evacuation of Dunkirk. The part which German panzer divisions played in the defeat of France, their speed and mobility, led not only to an increased demand for tanks, but also to a far greater stress on cruiser tanks. The current army programme was expanded to one of nine armoured divisions
and six army tank brigades.120 This alteration involved a great increase in cruisers and a reduction in infantry tanks which had previously been regarded as the most important requirement. Out of a total of 10,441 tanks stated as requirements by the War Office on 30th July 1940, 4,699, or forty-five percent were to be cruisers. In the programme of December 1940 the proportion of cruisers was raised to seventy-eight percent of the total and that of infantry tanks was reduced fifty-five percent to twenty-two percent. A radical chance of this nature was impossible without unsettling the entire scheme of production. It was therefore agreed that in practice no immediate alteration should be made to capacity which would involve any loss in gross production, and that until an adequate supply of cruisers could be produced a certain number of armoured divisions would be equipped with infantry tanks.
The requirements of the General Staff began to change again in 1941 largely as a result of the fighting in the Middle East. The campaigns in Libya, and especially the second campaign in the winter of 1941, created a demand for a tank force composed of vehicles more mobile than the infantry tanks, but equally well protected. The immediate effect was to raise the Army demand for infantry tanks to thirty percent of the total. But the final result of the new ideas was to bring the operational requirements of the two types of vehicles so close as to make it possible to satisfy both with the same design. The demand on the Ministry of Supply was to produce a vehicle with power of attack and defence greater than that of the current models of the cruiser tank, but with a speed far greater than the infantry tanks then in service, i.e. the Valentine and Matilda. This requirement was eventually met by the design of the Cromwell, a more heavily armed and armoured version of the basic cruiser design, embodying an engine of great power, and thus capable of high speed. Its initial development was carried out in early 1941 and it was expected that it would be in production later in the same year. Snags and pitfalls, however, beset its development and greatly delayed delivery to the troops. Engineering difficulties were inevitable in a compromise design of this kind; and in the first place the difficulty of mounting on a standard suspension a tank so heavy and so fast. It was not until 1943 that the Cromwell was in service with the troops in reliable version. By the end of that year it was to prove itself by far the best tank designed and produced in Britain during the war, and later it acquitted itself well in the pursuit of the enemy across Europe. But it was essentially a design based on the experience of the Western Desert and was possibly in some ways unsuited to the close-range battles of Normandy.
So much for the evolution of the General Staff ideas and their effects
on the design of tanks. The quality of the tanks turned out by industry was also affected for a time by the ‘foreshortening’ of design and development on the morrow of Dunkirk. The Ministry was driven to concentrate on achieving the highest possible output of tanks. Technical development, improvements of existing types and the introduction of new ones, had to be reduced to the minimum so as not to interfere with output. It must be remembered that the country entered the war with only a small proportion of its estimated requirements of tanks available. Under the Army ‘deficiency’ programme of 19th April 1939 the requirements of cruiser and infantry tanks were 2,646, but by 1st September 1939 the Army did not possess more than 146 of both. In the eight months between the outbreak of war and Dunkirk 437 cruiser and infantry tanks were produced, but of these 285 were lost in France.
With the country facing, almost without tanks, the dangers of invasion, the Ministry had to concentrate on the production of existing types. The overwhelming need for tanks and more tanks of existing types had to be reaffirmed by the Prime Minister and continually reinforced throughout 1940 and most of 1941. At the meeting of the Defence Committee (Supply) on 11th June 1940 the Prime Minister recommended that every effort should be made to press on with the production of existing types, and that no modification should be accepted which would delay in the slightest degree their production. On another occasion, in July, the Prime Minister again laid down that there was no time to try and improve existing types and specifications, that the choice which had to be made was not between a good tank and a better one, but between a fairly good tank and no tank at all. The same theme occurred over and over again in the Prime Minister’s pronouncements and in the minutes of the Ministry of Supply. The concentration on the production of existing types was apparently intended to continue throughout 1941, so that new types could not be expected before 1941. On 17th January 1941 the Minister told the Tank Board that the Prime Minister, as Minister of Defence, had instructed that ‘for 1941 the department must concentrate on securing the maximum production of existing known models and there must be the minimum of interference with production by changes of design. At the same time the Board must give close attention to design and development with a view to a different programme for the year 1942’.
There is thus no wonder that the one tank which was designed and developed in 1940—the A.22, better known to the public as the Churchill tank—suffered from haste in design and development. This tank was needed mainly for home defence against invasion, and in 1940 and 1941 the danger of invasion was too near to allow designers the necessary time for the normal procedure of tests and
trials. The War Office specification was ready in the middle of June. On 1st July 1940 the Prime Minister issued an instruction to proceed with a view to producing, as a minimum, 500 by March 1941. The time allowed for tests, development and tooling-up was less than nine months, or about one-half of what is usually regarded as the minimum period for a new type. Most unorthodox measures had to be taken to speed up development. The tank was ordered ‘off the drawing-board’, and Vauxhall Motors were entrusted with detailed design and manufacture. The first pilot was running in December 1940; fourteen tanks were delivered by 30th June 1941; and by the autumn 400 were available for battle.121 But by that time it had also become abundantly clear that the tank was most unreliable in use. The initial batches of the tank had to be re-worked, further production had for a time to be suspended, and much time had to elapse before the main defects could be bred out of the tank. Improved versions were delivered in 1942 and acquitted themselves well in the landings at Dieppe (August) and El Alamein (October). By 1943 the latest version of the Churchill had been developed into a sound and effective heavy fighting vehicle, capable of adaptation to many uses and of great service to the British Army in Tunisia and in Europe. But in 1941 the qualities of the tank and its prospects were still problematic, and for the time being the only major adventure in design and development failed to produce the heavy armoured tank which was then so urgently needed to repel the threatened invasion.
Largely the same causes—neglect of design in the twenties and early thirties and inability to sacrifice immediate production—produced in 1941 the notorious crisis in anti-tank and tank guns. It has already been mentioned that the worst deficiency of British tanks revealed by the battles of 1941 was that of firepower.122 This deficiency was relatively recent. The standard anti-tank weapon installed in the tank at the outbreak of war, the 2-pounder, was at that time superior to the 37-mm. gun carried on German tanks, and acquitted itself very well in the first Libyan campaign. This initial advantage was, however, soon lost: mostly through delays in the supplies of more advanced types and the over-cautious piecemeal advance of the War Office specifications. As mentioned above,123 by the summer of 1940 the Germans were known to be developing a new tank gun of 50 mm. with greater range and penetrative power than that of the British 2-pounder. The British reply to that gun was the 6-pounder, but unfortunately the reply was not made early enough.
The British 6-pounder gun was a weapon of pre-war conception
It had apparently been discussed in the War Office in April 1938, but the design was not pursued owing to the urgency of other design work. The matter was taken up again in the summer of 1939. On 30th June the DCIGS put forward a provisional specification for a new 6-pounder tank gun and a corresponding design was produced by the Director of Artillery without much delay. A complete 6-pounder anti-tank equipment was available for trials in the spring of 1940, and on 10th June the Ministry of Supply asked the War Office to agree to an order for 400 6-pounder guns. Yet although on 20th June the General Staff reaffirmed its desire for a more powerful gun than the 2-pounder, the order for the 400 guns was not forthcoming. In August the War Office notified the Ministry of Supply that the number of 6-pounder guns was to be governed by the effect on 2-pounder production, which was poor. This turned out to be the crucial issue in the evolution of the problem. An earlier order for a few pilot models was now increased to fifty in order to get production under way, and in December 1940 the Ministry of Supply, on its own initiative, though in agreement with the War Office, increased the order from fifty to 500.124 The War Office, however, was still anxious not to prejudice the prospective output of 2-pounders through increased orders for the 6-pounder. It had been informed that the production of 100 complete 6-pounders in the year would entail a loss of 600 2-pounders.125 The alternative was presented to the Defence Committee (Supply) which discussed it in February 1941 and decided that a diversion of capacity from 2-pounders to 6-pounders could not be afforded and that the urgently necessary acceleration of 6-pounder production must at the outset be solely from new capacity. This was in fact the decision which the Ministry of Supply had itself taken in August 1940 in response to the War Office view that the number of 6-pounder guns was to be governed by the effect on 2-pounder production. The subsequent production of the gun was thus entirely dependent upon new capacity coming into production. The first guns in any quantity were turned out in November 1941 when thirty-two were produced: 146 came out in December, and 341 in January 1942. The output in May 1942 rose to 1,517.
The installation of the 6-pounder gun on tanks could not therefore effectively begin until the spring of 1942, and in its anti-tank role the gun appeared in the Desert in time to contribute to the turn of fortunate there in the autumn of that year. As soon as supplies of the gun were available it was installed in the Crusader and Churchill tanks. In 1943 it was installed also in the Cromwell, and in that year about eighty percent of all tanks produced in the United Kingdom were equipped with the 6-pounder.
The latter history of the 6-pounder and its successors falls outside the chronological limit of this chapter. In so far as they ceased to figure as major production issues, the tank and anti-tank guns of 1943 and 1944 may fall outside the range of this study altogether. But before taking leave of the subject it should perhaps be noted that the problem of ‘quality’, as distinct from that of production, was not completely wound up by the arrival of the 6-pounder. In 1944 the 6-pounder was to be almost entirely superseded by the 17-pounder tank and anti-tank gun and the 75-mm. tank gun. Yet this should not be taken to mean that the race against the Germans in the firepower of tank and anti-tank weapons was thereby won. For before long both guns had to compete in range and penetrating power with later versions of the German 88-mm. gun. By then, however, the whole question of firepower in tanks had become greatly complicated by the use in tanks of a variety of auxiliary equipment not primarily designed to fire armour-piercing shells of high velocity. But, to repeat, this part of the story is not closely linked up with the success or failure of munitions production and will more appropriately be told in a study of design and development126.