Chapter 5: From Pearl Harbor to Victory in Europe: 1. The Offensive Strategy
(1) Introductory: The Two Summits
In Mr. Churchill’s famous phrase the year 1942 saw ‘the end of the beginning’.1 The time of preparation was nearly over, and the country could begin to plan how to deploy the Forces it had gathered and equipped in the preceding three years. That a moment like this would come some time in 1942 had always been foreseen, though the precise date may for a long time have remained indefinite. The strategic and industrial hypothesis underlying the successive Service programmes of 1939, 1940 and 1941 implied a turning point in the conduct of the war soon after the end of 1941. The armed forces could be then be expected to reach their planned strength and to receive the final instalment of their ‘capital equipment’. The terminal point of the Army plans could not, of course, be reached in December 1941 as required by the strict timetable of the 1940 requirements for Z +27;2 but, in spite of all the postponements, the War Office and the Ministry of Supply continued to act on the assumption that the equipment of the field forces would be more or less completed by the end of the year. Similarly, the first comprehensive wartime programme of aircraft construction (the ‘Harrogate’ programme of September 1939),3 and the programmes of 1940 and 1941 derived from it, all reflected the intention to achieve the output of 2,550 aircraft per month—the peak rate—during 1942. Even in the Admiralty the planners looked forward to 1942 as the year when the supply of small vessels under the ‘emergency’ programmes would reach the point beyond which exclusive concentration on the ‘emergency’ programmes themselves could stop.4
From these expectations obvious strategic and economic consequences followed. Now that weapons were in more plentiful supply more could be spared for offensive action, even if the delays over bombers made it difficult to launch full-scale bombing attacks for at least another year. The economic consequences were, if anything, even more immediate. War industry was absorbing its final targets. The year 1942 was therefore destined to bring the country to the very verge of the fullest possible industrial mobilisation.
In this way, on the eve of Pearl Harbor the twin summits of the war, strategic and economic, were rapidly coming into view. The strategic and political situation had been transformed by the German attack on Russia in June 1941, though the effects of German involvement in the East on British strategic planning did not become apparent until the strength of Russian resistance revealed itself in full, as it did during 1942. More directly relevant to Britain’s economic and strategic plans was the evolving attitude of the United States. On the eve of Pearl Harbor American aid was already great, and prospects of further aid were rapidly rising. The events of the winter of 1941—Pearl Harbor, the entry of the United States and Japan into the war—greatly amplified both the prejudice and the promise of 1941, and thereby intensified the crises to which the country was in any case moving. They brought immense accretion to Allied strength and a firm assurance of victory, but they also raised the height of the peaks yet to be scaled and probably also the length of time which this country would have to stay at topmost levels. It suddenly became possible to embark on offensives greater and more far-reaching than any which Britain could have undertaken alone; and it also became necessary to raise military output and economic mobilisation to limits even higher than those which the pre-1942 programmes had forecast. At the same time the offensive action could not be planned to reach its dénouement for at least another eighteen months or two years; nor were the strains of industrial mobilisation expected to ease off in the meantime.
The sustained height of the war effort during those years and, above all, the combination of full industrial mobilisation with mounting military offensives, must be borne in mind if the story of war production in this period is to be properly understood. War industry was called upon to continue its movement towards the inherited targets of its earlier plans; it was also called upon to respond to the successive stimuli of the offensive strategy; and all this had to be done at a time when the productive resources and, above all, the manpower of the country were stretched to the furthest possible limits.
(2) The Offensive Strategy
The changing emphasis of war production reflected not only the growing shortage of manpower but also the constant and unremitting pressure for expansion—a pressure to which the country found it increasingly difficult to respond, but which strategic necessity made it equally difficult to dent. It would be a truism to insist that between 1942 and 1944 the demand for supplies was bound to expand with every step of the unfolding offensive. Somewhat less obvious and familiar are the effects on supply programmes of the slow and necessarily circuitous progress of the offensive plans. With the entry of America into the war the military prospects underwent a transformation as profound as most contemporaries wished it to be. Eventual victory now appeared to be assured and the road towards it more or less open. Yet the military position did not alter at all suddenly. While future horizons were lightening and spirits were rising, the immediate prospects remained for a while gloomy. Until the very eve of Alamein and Stalingrad the Allies continued to suffer reverses in every field of battle—in the Philippines, in Malaya, in the Western Desert, in the Atlantic and in the approaches to the Caucasus.
No comparable reverses were likely on the supply front, but enough has already been said here to show that 1942 was bound to be a year of great difficulties and shortages. Indeed the first phase of the Anglo-American alliance turned out to be one of unrelieved stringency. At the end of 1941 American war industry was still in the early stages of expansion and was not to be fully employed or to be working at maximum rates until well into 1943. There was even some deterioration in the immediate outlook, for weapons manufactured for British use in the United States were being diverted to the American Army, and the vast ambitions of American war industry were threatening the supply of critical raw materials. In these conditions it was obviously impossible for Britain and the United States to come to grips with the main forces of the enemy at once. However certain the victory, the road towards it was turning out to be both longer and more roundabout than it may at first have appeared to some Allied leaders. Its true length and direction were not to be revealed until most of its distance had been traversed.
The mapping of the road began immediately after the Pearl Harbor. Within three weeks of America’ entry into the war Mr. Churchill and Mr. Roosevelt met in Washington to consider the broad strategy of the war.5 They had no difficulty in agreeing on the strategic
priorities. As Germany was the predominant member of the Axis powers, the Atlantic and the European area was to be considered the decisive theatre of the war, and only the minimum of force necessary to safeguard vital interests in other theatres was to be diverted from operations against Germany.
The date and direction of the main attack were not, however, and could not be settled at once. In the spring of 1942 General Marshall came to London with a plan for an early and even an immediate offensive in Western Europe. He proposed that Allied troops should invade Europe and establish a bridgehead there as soon as possible, indeed in the autumn of 1942. This operation if successful was to lead in 1943 to a full-dress invasion of Europe (Operation ROUNDUP). These dates, however, proved too early and too definite. In general, the British leaders were prepared to accept the American proposal for an offensive in Western Europe in the spring of 1943. In a manner still more general, they agreed that the Allies might be compelled to launch an attack, however limited, in 1942 or might be induced to do so a favourable opening occurred. Before long, however, both the date and the point of the attack were revised. At a further conference between the President and the Prime Minister in Washington in June 19426 the Allies decided to push forward with all speed and energy the building up of American forces in the United Kingdom for an early offensive. But, at the same time, they laid it down that if detailed examination were to show that a successful invasion of France and the Low Countries was as yet impracticable, the Allies must be ready with an alternative plan for an early operation against German land forces. As an alternative, a landing in North Africa—Operation TORCH—appeared most promising and desirable.
When in the following month, July 1942, the United States Chief of Staff visited England to investigate the possibilities of offensive action during 1942, the decision to postpone the invasion of the Continent followed almost inevitably. The bomber offensive had not yet developed sufficiently to prepare the ground for an Allied landing; the technique of such landings had not been worked out; the United States did not yet dispose of large bodies of battle-trained troops, nor did their war industry turn out supplies in the necessary quantities. The smaller and purely preliminary alternative in North Africa had therefore to be launched first.
The invasion of North Africa took place as planned; yet even after it had been completed—in the early summer of 19437—the culminating point of the offensive was still far off. While preparations for the North African campaign were in full swing, attention and resources
had to be diverted to other military objectives. The German advance into Egypt was a strategic threat of the greatest gravity, and the preparations to repulse it, which had been going on throughout 1942, could not be held up. Nor was it possible to stop or even to reduce the assistance to Russia. Measures purely military, such as help for the defence of the Caucasus or the invasion of northern Norway were seriously considered but proved impracticable. On the other hand, supplies to the White Sea ports were absorbing on ever-mounting volume of resources, and were not allowed to slacken off. At the same time an assault on Madagascar had to be planned and was executed in May 1942. Above all the Allies, more especially the Americans, had to do all that was possible to prevent the position in the Pacific from becoming even more critical than it was. In this country there was also the ever-present, and at time overshadowing threat to Atlantic sea-lanes, were throughout 1942 and the first half of 1943 the German U-boats were levying a heavy toll.
For these and the more general reasons of strategy and supplies (which in the main were still those of 1942) the success in North Africa was not to be followed by an immediate switch-over to France. The Prime Minister and the President met at Casablanca in January 19438 and decided to follow up the success in Tunisia with an attack of Sicily, to be launched in June or July.9 The invasion of Sicily was followed by other moves in the encircling offensive. The Italian mainland was invaded on 3rd September, and when Mussolini fled and Italian resistance collapsed in the autumn of 1943, the British military leaders were anxious to complete the campaign in the south, even at the cost of some further postponement of the invasion of France. The problem occupied the Allied leaders at the Quebec Conference of August 1943, and at Cairo discussions in November 1943; and it was only at Teheran,10 where Stalin joined the President and the Prime Minister for the first time, that the ‘Overlord’ operation in Northern France and the accompanying invasion of Southern France were fixed for May 1944 with the clear understanding that no other operation would be allowed to interfere with their date and success.
In these final decisions the argument of supply played a decisive part. Hitherto it had been possible to contend that, although the long-term objectives of military equipment were nearly attained, there still remained the task of preparing the specialised equipment without which the final offensive in France could not be launched, and, in the first place, the all-important landing-craft. The reason why the summer of 1944 could at last be fixed as the final date for ‘Overlord’ was not only that the preliminary phases of the encircling offensive had
been successfully carried out and that the bombing attacks on Germany were approaching the point of highest intensity, but also that the preliminary supply tasks appeared capable of being completed in time.
The strategic plans of the Allies in their turn had profound economic and, more especially, industrial effects. Not only was war industry called upon to supply very large quantities of special equipment for the coming offensive, but it was also subjected to a heavy and at the same time irregular pressure from the so-to-speak intermediate strategic needs. The offensive strategy developed over a period so long and was compounded of preparatory activities so dispersed and so divergent that the flow of offensive weapons had to be kept not only high but also very elastic. Incidents, all of them critical, came in quick succession: the bombing offensive, the massing of troops and supplies for the battles in Libya and Tunisia, the critical stages in the Battle of the Atlantic, the mounting of the landings in Sicily and Italy, and the maintenance of the armies there. They all raised urgent demands which had to be satisfied rapidly, and sometimes concurrently, before final concentration on OVERLORD could be decreed at the end of 1943. And no sooner was the landing launched than urgent demands began to come in from the armies in the fields of battle and from the air force over them. At the end of the period, while the prospects of victory in Europe were drawing near, the requirements of war in the Far East were coming to the forefront.
Is there then any wonder that the progress of war production during those years was irregular as well as great? Requirements had to be constantly reassessed in the order of military urgency, and the course of war production was therefore bound to be highly unstable. Yet the general tendency towards expansion, though repeatedly checked, was never arrested. In so far as additional demands merged into the periodic Service programmes (as the bulk of them did) they will be recounted again later;11 but it is not necessary to catalogue them in order to account for the growing industrial tasks. The growth reflected itself in every direction: in the higher demands for munitions, the rising requirements for raw materials, and, above all, in the ever-larger demands for labour.
(3) The Economic Strains
(a) Machine Tools12
The culminating point in the military preparations, i.e. the opening up of the offensive the inevitably heightened pressure of
requirements for munitions, coincided with the final stages in the industrial mobilisation. These stages were bound to be fraught with difficulty. As the peaks of industrial activity were coming into view the concomitant stresses were becoming more pronounced and more difficult to relieve. The ‘limiting’ factors of wartime industries as they figured in all the rearmament plans—machine tools, raw materials, labour—were now beginning to exercise to the full their limiting effect. At the same time not all the productive resources were equally strained, and the various shortages did not constrict war industry in equal measure. What is more, the worst strains were not those which had done most to hold back industrial expansion in the early phases of rearmament.
Capacity—factories and machines—was ceasing to be the pace-maker of war industry. If, until 1942, the output of munitions did not grow—and indeed was not expected to grow—much faster than it did, the main reason was that the country was still ‘tooling up’. And if, in its turn, this process dragged on for several long and impatient years, the obvious (though, of course, not the only) explanation was that demands for fixed capital were so great that they could not possibly be met sooner. Factory buildings took a long time to erect (on the whole much longer than in the war of 1914–18),13 while the supply of plant and machine tools, not only in this country but also in the United States, was for a long time unequal to the need. By the end of 1942, however, the general position had greatly changed. Capital equipment was ceasing to be short; supply had caught up with demand, and in 1943 the demand itself dropped well below the peak.
That the demand should have decreased at this stage of the war was, of course, in the nature of the industrial build-up. Hitherto the whole timetable of British rearmament had largely depended on the rate at which new factories could be brought into production or other factories be converted to munitions; and this meant that some time before the highest levels of war production were reached the making of fixed capital equipment should have begun to slow down. The turning-point under the programmes of 1939 and 1940 would have come some time before Pearl Harbor, and soonest of all in the aircraft industry. Throughout the greater part of 1941 the Ministry of Aircraft Production was still engaged on the original programme of 2,550 aircraft per months. The programme had been approved in general terms in September 1939,14 and between that date and August 1941 orders had been placed for the bulk of the necessary Government expenditure on plant and buildings—£97 millions out of about £110 millions. Had the programme been allowed to run its
course, the requirements of capital equipment would probably have begun to diminish in the autumn of 1941. In the Ministry of Supply the turning-point was expected to come later, somewhere early in 1942, for it was in the course of 1942 that production under the Z + 27 programme15 was due to reach its zenith. In the Admiralty the capital schemes launched in the first two years of the war were mainly to expand capacity for armaments and ammunition, and there were also expected to mature at the end of 1941 or early in 1942.
Thus, according to the original production plans, the process of industrial re-equipment would have culminated at the turn of 1941 and 1942. The process was not, however, allowed to run according to plan. Even before the date of completion arrived, the supply departments had to sponsor additions to factory programmes and to extend the period of ‘tooling up’. Greatest of all were the additions to the aircraft factories resulting from the bomber programmes of the late autumn of 1941. It will be recalled16 that the Prime Minister’s wishes for additional bombers could not be met even half-way without additional factory construction. There were also to be changes in plant and machines and additions to the machining capacity in general in a number of existing factories. Hence there was a very large increase in orders for plant and machine tools at the end of 1941 and during 1942. Indeed so large was the increase that the approved financial commitments for additional plant and machinery sanctioned for engines, airframes and propellers from September 1941 to December 1942, at nearly £48 millions, were more than twice that of the comparable commitments between December 1939 and the end of August 1941, and only £6.5 millions less than the total commitment for the provision of plant and machinery, at Government expense,
Table 26: Commitments approved for machine tools and plant
|1936–39||Dec. 1939 to 31st Aug. 1941 (20 months)||Sept. 1941 to 31st Dec. 1942 (16 months)|
All aircraft products17
for this section of the aircraft industry in the five years since 1936. The increase in plant and machinery requirements over the whole field of aircraft production was only slightly less severe. The peak requirements of the Ministry of Aircraft Production for capital goods were thus inevitably put off to some in 1943.
Important additions to capital, though on a much smaller scale, also too place in the shipbuilding industry. It will be shown later18 that in the middle of 1942 the Admiralty reached an impasse in its endeavours to force out of the shipbuilding industry a large increase in output. This led to a technical enquiry which, in its turn, led to an ambitious plan for a State-assisted renovation of capital equipment in the shipyards. Large and costly machine tools were to be provided as well as shipyard plant and welding equipment. In consequence the total value of major capital schemes for naval shipbuilding and marine engineering for the two years 1942 and 1943 exceeded £4½ millions, compared with less than £1 million for the two years 1940 and 1941. In addition a further large scheme for torpedo production was approved in 1942. The large increase in capital equipment for naval construction and marine engineering which followed the 1942 inquiry is reflected in the Admiralty expenditure on this account (Table 27).
Table 27: Admiralty expenditure on plant and machine tools for naval shipbuilding and marine engineering contractors
In the Ministry of Supply alone the additions were not sufficiently large to lead to a great postponement of the decline, which in any case was planned to come later there than elsewhere. In the capital schemes approved in 1942 provision of plant and machine tools at more than £26 millions was only £2 millions lower than in 1941, though more than £16 millions higher than the figure to which it was to drop in the course of 1943. The 1941 level of demand for capital was thus prolonged throughout the greater part of 1942 but fell sharply in 1943. But for the further schemes for the tank programme and for the increasing demand for 20-mm. weapons and ammunition the 1943 figure would have been lower still, and the drop might have come earlier.
The compilation of total requirements of machine tools for delivery in each year was undertaken by the Machine Tool Control from 1941
onwards. The process was subject to much uncertainty, and figures computed at the beginning of the year were subject to drastic changes in the course of the year. The actual demands for machine tools, on which orders for delivery were issued, frequently differed widely from these estimated requirements. Requirements were related almost entirely to demands arising out of financial projects of capital expenditure financed and subsidised from Government sources, but there was also a smaller flow of order emanating directly from private firms and financed wholly by them. Outside the official lists were also the machine tools and gauges, for labour training schemes, for export and for replacement of worn-out and of war-damaged machines. In 1940 and 1941 the annual total requirements was estimated at 100,000 machine tools. In 1942, when returns became more complete, the estimate reached 111,000. Reckoned in number the estimated decline in 1943 and 1944 was remarkably small, but the needs of these years were for a larger proportion of low-cost machines and for a larger number of machines to replace worn-out machinery in factories.19
Table 28: Estimated requirements and actual supplies of machine tools to supply departments20
Number of machine tools
|Ministry of Aircraft Production||Ministry of supply||Admiralty|
|September 1939 to December 1940||40,000*||30,000*||45,000*||33,000*||6,000*||3,500*|
* Approximate retrospective estimate.
† This figure includes some of the requirements under the 1942 bomber programme. Before September 1941 the requirements ran at a monthly rate of about 2,500 per month.
‡ From 1942, all estimated requirements are first month of year estimates except for Ministry of Supply (1942) where a later estimate including a large estimate including a large War Office demand is used.
§ A large part of the Ministry of Supply requirements for 1942 onwards were for machine tools for the Army. These were mainly different from those in demand for munitions production and a very large proportion were portable low-cost machines.
** This figure was much increased in the course of the year.
The turning-point in the total demand for plant and machine tools was thus postponed; but it was bound to come before long. Allowing for the interval between the date at which expenditure was sanctioned and the date at which orders could be placed, the end of 1942 might be regarded as the time when the pressure of demand for capital equipment in war industry as a whole would begin to fall off.
The general position, however, improved some time before that point was reached. Although the total demand had been fast approaching the highest point, the supplies of machine tools and plant were growing faster still. For this, American deliveries were partly responsible. During 1940 and 1941 the number of machine tools supplied to the United Kingdom from the United States was at a record level of four times the number supplied from the United States in 1939, and at least three and a half times the 1939 tonnage. The main source, however, was not American supplies but the ever-expanding production at home. Indeed, the growth of the British machine-tool industry during the war was very remarkable. From less than 20,000 machines in 1935 and about 35,000 in 1939 the British output of machine tools approached 100,000 by 1942.
For the early stages of the expansion the pre-war planners may claim some credit. In the war of 1914–18 the shortage of machine tools, jigs and gauges was one of the main limiting factors of war production. The machine-tool and gauge problem consequently figured very prominently in the inter-war discussions of industrial mobilisation and in the investigations conducted by the Supply Board.21 As a result a good deal had been achieved by 1939. The output of standard machines to meet rearmament requirements and to maintain exports had expanded, and new capacity22 had also been developed for gauges and for special machines for gun and shell production. But much more was needed, and in the end much more was done. In the early years of the war the output of machine tools directed by the Machine Tool Control in the Ministry of Supply grew from month to month and reached by the end of 1942 a point far beyond the scope of pre-war expectations. There was also a commensurate expansion in the output of the supply of small tools—cutting tools and equipment, gauges and measuring instruments.
This achievement was one of the great industrial successes of the war. What made it possible was the remarkable response of the established machine-tool firms, but one of the most important features of the growing output was the contribution made by undertakings not previously engaged in the manufacture of machine tools. In the end about a third of the output came from a large number of ‘general’
engineering firms. The manufacture of many types of machine tools was, of course, well suited to the qualities and limitations of medium-sized and small firms in the British engineering industry. Yet even so their contribution revealed reserves of skill and adaptability out of the ordinary.
Table 29: Supplies of machine tools
Number of machine tools
|United Kingdom production||37,000*||62,000*||80,927||95,788||76,208||59,125|
|United States supplies†||8,364||33,111||32,044||24,023||20,514||8,516|
Table 30: Supplies of small tools
|United Kingdom production‡||17,000||25,047||35,837||42,172||38,600|
* Estimated figure.
† United States supplies in 1939 were, by tonnage, sixty-two percent of the total United Kingdom imports of machine tools’ in 1940, ninety percent; in 1941, ninety-five percent; and in 1942–44, ninety-nine percent. After 1939 Canada supplied the greater part by tonnage, of the remaining imports of machine tools.
‡ Tools, gauges, etc., made by the users themselves are not included. The quantity of some tools thus provided was very considerable.
… not available
Thus, after Pearl Harbor domestic production was able to meet the bulk of British requirements for machine tools and dependence on American supplies was increasingly confined to machine tools of certain sizes and of highly specialised design. But even in this field the country was becoming less dependent on imports. Successful endeavours to replace continental types and some United States types with United Kingdom products go back to 1940 and beyond. In 1941, with the growing stringency of supplies from the United States, the Machine Tool Control arranged for further new types to be introduced to replace some United States designs, including gear-cutting and specialised milling machines. As a result, the range of types not manufactured in the United Kingdom was narrowed down, and the need for foreign tools was correspondingly reduced.
It goes without saying that however fast and however successfully
the general problem of plant and machinery was being solved, local shortages and difficulties continued to occur. Throughout 1942, and even in 1943 and 1944, delays and failures in production could still, more or less justly, be blamed on non-delivery of plant and tools. Small as the arrears were now becoming, even small arrears were capable of delaying production, especially if they happened to include critical key tools. The Ministry of Aircraft Production was especially difficult to satisfy. Not only was it deemed for machine tools at a very high level in 1942, but it was especially sensitive to unbalancing effects of production ‘shortfalls’. For the MAP requirements contained a high proportion of ‘difficult’ tools and, in addition, were to a great extent made up of large production units, sometimes whole factories, which took on the average not less than twelve months and sometimes as many as eighteen months to complete. For this and other reasons it is not surprising to find MAP complaining about arrears in the supply of machine tools in May 1942 and again in October of that year and at the beginning of 1943. The Machine Tool Control was reassuring about the prospects and could claim that by the end of 1942 not more than 2,300 machine tools, or about seven percent of the requirements, remained undelivered. But improvements were all very recent—mostly in the last months of 1942—and among the machines still in arrears were large plano-millers essential for the manufacture of the long spars of airframes and certain specially-designed machines vital for the manufacture of engines and propellers.
MAP could thus claim that delays in delivery of machines not only upset the timing of major programmes but also impeded necessary changes of types. Thus, in December 1942 when a changeover from Stirlings and Wellingtons to Lancasters was considered for Austin’s, Short’s and Vickers’, it was found that the changeover could only be made at either Short’s or Vickers’ but not at both, through lack of sufficient specially-designed plano-millers of large size. In December 1942 eleven more of these machine tools were required for existing Lancaster production; twelve more were required for the changeover at Short’s and eighteen more at Vickers’. Against this total of forty-one plano-millers the best delivery was twelve in nine months and four per month to follow. Thus, whilst the general statistics showed the requirements as fully or almost fully met, serious delays in the supply of key machines could still be held responsible for failures in production.
Needless to say, this argument was not accepted in full, and was often met by the arguments that the MAP demands were inflated, that the existing machine-tool capacity was not fully worked, and that in any case the industry did not possess the labour necessary to work the new machines. The labour arguments was of course double-edged,
for machines were often needed to economise in labour and also to train new cadres. But the argument that the requirements were exaggerated could not be dismissed by mere denial. That by the end of 1941 the industry had accumulated a great deal of redundant plant and machinery appeared very probable. In the summer of 1941 the Controller General of the Machine Tools Control could refer without fear of contradiction to the surplus of machine tools in certain MAP factories as something generally known; and a few weeks later the MAP Director of Machine Tools reported to the Supply Board that in his estimate some 10,000–12,000 machine tools were idle through shortage of labour and equipment or for other reasons and that some 50,000 were inefficiently operated through lack of skilled labour. The same view was to be expressed in a manner characteristically unambiguous by Lord Beaverbrook, now Minister of Supply. In a memorandum to the Defence Committee (Supply) relating to the Prime Minister’s bomber programme, Lord Beaverbrook stated categorically that for the bomber programme:
no more machine tools are needed, over 30,000 new tools were directed to MAP factories in 1941. The machine-tool plant must be worked night and day. Some special-purpose machine tools must be provided. The flow of replenishments and renewals must be maintained. But the main jobs are all completed and in fact some consignments of tools remain unused and even unpacked.
The categorical opening of this memorandum was qualified in its later sections, but its main argument still implied that at least half of the 30,000 machine tools asked for were unnecessary.
Lord Beaverbrook’s criticisms of MAP demands or the more moderately expressed criticisms by the Machine Tool Control could be neither generally disproved nor upheld until April 1942, when MAP at last agreed to have its machine-tool demands examined by technical experts of the Machine Tool Control. The object of the examination was to check the requirements of new machine tools as stated by MAP against the Machine Tool Control’s own calculation of what would be needed if the most suitable machine tools were most effectively used. As a result of the inquiry the utilisation of tools may or may not have improved, but MAP requirements lost some of the controversial aura which had hitherto surrounded them. It is very probable that even then the industry continued to possess a reserve of machining capacity. When in the earlier stages of discussion Lord Beaverbrook and others had tried to apply to the MAP requirements of double-shift working, MAP insisted that the only realistic level for measuring utilisation of tools was by assuming that machines would be worked to the extent of not more than 165 percent, i.e. 65 percent above their hypothetical full utilisation in a single shift. It is, nevertheless, doubtful whether even
165 percent of utilisation was attained in machining shops throughout the aircraft industry, and it is more or less certain that the coefficient of utilisation in some branches of aircraft production remained considerably lower than that.
The hang-over of the machine-tool problem also continued to be felt in the branches of production controlled by the Admiralty and the Ministry of Supply, but in neither department did it appear as troublesome or as persistent as in MAP Their demands—especially those of the Ministry of Supply—were not linked to a single large production scheme like the ‘bomber programme’, capable of being delayed in its entirety by local shortages of vital machines. The Ministry of Supply also enjoyed the advantages of fairly interchangeable industrial capacity and of somewhat less exacting requirements.
In so far as the Ministry of Supply requirements contained large and specialised machines, or were made of complete production complements, delays continued for some time after the general problem of supplies appeared to be solved. Thus, the factory programme for production of the Meteor tank engine, involving some 850 machines, both British and American, took eighteen months to complete; it was approved early in 1943, but the delivery of machine tools for full production was not completed until November 1944. Generally speaking, ‘critical’ machines, i.e. those of special design or otherwise in short supply, could not be made available in under twelve months except by transfer of existing orders. Fortunately, from 1942 onwards the Ministry asked for relatively few ‘difficult’ machines. And even when machines were required in complete production units, as for 20-mm. ammunition, fuses and small arms, or for tank engines, the units were usually much smaller than those required by MAP In general, new machine tools in the Ministry’s programme were to an increasing extent required not to tool up new capacity but to convert existing munitions capacity for the production of new types of weapons and ammunition.
Increases in the demand for general tools such as there were (a large part consisted of workshop tools of smaller and portable type for the Army) did not raise serious difficulties. By the end of 1942 they could be supplied within six to nine months, and in the course of that year many machines were being delivered at a rate which kept pace with the rate of requirements. From 1943 onwards a rapidly increasing number of machines on the Ministry of Supply list were becoming redundant and were passing into the Machine Tool Control pool; private orders for replacement of worn-out machines were increasing and in many instances were easily met.
There was, however, some delay in the delivery of machines under the Admiralty scheme of shipyard renovation.23 The delivery dates
for the heavier and more specialised machine tools for shipyards and engine-makers, such as hydraulic presses, joggling and flanging machines, riveting machines and special horizontal boring machines, were invariably long—indeed in some cases so long as to extend the period of re-equipment for about eight to nine months beyond the end of 1943 which was the planned date of completion. There was some feeling in the Admiralty that the delays were in part due to interference by Russian orders for similar machinery, though the Machine Tool Control did not admit that Russian orders had any great effect. Difficulties may also have been caused by lack of finality and definition in the technical requirements of the shipbuilding firms. Yet great as these difficulties were, they were not such as to upset the programme as a whole. In general, the requirements of the yards were filled more or less on time. Thus, in the supply of welding machines, which formed a crucial part of the modernisation scheme, the measures taken by the Machine Tool Control to standardise a large percentage of the welding machines and to scrutinise the Admiralty demands for machines above a certain size made it possible to fulfil the programme without delay. Some ninety percent of the welding schemes were completed by the autumn of 1943, at least a couple of months before the terminal date of the renovation scheme as a whole.
(b) Raw Materials24
The shortage which on the morrow of Pearl Harbor appeared most dangerous and most immediate was that of raw materials. It was to prove much less crippling in the event than it appeared in anticipation; there is, however, no doubt that until well into 1943 the anticipations were very disturbing. From May 1941 imports of raw materials increased to a rate which was sufficiently well above current consumption to raise the stocks of materials subject to import programme by several million tons above what in 1942 was to be regarded as the minimum ‘distribution’ stocks required to keep the flow of production uninterrupted. In the autumn of 1941 the prospects for a short time appeared still brighter, and the Government hoped that imports of raw materials would be higher in the course of 1942 than in 1941. Even when, by the middle of November, the import programmes had to be reduced to allow for the mounting demands of Russia and of the Middle East and for the slowing down of American shipping assistance, the expected imports of raw materials in 1942 were still planned at approximately the same levels as the actual imports of 1941.
These hopes did not survive Pearl Harbor. The Japanese conquests
in the Far East removed several sources of important raw materials. Malaya, the Netherlands East Indies and the neighbouring territories had produced ninety percent of the world’s rubber supplies, sixty percent of the world’s tin and also quantities of sisal. In the Philippines the Allies lost the only source of manilla hemp, and elsewhere in the Far East they lost supplies of tungsten, chromite, antimony and hardwood. Not all these losses were wholly and permanently irreplaceable. There were hopes of expanding rubber production elsewhere, especially in Ceylon, and the production of synthetic rubber was due to develop on a large scale in the United States. The mining of tin could be expanded in Nigeria, the Belgian Congo and Bolivia, and the loss of tin-smelting capacity was to be made good by the new American smelter already in process of erection in Texas. Yet all these schemes could not mature at once, and even when mature they could not be expected to make good the entire deficiency.
In addition, the immediate prospects of supplies for Britain were, for the time being, dimmed by the inevitable increase in America’s own demands arising mainly out of her immense armament plans. Most serious of all was the threat to the allocations of steel and non-ferrous metals, especially copper; and in this respect the situation remained dangerous until late in 1942, i.e. until the United States’ munitions programmes had been pruned sufficiently to revive, at least in part, hopes of continued American supplies to Britain.
More important still, indeed much more important, was the new shipping situation. In 1942 the Y-boat activities in the Atlantic raised the rate of sinkings to new and alarming peaks. At the same time the demand for shipping was greatly swollen by the military needs of the Eastern and Middle-Eastern theatres of war and by the gradual development of the Allied counter-offensive. America’s own need of ships in the Far East and elsewhere reduced the immediate help she could give. Merchant shipping construction, especially in America, was originally expected to replace losses and overtake demands by the end of 1942, but in June it became clear that American shipping assistance would not greatly increase until the second half of 1943. As a result, the total tonnage to serve British imports not only failed to grow but was in danger of continued decline for at least another year or eighteen months. Added to the shortages of shipping tonnage, both present and future, was also the difficulty of suiting military shipping to the needs of the import programme. In theory ships shipping to the needs of the import programme. In theory ships carrying supplies to the Far East or to the Mediterranean were available to bring back imports, but in practice the available cargoes did not necessarily fit the pattern of military sailings, and ships homeward bound were sometimes compelled to sail not fully laden and generally to bring imports in proportions no strictly corresponding to the import programmes.
It is, therefore, no wonder that the expectations of raw materials imports had to be drastically reduced. By February 1942 the high expectations of the autumn of 1941 were cut by more than a quarter. In the new conditions, supplies of materials had to be planned on assumptions involving not only far greater economy than before, but also much greater risks. In considering the import programme in February 1942 the Lord President decided that the time had come to reduce expectations of raw materials to the absolute minimum needed for the war effort, and in so doing to assume that stocks would be reduced by the end of the year to the safety line. On that basis the Raw Materials Department of the Ministry of Supply had drastically to reduce the total volume of requirements and some of the most essential items in it. Above all, iron and steel and non-ferrous metals were to be cut to an extent which threatened to reduce stocks of pig iron, steel and scrap by a very large figure. Stocks of other imported raw materials25 were also to be drawn upon.
Yet, even at this level, expectations of imports appeared to be higher than the shipping situation justified. At the invitation of the Lord President the Raw Materials Department of the Ministry of Supply submitted in February 1942 two programmes of imports both smaller than the previous much reduced expectations, and in March 1942 Department had to act on the dismal assumption that the quantity of materials to be received by sea would be only seventy-five percent of the forecast in November 1941. At this level imports would be considerably less than the amount below which, it was though they could not fall without creating a serious situation. As planned production was expected to rise in the course of 1943 to its topmost peak and consumption of raw materials to grow in proportion, the accumulated deficiency over the eighteen months from January 1942 to July 1943 looked as if it might exceed the safety figure by a wide margin.
It will be shown presently that, in fact, the situation in the second half of 1942 did not deteriorate quite so badly and that no serious shortages developed. This, however, was not sufficient to relieve the fears for the still more distant future. Even though in the course of 1943 American assistance was expected greatly to relieve the shipping position, the authorities expected that further dislocation of import programmes would result from the offensive campaigns of the Allies. At the same time consumption was due to rise in keeping with earlier plans, and the munitions industries alone were due to consume 12.5 percent more raw materials in 1943 than in 1942. The prospects was very disturbing, and what made it still more disturbing was that in the last quarter of 1942 the rate of sinkings rose and the amount of
tonnage diverted to military preparations was greater than expected. At the level of imports that could now be expected, reserves set aside to meet unforeseen emergencies might at the end of the year be reduced to three to four weeks’ supply.
Indeed, so dangerous appeared the position and prospects of stocks that the Prime Minister was obliged in December 1942 to intervene with a direction that stocks should not be allowed to drop to a level which would leave this country without ‘elbow room’ for possible contingencies. This meant cancelling the assumption on which the current programmes were based, i.e. that this country would run down its stocks of imported raw materials to the level of ‘distribution’ stocks. The new ‘elbow room’ was set by the Ministry of Production at a figure which was near the level at which stocks of imported raw materials had stood at the end of 1942. The estimates of consumption in 1943 had therefore to be reduced accordingly, and above all, heroic measures had to be taken to maintain the rate of imports. And nothing was more ‘heroic’ than the Prime Minister’s decision to sanction the withdrawal of ships from military uses. In accordance with is direction, fifty-two out of every ninety-two ships which it had been planned to use for the carrying of military stores to the Indian Ocean during the first six months of 1943 were to be diverted to bring imports to the United Kingdom.
For a few months in 1943 the position appeared to deteriorate still further, partly through a sharp fall in the amount of shipping space allocated from the United States, but also through severe weather. The position was expected to improve in the second half of 1943; yet allowing for all possible improvements, the Minister of Production unofficially estimated in the spring that it would not be possible to import during 1943 anything like the amounts budgeted for. A grave deficiency thus appeared inevitable. The requirements of the production departments had been pruned in January 1943 to a level which was below that of 1942, but as consumption of raw material in general had been running at a relatively high rate during the last three quarters of 1942, it was difficult to cut it sufficiently to satisfy the Prime Minister’s expressed with for ‘elbow room’ over and above the minimum distribution stocks themselves might have to be raided, and if so, the flow of production would not be sustained.
Sustained it nevertheless was. At no time during the period was munitions production in the country interrupted or even slowed down by a failure in the supply of raw materials in the narrow sense of the term but to the ‘fabricated’ materials—rolled products, castings, forgings, etc.—and were due not so much to difficulties of import as
to problems of fabrication in this country. At no time were stocks of imported raw materials in general drawn upon to the extent which the Lord President of the Council and the Raw Material Department had been forced to contemplate at the beginning of 1942. This was due in part to a decline in munitions requirements, but also to the steps which the Ministry of Production took in April 1943 to restrict consumption.
The cumulative reductions of stocks over the eighteen months January 1942 to June 1943 are difficult to compute with any exactitude, but they were certainly nowhere near the figure which once seemed inevitable, and what is more, total stocks of raw materials began to rise again by midsummer 1943. In the three months June to August 1943 they rose by nearly 1.5 million tons.
The relatively satisfactory condition of stocks and supplies was partly due to a flow of imports better than at one time seemed probably. In the first six months of 1942 and again at the turn of 1942 and 1943, imports were below programme, but, with the possible exception of the opening months of 1943, they never dropped below the safety line. Over the period as a whole the actual flow of imports was above the minimum programmes, and from late spring 1943 onwards the position improved very rapidly. The early months of the year saw a decisive turn in the Battle of the Atlantic, and a little later the military success in North Africa and Italy opened the Mediterranean to Allied shipping. As a result, more goods arrived than forecast; and the American promises of shipping assistance also proved easier to fulfil. No doubt supplies of individual commodities still remained very difficult. Above all, as more shipping was made available, so did the difficulty of finding appropriate cargoes in foreign ports grow.26 Nevertheless, by June 1943 the total of non-tanker imports reached the highest level since October 1941, and, as mentioned above, stocks of imported raw materials were beginning to rise. By the end of 1943 they were higher than at the beginning of the year and well above the ‘distribution’ minimum.
Mutatis mutandis, the situation in 1943, with imports and stocks higher than the more pessimistic forecasts, was recreated in 1944. Although the year began with hopes higher than ever before, certain dangers were anticipated. The needs of the offensive on the Continent were expected to put a strain on shipping, and inland transport was also heavily burdened. Nevertheless, imports in the first half of 1944 ran higher than even the more hopeful versions of the programmes allowed.
The higher rate of imports in 1943 and 1944 was not only, and.
perhaps not even the main, cause of the satisfactory rate of supplies. Domestic sources also proved very buoyant. The production of iron ore had reached its peak in 1942 when nearly 20 million tons were produced, eight million tons more than in 1938,27 and, what is more important, one million tons more than in 1941. In 1943 3.7 million tons of domestic timber had been felled, slightly more than had been assumed in earlier discussions.
Table 31: Production of some essential raw materials28
|Scrap for steel-making||7,688||7,782||7,349|
|Steel ingots and castings||12,764||13,031||12,116|
* Average ferrous content about thirty percent.
Source: Cmd. 6564
The main relief, however, came neither from the better rate of imports nor from the higher output from domestic sources, but from a much reduced consumption. Consumption would in any case have run below estimates. The expected demands for raw materials, like all other estimates of requirements for war production, were computed on the assumption that all other factors of production would be available in planned proportions at the right times and in the proper places, and that production of munitions would run at full programme rates. This assumption, of course, highly unreal and inevitably led to over-estimates in every individual item of the programmes. In addition, most estimates in the programmes contained insurance margins against contingencies and sometimes against possible cuts. It is, therefore, no wonder that the demand for raw materials in 1942, as anticipated in February 1942, turned out to be nearly twenty percent higher than the actual intake of raw materials by industry in that year. The estimates were revised in the middle of the year; yet even in their June version they were about nine percent higher than actual consumption. The over-estimates were especially marked in programmes for steel, non-ferrous metals and softwood—all of them materials where shortages were expected to be most serious.
This tendency to over-estimate, inherent in the nature of wartime programmes, did not cease, but in general the margins over over-estimates
estimates were themselves becoming small. In the same period, however, the gap between supply and requirements narrowed down to an extent far greater than improved estimates alone can explain. A further and more potent cause will be found in further reduction of requirements which were forced upon the Ministries by economic circumstances. This time what was being reduced was not only the requirements of raw materials based on current production programmes, but the current production programmes themselves. In December 1942 the Prime Minister, in his endeavours to protect stocks, enjoined upon the Ministries drastic reductions in their requirements of imported raw materials.29 But even before these economies could be carried into effect the supply departments, and in the first place the Ministry of Supply, had to cut down most of their forward plans for expansion. For in the meantime the shortage of manpower became so pronounced that it made general retrenchment in economic effort inevitable. Consumption of raw materials was bound to follow suit. The peak demands were reached earlier than originally planned, somewhere in the middle of 1943, and ran at lower levels. In short, the main reason why the deficiency of labour was far greater.
(c) The Labour Famine
The growing shortage of labour was rapidly becoming the main obstacle to continued expansion, the one limiting factor to which all others were rapidly reduced. The difficulties of labour supplies had been, of course, the inescapable accompaniment of industrial progress from the earliest days of rearmament.30 But whereas before the end of 1941 the labour problems were mostly local and were largely confined to skilled workers, by 1942 the labour problem had become that of manpower in general.
It is not that the shortages of skilled labour were no longer felt. Dilution and training had much progressed and the total number of skilled operatives, more especially of skilled engineers, was now very much greater than it had been at the beginning of the war. By the middle of 1942 one and a quarter million people in the engineering industry alone were drawing skilled rates of pay as compared with about half that number in June 1940 in the ‘engineering and allied industries’.31 But skilled men’s wages did not always go to wholly skilled men. Managers now frequently complained that the quality of
skilled labour was much lower, even if the quantity was higher. What is more, even the quantity, high as it was, was not equal to the demand. For in spite of up-grading, dilution and concentration of production32 the demand was growing with the general expansion of war industry and also with the development of new techniques requiring special training and aptitude. Welding was probably the most insatiable of the new skilled grades. In the course of 1942, 1943 and 1944 welding came to be adopted in almost every branch of metal-working. The change in shipbuilding was perhaps the most abrupt, and more will be said about it later,33 but welded construction had also made great headway in the manufacture of aircraft, gun carriages, engineering stores and tanks. Fortunately it did not take as long to train a welder as it did a skilled worker in alternative processes—a riveter or skilled foundryman. It was also fortunate that women often proved well fitted to the delicate and painstaking character of the work and were trained in very large numbers, more especially in the engineering Royal Ordnance Factories. Nevertheless, the demand for highly skilled welders always exceeded the supply. Equally unsatisfied remained the demand for shipwrights, platers and riveters in the shipyards, toolmakers, electricians, fitters, draughtsmen and some other higher categories of industrial skill. In general, shortages of skilled labour were still sufficiently real to be used as convenient alibi for recurrent production problems in the aircraft industry and elsewhere. But the shortage was especially acute in the shipbuilding industry where, in spite of the technical transformation which was to take place in the course of 1943, skilled labour was still needed in proportions higher than those which prevailed in other branches of war industry.
All these difficulties, however, were now merged into the rapidly growing shortage of labour of every kind and the gradual exhaustion of manpower resources. The exhaustion was not, of course, unexpected or unheralded. Manpower was the ultimate limit of the war effort 1914–18, and eve since the beginning of rearmament the planners and the administrators of war industry always assumed that if another war were to come the industrial effort would again be limited by manpower. This was the obvious postulate of the arguments for and against a large field army at the beginning of the war, and a rough notion of an eventual limit of manpower reserves also underlay the later discussions of the Army intake which were to lead to Mr. Churchill’s directive of March 1941.34
The size of the manpower reserves or the time when they would give out could not, of course, be determined in advance with any
accuracy. Full and reliable manpower budgets were not available until the last eighteen months of the war, and in the meantime it was impossible to measure with any accuracy either the actual needs or the future requirements of the Services and of war industries. Rough estimates were, however, made, and were sufficient to foretell a general labour shortage some time in 1941 or 1942. Though in its report of May 1940 Lord Stamp’s Survey of Economic and Financial Plans was mainly concerned with the period over which the current programme of war effort could be achieved, its implied prediction was that manpower resources would be wholly taken up by the end of the current programme.
On the other hand, the Beveridge committee of the autumn and winter of 194035 was, as its name shows, primarily concerned with the future supplies of men and women for the Services and war industries, and its findings were not only more definite and precise than anything hitherto available, but they were also more strictly relevant to the main problem, of labour resources. On the strength of the evidence available to it the committee calculated that by the end of 1941 the personnel of the Forces and of war industries would under their current plans by some 9.5 millions strong, 3.5 millions more than in mid-1940. The needs of the fighting Services (including civil defence) would have to be met largely by drafting into the Services some 1.7 million men, previously excluded from call-up or shielded from military service by reserved occupations or otherwise retained by civil occupations or even in war industry. As a result of these measures the munitions industry stood to lose some 300,000 men, whereas its estimated needs by the autumn of 1941 were for an additional 1,465,000 workers. The shortage in the munitions industry would thus be very great—far greater than transfer of men from other occupations could cover. The committee reckoned that by getting hold of youths below military age, of older men, and of men physically unfit, war industry might scrape up a million or so. This would still leave a deficit of men—300,000 or thereabouts—in the munitions industry as well of a further deficit of some 700,000 cause by the withdrawal of men from the non-munitions industries and services. The deficits, as well as the additional demand of the Forces and civil defence, could be covered b recruiting some 1,690,000 women, and in the opinion of the committee this number could not be found without impinging upon population groups not normally reckoned as ‘employable’, and in the first place upon married women. This, by implication, would be the country’s last reserve of labour.
The estimates of the Beveridge inquiry were not, and could not, be borne out in detail, for future demands of both the Forces and war
industry could not be measured in advance with any precision; but the general prophecy proved only too true. When in July 1941 the War Cabinet asked for a survey of demands and of resources and that Ministry of Labour presented its first Manpower Survey based on its midsummer count of employment books, the state of the country’s manpower resources appeared not far different from the Beveridge forecast. The total in the Forces and the munitions industries was about eight millions, not 9.5 millions as anticipated by the Beveridge Committee, but then the year was not yet up,36 and much of the Services’ demand to the end of the year was still to be met. Moreover, civil defence and some further 775,000 men and women for munitions and other essential industries, such as mining and timber. And no sooner were these figures published than the autumn bomber programmes presented the Ministry of Labour with additional demands from the Ministry of Aircraft Production to the tune of 850,000 men and women.37
The country was thus entering 1942 with demands for labour for that year at least 1.5 million higher than the figure on which the Beveridge Committee had based its dismal prophecy and its drastic recommendations. In other words, even before Pearl Harbor and the extension of the war to the Far East the country was faced with the near prospect of a labour famine. The events following Pearl Harbor brought the prospect of famine nearer still. Throughout 1942 and 1943 the Services and the supply ministries, responding to the rising needs of the war, presented a series of ever-growing demands for manpower which far outstripped the possible yield of the country’s reservoirs of men and women.
The reservoirs were in any case being drawn on to the full. The transfer from other fields of employment had by 1942 gone as far as it could go, for apart from distributive trades, civil engineering and building, from which some further transfers were still possible, the civilian industries and services no longer possessed any big residues of transferable labour. In order to reinforce the Services the Government introduced individual deferment in the place of the system of reservation hitherto in force under the Schedule of Reserved Occupations.38 This change was designed not to disturb production at its most essential points, but war industry was now bound to lose some of the men previously shielded from enlistment by the reservation of entire occupations. The extension of the age of conscription to fifty-one
years also impinged on the supplies of males still available for industrial employment: supplies which had in any case been attenuated to a mere trickle. There was a small intake of men invalided from the Services and of older men, of immigrant labour from Ireland, of timber-workers from Canada and Honduras; later came also prisoners-of-war. But the contribution of most of these sources could make was not great, and, from the point of view of war industry, it was mostly indirect. Prisoners replaced in various outdoor occupations men drawn into the Services or into war production, but their main spheres of employment were agriculture and navvying. Irish labour was more generally available for industrial employment and, on one occasion early in 1942 a single large batch of Irish labour, shepherded into this country by the Ministry of Labour, helped to clear a difficult ‘bottleneck; in drop-forging labour. Over the period as a whole the direct contribution from Ireland reached quite a sizeable figure. During 1940 and 1941 the total number of Irish immigrants who took up employment in this country exceeded 60,000, and a further 100,000 came in during 1942 and 1943, but by no means all the immigrants sought employment in war production or in other essential occupations.
New supplies of labour commensurate with new demands could come from the only domestic source not yet exhausted by the beginning of 1942, i.e. women; and the Government proceeded to mobilise all the women that could possibly be mobilised. In his early approaches to the problem of the employment of women, Mr. Bevin may have given the impression of holding back. But now that all other domestic sources had given out, and the demands of the war machine were high and urgent, he was prepared to proceed very quickly and to go very far. In the end the Ministry of Labour and the War Cabinet in general went farther in this direction than the war governments of any other country, not excluding Germany and Russia, and even farther than the advocates of drastic mobilisation in 1940 had anticipated. The net cast by the Registration for Employment Order of March 1941 had by October 1942 been spread to take in the bulk of the young and middle-aged women in the country’ by then all women between the ages of 18 and 45½ had registered at employment exchanges. When in the summer of 1941 an urgent call for labour for aircraft production had to be answered, another 20,000 women or thereabouts were scraped up by extending the registration to ‘grandmothers’—the women of 50.
Extension of the age limits was not, of course, in itself the main instrument of mobilisation. What brought women in was the growing vigour with which the Orders were applied, the wider use of official powers, and, above all, the gradual paring down of the definitions of ‘immobility’ and ‘domestic responsibilities’ by which a large group of
women had originally been shielded from mobilisation. In March 1941 when the registration of women was first introduced, the measure was directed at ‘unoccupied’ women.39 Only later in the year did it aim largely at identifying women in ‘less essential’ occupations, and even then its immediate object was not so much to compel women to move to more essential occupations as to measure and to locate the supplies immediately available for transfer. But in the course of 1942 and 1943 the emphasis gradually changed. Inducement and, in the end, compulsion had to be used to enforce transfers. Power of direction were extend to mobile women already in employment and the, by degrees, the definitions of mobility and the grounds for exemption were tightened. In the spring of 1942 exemption from work on grounds of ‘household responsibilities’ was confined to women looking after at least one other person. In practice, the immunity was narrowed down still further to women looking after children living at home; all other women with ‘household responsibilities’ were to be regarded as available for work, full-time or part-time. And if, at the time, women, deemed available only for part-time work, were not yet subjected to compulsory direction, within a year this later exemption was also removed.
By these measures the Ministry of Labour succeeded in decanting into the Forces and into war industry the entire supply of the country’s employable women. Thereby the level of employment in the country was lifted to an exceptionally high peak. By the middle of 1943 the total employment in the country (including the Forces) reached 22 millions, which was at least a million more than in June 1941.40 More men and women were now drawn into the Services and war industry than in the war of 1914–18. Not only was the total number at the beginning of 1944 some three to four millions more than at the peak of manpower mobilisation in 1918, but it also formed a larger proportion of the total population—thirty-two percent compared with twenty-eight percent. The actual number of people directly drawn into service was even greater than the statistics of mobilisation at first sight indicate. For in the statistical computation two part-time workers counted as one whole-time person, and there were, at the end of 1943, the equivalent of 750,000 whole-time workers (mostly women) engaged in part-time work.41 There were also large numbers of men and, above all, women, outside the registration, foreigners, men and women of sixty-five years of age and over. In addition, there were a million voluntary workers, mostly women, whose contribution to the national effort was difficult to measure, but who
undoubtedly replace in the national life a large amount of paid labour.
The supply of manpower for the war was thus greatly expanded, but the expansion could not go on much longer. The inflow of manpower was bound to slacken, and the time was bound to arrive when the human reserves would be exhausted, and industry and the Services would have to reduce their estimates. The coming of the exhaustion point had been long foreseen and even dated. In September 1942 the Joint War Production Staff foresaw in their Report that the time would come when the essential needs of the Forces for men would have to be met by cutting the munitions programmes. Although precise estimates of future industrial needs could not be formed, they showed that between April 1942 and December 1943 the current programmes of the Services and of war industry would require for their fulfilment another two million men or women, which was out of all proportion to what could be scraped up by further measures of mobilisation. They therefore foresaw that the Service demands might have to be reduced, and that the munitions industry would have to obtain higher output not from additional bodies but from higher productivity of the bodies they already employed. In October, almost before the warning of the Joint War Production Staff had had time to sink in, the Ministry of Labour’s Survey of Manpower covering the twelve months mid-June 1942 to mid-June 1943 (the first Manpower Budget in the proper sense of the term) revealed the full length to which the demand for manpower was outrunning the supply.
With manpower resources exhausted and total employment about to recede; it was no longer possible for the War Cabinet to plan for continued and uninterrupted expansion along the entire front of the war effort. The need for retrenching the demand for manpower was brought home to the War Cabinet by the Lord President in his report of November the same year. The Prime Minister had requested him to consider the labour prospect to the end of 1943 and to lay before the War Cabinet the issues which emerged from the Ministry of Labour’s Survey. His verdict was that the additional requirements of the Services and of the munitions industries would be that date approach 2.7 millions or thereabouts. On the assumption that the remaining reserves of ‘unoccupied’ women could yield up as much as half a million, and that ‘less essential’ occupations could be made to give up another half a million, there would still remain a deficit of well over a million. Allowing for every possible exaggeration in the demand of the supply departments (the Lord President put them at 150,000), the gap between supply and demand still remained perilously near the figure of a million. The Lord President’s conclusion, therefore, was that the Government must face the fact that manpower
resources did not match the current programmes. The country could not at the same time meet the essential needs of the Navy, provide for an Army of 100 divisions42 and expand the Air Force to a total of over 600 operation squadrons. The total calls on manpower would have to be cut and further adjustments be made.
The Lord President and his immediate advisers on manpower problems based their conclusions on the assumption that if 1944 were to see the peak of the military effort, and if victory were to be achieved by the end of that year, the peak of industrial effort and of employment would have to come in 1943. After 1943 war industry would have to contract in order to provide men for a final military effort in 1944. The alternative, i.e. that of continuing to put equal weight into both sides of the war effort would mean a gradual loss of efficiency in both.43
However unwelcome, the conclusion was not unexpected, for by the end of 1942 the labour deficit had ceased to be a mere accounting forecast. Hitherto, it had been possible to provide for excesses of demand over immediate supply by mobilising additional categories of men and women, and by contracting still further the less essential fields of employment. There were now few prospects of fresh supplies from either source. By the end of 1942 most civilian industries and services had contracted as far as the maintenance of communal life on these islands would allow. Indeed in some civilian industries, such as transport and laundries, it had gone too far, and now that American forces were arriving in the country these and some other civilian occupations had to be reinforced with new recruits. Nor could further measures of registration and mobilisation of women be expected to yield much result.44 The British Government, and Mr. Churchill in particular, had no difficulty in recognising that the limit of British mobilisation was near.
From the end of 1942 periodical cuts in supply programmes had to be made and manpower additions had to be doled out at much reduced rates; additions at some points had to be matched by subtractions at others. The Prime Minister’s first set of proposals for reductions in the Service and munitions programmes were made very shortly after the Lord President’s report:45 their effects on labour allocations to the supply departments are shown in Table 32.
Table 32: Manpower allocations to the end of 1943 as authorised in December 1942
|The demands in July 1942||Cuts||Allocations authorised|
|Ministry of Supply||148||226||-78|
|Ministry of Aircraft Production||603||100||503|
The requirements were thus drastically cut, and the Ministry of Supply was for the first time asked to reduce its total labour force, but the demands of the bomber programmes46 and of naval construction47 were still sufficiently insistent to receive between them an additional allocation of some 614,000 workers by the end of 1943. The position did not materially change in the course of that year. When in the spring of 1943 the Ministry of Labour presented an interim survey of manpower, the labour intake of the supply departments was still increasing. The Ministry of Aircraft Production may not have been getting all the workers to which it was entitled, but the Ministry of Supply had not yet succeeded in reducing its labour force and was still adding to its establishment. The survey was followed by further endeavours to bring down the manpower ‘targets’ of the Services and of the supply departments. The extent to which labour demands had been exaggerated had by now become apparent, and cuts could be correspondingly more severe. Table 33 shows the numbers to be allotted to the supply departments by the end of the year under the revised allocations of July 1943.
Table 33: Manpower allocations to the end of 1943 as revised in July 1943
|Allocations of December 1942||Revised allocations of July 1943|
|Ministry of Supply||-78||-165|
|Ministry of Aircraft Production||503||259|
Thus, on paper at least, the additional supply of labour to war industry was reduced to little more than 200,000. Yet when the 1943 Manpower Survey appeared in the autumn of that year it revealed new and still higher demands for 1944. The total requirement for additional men and women for the Services and industry came to 1,190,000.48 In December 1943 the three supply departments tabled urgent demands for at least 114,000 men and women in addition to the numbers they employed at that time.49 The Ministry of Supply needed an addition 31,000, the Admiralty 71,000, the Ministry of Aircraft Production 12,000, and the other branches of production participating in the preparation for the invasion claimed another 6,000.
The full incidence of these demands will be realised if it is remembered that under the previous cuts, those of December 1942 and July 1943, the planned size of the armed forces had to be curtailed to relieve pressure on manpower. The reductions had involved a cut of four divisions in the planned strength of the Army, of fifty-seven squadrons in the RAF’s programme for 1943 and of eighty-nine squadrons in the programme to the end of June 1944. In addition, owing to the cut in the labour intake of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, a loss of fourteen heavy bomber squadrons in 1943 and of nineteen heavy bomber squadrons by mid-1944 was expected. No such further cuts were possible at the beginning of 1944 when preparations for final battle were in hand. At the same time natural wastage alone, not counting battle casualties, was expected to reduce in the course of the year the total number of employed population in the country by 150,000.
Hence the continued endeavours of the Government to prune the supply programmes. Hence also the continuous regimen of stringent though shifting priorities. Of the three supply departments, the Ministry of Aircraft Production had enjoyed at the turn of 1941 and 1942 the first claim on resources, mainly by virtue of its all-important bomber programme. In April 1942, however, the War Cabinet approved a high programme of naval construction to deal with the mounting attacks on shipping, and no sooner had this urgency passed away than the need for landing-craft became acute. From May 1942 the Admiralty accordingly acquired the highest priority for important items of its programmes, a priority which it continued to enjoy until the preparations for D-Day began to overshadow all other military objectives. In the final months of preparation the bomber had again to be singled out for preferential treatment, and so also were the special offensive projects on which the Ministry of Supply were engaged. Since the middle of 1942 that Ministry had been cutting its programmes and its manpower in order to facilitate the general reductions
in war industry, and also in order to make possible continued additions to labour in the Ministries enjoying higher priority. Now the emphasis shifted to it again. In the summer of 1944 the needs of the British armies on the Continent reacted again on its programmes, and the Ministry of Supply had to be allowed to add somewhat to its labour force in spite of the far-reaching cuts which had by then been introduced into the munitions industry as a whole (see Table 34).
Table 34: Manpower allocations for 1944
|Original demands||Allocations of December 1943||Revised allocations: September 1944|
|Ministry of Supply||31||-220||-170|
|Ministry of Aircraft Production||12||-69||-198|
The actual emphasis of war production shifted even more frequently and irregularly than the alternating priorities of the three supply departments indicated, for within each of the three main programmes the weight attaching to individual weapons and stores rose and fell with military events. These changed will be recounted in somewhat greater detail further on;50 but they must be borne in mind in tracing the course which the war economy was compelled to take under the double compulsion of expanding requirements and diminishing resources. The progress of war production had to be ‘re-tailored’, hemmed in at some point, released at others, in accordance with the changing emphasis of strategic necessity and with the dwindling reserves of productive resources. But even thus ‘re-tailored’ it might not have been sufficient to meet the most essential requirements of British forces without much greater American assistance.
(4) The American Munitions
(a) The New Need
New importance now attached to American supplies. A history of British war production may not, of course, be the right place in which to tell the story of American supplies in all its aspects. But the two themes were closely interwoven, and the weave got closer as the war
was approaching its end. If in the earlier period, i.e. before the middle of the end of 1941, British expectations of ‘finished’ munitions were not greatly dependent upon the output of American factories, by 1942 and thereafter they had more and more to be adjusted to what could or could not be obtained from the United States. With its economic resources engaged to the full Britain found herself unable to meet the additional demands for munitions in the same proportion as before. As it was, some cuts in individual programmes had to be made. It was only the rising scale of American assistance that prevented the cuts from being still greater. Without it most essential preparations for the offensive employment of the British forces and for their needs in the field of battle would have had to be sacrificed; indeed the whole problem of Britain’s war effort and the scale of her combatant action would have had to be radically recast. By 1944 reliance on American supplies went so far as to enforce what amounted to a division of labour between the war industries in the two countries. But long before then the American supplies figured so prominently in British calculations that the size and the character of the home-produced deliveries could not be understood without taking note of what had come to be expected and in fact was being received from the United States.
It has already been explained that in the early stages of the war the British war effort was more or less self-sufficient. The size of the British forces, the scale of British war production, the pace of rearmament and presumably the scale of military preparations were for the time being determined by the manpower and economic resources directly available to the United Kingdom. Britain had been producing at home the bulk of her weapons and building up her Forces to an establishment capable of being supplied out of domestic production. This does not of course mean that the British Government was making a deliberate choice between alternative plans resting on a statistical military argument. Its general attitude was much more opportunist and less articulate than that. While American support was uncertain and the British resources not yet fully taken up, there appeared to be no other way of planning the war effort than by taking the self-sufficiency of the war effort more or less for granted. Not until the American alliance had become a reality and British manpower was on the point of being fully mobilised did it become necessary or possible to conceive a different distribution of resources.
The assumption of self-sufficiency was of course from the outset tempered by a number of factors which did not directly concern British relations with the United States. From the very beginning of
the war Canada, a member of the Commonwealth, figured in British calculations of combatant strength as well as in British programmes of supplies. At first she may not have figured very largely. Half-hearted attempts had been made before the war to prepare the ground for munitions production in Canada, but apart from a modest aircraft programme the only significant results had been small orders for Bren guns and field artillery. The 1st Canadian Division was equipped almost entirely in the United Kingdom. Nor was the position much altered by the outbreak of war. Doubts about the ability of Canadian industry to deliver the goods quickly and shortage of dollars combined to keep the British munitions programme in Canada before Dunkirk within very narrow bounds—ten corvettes, small quantities of gun barrels, ammunition and explosives, and capacity for an eventual output of 250 aircraft a month, mostly trainers. Even so, up to June 1940 a more important role in the supply of munitions, other than aircraft, was allotted to Canada than to the United States.
These assumptions, however, were bound to be influenced by the growing numbers of overseas troops to be armed. Whereas the planned establishment of the field army to be raised at home seldom exceeded the equivalent of fifty divisions, Britain’s responsibility for arming and equipping troops under her command had by the end of 1942 extended to a large number of allied and colonial divisions (at one time that accretion was expected to reach the equivalent of more than seventy-five divisions).51 The rough and ready assumption of self-sufficiency which may have underlain the planned distribution of resources in 1939 was obviously untenable in the conditions of swollen liabilities of 1942.
The demands on American supplies—not only their size but their very raison d’être—changed accordingly.52 To begin with they were very modest, and their modesty reflected not only the scale of the war as it was conceived in Britain but also a number of factors more specifically American. Most important of all was the difficulty of payment. As long as the rule of ‘cash and carry’ applied, dollar payments in the United States were severely rationed; and the total ration, in itself small, was in its turn mainly given over to non-munitions goods—food, raw materials and machine tools. Dependence on American and Canadian raw materials was great and it grew greater as the war advanced. Dependence on American machine tools was never again to be as great as it had been in the years 1939 to 1941:53 the time when the main network of British war
factories was being equipped. So even if American industry had been capable of delivering large quantities of munitions (it will be shown presently that with the possible exception of aircraft American output was as yet small even by British standards)54 the dollar ration would not have allowed them to be bought in any quantity.
From this point of view the situation changed in the summer of 1940. With the dreadful prospect of defeat and invasion so near there was no sense in keeping within the limits of the dollar allocation calculated on a three-year basis. There was in any case no question of Mr. Churchill’s Government doing so; and one of the first manifestations of the ‘reckless abandon’ with which the war was now to be waged was the decision no longer to refrain from ordering American supplies through lack of dollars.
The decision had an immediate effect on the scale of British purchases from the United States; yet it made little difference to the ‘make-up’ of British requirements. The need for American raw materials and machine tools was even greater after Dunkirk than it had been before. When on the morrow of Dunkirk there occurred the chance of acquiring the large quantities of machine tools ordered in the United States by the French, it was eagerly seized by the supply departments, and indeed the initiative came from the Ministry of Supply. The need for American machine tools was acutely felt all through 19841, and the demand for special-purpose tools of American make and design remained high and unsatisfied to the very end of the war.55 As for raw materials, the expanding output of munitions, the loss of several European sources of raw materials and the mounting difficulty of shipping continued to raise the volume of raw materials obtained from the United States.
On the other hand, the flow of munitions across the Atlantic was for the time being bound to be scanty; and it was so made up as to leave little scope for the purchase of standard weapons in common use and least of all for the army weapons in the Ministry of Supply programmes. The main claim of American supplies was from the outset conceded to the RAF. The United States possessed in peacetime a substantial aircraft industry, and the early British orders for aircraft could therefore be cast on a larger scale and stood a better chance of early delivery than those of the other Services. In mid-summer 1940 while the Battle of Britain was being fought Lord Beaverbrook made it clear that in addition to current contracts he would be prepared to take all the aircraft which could be produced up to 3,000 a month. The figure was of course hyperbolic: in spite of the rising rate of deliveries, the average monthly exports of American
aircraft in the second half of 1941 ran at about 270.56 But in general Lord Beaverbrook was as good as his word and throughout 1940 and 1941 pressed for as many aircraft as America could possibly yield, thereby greatly outweighing the volume and the value of American supplies to the other Services.
By comparison, the volume and value of what the Navy and Army received from the United States in 1940–41 (not counting the weapons from old stocks which the President dispatched in the summer of 1940 or the old destroyers ceded later in the year) was exceedingly small. The total value of Admiralty contracts at the height of the naval crisis of 1940–41 stood at about £33 millions; they included orders for munitions amounting to about £20 millions, for engines including motor-boat engines to about £9 millions and for small vessels, other than warships, and motor boats for about £600,000. With the exception of small ships, no naval vessels properly speaking were to be ordered from the United States until the middle of 1941. The main demand was for merchant vessels, for even the authors of the pre-war plans had assumed that the Merchant Navy would have to draw on American shipbuilding resources. Yet the first Kaiser-Todd contract for Liberty ships—sixty in all—was not concluded until December 1940; the great Kaiser organisation for prefabricated shipbuilding was not set going until the spring of 1941, and the first Kaiser ships were not launched for at least another six months.
The Ministry of Supply orders were almost entirely confined to so-called ‘deficiencies’, i.e. urgent items which British industry could not for the time being supply in sufficient numbers, and to so-called ‘insurance’ orders against possible losses in output through bombing or other causes. Even at their highest the deficiencies did not form a large proportion of the British programmes. On occasions the Ministry of Supply were anxious to get from the United States relatively large quantities of certain exceptional weapons. This in August 1940 the Ministry of Supply were anxious to get from the United States relatively large quantities of certain exceptional weapons. Thus in August 1940 the Ministry of Supply authorised the placing of contracts in the United States for 3,000 cruiser tanks, about thirty percent of total tank requirements. The list of deficiencies which in September 1940 Sir Walter Layton, as he then was, took with him to Washington included 1,600 heavy anti-aircraft guns, or just over thirty percent of the total requirements;57 1,800 field guns, nearly thirty percent of requirements and 1,250 anti-tank guns, twelve percent of requirements. The other deficiencies on his list were less than ten percent of requirements and most of the Ministry
of Supply’s stores were not on the list at all. A rough computation of the total deficiencies then list represented rather less than five percent of the Ministry’s current programmes at Z + 27 (30th November 1941) measured by values. Even this estimate exaggerated the real need, for the deficiencies were computed on the assumption that the initial equipment of the Army would have to be completed by the end of 1941. Had a later and more realistic date been chosen the figures of deficiencies would have been put still lower.
Insurance orders were calculated on a scale which appeared to be but was not more ambitious. When an ‘Army Insurance Policy’ was worked out in June/July 1940 the margin to be insured was reckoned at twenty to thirty-five percent of the total requirements of the more important military stores. Nevertheless the total orders which the Ministry of Supply placed in the United States during 1940 and 1941 covering both ‘deficiencies’ and ‘insurance’ were well below fifteen percent of the British programmes, and actual deliveries were lower still. A later estimate put the British purchases of ‘finished’ munitions in the United States from September 1939 to the end of 1940 at rather less than $515 millions or about 5.6 percent of the total British Empire supplies of munitions from all sources; and yet this figure included the greatly increased outlay on ships, aircraft and weapons which followed the military events of the early summer. According to the same computation the value of munitions obtained from American in 1941 was not more than $1,490 millions or 11.5 percent of the supplies of all sources; and that in spite of the coming of Lend-Lease in the spring of that year.58
The low levels were a matter of both choice and necessity. In the Admiralty and more still in the Ministry of Supply a doctrine of self-sufficiency prevailed, and neither department appeared to be willing to run the risks of an alternative policy. The alternative did not of course remain unformulated. Throughout 1940 and 1941 some of the leading British representatives in the United States, men like Mr. Purvis, M. Monnet, and Sir Arthur Salter, then chairman of the North American Supplies Committee in London, repeatedly criticised British policy in matters of supply as not sufficiently imaginative or audacious. The war could not be won as long as the Americans were merely asked to make good the worst deficiencies in the existing British programmes or to cover modest insurance margins. For one thing the British programmes, drawn up as they were to the scale of British resources, were far below the German war potential and therefore insufficient to ensure final victory. In order to make victory certain it was necessary to launch a single Anglo-American programme of production large enough to outstrip the potential output
of German Europe and, therefore, large enough to engage the entire economic strength of the United States.59
This was the Purvis-Monnet-Salter argument. In the long run, i.e. in the closing years of the war, events appeared to vindicate it, for Britain’s dependence on American industry became very great. But in 1940, when the argument was first formulated, the policy of the great industrial alliance was still little more than hope. It made occasional and somewhat unsubstantial appearances among the more distant objectives of British strategy, and on one or two occasions in 1940 and early 1941 it entered into the Prime Minister’s communications to the President. It was also adopted by Sir Walter Layton as a directive for his negotiations in the United States in September 1940. He did not, however, press it very hard during the negotiations and would not have been fully supported by his own department if he had. For it necessitated a number of assumptions and hopes which in the London of 1940 and 1941 did not appear at all certain.
The grounds of uncertainty were several. To begin with, there was the uncertainty (which the supply departments themselves were in no position to weigh and measure) whether the United States would remain neutral or become involved in the war. If they did become involved in the war, it was uncertain how much of their munitions output they would retain for their own armed forces (whose size was quite beyond prediction): the munitions assignment system, which the event assured to the United Kingdom a substantial proportion of American production, was still a thing of the future. The ‘targets’ of American production were, as yet, a matter of aspiration or, for some, of faith; in 1940 British supply departments had no firm ground for believing that American industry would in fact achieve the vast output of which theoretically it was capable. The American shipbuilding industry had not yet fully emerged from the great inter-war slump and was expanding very slowly. In 1940, the second year of war expansion, it was still unable to turn out more than fifty-three ocean-going ships, and in 1939 little more than half that number had been built. No medium of heavy tanks were produced in the United States in 1939 or 1940; and in 1941, with an output of 3,900 medium and heavy tanks, American production was still only twenty percent below the corresponding figure of British output. The number of guns of 2-pounder and above produced in the United States in 1940 was 340, and in 1941 6,720—about thirty to forty percent of the corresponding figure of British output in that year. Until the very end of the first quarter of 1942 the volume of American output of munitions as a whole was below that of British production.
There were also persistent doubts about American designs and specifications. The bulk of American munitions was intended for American forces and was made to their own orders and design and appeared unsuited to British requirements. The orders placed in the United States including those for ‘insurance’ were therefore for British types. The American Army authorities on their part disliked orders which might divert resources to the production of weapons which the American forces did not use. In the summer of 1940 the British representatives tried to persuade the American soldiers to adopt for their own use some of the British types of weapons. Travelling teams of British experts demonstrated, or believed they demonstrated, the ability of the British 25-pounder and 3.7-inch anti-aircraft gun to outshoot the corresponding American weapons. But the American Army authorities remained unconverted, and their Government continued to classify weapons of British type as ‘non-common’ stores. With the battle of the types thus lost, the Ministry of Supply gave up such little hopes as it may have had of covering a large proportion of its needs from the output which the Americans were developing for their own Army.
This must not be taken to mean that no weapons of American types were ordered .Thus American-designed tanks were asked for and supplied from the end of 1940 onwards; and on one or two occasions in 1940 and 1941 the British Government placed large and spectacular orders for weapons of American type. In October 1940 Sir Walter Layton, urged on by the Prime Minister, accepted—and perhaps even instigated—the officer of the American authorities to supply American-type munitions sufficient to equip ten divisions. This ten-division programme also figured prominently as ‘List B’ in the negotiations with the United States throughout 1941. The significance of this order must not, however, be misunderstood. At the time of the ordering there was a possibility of arming with American-designed weapons some Empire contingents in outlying theatres of war, but the real object of the offer, understood by the British, was to use British orders to develop American capacity for the production of weapons. American Army authorities needed that capacity, and the weapons produced under the ten-division order were eventually diverted to the American Army in 1942.
When, after Dunkirk, the British Government turned its eyes across the Atlantic, it was, of course, looking for help from the Dominion of Canada as well as from the still neutral United States. The arguments which made for restraint in the ordering of American munitions applied with much less force to Canada. There was no ‘battle of the types’, for Canadian forces were equipped with British weapons and the Canadians were generally content to follow the British lead in design. There was less fear of the ‘vagaries of allocation’:
Canada had defence needs of her own, but they did not constitute a serious threat to the delivery of munitions on British accounts. There was a problem of payment, but it was never allowed to impede the flow of war material. Thus, while progress in the United States was held up by long-drawn-out financial, technical and political negotiations, the Canadians went ahead to build up an armaments industry, the greater part of which was directly at British service. One-third of the original Army ‘insurance’ programme was allotted to them and as time went on their share became steadily larger. Canadian-built escort vessels played a great part in the Battle of the Atlantic; most of the Eighth Army’s transport came from Canada; Canadian factories contributed more than those of the United States to British supplies of anti-aircraft guns and the lighter varieties of armoured fighting vehicles. On the other hand the industrial resources of Canada were very much smaller than those of the United States, and in the nature of things Canadian munitions production could never reach sufficient volume, least of all in the crucial categories of tanks and aircraft, to alter the basic assumptions of British war production planning.
For all these reasons the supply departments, and in the first place the Ministry of Supply, went on assuming that the whole or nearly the whole burden of military requirements would have to be borne by British war industry; and for the time being it was so borne. National resources were not yet fully mobilised, the armed forces and war industry were still capable of simultaneous expansion; and as long as this situation lasted the limited certainties of domestic output could still appear preferable to the unlimited but uncertain potentialities of American production and allocation. Indeed, granted the determination to remain independent of American output, there was even some ground for fearing that America’s war industry might attempt too much. As long as the progress of British war production depended on American machine tools and raw materials, there was some reason for fearing lest American expansion should become too great as to absorb the raw materials and the tools which British industry badly needed. As early as mid-1940 Lord Beaverbrook’s high appetite for aeroplanes had to be satisfied by sacrificing to American manufacturers some of the French machine tools acquired after the fall of France.60 Throughout late 1940 and 1941 the supply of machine tools for Britain suffered from the overwhelming requirements of the American munitions industry; and it has already been shown that the immense plans on the morrow of Pearl Harbor created a sudden stringency in the supply of critical raw materials.61
(c) Towards a Merger
The supplies of munitions from the United States, their volume, their importance to the British war effort, and indeed the entire policy behind them, were to change in later years. From the British point of view the decisive factor was to be the growing shortage of manpower, but the mutual involvement of the British and American production programmes had begun some time before the labour shortage in Britain became pressing. The road towards it was opened by the passing of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941, even though progress along it was not very rapid for a while. The general effect of the new financial dispensation on supplies of munitions was bound to be gradual. The dollar value of lend-lease supplies actually received during the remainder of 1941 was estimated at £1,082 millions, about one-seventh of the annual average for the next four years;62 and the bulk of the allocation under lend-lease continued as before to be devoted to food and raw materials. If anything, this country put an even greater reliance on American supplies of raw materials than before, for Britain was now able to switch to the United States her purchases of raw materials without fear of exhausting the stocks of dollars. After Pearl Harbor strategic needs led to further switches to the United States, and considerations of shipping economy continued to influence the British import policy in the same direction. To save shipping space and labour Britain also began to buy from America larger quantities of semi-finished industrial products—mild steel instead of iron ore, non-ferrous metals in semi-manufactured condition, crude chemicals.
On the other hand some time had to pass before finished munitions began to come through under the Lend-Lease Act in large quantities. For not only had the American industry not yet reached its high level of production, but weapons immediately available were still those produced to British cash orders. Of the 2,400 aircraft exported between the passing of the Act and the end of the year, 2,300 had been ordered by March 1941 and paid for in cash. The same is true of 165 out of 951 tanks supplied in the same period, and of 8,000 out of 13,000 lorries.63 It was not until the second quarter of 1942 that the bulk of munitions accruing to this country and to the other ‘British’ theatres of war had been appropriated under the Lend-Lease Act.
The sluggish progress of American supplies to Britain was nevertheless deceptive. While exports of munitions still seemed to grow very slowly, if at all, determined attempts were made on both sides of the Atlantic to lift American assistance above its pre-lend-lease levels. The needs of the British Navy and Army still continued to be
expressed as ‘deficiencies’ and ‘insurance margins’. But the actual quantities were becoming so great as to involve the main strength of American industry; until the time came when the whole strategic assumptions of the British and American supply programmes had to be adjusted to the conditions of full mobilisation in Britain and the approaching offensive on the Continent.
The first important step in this direction was more symbolic than practical, and moreover appeared to outpace opinion in London. It was connected with the ‘Purvis Balance Sheet’,64 compiled with the avowed object of enabling the United States Government to estimate the dollar appropriations which might be necessary to cover the total British requirements under the projected Lend-Lease Bill. It was to be used as a basis for British claims under the new American methods of allocating their output. In form at least the ‘balance sheet’ was so arranged to to imply that the United States would not be expected to do more than cover the deficiencies in the existing British programmes. But the programmes themselves were stated in terms so broad and so generous that, had the Americans accepted them, they would have found themselves charged with the provision of a very large part of British requirements. The demands on America listed in the ‘balance sheet’, included some 7,000 tanks, some 3,300 field guns, some 23,000 tank and anti-tank guns, some 9,000 anti-aircraft guns and some 86 million shells, all to be delivered before the end of 1942.
The figures turned out to be in advance of opinion at home. One of their main objects was to demonstrate to the American authorities and the American public the true scale of military needs. To the extent they were a contribution to America’s own plans of rearmament; and by all appearances they played their part in educating American opinion and may even have helped the President to carry through is vast programmes of munitions. This purpose, however, appeared irrelevant to the immediate preoccupation of the supply departments at home, which took the figures at their face value. And taken at their face value they appeared too ambitious. Above all, the Ministry of Supply was not prepared to involve itself with American industry to the extent envisaged in the ‘balance sheet’. In the words of the Ministry of Supply telegram to Washington it desired
to make clear that the statement provided to Purvis was a rough estimate based on many broad assumptions for the main purpose of dramatization of a situation and was never intended to be used as a precise programme or as a basis for contract action …. So far as military requirements were concerned … we should not at this stage regard provision on so high a scale as justified ….
As a broad indication, the Ministry of Supply suggested that the requirements for the main army equipments for 1942 should be discounted by fifteen percent; for ammunition items the discount should be substantially higher. In the end the British Supply Council65 itself explained that the figures were not intended to form a basis for immediate orders and were only designed as the first bid in the anticipated haggle over the allocation of American production.
A still more ambitious attempt at unified production plans was to be made some six months later in connection with the so-called Victory Programme of September and October 1941. By the summer of that year Anglo-American relations had reached a state of intimacy in which victory over German could be officially acknowledged as a joint concern of the two nations. Though still non-belligerent, the United States Government was now fully prepared to accept the duty of providing Britain with the tools necessary to finish the job. As the United States Government had also undertaken to participate in supplies to Russia, the time became ripe for a survey of the responsibilities now shared between the two countries and for some sort of a ‘Victory Programme’.66
The principle of a ‘Victory Programme’ had been urged by various persons throughout 1940 and the first part of 1941. but the issue came to a head in the late summer of 1941. In July the Prime Minister, acting on the request of the Chiefs of Staff, asked the President to arrange a joint study for a combined strategy for winning the war. Independently of this move Mr. Stimson sent to this country in August 1941 a representative, Mr. Stacy May, to explore the munitions problem. Mr. May’s principal concern was the scale of American war industry. In his words ‘he felt strongly, and others in high positions in America felt the same, that the present schedule was much too low’. He therefore hoped to obtain an indication of ‘ultimate requirements’ in order to ‘jolt the American production men’.
The figures which Mr. May was able to take back to Washington were very tentative, but they were sufficiently high to strengthen the case for a joint survey of victory requirements. Before long preparations for a victory conferences were put in hand on both sides of the Atlantic. Early in September the President asked the American Chiefs of Staff to make an estimate of the armament production
required for victory in the war, and requested that the information should be available for the forthcoming conference in London. At about the same time the British Government formulated the general strategic assumptions and assembled from the Service and supply ministries their ‘production requirements for victory’, covering the period between 1st July 1941 and the end of March 1943. These schedules showed increases in most stores, and were indeed so high that they could not possibly be met except by American assistance far greater than had ever been contemplated before. The figures for army weapons finally submitted to the conference were as shown in Table 35.
Table 35: United Kingdom requirements of army weapons as submitted to the Victory Conference, September 1941
|Required from the United States (Units)||Percentage of total British requirements|
|Anti-tank guns (6-pdr. and over)||4,000||36|
|Anti-aircraft guns (light)||1,700||14|
|Anti-aircraft guns (heavy)||3,400||47|
The conference met on 15th September and the British requirements submitted to it reflected the hopeful mood which had by then come to pervade relations between Britain and the United States. The decisions of the conference were not, however, capable of being translated into immediate orders or assignments. In the early autumn of 1941 future American action in fields both military and diplomatic was as yet too uncertain to provide clear guidance of military requirements. In the absence of American data, all the conference could do was to survey the general strategic situation and to register the British requirements for the period between July 1941 and June 1943. The only definite decision was about supplies to Russia, and for at time it even looked as if supplies to Britain would have to be slightly reduced in the immediate future in order to allow their diversion to the Russians. The more distant British requirements were apparently accepted without much questioning, but also without any definite confirmation. They were to be subjected to further study in Washington where they were to be correlated with the new production plans and with the requirements of the American Army if and when the latter were fixed. But long before that point
arrived the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor and the United States entered the war.
The merge was bound to become more real after America’s entry into the war. The institutions necessary to give it effect were in fact founded without delay. The Conference of Allied Leaders held in Washington from December 1941 to January 1942 decided to set up a number of agencies to serve the common purpose of the Allies. The Combined Chiefs of Staff were to be charged with the discussion and the working out of common strategic plans; a Combined Raw Materials Board was to plan the development, expansion and use of the raw materials required for the combined war effort. But from the point of view of this study, the most important of the new committees was to be the Combined Munitions Assignment Board to operate under the Combined Chiefs of Staff as the chief agency for the allocation of weapons, in accordance with strategic priorities.67 For purposes of allocation the entire munitions resources of the two countries ‘were deemed to be in a common pool’.
For the time being, however, both the pool and the machinery devised for drawing supplies from it were still little more than projects. The combined strategic plans were not yet there, nor were the munitions to serve them; even the blue-prints of institutions were still incomplete. For if the industrial efforts of the two countries were to serve a common strategy and to feed a common pool, industrial plans had to be coordinated as intimately as strategic plans. A body responsible for some such coordination was in the minds of the British representatives at the Washington conference, but it was not to be established for another six months—on the occasion of Mr. Oliver Lyttelton’s visit to the United States in the spring of 1942.
The visit, its purpose and achievements, revealed the distance which still separated the plans of combined war production from its reality. In the months immediately following Pearl Harbor hopes of coordination ran high, but the immediate allocation of raw materials and munitions to Britain was greatly jeopardised by the direct repercussions of America’s entry into the war. The requirements of the Ministry of Supply in particular stood in great danger of being jettisoned to make room for the demands of the American Services and, to some extent, for the urgent British calls for ships and aircraft. This very danger, however, proved the necessity of completing and carrying into effect the Washington decisions of the previous winter. So, although the immediate pretext of Mr. Lyttelton’s visit was to war off the cuts in British supplies, the preliminary discussion in London and the subsequent conversations in Washington inevitably raised the more permanent problem. In order to place
British requirements on a stable and rational basis it was necessary to relate them to common strategic objects; and that meant concerting not only strategic plans but also production plans.
In this Mr. Lyttelton succeeded fully in form and not quite so fully in substance. A joint organisation for supply came into existence similar and parallel to the joint machinery of military staffs already in existence—a Combined Production and Resources Board (CPRB) with Mr. Donald Nelson68 as the United States’ representative and Mr. Lyttelton as the representative of the United Kingdom. A body was thus created for working out a unified plan of production based on a common strategic hypothesis. The plan itself, however, was not yet there. On the British side every preparation was made: the Chiefs of Staff had worked out an Order of Battle for April 1943 to serve as a basis for joint production plans, and the supply ministries submitted estimates of their total requirements. On the American side. however, preparations were not yet equally advanced. In spite of their general willingness to relate production to joint strategy, the American Service Chiefs were not yet prepared to subject their requirements to a test of comparative strategic urgency side by side with the British needs. In these circumstances all the British negotiators could hope to achieve was to place the British requirements on the same plan of urgency as the corresponding American requirements. At the first meeting of the CPRB on 20th June a general decision was taken that ‘priority ratings should be allotted to those items of equipment equivalent to the United States’ weapons for Forces of equivalent strategic importance’. In accordance with this decision the most urgent British requirements for stores like 3.7-inch predictors, rifles, tank transports, 10-ton lorries, universal carriers, tank components and explosives were to be given the highest priority to the extent of about half the quantities asked for.
Mr Lyttelton’s next visit led to further acts of ‘mutual interference’. In the late autumn of 1942 he had to travel again to Washington, and the pretext as before was provided by the danger of reduced allocations to Britain as a result of threatened reductions in American war production plans. By the early autumn of that year it had become clear that American ambitions in the industrial field were over-inflated and would have to contract. Whereas the original objective for 1943 had been $97.9 billions, the War Production Board now came to the conclusion that production in 1943 would probably be somewhere about $75 billions. In this event it looked as
if Britain would receive during 1941 not much more than sixty percent of what the British authorities had been lead to expect. What is more, the cuts which America at first proposed bore little relation to the balance of strategic needs in this country. There was no objection to the American proposals to increase the target for operational aircraft from 80,000 to 100,000 and to cut the tank programme by forty percent. But the Americans also proposed to reduce the ‘target’ for merchant ships in 1943 from 20 million deadweight tons to 16 million, and there was a feeling in this country that with the Battle of the Atlantic at its height the shipping effort would have to be redoubled.69
These were all urgent and crying needs; yet the real issue went further than the immediate threat to British supplies or the detailed composition of American programme. More than ever before, the future of the war appeared to depend on a thorough unification of the strategic and economic plans of the two countries. British representatives believed that under any unified plan of strategy and production the needs of British forces in the various theatres of war would be met more fully than they in fact were in the face of the competing claims of American forces. And, overriding these eminently practical considerations, a fundamental principle of the British war effort for the first time revealed itself for what it was—an essentially Anglo-American problem. This country was now anxious to discuss the entire distribution of its own resources between the fighting Services and war production in relation to American supplies.
The argument was well summarised in a communication from the Minister of Production to the Prime Minister. He reminded the Prime Minister that changes of American plans played havoc with British plans,
… as we must allocate almost all the remaining reserves of our manpower within the next few months, we must reach some understanding with the Americans. Without such an understanding, we cannot risk increasing the manpower in the Services on a scale involving substantial dependence on the United States for equipment. If we cannot reach it we must adjust the balance between our industrial effort and the intake into the Services. This would mean, in fact, that, given the need for expansion both of the naval and air production programmes, there must be a limitation on the size of the Army.
In this way the threatened exhaustion of the labour reserves brought to the surface the latent issue of an Anglo-American ‘division
of labour. It has already been stressed that hitherto the issue had not presented itself as a clear-cut dilemma. But by the autumn of 1942 Mr. Churchill’s Government was about to take far-reaching decisions on the size of the armed forces and of the munitions industries, and the choice of possibilities was clearly dependent upon the scale of American assistance. Mr. Churchill was of course determined to trim excessive ambition of the Services, and especially of the Army, but the planned strength of the Forces, even after trimming, was greater than British war industry alone could supply. It now became clear that, left to her own production, Britain would be compelled to make drastic reductions in her combatant forces and thus to resign herself to a much smaller part in the coming battle than all previous plans assigned to her. This Mr. Churchill and his Government would not willingly do. What they therefore hoped for and expected was that from now on American war industry would be able to cover a large part of the British Service programmes and, above all, to meet the needs for new or unusual weapons for which capacity in this country was not available and for which new capacity could not be created or manned.
These were the issues which underlay approaches to the United States in the autumn of 1942 and the subsequent negotiations in Washington. What this country now wanted and badly needed was a true pool of munitions, and within a year or so of Mr. Lyttelton’s second visit that pooling was to all intents and purposes achieved.
(d) A Common Pool
It was very fortunate that at the turn of 1942–43, i.e. at the time when shortage of manpower compelled this country to place on American the main weight of the additional demands for munitions, most of the other arguments against this course should also have gone. In spite of their magnitude and generosity the American assignments of munitions under lend-lease procedure could still at times be subjects to strong pressures from their own Services. As a rule the pressures sprang from motives wholly legitimate, for they had the interests of common victory in view. They were, however, something the British Government was unable to control, and they were therefore from the British point of view unmanageable and unaccountable. To that extent people still found it possible in 1942 to speak of the ‘vagaries’ of American allocations. But in later years this note was sounded very rarely, for, the ‘vagaries’ notwithstanding, the volume of munitions assigned and delivered to British forces grew very fast.
Generally speaking, such scepticism as still lingered about the potential volume of American supplies had by 1943 all but evaporated. The very reasons which earlier in the war delayed the full
deployment of American production resources now led to a remarkable outburst of industrial activity. The Americans, not yet confronted with direct demands from the field of battle, were able to draw on the habits of their pre-war economy and to tackle the problem of wartime production and methods of mass production.70 Mass production required elaborate and extensive tooling up of war plants, and while it lasted the immediate output was bound to be meagre; but once completed it produced a veritable flood of munitions. In the second quarter of 1942 the American output caught up the British; by early autumn the weighted average of American output was more than twice that of British munitions; airframe weight was twice, army weapons two and three-quarter times, merchant shipping nearly six times as great as the corresponding British production. And yet American war industry was less than halfway towards its targets and employed less than seven million people, compared with the British 5.1 millions. The productivity of labour was already estimated to be seventy percent higher than in Britain and promised to be 140 percent higher in the first quarter of 1943. Thereafter the total output was to grow even faster. By the end of 1943 it was about four times that of Great Britain, and the ratio in 1944 approached 6 to 1.
This remarkable expansion of output was not accompanied by that lack of pliability which some of the sceptics had prophesied. One objection to the adoption of mass-production methods in British war industry was the fear that lines of production elaborately tooled up would be very difficult to adapt to the continuous evolution of military needs and that the quality of weapons would suffer. But American factories did not appear to be afflicted with rigidities of standardised production to the extent sometimes foretold in this country. They were helped by their great experience in designed and equipping industrial layouts, by the great capacities of their machine-tool industry, and by the aptitude of workers and managers for emergency spurts—much in evidence in both countries. Thus endowed, they were able in the later years of the war to equip and re-equip new lines of production in remarkably short time. Also the scale of their industry was so vast that it enabled them to establish and to run special factories where standardised products could be modified in accordance with the changing requirements of the Services without interfering with the main flow of production.
Needless to say the quality of American weapons was also proving fully equal to the demands of the war. The suitability of American aircraft was never in question. American fighters, even those of earlier vintage—the Tomahawk and the Kittyhawk—gave an excellent account of themselves in the Middle East and were highly
welcomed at the height of the Libyan battle. Equally valuable proved to be the Catalina flying-boat, which entered British service in 1940 and continued to be usefully employed in the Battle of the Atlantic. And if the number of Flying Fortresses and Liberators in service with the RAF was very small, it was not for want of asking. Indeed, so anxious was the Air Ministry to get a large number of American ‘heavies’ in time for the great bombing attack on Germany in 1942 and 1943 that the diversion of the promised bombers to American use after Pearl Harbor was received in the Air Ministry as a heavy blow.
American army weapons were still open to the objection that they were different from the British; but they could not be spurned for being inferior or even for being impervious to British lessons. Though reluctant to adopt the British army weapons or naval weapons in their entirety the American designers were prepared to accept proved British ideas. It was very largely on British advice that the inferior features of the United States M.3 medium tank, above all its turret, were dispensed with in favour of a British-inspired design. British ideas, as embodied with in a tank designed by the Canadian General Staff, also influenced the development of the American Sherman tank.71 Before long American Services and designers had accumulated sufficient experience to forge ahead of this country at several points. In the field of tank armament the American 75-mm. and 76-mm. dual-purpose tank guns won the acknowledgement of British tank experts, and so did the miscellaneous infantry equipment which American industry was turning out by the end of 1943. The excellence of American transport vehicles had come to be accepted much earlier and was to form the basis of the entire vehicle policy of the War Office.
In naval arms quality of American design and production eventually asserted itself. The Admiralty always rested on the proud assurance of the great qualities of British naval architecture and naval armament; and temptations to follow American examples were very few. Yet in the later phases of the war American naval architects and engineers were developing designs and methods of construction and were using prime movers (mainly turbines employing higher temperatures and pressures) which were well in advance of British practice. Even in the design of aircraft, where British standards and achievements stood very high throughout the war, the marriage of American airframes with Rolls-Royce engines, as in the Mustang fighter, was capable of producing aircraft of quality second to none.
the American engine-makers may still have been unable to rival the Rolls-Royce liquid-cooled engine’ and the Rolls-Royce Merlin, produced in America by Packards, was still the best American-made engine of this type. But the American designers and makers were now producing air-cooled engines of great size and power especially suited for installation in bombers. The coming of the B.29, the Superfortress, in the closing year of the war marked another and a very remarkable advance in a branch of aircraft production where British types had hitherto stood highest.
Thus no argument of general application ever stood in the way of ever larger requests for American munitions of every kind; and the requests in the end came to cover a very wide range of stores and weapons. Now that the ‘capital equipment’ of the field army was nearly complete, standard infantry weapons or guns of American type were not required. But individual articles of proved quality, capable of being fitted into the armament of British divisions, or air squadrons, or naval vessels, were requested and allotted, even though some had subsequently to be modified to suit British ideas. A British gun might be fitted to the Sherman tank,72 British instruments might be installed on American aircraft, and the labour expended in adaptations appeared to be well worth while. The bulk of British requirements, however, were for weapons outside the conventional range of standard equipment. The rough-and-ready principle on which the Service departments and the supply departments now acted was that the United States would be expected to cover British requirements for certain classes of weapons for which the requirements matured or greatly increased in the later stages of the war.
What these requirements were or were going to be was already becoming clear by the end of 1942. The strategic plans as they emerged from the Washington conversations in the autumn of 1942 assumed that nearly 100 percent of the Allied requirements for transport aircraft, nearly 100 percent of their self-propelled guns and of 40-ton tank transporters, and a very high proportion of landing craft, light bombers, tanks and army transport would come from American sources. In addition, the Allied needs of merchant shipping over and above the 800,000 to a million tons produced in British yards were to be covered by the United States, and so was a large proportion of the combatant vessels such as the auxiliary aircraft carriers, which could be made by modifying or adapting merchant vessels.73
Table 36: Supplies of groups of certain war-stores from the United States and production in the United Kingdom and Empire September 1939—August 1945
|Production in:||United States supplies as percentage of:|
|United Kingdom||Canada||Eastern Group||Total cols. 2, 3 and 4||United States supplies for War Office and Empire requirements||United Kingdom production (i.e. col. 2)||Total supplies (i.e. col. 5 + col. 6)|
|Artillery, anti-aircraft equipments, tank and anti-tank guns||132.1||13.4||5.9||151.4||10.3||8||6|
|Small arms (for Army only)||7,598||1,450||1,124||10,172||2,757†||36||21|
|(a) Propelled vehicles§||682||582||1.6||1,265.6||264||39||17|
|(b) Tank transports (included under (a) above)||1.3||nil||nil||1.3||4.8||362||78|
|(a) Combat aircraft**||96.1||5.4||1.1||102.6||23.0††||24||18|
|(b) Transport (and ASR) aircraft||1.8||nil||nil||1.8||2.7††||150||60|
|Landing craft and ships||4.3||nil||nil||4.3||2.6||60||38|
|Small arms ammunition||11,094||4,520||3,790||19,404||7,453||67||28|
* To 30th June, 1944, only and excluding tank chassis for SP artillery.
† Special release of rifles from stock in 1940–41 not included.
‡ For all armed services.
§ Production in Thousands:
|Excluding||UK||Canada||Supplies from USA|
|(ii) Motor cycles||421||—||15.9|
** Heavy, medium and light bombers, general reconnaissance, naval types and fighters.
†† Deliveries from North America.
These expectations were to determine the composition of British requirements for American weapons during the subsequent two or three years, although the exact quantities and priorities were bound to change from time to time. Thus a higher proportion of landing craft was in the end supplied from home resources, and the proportion of American light bombers delivered or used was smaller than originally planned. On the other hand, American productive capacity had to be drawn on to an ever-increasing extent for the making of such new instruments of war as radar (especially valves), new sights for bombers and remote-control gear, even though most of those instruments happened to be wholly or mainly of British design. As the battle in Europe progressed British forces received large quantities of miscellaneous stores and equipment. Standard infantry weapons or guns of American type were not supplied in any considerable quantity, but miscellaneous army equipment, e.g. transport and some ammunition, came from the United States in larger quantities than ever before. The relative importance of American deliveries in the total supplies of the British forces is illustrated in Table 36.
(5) The Ministry of Production
(a) The ‘Gap’
The war industry at the summit of its effort made new and exacting demands on Government machinery. Readjustments in the machinery were accordingly made. There were changes, mostly small, in the organisation of the supply departments and there were important innovations at the centre, i.e. at and around the War Cabinet offices, and among them the setting up of the office of the Minister of Production now replaced the somewhat dispersed authority of the coordinating committees. To begin with, the change may not have been as radical in substance as it appeared to be in name; but in the end, i.e. by 1944, the powers and the usefulness of the new office had grown sufficiently to give the country the essence as well as the form of a coordinating department of state in charge of war industry.
At a time when the war finally passed out of its passive phase and the military needs both grew and changed in emphasis, a close and continuous link between strategy and production was needed, and the new Ministry supplied it. With industrial mobilisation at its peak
it was no longer possible to expand industrial effort all along the line, and expansion at some points had to be matched by contraction at others. It was therefore very fortunate that the shifts of resources from one supply department to another and, eventually the gradual demobilisation of industry could now be done under the aegis of a ‘neutral’ and coordinating Ministry of Production. At a time when the British war effort was rapidly ceasing to be self-sufficient, and an ever-greater proportion of munitions was coming from the United States, the negotiations with American authorities were at last in the hands of a Minister who could speak for the three Services and three supply departments, and do so with the authority of a member of the War Cabinet. In addition, the Ministry was able to provide a unified direction for a number of essential administrative activities which no single supply department could run alone: allocation of machine tools, regional organisation, exceptional claims to labour.
Some of the needs the Ministry eventually met had been felt more or less from the very beginning of rearmament. Above all, the old ‘gap’, i.e. that between requirements and production, had been noticed and criticised even before the need for filling it became really urgent. Some of the other functions of the Ministry grew up as new interdepartmental ‘gaps’ opened. The Ministry’s usefulness and authority were therefore bound to grow more or less gradually, according as old needs were met and new needs appeared. For the same reasons the Ministry could not have obtained at the outset the authority and the position it eventually acquired. At the time of its creation, in the early months of 1942, the tasks of war production appeared to be fully shared between the supply departments, and the crevices between them were filled, or at least papered over, by various interdepartmental devices. The usefulness of the Ministry of Production, though for a long time apparent to opinion outside the Government, had still to be proved to the people who manned the administrative machine. In the end the proof was provided by event.
At the time when the office of the Minister of Production was first created, i.e. in February 1942, the shortcomings of the existing system, though often admitted, did not appear to call for radical remedies. In the course of two years of war the supply departments and other ministries concerned with munitions had worked out a rough and ready routine of cooperation. The routine may have been incomplete and unsystematic, but it prevented much friction and delay in the lower ranges of interdepartmental business. On higher levels there was the Production Executive and its committees, to say nothing of the Defence Committee (Supply) and the Lord President of the Council;74 at the end of 1941 the opinion
generally held in official quarters was that the Production Executive with its system of committees had not worked badly. During its brief lifetime it had performed a considerable number of essential tasks. In so far as it was responsible for the Materials Committee, whose decisions it ratified, it succeeded in establishing an efficient system of allocating materials. It tackled the problems of building-labour and materials and thereby helped to overcome the difficulties of the building programme, which was then a burning issue. It also discussed and settled a large number of small interdepartmental problems. It also invariably succeeded in adjusting claims and policies of departments, and its decisions were for the most part loyally accepted by the Ministers.75
At the same time the Production Executive did not and could not fill important gaps in the conduct of war industry. Being a mere interdepartmental committee it did no more than provide ministers with opportunities for negotiation and agreement. It could not act in the absence of agreement, and it could not enforce its decisions against the wishes of sovereign ministries. What is even more important was that it could not provide any lead or take any initiative in production matters. The matters it discussed were as a rule referred to it by other departments or by its own committees. Much of its business arose on reports of the Materials Committee and the Industrial Capacity Committee. In its two other committees, those of Manpower and Works and Building, the initiative lay with the respective ministers. Occasionally subjects were brought up by Regional Boards, but it would be an exaggeration to say that the Production Executive exercised a constant or efficient supervision over the regional organisation. In general, the Production Executive found few opportunities for watching the development of war production was a whole. It was officially responsible for the so-called Series D of the Statistical Digest, prepared by the Central Statistical Office, in which the main returns of the munitions industry were summarised. But although the Chairman of the Production Executive (Mr. Bevin) recognised that the chief use of production statistics was to compare them with requirements, the full requirements of the Services and the production programmes based on them did not as a rule come before the Executive.
These gaps were not of course apparent except when viewed against an idealised image of a ‘streamlined’ administration. But so viewed they frequently were; and not in irresponsible quarter alone. It was perhaps symptomatic of the changing official attitude that as early as October 1941 the Admiralty circulated a proposal for the establishment of a Production General Staff. What was even more symptomatic was the impression which articles on ‘Brakes on
Production’ in The Times of 2nd and 3rd January 1942 appeared to create. The articles argued that ‘a Production Executive which does not function as such, with Regional Boards which are almost wholly advisory and … have not authority’ was ‘a fundamental hindrance to full production’ and that there was imperative need for ‘a supreme informed body to plan and control production to the advantage of the war machine as a whole’. Counter-arguments were not of course lacking and could be easily assembled for the Prime Minister’s guidance. There was in the first place the obvious contention that the planning of production in relation to strategic needs could not be done by any one except the Minister of Defence and the Defence Committee of the War Cabinet. It appeared equally obvious that failings in execution of production programmes could not be tackled by anybody except the supply ministries. Nor did local problems and difficulties necessarily call for radical remedies. The Regional Boards, it was said, were doing all that could be done. What they failed to do was not due to any lack of authority but to the difficulties and complexities of the task itself. In general the imperfections in the work of production were due to human fallibility and were not to be cured by the setting up of a centralised production department.
It is difficult to say how far this apologia was accepted in its entirety even in the government departments. A note by the Ministry of Labour on the Admiralty memorandum of October admitted that although the Defence Committee (Supply) to some extent kept under control the requirements of the Forces, there was no centralised control of what the Forces were in fact receiving and there was an obvious gap between the Production Executive and the Defence Committee (Supply). But, on the whole, the failings of the Production Executive were not thought to be so great as to jeopardise the war effort. There is therefore little doubt that had the issue been decided solely in relation to domestic war production, no major change would have taken place, at any rate not in 1942.
What finally made the change inevitable and what converted the Prime Minister to its necessity was not so much the domestic aspect of the problem as its international implications. Discussions with both Russia and the United States about allocations of weapons had to be conducted through a single channel and, if possible, by a minister capable of representing the interests of British war production as a whole. From that point of view the new office can be said to have been germinated in Moscow or somewhere between Moscow and Washington.76 When at the turn of 1941 and 1942 British and American aid to Russia came up for general review, something in the nature of a joint account with the United States had to be established. Lord
Beaverbrook, who represented this country in the Moscow negotiations, had to speak and act with the same authority as his American counterpart, Mr. Harriman. The need for a similar concentration of authority became even great in the next few months when the two countries took steps to pool their resources. With the machinery of the Combined Boards in operation77 it was becoming obvious that an office corresponding to Mr. Nelson’s would have to be set up in this country. The need was not only for creating a satisfactory symmetry in the official representation of the two countries, but for seeing that British representatives on the Combined Boards possessed knowledge and authority sufficient to match that of their American counterparts.
This, indeed, became the main pretext, if not the sole justification, for appointing a Minister of Production. In the words of Lord Beaverbrook setting out his views on the duties of the Minister of Production:78
The very first duty of the Minister of Production will be to journey abroad. Not only will it be necessary to go to Washington, but also to Moscow, because only by such means can decisions be reached on the questions that will now arise as the result of the Joint Board sitting in Washington.
(b) The Personal Office
Lord Beaverbrook’s appointment to the new office was announced on 10th February 1942.79 He did not, however, remain in the office for any length of time. His appointment met with criticism from certain quarters, but probably Lord Beaverbrook’s own doubts about the functions and powers of the new office were more decisive. On 24th February 1942 he was succeeded by Mr. Oliver Lyttelton,80 who was to remain the Minister of Production until the end of the war. During the three and a half years of Mr. Lyttelton’s office the Ministry81 enlarged its scope and extended its usefulness into almost every field of war production. But the timing and the circumstances of its birth made it certain that, however much it grew, it could never became a Ministry of Munitions supplanting the separate production departments. From the very outset all extensions of its authority in that direction were watched with distrust. In the end it found itself wielding an authority far larger than that with which it had started, but the enlargements had taken place piecemeal and in fields which individual supply departments had not previously appropriated.
In its first version, as set out in a White Paper of February 194282 and re-sated by the Prime Minister in Parliament on Mr. Lyttelton’s appointment,83 the conception of the Ministry was that of a largely personal office. There was no intention of establishing a new government department or of encroaching upon the existing departments. The coordinating functions which had previously been, so to speak, put into commission, were now entrusted to a single minister, but the functions themselves were to remain substantially the same. Of his various duties, liaison with the United States was the only one not previously borne by the Production Executive and its committees. His powers over allocations of raw materials and over imports in general were that extent more direct than those of the Production Executive. But in all other respects the position of the supply departments remained unaltered. They were expected to bear the full constitutional responsibility for the business of their departments as heretofore, and were to continue to enjoy the same sovereign authority within their allotted spheres.
It goes without saying that a definition of duties thus conceived could not wholly satisfy the advocates of a Ministry of Production, and did not at first appear to satisfy the Minister of Production himself. On the one hand, the Minister showed his wish to act as a coordinator and to a mere primus inter pares among other supply ministers, a position he enjoyed by virtue of his status as a member of the War Cabinet. One of his earliest acts was to set up the Minister of Production’s Council, a periodic meeting of the permanent heads of the supply ministries presided over by the Minister of Production. Its first meeting took place on 6th April, and from the outset it functioned as a deliberating and negotiating body, to which the Minister invariably committed al major projects of interdepartmental control and administration.
On the other hand, the Ministry made no secret of his intention of giving his office greater substance and definition than it appeared to possess at the outset. The weeks between Mr. Lyttelton’s appointment as the Minister of Production (24th February) and the Prime Minister’s statement in the House (12th March) on the functions of the Minister were filled with argument and counter-argument about the insufficiency of the proposed powers. Mr. Lyttelton’s own desideratum was for a Ministry whose coordinating powers would be based not only on authority derived from his membership of the War
Cabinet but on his effective power over the use and disposal of ‘common factors’. Some such power he was expected to derive from his general authority over allocations and import programmes;84 but in the opinion of Mr. Lyttelton and his advisers it was both illogical and impracticable to entrust him with the supervision of allocations and import programmes and to leave the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production with the administration of controls. The alternative (it had previously been adumbrated by Sir Walter Layton) was that the ‘Raw Materials Department and the Machine Tool Control and possibly the allocation of labour as thrown up by the Ministry of Labour’ should be concentrated in a separate Ministry of Raw Materials and Industrial Capacity under a Minister responsible to the Minister of Production.
Very little came of this and other similar proposals. The transfer of control over labour was in any case out of the question. The functions of the Minister as expounded to Parliament by the Prime Minister and Mr. Lyttelton85 included the duty of settling in conjunction with the Minister of Labour the allocation, distribution and efficient use of labour within the field of war production. But the emphasis was on the ‘conjunction’, and there was no suggestion that the Minister of Production would settle interdepartmental labour problems, either by taking over the Labour Preference Committee or by establishing a similar body under his own authority. A body of this kind may have looked right in one or two of the tentative administration charts of the new office, but nobody ‘in the know’ could seriously argue that the control of manpower had been unduly dispersed and needed greater concentration than the Ministry of Labour had been able to give it. In any case so weighty was Mr. Bevin’s personality and so great was his authority in the War Cabinet as to place outside the realm of practical politics any project for taking away from the Ministry of Labour control of the allocation and distribution of manpower. The proposal was not in fact seriously pursued and dropped out of discussion almost at once. No labour allocation department was set up, and nothing was done to establish direct administrative contacts with the labour departments of the supply ministries. The Ministry of Labour appointed a liaison officer, and that office sat on the Labour Preference Committee with a working brief from the Minister of Production. It will be seen later86 that
when in the closing stages of the war the Ministry of Production came to play an important part in the allocation of marginal labour, it did so not by virtue of any special authority in labour matters, but as a result of its growing preoccupation with industrial priorities.
A more determined attempt was to be made to vest in the Ministry of Production control over raw materials and machine tools. There were protracted consultations between the new Minister of Production and the Ministry of Supply, but in the end the division of functions agreed between them was to remain largely as originally conceived. The Minister of Production was to exercise his powers over raw materials at the highest level, and that presumably meant that he would confine himself to the broad issues of general policy. He was, of course, to be in charge of the import programmes of raw materials, and the staff administering the import programmes was therefore to be transferred to the Ministry of Production. It was his business to direct negotiations with the Combined Raw Materials Board and the lend-lease authorities in Washington, to control the interdepartmental allocations and releases of United Kingdom materials, the levels of United Kingdom stocks, the development of domestic sources and the purchasing policy in the United Kingdom and the Empire. The administration of all the controls and the determination of prices was to be in the hands of the Minister of Supply and no orders to the Controllers were to be given except through him; but the most essential functions of allocations and priorities were now within the sphere of authority of the Minister of Production. For the all-important Materials Committee of the Production Executive,87 with its highly experienced staff under Professor Plant, was now transferred to the Minister of Production’s organisation. It could be expected to function as effectively as hitherto, dealing with the individual controls and with ministries as it had done when the Committee was still a semi-independent body in the War Cabinet offices.
The agreement on machine tools resulted in a somewhat similar division of responsibility. General control over the procurement and allocation of machine tools among the supply departments was to be transferred to the Ministry of Production, but the Ministry of Supply retained the administration of the Machine Tool Control and with it the current contact with the machine-tool makers and the detailed supervision of orders and their execution. In the event, the division of supervision of orders and their execution. In the event, the division of responsibility turned out to be less clear-cut than it appeared on paper. Sir Percy Mills, the Controller of Machine Tools at the Ministry of Supply, was appointed head of the Machine Tools Allocation and Utilisation Division at the Ministry of Production, thus ensuring not only a direct continuity with the Machine Tool Control, but also
the continued exercise of his personal authority in all the important problems of machine tools. The arrangement worked all the smoother for the fortunate fact that the supply of machine tools was now rapidly improving. Machine tools were getting more plentiful as the year 1942 was drawing to its end, and before long machine tools in general ceased to be an important limitation on war production.88 It is not therefore altogether surprising that the general tendency in the Machine Tools Division was to claim greater influence over the utilisation of tools. This was essentially an ‘industrial’ function, as the term came to be understood in the Ministry of Supply; and Sir Percy Mills himself figured prominently in the subsequent plans to give the Ministry of Production greater power over the actual production of munitions.
(c) The Production Staff
Greater success was to crown the Minister’s endeavours to extend the functions of the Ministry over future plans of munitions production broadly conceived. Before the Ministry of Production was formed the advocacy of a central production department had frequently carried with it the notion that war production should be subject to the same ‘drill’ as military strategy, i.e. that it should be discussed and coordinated at the highest level by a body organised and functioning in the same manner as the committee of the Chiefs of Staff. The idea that there was a real gap, which only a ‘general staff’ could fill, made an occasional appearance in official discussions of the problems, such as in the memorandum of the Ministry of Labour, to which reference has already been made.89 Some such idea was also inherent in the first blue-print of the Ministry of Production. Sir Walter Layton had for some time advocated the establishment of a central planning body which could relate the main strategic decision to the current industrial plans, i.e. express strategic decisions in terms of material resources, and perhaps even bring the accurate assessment of industrial problems to bear upon strategic discussions.
The idea was eventually accepted by the Prime Minister, espoused by Mr. Lyttelton and carried into effect by Sir Walter Layton’s appointment to the Ministry of Production. One of the earliest administrative acts of Mr. Lyttelton was the setting up of a Joint War Production Staff (JWPS) made up of the chief advisers to the Ministry of Production on programmes and planning, the chief technical officers of the Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, the Controller of the Navy, and representatives of the Chiefs of Staff. It was expected to advise the Ministry on changes in programmes necessitated by strategic needs, to keep the Chiefs of
Staff informed on the state of production, to discuss and reconcile demands for overseas supplies and to feed with information the Ministry’s representatives on combined Anglo-American bodies.
This part of the project worked out very nearly as planned. The Joint War Planning Group, an inner body, directed for the first twelve months by Sir Walter Layton and staffed by a small group of distinguished and energetic economists, soon succeeded in focusing official discussion on the really essential industrial issues. The discussions and findings of the JWPS were not, of course, more authoritative than it was in its power to make them. In spite of its official links it could not command all the information in the hands of the departments. The urgency of its reports, the speed with which they had to be prepared and their all-embracing scope meant that their evidence and their conclusions were no more than preliminary and were apt to be superseded by more detailed and better-informed departmental studies. It is also possible that the ideas emanating from the JWPS had greater effect within the Ministry than they had outside. Yet, read after the event, they present a remarkable record of accurate and timely appreciation. The very first report of the JWPS, that of 13th April 1942, marked a real turning-point in the official notions about the relations between strategy, war industry and manpower in that it brought the prospects of manpower and production into clear relation with the strategic plan.
For a year or two, however, the relative success of the JWPS was not to be matched by similar successes in other branches of central planning. The JWPS and the Joint War Planning Group within it concerned themselves with future plans and programmes of munitions, but neither their powers nor their composition suited all the purpose which a planning authority was expected to serve. In Sir Walter Layton’s proposals for a production general staff a special department in the Ministry was expected to engage ‘in the continuous study of programmes with a view to their better coordination’ as well as with ‘the study of common production problems and difficulties and the direction of the production departments’. There were thus two functions—a higher and a lower one; and both implied more than general discussion of the economic problems and policies underlying the Service programmes. The planning function in the ‘higher’ sense of the term would have led the Ministry to play a major part in the discussion and settlement of future requirements of munitions as they sprang from successive changes in strategic plans. The second and the ‘lower’ function would have made it necessary for the Minister to control the manner in which production plans were put into operation by the supply departments.
Of the two activities the second and the humbler function of planning presented the greater difficulty in that it promised (or
threatened) to lead the Minister into detailed supervision of war industry. Some supervision was implied in the original definition of the Minister of Production’s functions, but it was to be very general and did not require the assumption of new and special authority. In the words of the Prime Minister’s statement in Parliament,90 the Minister of Production ‘was to concert and supervise the activities of the production departments’, and this he could be expected to do by means of his influence on Anglo-American bodies and by means of the various instruments which he was due to inherit from the Production Executive.
In the mind of the Prime Minister these instruments were sufficient to enable the Minister to supervise and to concert with some effect. They fell, however, short of what a number of people in and round the Minister of Production had in mind and of what, to begin with, may even have been in the mind and of what, to begin with, may even have been in the mind of Mr. Lyttelton himself. In his first statement to Parliament he spoke of his responsibility for the utilisation of the real resources in the most effective manner, and this could easily be interpreted as the right to control the execution of programmes by war industries. It was very largely with this intention in view that the Minister’s official advisers propounded a whole succession of administrative projects designed for the purpose of industrial control.
The first to be proposed and in part to be realised was the project for an Industrial Division. In his statement in Parliament on 24th March91 Mr. Lyttelton appeared to foresee in his office a division staffed with technical officers from the various production departments. Its function in the industrial field would, however, be confined to the fundamental problems of industrial policy which no single production minister could tackle alone. An example he mentioned was that of changing factories over from one type of munition to another. This proposal, coupled with an advisory body of industrialists (Industrial Panel), was approved by the Minister of Production’s Council on 16th April, and a new branch of the Minister’s office to be known as the Industrial Division came into existence. It acquired at once a specialised nucleus by taking over from the Ministry of Supply the entire personnel of the Capacity Register or List 392,92 and from October 1942 it also functioned as the secretariat of the Location of Industry Committee. Yet its activities turned out to be somewhat humble. It performed several useful interdepartmental tasks; it played an important part in overcoming the shortages of ball-bearings; it helped to establish an effective control in the
distribution of small tools; and it handled numerous smaller interdepartmental problems. But did not exercise anything in the nature of a central authority in industrial matters, and was largely ignored in all subsequent projects to give the Minister of Production an effective machinery of industrial control.
These projects succeeded each other at frequent intervals, though they largely failed to bear fruit. Among them was a scheme, proposed in July 1942, which envisaged the creation of a Production Council with authority over all the committees taken over the by the Ministry,93 and the appointment of a Chief Adviser on Production. The scheme was, however, too ambitious and too symmetrical to find sufficient support with the new department. It would certainly not have survived the scrutiny of other departments, for that scrutiny proved to be all but lethal even to the less ambitious proposals of the following September.94 The latter included a project for a Joint Industrial Staff and a Joint Production Committee to take charge of the Minister’s responsibilities in industrial matters. This time the proposals were framed to meet in advance the objections from other departments. The Industrial Staff was to be a small and somewhat informal body, a counterpart of Sir Walter Layton’s planning group; the Joint War Production Committee was to consist almost entirely of representatives of the supply departments. Above all, the scheme as a whole rested on the principle that the Minister’s responsibilities in the field of production should be exercised jointly by supply departments and the Minister of Production and that the new bodies would be not so much branches of the new Ministry as instruments of interdepartmental authority. The interdepartmental character of the plan was to be further emphasised by the setting up of a Committee of the Chief Executives of the supply departments.
Nevertheless, the proposals still offered sufficient pretext for associating the Ministry of Production (or worse still, the Permanent Secretary) with the effective control of current production to provoke the opposition of the supply departments. By now the opposition was firmly established. It will be recalled that from the very outset, indeed while the Industrial Division was being set up, the supply departments made it clear that it was their own business to see that production of munitions proceeded according to plan. Above all, the Ministry of Supply was anxious not to sponsor official bodies capable of duplicating its own functions. The same fears and objections were to be
raised in the autumn of 1942 by the plan for a Joint Industrial Staff and Joint Production Committee. At an interdepartmental meeting on 13th November 1942 the representatives of the supply departments put it on record that in their view the existing machinery for facilitating the execution of production programmes was as fully developed as it need be and suffered from no visible gaps. There was therefore as it need be and suffered from no visible gaps. There was therefore no case for a Joint Industrial Staff or for any interdepartmental machinery proposed by the Ministry of Production. If the Ministry felt a gap in the working of its own organisation it could fill it by action with its department. This admission and the decision that ad hoc meetings of Chief Executives might be useful, exhausted all that by now could be salvaged from the Ministry’s plans.
Thus ended the earliest endeavours to provide the Ministry of Production with a full complement of officers and committees for effective control over the execution of the munitions programmes. This does not, however, mean that the Minister remained utterly unprovided with administrative devices for industrial control. It will be recalled that in addition to the somewhat inconspicuous Industrial Division there was an Industrial Panel.95 By the end of the year the Minister set up, with the agreement of the supply departments, a Progress Division within his department—a project salvaged from the ill-fated plans of September to December. At about the same time he also set up the Munitions Management and Labour Efficiency Committee (‘Five Man Board’).
These bodies were, of course, modest in both promise and achievement. The Industrial Panel was, as its name showed, not an administrative body acting collectively, but a list of names, mostly those of industrialists and trade-union leaders capable of undertaking investigations on behalf of the supply departments. Up to the end of 1942 the members of the Panel carried out twelve inquiries; and its chairman, Mr. R. Barlow, was very frequently called in to advise the Minister of Production himself on industrial questions. After 1942, however, the Panel ceased to be used at all frequently.
Equally uneventful was the career of the Munitions Management and Labour Efficiency Committee. a decision to set it up was taken in September 1942 following recommendations of the JWPS for increasing production. But what with the delays in obtaining the concurrence of the supply departments and with the Minister absent abroad the Committee did not begin operations till mid-December.96 By the end of March 1943 it had tackled only one large industrial topic—the production problems of David Brown (Huddersfield). Although the Ministry of Labour appeared to take a hopeful view of the
Committee’s future tasks, its agenda was destined to remain very light.
Somewhat more ambitious and more effective were the activities of the Progress Division. As mentioned above,97 the same meeting of the permanent head of supply departments on 13th November which refused to admit that there was a gap between the conception of munitions plans and their execution, also pointed out that if any such gap appeared to exist in the Ministry of Production it was the Ministry’s own business to fill it. The hint was taken and early in December the Minister decided to establish a progressing division within his Ministry. This was a more authoritative and perhaps a more effective body than any other so far available within the Ministry for purely industrial tasks, yet it too fell short of its original purposes. The idea of a progressing division had in the first place been worked out by Sir Ernest Lemon, a pre-war Director of Production in the Air Ministry. His notion of progressing was not far removed from that version of industrial control which his directorate had before the war tried to establish in the Air Ministry.98 It was mainly concerned with the planning and phasing of production in the factories, and involved direct collaboration with firms in the actual operations in workshops.
The new division was not, and could not be, designed to ‘progress’ production in this manner. Sir Ernest Lemon himself realised that the task required full access to the production plans of the supply departments and to their first-hand progress reports. It also assumed a direct and continuous contact with factories and their managers. But as none of these facilities was to be offered by the supply departments, the Progress Division had to be designed to act on the strength of the information available at the Ministry of Production itself, i.e. the figures of the programme divisions. These could disclose discrepancies between forecasts and output and thus reveal the lack of balance in programmes as a whole; but they could do little to help in locating industrial flows at factory level. The Division as eventually established had therefore to cut its ambition to suit its information. The progressing it could undertake was no more than ‘notation of failures in actual deliveries’, or broad recommendations of industrial policy to remedy the failures; and this was certainly not what Sir Ernest Lemon had in mind. Under Sir Percy Mills as its first head and Sir Charles Craven as the Minister’s Industrial Adviser, the Division proved to be of considerable use,99 but it never became a major influence in the conduct of war industry.
(d) The Growing Authority
Thus, by the end of the first year of its existence and some six months after its formal transformation into a ministry,100 the office of the Minister of Production acquired some machinery for coordinating the execution programmes. But enough has been said about its different elements to show that by itself it was incapable of raising the Ministry to a predominant position in the conduct of war industry. It was not through machinery expressly designed for the purpose that the Ministry’s competence in the field was destined to grow. The authority which it had in fact acquired by the end of the war came to by ways which had been open to it at the very inception of the office: by virtue of the Minister’s position as a member of the War Cabinet, his command over Anglo-American relations, his power over imports and allocations, his position at the head of a congérie of coordination committees and his responsibility for regional organisation.
In all these direction the Ministry gradually asserted its usefulness and importance. This it did with sufficient tact and caution to lay the spectre of an imperialist Ministry of Munitions which had haunted official discussions in 1942. It was also helped by changes in its senior ranks which did much to banish the earlier suspicions of the Ministry and its officials.101 For all these reasons the Ministry was able from mid-1943 until the end of the war to penetrate into fields of industrial administration which had been heavily barricaded against it a year or two earlier. Above all, cooperation between the departments was greatly facilitated by meetings of the executive heads102 under the chairmanship of the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Production. Numerous problems, mostly immediate and concrete, were discussed and settled at these meetings with great advantage.
Thus, through his personal position in the War Cabinet, the Ministry found himself charged with tackling, at the Prime Minister’s request, the difficulties of the tank at the turn of 1942 and 1943, the problem of the landing craft, and the timetable of the offensive weapons. The problems were all, to say the least, ‘ticklish’, and in handling them the Minister of Production may therefore have acted with caution. But act he did: and thereby he helped to confer upon his department some of that adjudicating authority which it had undoubtedly
acquired by the last year of the war—an authority to be appealed to all in moments of crisis in the field of production.
This authority grew with the increase in the relative importance of American supplies and the complexities of the import programmes. Above all, the industrial stringency of 1943 and 1944, with its recurrent cuts and adjustments in the munitions programmes and its constant shifts of priorities, was bound to engage the Minister very heavily. For not only did the Joint War Production Staff and the Programmes and Planning Division play a major part in anticipating the need for the successive cuts and adjustments, but it also fell to the Ministry to pilot through the supply departments the War Cabinet decisions on cuts in manpower and to help to reconcile the consequential changes in programmes.
The growing preoccupation with interdepartmental production problems at the highest level was to be matched by a growing involvement with the daily operations of industry through the machinery of the regional organisation. The story how an effective regional organisation gradually emerged will be told in greater detail elsewhere.103 When told, it may well present its early history as one of both promise and frustration. The Area Boards (twelve in number) had been set up in January 1940 by the Ministry of Supply in agreement with the Admiralty, the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Labour. Their main object was then defined as that of coordinating the activities of the local representatives of the supply departments, and of helping to find additional capacity in the areas. The Industrial Capacity Committee established by the Production Council in July 1940 took over the supervision of the Area Board, and in August 1940 it tried to strengthen them by adding to their permanent membership representatives of employers and trade unions.
For a long time, however, the Area Boards could not be counted upon to do more than offer facilities for consultation between local officials. When in April 1941 the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Supply, Mr. Harold MacMillan, then at the head of the Industrial Capacity Committee of the Production Executive, toured the areas, he found the members of the Boards, especially the unofficial ones, suffering from a sense of frustration. There was a feeling that the industrial resources in the areas were not doing what they should to mobilise them. On Mr. Macmillan’s advice the Area Boards were renamed Regional Boards and somewhat reorganised in the process. Above all, they were given to understand that their chief duties would be to help the main contractors and sub-contractors in the task of finding additional capacity. They were accordingly empowered to set up ‘capacity
clearing centres’, somewhat on the lines of the centre which dad existed in the London and South-Eastern region since August 1940. From then on the Industrial Capacity Committee and the supply departments did much to breathe life into the regional organisation. In October 1941 the Boards were given an important part in the redistribution of skilled labour. They were instructed to set up sub-committees for labour supply to assist the Minister of Labour in meeting local demands, especially those for skilled civilian labour. The sub-committees were also expected to hear disputed cases of transfer, of grading, dilution, training and employment of women.
A wide field of activity was thus opened up; it was soon to be matched by the operations of the machine-tool committees, which had been established a few months earlier104 to help in the supply and exchange of cutting tools urgently needed to relieve ‘bottlenecks’ in production. Of still greater importance were to prove the ‘capacity clearing centres’, of which over thirty-six had been set up by the spring of 1942.
In this way, when in February 1942 Lord Beaverbrook became Minister of Production, the regional organisation had grown into an administrative instrument of some importance, and in the course of the subsequent two years its usefulness and importance continued to grow. Inquiry into the work and efficiency of the Boards which Lord Beaverbrook had decreed in February 1942 showed that some useful work had been done by all, and much by some; but the report105 also showed that more still remained to be done in drawing into war production industrial capacity which was still found to exist in small and dispersed fragments all over the country.
It was in these three fields—local labour problems, the supply and utilisation of tools and, above all, the full mobilisation of industrial capacity—that the regional organisation of the Ministry of Production pursued its activities. Now and again the plans of the man in charge of the regional organisation appeared to transgress the limits of what regional bodies could do or would be allowed to do. Thus, at one time, the department tried to organise its records and census-like surveys into something in the nature of a central register of industrial capacity—a potential instrument of unified control over the disposition of industrial resources on a national scale. At one time in 1944 it may even have seemed as if the regional organisation would fall heir to the hopes which had a year or two previously been pinned on the various versions of a Central Production Staff. But though none of the higher ambitions could be given full play, the regional bodies had by the end of the war become powerful instruments of administration. Especially valuable were their services in settling the detailed
and highly-complicated priorities of labour, in facilitating the transfers of capacity and in helping the demobilisation of industry in the closing year of the war. And through its regional organisation the Ministry as a whole asserted itself as an indispensable source of policy and authority.
(e) The Designation Of Work
It has already been indicated that in the end the Ministry of Production also acquired important functions in the filling of industrial demands for labour. The need for any such intervention would not have been admitted in the first two years of the Ministry’s life. The functioning of the Ministry of Labour as a single department of state in charge of all manpower problems in itself guaranteed unity of policy and administration. In so far as interdepartmental committees had to be created for convenience of negotiation and consultation, they were closely linked with the Ministry of Labour or else were part of the War Cabinet machinery and functioned under the aegis of the Lord President of the Council. The Manpower Committee of the Production Executive had the Parliamentary Secretary of the Ministry of Labour as its chairman. It was, of course, mainly concerned with details of interdepartmental business (deferments, call-ups, etc.), but it was also called upon to play a part in the preparation of the manpower survey of July 1941.106 Most of the discussions relating to this and subsequent manpower surveys were from the outset in the hands of the Lord President, his Committee and his immediate official assistants.107 After his appointment as Chancellor of the Exchequer in September 1943, Sir John Anderson continued to handle these questions as chairman of a new Manpower Committee. This Committee with its ministerial and official sections was to remain the principal government organ for the discussion and the working out of the implications of successive manpower budgets.
In addition, two other committees, the Labour Coordinating Committee and the Headquarters Preference Committee, looked after the administrative problems of labour supply and allocation, but these bodies also functioned not so much as controlling and arbitrating agencies as administrative aids to the Ministry of Labour. The Labour Coordinating Committee came into existence in March 1941 to deal with those labour problems on which the viewpoints of supply departments happened to diverge. It was composed of specialists in labour administration in the supply departments and the Board of Trade, and it was mainly preoccupied with the practical details of labour requirements and supply. But its function and usefulness
reached far beyond the current administration of labour control. It was sometimes asked to consider in detail the data assembled for the purpose of the labour budget and often found itself drawn into the discussion of labour policies. Thus, in April 1942, the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty, acting on the request of the Ministry of Labour, submitted to the Labour Coordinating Committee their estimates of needs for 1942. After the War Cabinet’s decision of December 1942 on manpower allocations108—and even before the War Cabinet reached its final conclusions—the Ministry of Labour and the supply departments used the Labour Coordinating Committee as a clearing house for their problems. It was as a rule on this committee that the representatives of departments discussed the labour aspects of the cuts in munitions programmes.
To begin with, there was similar continuity in the work of the other committee concerned with labour matters, i.e. the Headquarters Preference Committee. The composition and the functions of this body were severely practical.109 Its function was to provide a collective representation at the headquarters of the Ministry of Labour for the labour departments of the Ministry of Supply, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, and the Admiralty; and its man preoccupation was with the growing practice of labour preferences, about which more will be said later.
This system of interdepartmental labour committees worked smoothly and on the whole successfully, and there appeared to be no ground for dissatisfaction among government departments with the existing system of consultations on labour matters. It is therefore not surprising that very little came from the suggestion of the Minister of Production at the end of 1942 that an interdepartmental mechanism should be created to guide adjustments of munitions programmes to labour supply. The proposal was opposed by the Ministry of Labour and received little backing in the Labour Coordination Committee. As a compromise, an interdepartmental group was formed to keep in touch with the changes in programmes and to report from time to time to the JWPS; but in practice it only reported once.
In this way the working of the labour policy and administration remained un affected by the creation of the Ministry of Production and by the resulting changes in the structure of War Cabinet committees. The change which eventually came resulted from the gradual evolution of the labour preference procedure and from the important part which the Ministry of Production eventually played in it.
The system of labour preferences had been growing up during 1941 and was becoming more important as well as more complex as labour supplies were being exhausted. Grants of special priorities by the Minister of Labour to laggard elements in production go back to the turn of 1940 and 1941, the somewhat chaotic period when the War Cabinet directive on the general priorities of production had begun to be whittled down by exemptions and additions. But the most important move towards a régime of labour preferences was probably that of June 1941 when, following a demand for 100,000 heavy unskilled workers, the Ministry of Labour proposed that the demand should be met by attaching graded priorities to individual industries. The Labour Coordinating Committee did not accept the proposal as a whole, but agreed that priority for supplies of heavy labour should be given to the production of iron ore, marine engineering products, non-ferrous metals and cruiser tanks—four industries called upon to meet demands of great urgency. In September of the same year special labour priorities were accorded to the radio industry and to the manufacture of chemical defence equipment, and priorities of second order to a number of other industries. Experience had by then shown that priorities offered the best means of meeting the most urgent demands for labour at the most crucial points of war production. By that time also the Labour Preference Committee, grown out of the fortnightly meetings of the representatives of the supply departments, had finally established itself in charge of the new system.
It was in the next stage that the difficulties and complexities of the preference system revealed themselves. By then the list of preferences had become very long, and to that extent indiscriminate. The list had to be shortened and made more selective, but this in turn raised problems of procedure and principle. At the beginning of November 1941 the Defence Committee (Supply) decided that factories producing aero engines, airscrews, carburettors and fabricated light alloys should be manned to full capacity. In giving effect to this decision the Preference Committee granted labour preferences to individual firms in the respective industries. This meant that individual firms were singled out from an industry for preferential treatment, leaving the rest of the industry to fend for itself. The innovation was helpful in that it enabled a greater discrimination to be made in the treatment of over-loaded areas and compelled a continuous scrutiny of the requirements and operation of the principal munitions firms. But it also placed upon the Ministry of Labour and the Labour Preference Committee the power and onus and judging the relative urgency of individual weapons and the relative contribution of individual firms. True, at a special meeting of the Preference Committee on the 5th November 1942, at which the problem of singling out the most urgent items was discussed, the representatives
of the departments appeared to think the existing procedure workable. The difficulties, however, were real and threatened to get worse. A comb-out of the list was then carried out, but the list thus shortened soon began to grow once more, and alarm at the number of current preferences was again evident in the spring of 1943. Nor was the problem of competence solved. By 1943 even the Ministry of Labour appeared to feel that the Labour Preference Committee in its attempts to keep the list down was involving itself in a discussion of subjects which were clearly beyond its competence.
At this point the Ministry of Production was bound to be drawn in. It was the proper authority for deciding the relative urgencies of weapons and stores. It was also responsible for the regional organisation, and regional bodies had by then come to play an essential part in the procedure of labour preferences. They sometimes initiated the proposals for preference; they were invariably asked to explore the circumstances of individual applications, and it invariably fell to them to carry out on the spot the decisions involved in a grant of labour preference.
The issues matured by midsummer 1943. In July of that year the War Cabinet, having revised the 1943 Manpower Budget, instructed the Minister of Production to keep supply and demand of munitions labour under continual review. One of the implied objects of the review was to ensure that the Ministry of Aircraft Production should not suffer from a labour deficit in the total budget, if such a deficit turned out to be inevitable by the end of 1943. This meant conferring on MAP a special and overriding priority for labour, safe even from prior ‘vetting’ by the Preference Committee. But once the principle of super-priority was admitted it was impossible to refuse it to other branches of munitions production of urgent importance. Super-priority equal to that of MAP soon had to be given to such items as ball-bearings, tools and steel tubes which, although needed for the production of aircraft, were in fact made by contractors of the Ministry of Supply. But the Ministry of Production was pressing for an even wider application of the principle to cover the most urgent work for the Army and the Navy. After a discussion of the whole question at a meeting of the Joint War Production Staff in the autumn of 1943 the War Cabinet agreed that it should be the task of the Minister of Production to ‘designate’ as being of equal importance with aircraft those products or services which he considered to be vital to the war effort. Henceforth meetings under the chairmanship of the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Production considered and made recommendations as to labour preference policy. By agreement between the departments much discretion was given to the Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Labour and the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Production to resolve these questions as operational needs demanded.
Thus a highly important method of allotting supplies of scarce labour had come to be worked out. When the overriding preference to aircraft production was withdrawn at the beginning of 1944 it remained the business of the Ministry of Production to ‘designate’ the products which were sufficiently ‘vital’ to entitle the industries and firms making them to a super-preference in the filling of labour vacancies. The Ministry of Labour was of course closely associated with the Ministry of Production in controlling the composition of the list of designations, but it was issued on the Minister of Production’s sole authority, and his department became the main instrument in its preparation and working.110 In this way the difficult and highly complex problems of labour control, at the time when the stringency was at its highest, came to be matched by an efficient administrative device; and the Ministry of Production received an important accession to its function and authority.
(f) The ‘Might Have Been’
Thus, in the closing years of the war the growth of the Ministry of Production completed the administrative structure of war production. The old and much discussed ‘gap’ between strategic and industrial plans was at last filled, and so were the more recent gaps between American supplies and British production, between central plans and regional action, between declining equipment and rising demands from the field of battle, and, finally, between the military and civilian requirements in the period of reconversion. These gaps might not have been filled well or equally quickly by the alternative means of interdepartmental consultation. For, although the habits and the machinery of coordination had been well developed before the Ministry of Production came into existence, there was bound to be greater expedition and efficiency under a prominent member of the War Cabinet served by the administrative facilities of a full-fledged department of state.
<>The solution, however, was historical, not rational. It was a satisfactory resolution of the administrative issues which had arisen in the course of the war, and was not necessarily an ideal recipe for administering the production of munitions de novo. The Ministry was called upon to complete and strengthen the system of departments in charge of war production; but the particular configuration in 1942—three separate supply departments catering for three respective fighting Services, but one of them also in charge of raw materials—was in itself a product of ad hoc decisions and of gradual evolution. Indeed, it was not the configuration envisaged in most of the pre-war
plans or at first intended by the pre-war Governments. It will be remembered that according to most of the pre-war plans the Ministry of Supply was to consist of a single department catering for the three Services and matched by a Ministry of Resources, or at least by a Ministry of Raw Materials.111 Three independent supply departments emerged as a result of the Admiralty’s refusal to part with the design and production of ships, followed by a similar refusal from the Air Ministry to give up responsibility for the supply of aircraft. But for this double refusal there would have been a single Ministry of Supply, and the problem of interdepartmental coordination in its 1942 version might never have arisen.
The separate existence of three supply departments, each narrowed down to the needs of one fighting Service, was not, however, the only characteristic feature of the system. The field in which the supply departments, taken separately, now operated may have been narrower than that of the Ministry of Supply of the pre-war blue-prints, but within their fields they were expected to perform more functions than a single ministry might have done. For the Ministry of Supply and Ministry of Aircraft Production were concerned not only with the quantity of weapons but also with their quality, and administered not only the munitions industries but also the technical and scientific effort that went into the design and development of weapons.
The reasons for which this particular combination of functions was chosen in 1939, when the Ministry of Supply was created, and was repeated in 1940, when the Ministry of Aircraft Production was formed, were partly contingent and accidental, and partly prompted by a rational argument. The contingent factor was the existence within the Service ministries on the eve of war of branches which in fact combined control of production with responsibility for development of weapons—that of Director General of Munitions Production in the War Office and that of the Air Member for Development and Production in the Air Ministry. The two departments were the embryos of the future supply ministries and were bodily taken over when those ministries were formed.
This solution was also backed by an argument. Again and again in Parliament and in official papers warnings were made against a ‘divorce’ between design and production. There was the suspicion that left to themselves the technicians in the Service departments might design weapons difficult to produce or might insist on modifications and improvements which would disrupt production. On more than one occasion before the war British designs were criticised as being too elaborate or too ‘perfect’. This note was repeatedly sounded in parliamentary debates during the years of rearmament, and now and again it crept even into the papers emanating from
government departments themselves. Thus on the eve of the war the British experts who visited France to inspect French armament noted with a somewhat envious admiration how successfully the designers of French weapons adapted them for ease and economy of production. Much later similar opinions were passed on some German and on all the Russian equipment. In these implied comparisons no reference was made to the administration of design in France, Germany or Russia (in all these countries design was in fact administered by the Service ministries), but in discussing the situation at home people commonly assumed that a close administrative link between design and production would solve the problem. The arrangements with in the Service departments themselves appeared to lend support to the view.
Between the authority which the supply departments were now given over design, and their existence as separate ministries there was an obvious connection. Once it was decided to entrust the design of weapons to the Ministry of Supply a single Munitions Ministry became impossible. For a ministry supervising the design, development and production of weapons for the three Services would have been too large to be run by the most efficient of ministers or civil servant. It would probably have in fact functioned as a federation of three largely independent sub-ministries; and the same problems of coordination which faced the three supply departments in the war would have had to be faced within the ministry itself. In short, the true alternative to the organisation which emerged in the war was not a mammoth ministry of munitions engulfing the three supply departments, but a supply ministry conceived purely as a ministry of production, i.e. concerned with production alone.
This was not the solution adopted in the war, and it was therefore spared the criticisms it would have drawn upon itself had it been attempted. What was criticised was the system in operation, and the criticisms were of course directed at both its principles—the division of the field between the ministries and the powers of the supply ministries over design and development. In this study main attention has to be given to a discussion of interdepartmental coordination, for this discussion was most relevant to the history of production. But had design and development been a major theme of this book, equal attention would have been paid to the other criticism. It came mostly from Service circles, and was therefore less vocal than the discussions of coordination which were largely ‘civilian’. It was, however, to be heard in various places and at different points of time. A Director of Artillery might be heard regretting his exile in the Ministry of Supply away from daily contacts with the activities and opinions of the War Office. The critics of the tanks might deplore the difficulty of bringing the experiences of tank battles to bear upon
the business of design. Now and again the representatives of the Air Ministry might treat some of the shortcomings of wartime production as penalties for the removal of design of aircraft from the Air Ministry. And it goes without saying that the Admiralty was able to blame the Ministry of Aircraft Production ‘set-up’ for the trials and tribulations which beset the evolution of naval aircraft.
Some such criticisms were of course inevitable. By decreeing that design should not be separated from production the Government did not remove the dangers of an administrative hiatus, but merely transferred them to another link in the control of actual design. And as long as a weak link was assumed to exist, criticism was bound to focus on it.
Yet although inevitable, the criticism was not built up into a fully argued case. Both the relevant evidence and the conclusions drawn from it remained somewhat uncertain to the very end of the war; indeed they were less certain at the end of the war than at the beginning. Was it ever agreed that the naval vessels, designed as they were within the Admiralty, proved more satisfactory in action or more advanced technically than contemporaneous aircraft, designed in the Ministry of Aircraft Production, or than the guns designed in the Ministry of Supply? Nor was foreign experience much drawn upon. On the occasions when decisions were not taken by the Führer himself, the design of German aircraft was administered by the Services; but it was not argued nor indeed admitted, in this country that the German system resulted in better aircraft. The American Army and Navy also had a greater administrative hold over the design of their weapons (including aircraft) than the British Services had over the design of theirs. But this fact was not much cited either in the earlier criticisms or in the later praise of American weapons.
Above all, the width of the gap at home was never properly measured. How wide in fact was the gap between operation experience and the control of design? There was, or should have been, none in the Admiralty. As to the relations between the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Aircraft Production, various devices were adopted for bridging the gap between the ‘user’ and ‘supplier’ at the topmost level:112 but even more important than formal devices were the
personal contacts between men. Design and development in the Ministry of Aircraft Production were as a rule controlled by high serving officers, sharing common experience and outlook with the heads of the Air Staff and in constant touch with them. More especially, from 1943 the Chief Executive of the Ministry, Sir Wilfred Freeman, just back from the Office of the Vice-Chief of Air Staff, took special pains to maintain regular contacts both formal and information with his former colleagues. In the Ministry of Supply high-level contacts over matters of design and development were perhaps not so centralised or so continuous as in the Ministry of Aircraft Production. But there, too, close high-level contacts over questions of design were available in the person of Engineer Vice-Admiral Sir Harold Brown, Controller General of Munitions Production until 1942 and Senior Supply Officer for the rest of the war period, and in the persons of the several generals who either headed various branches of the Ministry or represented the General Staff of the War Office in discussion with the Ministry.
It was not these links, however, that the critics desired and the absence of which they deplored. What they had in mind was a daily contact at lower level, access to common experience, and ease of informal approach at all times. More than anything else they wished to throw open government departments and firms’ offices to direct impressions from the field and sky of battle. It is not, however, certain that direct operational lessons were wholly denied to the men in industry and in the supply ministries. In the Air Ministry the business of collecting operational experiences and embodying them in ‘operational requirements’ was well organised and elaborately canalised; yet it could not prevent manufacturers (to say nothing of the technical branches of the Ministry of Aircraft Production) from cultivating contacts with serving officers and guiding their design policy accordingly. The success of an important breed of aircraft turrets has been partly ascribed to informal links of this kind; and almost every large aircraft firm maintained a similar private channel—one is tempted to call it a service. In the sadder moments of tank history both sides, the War Office and the Ministry of Supply, suspected each other of failing to meet the needs of battle. But in 1942 the Ministry of Supply had its own mission in Libya collecting the lessons of battle, and both before and after that date direct reports—and messengers—from Africa were not spurned. In other fields, especially in the study of gunfire, the lessons were gathered for the
Ministry of Supply by operational research groups specifically set up for the purpose.
Thus it is probably true that in matters of design the gap between the ‘user’ and the ‘supplier’ was not quite as wide as was sometimes pictured. At any rate it was probably not allowed to remain for long at its widest. Therein lies, of course, both the virtue of British constitutional methods and also the vice of purely constitutional judgements. For in Britain, during the war, the formal conventions of constitutions and symmetry of administrative charts seldom represented the real methods of government or the real division of functions between officials. The necessities of war lead to a number of working arrangements, which largely remedied the division of the field into three supply departments and later culminated in the Ministry of Production. The same necessities of war greatly mollified the rigour of the separation between the men in the fighting Services and the designers of weapons.