Page 371

Chapter 7: The Demobilisation of Industry

(1) ‘The Run Down’

The campaign in Germany came to an end in May 1945; the end of the European war was not, however, marked by a general demobilisation of war industry. The rapid, almost overnight, liquidation which followed end of the 1914–18 war was not to take placed this time. The ‘run-down’ of war industry had begun a long time before victory was in sight and continued long after it had been achieved. It has already been shown1 that cuts in the allocations of labour to the munitions industry had to be made in 1943 in order to maintain the strength of the fighting Services during 1944. Some further scaling down of employment and of industrial activity beyond that point was being forced on the country by the exhaustion of labour reserves and by the wastage of manpower in the field of battle or in industry. Both employment and production were already well below their peak by the time the prospects and the date of victory in Europe became sufficiently certain and sufficiently near to make it possible to plan further contraction as part of the general demobilisation. The peak rates of output of small arms ammunition had been passed in the last quarter of 1943; the peak rates for tanks slightly earlier, in the second quarter of that year; the peak output of guns of 2-pounder and over and of mortar bombs had been reached in the first quarter of 1943, that of filled shells and aircraft bombs in the fourth quarter of 1942.2 Combatant types of aircraft alone were not being reduced in 1943, though even they were destined to pass their peak output in the first quarter of 1944. Employment in the munitions industry was receding accordingly: the peak figure of 5,233,000 was reached in mid-1943, by mid-1944 the labour force had been rescued by 222,000.3

Page 372

Having begun long before VE-day the reductions were planned to be spread over a long period after that day. In general, the policy of the Government was to avoid the dislocation and unemployment which had accompanied the sudden demobilisation of industry in 1918; but events made it unnecessary to enforce the policy. The strategic situation would in any case have made it impossible to plan the demobilisation except as a long-spun-out process. The Battle of Europe lasted somewhat longer than had been hoped, and there was also the war in the Far East to follow. The sequence of strategic landmarks made it, therefore, necessary to think of the demobilisation as going through several stages. Stage I, i.e. the period separating the war effort at its peak from victory in Europe, was to see a gradual reduction in munitions production to the level required to sustain the war in Europe and to prepare for the campaign in the Far East. Stage II, between victory in Europe and victory against Japan, was to see a further reduction to the level required by the commitments in the Far East. Final demobilisation was to take place in Stage III following the victory in Japan. Yet even in this last stage the production of munitions might have to be sustained at a level at which the armed forces retained in service could still be supplied and the minimum ‘war potential’ be maintained.

(2) Stage I

Preparations for such reductions in war industry as could be made in Stage I began on the morrow of the successful landing in Normandy. But while the fortunes of battle on the Continent fluctuated, the scales of war production, the estimates of industrial employment and the timing of future cuts for Stages I all remained uncertain. The departments had to plan on the assumption that the war in Europe would come to an end by a certain date, but for a long time the date could not be foretold with any finality. The assumption behind the Government plans through the greater part of the summer of 1944, i.e. from the middle of June to the beginning of September, was that the war with Germany would not continue beyond 30th June 1045, and the provisional manpower allocations for 1944 which had been made in December 1943 were revised and scaled down on that basis.4 But for a time it appeared possible that victory would be achieved much sooner. On the 4th September 1944 the War Cabinet came to the conclusion that events on the Continent were moving sufficiently quickly to allow current manpower calculations to be

Page 373

made on the assumption that the war with Germany would come to an end by the 31st December 1944. On the 29th September the Prime Minister suggested a somewhat later date. He thought that with enemy resistance stiffening, the war might continue until the end of February 1945. None of these more sanguine hopes were however allowed drastically to transform the earlier plans. Although it still appeared possible that the war with Germany might soon end, the War Cabinet decided on the 17th October that the reductions in munitions output should not go beyond the adjustments in manpower made on the assumption of the war ending by 30th June 1945. For, in addition to the growing uncertainty of the position on the Continent, the War Cabinet thought it important not to take any decisions that might create a misunderstanding with American about the scale of the cause of cuts in British production. An agreement had recently been reached at the ‘Octagon’ Conference in Quebec on the continuance of American supplies during Stage II, and an Anglo-American Committee under Mr. Morgenthau and Lord Keynes was at that time working out the amounts to be provided under the continued lend-lease. It would therefore have been very difficult to explain and to justify cuts in British production immediately after substantial assistance in Stage II had been promised by the United States and while requests for large allocations were under discussion.

Before long, however, even the assumptions based on the war ending by 30th June 1934 were beginning to appear too optimistic. On the 25th January 1945 the Prime Minister informed his colleagues that the advice of the Chiefs of the Staff was that the 30th June was the earliest date on which the war with Germany could be expected to end, even though they thought that the 1st November 1945 was the date beyond which the war was unlikely to continue. He considered that the Minister of Production, in consultation with the Minister of Supply, should plan production in such a way as to fit with these dates. This meant that for some products, e.g. ammunition, production would have to continue at a level which assumed that the war would go until 1st November 1945.

These uncertainties did not end until March or even April 1945. By the 29th March the Prime Minister had come to the conclusion that events were moving sufficiently fast to allow the Manpower Committee to work on the assumption that the European war would end not later than the 31st May, unless an unexpected reverse were suffered. This date was confirmed by the Prime Minister on the 14th April, and preliminary action in anticipation of the end of hostilities with Germany could now begin in earnest.

The problem of making definite and final dispositions about future output and employment was further complicated by the uncertainties about the weight that had to be attached to the conflicting claims on

Page 374

resources freed by the victory in Europe. In a directive of 26th February 1945 the Prime Minister set down the objects of forward planning in their new order of priority. First priority was still to be given to what was required to achieve the defeat of Germany at the earliest possible date; above all, to the maintenance of the first-line strength of the Army in Europe. A decline in British air strength in Europe at an early date, i.e. in the latter half of 1945, would however be possible. And in general it could now be laid down that manpower was not to be employed on the manufacture of aircraft or other munitions of war designs for use in the European theatre which could not be completed until after the end of 1945. Subject to these requirements every effort was to be made to facilitate a reasonable expansion of civil production. In order to meet this two-fold demand some delay in the build-up and equipment of Forces to be deployed against Japan had to be accepted.

One of the main results of this directive was to end the exclusive concentration on the needs of war production. The needs of the civilian population were now second in the order of priority, and the attention of the Ministry of Production and the Government in general was being rapidly focused on the problems of restarting civilian industry. But the change in prospects and in topics of official discussions was as yet more definite than the change in the munitions industry itself. The rearrangements and reductions during Stage I were not such as to make as yet an appreciable difference to the volume of production. that the supply to the Army would continue to run at a high level was something to be expected.5 The land battles on the Continent made it necessary to maintain a high rate of production for a number of army stores. Some items on the Ministry’s programme, especially ammunition for medium and field artillery, were now required in large and increasing quantities. The Ministry had to build up again its production rates for shells and other field ammunition on the assumption that full-scale activity against Germany might continue until the third quarter of 1945. This necessitated the restoration of maximum production rates of empty shells. At the end of November high priority had to be given to materials and labour needed to reach new targets for field ammunition, even though the Ministry of Supply expressed doubts whether the new targets could be reached owing to the impossibility of building up new capacity in the short period then available. Full rates of tank production also had to be reinstated as the United States War department had decided that they must take the whole of the available

Page 375

American output for their own Forces. After a short interval the American authorities agreed to resume their assignment of tanks to Britain, but British tank production nevertheless had to be kept up to maximum rates until the end of the German war was actually within sight. This was done even though some of the firms mainly responsible for the production of the latest tanks were already busy converting their tank capacity to the production of heavy vehicles and agricultural tractors. Production of cruiser tanks was now being planned so as to achieve its maximum rate by September 1945, the production of Centurion tanks was planned to achieve its full rate in November. It was only after the Prime Minister’s minute of 29th March 1945, followed soon by the adoption of the 31st May as a firm date for the end of the war with Germany, that the high production rates for ammunition and tanks could be substantially reduced.

In the meantime the Ministry of Supply had to be allowed to maintain a labour force larger than that previously laid down for it. Whereas in the provisional manpower allocation for 1944 made in December 1943 the Ministry of Supply was expected to reduce the number of its employees by 220,000, the reduction was altered in September 1944 to 170,000,6 But for the Prime Minister’s directive of 29th March with its clear forecast of 31st May 1945 as the terminal date of the war, the allocation of labour to the Ministry of Supply would have had to be made larger still.

If the high level of production and manpower for the Army could be accounted for by the battles on the Continent, the Navy’s demands on manpower and production remained high chiefly because it had to be turn its main attention to Stage II earlier than the other Services. Reductions in the Admiralty’s labour force by 30th June 1945, as proposed in September 1944, were to the total of 68,000. But the requirements of the Navy were largely independent of events in Europe, for the Admiralty’s attention was now very largely devoted to preparations for naval operations against Japan.

These preparations were going on during the last six months of 1944. As a very large new naval construction programme inherited from previous years was on hand at the beginning of 1945,7 the new construction programme for 1945 was kept very small so as to enable the Admiralty to concentrate on the miscellaneous non-fighting ships needed to service the fleet in Far Eastern waters,8 and mainly on ships for the Fleet Train. The need for a substantial Fleet Train had been recognised for a long time, but the decisions taken at the

Page 376

‘Octagon’ Conference at Quebec in September 1944 had led to further additions to the requirements. At the conference it had been agreed that the British fleet should participate in the main preparations against Japan in the Pacific on the understanding that the British fleet would be balance and self-supporting. This principle eventually involved considerable additions to the earlier plans for the Fleet Train. Twenty large ships and twenty-five small ships were asked for by the Admiralty, as well as some base accommodation ships, floating cranes and other vessels. Three main reasons were given for the increased requirements. In the first place, the earlier estimate that the voyage between the rear and the advanced base would average 2,000 miles had been revised to 4,000 miles. This automatically increased the number of auxiliary vessels needed. Secondly, expenditure of ammunition was expected to rise after July 1945, and a monthly expenditure figure of 10,000 tons was now substituted for the earlier estimate of 2,500 tons. This necessitated an increase in the number of armament store-carriers and of armament store-issuing ships. Thirdly, a higher margin was now allowed for losses and casualties among the auxiliaries.

The justification for maintaining a high rate of aircraft production was obviously military. The original intention of the Government was to make up for the less easily reducible needs of the Army and the Navy by accelerating the reduction of aircraft production. Whereas under the provisional manpower allocations for 1944 MAP was to lose 69,000 workers, the allocations as revised in September 1944 involved a reduction of 198,000.9 But here again actual reductions lagged well behind the original plans. The Ministry was expecting to operate under the ‘September’ programme10 which would have resulted in very substantial reductions in the output of aircraft during the first six months of 1945. MAP did not feel, however, justified in introducing the reductions at once. It argued that the dangers of drastic reductions lay ‘not so much in the risks of a premature curtailment of our military effort as in the fear that it might be construed in America as a premature conversion of our economy to civilian trade’. A compromise solution—the so-called ‘modified September’ programme—involving much smaller cuts was therefore introduced. This offered the prospects of a much larger curtailment of production after June 1945 at the expense of a somewhat more gradual decline before then.

Page 377

(3) Stages II and III

Reallocation of manpower and materials and redistribution of production for Stage II turned out even more difficult to plan in advance than the cuts and allocations for Stage I. In theory it was possible to begin seriously to examine the necessary plans a few weeks before D-day; in fact little could be decided and the country entered into Stage II with its immediate economic prospects uncertain. To the difficulty of forecasting the duration of the war in the Far East was added the uncertainty about the supplies which would be available from American and about Britain’s share in the coming military tasks. Britain’s role in those eastern theatres in which she had in the past borne most of the fighting appeared more or less settled. At the Allied ‘Octagon’ conference in Quebec in September 1944, it had been agreed that British forces should concentrate on the recapture of Burma and Malaya. But as regards the campaign against Japan herself the only definite decisions was that the British fleet should share with the American Navy in the major operations. The roles of the RAF and the Army in the final operations against Japan were left undecided. At the ‘Terminal’ conference at Babelsberg in July 1945 it was possible to take a decision about the use of a British bombing force (the eventual use of some twenty squadrons was agreed). But all that could be decided about the Army was that ‘in principle’ a Commonwealth land force and, if possible, a small tactical air force, should take part in the final phase of the war against Japan. The decision was made ‘subject to the satisfactory resolution of operation and other problems’ and these problems (including the size of the British land force) were still under discussion at the time of the Japanese surrender. General MacArthur’s provisional proposals for a force of three divisions re-equipped with American equipment and receiving logistic support from the United States was not favoured by opinion in Britain, which questions whether British participation on such a limited scale and under the restrictive conditions proposed would help to re-establish Britain’s position in the eyes of the Far East peoples. Less than a week after this exchange of views the Japanese surrender took place.

The impossibility of forecasting the quantity of warlike stores that would be needed was all the more unsettling owing to the changes that the war with Japan made necessary in the quality of stores for tropical jungle conditions. The Navy, in addition to the increased requirements for the Fleet Train, needed ships specially built or adapted for action against the Japanese Navy and specially conditioned

Page 378

for service in the Far East. Capital ships completed as recently as 1942 had to be extensively altered in accordance with the latest war experience. Different types of small boats were now required: boats of the sloop type with greater endurance and capable of mounting larger anti-aircraft armament than the corvettes and frigates. Gunnery equipment of the most up-to-date type was needed for ships both new and already completed, especially new mountings and directors to give the fleet the advantages of blind fire. Vessels also had to be ‘tropicalised’ and requirements also included large quantities of equipment which had not previously been wanted, such as distilling plant, laundry plant, refrigerating and air-conditioning plant, etc., to enable a large number of ships to work for long periods in the tropics.

The demands on MAP were equally loaded with modifications and with special equipment for operations in the Far East. Far greater provision than hitherto had to be made for refuelling in the air. Large number of aircraft had to be ‘tropicalised’ by the introduction of such items as sand excluders, water tanks, larger radiators, cooling apparatus and additional oxygen bottles.

Activities in the Ministry of Supply were also complicated by demands of the Far Eastern war, which were as complex and uncertain as similar demands on the Admiralty and MAP. The fluidity of strategic notions about the role of the Army in the Far East has already been mentioned. In addition, the War Office was unable to formulate its requirements without a physical stock-taking in the overseas theatres, and in its opinion the results of the stock-taking would not be available until September. In general, while the Ministry reduced output in the more ‘orthodox’ branches of munitions production, it was called upon to enlarge it in others. It had to face the needs of the war in Japan and also a large ‘amenities’ programme. The physical conditions of war in the Far East, the psychological needs of an army faced with the sixth year of war service, the possibility that large numbers of British troops might be called upon to fight in close company with American troops—all these considerations led to a drastic revision of the Army’s ‘standard of life’. The Prime Minister’s directive was that British troops should be provided with amenities as near as possible to those enjoyed by the American troops. As a result, heavy demands were made for a variety of stores which were in very limited domestic production. The output of some objects—mobile refrigerators, domestic refrigerators (electric and kerosene), air-conditioning units and electric fans—was greatly increased, but in general the demands were too great to be met from available resources, even if these were to include limited aid from the United States. Much of the additional output had to come from new firms and was, therefore, slow in developing. Above all, the demand as a

Page 379

whole came so late that it did not appear possible to meet it in any substantial measure during 1945. The capitulation of Japan, however, took place before any emergency measures had to be considered.

The Japanese offer of surrender came on 10th August and four days later came the declaration of VJ. Full demobilisation could now be decreed. The Government had decided that production of munitions should be cut with the highest possible speed, and the Service departments were accordingly instructed to agree on interim cuts ahead of a full assessment of Stage III requirements. These were not expected before mid-September.11 Arrangements were to be made for raw materials earmarked for munitions production to be made available as rapidly as possible for civil production.

The rate at which reductions in munitions production could in fact be made during the first eight weeks following VJ was estimated by the supply departments in terms of manpower as shown in Table 50.12

Table 50: Estimated reductions in manpower during the first eight weeks following VJ-Day

Department Assumed strength at VJ-day Estimated reduction in following eight weeks Percentage reduction
Thousands %
Admiralty (Supply) 780 -55 7
Ministry of Supply 1,100 -600 55
MAP 1,100 -500 45
2,980 -1,155 40

It was admitted that the supply departments’ estimates of the labour forces at VJ were little more than intelligent guesses and revised figures were submitted later by the Ministry of Production (see Table 51), but a reduction of approximately 1.7 million workers was expected in the munitions force between VJ-day and the end of 1945.

By the end of the following year a further reduction of some three-quarters of a million workers was expected. The ‘target’ labour force

Page 380

for production for all the Services, i.e. the Navy, Army and Air Force, was fixed by the Defence Committee in February 1946 at 500,000; a figure that was actually reached by the end of October 1946.13

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


Estimated strength at: Supply departments’ figures Ministry of Production figures
23rd June (actual) 3,103 3,103
15th August 2,980 2,900
15th October 1,825 c. 1,700
31st October 1,320 1,250

A quicker and more complete winding-up of munitions production was impossible. It has already been mentioned14 that the Government did not want to cut war production so quickly as to outrun the ability of civilian industry to absorb labour. But as it turned out the real difficulty in the way of a more drastic reduction was the continued needs of the supply departments.

Releases from the Admiralty’s munitions labour was slowest of all, for the Admiralty had a large programme of shipbuilding, reconversion and repairs. After VJ a switchover in priority was made from naval to merchant work; the only naval work which remained in category I was the maintenance of minesweepers. In the two months after VJ the construction of naval vessels valued at more than £82 millions and including nearly 500 landing craft, twenty-four destroyers and twelve submarines was cancelled, but the bulk of the labour released from the new construction was transferred to merchant shipbuilding and repairing. Meanwhile, until at least the end of 1946 the naval repair programme was expected to remain very high. Not only were large numbers of ships overdue for repair, but much additional work had to be carried out, such as the removal of defensive equipment from armed merchant ships and of guns and equipment from vessels requisitioned for naval purposes and now to be returned to trade.

Merchant shipbuilders were fully employed in the construction of new vessels for British ship-owners to replace war losses or for foreign ship-owners; and merchant repairers were fully occupied with the repair and reconversion of merchant vessels. As it was, little impression

Page 381

was made in the months immediately following VJ on the accumulated repair work, and more tonnage was immobilised at the end of 1945 than at the beginning of the year.

Releases from aircraft production were considerable, and larger still were those from industries working for the Ministry of Supply. The cuts in the MAP labour force were indeed greater than the Air Ministry wished to see. In its view, the end of hostilities with Japan should not have greatly affected the production of aircraft. A few types were about to become obsolescent and their production would cease in any case, but other types were needed for the equipment of the post-war Air Force. As the aircraft programme had necessarily to be based on RAF requirements one year ahead, the Air Ministry considered that no estimate of these requirements could be made until the views of the Air Staff were known, and it was therefore strongly in favour of postponing decisions. Before the end of the year the Air Ministry had to accept a further cut of 100,000 in the MAP labour force working for the RAF, but the acceptance was, to say the least, reluctant. The Air Ministry would still have preferred to wait for the Air Staff’s estimates; and it also argued that a major cut in production would compel the RAF to subsist for an indefinite time on increasingly obsolescent aircraft, and would also make it impossible to meet Dominion and foreign requests for surplus aircraft. Nevertheless, MAP proceeded to reduce its commitments and between August and September succeeded in cancelling a large number of contracts very rapidly.

In the Ministry of Supply the action taken after VJ followed on the measures which had been taken soon after VE. Production of a number of items on the Ministry’s programme had been reduced immediately after the Prime Minister’s directive of 14th April.15 The monthly rate of production of tanks, both infantry and cruiser, could then be very substantially reduced; the peak production rate of some self-propelled guns was halved. In addition to the immediate cuts, the Ministry had been able to arrange for a number of further reductions to be carried into effect after 30th June. In agreement with the War Office the Ministry gave up most of its first preference claims for labour, and began to remove items from the ‘designated lists’.16 After VJ-day demobilisation continued ‘the same as before, only more’. Items, the production of which could either cease or be reduced, were notified to the Ministry of Supply by the War Office.17

Page 382

Detailed discussions between the two departments commenced early on 14th August, and the first cancellations of contracts could be sent out by telegram the next day. By 21st August the War Office had notified reductions large enough to permit the Ministry of Supply to cancel the bulk of the outstanding requirements of the ‘Vote 9 Stores.18

The procedure of these ‘end-of-war’ cancellations was that of the ‘reduction drill’ employed in the later years of the war to release Ministry of Supply labour for other supply departments.19 Actual transfer of labour was not involved for such items as clothing. Reduction in Service contracts for clothing could do nothing to release labour from clothing firms which were now busy working for the seriously depleted civilian market. Nor were reductions at all armament firms immediate. The production of a few new weapons was continued pending a definite restatement of Army requirements; for other munitions, such as tanks and certain classes of ammunition, a long-term programme was being planned and final decisions had for the time being to be held over.

The tempo of reductions was increased in December 1945, and became very fast in the following three months. The actual progress of reductions in the Ministry of Supply labour force on munitions production from VJ until the end of March 1946 is shown in Table 52.

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


Total (employers and employees) Reduction on previous month
August 1,049


September 875 174
October 732 143
November 657 75
December 551 106
January 474 77
February 418 56
March 280


Page 383

After the first quarter of 1946 reductions in the production programmes of the three Services were determined by the long-term needs of the Forces. The size and establishment of the Forces in peace, the requirements of the Army of Occupation, and the needs of the ‘war potential’ were now the considerations which governed the size of the munitions industry to be retained. They all had to be taken into account in the forward planning of military requirements for the purposes of the first post-war Estimates: those of 1946–47. The ‘permanent’ level envisaged in the plan was all but reached in November 1946. Less than 500,000 men and women were by then employed in the manufacture of supplies for the Services compared with more than five million in mid-1943.22

(4) The Reconversion

While programmes were being cut and global figures of employment were being reduced, the day-to-day adjustments of production from a war basis to a provision post-war level, the clearance of factories and transfer of capacity to civilian uses went ahead steadily and somewhat uneventfully. Well before VE and VJ-day the supply departments had provided the Board of Trade with ‘forecasts’ for some hundreds of firms which appeared on lists drawn up by the Board of Trade for priority of release from war work. Such firms were identified as being of special importance either for export work or for urgent civilian requirements at home. These ‘forecasts’ gave the Board of Trade such advance information as was possible of the effects of the reduction process on industrial firms. This permitted the Board to concert with the various industries more realistic plans for the reconversion.

Wherever possible—it was found in practice to be largely possible—the Ministry of Supply withdrew the production of munitions from industry generally rather than from the Royal Ordnance Factories, the regular armament firms and firms which needed time to prepare themselves for resuming their normal peacetime production. Similarly, the policy of the Admiralty was to concentrate naval repair work in the dockyards so as to release capacity in private shipyards for work on merchantmen. Both in the cancelling of orders and in the clearing of factories of wartime plant, machine tools, raw materials or semi-finished stores, the wishes of the Board of Trade or other interested civil departments were met as far as possible. The Ministerial

Page 384

Storage Committee was invited to assist in the solution of such problems as the disposal of manufacturers’ surpluses, the dumping of airframes, ammunition and other materials and the allocation of dumping areas. Requisitioned or government-owned factories for which the Board of Trade indicated useful alternative uses were also given priority of complete release. Although the supply departments were frequently urged to continue unwanted production so as to avoid unemployment during the reconversion period, authority to do this was never granted.

The return of industrial capacity to civilian employment was also connected with the problem of ‘war potential’. The discussion of the issues involved in the retention of a ‘war potential’ are, however, out of place in a study published in 1952.

Thus ended the story of the industrial mobilisation for the production of munitions. The end of the story found British industry in a position very different from that in which it had begun making munitions in 1935 and 1936. Both its ability to produce for the civilian market under peacetime conditions and its capacity for continued or resumed output of munitions were much greater than they had been ten years previously. In both respects its powers of production had been transformed by the ten years of rearmament and war.

To begin with, the balance of individual industries was no longer the same as in 1935, or even 1939. The labour force of all the so-called ‘investment’ industries23 which had expanded rapidly and substantially during the war was very much higher in November 1936 than it had been in June 1939, whereas the ‘consumption’ industries24 had not regained their pre-war levels. A few examples of the most striking increases are listed in Table 53.

True enough, by 1946 the light industries, especially the textile industries and the distributive trades, had regained a little of the manpower they had lost to the various engineering and metal-making and metal-working trades, but the pre-war balance was not restored or even approached. Nor was it to be fully restored in the following three or four years of peace.

Even more important than the changed balance of employment were the changes in the equipment and methods of industries which had been most intimately involved in the production of munitions. The time for assessing or even listing the changes has not yet arrived, but it is impossible to leave the story of munitions without recording

Page 385

a warning against any tendency to regard the years of war production as a mere pause in the industrial development of Britain. Many an individual firm might look upon the war years as an interruption, or even as a setback in its progress. In everyday discussions the making of munitions is regarded as a dissipation of national resources. Yet not everything was a setback and a waste.

Table 53: The numbers of insured persons in certain industries, June 1939 and November 194625

Numbers insured in:
June 1939 November 1946
Industry Thousands % Percentage increase
Non-ferrous metals manufacture 55.9 87.8 57.1
Shipbuilding and ship-repairing 144.7 219.8 51.9
Constructional engineering 49.0 66.5 35.7
Electric cables, apparatus, etc. 195.9 265.5 35.5
Explosives, chemicals, etc. 174.3 235.5 35.1
Scientific instruments 48.3 65.0 34.6
Marine engineering 52.2 70.2 34.5
General engineering 704.7 944.3 34.0

In the first place, a large volume of new industrial capital was created. In the national accountancy of the war years Government expenditure on buildings, plant and machinery for the munitions industry was lumped together with other items of Government expenditure, as if it was as fully ‘consumed’ during the year as the other war-stores. There was thus nothing in the accounts to set off against the running-down of the capital assets of civilian industry, and the figure for ‘disinvestment’, i.e. the net losses in productive capital of the country, was put very high. Yet investment in the munition industry was bound to add to the country’s capital resources. Most of the industrial buildings erected in wartime have since been occupied by post-war industries; a very large proportion of the machinery not worn-out physically at the end of the war (and assuming a ten-year life for machine tools installed during the later years of the war still had several years of life before them) found post-war employment. Public utilities are, of course, outside the scope of this study, but it should be noted here that some of them, and especially the electrical supply industry, had to grow to match the needs of the growing munitions industry.

In the balance, more important still have been certain less tangible gains. The increase in the labour force of certain industries

Page 386

was accompanied by the spread of new skills among the working population. The number of workers in the engineering industry in general, and more especially the number in such key occupations as those of draughtsmen and tool-room operatives, was in 1946 much large than that of 1939. The supply may still be inadequate in 1942, but the shortage is merely a sign of the continued expansion of the metal-working trades. In some of the heavier and dirtier branches of engineering, such as foundries, critical shortages of labour may have developed. But these were only to be expected in year of ‘full employment’, and have moreover led to a number of firms to mechanise and clean up the work in their foundries to the lasting advantage of themselves and of industry in general.

Indeed the changes in methods and processes of industry and in attitudes of managers, though least tangible of all the development, have perhaps been the most remarkable. the momentum of the rising efficiency of management which underlay the soaring output of munitions in the later years of the war was bound to continue into the years of peace. The historian of post-war industry will not fail to notice the evidence of new managerial attitudes and techniques. He may or may not be inclined to contrast them with the managerial sloth of the early twentieth century, but he will have to relate them and ascribe them to the experience of the war years.