LORD ADDISON rose to call attention to the conduct of the war, with special reference to events in North Africa and in the Mediterranean; and to move for Papers. The noble Lord said: My Lords, everyone who speaks for the Motion that is in my name must do so, I am sure, with a sense of deep responsibility, and I shall endeavour so to address your Lordships. The events in Libya, with the fall of Tobruk, have caused widespread dismay, surprise and anger. They have marked the eclipse of early hopes founded, and not without some warrant, on official statements. Apart from mistakes on the field we have found ourselves in the third year of the war with tanks inferior to those of our enemies, with guns inferior to theirs, and with aircraft co-operation and efficiency markedly deficient. We have as fine soldiers, airmen and sailors as there are in the world. The people have laboured to produce, and they ask themselves: Seeing that we can make the best, why have we not
been asked to produce the best? I think the temper of the people was very well summed up in the statement in a leading article in The Daily Telegraph, on Wednesday the 24th June, that
the nation is deeply disturbed and resolved to probe the causes of the defeat and insist that whatever was wrong, whether in men or measures, shall be drastically put right.
§ I will try to direct your Lordships' I attention to three Service matters and then to questions of superior direction which will inevitably arise. Let me take quite briefly two examples of equipment inferiority. The German Mark III or Mark IV tank is superior to ours in many respects. It has heavier guns, it is more adaptable and it is cooled. I remember that at the end of the last war—my noble friend Lord Strabolgi gave me details this morning—our tanks in Mesopotamia were arranged to be cooled. But our men in the tanks in Libya have been exposed to temperatures of 120° and 130°, whilst I understand apparatus attached to the German tanks will keep their temperature down to round about 80°. Most of our tanks—British-produced tanks—were equipped with a 2-pounder gun. The heavier American tanks, unfortunately too few in number, very excellent machines I believe, were equipped with good guns, but few if any of the British-produced tanks have 6-pounder guns on them. Our field guns, splendid as they are, 35-pounders, were confronted by German field guns which fire 15 rounds a minute as against our 4. The line of German 88 mm. and the heavier 105 mm. guns destroyed our tanks at the un-fortunate engagement of June 13. Those are facts known to the whole of the people and they demand an explanation.
Then I come to the men, and I would like to say a word on the question of the selection and training of men for command. I would touch only lightly on that because we want to say nothing which will embarrass the men in charge now; but I observe this statement, which appears to be well warranted according to much other information which I have, by Mr. Hodson, the war correspondent of the Sunday Times. He said:
Evidence still exists of reluctance to give command of armoured divisions to expert tank officers. … It has happened time after time that we've had brigadiers of tanks who know their job from A to Z being ordered about by generals who don't know up-to-date
methods of using tanks. We've been teaching generals their job at a high price in tanks and men.
There is no doubt that in modern war an alert selection, without regard to seniority or precedence, of the right men is essential for success. You see the same conservatism—I use the word in no unfair sense—in the lack of change in our method of transmission of information on the field. It is at present a circuitous, difficult system of transmission by code and it takes, I believe, in many cases hours to transmit important messages as against the German system which may be sometimes en clair and takes a much shorter time. Those are issues which I shall bring to your Lordships' attention later when I refer to matters of superior direction of which these are the consequences.
§ I want now to turn to the air services. When our officers came back from France in 1940 they were insistent upon the necessity of what are called dive bomber aeroplanes for the protection of the troops, for the destruction of the enemy columns and for the near air support of the men on the ground. Time after time that demand has been pressed. I think it is fair to say that the pilots in our Air Force are the best in the world. Give these young men the right machines and they will make the best use of them. What I say is no reflection on them. It is the selection of the type of instrument that these men are allowed to employ that is in question. The defence of Bir Hacheim was made impossible by the German dive bombers. The evacuation of Tobruk was contributed to by the same weapon. Yet all the time we were told in communiqués that we had what is called "air superiority." We have the great advantage now in your Lordships' House of the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, and I am glad that he is going to speak in this debate. I hope he will be able to throw some light on this subject.
I want to direct your Lordships' attention to the non-provision of dive bombers for our arms in the field. On July 10, 1941, the noble Lord, then Colonel Moore-Brabazon, was asked in another place about the provision of dive bombers and he said his function was to supply to the Royal Air Force and the Naval Air Service their requirements. That is true. Then he went on to say:
It is not for me to impose on the Army any particular type of machine.
I want to comment on that word "Army" later on. He added:
It may be that dive bombers will be wanted, but up to the present I have not been asked to supply them.
That is the statement made by the noble Lord on July 10 last year in another place. On June 10, 1942, about three weeks ago, Sir Archibald Sinclair told the House of Commons that they were ordered in July, 1940, from the United States, and he said there must have been a misunderstanding with regard to the statement I have referred to. Shortly previous to that Mr. Wakefield, who is the Director of the Air Training Corps, speaking at Erith on February 27, said:
There has been much lamenting that the Army has not got its dive bombers. Thank heaven we have not, for they are obsolete.
That is taken from the Sunday Times of March 1. Mr. Wakefield no doubt was saying what he was told to say. He was the official instructor from the Air Ministry of the Cadet Corps, and I have no doubt he was voicing the sentiments of his superiors when he made that strange statement in February this year about machines which the Minister told us were ordered in 1940.
Now I bring the story down to yesterday when we have still another edition of this strange tale. Sir James Grigg, the Secretary of State for War, was asked about this matter in the House of Commons. The effect of a question which was put to him was when dive bombers for the Army might be expected. Sir Hugh O'Neill asked him if he could say whether the Army and the Air Force authorities were now agreed about the necessity of using dive bombers in connexion with land operations or whether there was any difference of opinion on the matter. Sir James Grigg said he must ask Sir Hugh to put down a question about that. Then he was pressed further by Mr. Shinwell, and he said:
Discussions on the general subject have been going on between the two Departments. They are in a very advanced stage and I hope that very shortly they will be concluded satisfactorily.
That is what he said. Well, where are we? We are entitled to know. The Army has asked for these things and our poor fellows have suffered grievously by reason of the lack of them. Lack of them was
largely responsible for the loss of our positions in Libya, and for our troubles in other fields, which I will not dilate upon now, and two years after we were told they were ordered the Secretary of State for War said in the House of Commons that they were the subject of discussion and that he hoped that the discussions would soon be concluded. Really, it beggars comment. It is a disgrace. It is not right that our heroic fellows should be treated like this. I want to know what the Government are going to do about it, because if the Minister of War cannot make up his mind whether he will supply these machines or not he had better be got rid of and somebody put in his place who can. That is the fact.
§ There is another failure of our air service in Libya to which I must call attention. It arises out of what is called, I think, "the big bomber policy." Personally, I have never been so convinced about this business—I think I have said so more than once in this House—as those enthusiasts who support the policy are said to be. However, it is quite evident that if we could have big bombing raids on German centres night after night they might have a terrific effect, and when they are carried out no doubt they have. But I would draw your Lordships' attention to this simple fact: after the big raids on Essen and Cologne I think that rather more than a fortnight elapsed before they could be repeated. The statement put out in the interested communiqués with which we are all so familiar was that it was the weather that prevented their repetition. The weather, in June, my Lords! Well, if weather is going to prevent repeated large scale bombing expeditions in June what is it going to do in October or November or December? If the weather is not fine enough in June, when is it going to be fine enough? Owing to the opposition—because that is what it is—represented by this large bomber policy and the provisions which have to be made for it, we have a conspicuous lack of those machines in the Middle East. Half a Cologne raid would have reduced Benghazi to smithereens. But minor bombers were sent to Benghazi, not machines of this kind.
§ I confess that the lack of inter-Service co-operation of the Air Force with the 556 sister Services almost fills one with despair. It is certainly largely responsible for our disasters in Libya. May I draw your Lordships' attention to another matter which I think should be mentioned in this connexion? We were told time after time—there was even a communiqué from Cairo which occupied nearly a column in the newspapers the day after the retreat from Tobruk, pointing this out—that we had moral superiority in the air. Well, I yield to nobody in admiration of our airmen. I am sure that they had moral superiority. But what we are concerned with is the machines with which they are supplied. There were suggestions in these communiqués all the time that despite this moral superiority the Army was not able to hold its front positions. Whilst we were told all the time that air superiority is essential to an advance, and whilst that appears to be true so far as the enemy's advances are concerned, it does not seem to apply to ourselves; because, all the time that we had this so-called air superiority, General Rommel was advancing, and, as far as I can see, it did not delay his advance by a day, nor does it seem to be doing so now.
§ It is time that we got away from these interested Service communiqués. I regard them as most objectionable. All the members of His Majesty's Services should be brothers in arms, and, in my judgment, independent Service communiqués should be put an end to completely. Let us have a responsible communiqué from the General Officer Commanding, and nothing else. We are not concerned with promoting special interests; we are fighting for the British Empire, and it is about time that that elementary fact got into the heads of some of those in the Air Force. I speak strongly on this subject, because I feel vehemently that this sort of thing is most discreditable to the British name.
§ Coming back to the direction at home, I know what happened in the last war, because I was concerned with it. We were held up over improvements in design and inspection, when the Ministry of Munitions started, for nearly twelve months. Why? Because design was in one place, supply was in another, and inspection in another. It was only when Mr. Lloyd George put his foot down—I drafted the memorandum myself—that anything was done. He said that the Ministry of Supply must be made responsible 557 from beginning to end, and got rid of if it did not do the job. It was made responsible from the beginning of the design to the delivery of the completed article. That is absolutely essential. But we have not got it now in this country, and in my opinion the fact that we have not got it is largely responsible for our design not being progressive. It is exceedingly sticky. We are slow in adopting adaptations and improvements. We can make the best weapons in the world, and there is no reason why we should not do so; but we shall not do so as long as design is separate from supply, and as long as the whole thing is not directed by a staff who will see that we are continually in advance of our enemies.
§ There is the failure to co-ordinate our Services. There is the failure to coordinate the Air Service, there has been the failure to provide dive bombers. There is clearly an obsession on the part of certain men—otherwise very fine people, no doubt—who have been responsible for our Air Service, and who did not want the Army to have dive bombers. It should be the business of those in charge of the direction of the war to decide whether these things were wanted, and, if they were, to see that they were supplied. We should not, two years after they are said to have been ordered in the United States, have the Secretary of State for War himself telling the House of Commons, as he did yesterday, that they are still havering about it. What is wrong is lack of direction; clearly there has not been somebody at the top giving orders about it. Probably they have been cluttered up with Committees.
§ I now come to the inadequacy of Staff arrangements and t raining and appointment to command, and I speak feelingly there. Whatever aspect of this matter we look at—whether it is equipment, coordination of services, selection of men for command, training of men for command, or a host of other things—we must agree that they are all the business of those who are charged with the central direction of the war. Clearly our machinery for doing that job is not adequate. I am quite sure that the Prime Minister has not the time to be Minister of Defence as well as Prime Minister. With all his great abilities, he cannot work twenty-four hours a day, any more than any one else. For my part, wherever I saw ability I would mobilize it. Speaking purely as an 558 outsider, I should like to see General Wavell brought home and put in charge of some big job. If he had the time and could be spared from South Africa, I am sure that it would do us good if General Smuts could be here to overhaul the machine. I remember that we sent him out to France in 1917, and the other day I was reading his classic report. I am afraid that, if it had been published, it would have hurt the feelings of a great many people. We acted on his recommendations that very day, and it meant considerable changes in command. His report was a masterly analysis of our weaknesses. I do not expect that he could be spared, but it would be a godsend to the British Empire if he could be spared for a short time to overhaul the machine.
§ The gravity of the danger cannot be over-estimated. We have no right to allow considerations of Party or seniority or prior claim or anything else but ability to do the job to be decisive to-day. The higher direction and Staff should be changed, so as to secure that our soldiers, sailors and airmen get the best tools and the best leadership that can be provided, regardless of persons. The)' are worthy of it. I hope that one of the results of this debate in these disastrous circumstances will be that we shall learn from our misfortunes and do much better in future. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House Papers relating to the conduct of the war, with special reference to events in North Africa and in the Mediterranean.—(Lord Addison.)
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, as my noble friend Lord Bennett knows, I have not had time to change into my more appropriate civilian costume after to-day's ceremony, in which we both took part; but I speak to your Lordships as a civilian who has for many years studied military subjects and taken some part in dealing with them, and I realize to the full that everything we say in this House will have its repercussions on our men who are fighting this desperate battle in the Middle East, to which my noble friend Lord Addison has drawn special attention. In the few words that I wish to address to your Lordships, which will represent in most particulars the views of those who sit in this quarter of the House, I apply this test: Are the things which I say likely 559 to help our men and to cheer them up, or will they make them feel more depressed? I find that it is easy to say things that will cheer them up without glozing over any failure; at least, I trust that your Lordships will agree, when I have finished what I have to say, that I have succeeded in doing that.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Addison that we must quickly find the means by which we can decide that intricate business—for it is an intricate business—of whether you can interrupt mass production in order to give place to new inventions? It is a matter of degree. Every moment you stay the machines where these things are being produced you are confronted with this great problem. I know it because I was in that position at the close of the last war. So the question is not—and here I slightly part company from my noble friend—whether you are trying to take advantage of new inventions—of course we are—but whether, in this intricate business, we are doing it a little bit better than our opponents. The Germans are also confronted with these new inventions, which come along to them as quickly as they come to us. Well, in this difficult business of deciding whether we shall interrupt the flow, the enemy, on land, have got the better of us recently. And now in North Africa without doubt we are suffering, as he says, from a gun which is not as big as it should be, and—I would add to what my noble friend said—from armour which is thinner than it might be, and from aeroplanes which are not so satisfactory to the military people as they would like them to be. Beyond that we must not go. If we were for one moment to say that we are not clever enough to do this thing, to provide the just balance between invention and mass production, we should have met the danger of defeat. But we can do it.
May I interrupt my train of thought to point out to your Lordships that it is not all a bad story? It has not been a failure on our part to solve this problem all through. On the contrary, who won the Battle of Britain? And how was that battle won? By our being clever enough to achieve the just balance between invention and production. So that at that critical moment, when the fate of the world hung in the balance, we had the right weapons, and our enemies had fewer; we had the power to go on producing 560 them, while the enemy had less. In the affair of degree we triumphed; our men, the deciding factor, produced a crashing victory which saved the world for freedom. So you see it is not all on one side. There is something to be said for our present methods. I will not elaborate further successes that we have had, but we have to remember these things in these hard days when we are confronted with what some think is imminent disaster, though I think there are signs of hope. It is not nothing that we have avoided the immense danger of an Ethiopia, a Somaliland, a Red Sea coast in the hands of the enemy by our complete capture of all those territories with the weapons provided by our system. It is not nothing that we not only strengthened Palestine, but that we occupied Syria, and are now joined up with our Russian Allies. No, there is something to be said for us; Britain can still do the right thing.
But I do entirely agree with my noble friend that there are some things which are wrong. I will say quite bluntly where I think they are wrong. These great strategic problems—for such they are—as to whether you shall spend your energy on producing more tanks, and of which kind, or more aeroplanes, and where you shall send them to—all these problems are so intricate and so difficult that in my judgment it is quite impossible for one man to deal with them from day to day, while at the same time conducting what I would call the grand strategy or, perhaps better still, the world strategy of this conflict. I yield to no one—and that is putting it very high—in my appreciation of what our Prime Minister has done for us in this our fateful hour. In the major strategy (or world strategy shall I call it?) not only has he never made a mistake, but he has snatched victory out of the jaws of defeat by just at the right moment deciding the right thing, and saying the right thing.
Three cases I name. First the Battle of Britain, to which I have already referred, when he called this country to arms. When he said, "We will never give in" he struck a note which in my judgment saved us from almost immediate disaster. We cannot thank him enough for that. Then there came another great moment when he could not wait to consult, as it is supposed that a democratic Prime Minister must consult, with the 561 Houses of Parliament or the people—in this first case he had not the time to consult them; he spoke right out and he was right. And in the second case, when Russia was attacked, there were a hundred reasons, your Lordships may remember, why you should at first be rather wary about what you said. Would you try to make a condition? Where were we going to? Were we being led down the garden path? All those things were swept away by that wonderful man, the Prime Minister. Without a moment's hesitation he called on us all to back up Russia to the limit, at any risk to ourselves and to our people in all parts of the battlefield. We have to be thankful for that. Then there is the third case. At a dangerous time he went to America and conferred with the President of the United States—we are apt to forget that it was not easy just at that time—and produced complete co-operation between these two great forces, the United States and the British Empire, sanctified by the Atlantic Charter. He did that without consulting anybody; without being sure what the reactions would be, this master brain acted.
I say all that because I want it to be made quite clear—I know I speak for my friends on these Benches, and for most of your Lordships too—that we have a sense of obligation and gratitude to the Prime Minister which cannot be exaggerated. But can he be also Minister of Defence? I am quite sure he cannot. I do not like—nobody does—to refer to my own experience too often, but I have been in many offices of government. I was in the Committee of Imperial Defence for many, many 3years, and I do understand that particular organization better than most people who are now here, because I belonged to it as much as thirty-five years since. Well now, I propose for your Lordships' approval that we banish altogether from our minds the office and the name of Minister of Defence. Defence is an odious name, as we all in our hearts know. We politicians—and we are all politicians here—invented it in order to placate the pacifists and economists, of the Liberal, Labour and Tory Parties, in order to cover up the necessary preparations for war. I see from the response that I have your Lordships with me. It really was the most comical thing, and I who have held high office in the Defence 562 Services as we called them, had to call myself a Defence Minister; whereas all the time one knew that if you were going to win the war you must restore the Nelson spirit which says that you must get close to the enemy and engage him; that is the only purpose of warfare. So shall we, from now on, abolish this cursed word which enshrines a little mean dodge in which we are all equally guilty, trying to pretend to everybody, to all the voters and so on, that we were engaged in trying to keep the peace when all the time we were trying as honest men to beat the enemy to a frazzle if we were engaged in war.
I would suggest that we must have a man other than the Prime Minister to cope with what I would call ordinary strategy. Let us take the case of the tanks which my noble friend mentioned, because it is the best one. There came a moment we all know, when we were told—I happen to know about it; everybody knew about it—when there was an idea that by sacrificing this, that, and the other we might have thicker armour and heavier guns. There were others who said: "We do not agree. The thing we devised is the best. We have tried it over and over again. We admit all the advantages of the thicker armour and the heavier gun, but think of the disadvantages." In the end somebody said, of course, as always, "After all, we are committed to it now. There is this tank with the name we all know. Let us go on producing it because we can get any number quickly. We all know that the battle of Libya is raging." It would have been better at that moment had we decided, "No. We will stop this production which is rolling off the assembly line "—a phrase that sounds so attractive—" we must have thicker armour and heavier guns." We have often guessed right but this time we guessed wrong. It may cost us dear; I hope not.
The man who has no experience—and like many of your Lordships who have great experience—says, "Leave it to the experts," but that is quite hopeless because the experts always disagree. Therefore you must have somebody to settle it, and that somebody must be at the top. The Prime Minister has said, "I have exceptional health and strength "—and thank God he has—"and ultimately it is better for me to do it." Only in minor 563 matters has the Prime Minister guessed wrong. In this minor matter he has guessed wrong. I am sure he wants somebody between him as Prime Minister, who, under the King, conducts the whole business of our great Empire, and the Cabinet and the country. He must have somebody. Minister of Defence? No. It is a wrong title. We must have somebody. Let us see the kind of man we need, who will weigh these matters carefully as he would have weighed this matter of the tanks and would probably have come to a wiser decision because he is a wise man. I name two men—one living, one dead. The living one is General Smuts. If he could be spared from South Africa, what would he not do in a position like that? What should we call him? Minister of Warfare—Captain-General, perhaps. A friend of mine, a great classical scholar, suggests that it is a translation of Epaminondas. Any Greek precedent is a good one now because of the Greek spirit expressing the determination to fight for a thousand years and never to surrender. Call him what you like.
Another man, now long gone from us, but known to so many here, although many of us, notably some of us on these Benches, differed from him profoundly, who kept guessing right—there must be such a man here—was Lord Milner. I have been at some pains to find out what was the action of Lord Milner in those days when I was away in France and he was a member of the War Cabinet. I find—there is no secret about it; it is to be found in some books, and those who worked with him and Mr. Lloyd George, tell me—that over and over again this kind of problem like the tank, like the dive bomber, came before Lord Milner as a member of the War Cabinet, and he guessed right. Let us find our Milner or our Smuts, or such man as is available, call him Minister of Warfare or Captain-General, put him in charge of the jarring elements, as they must be from the nature of the case—land, sea, and air each have their own views—and let him be the deciding voice day by day. Let him be in his office early in the morning and stay there until the evening, and be always at disposal, without waiting for scraps of time from the man who is the greatest captain of them all.
564 I hope the Prime Minister will hearken to our plea. I also would plead, because I am only pleading for machinery—I am sure our soldiers and those who lead them are doing their best—I plead to-day definitely and at once for what is the obvious thing to do—namely, to have a small War Cabinet. We are a democracy, and we must have some form of Cabinet control. That is important. The country would never agree at the moment to give the Prime Minister supreme control. I suggest a War Cabinet of three. There was a very great Prime Minister in this country who said on a famous occasion—his words, perhaps, are now forgotten—" Yes, appoint a Committee, but the Committee should only consist of three persons, two of whom should usually be absent." Perhaps that is taking it rather far, because these people should not be absent. I can imagine a War Cabinet with people having nothing to do.
There is a case on record in the last war when the Cabinet approached a decision on a matter of vital importance affecting the March offensive. One of the people there, who had great knowledge and held a strong view, said "I beg of you to listen to what I have to say." At that moment a man came in and told him, "The American Ambassador is waiting to see you." I am told that, of course, the man could not possibly say, "Tell him to wait," because at that moment in the last war the question of whether America came in or not was hanging in the balance, and thereby the fate of the world. He had to leave the meeting. Let not that happen now. Let every man in the War Cabinet have no departmental business whatever. My noble friend on more than one occasion referred to the fact that people have other things to do. It is indeed true. I submit that with respect. I do not want to delay your Lordships more than one minute longer. Let us have a War Cabinet, and a small one, with people who have nothing else to do.
I have another point, a smaller point, but I think a really very important point. It is in the Army who are now battling so fiercely, and I am sure so bravely, that this lag between invention and production has occurred, or, as I prefer to put it, there has been wrong guessing in this difficult business. It is a striking thing that these failures to which the noble Lord 565 has referred coincide exactly with the abolition of the office of Master-General of Ordnance. That was a most extreme, retrograde step. I here denounce it. It has been denounced before. As your Lordships will notice, I do not bore you with notes, but here I have a picture of a lopsided affair which consequently makes for lopsided judgments, as it has done. The abolition of the office of Master-General of Ordnance means that in the Army Council, of which many of your Lordships have knowledge, and in which some of you have served, you have this picture. I am careful not to quote from confidential documents, so I give this from what someone has called" the best five shillingsworth "—Whitaker's Almanack.
There you have given the Army Council—and you ask who they are. There is the Secretary of State for War—we all know about him. Why is he there? He is the chief in our democratic State. Next you have other Parliamentary Ministers, the Under-Secretary of State and another who used to be there, but unfortunately is not now there, a soldier. It is worth while considering this because I appeal to the Government to put it right, and I will not let the; matter go till they do put it right. Then there is the Chief of the Imperial General Staff. Obviously he is the man who decides where the soldiers shall go and what they shall do. Who is the next one? The Adjutant-General. He is a soldier. He is the man who decides how to get the men, how to recruit them. He is a soldier. Then there is the Quartermaster-General. He is the man who decides how the soldiers shall be fed and clothed. Lord Woolton would be an ideal man for that position, as General Cowans was. But Lord Woolton is the kind of man who would not do because he is not a soldier. I claim that Lord Wool-ton is one of the most successful Ministers that we have now, and I hope he will forgive my saying so, but I meant to say this before I knew he was going to be on the Bench opposite looking at me. The officer who fills this position is a general officer. Why? Because we long ago decided that these soldiers speak a language of their own. I am not a real soldier. I have only blown into various wars, but I do know that the Regular Army have a language of their own, and a very good language it is, which they understand among each other. It works very well and always has done so.
566 Now we come to an astonishing thing. Having decided how you are to feed and clothe the man you come to the question how you are to arm him. With what kind of weapon is he to be armed? Is the tank to have 2-pounder guns or 6-pounder guns? Is it going to be armour proof against 6-pounder guns or armour proof against 2-pounder guns. Who is to find this out? The officer to do that is not there. His office has been abolished. I really do implore your Lordships to help me in getting this folly, for such it is, put right. Who thought of it first I do not know. As I understand, it has been protested against. I was not here when that was done, but it was protested against, I understand, by Field-Marshal Lord Milne, who pointed out the dangers of it. But when he did that we did not know how terrible would be the consequences of not taking his advice.
Those are the three points which I put forward with the approval of most of those who sit on this Bench, and also, I believe, with the approval of most of your Lordships. But first let us have a Captain-General or a Minister of Warfare giving his whole time to the office, with nothing else to do. Let us restore to the Army Council the Master-General of Ordnance whilst retaining, of course, the brilliant man, Sir Robert Sinclair, who looks after the production of these things. Above all, let us make up our minds that we can do these things quite easily and win this war as we have won all others. There is no doubt we have had a bad time just lately, but I am persuaded things are coming our way, and if we can restore wise direction I do not in the least doubt that with the help of our Dominions and saying "We will never give in whatever happens," we shall win through to victory.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
My Lords, I am not quite sure if my noble friend Lord Addison complained of the shortage of equipment in relation to the battle of Libya as well as the quality of the equipment. I do not think there was any shortage of equipment in Libya. I have never heard it suggested that there was any shortage of aircraft. I do not suppose his Lordship when he made his speech intended us to infer that he believed there was any shortage of aircraft. It is quite true there was no dive bomber in Libya, and the reason there was no dive bomber was that we had no dive bomber 567 to send to Libya. You may ask, why not? I can tell you why not.
When the Churchill Government came into office in May, 1940, no provision at all had been made for the dive bomber, there was no dive bomber in the programme. At that time we were confronted with a tremendous crisis. The Government had to meet an immediate threat of invasion and it was necessary to have swift production of fighters and bombers. At that moment we had only five fighter aircraft in reserve. The storage units had been stripped back. Here was the Battle of Britain hanging over us. We took the decision to reduce the priority production of types from thirty-one to five forthwith. The claim that is frequently made is that in those days we upset the rhythm of production because we took from twenty-six manufacturers their right of priority and conferred all the advantage on five. We had to do it. The five aircraft which got the advantage were Hurricanes, Spitfires, Wellingtons, Hamptons and Whitleys. Two were fighters and three bombers. As we were reducing the priority production from thirty-one to five it was not possible to discuss the production of dive bombers then. Such a suggestion would not have met with the approval of anybody at the end of June. However, we placed orders for dive bombers in the United States, and very heavy orders they were. I am not prepared to state the figures to-day, but they were very considerable figures.
If I were free to give the figures, which I am not, as it is information obtained as a member of the Government, you would be surprised at the number of dive bombers we ordered in the States at that time. We have had a disappointment in delivery, as you know, and disappointment in deliveries here too. I am not going into the reasons for disappointments in those deliveries. We owe altogether too much to the Americans to discuss these issues. No doubt some share of the responsibility rests on this country. There were modifications put forward. There had to be difficult modifications put forward. For instance, the dive bombers were prepared without any tank protection against bullets. It was necessary to make that modification, and that modification again meant delay in delivery. I do not blame the Americans for they did not 568 have tank protection against bullets at that time. They had rubber protection and our Air Force was not prepared to fight unless the tank was lined. There were other modifications of one sort and another which meant delay.
I think I have established that proper decisions were taken at the Battle of Britain, or immediately before it, when we decided to reduce priority of types from thirty-one to five, and would not consider dive bombers at all, and forthwith placed orders for them in the United States. If you ask me what are the reasons for delays in delivery in the United States, I can assure you that reasons do exist and can be put forward. I may be asked "After the Battle of Britain was over why did not you manufacture dive bombers?" The answer is that the Air Ministry did not want to lose other production. They had told us that fighters and bombers were absolutely essential to the life of the country, and they were not prepared to divert fighter and bomber production to dive bomber production. They thought the dive bomber should give way. I have explained to your Lordships that there were not enough engines to go round. There were enough engines for fighters and bombers, but not enough for dive bomber production unless you took them from fighters and bombers. That would have had to be the decision. That is the reason and the only reason why the decision was then taken that dive bomber production would have to be put off and we should have to rely on the flow from the United States.
There has been an immense expansion of course in the production of engines, but I am bound to say that the production of engines is still below what we require. We would still like to have more engines and the supply of engines must be the limiting factor in aircraft production. You can have as many aircraft as you can engine, and you have to decide what aircraft you are going to provide with engines. That is the situation of the Air Ministry and nothing will change it now. Of course it would be better if we could have everything, but we just cannot. At every point a choice must be made, and it is not only a choice of what you want, but it is a choice of what you will sacrifice. Every time you are confronted with that situation. Another question will be asked: "At that time could the produc- 569 tion of engines have been expanded still further?" I can say to you that expansion has been carried out at a rate which taxed the resources of Britain to the uttermost. The fact is we have taxed our resources in every direction and I believe that all that could be done in the direction of engine production for aircraft has been done. Engine production has been expanded nearly three times, if you calculate engine production by horsepower, which is the only possible way yon can calculate.
There is another suggestion about shortage of equipment—I am not dealing with quality, only quantity—and that is the reference to the German 38 mm. gun. That is an anti-aircraft gun built for that purpose and adapted by the enemy for anti-tank purposes. An anti-aircraft gun does not have to have an armour-piercing shell but an anti-tank gun must have. Other considerations are involved when use is made of that anti-aircraft gun for anti-tank purposes. It is probable that the enemy had not more than fifty of those 88 mm. guns adapted for anti-tank purposes. The guns have been in existence for a long time. They were used in the Middle East last year and they were used as long ago as the Battle of Flanders. But we had an anti-aircraft gun too, a most valuable gun called the 3.7. It is a little larger than the German 88 mm. and a year ago production was; launched of an armour-piercing projectile in order to equip the 3.7 gun for anti-tank purposes. It was the Prime Minister who wanted the production of the armour-piercing projectiles, so that that gun could be used as an anti-tank gun. Forthwith there was put into production an armour-piercing projectile for the purpose of using 3.7 guns against enemy tanks.
I do not know if the 3.7 gun has been adapted to anti-tank purposes or work in the desert, but it is a better gun than the 88 mm. The 88 mm. weighs 7½ tons and the 3.7 weighs 9 tons;. The 88 mm. has a lighter projectile than the 3.7. The 3.7 will destroy the armour of any German tank. I make that statement confident that I cannot be accused of over-optimism. It will penetrate the armour of any German tank. Its elevation is zero to 85". Whether the 3.7 gun was used as an anti-tank gun I cannot say—possibly others can—but if it was not then there is necessity for an inquiry in that direction. There is necessity to look 570 into it and see that in future it is made use of for anti-tank purposes. Were there any other failures in equipment—I mean in quantity of equipment? I do not know of any, but if there were I should like to address myself to the question and try to dispose of the notion that there was shortage of equipment in the desert. It is said by some persons that we were deficient in the numbers of tanks or in the numbers of guns. I have no hesitation in saying that we had more tanks than the Germans and the Italians put together. I have no hesitation in saying that at all. We had more tanks. I am sure that that statement will be borne out by any authority who has knowledge of the desert warfare. I am still on quantity, remember. I have given an explanation about the dive bombers.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
That is quality. I am now dealing with quantity. I have explained, I hope successfully, the position in regard to dive bombers. I hope I have made a case with most of you for the decisions taken in 1940. Now I come to the question of inferior quality of equipment. I do not think you can make any case against the Minister because the Germans adapted the 88 mm. gun to anti-tank purposes. We had the same opportunity, the same chances, the same facilities. We could have adapted the 3.7 gun and made a better gun and projectile than the Germans. Was the battle going to be lost because of quality of equipment? We improved the quality of equipment—that is the Government to which I used to belong—in the time at the Government's disposal. You must consider those questions together. The time at the disposal of the Government was limited. In my view the quality of tanks depends upon four factors. One, the gun, that is the first necessity; two, reliability, that is the second need; three, the power, and of course with power goes speed, speed is involved with the use of power; four, armour, the least important, the extent to which the tank is armoured.
First as to guns. Our tanks were equipped with 2-pounder guns as everybody knows. But the 2-pounder is really a 2½-pounder. I do not know why it is called a 2-pounder, it is 2.4 pounds, I 571 believe. Of course it is inferior to the German gun, which is a 4½-pounder. So you have the British tank with the 2.4-pounder against the German tank with the 4½-pounder gun. Certainly the heavier German gun will do in the 2.4-pounder. But the issue does not quite end there. In the case of the American tank, the General Grant, we have superiority over the Germans. The Germans, as I say, have their 4½-pounder gun, but the General Grant carries a 75 mm. gun which has much the same punch as our 6-pounder. So here you have a mixed bag of tanks. On the German side you have tanks with 4½-pounder guns and on our side you have our tanks with the 2.4-pounder guns and the General Grants with the 75 mm. guns which, as I say, have the punch of the 6-pounders. So, therefore, in order to determine the degree of inferiority in gun power we would have to know how many General Grants were engaged compared with the total number of tanks. We would have to take that into consideration in any examination which we made of this question—how many General Grants there were and how many others—and to make allowance for the greater gun power of the General Grant over the enemy tank and set that against the superior gun power of the enemy tank over ours armed with the 2.4-pounder. Some critics of the Government say that there should have been 200 General Grant tanks in the desert. That would have been a considerable number. Now that I have dealt with the matter of the guns in the tanks as best I can, may I proceed later on to explain how it was that our tanks have the 2.4-pounder and not the 6-pounder gun?
I deal next with reliability. Reliability depends to a very considerable extent upon repair organization. That is to say it is a matter of maintenance—the maintenance of the tank by the repair organization that is carried out in the field. General Auchinleck has spoken of our improved repair organization—he says that it has greatly improved. But there is also, of course, the question of spares. It is the duty of the Government to provide the spares with which serviceability is carried out thus providing reliability. That duty rests upon the Government. There must be a sufficient stock of spares on the spot to enable damaged vehicles to 572 be restored to fighting condition without delay. These are two separate issues—repair organization and spares. They are often confused. They should not be. The assumption is very often made if a tank is not in operation that there is shortage of spares. But in most cases there is no shortage of spares, it is purely a question of serviceability. The greatest possible efforts were always made to maintain an adequate supply of spares while I was at the Ministry of Supply, and I do not suppose that the position has in any way deteriorated since then. Up to the 31st January last all demands known to the Ministry' for essential spares for the Middle East have been met. They have been met. That is a statement which I make to you on the authority of Sir George Usher, Director-General of Tank Supplies. It is supported by the necessary evidence, and the case is conclusive.
Now I come to the question of speed. The Crusader is faster than the German tanks. The Valentine and the Matilda are slower than the German tanks. Altogether there is no advantage in speed either way. If you allow for the speed of the Crusader in excess of the German tank and allow for the speed of the German tank in excess of the Valentine and Matilda you get something approaching a balance. The General Grant is a bit slower than the German tanks. Finally, there is armour. In February last we were superior to the Germans, on balance, in that respect. We had, in February, heavier armour than the Germans. I do not think there has been any great change since that time, but I can only speak of what I knew as Minister. So it seems to me that this question of the quality of tanks comes down to the single issue of gun power. If I am correct in my statements about armour, speed and reliability then it comes down purely to a question of gun power. But that is not, as it appears to me, a really clear-cut issue, for if our 2.4-pounder was inferior to the German 4½-pounder gun that German gun in turn was inferior to the 75 mm. gun of the General Grant. Now there is another matter to be decided to which my noble friend Lord Mottistone has referred. That is the question as to whether we could have had 6-pounder guns in the tanks in use in the desert. That, I am bound to tell you, is not a question of the guns. We could have had the 6-pounders if we had had the tanks to carry those guns.
573 Now I must deal first of all with the tank that carries the 6-pounder, the tank that might have been in the desert. The A22 was the first tank designed to carry the 6-pounder gun. This tank was ordered on the directions of the Prime Minister immediately he had before him the experiences of Dunkirk and had had time to consider them. In order to get swift production of the A22 the normal development procedure was abandoned. That is to say production was started straight from the drawing board. Within nine months of the general specification being approved the first model appeared. The most immense credit is due to that firm who, from start to finish, have shown the most extraordinary energy in production of the tank. I cannot praise them too highly. At the end of 1941 the output of this particular tank was on a satisfactory level. But there was a difficulty. The reliability was not satisfactory. The tank did not have the staying power that could have been wished for, and there were many other troubles too.
The departure from ordinary methods in order to speed up the production resulted in modifications being necessary. In fact, the departure from ordinary methods resulted in our paying a heavy price, a price in reliability; but it was worth it. Yes, it was worth it, for we got production at least six months before we could have brought out the tanks if we had not developed the method which was followed by the Ministry. We gained six months in point of time, and lost something in reliability. The tank fulfils a useful and important role. The production of the A22 and the development of it and the modifications make up a story of energy and drive on the; part of the men in the War Office and in the Ministry of Supply who were engaged in trying to bring the tank to fighting condition. Furthermore, I wish to declare that in the time that was given to the Government I believe that in the A22 tank as much was done as could have been done. I do not think that any mistake was made in going straight from the drawing board to production, because six months or more—probably nine months—was saved. I cannot see that anything but praise is due to the men at the War Office and at the Ministry who worked so hard to bring that tank into fighting condition.
574 I am proud to say that the tank is now a very powerful weapon. There have always been plenty of 6-pounder guns for the tank, so that the need was not for the 6-pounder tank gun, but for the tank to carry the gun. Your Lordships will understand that the tank must be designed for the gun and the gun for the tank; it is not possible to substitute one type of gun for another without altering the tank. The turret and everything that concerns the turret is based on a certain kind of gun. Some people think that you can take a 2-pounder gun out and put a 6-pounder in place of it, but that is out of the question. There are other types of tank carrying 6-pounder guns, some of which are in production and some of which are in use. I have no right to deal with these types, and I shall not attempt to do so. No doubt they are on the secret list in any case, but I have no hesitation in referring to them.
I now come to the 6-pounder anti-tank gun. This is capable of being used almost, but not quite, without any change, as a tank gun or as an anti-tank gun. I am dealing with it now as an anti-tank gun. The question is asked why we did not have the 6-pounder antitank gun in greater quantities in the desert before General Rommel attacked. There was a long delay between the design and the production of the 6-pounder gun. When this Government was formed in May, 1940, it was quite impossible to consider the production of the 6-pounder gun; it simply could not be done. The Army had lost all its guns at Dunkirk; they were all left behind. The need was for the immediate production of 2-pounder guns. I assure you that the Prime Minister had a month of terrible anxiety when he was waiting for the production of 2-pounder guns to take the place of the guns which were lost at Dunkirk. He would not have dared to confess to the condition in which he found the country so far as guns were concerned. The 2-pounder gun was the necessity of the moment; we had to replace our lost equipment and to provide new equipment as well. Throughout 1940 there was the danger of invasion, and all through the summer of that year nothing could be done that would interfere with tried and trusted weapons.
From the knowledge which I have gained in the different Ministries in which 575 I have served, I can say that the 2-pounder gun is a very good gun. It is a very good gun for use in close country, like Britain. It is a good weapon against invasion. Do not let us imagine, in our enthusiasm, that the 6-pounder is the only gun required in future; that would be a very big mistake, and a complete misunderstanding of the value of weapons. The 2-pounder gun can carry with it more rounds of ammunition than the bigger guns, and in close fighting it has every advantage. I protest against this crying down of the 2-pounder gun; those who have decried it have already done an injury to production, and they may do more.
The first reason for delaying the production of the 6-pounder gun, as I have said, was the need for other weapons—the bareness of the land, the need for replacing what had been lost at Dunkirk, and the need for equipping new Divisions. There was, however, another reason for the long interval between design and production of the 6-pounder gun, and that was the machine tool shortage of 1940–41. There was at that time the most acute machine tool shortage. Every machine tool which could be diverted to the production of other guns had at that time to be so diverted. It was no use talking about providing machine tools for the 6-pounder gun; it could not be done. We could not find the necessary tools anywhere in the country. As many machine tools as America could produce were being brought into this country. Our agents were going up and down the United States buying tools, having them transported to the ships and sending them over here. Everything possible was done to sustain and improve and extend the flow of machine tools, and yet there were not sufficient machine tools for the gun production which was actually going on at that time. There was a lack of raw material, because the machine tool is a raw material.
The General Staff, in taking the decision to defer the 6-pounder until the 2-pounder was in ample supply, took the only possible course. If an attempt had been made to divert production to the 6-pounder at that phase of the war, the Staff would have been called to account for it and told that they had been guilty of gross folly and of wicked stupidity. 576 There is no case whatever against the Government or against the advisers of the Government for having insisted on continuing the production of 2-pounder guns, and for refusing to divert production to the 6-pounder. The 6-pounder gun was designed in 1938. Mr. Morrison, when Minister of Supply, began to press for production; he began to press the manufacturers, the Machine Tool Controller, and in fact everybody concerned. He hopefully placed the first orders. Sir Andrew Duncan, when he succeeded Mr. Morrison, stepped up Mr. Morrison's orders very considerably; but it was not until April 15, 1941, that the design was frozen—that is, that the design was finally settled, so that production could go ahead. From that time forward immense progress was made. Production began in the month of August, four months later. A group of manufacturers came together and decided that they were going to make progress with the 6-pounder gun the like of which had never been known before, and they succeeded. From August onwards the output increased month by month, and now there is a very large production. I have no actual knowledge of the production in the month of June, but I have not any doubt that the programme was fulfilled, and I have not any doubt that 1,900 6-pounder guns were produced in this country in the month of June.
That is production. Now to go back—I have explained the delay; I hope I have made a favourable impression—to go back to the guns in the Desert. Some of them were flown out. From January on there were shipments by sea—I cannot tell you how many, for I do not know. So I think it will be seen that there were 6-pounders in the Middle East; that the guns were brought into production by the Government as swiftly as possible, considering our needs for other guns; and that there has been no failure in energy or speed. The difficulties that confronted the Government in dealing with the transportation of the guns to the battle front is a matter entirely outside my knowledge and outside my experience. I have no doubt there are many such matters in this war which require very careful study and much attention. Now I think I have dealt with all the supply problems that have arisen, as far as I know or understand the discussion about supply. I think I have covered every accusation that has 577 been made against the Government in the Press, and certainly here in Parliament to-day.
But there is another question which I think your Lordships would expect me to mention, and that is whether the defeat in the Desert was due to defects in leadership and, if so, whether responsibility attaches to the Government for an inadequate standard of leadership in the field; because I think that is the accusation that is sometimes made—that the Government are responsible for an inadequate standard of generalship. I want to give your Lordships some testimony on that point, although it is no concern of mine in a way. I saw a great deal of General Auchinleck when he was in this country, and discussed the war with him on several occasions. He made the impression upon me of being a very fine person. He appeared to be a strong man, resolute, with fixed purpose, and he had a clear understanding of his tasks and his duties. The Generals who served under him must have been appointed on his authority, and they must have been sustained in their places by his confidence. The Chiefs of Staff here were not interfering with the appointment of his officers; that would never be done. And certainly the Prime Minister would do no more than offer his opinion on the merits and responsibility and talent of Generals; he would go no further. He was responsible for the appointment of General Auchinleck, but he would not attempt to tell General Auchinleck what selection he should make of Generals in the field.
I must say there are many issues in the battle which are difficult for me to understand, and difficult to explain, but certainly the criticism of Generals in the field cannot be justified until we know a great deal more than we do at present. Some of us thought Cairo a long way from the scene of battle, and certainly it has its defects as G.H.Q. But of this I am sure, like every ether centre it is a place where too much time is spent on the business of organization. In the business of organization committee government is a real menace in this war Committees are always the cause of delay. I confess I had always thought that organization was the enemy of improvization, but I speak from experience.
I want to address myself to another question. Beyond the responsibility which 578 I discharged as Minister of Aircraft Production and Minister of Supply, I was a member of the Government and a member of the War Cabinet and I was on the Defence Committee, and I know that the disaster at Tobruk was not due to military interference from London. That is certain. I cannot suppose for a moment that General Auchinleck would give over his responsibility or authority to another on the question whether he should evacuate or hold Tobruk. He certainly would not do such a thing, and from my experience of the Prime Minister he would not take a decision, he would tell his General in the field that the issue must be settled there. That has been the course of the conduct of business by the Prime Minister throughout. My experience is that he does everything possible to persuade Generals and others to take their full measure of responsibility.
Now many say, too, that if you separate the Ministry of Defence from the Premiership benefits will be conferred upon us; the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, said it to-day. Lord Mottistone is a very good counsellor and wise guide, but not in this matter. I have experience of the combined Premiership and Ministry of Defence, and I say to you that if you want divided authority and all the delays and disputes that flow from it, if you want to substitute indecision for decision, then we can agree on the separation, for that is the way to get it. Delays and disputes—that is what you get from divided authority. On the Prime Minister rests the final responsibility for the conduct of the war. The final responsibility for strategy must rest on him; it cannot be otherwise. That responsibility will remain on his shoulders whether he is Defence Minister or not; it must. To discharge that responsibility he must give the same attention to military questions, whether he is Prime Minister or Defence Minister; if the responsibility rests with him he must give the same attention to the issues confronting him. So if you create a separate Defence Ministry either you will duplicate the functions of this Minister, or you will, in effect, set up a dual Premiership. The first will be pretty useless, and the second would be intolerable and fatal.
Now there are several other direction in which criticism of the Government should be frankly made and very fairly dealt with. It is said that the sending of tanks to Russia—it was said by a noble 579 Lord in this House—interfered with the supply of tanks to Singapore. Well, it is nonsense, it is not so; it is quite impossible. No tanks that were directed to Russia could have been sent to Singapore in time to take part in the battle there. The time element made it impossible. The accusation that tanks that went to Russia could have been sent to Singapore falls completely to the ground. It is said, too, that tanks for Russia interfered with tanks for Libya. All the tanks that could be sent to Libya were sent forward. It may be that transportation was an obstacle, I should think that very likely. Certainly if more tanks were required in Libya, then the Prime Minister was in a position to increase supplies from available stocks in Great Britain. The number of tanks located in Britain was practically doubled in the last six months of 1941. If the Prime Minister had wanted to divert more tanks to Libya, and had the transport facilities, there was a supply of tanks in Britain available for that purpose. Do not tell me he neglected to send weapons to the battle front: that is beyond the possibilities.
Now let me tell you about the doubling of the A22S included in that list. Some people thought they were not suitable for Libya; that is not so, but some people took that view. These A22S are now being sent to Russia in considerable quantities. It was the Russians who decided to take them. It was the Russians who asked for them. It was the Russians who went out and saw the tanks and decided, "That is the tank for us." I do not want your Lordships to gather that they were enthusiastic. They said, "We want that tank." It is quite untrue to say that tanks for Russia interfered with Libya. "Tanks for Russia" was also an issue decided by Mr. Churchill. Before deciding the quantity of tanks for Russia, he required from the Ministry of Supply a pledge of quantity production, and that pledge was considerably in excess of the previous estimate of production. He demanded that, and it was only after he received that pledge that he agreed to the "Tanks for Russia" plan—only after he got it in writing. I am in a position to tell you that that pledge was fulfilled with an increase of 10 per cent. over and above the pledge. I must give credit for that job to Sir George Usher and also to three 580 of his companions—a man named Crozier, a man named Cowley, and another named Dyer. I never knew a better team. I think they had some help too from my so-called "Ballyhoo," for the call to the factories to build tanks for Russia had quite a considerable effect. Here let me say that the Russians are very pleased with the Valentine tank. They like it very much. They like the 2-pounder gun on the Valentine tank; there are advantages in the 2-pounder gun.
I am taking up more time than I had intended. Let me say that from the early days of the Churchill Government there arose the problem of the cannon gun for fighting tanks. It was in June, 1940, that the 20 mm. gun was fitted experimentally in the fighters, the intention of this development being to fight tanks. Afterwards it may have changed. That was away back in June, 1940. Although the results of the gun were inconclusive, the decision was taken by the Air Ministry to produce 20 mm. guns, so the whole programme was made out and the quantity provided before it was quite certain that the gun would be a success. For tank-fighting purposes it was tried out in the Lysander and the Beaufighter, and it did not appear to be very good for its purpose. The moment that was made clear, something bigger and better had to be done. Then another plan was launched, and my noble friend Lord Brabazon was enthusiastic in the pursuit of that plan. He could not have done more, and he could not have done it with greater speed. He not only showed his own enthusiasm, but inspired it in others. I do not know where that gun stands to-day, but I have no doubt things will all come to light in time.
I have spoken for a long time. Nevertheless I think your Lordships would like me perhaps to deal with the whole issue of design and development of the munitions of war. I shall tell you as briefly as I can how design and development projects are carried out—aircraft, tanks, engines and guns. It is a system that is somewhat difficult to explain and not easy to understand. It is a system with frayed edges. The Supply Ministry carries out the instructions of the War Office, the Air Ministry, and the Admiralty, which are the Service Ministries. The Service Ministries issue instructions and give orders on priority of production. When they give 581 orders of priority these become priority productions. The Service Ministries indicate the weapons required for immediate production, and their instructions are carried out. The design and development of weapons depend on the Director of Artillery and the corresponding officers in the other Services. The Director of Artillery is at the Ministry of Supply. There he is responsible for design, but he is also responsible for seeing that War Office priority is carried out, and if there is any conflict between the General Staff at the War Office and the Ministry of Supply, then the Director of Artillery will take instructions from the General Staff at the War Office. That is the extraordinary method of development that exists at the present time. The Ministry of Supply never does interfere with the Director of Artillery as adviser to the General Staff on technical matters. I was going to tell your Lordships about the Tank Board and about the development of tanks, but I have gone on long enough.
I have nothing further to say except that the Ministries and the manufacturing firms that deal with design and development—that is, the Service Ministries, the Supply Ministry, and the firms actually engaged in supply and development—are continually under the spur of the Prime Minister. That is the fact. Almost day by day that man follows the work of the designers and those who make experiments, and at some time during the twenty-four hours he finds an opportunity of discussing design and development in one of its phases. He gives encouragement very often, sometimes he criticizes, but always with a fair measure of rough justice. The tank with the 6-pounder gun is an example. On August 27 last year he made the most immense efforts to get decisions that would bring that weapon into the battlefield in the spring of 1942. It was only sheer bad luck that prevented it. This battle has just begun. There are terrible exertions to come. Give all the encouragement to the men in the Ministries who work on these projects, particularly the project of design and development. Do not give them criticism, give them praise. They are all sincere, most of them men of the highest intelligence and character. They are hard hit again and again by criticisms that are ignorant, unjust, and sometimes malicious. It should not be permitted, it 582 should not be carried on to such an extent. Let us recognize the immense efforts of the industrial community in Britain. Do not discourage them by telling them their weapons are no good. Rather put your confidence and trust in them.
There is a personal explanation I wish to make. None of the points I have dealt with to-day touch my administrative conduct in the past. Like my noble friend Lord Brabazon, I favoured the dive bomber. Like him. I was willing to divert production from other types in Great Britain to get dive bomber output here. The 6-pounder gun, you will remember, was finally settled and designed on April 15, 1941. I became Minister on July 1, 1941, and production was speeded forthwith. The A22 tank did not come out till the summer of 1941. I was Minister when that tank first came, but difficulties in design were discovered at once. Those difficulties had arisen in 1939 and 1940. Forthwith the trouble was tackled with vigour and thoroughness. It was not until the early spring of 1942 that the tank could be described as fit for service. But the A22 was not designed in my time, therefore neither credit nor blame rests with me. I contend that credit or blame does not attach to any Minister of Supply in regard to these tanks and guns. I only make my statement of the situation to convince you that I am impartial. I would have taken the same decisions as Mr. Morrison and Sir Andrew Duncan took. I associate myself with the decisions they took, yet I wish to explain that the decisions which are under examination at this moment were taken not by me but by them. But I do not say that in order to get an acceptance by your Lordships of the explanations I make to-day. I do so because I am so anxious that you should accept my impartial account of the supply situation, and so anxious that you should give your confidence to the men engaged in design and in development in the Supply Ministries, and that you should trust the manufacturing community throughout the country. It is for those reasons that I make this personal statement to you.
My Lords, I propose with your Lordships' permission to intervene now because I think it may be for the convenience of the House that 583 some Government statement should be made at an early stage of our deliberations on the momentous events which we have met to-day to discuss, though I must confess that I feel that the case of the Government has been so powerfully and so convincingly put by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, who has just sat down that there really is hardly anything further I need say.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, in his opening speech, stressed the importance of this debate, and that I think no one will dispute. For one thing the debate, and the very fact that such a debate can take place at all, is symbolic of that freedom of speech which, in this country almost alone in Europe, still exists. In too many countries to-day all free expression of view, all power to cross-examine and even to criticise the Executive is completely stifled. The Reichstag does not meet unless Hitler summons it; and when it does, he speaks and members do not. No independent comment of any kind is allowed; a mere automatic synchronized hardly human shout of assent is all that is allowed to them or else complete silence. Even the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Addison and Lord Mottistone, actuated though they were by the highest feelings of patriotism, would I am afraid in Germany have brought them within measurable distance of a concentration camp or even of death. Here, thank heaven, such conditions do not exist. We in this country still believe in the right of Parliament freely to express its view, to ask of the Government the fullest information which is available or can be given them in war-time on matters concerning the welfare of this country.
The subject which we are discussing today is clearly one of vital public concern. Last week, when I made a statement on recent events in Libya, I got the impression—perhaps it was an erroneous one—that Lord Addison had a suspicion that I, and the Government, desired to discourage an early debate on this question. I may have been wrong, but, at any rate, I hope he will now acquit me of any such intention. Clearly this is a matter on which early and full discussion is desirable, as soon of course as information is available, which can make such discussion profitable. We have had—and none of us want to blink the fact—a very heavy and a very unexpected reverse. We have 584 not only suffered serious losses both in men and material, but we have had to abandon vital territory in one of the main areas of war, and this I am afraid under conditions when we had had reason to believe that we were in a position to withstand any assaults by the enemy. That is the sad situation in which we are to-day.
I have been asked—I was asked in fact in this House last week by the noble Lord, Lord Addison—to give noble Lords as soon as possible any information that I could about the recent operations. As we now know, there appear to have been two phases of the battle for Tobruk. In the first phase, all seemed, as noble Lords know, to be going well. General Auchinleck's first message, which was read in another place by the Prime Minister on I think the 2nd June, was couched in terms of sober confidence. I will not repeat the whole of that message; for it will be quite fresh in the minds of your Lordships. But I would remind you that General Auchinleck described in that message how General Rommel had advanced to the attack on the 26th May. He then described the German plan of campaign as disclosed in captured documents, and showed how, after a week of very hard fighting, the German forces had failed to make any impression on our two flanks.
It is perfectly true that in the centre they had created two narrow gaps in our minefields and through those gaps they had pushed tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles. But noble Lords will remember that General Auchinleck stated that those tanks were receiving such very heavy punishment that at the time he sent his report they were beginning to retire to the west, and he added—I quote from his statement:Fierce fighting is still proceeding and the battle is by no means over. Further heavy fighting is to be expected, but whatever may be the result, there is no shadow of doubt that Rommel's plans for his initial offensive have gone completely awry and that this failure has cost him dear in men and material.At that date, it is clear, things looked pretty good for us. Though our losses in tanks already had undoubtedly been heavy, our recovery and repair organization, as Lord Beaverbrook has just said, was working well—and was able to work well because we still retained control of the main battlefield.
But from about the time when he sent that message, it is now evident that 585 things began to go very wrong. Had we been able on the 1st or 2nd of June to stage a counter-stroke, we know, from General Auchinleck's second report, which has since come in and which I read to the House last week, the issue of the battle might probably have been decided in our favour. But we too were exhausted: we too had suffered heavy losses in tanks. We were unable to develop our advantage. The Germans got their second wind and returned to the offensive. They attacked the 150th Brigade which was holding the portion of our original line between the two gaps which they had already made in our minefield, overran that Brigade, and created a breach in the minefields upwards of ten miles in width. On June 4, to restore the position, General Ritchie counter-attacked. But the Germans in turn counter-attacked him and drove our troops back with considerable loss. From that moment we never regained the initiative in this battle.
Next the enemy concentrated his attention upon Bir Hacheim, and in spite of the great French resistance, which we all so immensely admired, they were eventually obliged, as your Lordshps know, to abandon that position. After that, General Rommel seems to have returned to his original plan. He swung north, and rolled up our position. From that moment, the battle turned quite definitely against us. In the fighting which followed at Knightsbridge and Acroma our losses in armoured vehicles were very serious. It is now clear that the effect of this phase of the battle was to give the enemy superiority in tanks. The position which arose compelled the retirement of our troops along the coast in the Gazala sector, and although this retirement was in fact successfully and very courageously completed, the Germans drove forward rapidly and gave our Forces no time to reorganize. So the battle was lost, and Tobruk was lost with it.
Questions have been asked about Tobruk. It has been asked, did we ever intend to hold Tobruk; did we intend to abandon Tobruk; was there any last-minute change in our plans? These are the facts. We did intend to hold Tobruk; there was no last-minute change. Its fall was quite unexpected both by the Commander-in-Chief in the Middle East and by His Majesty's Government in this country. Before the assault began, the Commander- 586 in-Chief believed he had placed there a garrison strong enough to hold the fortress until he had reorganized his Forces. I ought to make it quite clear to your Lordships that His Majesty's Government and their Service advisers were in full agreement with General Auckinlech's decision to hold Tobruk. It was his decision, but everybody here was in full agreement with him. But for reasons which are not yet clear and on which at the moment it would be idle to speculate, the fortress fell, and the immediate result of its loss was that it became necessary to withdraw our troops from the frontier of Egypt, where they had intended to gather for counter-attack, and take up positions in the region of Mersa Matruh, where it was hoped we would have a respite to reform and prepare to resist further attack. As your Lordships now know, the enemy followed up their success with very great speed, with very remarkable speed, and the Eighth Army was within a few days again engaged in battle. That battle is still raging, and it would clearly be premature for me to attempt to forecast how it will progress.
I have given a somewhat full account of this battle and I have done so because, to me at any rate, from this account one salient factor emerges. It was not one of those battles where one side fought with very great efficiency and the other with great incompetence. In this battle both sides fought magnificently, and in the early stages—I would emphasize this—it was touch and go either way. In that particular respect it closely resembled the battle that took place in the same area at the end of last year, in December last, only on that occasion the fortune of battle was with us. At Sidi Rezegh we had the best of it, but only just, and the Germans were driven back to the borders of Tripolitania just as this time we have been driven back right into Egypt. On that occasion no one suggested either in this country or in Germany, that Rommel was a bad General. If the noble Lord, Lord Addison, will forgive my saying so, I think it was a little unkind of him to suggest that this failure was due to inefficient generalship on our side.
§ LORD ADDISON
I did not. I deliberately avoided that point. I withheld criticisms of our generalship and I concentrated upon the equipment with which our troops were supplied being of inadequate or unsuitable types. That was 587 a decision which must be regarded as a London decision.
I am sorry if I misinterpreted the noble Lord, but these things have been said, and I think it would be very unfair for anybody to say such a thing, without much more information than can be at his disposal at present. The margin between victory and defeat in both battles was inevitably very small, though of course in both cases the results were very serious.
Perhaps your Lordships will allow me to make a short digression here to another part of the Mediterranean with which I personally am closely connected and which has an important bearing on events in North Africa. I refer to the island of Malta. The tale of the heroic defence of that island need not be told to your Lordships by me to-day. It is already one of the epics of our history. It will be remembered I think so long as Britain lives and so long as the British tongue is spoken. The British and Maltese troops and the gallant Maltese people have withstood for months all that the malice of the enemy could do against them. Malta has not only played a defensive part in our strategy; it has played an offensive part too. It has been a constant running sore in the side of the Axis. Without Malta I do not think our position in North Africa could possibly have been held throughout these long months. But your Lordships will recognize that this has a certain bearing on one thing which was said by the noble Lord, Lord Addison. The defence of Malta has involved a continual diversion of some of our best types of aeroplanes from the Middle East and other theatres of war. This diversion has had to go on steadily in order to replace lost planes and worn-out planes. It is, I think, a remarkable feat on the part of the Air Staff that they should have provided, under such conditions, such formidable and effective support to the Battle of Libya. Some people may think that we ought to have done more. I think it is remarkable that we have been able to do so much.
Now I will return to the question of the battle. I have said it was a near thing either way. At the same time, in view of the greatness of the issues involved, affecting the whole future of the war, I quite realize that it is very natural 588 that noble Lords should seek the fullest possible information, not indeed because they want to hark back or to apportion blame, but to ensure our position in the future. I have been asked questions about tanks. This is a subject about which the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, has already addressed your Lordships in a very remarkable, detailed, forceful and convincing speech, which I think greatly impressed all your Lordships. That speech was in fact so full of meat that I think your Lordships will want to study it at leisure. Lord Beaverbrook of course speaks with unrivalled knowledge and experience of this subject. Not only was he a member of the War Cabinet for a great portion of the period with which this debate is concerned, but he was for a considerable time Minister of Supply. I cannot claim to speak on this subject with anything like the authority of the noble Lord, and I do not propose to elaborate or embroider what he has said. But there is one point which I would emphasize and which I think can be dealt with even by a layman.
If our tanks in some respects—and particularly in respect of armament—fell short of those at the disposal of the enemy, it is not perhaps entirely surprising. The noble Viscount, Lord Samuel, in some remarks he made on Tuesday of last week, when I made the last statement in your Lordships' House on the question of Libya, said:The reports that have come from the battlefield state that the British armament was inferior to the German and that, apart from the General Grant tanks that come from America, our tanks were outgunned by those of the enemy. I think the country has a right to know whether that is so or not, and, if it is, what is the reason why, after nearly three years of war, our armament should still be inferior.I think, if he will forgive my saying so, that neither he nor Lord Addison showed a full realization of the nature and complexity of the problem with which the Government and this country have been faced since the outbreak of the war. Difficulties which have had to be faced and overcome date not from last month or even from the last two years, but from before the war. We started far behind the Germans, and it may well be that we have never entirely caught up.
I would like to give the House some figures in order to show what I mean. The model of the tank which the Germans are now using was, I understand, approved 589 by the German military authorities in 1937. I do not say that it has not been altered or improved since, but the type was fixed then. No doubt these German tanks, too, had their teething troubles. But they surmounted them, and the standard types came into large production before the war started at all. In 1937 the Germans had one armoured Division. In 1938 they had three armoured Divisions. In 1939, it we take into account four light Divisions which were expanded to armoured Divisions in time for the Battle of France, they had nine armoured Divisions. In 1940 they had ten. These figures are approximate, but I have taken such steps as lie in my power to verify them. Now what of our position during the same period? In October, 1939, we had one armoured Division. This was composed of 200 light tanks of Mark VI type, 5½ tons in weight and armed with machine guns. By May, 1940, we had in France 400 light tanks armed with machine guns, 100 infantry tanks of which only 23 were equipped with 2-pounder guns, and 158 cruiser tanks armed with 2-pounders. All this comparatively small force of tanks was entirely destroyed or lost at the time of the French collapse. Our position in June, 1940, after the French collapse, was that we were standing absolutely alone against the greatest mechanized Army the world has ever seen. Germany had ten armoured Divisions; we had "200 light tanks armed with machine guns and 50 infantry tanks—that was all that remained to us for the defence of our country.
In this unhappy situation, there were two alternatives before the Government, which have already been defined by my noble friend Lord Mottistone. The Government could sit down, without any protection, to draw up plans and try to produce a prototype—as they would have done in peace-time—put it through exhaustive tests to ensure that a perfect article was produced and finally bring it into production. That was the first alternative. But it would have taken months, if not years, to achieve. Would anyone here, having regard to the circumstances in which this country was placed, have then adopted that alternative? Then there was a second alternative. They could decide to produce in the greatest practicable numbers tanks of which the drawings were already available and trust to being able to solve our teething 590 troubles as we went along. That, as Lord Beaverbrook has so clearly explained, was the course which was adopted. Will anyone say that in these circumstances the War Gabinet were wrong to take the decision which they did take?
That there were teething troubles we all know. There were weaknesses of various kinds which were discovered under the test of war; and these had to be gradually eliminated. In the course of time new types were evolved, but here again the Government were in much the same dilemma as before. There was an immense call for tanks from all the fighting fronts, from the Middle East and elsewhere, for the defence of this country and for Russia. The quantity which we were sending to Russia, as Lord Beaver-brook well knows, was a vast number month by month. Were the authorities to hold up the production of the new tanks until all tests were completed and in the meantime to continue the manufacture of the inferior earlier article or even manufacture nothing at all? Or were they to put the new tanks into production and solve their troubles too as they went along? Again, can there be any doubt as to what any of us here would have done if faced with the same circumstances?
But it depends when you got news of the new German tanks. When the noble Lord says that the course adopted was necessary, I submit that this is a matter which should have depended on when information reached us of the 1937 model German tank.
I do not think it depends on that at all. No doubt that might have been the position of the British Government in 1937, but in 1939, 1940 and 1941 they had to produce any tanks they could and as soon as they could. An alternative, as I have said, would have been to sit down for nine months with a view to producing an even better tank than the German tank. But our tanks had to be produced under the conditions which I have described. As Lord Beaverbrook has said—and he speaks with far greater authority than ever I could on a matter of this kind—it is the greatest mistake to suggest that the tanks we produced were bad tanks. The very greatest possible credit is due to British industry and the British workmen concerned 591 in their production. But it is not surprising if in design we have to some extent lagged behind the Germans, who had so long a start. This is no time for trying to apportion blame for past events. We need to look forward, not back. But I do commend this sad story which I have told to those noble Lords—if there are any in the House—who were in positions of responsibility in the vital years before the war and who may be intending to take part in this debate to-day. As Lord Mottistone said, we did at any rate win the Battle of Britain. And what was the reason? The reason was that the types of aeroplane, the Spitfire and Hurricane, were fixed four years before the war broke out. The types of tanks were not fixed, and that is why we had superior aeroplanes and not tanks. If it be said, as indeed Lord Beaverbrook has very properly said to-day, that there is one tank indeed which has won golden opinions in this battle—the American tank, the General Grant—I think it should be remembered that these tanks were produced by a nation which was not living under constant threat of immediate invasion nor, at that time, fighting for its life in other parts of the world.
There is one other factor in the Middle East campaign of which too little account has been taken in the debate to-day; indeed, it has hardly been mentioned. I refer to the necessity which we are under of sending all supplies, whether of tanks or of any other heavy material, round the Cape. That is one of the main factors which must be taken into account in assessing this extraordinary campaign. If one combatant has to send his material less than 1,000 miles, and the other has to send his material upwards of 12,000 miles, clearly the first has a colossal advantage. No doubt that aspect is very fully in the minds of noble Lords, but I mention it because it seems to me essential that the House should have the complete picture before it.
I must now say a few words about dive bombers. I am not going to say much about them, because this question has been very thoroughly dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook; but the noble Lord, Lord Addison, said that the fall of Bir Hacheim and the fall of Tobruk were largely due to dive bombers. I do not know where he obtained his information 592 —it may have been from one of the correspondents in that area—but I must make it clear that the information in the possession of the Government does not bear that out. So far as we are aware, dive bombers exercised no decisive, or even very important, effect on the Libyan campaign. It is true that dive bombers were tried out at Bir Hacheim, but they had immensely heavy losses, and were not at all a success there. Indeed, I understand that they always tend to be ineffective against fortified places. Nor have we any evidence in our possession, at present, at any rate, that dive bombers were responsible for the fall of Tobruk. In any case, I understand from those who have experience of fighting in this area that the dive bomber is not an entirely effective weapon in desert warfare, even in desert mobile warfare, as opposed to fighting in places such as Tobruk, where there are fixed defences. The reason is that it is almost impossible for dive bombers to identify tanks in the desert. That is a very important matter in fast-moving mechanical warfare, because a mechanical force which starts out in one direction may have swung round half an hour later and be moving in quite a different direction. In such circumstances, it is almost impossible for the dive bomber to distinguish between friend and foe.
I do not want to say that the dive bomber is never effective; that would not be true, and the Government have never said it. The dive bomber is probably most effective in an enclosed countryside, a countryside such' as that of France. Even if it does not kill many people, it has a great psychological effect. It has also proved itself of immense value at sea. But, whatever may be true about operations of those kinds, there is no evidence that it has made, or can make, an enormous difference in the Western desert, and I think it is right to say that to your Lordships.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I should like to interrupt the noble Viscount for one moment. I know, of course, that he cannot reply to detailed questions without notice, and it would not be reasonable to expect him to do so; but I hope that I may seek his assurance that, before this debate closes, either he or some other member of the Government will deal with the strange and conflicting variety of statements made by members of the Government about these machines.
As the noble Lord says, it is difficult to deal with questions of detail of that kind without notice, but perhaps my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, who is to wind up the debate, will deal with that point.
My Lords, the noble Viscount told us that at a certain phase of the battle everything suddenly turned against us, but he did not tell us why. I understand the reason is that the Germans threw in a very large number of dive bombers, and that turned the position against us. That is what I have heard.
My Lords, it is always difficult to say what is the exact reason for a battle turning against either side at a given moment. But I have no evidence to show that it was caused by dive bombers—not the slightest. I have certainly heard nothing to that effect, I made inquiries on this point, and I was told that all our information was that dive bombers had not played a decisive, or even an important, part in the fighting.
I should like to ask the noble Viscount to be so good as to look into the question again, because I understand that there is something in the allegation.
I shall certainly look into the matter again, but I have made inquiries, and the information which I have given to your Lordships represents what I have been told.
I have tried to place the hard facts of the situation before your Lordships. To my mind,.this is a time for sober realism, but I do not think—and I say this quite deliberately—that it is a time for depression or discouragement. It is true that we have had a bad reverse—a very bad reverse. We have lost—temporarily—all the ground which we gained in more than two years of hard fighting, and, indeed, more than all the ground that we gained. Our defeat may have implications which are not yet known to us; the next few days and weeks will decide that. I would warn your Lordships, however, against forming a general view of the war from the position in one battle area alone. Unthinking, irresponsible optimism would clearly be out of place at the present time, but can anyone seriously say that our general position now is not immeasurably 594 better than it was in 1940? In 1940, Germany seemed to have victory within her grasp; indeed, although perhaps we were not aware of it, everybody but ourselves thought that she had won, and that in effect the war was actually over. Would any one say that now? At that time we were alone; now we have at our side the immense productive and fighting power of Russia and of the United States of America. Such is the great change which has come over our fortunes since the present Prime Minister took over the reins of Government in 1940.
My Lords, it is essential, if others are to believe in us, that we should believe in ourselves. People in this country must make up their minds—and I say this in particular to the noble Lord, Lord Addison, in view of some of his remark towards the end of his speech—whether they trust this Government or whether they do not. If they do not, they have their remedy; they can turn the Government out, and put in another. This Government is like any other; it depends on the support of the country as expressed in Parliament. If Parliament is dissatisfied with the present Government, it can easily choose another to lead the country. That is the constitutional right of Parliament. What would be futile and dangerous, however, both from the domestic and from the international points of view, would be to keep the Government in office and to give the impression here and abroad that they are not to be trusted.
Free discussion of our problems and constructive suggestions for their solution are both desirable and right; nor could anyone complain of a demand that the Government should inquire minutely and exhaustively into the causes of this and other reverses. In a war of this kind—a savage, implacable war—there is obviously no room for complacency. These inquiries, indeed, have already been instituted, and will be relentlessly pursued. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that the very important suggestions which he has made will be given every consideration. I fully recognize, and I think your Lordships generally recognize, the helpful and constructive spirit in which he spoke. He will not, I am sure, expect me to say more at the present stage.
I repeat that the Government are as anxious as any noble Lord here to have 595 the facts established, but noble Lords must trust the Government to carry through these inquiries fairly, objectively and exhaustively. Otherwise, if there is not trust, we shall get, both at home and abroad, the very worst of both worlds. We have in this, I think, something to learn from Russia. All last year, when the Russian Armies were suffering disastrous defeats, in areas even more vital to them than Libya and Egypt are to us, when they were being steadily driven back mile after mile, when, one after another, their great industrial areas, on which they depended for the sinews of war, were falling into the hands of the enemy, when the great corn-bearing Provinces of the Ukraine were being lost to them, when their people were being tortured and murdered in thousands and hundreds of thousands, what sustained them, and what is sustaining them now? It is, I think, a fierce unquenchable faith in the future of their country, a flame which burns yet more brightly as things grow worse. Your Lordships may have read yesterday some words that were spoken by Oliver Cromwell at just such another momentous period of our history as the present. I will quote a portion of it. This is what Cromwell said:Well, your danger is as you have seen. And truly I am sorry that it is so great. But I wish it to cause no despondency; as truly, I think, it will not; for we are Englishmen.It is that same spirit which must sustain us now. It is that spirit alone which will carry us through to victory.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I find it very difficult to follow my noble friend the Leader of the House, and I feel that after the four speeches we have heard my speech will come as an anticlimax, but there are one or two points I would like to refer to which have not been made so far in the debate. One is the most important of all. It is no doubt true that mistakes have been made, but there is no leadership, either at home or abroad, in any war that has not made mistakes, and I think that ought to be remembered. There is another and very important point, and that is that mistakes which profoundly affect the issue of present-day mechanical warfare are not of the same kind as the mistakes which have had the greatest effect in war in the past; nor are they made in the great 596 majority of cases at the same time. Hitherto the most disastrous mistakes have generally been made on the field of battle. To-day decisive mistakes are made very often many years, certainly many months, before the battle takes place, and hundreds of miles away from the battlefield. I do not think in all the criticism that has grown up over this campaign in Libya that that is sufficiently appreciated. I refer to the mistakes made in the provision and design of mechanical equipment and in the method of training. Now that we have gone over to mechanical warfare the result of a battle often follows upon decisions made many years or months before.
There is another point in mechanical warfare which I do not think is sufficiently appreciated and that is that the "best will always beat the second best; in other words, quality counts more than quantity. I feel that sufficient attention is never paid to that. A 100 horse-power motor car will, I think, always beat a 75 horse-power motor car, the bigger gun will always beat the small one, thicker armour, other things being equal, will always withstand more than the thinner armour, and so on. This applies just as much to training and the skill of the men who use the tanks or the guns: quality, not quantity, is of the first importance. This was not true, to anything like the same extent at any rate, when men were fighting by means of their own physical powers, sustained by a few simple weapons. But to-day victory in the field is very much more dependent upon the weapons which we put into the hands of our men. There are a dozen examples to prove this. For instance, in the Battle of Britain the major factor was the quality of the single-seated fighter aircraft which we put into the hands of our fighter pilots and the excellent training of those pilots.
Another point I would like to make is this: do not blame those who are not responsible. We ought to do all in our power not to blame the wrong men. As I have said, mistakes in the design and provision of equipment which may produce disasters are made many months and even years before the results become apparent. Therefore those mistakes have often nothing whatever to do with the men who are responsible for, and are conducting, our production programmes at the time when the defeat in the field takes place. For example, the men responsible 597 for the design and production of our fighter aircraft in June, 1940, had no influence on the Battle of Britain; that battle had been in a sense won a year or more previously. In the same way the men who were responsible for the types of tanks and guns required for the Army, and for the design and production of the tanks and guns one and two years and even more ago, are responsible for the decisions which are having their effect now upon the battlefields of the world. The men who are now designing the type of equipment that the Army require and those who say to-day what equipment the Army require, as well as the men who are training the men in the Services to use their equipment, will only see their work tested out in warfare in the future.
Therefore we shall be much at fault if we look for the causes of what has happened among the men who are responsible to-day for the self-same work. Not only shall we commit a great injustice to these men, but we shall do damage of the most serious kind to the national interests in the future. Nothing in this whole situation alarms me as much as the possibility that a mistaken criticism and a mistaken zeal will disturb the work of the men who are now designing our weapons of war. We can none of us judge the quality of their labours until we see their products in the field of battle. The engines of war take two years, if not more, to be turned out and brought to the battle front. That applies to tanks, anti-tank guns, to bombers and to torpedo machines and to dive bombers.
The dive bomber has become, as it was bound to become, a bone of contention in this debate. The noble Lord who introduced the Motion, who is not in his place now, made what I felt was rather an intemperate attack on all those responsible for the air in the Middle East, except the pilots. I also felt it was an attack on all those who were responsible for the general policy in the air, which has saved England anyhow up till now. It was most unfortunate that that sort of attack should be made; but it also shows a complete lack of realization of what air means in the world. I do not know if there is any hope of the critics listening to me, or even reading what I say, and I realize that the case has been already explained by the Leader of the House. It was given very fully, too, by the Secretary of State 598 for Air in another place on the 4th March. Those who have spoken and those who have written seem to have completely forgotten, as the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, said, the real circumstances of the case in this country in the summer of 1940, when the need for dive bombers was realized.
Do not let us forget that money was short before the war. We had Hurricanes and Spitfires made before the war, and no dive bomber would have saved us in 1940. We could not have everything, and the issue then was whether we could possibly acquire enough of the basis types of aircraft—above all of short-range, high-performing defensive fighters with which to repel the German air attack which we knew would fall upon us, and which did fall upon us, during the ensuing weeks and months. I do not hesitate to say that at that time it would have been a criminal act, a suicidal act, on the part of the Minister of Aircraft Production and the War Cabinet generally to have diverted any of our production resources to the production of dive bombers then, and what is more, it could not have effected anything for two or three years. What the authorities did, I believe, was to order dive bombers in the United States. It may be true that we considered at that time that we needed other types of aircraft from the United States even more urgently than we needed dive bombers, for it is the case that dive bombers are chiefly useful to an Air Force which has already acquired air superiority in the main theatres of war, and we were by no means in that fortunate position at that time. We have tried, as I understand, to overcome the delay which has arisen in the production of the dive bombers in America, and we have heard from Lord Beaverbrook what went on in those days about that order.
I hope that this particular type of aircraft will prove of service to us in several theatres of war where we have now the necessary air superiority. At the same time, I cannot help feeling that the enthusiastic critics of the Government and the proponents of the dive bomber are tending to raise false expectations amongst the general public as to the results we shall obtain from this aircraft. Undoubtedly in certain circumstances and against certain targets, particularly against naval targets, the dive bomber is a most useful weapon. It has undoubtedly 599 been used with great effect by our enemies on land where they have achieved their own air superiority. But I cannot help feeling that our own fighter bombers have proved of great effect against the enemy, and this has been proved in the present campaign. I should not be surprised if the Germans were asking why they did not get fighter bombers. I do say that the type of bomber was probably used effectively at Tobruk because our defending fighters had been driven back and they could not interfere with them; but I should like to hear more authentic evidence that, except in this special case, the dive bomber has been an important part of General Rommel's arsenal of weapons.
From such information as reaches me from different sources, he had but a small number of them, while I doubt if the dive bomber is tactically an effective method of attack against tanks moving deployed across the desert. Here I would quote a recent report from Libya which appeared in The Times from an Australian correspondent who described the actual fighting round Sollum:Stukas came over a little later. They circled above the British guns like angry black flies, and treated them to half-an-hour's dive bombing. But the casualties among the gunners were slight and the damage negligible. The soldiers crawled out of their trenches as soon as the Stukas flew away, and within a few minutes were again shelling the enemy's position.The Stukas have not proved so wonderful. This makes me fear that, at any rate in so far as their use on land is concerned, we may find we shall be able to do a good deal less with our dive bombers when we get them than the public will have been led to expect. We certainly need dive bombers, and we hope to have them soon, but I again repeat that we must be careful that our criticisms and our suggestions are made to improve the situation.
I do not want to bore your Lordships unnecessarily, and I do not want to refer to much that has gone before, but I do feel that one should get some sense of proportion of what it is the air authorities want. For instance, I saw a criticism the other day by a well-known writer. I did not see a verbatim report of his speech, but he is reported to have said that, as Germany was 2,000 times as large an area as Malta, it would take 4,000,000 bombers to bomb Germany as intensively as Malta 600 was attacked in the three weeks of this spring. I am sure that the speaker who said that would not find himself making any calculation of that sort in his calmer moments. Needless to say, the total area of Germany has as much to do with the matter as the proverbial flowers that bloom in the spring. We do not bomb Germany; we bomb industrial centres and military objectives in Germany. This was even the case in respect of the German and Italian bombing attacks on Malta. If the speaker would read the excellent first-hand account of the bombing of Malta given by Miss Dobbie in the Daily Telegraph he would see that the Germans did not bomb the island as a whole. On the contrary, they concentrated on one target after another—first this airfield, then that airfield, then the port of Valetta, then the warehouses, and so on. Needless to say, none of these are production centres. Needless to say also, in the case of bombing attacks on Germany, we concentrate on particular German cities.
There are between fifty and sixty German cities of sufficient industrial and other importance to make heavy bombing and other attacks worth while. To make a calculation by areas, as the speaker did, he should take the whole total areas of these fifty odd cities. He will then find that the task of saturating those areas with bombs in the way in which we did saturate one of the greatest of them, Cologne, recently, is a task by no means beyond the powers of a large bombing force. Naturally if the greater part of the resources of Bomber Command are diverted to other purposes, these fifty odd German cities will never be put out of action. But it remains to be seen if attacks upon them are not by far the most effective method of waging war upon our enemies to-day in the position in which we find ourselves with the shortage of shipping.
Discussion of the proper organization and use of our Air Forces, and the relation of air power generally to national security, continues. It has been said that this question tires, annoys, and worries, and that it is burdensome. It has been said that everyone is sick and tired of controversy, that it is promoted by Service jealousies, that it is a result of departmental friction, that jarring personalities play an important part in it. Sir Edward Grigg, for instance, calls" a plague on both your Houses," and seeks to rise high 601 above the dispute. It is all too true it is a burdensome and difficult question, but it is an unfair reflection on senior officers, both serving and retired, who take opposite views on this issue, to suggest that they are biased by petty and personal considerations. I for one repudiate any suggestion that the Admirals and Generals who take a different view from myself on these issues are influenced by anything but the most sincere and strongly-held views of what is the public interest. The truth is that this is an inescapable issue. It must be thought out, and, if needs be, argued out, at all costs, for it is a matter of life or death. Our national existence as a free people depend upon the way in which we settle it.
Moreover, the question of air power raises issues which affect out deepest traditions and instincts as a great people. These traditions and instincts are, above all, naval. The freedom, prosperity, and greatness of these islands were built up by sea power. For century after century our fortunes have depended on the maintenance of that sea power. Is it any wonder that the necessity of maintaining that power by means of a predominant Navy has become far more than a theory or a doctrine for the British people? It has become part of our instinctive and unconscious life. We who have made air our life study are urging a view which we are only too well aware challenges in particular the British instincts. We believe that with one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest of all technical revolutions—namely, man's conquest of the air—the centuries old British tradition of reliance upon warships to keep open our sea routes and to close those of the enemy is ceasing to be valid. It remains, needless to say, as true as ever that our safety and our greatness depend on keeping open our world-wide communications, but it is steadily and surely ceasing to be true that these communications can be kept open, in all seas, by means of armed warships sailing the surface of the seas. It is becoming true that the supreme purpose can only be effected in many of the seas, and even in parts of the wider oceans, by means of armed aircraft, flying over both sea and land, and land air bases. That is what we mean when we say that air power is replacing sea power. This is indeed an understatement.
When man learnt to fly man conquered not only a new element but also a new 602 dimension. There are only three dimensions. From the start of the world to the present day never have wars been fought in more than two dimensions. Now war is being fought in the third. This is unique, and because of it this discussion is unlike a controversy between different arms. It is not like a quarrel between big ships and small ships, between tanks with thick armour and tanks with thin armour, and so on. It is unique. There cannot be a fourth dimension. There are only three dimensions, and for the first time war is being fought in the third dimension. The three elements are the sea, land and air, and from the start of the world to the present day wars have never been fought in more than two. But now, as I say, we are fighting in the third element. This is again unique. There are no more elements, and surely therefore it is true to say that the differences of opinion are fundamental and wide. It is not a matter of dispute regarding the merits of one weapon as against another. The point that has to be recognized is how it will affect the whole of this war and the whole life of the British Empire in the future. I feel that not enough attention is being paid to that.
I would like to say that I am fully convinced that the safety, and indeed the existence, of Great Britain as a free nation depends upon the quickest possible realization of the ever-growing dominance of air power. Those nations which fail to achieve this realization in this war are doomed to defeat and to national extinction. That is why we cannot possibly refrain from stating our views, however much we may be accused of indulging in controversy, departmental squabbles or Service jealousies. We should surely play a contemptible part if the inevitability of such accusations deterred us from speaking our minds upon so overwhelmingly important an issue.
I feel that one thing which requires looking into in this war, without saying anything that will do harm to the country, which I will avoid, is the question of merchant shipping. This has not been recognized in the way that it should have been. This country is capable of producing only a certain tonnage of new ships. In all probability the Government have by now succeeded in using our shipbuilding resources to the very maximum. These resources though are necessarily 603 limited, as are our resources for producing any other weapon or anything else that is made. There are only a certain number of shipyards, a certain amount of la labour and a certain amount of raw material available for this purpose. Let us say, purely for the sake of argument, that the total tonnage which can be produced by this country is x tons of shipping per year. Now the question which I should like to put to your Lordships is this. What proportion of this hypothetical x tons of shipping which we are producing consists of merchant ships and warships respectively, and are we maintaining the right proportion between the production of these two types of ships? In considering these questions we must remember that it takes roughly three times as long to produce a warship as a merchant ship of the same tonnage. It takes, that is to say, three times as long while the ships are on the slips. If we take into consideration the time necessary for fitting out the warship with its equipment of guns, turrets, armour, etc., the difference in time is still greater. The question is whether our available resources might not be better employed in producing more merchant ships, and fewer large warships.
In this connexion I could not help being struck by a telegram in the Daily Telegraph to-day in which Admiral Cunningham was asked his opinion on the future of the battleship which has been a subject of controversy in the United States since a decision was made to concentrate on producing aircraft carriers. Admiral Cunningham said it was too early yet to say that the battleship was obsolete, though at present the type might be considered to be obsolescent. The future, he said, might lie with some hybrid type of carrier-combat vessel. That is a great advance. I hope the Government will look into that question and see whether the right proportion between the types of ships is being properly preserved. I noticed in that connexion that the noble Lord, Lord Winster, recently writing in another paper, said he wanted to do away with the battleship. Generally he does not agree with me, but in this case I hope to-day he will go further and agree with much of what I have said. I am well aware of the criticism I shall bring down on my head for even asking such a question as this from 604 the naval authorities who sit in this House, but they have not hesitated in the past to make suggestions about the air, and so I now make these suggestions about naval communications.
In conclusion I would like to put forward one suggestion. I want to see one Combined Staff under one head instead of three Staffs combined under one head. The man appointed as Chief of the Combined Staff would have rank in all three Fighting Services. The three Chiefs of Staff would be his three Chief Staff Officers. The Chief of the Combined Staff would report direct to the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet. They would, anyhow, be a great buffer, and with the recurring crises owing to the setbacks we have had, surely it is necessary to have a buffer between the Prime Minister and the Services and the Prime Minister and the public. Even if we accept thoroughly that the Prime Minister is a great master of war, surely it is necessary, if he accepts advice from the Chiefs of Staff, to have a buffer between him and the public and the Services. The Chief of the Combined Staff must be a man who commands respect and has had experience in this war in a commanding responsible position. To say no such man as this exists is incorrect. I feel that there are certainly three or four who, if given such a task, would within a few months weld together a Combined Staff, and, given a backing by the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet, would be trusted and looked up to by Parliament and the whole country.
There is one more point I want to make before I summarize what I have said. That is that I hope in the future we shall hear less criticism of the Government and have less pressure put on them by certain sections of the Press and a large number of other people regarding a Second Front. That must be left to the War Staff. In my view it is criminal to have this large section of the Press writing about a Second Front in the way they do. I sometimes think some of them have no sense of responsibility. Now, to summarize what I have said. First, be careful that we do not blame the wrong people for our setbacks in Egypt. Second, do we realize, whether we like it or not, whether it weakens or strengthens our position, that air power has profoundly altered strategy and sea power? Third, should and can the present higher direction of the war be so developed now as 605 to have a Service head of a Combined Staff reporting direct to the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet, and working under the supreme authority of the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet? Finally, at this time, with this battle still raging, though we, in this House, can do nothing whatever to help, we may do a lot to make the Commanders feel uncertain of themselves and to make the troops feel that we are talking while they are fighting. Let us give all the support we can to the Prime Minister and to the War Cabinet and to the Commanders of our Forces in the field.
§ VISCOUNT BENNETT
My Lords, I must offer some apology for intervening at all in this debate for I have no intention of discussing the criticisms or the expressions of approval which have been made from time to time on our operations in Libya or elsewhere. I shall content myself with saying that in my rather long life I have never been so agitated and concerned about the fate of the British Empire as I have been in the last few days. I have from my youth up thought it was almost a sacred thing because I believed it was not merely accidental that it came into being. I believe it is the greatest instrument for the maintenance of civilization, for the promotion of friendly feelings between peoples, and for the maintenance of order and justice that the world has every known. But I see it disintegrating under my very eyes. Its richest possessions are now in the hands of the enemy, new names have been given to great cities that once were ours, and new governors appointed to govern States that a few weeks ago were under our control.
In those circumstances your Lordships can readily understand that I feel concerned about this matter. It is a far deeper concern than I can express in words. It is emotional in part. It is one of that sort of thing which one cannot define and yet feels. I have always remembered the words of Lord Rosebery when speaking of the British Empire. He said that it was the product of men's minds and brains and that he would indeed be a cynic who did not see within it the finger of the Divine. That thought has been with me all my thinking life. Therefore, in what I say this afternoon, I shall not speak of those controversial matters which have to do with the narrow 606 issues of battles and campaigns or with the relative merits of dive bombers and tanks. I would like, however, to say a word of thanks to my old friend Lord Beaverbrook for the detailed statement he made with respect to those matters. If that speech had been made some weeks ago I think it would have done much to quieten the public mind.
I have two suggestions only to make and they will involve my speaking for a very few minutes. I should like to pay a great tribute to the first Minister of this country. In every part of the King's Dominions his words have inspired men with new hope and confidence, in times when we had little but hope and confidence and faith with which to continue the struggle, for we had no materials with which to maintain it. That has been made perfectly clear this afternoon. Now that we have been able to make the attempts we are making, sometimes successfully and sometimes otherwise, I think your Lordships have perhaps too little appreciation of the effect discussions such as that to which we have listened this afternoon have in other parts of the King's Dominions. There men and women talk about what is said in this Chamber and it is of the utmost importance that everything we say should be as encouraging as the facts warrant, though that does not excuse us in not looking facts in the face. It was the great Pitt, who had against him the powerful Fox and the group of men associated with him, who said that investigation with wisdom into the misfortunes of individuals and of kingdoms half redressed the wrongs. I believe that your Lordships' House, in debating and considering these matters, will have half redressed whatever evils may have come to light.
The great Prime Minister of this realm fortunately has great capacity for work, but how can any man discharge all the duties now thrust upon him—I speak as one who has only lived here a short time and who therefore does not propose to enter into discussion of local matters—if at the same time he is concerned about the life of his Government? I do not believe in Coalitions and I do not think the British people have any belief in Coalitions, but I do think that at this time this country should have a National Government. By "National Government 607 "I mean a Government selected by the Prime Minister without the nice balancing of this Party or that Party, and without having to determine whether the delicate machinery of a Party will be disturbed. The selection of men for posts should be upon their merits and their ability to discharge those tremendous obligations that rest upon men at this time. As one who has disinterestedly observed the workings of government in this country without any wish to be critical, I do think the time has come when the Prime Minister should not have added to his many burdens the balancing and adjusting of the claims of contending Parties to positions in the Cabinet, or out of the Cabinet, or the adjustment of relations between them. I say that with great conviction.
Now I come to my second suggestion. I have made it my business to speak to all sorts of people, to tradesmen, to men in the street, to find out what is their reaction in this great conflict. During the last few days I have found that there is one constant thought in the minds of people. That is, where is Wavell? He is a man whose experience in Egypt is greater than that of any living Commander of great reputation. He served there with Lord Allenby and he discharged his great duties in such a way as to win the approbation of every student of warfare. Having fought as he did in Palestine and Egypt he gained experience which I think may be said to be almost unique. Especially he has ability to deal with problems that arise in a country where we are now engaged in a life and death struggle. He has had a great successor in Egypt. I would not for one moment minimize the greatness of General Auckinlech, but he was trained for a special purpose. He was charged with preparing the defences of India. Every member of the Committee of Imperial Defence knows that he bears the reputation of being the greatest living authority upon the defence of India. He was selected to make a report upon that point, and he knows India as no other great Commander does. In these circumstances it is my pleasure to advise the Government that the man in the street is asking that question.
I find it constantly cropping up. It has been asked of me day after day by men 608 to whom I speak in the street and by tradesmen. When I ask them what their reaction is to these happenings they say:" Where is General Wavell? "I assure your Lordships that in the various dominions of the King over which I have travelled—and I have seen a good many of them—the name of General Wavell is a name of very great merit and importance. We must reflect here that, in the conduct of the war, we are not concerned only with what happens in this kingdom. The fate of Dominions overseas, of great possessions—some of which we have already lost—and of the peoples living in them is deeply concerned. It is important that we should give confidence, great confidence, to those peoples in the selection of those who lead our forces, whether in Libya, in Egypt or in India.
These considerations are the only ones to which I desire to direct your Lordships' attention to-day. I dissociate myself entirely from any pretension to skill or ability in dissecting or discussing matters which have been so ably brought to our attention to-day, but I do feel that the responsibility placed upon the Prime Minister—and I know something of it—of adjusting the nice differences between contending Parties in a Coalition is something too great and too onerous to add to the load of one who is already overburdened. I think that the time has come when we might, with great satisfaction to this country and to all those countries of the world which are with us in this struggle, develop a National Government, a national spirit in government in this country rather than rely upon a Coalition spirit which contemplates the maintenance of the integrity of Parties at a time when, if we are not careful, we will have no Parties but will become the slaves of a conquerer. That unhappy situation will never come to pass, however, as long as we maintain that spirit of which Lord Mottistone has spoken, which is the natural birthright of every British subject. I apologize to your Lordships for occupying your attention for these few moments, but I feel very strongly on these matters to which I have referred and applying my mind to them disinterestedly I have sought to arrive at conclusions. Those conclusions I have ventured to indicate to you to-day.
§ LORD BARNBY
My Lords, I know I shall be voicing the feeling of every 609 member of this House in expressing deep gratitude to Viscount Bennett that he should have been willing to reserve until this stage his great contribution to the debate. He began on a high moral plane and he went on to give us the benefit of his wisdom in the form of sagacious advice and counsel. His words, I am sure, will be read with the deepest possible interest, not only by members of this House but by a wide audience throughout the Empire.
It had been my intention to intervene in this debate merely to refer to the industrial side. You will understand, I am sure, that I am surprised at my own intrepidity in presuming to ask the indulgence of the House so that I may descend from so high a plane as that to which Lord Bennett has raised this discussion to the humdrum ordinariness of the subject of industrial production. But even at this late stage I ask your patience because of the mystification and impatience which do exist in the country on this matter, and I shall presume to carry out my intention to say a few words on the industrial position. In the course of my work I visit a great number of factories and workshops and I find expressed therein—on a quite lower plane, I admit, than the plane on which this debate has been conducted—a sense of perplexity and frustration on the part of the managements. It is expressed by men whose views, if they were in a position to express them in public, would, I am sure, command your Lordships' careful attention because of the position of those men in industry.
Perhaps I may digress for a moment to say that we are in a somewhat unusual position with regard to the debate because it has taken rather a different course from that which is usual. We have had a double-barrelled reply for the Government, and, curiously enough, contrary to precedent, the first reply came from the Opposition Bench. We are indeed grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, for the very full address he delivered to the House, an address which, as the noble Viscount the Leader of the House has said, calls for considerable reflection on our part before we seek to derive definite deductions from it. Considerable time will be required in which to digest it carefully. But Lord Beaverbrook will have the satisfaction of knowing that he has made a speech which will be read with immense 610 interest by a tremendously wide and curious public, not only in those vast industries over which he has presided in those exceptional positions which he has successively held, but in wider fields in the United States and in Russia.
Now I return to my original theme and turn the debate, as I have said, to quite a lower plane than that upon which it has, up to now, been carried on. We have had in this House discussion after discussion on strategy and administration and the Higher Command, but there have been very few discussions on industrial matters and industrial production in particular. It-is because of the feeling of restlessness to which I have alluded that I venture now to bring the matter before this House. I would say, firstly, that there is undoubtedly a feeling that there is too little, or at any rate an insufficiency of, collaboration between the different sections of different Ministries. Lord Beaverbrook, I am sure, will have heard that often enough during his long tenure of office. But it is something which is perhaps characteristic of us in England, and if it were lessened, production would be helped a great deal. There is often a feeling between different Departments which may be expressed in the words:'' You keep off my grass and I'll keep off yours." Now that is a feeling that delays matters considerably. Again there is a feeling that what is desired by the Fighting Services is not worked out in a manner which assures the most certain, easy and rapid production. That is why I refer particularly to the point made with such emphasis by my noble friend Lord Mottistone, that if we had a Master-General of Ordnance there would be a greater assurance of co-ordination between what is desirable and what is practicable.
The noble Lord, Lord Addison, in his opening remarks, warned speakers in this debate of the need to avoid any infelicity of speech, and that is an injunction which should be observed; but I should like to suggest that there are three things which are widely felt by industrialists throughout the country. First of all, they feel that, somehow or other, when something goes wrong the people responsible never have the responsibility pinned to them. We are never told that someone or other was responsible, and that he has therefore been removed and someone else put in his place. "Soothing syrup" is what "Billy" Hughes called it in Australia, 611 and those who met "Billy" Hughes in the last war or who have met him since know the type of man he is.
The second point is one which I apologize for mentioning again, because I have referred to it so often, but I say it because I believe it to be true. By comparison with the United States, there is room here for more young men in responsible administrative positions below the top. We want more young men in industry. It is said that youth lacks experience, but youth also lacks prejudice, and that more than makes up for the lack of experience. I can say that the more freely because fortunately the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, is the personification of youth, in contradistinction to most of his predecessors. Quite recently we had the example of a man of 68 years of age who was appointed to an important position. Naturally he broke down in a few weeks and had to go. Men of that age should not be appointed in that way.
Thirdly, it is felt that greater use should be made of research. I understand that about £2,000,000 a year is spent in this country, on civil research, whereas in the United States the figure is about $300,000,000 a year. We know that Lord Cherwell, with his brilliant knowledge and experience, is at the elbow of the Prime Minister to advise him in regard to research, but it is still questionable whether research is widely enough developed. I raise this point because reference has been made to the air conditioning of tanks. Noble Lords will have read the letter from Major-General Sir Sidney Clive in The Times last Saturday, in which the statement is made that the German tanks are air-conditioned. It is believed that in the United States a method of air-conditioning is available which can very easily be adapted to tanks. I hope that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will see that a rapid search is made to find out about this, and to explore the possibility. I believe that there is someone in this country who knows about it.
There was in the same issue of The Times a letter from a faithful admirer and supporter of Lord Beaverbrook, Mr. Trevor Westbrook, in which certain statements are made with which I will not weary the House, but which included a 612 reference to the progress which has been made on a weapon of an offensive character. I hope and trust that this matter also will receive the attention of the Leader of the House. I am very glad that my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook took some trouble to explain the situation with regard to the 6-pounder gun, because on the last occasion when he addressed your Lordships, at the time when he was to take over the office of Minister of Production, he made certain remarks which are of interest, but I shall not weary the House by quoting what he said.
§ LORD BARNBY
I have never questioned the fact that everything my noble friend puts out is good stuff. Certainly it always has "pep" in it, but sometimes he has a happy habit of painting with a big brush, and perhaps not always filling in the smaller details. We all appreciate very much the work which he has done.
I should like to refer to the fact that the Minister of Production to-day inaugurates the implementation of the Report of the Citrine Committee. Doubts have been expressed—they were certainly expressed when my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook last addressed your Lordships—about whether the scheme in the White Paper would work. Most of us predicted that it would not, but he assured us that we were wrong. Now a Minister of Production is again in the saddle, and he has under him Regional Commissioners throughout the country. Like the rest of your Lordships, I hope that this plan will succeed, and we shall wish in this House to give the new Minister of Production our support and our best wishes. On behalf of industry. I should like to say that I appreciate the concession which he made in response to the demand which was made upon him in such unusual circumstances. The Federation of British Industries, the National Federation of Employers and the Trade Union Council jointly went to the Government and asked for something bearing on the administration of the country, and I am glad that that was conceded by the Minister of Production yesterday. It concerns the Regional Committees which are to support the Regional officers who come under his administration.
613 I hope that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will bear in mind that in spite of the plethora of explanations which we have had on the question of whether it is generalship or administration or weapons which have been the cause of our discomfitures, there are still some points with regard to these tanks about which we are not yet clear. Any civilian who has seen the A 22 tank with the 2-pounder gun—and they are to be seen in our streets—will have felt that it looks very much out of proportion. It has been freely said that these tanks went to Russia, but we have not been told whether those that went to Russia had 2-pounder guns or 6-poundcr guns. If I correctly understood my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook, he said that it was impossible in the case of tanks already built to change from a 2-pounder gun to a 6-pounder gun. There are those in this country who hope that it may be possible to recondition the A 22 tanks and to put on them guns which will be more effective, so that we may not be left in a position where only promises will win us Libya, and so that we may not find our tanks outgunned by others with three times the range.
§ Moved, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Lord Latham.)
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and debate adjourned accordingly.