§ Debate resumed (according to Order) on the Motion moved by Lord Addison yesterday—namely, 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 LATHAM
My Lords, I rise to support the Motion submitted by my noble friend the Leader of the Opposition and, having regard to the course which the debate took yesterday, to recall to your Lordships the purpose of this Motion. It is to draw the attention of your Lordships' House to the very serious events which have occurred and are still occurring in North Africa, and to reflect in this House the grave disquietude which undoubtedly exists outside with regard to these events. I feel that the noble Lord, Lord Addison, submitted his Motion in terms of restraint and caution, neither seeking scalps nor heresy-hunting.
The noble Viscount the Leader of the House, in his opening remarks, referred with a pride which we are all entitled to share to the fact that in this country, almost alone in Europe, the right of free discussion still exists; but I must confess I was a little perturbed by the strictures with which he concluded his speech and his vehement reference to Lord Addison, which seemed to suggest that the exercise of free discussion was acceptable only if it were not distasteful to the Government. The noble Viscount did himself less than justice, and certainly did Lord Addison less than justice, in challenging the right of criticism of the Government unless it is also accompanied by an intention to turn the Government out. We on these Benches take the view that there is another and, in the circumstances which exist, more desirable course, and that is to offer not only as a right, but as a duty lying upon us, free and frank criticism of the Government if we feel 620 that that criticism will inure to the improvement and advancement of the war effort. May I say that, short as is the period in which I have had the privilege of being a member of your Lordships' House, I have already learnt to appreciate the abundant courtesy of the noble Viscount the Leader of the House; and I am sure he will acquit me of any desire myself to be discourteous if I remind him with every respect that he occupies the distinguished office with distinction which he does to-day as a result mainly of criticism which was made of the then existing War Cabinet, and he himself in his own person reflects the justice of criticism both in this House and elsewhere.
When he taunts the Leader of the Opposition on what appeared to his mind to be the only course that he should take—namely, turn out the Government—I would remind the Leader of the House that with his assent or otherwise—and I know it is otherwise—those who initiated the vote of censure in another place were members of his Party and not of the Party represented on these Benches. But it is important that the right of criticism in this House should be preserved and that it should not be resented by those whose duty and obligation it may be to reply for the Government. I think in The Times of yesterday the position is tersely but accurately expressed. The Times said:But the responsibility remains that of the Government as a whole. The public asks for nothing better than to be able to give Mr. Churchill and his team its confidence. But the confidence must be mutual. If relations have deteriorated under the pressure of events, it is largly because criticism and counsel have been met with resentment or accepted with reluctance.That is an abundantly accurate summary, I submit to your Lordships, of the position at the present time, and of the intentions of my noble friends on these Benches in submitting this Motion.
I am not speaking in this debate as an expert. I can claim no expert knowledge of the arts and mysteries of war. I will seek, if I may, to reflect what I conceive to be the attitude of the man in the street. What are the facts? In the initial stages of the present campaign in Libya the people were encouraged to view its outcome with optimism. They were encouraged in that not only by official 621 communiqués and unofficial statements, but by no less a person than the Prime Minister and no less a General than General Auchinleck. We were told that for the first time our gallant and doughty soldiers would be facing the enemy on equal terns. We were told that there was air superiority, and that there were vast reserves of materials, including new materials. A dispatch from General Auchinleck was read with unconcealed satisfaction, and at the end of it an appreciative reference was made to the 6-pounder gun. The echoes of the reading of that statement in another place had hardly died away before this battle took a turn against us, and the public are perplexed, they are impatient, and they are almost angry at the situation which now faces this country. No citizen of good will would seek to incite or fan that anger, but it is the duty of public representatives to reflect this feeling and to discharge their responsibility by inquiry and by criticism.
I hope that from this day onwards we shall abandon the practice of winning battles, as far as communiqués are concerned, before they are finished. Nothing more disturbs the morale of the people than to encourage them to high expectation and then to have that high expectation flung down by the facts. It is, I think, obvious that in North Africa we have been out-weaponed and out-generalled. The House yesterday listened to a long and impressive speech from Lord Beaverbrook, and to a speech from the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, but I doubt whether there is any member of your Lordships' House who can say that there were any serious answers to the criticisms which have been made of these events in North Africa. Lord Beaverbrook, it seemed to me, proved too much. He told us that we enjoyed in Libya an abundant superiority of weapons as regards quantity and that we were not inferior as regards quality. That statement of course does not coincide with what the Government spokesman in another place, Mr. Lyttelton, said yesterday. He said that the first cause was tactical mistakes, the second the unsuitability of our Crusader tanks under desert conditions—I will come back to the Crusader tank in a moment if I may—and the third, the superior armament in weight and range of the German tank.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
Would the noble Lord allow me to say that the quotation from the speech in the other place relates to the battle in 1941, not to the recent battle. This is the description of the battle of 1941.
§ LORD LATHAM
I must confess that that statement occasions me some surprise. We of course are only open to the normal resources of published papers and I am reading from the Evening Standard.
§ LORD LATHAM
My reading of The Times up to the present has not disclosed that those statements had any reference to other than the conflict which has recently been taking place. I believe my view is shared by many other people. I do not myself otherwise see the relevancy of the statement made by Mr. Lyttelton in a debate upon what has occurred within the last six weeks. But if I may go on with the quotation from The Times. I said I thought the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, sought to prove too much. The Times said this morning that he (referring to the noble Lord)claimed that the British equipment available for Libya was actually superior in quality to the corresponding German weapons. His argument would have been cogent enough if it had not been tested by the actual facts of last month's battle. As it was, it came near recalling the French surgeon who, when asked whether his operation had succeeded, replied: ' Assez bien—il est mort, mais il est mort guéri '.The noble Lord told us yesterday that if the advantages of some of the arms of this country were weighed against the advantages of those possessed by the enemy on balance it more or less came out right. For instance, the noble Lord said the Crusader tank was faster than the German tank but the Valentines and the Matildas were slower and they, so to speak, balanced themselves. My reply to that is that they do not unless the proportion in numbers of tanks balance themselves. If we had a large number of the faster tanks and only a few of the slower tanks then you might find the situation balanced, but if we had only a few of the faster tanks and most of our tanks were slower, then I confess I cannot see how the disadvantage in equipment would disappear. Mr. Lyttelton, I 623 gather, said that the Crusader tanks were unsuitable to desert conditions.
§ LORD LATHAM
I take it that even if Mr. Lyttelton was referring to the 1941 campaign that is still the case. The Crusader tank, if it was unsuitable for desert conditions then, is, I take it, still unsuitable.
§ LORD LATHAM
Does the noble Lord say the Crusader tank was altered and that it is now suitable for desert conditions?
§ LORD LATHAM
Then I can only say that it is a pity that that small crumb of comfort was not given to the public by Mr. Lyttelton in his statement yesterday. The noble Lord asks me to read a passage from The Times report of Mr. Lyttelton's speech yesterday, which is headed "1941 Libyan Campaign." It says:Turning to the tactical plans for our offensive in Egypt in 1941, it was thought we then had, in spite of the existence of the 50 mm. guns, a sufficient number of tanks to obtain victory. This proved to be true, but our guns were subsequently lost owing to three causes. The first was tactical mistakes. Our operations south of Benghazi turned out to be over-enterprising in the then situation. The forces which we were able to maintain and supply were too weak for attack, and too widely extended for defence.I must say that that statement seems to me not to bear out what I am saying, but lest there should be any misunderstanding I should like to have an opportunity of reading the whole statement to see exactly what materiality the reference to the campaign of 1941 has to the matter which was under discussion in another place yesterday and is again under discussion to-day.
Similarly, with reference to the disadvantage of our tanks in gun-power, that surely has a bearing upon the number of the heavier General Grant tanks that we have in operation. The General Grant tank, we are advised, is a very formidable weapon, but I understand from those qualified to express an opinion, that it suffers from one very serious defect—namely, that the gun is mounted beside the turret and the field of fire is very restricted by that fact. I am told that to secure an all-round field 624 of fire you must manœuvre the tank completely and that an all-round field of fire cannot be obtained merely by manœuvring the gun itself. I am told also that under conditions of fluid and mobile warfare, such as arise in the desert, that is a very serious disability.
The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, offered no explanation at all of the tragic events in North Africa except, if I may say so with every respect, to explain that really we were lucky not to have lost the battle in December last. I think that is not an unfair interpretation of his words when he was referring to the battle of last December. I am confident that the man in the street will not be satisfied with the absence of adequate explanation of these terrible events in North Africa. He will not be satisfied by reference to the 1941 Libyan campaign. He will want an explanation of what has occurred this year. In that connexion I may perhaps be permitted to read the quotation from a leading article in The Times of June 24:In the battles of a year ago our troops were using, by German standards, obsolescent weapons; last week by the same standards, their equipment was obsolescent stillThis is perhaps the most insistent of the questions now disturbing the public mind. How comes it that, as we approach the fourth year of war, our armament still lags behind the enemy's in quantity and design—and especially in design? This question can be answered in London without adding to the embarrassments of the Commanders now standing on the defensive in Egypt.The Times of June 27 said:The tanks and the tactics employed by us in Libya this year might have sufficed to overwhelm Rommel in 1941. It will be equally poor consolation if the methods and the equipment of 1943 are good enough to defeat the enemy of 1942.I believe it is the case that a celebrated General some years ago said that we had the peculiar faculty of always having the right weapons in the wrong year. At the moment the course of this struggle seems to have endowed him with a prophetic prescience. The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, when dealing with the question of the inferior type of tank that we possess as compared with the enemy tank, sought to justify the situation by stating that the German tank had been designed in 1937. I am unable to dispute that, and I accept it, but the question that seems to me to emerge from that statement is when did we know of 625 the design of this tank and did we put a design for a tank on the drawing board which was calculated to be less efficient than this tank? That, I submit, is the real point at issue. Are we to regard it as being a continuing virtue always to have something a little less efficient than that possessed by our enemies?
The noble Viscount referred also to dive bombers The confusion as to dive bombers has certainly been substantially added to as the result of the debates in another place and in this House this week, but I think it is quite clear that however valid were the reasons—and I am not disputing them—why we were not able to get on with the production of dive bombers, the fact that we gave an order for dive bombers indicates that we regarded then as being useful. The mere fact that other demands prevented the order from being completed, that other priorities had to take a more prominent place, does not dispose of the point that, if we ordered dive bombers, presumably they were regarded as a useful weapon. I hesitate to quote the Evening Standard again, especially in the presence of the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, and I cannot say whether this statement refers to this year or the last, but Mr. Lyttleton is reported to have said in another place that "some dive bombers have already reached one theatre of war—the admirable precision of that, I think, is very encouraging—" and others are on the way." Presumably that means that we do attach some importance to dive bombers, but the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, said yesterday that he doubted the suitability of the dive bomber for desert warfare.. If it were the case that dive bombers are not appropriate to desert warfare, I would find it difficult to understand why General Rommel so consistently uses them. Up to the moment he has not shown that he uses instruments of war that are useless. It would, perhaps, have been more encouraging to us if he had adopted that habit. Also it is quite correct (is it not?) that dive bombers were used at Kerch in the Crimea, at Sebastopol, at Bir Hacheim and also at Tobruk.
THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE COLONIES (VISCOUNT CRANBORNE) (Lord Cecil)
My Lords, I think if the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting I must say one word here. I told 626 the House that I am not an expert on dive bombers, and I said that I had made inquiries. The result of those inquiries, I stated, had shown that dive bombers were not suitable for desert war. But since I have spoken I have had confirmation of what I said from a much finer source than any that I could otherwise have drawn upon. The noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, who is the greatest authority on air warfare in this country, said yesterday in the course of the debate.From such information as reaches me from different sources, he "—the noble Viscount here was referring to General Rommel—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.That I submit is confirmation of what I said.
§ LORD LATHAM
I am obliged. I have a great admiration for the very enduring work that the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, performed in connexion with the establishment and growth of the Royal Air Force, and for the glorious tradition which that arm of the Service has developed. But I confess that I am not prepared—and I do not believe that other people outside who are capable of much more expert judgment than I are prepared—to accept the statement of the noble and gallant Viscount as finally conclusive on that issue. I have listened on many occasions with much profit and with no little enjoyment to the formidable statements made by the noble and gallant Viscount in this House about the Air Force, and I have felt that the next thing to committing a cardinal sin would be to criticize anything that Lord Trenchard said about the Royal Air Force. I feel that if he had lived in earlier days he would willingly have consigned a critic of the R.A.F. to the stake and would have felt that he was performing a public duty in doing so. I repeat that the enemy has shown the utility of dive bombers. The enemy has shown it. And I believe that the Intelligence Section of our Army takes the view that the dive bomber would have been of utility in Libya and that it is suitable for effective attack under desert warfare conditions. I cannot, of course, question the sources of the noble Viscount's information, but it would be more conclusive if we were told that the 627 informant was an officer who has been subjected to dive bombing in the desert itself.
May I pray in aid some support from a third party in regard to dive bombers? There was a letter in The Times of June 27 from Mr. T. C. L. Westbrook, who is not unknown I believe to the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, and who, I understand, performed very satisfactory services with Lord Beaverbrook and was sent out to Egypt because of his capacity. This is what Mr. Westbrook wrote:Every one who has had first-hand experience of the dive bomber in Greece and Libya has the greatest respect for them if properly used, especially if it is possible to use them in conjunction with a fighter umbrella. When in Libya last summer I reported home, among other things—some done—that it was essential to have dive bombers and 6-pounder guns if we were going to defeat the enemy.I submit that that statement is worthy of your Lordships' consideration.
§ VISCOUNT TRENCHARD
My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt, but may I ask the noble Lord if he has seen a report from an Australian correspondent out there, and many other reports, pointing out that casualties among gunners have been slight and damage negligible as the result of action by dive bombers? That is what I said yesterday.
§ LORD LATHAM
No, I have not seen that. I shall be quite prepared to be influenced by anything that the noble Viscount may say, but he must not assume in advance that I shall accept it. On the question of tactics I propose only to pose a series of questions which I think are disturbing the mind of the man in the street. Have we really yet in the Higher Command got a tank mentality? Is the situation really that mechanized warfare with tanks is accepted as a normal and inevitable part of modern warfare, or is there still in the Higher Command the attitude of mind so disastrous in the French General Staff in its opposition to the ideas and views of General de Gaulle? Are we still using tanks as mechanized infantry instead of as mechanized cavalry? These questions are being asked outside. People are asking whether there is a disposition, perhaps, in some quarters in the Army of this country still to regard mechanical warfare as an unwarrantable intrusion into the otherwise gentle art of war. I hope that before this debate is 628 concluded we may have some information on that very important point.
I now come with much trepidation, especially in view of the proximity of the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, to the question of the relationship between the Air Force and the Army. I understand—and I have no reason to doubt that it is the case—that in the campaign in North Africa there has been the closest co-operation between the land forces and the Air Force. I accept that; but it is abundantly clear that, if that is the case, the closest co-operation is not enough, and what we want is combined operation—not co-operation, but combined operation; not an operation being undertaken by the Army in which it is supported by the Air Force, but a combined operation undertaken by both under one command and one direction. There is all the difference in the world, in my view, between the Army projecting an operation, and then seeking the co-operation of the Air Force, and the operation being from the very start regarded as a combined and joint operation, in which there is not only co-operation between one and the other but both are parts of a single unit. I say in all seriousness that we really cannot go on losing men, losing materials and losing battles in order to preserve the isolationism of any particular Service. All Services and all arms are part of the great war machine of this country, and their identity must be subservient and subordinate to the purpose of winning the war in the shortest possible time.
In that connexion, perhaps I may be permitted another quotation, this time from the Evening Standard of June 27 of this year. It says:The man responsible for airplanes operating from the Sicilian bases was Air-Marshal Kesselring, Germany's No. 1 air tactician. Let him give evidence. This is how he conceives the function of his force. He wrote this after the conclusion of the battle for Crete. ' The Luftwaffe would never have achieved its tasks in the recent campaigns of movement had it not constantly paid attention to one factor throughout its training and development: namely, to become a part of the Wehrmacht; to think and act in terms of the Wehrmacht, and thus to fit itself unconditionally mentally and practically into the battles of the Land Forces.'That is the quotation, and then the Evening Standard goes on to say:This conception of the Air Force was ruthlessly employed against the Eighth Army. 629 It left our Forces reeling and retreating, and it left the R.A.F, with its air superiority. Which proved decisive?We know, unhappily, which proved decisive. I do urge, if I may, the immediate consideration of the adoption of a policy which will enable our Land Forces to have the fullest aid from the Air Force by their being combined in operations, and not merely being asked to co-operate in operations.
I should like to say a word about Tobruk. Probably the most disturbing factor in this unhappy campaign was the sudden loss of Tobruk. There can have been no doubt as to the importance of Tobruk, because in the first dispatch from General Auchinleck, read in another place on June 2, he said:From captured documents it is clear that Rommel's object was to defeat our Armed Forces and capture Tobruk.Evidently Rommel attached great importance, and quite properly, to Tobruk. We were told that the place was adequately garrisoned, but within twenty-four hours it had gone. One is moved to inquire, I think with justification, whether preparatory steps towards the defence of Tobruk were taken in time. It is said in one newspaper that it was broadcast from Rome—of course, like most of your Lord ships, I accept broadcasts from Rome with a certain amount of hesitancy—that when Tobruk was captured British headquarters were found to be intact; files were lying on the desks and orders were still pinned up on the wall. If that is so it is a tragic circumstance, and really goes to show, if I may say so, that even when we have to evacuate a place we do not know how to do it, because to leave headquarters intact must inevitably result in vital information coming into the possession of the enemy.
Finally, let me refer to the question of the Minister of Defence. I share the view which has long been held by my noble friend Lord Addison, and which he has from time to time, like others, advanced in your Lordships' House, that it would be better if the Prime Minister was not also Minister of Defence. What we need is a Combined Central Staff presided over by a civilian of the type referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in his very informative speech earlier in the debate. That General Staff should report direct to the Cabinet. I agree with, and was very much impressed by, a statement 630 made in an earlier debate by the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, to the effect that under the present system the impact of the political mind upon military decisions is too early. I think that that is the case, and I believe that it would operate to the better conduct of the war if the Prime Minister were relieved of the burden of being Minister of Defence.
The Prime Minister is seeking to carry too much. Public confidence in him is undiminished, but people arc disquieted by the load of responsibility which he insists upon taking. I think his public stature would be enhanced, if that were possible, by his being willing to delegate some of the work which ought to be delegated; and the office and duties of Minister of Defence are among the things which ought to be delegated. That does not mean that the Prime Minister would have any diminished authority; as Prime Minister, as head of the War Cabinet, his authority would be undiminished, and he would, with his colleagues in the War Cabinet, come to the consideration of the problems posed by the General Staff fresh and free to give those problems the fullest and most careful consideration.
In the course of his speech the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, referred to the need for fortitude and faith in the face of these heavy reverses. None of us will disagree with that. None of us will question the faith and fortitude of the British people, especially after what they have faced with fortitude since September, 1939. But something more than faith and fortitude are required. It is not sufficient for our people merely to have faith and fortitude; it is necessary also that they should be satisfied that affairs arc being properly conducted, that members of your Lordships' House and members of another place are exercising their right of criticism, arc keeping the Government up to scratch by proper criticism, otherwise you will have added to faith and fortitude that terrible vice, complacency. The Times in my view, on June 27, summed up this situation, and in conclusion I will ask permission to read this further quotation:These are new times; and more than enough has happened to show that they call for fresh minds and new methods. The causes of failure lie deeper than any individual incompetence; they lie in the inadequacy of a whole outlook, a whole method of approach. We have failed hitherto to solve the problems of mechanized warfare and air co-operation in part, at any rate, because they have been 631 viewed through the distorting lenses of now obsolete tactics and training. The demand for a Combined General Staff springs from the belief that strategy can be planned only hymen not owing particular allegiance to one Service, but freed, trained and accustomed to think simultaneously and equally in terms of air, sea and land. The demand that positions of military responsibility should go to younger men rests on a conviction, not that the virtues of youth always outweigh the virtues of age, but that the younger the commander, the more likely he is to be both tank-minded and air-minded.That expresses what is being felt in my view by the man in the street. I beg the noble Visccunt, the Leader of the House, not to resent the Motion which has been submitted to your Lordships' House, and not to resent the careful, statesmanlike terms in which it was moved by the Leader of my friends on these Benches, and to convey to the Government that the people of this country are seriously disturbed. Their faith in the Prime Minister and his team is by and large undiminished, but we cannot afford to have a repetition of North Africa.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord said at the beginning of his able speech that there is grave anxiety in the country to-day on account of the recent events in North Africa. All over the country people are asking what are the causes of our defeat in Libya. We have to find the answer, because, after all, we have had a good deal of experience in desert warfare, and if we cannot succeed there, how will it be possible for us, if and when a Second Front comes into being, to defeat or to cope with the more numerous and more powerful German Armies we shall have to meet in those circumstances? I wish to trespass for a few moments this afternoon on your Lordships' time to analyse briefly some at all events of the causes of our reverses in Libya. First of all there seems a general consensus of opinion that one, if not the chief, reason was inferiority of tank armament. Not that our tanks in themselves are inferior, but that they were equipped with the 2-pounder gun; and that brings me to a consideration of the able and very interesting speech to which we listened yesterday afternoon from the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook.
I think, if I may say so, that that speech was more convincing in some parts 632 than in others. I was convinced by what he said about the delay in the production of the dive bomber. I thought that there he had a good case to present to your Lordships, but I thought a less satisfactory part of his speech was that in which he dealt with the tanks, and in particular with the armament, the 2-pounder gun. So far as I could follow him he seemed to think that because in Libya there were a small number of General Grant tanks armed with 75 mm. guns and a large number of our tanks armed with the 2-pounder gun, that should have put us on equal terms with the enemy, whose tanks were mainly armed with the 47 mm. gun. I do not think that the crews of our small tanks who were outranged and outgunned by the enemy would share that view.
When last I spoke in this House on the 5th May, I mentioned the experience of our Army in Libya last autumn, with particular reference to our inferiority in the matter of gun power and tanks, and I little thought then that these tragic events would be re-enacted six or seven months later, as has been the case. I noticed that General Sir Sidney Clive, the former Adjutant-General, said in a letter to The Times the other day that last summer German prisoners who were taken by us expressed admiration for our tanks, but they marvelled that they were armed with popguns; and I would also quote from The Times correspondent in the Western Desert who wrote this:The bulk of our tank forces was made up of Matildas, Crusaders and Valentines, all armed with the little 2-pounder gun, which has again and again proved almost completely useless against the German tanks, all equipped with the 47 mm. gun.The War Office must have known a long time ago about the inferiority of our 2-pounder gun. I believe it is the case that after the fall of France the Director of Artillery at the War Office recommended that tanks should be equipped with the 6-pounder gun. The noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, advanced reasons why, after the fall of France, it was impossible to do that. But I still am not convinced that after the position at home had been restored it would not have been possible to turn out some machines that would have enabled us to meet the enemy on betters terms than we could with tanks armed with 2-pounder guns.
Being interested in these matters, I happened to see the other day on a bookstall 633 a pamphlet issued for the Ministry of Supply by the Ministry of Information, entitled British Tanks: What they look like, how they work, what they can do. Yon can buy this for sixpence net, or 50 copies for 20s. It contains first of all a quotation from a speech by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, also a photograph of the noble Lord which, if I may say so, is an excellent likeness, and well worth the sum of money involved. It also gives details of the various tanks that are in use. It is rather a large document, and I am not going to quote at any length from it. But it gives the names of the tanks—the Valentine, the Covenanter, the Matilda and the Crusader—and it gives the details of the speed, the horse-power and the armament. They are all armed with the 2-pounder gun, and in addition with machine guns. In the case of the Crusader tank, I see that it says it is heavily armoured with 2-pounder guns and two machine guns.
I really think that after our experience of the 2-pounder gun it should have been possible for us to devise some weapon that would have enabled us to meet the enemy on more level terms. These tanks are turned out by the thousands. The noble Lord (Lord Beaverbrook) aimed at 30,000—I dare say it has got beyond that—and so a vast number, of these machines are being turned out which have proved to be almost useless, at all events in this desert warfare. I should like to ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, who, I believe, will reply in this debate, whether this type of small tank is being turned out, and whether it is still being armed with 2-pounder guns. There is one other question I should like to ask him. It Las been said that the German tanks have got a cooling device which keeps the temperature inside them down to somewhere about 80 degrees, whereas our tanks are terribly hot, especially under the African sun. I do not knew if the noble and learned Viscount, when he comes to sum up the debate, will be able to tell us whether the Germans have got this device in their tanks, because if that is the case it would account in a considerable measure for the success the Germans have achieved.
Next I come to the case of the antitank gun, I do not think there that the position stated by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, was entirely satisfactory. 634 Apparently the 6-pounder gun came into production, I think he said, last July.
For some reason he was not able to explain, he did not think many of them had found their way to the Front.
It would be to the general advantage if the Government could give us a little more explanation on the point whether this 6-pounder gun got to the Front in time to take part in the action in Libya.
I am much obliged. Then there is the question of dive bombers. Whereas the noble Lord did meet that criticism, and explained the delays that had occurred, the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, told us there was no explanation of the fall of Tobruk, and so far as he was aware dive bombers had not been used by the enemy in bringing about the fall of Tobruk.
What I said was:Nor have we any evidence in our possession, at present at any rate, that dive bombers were responsible for the fall of Tobruk.I did not say they were not used; I said there was no evidence at present.
I am much obliged to the noble Viscount. I have heard an explanation put forward that, with a strong combination of artillery fire and bombers, the Germans were able to effect a breach in our lines, and in that way brought about the fall of the fortress. Perhaps when the noble Viscount has information, he may be able on some future occasion to give it to the House.
635 There is another point to which I would refer, quite different from any of these, and that is with regard to the training of our officers. I do not think that that training in the past has been entirely suitable for mechanized warfare. I know that formerly at Sandhurst no training at ail was given in such subjects as mechanics, and I think the same thing obtained at the Staff College at Camberley. In those days in the Service horses and horsemanship played a great part in the lives of officers who could afford to hunt or ride in steeplechases, not only for the love of it but for the appeal it made to the spirit of adventure and as a relief from the monotony of garrison life. With a later generation there came the motor car, the aeroplane, and the speed boat. About that time there was the outbreak of war in 1914. The young men of that day joined up in their thousands. They joined Kitchener's Army and the Yeomanry regiments, and many of them received Commissions as lieutenants and second lieutenants. The casualty lists of those ranks were terrible. Possibly, it is true to say, about two-thirds of the type of young men of whom I speak disappeared during that conflict. To-day we are suffering from the loss of these young men.
When peace came Army expenditure was drastically cut. The Army, so to speak, became the Cinderella of the Services, and a great many of the able young men who were left in it, seeing the prospect of dreary peace-time service in front of them, left and went in for other occupations. Those who were mechanically-minded went in for engineering, and a good many of them have become managing directors of engineering firms or they control factories of their own. A good many of these men are hack in the Army to-day, but by the rules of the Service they had to rejoin at a very low rank. Men with a knowledge of mechanics and with war experience are extremely valuable to-day, and I would ask my noble friend the Under-Secretary for War if he would look into this point and see whether it is possible fully to utilize the services of such men as I have described. As the noble Lord who spoke just now said, we are waging a mechanized war, and unless we fully recognize this fact, and that we want mechanically-minded men to run the war, we shall not achieve 636 success. After all, you could not run a railway without railway engineers. We have been trying not only to run a mechanized Army, but to build up a mechanized Army, without giving sufficient control to officers trained in mechanics as well as being experienced in war.
This brings me to the suggestion which two other noble Lords have made. I wonder whether the best use is being made of the men who possess these qualifications. First of all the name occurs of General Wavell. That was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Addison, and by the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, and I entirely agree with what both noble Lords said. I never quite understood why General Wavell, an expert in tank warfare, was shifted from Cairo to India at a time when India was not threatened; but that is by the way. General Wavell has great qualifications. I believe he was the first officer to command a tank brigade in this country about fifteen years ago at Aldcrshot, and he has a thorough experience of this type of warfare. I do suggest that in the grave situation in which we are to-day it might be a very good thing to bring General Wavell home and put him in a position of authority, possibly—I do not know whether it would be possible—as Chief of the Combined General Staff, or in some position of that kind where he would be able to bring his great experience to bear with regard to the organization, particularly the mechanized organization of our Army. There is another name that occurs to me. There is another good soldier in this country now who could render excellent service in organizing the technical side of our war machine and that is General McNaughten, the Canadian soldier. General McNaughten, besides being a good soldier, is a good engineer, and that is a rare combination. I think it would be an excellent thing if use could be made of his services in the way I have suggested.
I would venture to say one word about the Army Council. The Army Council, originally formed under the scheme of Lord Esher, I think, was composed of four soldiers and three civilians. Now, I think I am right in saying, it has grown to twelve members, and the civilians predominate in number. I am counting my noble friend Lord Croft for this purpose 637 as a civilian, although I am well aware he has a very distinguished war record, but he sits on the Council as a member of this House and representative of the War Office in this House. I think the number twelve is rather large for a body of this kind. That is one point I would like to make. I suggest that the military element ought to predominate in an Array Council.
There is only one other thing I would like to say, and for this purpose I go back for a moment to the control of the war at the top. Your Lordships have heard so much about this that I dare say you arc weary of the subject already, but since our last debate—and possibly our last debate might have had something to do with the changes that have been made—there has been appointed a Deputy Chief of the Imperial General Staff to look after the technical side of the war machine, and he has been allotted some, but not all, of the functions of the Master-General of Ordnance. I still think that not nearly so much has been clone in this direction as might be done. I am not going to detain your Lordships by putting forward any views of my own, but I would like to refer to a letter which appeared from Professor Hill in The Times yesterday. In that letter Professor Hill tells us what the American organization is. After six or seven months of war the Americans have already evolved an organization which, I believe, is a better organization than our own. I suggest that we might learn something from them and might do worse than copy them.
In conclusion I would like to say just this. Owing partly to the reduced size of newspapers, there are very brief reports of Parliamentary proceedings in the Press. I do not complain of that because, after all, proceedings in Parliament are very unimportant compared to the great events that are taking place in Egypt and on the Russian Front. But there is also the wireless. It is a fact that accounts, possibly abbreviated accounts, are sent to distant lands of our proceedings in Parliament here, and it is quite possible that within a few hours reports of our proceedings might be heard on the radio in Egypt this afternoon or this evening. Well, if I were able I should like to send to the officers and men of our hardly pressed Eighth Army in Egypt a brief message. I should like to tell them that we here admire the 638 courage and the tenacity with which they have been fighting against heavy odds, that we have some idea of the hardships they have had to endure after months of campaigning in the Libyan Desert, that we sympathize with them in the defeat which, through no fault of their own, they have sustained, and, I would add, we hope and pray that reinforcements of men and material will arrive in time to enable them to hold on, as I believe they will hold on, to the very limit of their endurance.
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
My Lords, I wish to make one or two observations on the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beavcrbrook, yesterday. My qualifications for making these observations are not many, but I am the technical adjutant of an armoured battalion. However, before I refer to those matters, there arc two other points I would like to mention, although other noble Lords have spoken of them far more eloquently than I can. The first is the question of the separate communiqués being issued by the Services, which, to my mind, as I read them in the papers, are leading to a kind of Service advertisement and a sort of quick sales campaign. I think they are misleading, and that one consolidated communiqué should be issued from the headquarters of the theatres of war.
The second point is on the much vexed question of the dive bomber. The heads of the Services say that they are not convinced that they are a success in a mobile battle in the desert, where battle has once been joined. That I can well believe; but, when fighting is taking place at fixed defended localities, I am still to be convinced. If you ask people who have been dive bombed—fortunately I have not suffered that so far—they will convince you of the effect of the dive bomber, at least morally, particularly when they know that they have no dive bombers themselves to have a crack at the other fellow. I think also that the dive bomber can be of considerable advantage for attacking armoured units when on an approach march and they have to be fairly concentrated for the sake of control and rapid deployment. I also feel that dive bombers can be successfully employed against supply columns. I have no experience of that, but I think a strong case can be made out for them.
639 I will now turn to the speech which the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, made yesterday. I will deal with the points in the order and under the same headings that the noble Lord did. These headings, your Lordships will remember, were guns, reliability, speed and armour. I am not an expert on guns, but I understand that the British 2-pounder and the German 4½-pounder are both high velocity weapons, and that the 75 mm. of the General Grant is not a high velocity gun. I am also given to understand that for piercing and efficient destruction of armour you must have a high velocity gun. The comparison, therefore, which was made that we had a 2½-pounder backed by a 75 mm. gun which was heavier than the German 4½-pounder is rather misleading.
§ LORD BEAVERBROOK
May I be allowed to interrupt to say that the striking power of the 75 mm. gun is about the same as the striking power of the 6-pounder?
§ THE EARL OF DENBIGH
I am grateful for the noble Lord's assurance and I am sure that other noble Lords will also be grateful. The other point I wish to make is that the 75 mm. gun of the General Grant is fixed and that to manœuvre your gun you have to manœuvre your tank, which is not always a very easy task. Then there is the question of reliability. Reliability and speed are inter-dependent to a great extent at the present moment. The Valentines and the Matildas, as far as my information goes, are very reliable machines. These machines use well-tried commercial engines and components. The Crusader, on the other hand, has an engine which was designed originally in 1917 as an air engine. From a supply point of view I have no doubt it was the only engine that was available in quantity for that vehicle, but I cannot help thinking that very great strides must have been made in engine design since 1917 both as regards power output for size and reliability.
There is a word also about the reliability of the General Grants which I feel I must say. My information is that this vehicle will carry on under very trying conditions with nothing more done to it than filling up with petrol, oil and water; and it will go on without proper maintenance for several days. If that is a fact I think the Americans have definitely got 640 something that is worth having and that we should try and get it ourselves. On the subject of speed, difficulties arose owing to having to use the commercial power units which were readily available. That particularly applies to the Matildas and the Valentines. The Crusader fitted with the ex-air engine is faster and, owing to its greater speed I presume, less heavily armed. It relies on speed and manoeuvring to make it a difficult target. When you have mixed units of fast and slow vehicles I think I am right in saying the speed of your unit is governed by the speed of the slowest vehicle. Therefore the Crusader was at once at a very serious disadvantage because it could not make use of its additional speed and got into rather serious trouble. I do not know very much about armour. As I have said, the Crusader owing to its speed had less armour, but I hope that the new tanks will have greater armour.
I have put these points before your Lordships—not so well, I am afraid, as they might have been put—because I feel that in point of technical design we are inferior to the enemy. If they are given equality in quantity and quality of equipment, the fighting men of the United Nations can easily conquer the Axis. We must therefore not be satisfied with present policy. We have the ability, the brains and the capacity to produce better material. We must always be one step ahead of the enemy and not, as we have been so far, two steps behind. Therefore, on behalf of the fighting men and in particular the men of our armoured forces, I must express the hope that before this debate closes His Majesty's Government will give an assurance in your Lordships' House that these points in design and equipment are receiving proper attention and that in equipment our men will be at least on an equal footing with, if not definitely ahead of, our enemies.
§ LORD HANKEY
My Lords, I should like to congratulate the noble Earl who has just spoken not only on the manner in which he went through the ordeal which all of us have to face, but also on the substance of his remarks. I thought his first observation about communiqués was particularly pertinent, and I hope that he will not hesitate to speak frequently in your Lordships' House and give us more suggestions. I think the reasons for our reverses in Libya can be definitely divided under two headings—the immediate and 641 local reasons and the root causes. I suppose the first immediate reason is the tactical reason. I am with those who hold that we have not the information to criticize the local Command in any way. I prefer the view of the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, that it has been touch and go, and that there were times when we were very near a big victory. Moreover, the High Command seems to me to have done a very good piece of work in keeping the troops in good fettle. We hear nothing but good reports of their morale—as we expect of British soldiers—so that we can admire the tenacity of their resistance and of their counter attacks.
I want to thank the noble Viscount not only for his persuasive speech yesterday, but also for anticipating a point of which I had given him notice. I thought it very desirable that we should be clear about responsibility for the defence of Tobruk. The noble Viscount made it quite clear that the Government and the High Command in Libya were at one in this matter. That disposes finally of an unpleasant rumour. I am satisfied, too, that the Government have not lost sight of the importance of Egypt and Libya, and they have done their very best throughout to keep the Eighth Army supplied with the best they had, having regard to shipping limitations, to which I shall return in a few minutes.
I suppose the next local reason—it is not entirely a local reason—is the quality of our material. In spite of the forceful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook yesterday, I am afraid it is undeniable that the Germans are still a lap ahead of us in the matter of tanks and anti-tank guns. If I were in a controversial mood, I could say a good deal about that question—partly favourable and partly not so favourable—but as the matter concerns the past and not the future I shall refrain. Besides, I agree whole-heartedly with the final observation of the noble Lord that we should give confidence to those who are concerned in the question of design and development in the Supply Ministry and to the manufacturing community throughout the country.
So I leave this subject, merely saying that I accept the description used, in passing, by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, when he described 642 it as "a sad story." For the future, I, myself, have great confidence in the present Minister of Supply and in the Secretary of State for War. But I would like to make one or two suggestions. The first is that in developing future tanks we should, if possible, always have two models constructed of the specification aimed at, and have them produced by different firms. I believe that that is done sometimes—the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, knows this better than I do—in the construction of aircraft. Then if one fails the other may do better. I believe that if that plan had been adopted in the case of the unfortunate Churchill tank it would have made a great difference—not perhaps to the tank itself, but to the time factor in obtaining a successor. My second suggestion is that the Ministry of Supply even now—it is rather a late hour—should consult those who were concerned with the production of tanks in the last war, and who have been, not completely, but very largely ignored. I believe that if they had been consulted a great many technical mistakes would have been avoided. Some would have been avoided, and in other cases the problems would have become simpler in relation to many technical matters such as ventilation, cooling, armaments—even tanks of the last war had 6-pounder guns—the question of gun carriers, where the Germans seem to have got ahead of us, and other technical matters.
My third suggestion is one which has already been made by the noble Lord, Lord Denman, and that is that scientists should be employed on the lines suggested by Mr. A. V. Hill in his letter. I am quite sure that advantage would be obtained by using not individual scientists so much as teams of scientists for the development of these novel weapons. My only other suggestion is that if possible the Government should try to avoid giving so much information about coming developments in these debates. I confess that I felt rather worried when the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, made his reference to the 6-pounder gun on February 12 last. I felt that that was giving the enemy useful information. I was not surprised, therefore, when on the next day a very high tank expert said to me that it had given the enemy six months' notice to prepare. I do not know whether it was due to that or not that the enemy has produced a very novel weapon, or 643 rather has adapted an old weapon, the 88 mm. gun. I should not have mentioned this matter but for the fact that it happened again yesterday when the Minister of Supply did give particulars—well, did not give particulars but announced that long ago far heavier tanks and far more powerful anti-tank weapons were being developed and would shortly come into production, also that dive bombers had already reached one theatre of war and others were on their way.
I felt how valuable we should feel it if the enemy would make reliable statements of that kind. But I suppose it is one of the prices we have to pay for our system which has many compensating advantages. Although I regret that the enemy shares the information about dive bombers, I confess that I myself felt considerable satisfaction when I learnt that dive bombers were shortly to arrive. They are quite invaluable for naval action and as an anti-invasion weapon. I cannot believe—this view, I understand, has been already expressed, I am not sure—that the Germans would go on using this weapon in connexion with land operations unless they found it very valuable. My information is that in Crete it was almost decisive at some stages. The battle of Libya was bound to turn largely on the question of sea communications. Ours were long; the enemy's were short but vulnerable. After the sinking of the "Barham" on November 25 last and some damage to other ships, it became perfectly clear that in the Eastern Mediterranean surface ships were not sufficient to deal with the enemy's communications. The dangers were too great; the losses were too heavy. Sufficient submarines, also, were not available for the purpose.
It was plain that increased hitting power was required, and long-range bombers of a heavy type appeared to be the best weapons for attacking the enemy's transports and the enemy's embarkation and disembarkation ports. Winter had not proved a particularly favourable time for bombing Germany. Out of 181 nights, bombing was only possible against Germany on 82 nights. That was between September and February, and many of the raids were of small importance. In the Mediterranean, I believe that heavy bombers were of decisive importance. I shall be glad, therefore, 644 if my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor, in his reply, would tell us whether more heavy bombers were asked for officially by the Middle East High Command, and—whether they were asked for or not—why they were not sent months before the battle. It seemed to be an obvious step which might make the difference between victory and defeat. When I say this I am not being wise after the event.
I now come to the fundamental causes. I feel that Libya, Malaya, Burma, the loss of the "Prince of Wales" and "Repulse," Crete, Greece, Dakar and Norway, as well as the shipping situation, to which I am coming in a moment, are like symptoms of a disease which spreads over the body, cropping up first in one part and then in another, and that the wise physician seeks the root causes. One of those root causes has already been mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett—namely, that the Government are a Coalition Government, not a National Government. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, I have some experience of this matter, but from a very much humbler point of outlook. I have seen enough to know, however, that the constant balancing of Party considerations, especially in the matter of appointments, is a tremendous handicap to efficiency. I feel that what we want is a replica of Mr. Lloyd George's War Cabinet rather than of Mr. Asquith's Coalition Government.
Then there are those changes which in earlier debates we discussed with all discretion, hoping that the Government would find their own solution. I think that advantages have come from those debates; their influence has spread gradually, but I do not think that it has gone quite far enough, and I agree very strongly with the noble Lords, Lord Addison and Lord Mottistone, that the office and name of Minister of Defence should be abolished. I have strongly urged in the past that that should be done. I agree especially with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, that the name is really open to reprobation in these days, when we do not talk about defence at all. I very warmly welcome that remark. I believe that to drop the name would remove a great deal of prejudice. I need not add to what others have said on this point, and I have already said in earlier speeches all that I want to say on the subject.
645 I should like to say how much I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, in regard to the Master-General of Ordnance. Lord Mottistone's case was really quite overwhelming; but, as that belongs a little to my official past, I shall not go into it. I also agree with the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, that it would be very desirable to have some official Chief of a Joint General Staff, some very high personality to preside over the Chiefs of Staff Committee and to take charge of the whole organization and, while keeping in touch with the Prime Minister, to report to the War Cabinet as a whole. I believe that, properly used, that would be a very great help to the Prime Minister. It would also be invaluable, when the Prime Minister is away, to have someone here who knows the whole story. The Prime Minister has to go away from time to time, and we all admire his courage and devotion to duty in taking these long, hazardous and frequent journeys; but crises often arise here in his absence, and he cannot be in two places at once. I believe that the noble Viscount's proposal would prove invaluable to the Prime Minister's deputy when the Prime Minister is away.
I come now to what I believe to be by far the most fundamental cause of our troubles in Libya and everywhere else, and it is again one to which the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard, has drawn attention—namely, the question of cur merchant shipping. Some Press correspondents in Libya, I notice, have pointed out that the shipping shortage is one of the principal causes of our troubles in Libya. I do not see how it could be otherwise; clearly the size of the Force which can be sent there and maintained there depends mainly on the amount of shipping which is available for the terribly long journey to which several noble Lords have drawn attention. Here we come to one of the root causes of difficulty in the wider matter referred to in the Motion, a Motion which I think covers the whole control of the war, although with special reference to Libya. The latest pronouncement on the subject is contained in the joint Anglo-American statement issued on June 27, after the Washington Conference, and it deserves your Lordships' attention. This part of the statement begins with the satisfactory declaration that… transportation of the Fighting Forces, together with the transportation of munitions 646 of war and supplies, still constitutes the major problem of the United Nations.You will note the word "still." That statement is the more welcome to me because I do not think that I have heard that admission from the Government before, although, of course, I may have missed it.
It is quite true that, on May 19, Mr. Attlee told the House of Commons that sea transport was "a constant anxiety" and described it as "a tender spot," and later in the same debate, on May 20, Sir Stafford Cripps said that the Government were aware of the critical need of doing their utmost to cope with the situation. These statements, however, seem to me to fall a good deal short of the affirmation that shipping "constitutes the major problem of the United Nations," and, as I shall show in a few moments, the Government's actions do not altogether bear out the view that they thought so. The next sentence in the Washington Declaration admits that submarine warfare "continues to take a heavy toll of cargo ships." That seems to be rather a modest description, compared with President Roosevelt's own recent statement that "the battle of distribution is at a critical stage," or compared with the American figure of losses. Whether it is correct I do not know, but that figure was that between January 11 and the end of May 269 ships were sunk off the Atlantic Coast of America alone, and that was without reckoning other theatres where heavy losses have occurred, such as the Arctic route, the Mediterranean, the South Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.
The statement goes on to say that the production of new tonnage is greatly increasing month by month. That, of course, is most satisfactory, and Mr. Oliver Lyttelton has been able to give a good account of the position. I have seen some good figures published to-day; but it does not throw much light on the recent statement reported to have been made by Rear-Admiral Vickery, Vice-Chairman of the American Maritime Commission, that twice as much shipping as is now available is needed. Our need for tonnage will become greater as the spate of new production increases. If losses continue at the present rate, how long with our growing needs will it take to replace this gigantic deficit? There is no suggestion yet that replacement is 647 equal to losses. I should hope it was either equal or very near it.
Well, it is obvious that protection is much more important even than replacement. Every ship saved is a ship built. Commenting on the losses in April, 1917, the worst month of the last war, the Official History of Seaborne Trade said:This could not go on. At this rate the margin of safety would soon disappear beyond all possibility of recovery by accelerated construction or economy in employment. The question of protection had become an overmastering preoccupation, beside which all other problems faded.That is pretty well the condition to-day. Mr. Lloyd George, writing in his Memoirs, of the U-boat war said:It is a horrifying thought that it very nearly achieved the destruction of British sea-power, with all that such a disaster would have meant to the fortunes of the Alliance and of humanity.It seems to me that that really is the vital issue to-day. And this is how the statement deals with it:It is hoped that as a result of the steps planned at this Conference our respective Navies will further reduce the toll of merchant shipping.Does that statement give your Lordships the impression of that "new and fiercer effort" which The Times called for in its admirable leading article on "The Hidden Battle" on June 19?
I confess it fills me with some misgiving. There is not a single word about the air, which is the clue, I believe, to the whole problem. The Navy, as always, is doing a grand job of work, but it is heavily strained, and I expect the same is true of the American Navy. The big reserve of force available for this purpose is in the air, and I do not speak without knowledge when I declare that an increased number of aeroplanes, fitted with scientific apparatus of proved efficiency, but not involving, I believe, huge numbers, which would dislocate the other plans of the Government, is the only means by which reasonably early results can be obtained. I have been assured by people engaged in this work that it is very effective, and we have heard that round our own coasts the losses are inconsiderable. Machines of longer range are required to push it out further into the Atlantic and to operate from both sides, and I dare say from Iceland as well, to hunt down and destroy these pests in mid-ocean.
648 Of course there are other ways of promoting the destruction of U-boats and I am all for them. There is bombing of the ports where they are assembled, and of the factories scattered all over Germany where the parts are made. That does not produce very quick results, and it does not kill the crews, and I suppose U-boats can be, probably are being, assembled at very distant ports. I think the direct use of long-range aircraft overseas is indispensable. It seems to me to stare us in the face, as the convoy system stared us in the face in 1917. I have been forced to raise this question here. I was very reluctant to do so, but I have tried every other means that I know to try and get this thing done, but such information as I have is that it has not been done yet. What we want is first priority for sea power. By "sea power" I mean the air side of it—air power just as much as sea power. Mr. Lloyd George, who is a very far-sighted statesman, in considering the very difficult man-power problem in December, 1917, gave absolute priority over all other Services to the requirements of the Navy, because, to quote his own Memoirs, "if it failed, overwhelming disasters to the Allied cause were inevitable," and with it he bracketed the Air Force. He gave second priority to the Mercantile Marine, including shipbuilding and ship repairing, as well as ship manning. That is what I ask for to-day.
I hope therefore that your Lordships will support me in asking the Government spokesman to say whether the Government do or do not agree to the following propositions of which I have given notice: (1) that the first and principal object of a maritime Power or of a group of maritime Powers, such as the United Nations, dependent for transportation of supplies on sea communications, is to obtain the command of the sea, whether exercised by ships or aircraft—and I should like to add "or both"; (2) in present circumstances the protection of our sea communications no less than shipbuilding must receive first priority in the distribution of our resources; (3) that this first priority should extend to the immediate allocation of aircraft of proper types and with the scientific equipment required for their fullest efficiency against U-boats.
Now in asking for this I have no axe to grind. I have no motive except an overwhelming conviction that the re-creation 649 of our sea power by the latest means is absolutely essential for the safety of the country and of the Empire and for victory in the war. If it is neglected I am certain we shall not win the war—I cannot conceive that; if it is not neglected, then I am ever so much more certain and confident of our ultimate victory. The Leader of the House, towards the end of his admirable speech yesterday, remarked that the critics ought to say whether they trust this Government or whether they do not. To my mind the touchstone to the answer to that is what is done in this question of the maintenance of our sea power. No Government which neglected sea power, on which the existence of the Empire depends, deserves the confidence or support of the nation, and I believe enormous numbers of people—almost all thinking people in this country—hold this view. I therefore attach the utmost importance to the reply which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor will give to my questions.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I know that many of us here are extremely anxious about the events that have happened in Libya. We have our near relations, and many families in the country no doubt have representatives out there. We have old regiments serving out there. When news of the serious reverse in Libya came along, everyone I am sure was moved to say: "What is wrong in Libya? What upset the whole of what we anticipated was going to be a really very fine feat of arms?" I would like to preface my remarks straight away by saying that nothing I shall say is intended as any form of attack on the Prime Minister. As a man he has shown marvellous ability and has earned our deep gratitude for the way in which he rallied the people, inspired the people, and is leading the people. But I do say that in the past he has been reluctant to accept criticism, especially criticism which is given with the best intention of improving matters. That to-day is my purpose. Anything I may say is said with the intention of trying to improve the situation and to get away from the disasters of the past. We have seen Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaya, Burma, Crete, second Libya, and now Libya again, and we begin to say to ourselves, "Are we never, after three years of war, going to learn our lesson? "
I do not speak on these matters as one who is wise after the event. For years, 650 both in the House of Commons and here, some of us have preached the doctrine that we must have a professional head of our Forces in the field. In other words, we must have proper direction, proper strategic distribution, both of men and material before we can possibly hope to get success. I believe that our high leading—that is the distribution of our Forces both in men and material—has been faulty right from the beginning of the war. The only way to get over that is to have a first-class brain as the head of all our Forces, to advise the Prime Minister, put forward his plans, and see he has the necessary means, material, and transport to carry out these plans. It is then a separate department altogether for the Prime Minister and the War Cabinet to give their approval. It is that planning, that executive control of the Fighting Forces, that this country lacks to-day.
You will immediately say, "There is not such a man." I only turn to the speech of the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, yesterday, when he asked, "Where is General Wavell?" I speak with some knowledge of General Wavell. He was in my batch at the Staff College for two years. He was with me in France at the beginning of the last war. When he lost an eye in action, I had a hand in getting him back to France after the War Office refused to send him back. It was there that he got in touch with the great Allenby and went on with him to the Middle East. His history now is well known. There is no finer brain in any of the Services to-day. He has every quality that I know ought to be possessed by a great leader—brain power, courage, tenacity, secrecy, everything that you can want. He has also got health and a very stout physical frame. I say to the Prime Minister to-day: "You would be well served if you brought Wavell back, and put him into the position of Commander-in-Chief, or whatever you like to call him, in this country so that he can direct with intelligence the various operations in the field abroad."
The next thing I would like to say is this: What went wrong in Libya? What caused the sudden reversal of fortune all in a day? What happened on the 13th of June? What happened on that day was that mobile heavy artillery, masked by tanks, suddenly caught our tanks at very close range and blasted them away. 651 Why have we not got that class of gun in the Desert? It has been proved again and again that fixed defences in the Desert, with no flank to rest upon, are not so reliable as we thought. It is the mobile heavy artillery that causes the destruction of the enemy's equipment in that theatre. I see my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook here, and I say that this country owes him a very deep debt of gratitude for what he did at the Ministry of Supply—how he pushed along with his tremendous energy all the development of new factories, tanks, and everything else, how he went to America and to Russia, how he cheered up everybody to get along with the work. I think he did a very fine stroke of work, and I hope, seeing him looking so well as he does, he will take another hand in it. But I can never understand why it is that our artillery, especially our heavier artillery, has always adopted the old last war practice of trailing along behind trailers. Why cannot it be fixed on to platforms? Why cannot we have tank platforms, with guns fixed on them, moving behind the tank screen and suddenly coming into action when required? It seems to me that this business of tank warfare demands the sudden use of powerful artillery behind the tank screen. From the short reports which I have got so far, it is that lack of heavy artillery, close up behind the tank, which has been one of the causes of our undoing in this campaign.
But the campaign is not over. Our men are fighting, as we know they will fight, and I am convinced that next time we sit in your Lordships' House we shall have a more cheerful aspect to review. We have faith in these fine officers and men, but we ought to give, and we must give, them the very finest and best equipment we can. It is all very well to say that all this production takes a long time, that designs have to be worked out, shipping space arranged, and the material taken out to the war front. That is true. But I think—and perhaps my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook will not agree—there has been far too wide a gap between the General Staff at the War Office and the Ministry of Supply. The General concerned with the Ministry of Supply has been living inside the Ministry.
For years we have advocated that the M.G.O. Department, which I was glad to see Lord Mottistone describe so well yesterday, 652 should be part of the General Staff. It is being done to some extent through General Weeks coming in as Deputy Chief of Staff, but I doubt if that is sufficient. The General Staff have to do all the planning, see to the provision of the men and the placing of men in the various theatres. At the same time they have to see that the men have got the right arms, that they are the arms that are going to defeat the enemy, and that the technical advance of these various arms is proceeding while preparing for the next possible plan and the next possible place of warfare. It seems to me that the breach there has not been properly closed, and the sooner the Ministry of Supply and the War Office come much closer together the better it will be for the armament, at least of the Army.
There is another point in relation to material in the field. I do not know how far it has been carried out, but I think the very closest touch ought to be kept between the producers of armaments and the users of armaments. We should not rely only on the hearsay written in reports which do not always convey all the truth, but should have a proper liaison with the battle front. In that way we should find out exactly the weaknesses of machines and guns and ammunition; we should know what those who are fighting with the weapons really think of them, and what kind of weapons they want. I believe a closer liaison with the battle front on these matters would greatly help our fighting soldiers.
An aspect of this Libyan campaign to which I cannot refrain from referring is the question of the sudden surrender at Tobruk. It is quite clear that it was intended to hold Tobruk when the Force fell back. In doing so the Commander must undoubtedly have made up his mind as to the size of Force that was necessary to hold that area. Yet all at once the garrison is crushed. We want to know what happened. It appears from the scanty reports that we do get that it was due chiefly to two causes: first, that the weakest sector towards the east was the one attacked; and, second, that a very powerful, heavy artillery barrage was suddenly mounted and brought to bear upon the Forces. Again that shows the value of mobile heavy artillery being quickly got into position for the purpose. There was a third cause—the dive 653 bombers. This is where the dive bomber is of value. When you get a force suddenly driven back into a position without time to consolidate, when the ordinary air protection has been removed owing to the fact that forward aerodromes are being overrun, and the Air Force has to go further back for a base, the dive bomber really has a very high psychological and moral effect on very tired soldiers. I think that these three things combined probably caused the disaster that happened. At any rate what happened shows that in desert warfare fixed armament is of much smaller value than really fine mobile armament. It also shows that defence is certainly not so valuable in the warfare out there as attack, on account of the surprise and the collection of power in the form of machines and guns on any one point by the attack.
There is one other matter I wish to touch on. Very many points have been referred to by noble Lords and I do not want to repeat them, if I can help it. This one is the question of shipping. We know the distance that our ships have to go round the Cape in order to deliver stores from this country to that theatre of war. Have the Government not considered any other means of getting stores and munitions and other things there? We have seen positions on the Russian front refuelled and remunitioned by air carriers. Is it possible from a West African port to fly a series of air carriers and so lessen the long time which a ship takes to turn round on going round the Cape. Surely with modem aeroplane construction that is a possibility, and I should have thought that that system of supply would have been adopted. It has value not only from the point of view of supply, but from the point of view of getting personnel there. I was surprised when I read the speech of the Leader of the House yesterday when he said that the only means of supply was round the Cape. This shipping business is really getting very serious, and I venture to suggest that our next debate in this House should be on shipping.
Why is it that a merchant ship can be constructed in American yards to-day in sixty days when it takes six months in this country? It is a question I have asked various people who are interested in shipbuilding. It is due, perhaps, to a 654 lack of standardization or to our constructive methods. I do not know. But it is apparent that we shall have to rely very largely on the United States for building our new merchant ships and perhaps use our own yards for the repair of ships near our own waters. At any rate the shipping business is certainly going to give the Government a sore head and will want very careful looking into before they can find a way out of the difficulties.
The last thing I wish to say is this, and I say it with all seriousness to the Government and to the Prime Minister. Give up that load of the double job—the Prime Minister trying to direct the Forces of the nation. Bring in a professional man, put what strings you like on him, but put him so that he can plan and give the necessary executive orders. There may be other men besides Wavell, but if I had the choice I would bring him back and put him in that position to-morrow.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
My Lords, I hope we shall not have any more debates while great battles arc raging, but I must say, having listened to most of this debate, I do not think your Lordships' House can be blamed for anything that has been said within these walls which could be construed as demoralizing to our troops. It is a difficult position for anybody to be put into to make speeches criticizing the Government while great battles are in progress, and I would have been loath to intervene myself but for the remarks made by the Leader of the Opposition, Lord Addison, with regard to dive bombers. He seized on an apparent inconsistency which I must say I think it is due to him should be cleared up.
If I may quote my words in another place in 1941, they were:It may be that dive bombers will be wanted, but up to the present I have not been asked to supply them.Dive bombers had been ordered the year before from America, but the debate I was taking part in was really concerned with English production, and I looked upon dive bombers ordered from America as, so to speak, a closed book. They were something which would arrive at a certain time, but relative to the English industry I had not been asked to interrupt the general flow of machines going through by the introduction of dive bombers. After 655 hearing that explanation I think my noble friend will see that everything follows suit pretty obviously. My noble friend Lord Beaverbrook told your Lordships that both he and I were in favour of dive bombers. On that particular point I want to make quite clear what was the position of anybody in the Government like myself who was Minister of Aircraft Production. There is, after all, only one Cabinet, the War Cabinet. They decide policy, having related it, no doubt, to the demands of this Service or that Service. When they have decided what they want built it is for the Minister in charge of production of aircraft to get on with that job. It would be a ridiculous and impossible position if, because I happened to favour dive bombers, I should make a machine which the Services did not want made in priority. Therefore I think your Lordships can see how the position is reconciled. We were both in favour of the dive bomber, but it was not in our province to impose it on those we were supplying.
While I am talking about the policy of the Government relative to air, I think it might be helpful to explore the exact position as we find it. The policy of the Air Ministry and of the Government was two-fold. It was in the first place to make this island secure against all forms of invasion by the most efficient fighting aircraft it was possible to build. Nobody will pretend that they did not do that job 100 per cent. That was one of the most astounding victories and a most amazing piece of organization for which the Air Ministry must take entire credit. The development of these very efficient machines stretches back into the past. What was the second policy? The second policy was rather a curious one. It was laid down when there were no other great theatres of war. It was that by building heavy bombers the Air Force were to win the war by themselves.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
I was not a member of the Cabinet and obviously I am not able to answer that question, but it was well known as the policy of the Air Ministry—which, I take it, is the policy of the Government—that the best -way they could contribute was to make 656 heavy bombers and win the war, so to speak, on their own. But that was a very long affair. You cannot make new heavy bombers in a year. The building of these heavy bombers stretches back to before the war. Now they are coming through. If I may be allowed to be critical I want to say this about that particular form of policy. There may come a time when you have got such striking force that you can do in fact what is the ideal, that is win the war by punishing Germany by heavy bombers. The only point to be decided is when you can do it. That is the question. My answer to that is that you can never do it until you have satisfied every demand in all the theatres of operations. It is along these lines that we are at fault to-day. It is quite true you can get to Germany and destroy a town with great psychological effect, but that is discounted by a reverse in the Desert. When two things happened in regard to this country, when we lost Singapore and when Exeter was bombed, the one was a nuisance and the other a disaster. Consequently I say when you are trying to deal on the psychological side with the Germans wait until you can do it properly and the bombing can be done without there being a reverse on the other side.
There is a lack of elasticity in air policy and a lack of imagination. The other day I was bold enough to say in a lecture to the Royal Aeronautical Society about the organization of the Air Force in relation to the Army:The situation in the Army is that they have no policy at all, no equipment and no technicians. They work on the charity of the Air Force who co-operate with them. Nobly do they rally round. But in that the Army do not think in terms of the application of air power to new tactical operations, so no new weapons are produced. Such weapons are long overdue, but who is to inspire them and get them built, I do not know.That came from me, speaking as late Minister of Aircraft Production. I think that is a most extraordinary form of organization to have in this country today. It is the same thing relative to the Navy. Air Ministry mentality is much too narrow. They have never seen the vast power that is in their hands, but they have gone along these narrow lines forgetting to help the Army out of its troubles and, instead of going far ahead of the Navy in the developments they could achieve for destroying ships, they have 657 waited until they are positively egged on by the Navy who never possibly could do so well as the Air Force if the Air Force realized the tremendous power in their hands.
Lately there have been two of the most outstanding naval battles in history with great casualties on either side. Where were the Fleets? They were 140 miles away from each other. Not one single shot was fired by one Fleet against the other. Yet these vast casualties took place. On that particular point I want to draw attention to this. It may be true to say that in Libya the air power was more or less equal, or probably we had an ascendancy. But, as the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, pointed out in his admirable speech yesterday, enemy ships with reinforcements only had to go one thousand miles whereas ours had to go twelve thousand miles. Each ship operated by the enemy was equal to twelve of our own ships. Now what was, therefore, essential? It was the complete domination of the Central European theatre of war against reinforcement. Can your Lordships say that the effort made to stop reinforcements getting to Libya was equal to the bombing that we gave Germany at that time? Which should have been regarded as being of the greater importance?
I do ask your Lordships to try to impress on the Government—I hope that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor will do it—that we cannot allow each Service to run the war as it likes. On that particular point there should have been investigation by the Staffs into the employment of what, after all, is our possession, the Air Force, quantitatively. There should have been investigation to see what was, so to speak, the bag per sortie of aeroplanes in the Mediterranean relative to the bag per sortie of the aeroplanes which went from England against Germany. I know that if you had gone into that you would have found the bag per sortie in the Mediterranean infinitely more than it can be at the present moment from going over Germany. My noble friend Lord Hankey has pointed out the other side of the question—that relating to the destruction of submarines.
§ LORD BRABAZON OF TARA
As I say we want this investigation done quantitatively. 658 It is not done that way to-day and until you look at these whole operations from one point of view you will fail all along the line. Now I will say this from the point of view of reassurance. At one time I was, I must confess, an opponent of the heavy big bomber, because I, took the view that we had not the time to get them into production. Mercifully, we have been spared from destruction until that time has arrived. We are now producing. Things like dive bombers are types of machines that have been ordered from America. They will come in. I want to assure the House of this because I think noble Lords are nervous about equipment—we have been talking about equipment in other branches. The long-range heavy bomber, as we have designed it and as it is coming over in large quantities from America, will be an ideal machine for our job and will do what my noble friend Lord Hankey asks. It has a long range and it carries great weight. It will deal with submarines from over the deep waters and it will bomb effectively in every military operation.
Let me say this in conclusion. These big bombers are coming now in an endless flow which nothing will stop. This flow will build itself up and gather strength until it becomes an overwhelming force. Then, when you have satisfied all your demands and given them satisfaction in every theatre of war, launch your big air attack against Germany and give them such a pounding as will destroy them and win the war.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, the noble. Lord who has just sat down has made, as he always does, a very interesting speech. I do not pretend that I would not fain follow him in a great deal that he has said. I fully agree with a great deal of what he has told us, but there are some other matters on which I might join issue with him. But I have not risen with a view to raising any controversial matter. I think that the occasion is far too serious, and I feel that we are deeply indebted to my noble friend Lord Addison for having raised this debate in your Lordships' House. It is our inherent right to draw attention to all those matters about which we are anxious, and we are naturally constrained and restricted by the manner in which we deal with all these matters. We have to be careful what we say. Our advice has to be helpful and 659 not harmful. We know that owing to our freedom and independence words spoken in our Legislative Assemblies go far beyond the confines of this House. They go to our own nation and to our Allies; they go also to our enemies and to the world at large. Therefore, in any debate in which we venture to take part we have to keep these considerations very clearly in mind.
This debate has served a very useful purpose, and I think I am right in saying that the purpose it has served has been more useful than the purpose served by the debate in another place. Most of us may regret the form in which Parliamentary customs have ordered the debate which has taken place in another place. It will go out that there is some sort of lack of confidence in our Prime Minister; but for that there has been no sort of foundation in anything which has been said in your Lordships' House. I should like, above all things, to emphasize the point, as arising from your Lordships' debate, that we have full confidence in the Prime Minister; that we have selected him as our leader, and that that selection has received the full concurrence of the country and of our Allies. I should like it also to go out from this debate that, while we have raised certain points and expressed certain misgivings which are in our minds, notwithstanding all the details given, some of which perhaps were wider than details, we have full confidence in the Prime Minister, whom we are determined to support through thick and thin, and we hope that in perhaps a shorter time than, possibly, many people expect, he will lead us to a successful end of the struggle with which we are now confronted.
There would be nothing easier on this occasion than to make a critical speech and to take up a great many of the points which have been raised in the debate. That is not the object with which I have risen. I have risen to make the point which I have ventured to put before your Lordships and with which I believe your Lordships will agree. I have no intention of going back over the past or of indulging in recriminations relating to those shortcomings which are so apparent now. I feel that it is necessary to look forward and to do all in our power to preserve that unity which I am sure exists in this country and will exist. But the publication 660 and narration of misgivings has created a certain amount of anxiety throughout the country and also abroad. I would say that criticisms are very useful in the family circle, but when they go beyond the family circle and the manner in which they may be couched there, they can be canvassed by our enemies so as to create the impression abroad that we are a disunited nation, which is very far from the truth.
Your Lordships listened with great interest, I am sure, to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, yesterday. The noble Lord was defending the great position which he occupied and he certainly had every right to do it. I should like to say, as one who had the privilege of coming under his jurisdiction in a very small way, that I can testify to the drive and the energy which he brought to bear on all his duties. I know, from my own experience in a very humble capacity, that Lord Beaverbrook's energy and drive were very helpful to us in endeavouring, as I was then and am still doing, to manufacture aircraft. If this were a debating society, which. I am glad it is not, it would be quite easy to counter much that the noble Lord said, but I am not proposing to do that, because I feel that no one could have tried to carry out his duties with greater efficiency than the noble Lord, and he carried them out to the best of his ability. He is quite entitled to get up in your Lordships' House and ask who could have accomplished more than he did, or who could have done the work better than he did. It is very easy after the event to say what ought to have been done, but I for one am not prepared to say that, if I had been in the noble Lord's place, I should have acted very differently.
I think that we are all forced to the reluctant conclusion that our military preparations for this war really began after Dunkirk, and that, after two years, we are beginning to realize the practical difficulties which militate against the success and the rapidity of mass production. I know that a great many of your Lordships are fully aware of the facts, but those of us who have been engaged in production in one form or another know the long space of time which elapses between blue-print prototypes and eventual mass production. I feel that so much of our equipment has been the 661 result of the work of the last two years that really a remarkable amount has been done. In my opening remarks I said that I should not indulge in recrimination. Therefore I shall merely express my hope and my feeling that the mass production which is going on now will be accelerated wherever possible, and that, instead of being always two steps behind the enemy, as one noble Lord put it, we shall find ourselves before long a step in front of him.
I think that we are still steeped in peace-time administration. Endless Committees are sitting at the present moment. I believe that a large number of those Committees could be eliminated immediately without any detriment whatever to the war effort. Our executive authority in all parts of the country leaves much to be desired, and there is a lack of co-ordination still to be observed, at a time when that coordination ought to be much better than it is. Every one of your Lordships will be familiar with the difficulty which we have in getting a reply to our communications, and there are complaints from innumerable people throughout the country who never receive any reply at all. If a reply is received, we all know the time which elapses before anything is done. All this seems to be detrimental to the efforts which we are trying to make. We ourselves can naturally deal only with matters which are comparatively small, but, from our own experience and from the complaints which we see in the newspapers, we feel that there is some lack of precision and of what I would call "routine rapidity" all over the country. If that exists also in regard to matters of great importance, one cannot help feeling that the administration of these great matters should be looked into and tightened up wherever possible.
I should like to refer to two points which were made by the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, and to one point which was made by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone. Lord Bennett mentioned two very important matters. The first related to the need for a really National Government. I entirely agree with him that all considerations relating to the numerical strength of Party representation should be put on one side by the Prime Minister, and that he should select the best men for the positions available no matter to what Party they belong. 662 The other point which the noble Viscount, Lord Bennett, mentioned relates to General Wavell. I feel that this is really a national matter. General Wavell has experience of mechanical armament, and he has had a full and long experience of Egypt. Yet, at a time which is crucial in the history of this war, his services are not, so far as we know, being used. I do not want to say more than that.
The other point to which I should like particularly to refer is one which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, with regard to the Minister of Defence. This is a subject which has been before your Lordships on more than one occasion, and yet we feel that all the representations we have made have borne no fruit whatever. I think it is vitally necessary that there should be someone of eminence—I am not prepared to say who it should be; the noble Lord, Lord Hutchison of Montrose, named General Wavell, but I am not doing that—who would be able to co-ordinate the different opinions of the General Staffs and who would be able to bring that co-ordinated information before the War Cabinet. I do not believe that this would be a long process; I believe that it could be done with that precision and that celerity with which decisions are arrived at at the present time. We look on the Prime Minister as our Minister of Defence. It is his duty to co-ordinate the opinions which are expressed by the Chiefs of Staff, but I feel that this duty, amongst all the multifarious ones which he has to perform, should not rest on his shoulders.
I am going to have the audacity to say something which has not been mentioned in your Lordships' House before, but it has been in all our minds and in the minds of a great many people in the country. There is an impression—it is only an impression, and I do not say that it is a correct impression—that the Prime Minister interferes with the decisions which are arrived at by the Chiefs of Staff. I have put in plain words what has been in everybody's mind, although it has not actually been said. Speaking for myself, I do not believe that the Prime Minister actually interferes with the decisions arrived at by the General Staff; but we do know that the Prime Minister is a very dominating personality, and those of us who know him personally, and even those who do not, are well aware of the fact that it is very difficult to stand up to the 663 Prime Minister when he has one opinion in his mind and you have another. I feel that the appointment of a Minister of Defence would help the Prime Minister, in view of that disability which he does possess, and that such a Minister of Defence would be able to co-ordinate the opinions of the General Staffs on all matters of defence where at present a certain difficulty may exist. That is all I desire to say to your Lordships, but I should like it to go out from this House—it will be decided by a Division in another place—that we have full confidence in the prime Minister, and are determined to see him through to the end in this struggle.
§ LORD AILWYN
My Lords, I intervene with considerable diffidence in this debate, particularly after listening to the very informative and interesting speeches which have been made.. I can only promise that I shall intrude upon your Lordships' time for a few moments only. The main purpose of this debate has been to elicit the facts regarding, and to investigate the causes of, our defeat in Libya. Those causes may very well lie in the paucity and the poverty in quality of our weapons and equipment; they may lie in part in errors of judgment and miscalculations on the part of those directing our operations; they may lie in Field-Marshal Rommel's genius and mastery of desert warfare, whereby we were outgeneralled. Some or all of these may be contributory factors to our reverse. But there is one other aspect of the matter which I have not yet heard mentioned, either here or in another place. I refer to the matter of the exhaustion of our troops.
Your Lordships will remember that the following passage occurred in General Auchinleck's report, which was read by the Deputy Prime Minister in another place and by the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, here on June 23:This was probably a crucial moment in the battle. The enemy was exhausted… Had we been able to take advantage of the enemy's condition we might have turned the scale. In point of fact, however, we were equally exhausted, and this was impossible.It is perhaps permissible to speculate and to ponder somewhat on the statement that the enemy was exhausted. We do not know what the grounds were on which that conclusion was reached, but what we do 664 know is that if the enemy was exhausted he appears to have recovered remarkably quickly, as the tale and speed of his subsequent achievements very clearly show. But be that as it may, we are told that in any case our own troops were exhausted, and it is on this matter that I wish to say a very few words, if I may have your Lordships' indulgence.
Has anything been done really to investigate and counter this matter of exhaustion; and is the very best medical opinion obtainable being brought to bear on this subject? Have any real steps been taken to cope with and counter this condition of exhaustion which, in the gruelling conditions of modern warfare in a climate like that of Libya, is bound to play a serious part in affecting fighting efficiency? Has full use been made of the discoveries and the present knowledge of modern science? I believe these to be very, very important matters, the investigation of which, if not already made, should be undertaken without delay. I need not stress the obvious when I say that I am no doctor or physiologist; I lay claim to no knowledge whatever in the realms of biology or the results of present day scientific research, but I have spoken with men who have spent their lives studying the subject, and I learnt from them and from a book that has just been published, called Nutrition and Victory, where the whole subject is very clearly and convincingly dealt with, that exhaustion and fatigue are very largely due to salt retention and to a lack of certain things like potassium, glycogen and phosphorus. I am told that it is an established fact that ever since the beginning of the war German troops have been given a preparation which has the effect of increasing muscular efficiency, vigour and endurance, and increasing those things that I mentioned—the potassium, glycogen and phosphorus contents in the tissues.
Certain high medical authorities have done their utmost again and again to draw the attention of His Majesty's Government to this matter. I understand that the investigator of this particular preparation which is given to the German troops is now actually living in this country. Before I go further may I say that my remarks have nothing whatever to do with the somewhat tall and fantastic stories we have heard of the German troops being drugged before they go into 665 battle? What I am seeking is information as to whether there exists a thoughtfully and intelligently composed diet for our troops, with special reference to those who have to live and fight in the trying conditions obtaining in the Middle East, and the specific question I wish to ask—and I have given notice that I would raise this question in the present debate—is this: how many units of Vitamin B1 have been given daily to our troops in Libya, and what has been the daily supply of phosphorus, glucose and potassium? The exhaustion of our troops is, I understand, almost certainly caused by a lack of these minerals and vitamins, which arc indispensable if resistance and efficiency are to be increased, particularly, as I say, in the exacting conditions obtaining in Libya. To what extent our defeats may have been due to inequality of weapons and equipment we know not, but it is perfectly clear to me, and of course equally clear to your Lordships, that it is no possible use providing our troops with the best and latest and most deadly weapons in the world if, in the event, our troops are so exhausted that they are unable to use them.
There may be those who will say, "What on earth is this new fangled nonsense? Our troops are to-day, as they have always been, the finest and toughest troops in the world. They have won victories all down the centuries, very often against great odds, without artificial aids of this sort. They have wanted none in the past; why should they want them to-day?" If those there be who think along those lines, I would only venture to say to them this. If modern science places ready to your hand a weapon the use of which is expected largely to overcome a condition which gravely impairs the efficacy of troops in the field, a weapon, moreover, the value of which the enemy has fully recognized and which is in daily use by him, is it fair to deprive your own troops of the benefits to be derived from such a weapon? Is it sensible to ignore the march of scientific progress, and not to take advantage of the fruits of many years' labour and research into these matters?
Many times have I heard it deplored in your Lordships' House that more use is not made of the scientist in the many complex problems which continually confront us, both in war and peace. I 666 strongly share those views. I look forward to the day when the scientist will no longer be shut out from the counsels and deliberations of national and international assemblies, but will take his place alongside the political, military and religious leaders of the world, and give mankind the benefit of his knowledge and experience, to the immense advantage of the world at large. I hope very much that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack will be able to give your Lordships some information on this subject. On one thing I am sure we are all agreed, and that is that no line of approach, no possible remedial measure, that the wit of man can devise should be neglected in order to lighten the hardships, relieve the sufferings, and generally fortify our gallant troops in the field.
§ LORD TEVIOT
My Lords, as usual I shall be extremely short. I have not listened, I am afraid, to the whole of this debate, but so far as I know the particular point that I wish to raise has not been mentioned yet. We are all naturally very perturbed at what has taken place. We are all aware that we have lost an enormous amount of material. We are all aware that the shipping position is very grave. I feel very strongly that people throughout the country want more information about the real position. We as a race, if we are in a jam, always stand up to it magnificently. Undoubtedly, as far as I can see, we shall require a greater effort to overcome our present difficulties.
I am quite certain that if the people of the country generally are told far more than they are being told to-day, that effort Will be forthcoming. I shall very likely be told that that would not be in the public interest, that the enemy would get hold of it, and that it would not be a good thing. We know perfectly well the enemy knows most things, and I feel very strongly indeed that we should do much more in the direction of publishing our real position than has been done in the past. All of us are guessing as to what happened here and there, and we get rather vague statements which have the appearance of an attempt to soothe us. I should like to accentuate that. I am quite certain that if we tell the people more they will respond more, because I believe a great many of them do not realize the serious position in which we are at the present time. That is really 667 all I have got to say. It is something that has been very evident to me, and I hope my noble friend on the Woolsack will be able to "put that over" to the Government so that it will be seriously considered—tell all of us a great deal more.
§ LORD DAVIES
My Lords, this debate has ranged over a very wide field, and I want for a few moments to allude to a matter that has not been touched upon up to now. Some time ago I and other members of your Lordships' House called attention to the position in Palestine, and appealed to the Government to utilize to the full the services of the Jewish community there in our united effort against the common enemy. My reason for intervening now is to point out that, owing to recent events in the Middle East, the Jewish community in Palestine may be exposed to attacks from the enemy. Therefore I wish to renew the appeal which we made to the Government some time ago to do every tiling possible to give the Jews in Palestine the arms and munitions in order to defend themselves should this attack be made upon them.
This is a matter of great urgency. It is not necessary for me to remind your Lordships of the offers which have been repeatedly made by the Jews, especially by the Jewish Agency, to render every possible assistance and place all their resources at the disposal of the Government. They are prepared to do this, as your Lordships will remember, not only in Palestine amongst the Jews there—to recruit them for the British Army there—but also in other parts of the world, and to furnish contingents which would be willing to fight in any theatre of war. I cannot help feeling that if these offers had been accepted some time ago—after all, this war has been going on for nearly three years—instead of 12,000 Jews fighting in the British Army, we should have a force of 40,000 or 50,000 fully equipped and fighting alongside our battalions and brigades in Egypt and elsewhere. I have not risen to reproach the Government, because obviously this is not the time to reproach them, for omissions in the past. One has to clear away a misconception which has been fostered in the minds of some people that these Jewish units are not prepared to fight except in Palestine itself. That, I understand, is quite 668 untrue. They have already fought in Crete, in Syria, in Libya, and in other theatres of war, and they have volunteered to join the British Army and fight with it wherever they may be wanted. They are also very anxious to be recruited not only in the Pioneer and ancillary Services, but especially in the fighting Services. They want to be in the thick of the battle and play their part in defeating Hitler, who has been their great enemy in the past.
As I say, I have not risen to reproach the Government for what I regard as past errors of omission, because the position to-day is so very critical, and obviously no time should be lost. The question we ask ourselves is, what can be done? If we are not able to protect Palestine, can we at least give some measure of support to the Jews in order that they may be able to protect themselves? It may well be that Palestine will have to be evacuated. If that unfortunate contingency occurs, the position of the Jews will obviously be a tragic one. It will mean not only that the country will be overrun, that they will be transferred from one jurisdiction to another, but in their case it will mean absolute annihilation and extermination. For that reason we shall all agree it is our bounden duty, as far as may be possible and practicable, to help them to secure all the weapons they can in order to defend themselves, to supply them with all the arms and munitions possible in order that they may be able to defend their hearths and homes.
As I understand it, the present position is that there are at least 20,000 gallant Jews who arc prepared to volunteer for service in the British Army. There are also what are called the Settlement Police, of which I believe there are about 6,000 who are already armed; there arc the Special Police who arc not fully armed, and also—and this is a point I want to emphasize—50,000 able-bodied men who are working on farms and in industries who have already volunteered to join a Home Guard in Palestine in order to defend their hearths and homes. I understand that no conditions arc now made by the Jewish Agency in regard to any action which His Majesty's Government, and the War Office especially, may think lit to take in order to arm the people of the country; but, of course, they would like to be allowed to have a fighting Force of their own as they had in the last war, 669 the Jewish Legion, under the command of a very able and distinguished officer, Colonel Patterson. They would naturally-like to have a Force that would be part of the British Army in order to encourage their esprit de corps and give them a sense of cohesion, which is one of the most essential things in war.
It may be said, "Where are the arms that can be given to them?" I know that is the difficulty, for the War Office are pressed for arms and munitions in the different theatres, but perhaps the noble Lord who speaks for the War Office in this House will tell us what has become of the Italian rifles and the thousands of rounds of ammunition which were captured in the early days of the Libyan campaign, and whether it is not possible to send them the kind of equipment that we have given out of the Home Guard in this country. Nobody asks for tanks or heavy guns or anything of that sort. All we suggest is that these men shall be equipped in such a way that they can tarry on guerrilla warfare if necessary in their country and defend their hearths and homes. I do not think I need say any more except once again to dead with the Government, even at the eleventh hour, to do everything they can to equip these Jews in order that they may be in a position to defend and protect themselves should the emergency arise. I am sure my noble friend opposite, Lord Croft, and his colleagues in the War Office are already seized of the vital importance of this matter, and I sincerely hope he can give us an assurance that everything possible will be done even now to enable these people we have put into the country, and who have always been loyal to us and the British Empire, to possess the elementary right of defending themselves against their cruel and barbarous enemy.
§ LORD WINSTER
My Lords, this debate is taking place in the shadow of some of the gravest events which have ever confronted our country, events of which the results would indeed be incalculable were they to go amiss. Therefore I feel that the first thought of anyone taking part in the debate must be of our Army whose tasks have been so clearly indicated in the inspiring Order of the Day issued by General Auchinleck. I feel that whatever comes from Parliament at this juncture should aim at sustaining the Army, and should speak of the admiration 670 and the gratitude and confidence which we feel for them. Therefore, for my part, I would not indulge in any criticism of the generalship while the battle is on, and indeed if it is the fact that the training of troops and of junior officers has not been what it should have been in the past, if there has been a failure to make the Army machine-minded, if there has been a failure to supply adequate and up-to-date arms, no General on the spot can remedy those deficiencies. If those things are indeed so, then it indicates that the causes of defeat lie nearer at home than in Libya.
But I would like to say something about a point which has been already touched upon in what I think the very important speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Hankey. The main reason for our defeat in Libya has been the ability of the Axis to pass unlimited supplies and reinforcements into Tripoli in comparative safety in twenty-four hours, while our own ships have to run far greater risks in taking supplies and reinforcements and take two months at least in doing so. The Mediterranean is practically closed to us. Surface ships cannot risk raiding Axis communications because of the damage which is inflicted upon them by Axis dive bombers and torpedo planes. Our submarines do all that is possible, and indeed they do magnificently, but there is a limit to what they can do. This lesson was taught us in Norway two years ago when the Admiralty declined to allow surface ships to go into the Skagerrak to attack German communications, a necessary decision but one which sealed the fate of Norway, and it has been confirmed since.
The control of narrow waters such as the English Channel and the Central Mediterranean has passed to shore-based dive bombers and torpedo planes. High level bombing is practically useless against ships, and carrier-borne planes are of little use because the torpedoes which they carry are too small and the carriers themselves are so vulnerable. These facts have been pointed out repeatedly by officers, but they have fallen on deaf ears at the Admiralty and at the Air Ministry, so that we have no dive bombers and very few torpedo planes. Three or four hundred planes of the right type in Libya, with specially trained crews, could have prevented the reinforcements and the supplies passing to Rommel.
§ LORD WINSTER
I agree. The heavy bombers, I know, have provided what is described as "extended support," which means in fact that they have bombed Naples and Messina and Crete in the dark from a height of 10,000 feet; and what accuracy would be possible under such circumstances? I am at a loss to understand why the Admiralty, which is responsible for the defence of communications and for the attack upon enemy communications, has not insisted upon suitable planes.
§ LORD TRENCHARD
I do not want to interrupt the noble Lord but he will remember the short-range fighter. What passed in the Mediterranean is the cause of stopping our bombing by day in those waters.
§ LORD WINSTER
I think that is what I have indicated; I said "in the dark." It was certainly not the fault of our present Fifth Sea Lord, but the responsibility lies on those who very obstinately refused to learn lessons, upon men who in my opinion should have resigned if they found themselves unable to get what was essential. But unfortunately the Admiralty has not been very air-minded in the past. We have concentrated upon these thousand machine raids which have been our policy instead of making sea power the objective. As the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, said, we have squandered our sea power because the only means of preserving it in the Mediterranean was the prevision of bombers of the right type.
If we are examining the causes of defeat let us remember that the issue of defeat or victory must always turn very largely upon the question of production. We have had two speeches on that, one by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, and the other by the Minister of Production in another place. I thought the speech of the noble Lord a most consummate performance, and I thought it was an extraordinary reflection upon the central direction of our war effort that the noble Lord is no longer a member of the Government. So far as I have been able to follow events, what he was asked to do he always did do and what he was asked to supply he always did supply. It also seems to me that he alone in the Government, with the exception of the Prime 672 Minister, possessed that sense of time and urgency which is essential in the conduct of war. I have only one comment to make on the noble Lord's speech. If everything was so perfect, why were there constant defeats? It is very hard to understand when everything was done so well.
I was specially interested in what he said about dive bombers. We have had three statements on that, one by the Minister of Production, one by the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, and one by the Secretary of State for War. The Minister of Production and the noble Lord seemed very precise in what they said, but the Secretary of State for War, although he said he believed conversations were going on between the War Office and the Air Ministry, did not appear to know what stage the conversations had reached. He hoped that good progress was being made with them. The Ministry of Production is a Department we have always pressed for but which was very reluctantly conceded. The Minister has been to the United States and I think it is obvious he had a very satisfactory visit, but I wonder if he has adequate powers with which to implement the agreement which he has come to in the United States of America. It still seems to me that the relations between the Ministry of Labour, the Ministry of Supply, and the Ministry of Production are rather a muddle, and it also seems to me that tanks and guns are objectives of themselves which ought not to be linked up with the immense ramifications of raw materials and controls which are common services to the Ministry of Production. In my opinion the Ministry of Supply is far too large and unwieldy. It has in fact bitten off more than it can chew, and the time has come to consider some decentralization of the work committed to the Ministry of Supply.
May I now come to what I regard as the main root of our troubles, that is the question of the Minister of Defence? That is now really a thorn in the flesh which is poisoning public confidence. I think it would be very helpful if those who defend the Ministry or the Minister of Defence would explain exactly what purpose is served by the Prime Minister holding that office. I ask that question because the noble Lord, Lord Chatfield, said in your Lordships' House that he had held that office under Mr. Chamberlain 673 and had resigned it because he could not find any purpose in the office. The Prime Minister himself has told us that he does nothing as Minister of Defence which he could not do as Prime Minister. Therefore I have to ask myself what is the purpose of this title, what is the purpose of this office, and I think it would help to clear our minds very much if we were given an explanation of what purpose exactly is served by the Prime Minister holding the office of Minister of Defence since he has told us he does nothing as Minister of Defence that he cannot do as Prime Minister.
The noble Marquess, Lord Londonderry, touched upon a very sore point when he referred to the fact that the Prime Minister is supposed to dominate and overrule his professional advisers and the members of the War Cabinet. There is a general reluctance to believe that he does not do that. We have had very categorical statements that he does not, but nevertheless the belief that he does so persists throughout the country. I will endeavour to put forward a few facts which I think explain the reason for uneasiness. They lie in the genesis of the office. When the Prime Minister was First Lord of the Admiralty, while Mr. Chamberlain was still Prime "Minister, there were conferred upon him very exceptional powers indeed. On April 11, 1940, Mr. Chamberlain made an announcement to the effect that the First Lord would normally preside over the Ministerial Committee on Military Co-ordination. That was followed by a still more remarkable announcement on May 7 that Mr. Churchill as First Lord wasauthorized by the Cabinet to give guidance and direction to the Chiefs of Staff Committee who will prepare plans to carry out the objectives which are given to them by him.Mr. Chamberlain went on to say:My right honourable friend will have a special responsibility for the supervision of military operations day by day.The First Lord was empowered to give directions to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, who were to prepare plans to carry out what was submitted to them by him.
That was the position when Mr. Churchill was First Lord of the Admiralty under Mr. Chamberlain. Are we really to believe that when Mr. Churchill became Prime Minister and assumed the office of Minister of Defence, he divested himself of any of the powers which had been conferred 674 upon him when he was First Lord of the Admiralty by the previous Prime Minister? I think that anyone who knows the Prime Minister will feel that that was very unlikely indeed, and that he himself certainly retained those powers, preserved them and possibly added to them. By the Patent of Admiralty the First Lord is charged with responsibility to Parliament for all naval business. He is also charged with the allocation of business inside the Admiralty, so that everybody in the Admiralty is responsible to him for transaction of naval business and he in turn is responsible to Parliament. But we know from statements made by the Prime Minister that all major decisions of the Board of Admiralty have now to be submitted to the Minister of Defence. Therefore the responsibility which is thrown upon the First Lord of the Admiralty by the Patent is in fact abrogated by this fact that the decisions of the Board have now to be submitted to the Minister of Defence.
I do not know how much further it goes, but I notice that the other day the late Civil Lord of the Admiralty, in a speech which he made to his constituents, informed them that when he ceased to hold the office of Civil Lord of the Admiralty he received the usual letter from the Prime Minister and subsequently found the First Lord had not been told, If the Prime Minister removes the Civil Lord without informing the First Lord, will he hesitate to move Fleets and ships when he wishes to do so? When the Naval Staff wishes to move ships in accordance with strategical requirements the First Sea Lord says the permission of the Minister of Defence must be obtained. There is the further fact that announcements relating to the Navy are made in another place not by the First Lord of the Admiralty, but by the Minister of Defence. In such circumstances it is inevitable that the feeling must prevail that it is the Minister of Defence and not the First Lord of the Admiralty who is primarily responsible for the transaction of naval business and for operational matters. It is no wonder that there is a feeling that the Minister of Defence does overrule and interfere with operational matters. And as a matter of fact, it is freely said that operational telegrams are sent by the Minister of Defence on his own responsibility and over his own name. If that is not the case I think it is high time that it was most emphatically 675 contradicted. The impression that it is the case is very widely spread indeed.
Well, my Lords, those are some of the reasons why this general uneasiness is felt about this combination of the offices of the Prime Minister and Minister of Defence. Another matter which gives rise to considerable uneasiness is that in respect of many of the defeats and reverses which we have suffered the question arises whether they spring from that reluctance to face facts or to be guided by the lessons of the war which has always been such a very strong characteristic of the present Prime Minister. In the last war we had the episode of the Dardanelles campaign. Admiral Mahan, who is quite an authority on naval matters, long ago said that ships cannot engage land forts. But the First Lord of the Admiralty said: ''They can if I order them to do so," and that enterprise in the Dardanelles was set on foot, although we know that Mr. Churchill overrode his professional advisers. We know that the First Sea Lord was overridden; that Admiral Lord Fisher was most reluctant and strongly opposed the opening of that campaign. Nevertheless it was opened, and when all the smoke and thunder had died away and the lives had been lost and the treasure spent and the time and effort wasted, we came back to a realization of the truth of the simple statement of Mahan that ships cannot engage land forts.
Again, we know that in this war it has been bitterly apparent that Armies cannot operate under certain conditions until they have proper air cover. What happened in Greece? Troops were sent into Greece—I do not know the figures but I have been told that 45,000 troops were sent with fifteen aircraft. And the result again was catastrophe. When it was all over the simple lesson remained that troops cannot operate without air cover. Again, we have learnt the lesson in this war that ships cannot operate without air cover in certain circumstances. Nevertheless the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse" were sent to do it, and within twelve days they were at the bottom of the sea. Again we were left with the simple lesson still staring us in the face that ships cannot operate without air cover. Are we to believe that in all these instances all these steps were taken, all these operations embarked upon, with 676 the full advice and concurrence of the expert advisers? If so, it seems to me that there is something very wrong about the expert advisers when they so frequently—if it is so—counsel operations which fly in the teeth of the lessons of this war and always have such unfortunate and disastrous results.
I have mentioned Greece. Let me say that in my opinion that decision to divert troops from Libya into Greece has been the major strategical error of this war. In reading the history of the last war I can find no record of any strategical error of such importance having been committed unless, possibly, it was the Dardanelles campaign. From that disastrous decision to send those troops into Greece have followed, in inevitable sequence, our reverses, defeats and disasters, and, in the long run, what advantage could it possibly have been to Greece? The hopes of Greece were bound up in an early victory by us. And there was prospect of early victory, but it has been disastrously delayed by that decision to send troops into Greece. Was that decision taken by General Wavell or with his advice and consent, or was it taken in opposition to his advice? I only know that after that General Wavell started upon his remarkable Odyssey to India, to Burma and Java and back again to India. On whose advice was that decision to send those troops into Greece taken?
There is only one other recommendation I should like to make in addition to this suggestion that the Ministry of Defence serves no purpose, and should be abolished. I think that we might consider having a very much smaller Government. I think that we now have a bloated and unwieldy Government. There has been an extraordinary proliferation of Ministers to such an extent that really the Ministerial coinage has been debased. There is a great number of Ministers whose work and offices appear to bear no apparent relation to the war effort. I think there is great room for compression, for the telescoping of certain Ministries, and, in fact, for the suppression of certain others. Then there is also this immense litter of Committees, which has already been referred to. Committees unfortunately are like rabbits—they breed at a tremendous pace. The institution of one always leads to several more. I suggest that there should be a smaller War 677 Cabinet every Minister in which has some relation to cur war effort. That I think is the second great requirement at this moment. More changes must be made. It is impossible for us to go on as we are doing at the present moment. The noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack, referring to a speech which I made in this place, made mention of the putter. He asked whether I wished to change the putter. I think there was some little ambiguity there. I would remind the noble and learned Lord Chancellor that the word "putter" may be applied both to the instrument of the game and to the person using it.
§ LORD WINSTER
May I in my turn ask the noble and learned Viscount a question following out the golf analogy? I would ask him if he has ever heard of anyone winning a game of golf by the process of losing every hole? It cannot be done. No more can you win a war by the process of losing every battle. We have got to have change. Things cannot go on as they are doing. It is impossible for the Prime Minister to go out into the country now and say: "I have got my vote of confidence, and I will change nothing." That will not do. Great calls are going to be made on our people—greater calls than any which have yet been made. They will respond if they know that the house is being set in order. If yon will do that and reconstruct on the basis of a smaller Government in which the members are chosen on the basis of the best man for the job, and no other basis—certainly not upon any Party basis—then you can ask the country for a supreme effort.
The noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, closed his speech yesterday with a quotation from Cromwell. It was a well-known quotation which breathes a very familiar spirit indeed—namely, that as you are English you just go on and stick it and everything is all right. I am a pragmatist, and my strongest theological belief is that faith without works is of no avail whatever. At this juncture I infinitely prefer to the quotation from Cromwell a quotation from William Morris which, with 3'our Lordships' permission, I will read:Meanwhile, if these hours be dark, at least do not let us sit deedless, like fools, and 678 beaten by the muddle, but rather let us work like good fellows to set our workshop ready against to-morrow's daylight.I feel that to be a message for to-day—to clear up the muddle, to set our workshop in order; and, believe me, we must do it whilst there is yet time—and perhaps there is not much time—for, if we do not clear up the muddle and set our workshop in order, we shall never win through this long winter of our discontent to the daylight and the sunlight and the victory.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I shall try not at this hour to keep your Lordships very long, but many matters have been raised and, as to some of them, I should like briefly and clearly to reply. As to other matters—valuable suggestions and criticisms—I would wish to assure the House that they shall not be overlooked or neglected. Important Government advisers have been present, listening to the debate and taking due note. The whole debate will, of course, be most carefully scanned by all concerned. I agree, if I may say so, with my noble friend Lord Londonderry, that in dealing with this very sombre situation this House shows to advantage. I would even make so bold as to say that possibly, as Lord Londonderry suggested, we do these things better than they do them in the House of Commons.
This is admittedly a time of the most, terrible strain and anxiety, and we should not be Englishmen if that sense of strain and anxiety did not show itself in this. British institution. As I have listened to the debate, I have thought once or twice of a passage which some of your Lordships may know, one of the most splendid passages in the writings of antiquity, where Thucydides described how, as the great sea fight was being fought out just off Syracuse, the Greek Army on land watched every fluctuation of the struggle until, as he says, their bodies "swayed in their anguish" almost as it were like the wind passing over the heads of a field of corn. There is not a man or a woman who does not feel in their very fibre the immense anxieties of such a time.
Constructive criticism—and there has been much of it in this debate—and reasonable inquity—and there has been a great deal of it in this debate—are surely the natural outcome. I do not quite agree with my noble friend Lord Latham in an observation which he made 679 when commenting upon the closing part of the very moving address which my noble friend Lord Cranborne gave us at the last sitting. My noble friend Lord Cranborne, the Leader of the House, did not complain of criticism. There is no question of resenting criticism at all; this is no time to be as small-minded as that. The observation which my noble friend made, and which I must say I thought was appropriate and very powerfully expressed, was that we should aim, in conducting a discussion like this, at not creating a sense of distrust; for, if we do not believe in ourselves and in our country and its Government, then we cannot expect other people to believe in us either. That is what he said. He said: "Do not keep the Government in office, if that is the view which you hold; but, whatever you do, do not give the impression here and abroad that, while they are kept in office, they are not to be trusted." That seems to me, speaking with very great respect and I hope with not too much partisanship, to be very wise and sound advice; and I would acknowledge most freely and most sincerely, if I may be allowed to do so at the end of the debate, that that has been in substance the course which has been taken in the debate.
If there are some questions which I shall not attempt to answer, although I might do so, it is because I think that we have also to take into account constantly the well-known advice which my noble friend Lord Hankey repeated: "Do not give too much information about things that are happening, still less about things that are going to happen." It may well be that our open Parliamentary system of challenge and counter-challenge leads us, as a matter of practice, to do that; but we cannot afford to give anything away at this critical time; and, even if I could answer with precision—and I think that I could, from the information given to me—as to the extent to which heavy bombers may be going to Africa, and how far such forces are likely shortly to be increased, I would not give the answer, because I think it would be obviously a matter helpful to the enemy, however satisfactory to myself.
Let me at once pay the tribute of respectful congratulation to the noble Earl, Lord Denbigh, whose maiden speech had the two qualities which endear 680 every maiden speaker to an ancient assembly; it was a modest speech, and it was a well-informed speech. Let me offer to him what may be regarded in some degree as the result of his effort, or at any rate a gratifying answer to his inquiry. He pointed out, what I think has been pointed out before, that there are disadvantages in having separate communiqués from a field of operations where all our Forces are engaged. There is always at least the risk that some-designing person may set one against another, whereas what interests us is to know from the responsible authorities, in one consolidated communiqué, how the battle is going. The noble Earl will be glad to know that the first joint communiqué from Africa was issued yesterday, and that it is intended, I understand, to continue the practice which he recommends, and that there will not be, in the circumstances with which we are now dealing, a continuation of these triplicated communiqués. It is not always that a maiden speaker is able to gather his sheaves so quickly as on this occasion.
Then there were two very important questions, special questions connected with bombers, on each of which your Lordships will expect me to say a word, and I will deal with them in turn. One of them, I think, has been cleared up partly as the result of the extremely informing statement made yesterday by my noble friend Lord Beaverbrook and partly by the addition that was made to it by my noble friend Lord Brabazon this afternoon. The story of the dive bomber is really completely clear. I suppose there is no occupation more satisfactory to oneself and more easy to pursue than looking back on serious events after you know how they have actually developed and explaining how certain you are that if you had been in control of them at the time you would have done something better and different. But in the case of the dive bomber I do not think anybody could really have that retrospective sense of personal satisfaction.
The position, as Lord Beaverbrook explained it, appeared to me to be quite unassailable. He pointed out that in May and June, 1940, in the desperate condition in which we found ourselves after Dunkirk, we were in effect denuded of aircraft, that the situation was one which required the replenishing and the multiplying of machines at the maximum possible 681 speed at ail events and at all costs. For my part I am very glad that the noble Lord was there to do it. He told us that instead of continuing to produce a variety of well-established types—thirty-one I think he said—which were in actual production, he remorselessly cut those down and the orders were given that at least for the time being everybody should be turned on to the business of producing five essential and well-established types of aircraft—bombers and fighters. There cannot be the slightest question—everybody must see it, although he has no more claim to be an expert than I have—that that was the quickest way of getting what was absolutely essential. And if the Archangel Gabriel at that moment had descended and informed us that what we ought to do was to design and make a model of, and ultimately produce, an experimental type and then get it through its teething troubles in order to produce a new kind of thing called a dive bomber, then he would have been repudiated by the universal judgment of the country. What was done was that, as it was known that there was such a machine to be produced in America, a heavy order was at once placed, there. Though it be true, as the noble Lord, Lord Beaver-brook, explained to us, without casting blame on anybody—indeed I gather-partly because of alterations from this side—the supply was slower than might have been expected, at any rate that is a complete answer to the suggestion that there was some serious fault of good sense or good management in the manner of producing dive bombers.
Then there is another point which the noble Lord, Lord Addison, raised in the debate yesterday and asked that it might be dealt with by the noble Viscount, Lord Cranborne, when he spoke. Lord Cranborne, exercising the privilege which attaches always to the Leader of the House, proceeded to explain that this was one of the matters that I would deal with to-day. I cannot say how much gratified I was to be informed of the confidence that was thus placed in me. I have made independent inquiries and have ascertained the facts, but the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, has been good enough—and very usefully and with much greater authority—to interpose and explain the whole thing. The passage which Lord Addison quoted from the Secretary of State for War, speaking two days 682 ago, appeared, I believe, in a supplementary answer and it was of course quite correctly quoted by my noble friend. It ran: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.But I have learnt from the Secretary of State himself that that passage has not to do with dive bombers. It may be that read in the Official Report it had that appearance.
§ LORD ADDISON indicated dissent.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
Well, I can only say I am told so most positively. I am assured by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for War that the actual question to which he was referring was the general subject of Air Co-operation with the Army which is constantly, of course, a matter of arrangement between the Departments, and he tells me that he believes that very shortly there may be some more specific statement to be made.
§ LORD ADDISON
I very much regret to interrupt the Lord Chancellor. I am quite sure that the statement he has made to the House just now is strictly according to Departmental information that has been conveyed to him. But I am equally sure that if anybody reads the record in the Official Report of the proceedings in the House of Commons it is beyond a shadow of doubt that the answer of the Secretary of State for War referred to dive bombers and to nothing else.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
What an advantage it is that we live under the system of a bicameral Legislature ! The noble Lord referred to Departmental information as though it was some inferior sort of second-hand backstairs gossip. I must make it quite plain that my information comes from Sir James Grigg himself personally—spoken to me and taken in by my ears; and it will not be the first time that the written word, even if it quite correctly records the reply to a supplementary question, has led to misunderstanding. I hope that my noble friend Lord Addison will now realize that there is nothing at all in this very considerable mare's nest.
The other point had to do, not with dive bombers, but with heavy bombers, and a very powerful and very emphatic part 683 of Lord Addison's speech dealt with that. In particular, as these long-distance machines had been used, admittedly with great effect, on a limited number of occasions over German towns, Cologne, Bremen and so on—why was it, he said, that instead of that they had not been operating in Libya where, I think he observed, half the damage done to Cologne would have been of invaluable help to men of ours who were hard placed there. Let me preface what I am about to say by observing that nobody knows better than I do how entirely independent my noble friend is, and I do not suspect him of having got the argument from anybody else; but I am just going to read one or two passages and ask the House whether they do not see, as it happens, a certain familiarity.
Here is something which was said on June 17:It looks once again as if our convoys were not given sufficient air support. Meanwhile the major weight of the R.A.F.'s strength is being kept at home for use in bombing Germany, and the military value of such operations cannot compare with that of the battle in Libya and in the Mediterranean. Yet our men have often had cause to complain in the past that the R.A.F. were never where they were most needed. When they are urgently required in decisive battles, Churchill dissipates the R.A.F. for bombing the Continent. He reserves them for making propaganda.The House may be interested to know where that passage—and I have others of the same sort—comes from. It comes from the German broadcasting station pouring in the English language into this country propaganda by means of which they hope to remove the pressure of our heavy bombers from German towns. Here is another one:If these planes that mass-attacked Cologne had been sent to Libya, very different news would be coming from Cairo to-day. General opinion is veering round to this view. It has been authoritatively stated that no repetition of the thousand-bomber raids should be expected; the R.A.F. cannot afford them—having more than they can manage to do as it is. It is having to send strong reinforcements to the Middle Fast at once. If these planes had not been wasted on Churchill's propaganda stunts, there would not now be this hurried dispatch of planes to save the situation in Egypt.It distresses me to tell your Lordships that this is not the language of a single-souled patriot whom we can recognize and welcome as a brother, but is the carefully-designed language of the German propaganda 684 agency, and was dispatched by the "New British Broadcasting Station" on June 25.
§ LORD ADDISON
Is the noble Viscount suggesting I knew anything about that? It is not quite good enough. I want to know if the noble Viscount is suggesting I knew anything about that stuff or was influenced by it?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not think the noble Lord has done me the justice of listening to what I said before I read these extracts.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
What I said was that I knew perfectly well—we all know—the noble Lord has been giving his own views, his own single judgment. I appeal to the recollection of the House.
§ LORD ADDISON
I regard it as a gross affront. I consider it nothing less. You admit I knew nothing about these matters. I never heard about it in my life, and I regard it therefore as an affront. The noble Viscount prefaced it by white-washing me, and then proceeded to read some emanation of Goebbels as though it were mine. I think it is a most shocking affront.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I am sorry my noble friend should even temporarily lose control of himself. I did everything the House would think was reasonable and proper. I was most careful to guard him from the even momentary supposition that I attributed anything of the kind to him. What I pointed out was that the observation in his speech is exactly the observation made on the German wireless, and though of course he makes it entirely in the interest of this country, it is a matter for observation that apparently those in Germany, who certainly do not wish to serve the interests of this country, think it a most desirable thing to remove our bombers from German territory. If my noble friend will reflect, as I am sure he will, with his usual fairness, on what I have said, he will find nothing whatever to complain of. I have no reflection to make on him whatever. I do think, however—I do not know whether your Lordships do—that the similarity of view goes to show that my noble friend's view may not be right. It seems tome just possible that there may 685 be more to be said for bombing Germany than he thinks. At least the Germans think so, and on that subject they probably are very good witnesses, because they know what it means. I am extremely sorry if any word of mine should have caused my noble friend an even temporary ruffling.
I have one or two other matters to deal with. I do not wish to revive the question of whether the Prime Minister should also be Minister of Defence. It is an argument we have had many times. I was glad to hear my noble friend Lord Londonderry speak so warmly as he did about the Prime Minister, and I would remind him that he has expressed the view that the Minister of Defence must be the Prime Minister. But I am not on this question of organization for the moment. If anybody wants the latest evidence which seems to be available as to the part which the Prime Minister plays in interfering with strategic or tactical questions, it was provided as recently as yesterday. I would invite my noble friend Lord Winster to add this bead to his rosary, because some of the earlier examples we have heard about before. It is very good evidence, because it is the evidence of somebody who certainly knows. It is not speculation or inference, it is fact.
Sir Roger Keyes, in the debate in another place yesterday, (taking a line which seemed to me very different from the line of the proposer, but none the less complaining of the same thing), thought that the higher direction of the war was at fault, but it turned out that the higher direction was at fault according to him because Mr. Winston Churchill followed the advice of his professional advisers. That was his point. Sir Roger Keyes took Norway as an example. He had a great deal of interest to say, because he told Parliament, as we know is the fact, that he was himself closely associated with these matters, and that he was quite unable to persuade the Prime Minister to adopt a course with reference to Norway which was different from that recommended by his professional advisers. He thought that was one of the proofs that the higher direction of the war was defective. That is the worst of these general expressions. They mean different things in the mouths of different people.
Some people, when they talk about the higher direction of the war being defective, 686 seem to imagine the Prime Minister interferes at every moment. There was the question, for instance, which was asked in the speech of my noble friend Lord Winster. It is a difficult form of statement to deal with, but I will do my best. He said, dealing with naval operations, that it is freely said that operational orders have gone out in the Prime Minister's own name. I have not had much time to inquire, but there happens to be a very experienced member of the General Staff available who knows this matter well, and he sends me this answer:This is not true. The Prime Minister does not send operational signals.Though the noble Lord was only asking a question, I am sure he will be glad to get so definite an answer in respect of his own Service.
As to the speech of my noble friend Lord Ailwyn, I shall perhaps be excused if I do not give him a detailed answer to his extremely important question on the supply of vitamins to the troops under the conditions in Libya. He was good enough to give notice that he would raise this question, and I have had from the Department a detailed answer of a very technical character indeed, containing some expressions and formulæ which I do not profess myself completely to understand. Perhaps my noble friend will allow me to send him some detailed information; I can say this—because I have studied it sufficiently—that he will be glad to know that, in fact, steps are taken to secure that in the ration which is served in Libya, provision is made for sufficient supplies of these vitamins and other special substances—phosphorus and others—which undoubtedly medical science advises us are essential if we are to keep troops in proper fighting condition under such strenuous circumstances. The matter is by no means overlooked and, if I may, I shall send my noble friend a detailed answer.
Then there was one other question relating to the bombers which was put by the last speaker. On all these technical matters I must say I speak with great hesitation, because there are a hundred things the experts know that the rest of us can hardly know at all, but if I understood Lord Winster rightly he was really making a very surprising suggestion. His suggestion, as I understand it, was that 687 long-distance bombers should be sent out in order to break the line of Rommel's supplies across the Mediterranean, that that was the way to stop the supplies which Germany was getting to Libya. He added that this operation was to take place in the day time, and I think also said that in the same way there should be used torpedo-carrying aircraft. Approaching it not as a highly expert problem, which I am incapable of judging, but from a much more elementary point of view, I ask myself: "Well, in the day time, are these large bombers to be protected by fighter aircraft?" If they are not, I should fear that their fate would be sealed, but if they are to be protected by fighter aircraft, where are the fighter aircraft to come from? These are considerations so elementary that possibly they only occur to the uninformed mind, but I do not know the answer to them. If one or two of your Lordships can correct me now and say that that is all wrong—I see my noble friend Lord Trenchard there—I would most willingly give way, but I believe it to be quite right. I think I now hear my noble friend Lord Trenchard say it is quite right. It shows how much easier it is to make suggestions than it is to carry them out.
There was the suggestion by Lord Winster made at the end of his speech with which I most thoroughly agree. He seemed to me to strike a true note when he said, coming to the end of the debate, that our duty was a duty first and above all to sustain the Army in Africa. That is what it is, that is the thing which makes a Parliamentary and democratic assembly an advantage to a country that can exercise the virtues of courage and self-control. Have your Lordships reflected that, as far as things have gone, there are, I suppose, six men in connexion with this vital world-wide struggle whose names will be written for ever on the scroll of history. There is Roosevelt, there is Stalin, there is Chiang Kai-shek, there are those two on the enemy side whom Milton would call "bad eminencies," Hitler and perhaps Mussolini, and there is Churchill. Now all their six countries since the war started have had to receive very bad news—Pearl Harbour, the Germans at the gates of Moscow, Japan overrunning province after province of China and cutting the Burma road, and on the enemy side the utter 688 failure of the Battle of Britain, the heroic resistance of Russia, the loss of the Italian Empire. And yet this is the only country out of the six in which there is a free Parliamentary debate, where every critic has his say and is listened to with respect and attention, where a vote of censure can be moved on the head of the Government and can be rejected by a vast majority.
These are tremendously proud reflections for every one of us. It seems to me, my Lords, it is this situation which calls upon us to be worthy of our Parliamentary heritage. There has been nothing said here in this House to-day or yesterday for which anybody need be reproached. This has been a real Council of State in which everybody has contributed of his best. But now let us finish, as Lord Denman so finely said in his speech earlier in the day, with a message to the Army in Egypt. Let us tell them that they may have confidence in the determination of their fellow-countrymen here in Parliament and out of it to supply the best weapons that we possibly can, that we will rival their own constancy and endeavour to equal their own courage, that we will never allow ourselves to be dismayed by misfortune and that in that spirit one day they and we will welcome the victory together.
§ LORD DAVIES
Would the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack give me an assurance that everything will be done to deal with the position in Palestine?
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I had a difficulty in replying on that matter as the noble Lord will understand, but I will report what he has said to the proper quarters.
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure you will all agree that this two-days' debate has been entirely worthy of this House, and indeed I think perhaps it may stand out hereafter as being a debate which will have shown up in a conspicuous degree the large variety of talent which this Houses possesses. I have only one or two comments to make, as is the privilege of the mover of a Motion, without extending the sphere of the debate. I was glad to hear the announcement of the Lord Chancellor that we have heard the last of separate Service communiqués. It was a subject which I took the liberty 689 myself of protesting against in somewhat strong language, because I felt strongly, yesterday.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I do not know whether I might interpose because I do not want there to be any misunderstanding. What I did say had reference to Libya and Egypt. Of course, if there was a naval engagement it might very well be that there would be a particular announcement on a particular topic.
I quite understand that in the nature of the case that must be so. I am thinking of where the Services are acting in common as has been the case in Libya. I will not be vain enough to think that what was said here by myself and supported by others yesterday has anything to do with it, but it may have added its minute quota towards the balance of the scale on one side. Anyhow it is all to the good and I am sure it will have a very wholesome effect. They are brothers in arms every one of them in the air, on the sea, and on the land. One set of communiqués is enough.
All I can say is that if the Lord Chancellor is satisfied with the story of the dive bombers he is very easily satisfied. I make no further comment on that. It speaks for itself. I do, however, take serious exception 1o the way the Lord Chancellor approached what I said about big bombing raids. What I actually said in discussing the influence of big bombing on the progress of the war—interrupted for a considerable time in the month of June, in fine weather—was:Half a Cologne raid would have reduced Benghazi to smithereens.That is true. It is not based on anything Mr. Goebbels said, it is based on sensible observation of the situation and on a very strong feeling held by many men in the Service. I believe it is true. It was supported by what the noble Lord, Lord Hankey, suggested in other respects and by what the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, said, and I think myself, whatever may be the system adopted in the Law Courts, it is not fair and not right that my argument should be prejudiced as it clearly was by the suggestion that it is an argument which is convenient to our enemies. I think it was the right thing to have done and so do many others just as patriotic as anybody else.
690 One point which emerges from the extraordinarily interesting speech of the noble Lord, Lord Beaverbrook, is that it would be very interesting some time in a convenient way to have a little more light on the rapidity with which ideas of new designs can be translated into manufacturing realities. That is one of the crucial difficulties I know full well, but I am not satisfied even from what the noble Lord said that we are as expeditious as we might be. At all events, I think it will be a suitable subject for discussion.
Before I close I should like to express a hope that the noble Viscount, the Leader of the House, will reconsider the decision which he took some time ago, no doubt on advice from his colleagues, that the proposed debate on merchant shipping should be held in secret. I hope that some time in the near future that subject may be debated, perhaps in amended form, in public sitting. I feel quite sure it could be advantageously debated without giving the enemy any information he docs not possess. I will take the opportunity of communicating with the noble Viscount through the usual channels, but I should like publicly to express the hope that it will be possible to have a debate in Open Session in the near future. I beg leave to withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion, by leave, withdrawn.