Title Graphic




Ebb and Flow

In the strategic and economic conditions of 1942, 1943 and 1944 the flow of supplies was bound to be both highly expansive and unstable. Offensive plans necessitated special offensive weapons; more especially the final landing on the Continent required a large quantity of miscellaneous equipment specially designed for that purpose, such as Mulberry and landing craft. Disseminated all over the main supply programmes were many other items of equipment of the same origin, ranging from additional engineers' equipment and amphibious or waterproof tanks for the Army to special radar instruments for 'tactical' bombing.

As a rule, the new weapons for the offensive were so interlocked with war-stores in current supply that neither at the time nor in retrospect could they be easily isolated from the main stream of Service requirements. The main burdens of the new demands on the supply departments came in that way: as further instalments of Service programmes. Yet from the point of view of the supply departments the  period was marked not only by an expansion of Service programmes but by their fluidity. The expansion threatened to pass beyond the bounds of the possible, and before long cuts became inevitable. But the cuts themselves added to that uncertainty and instability which was in any case bound to result from the shifting emphasis of the offensive campaigns.

In the ordinary course of events the sights of production programmes would have risen, and were, in fact, in the process of being lifted at the end of 1941. Some rises were resulting from the progressive changes in weapons which were taking place all the while but which were expected to reach their maximum by 1942. In the


course of that year the new four-engined bombers were to replace the older types and to lead to vastly increased requirements of materials, components and labour. The fighters of the Battle of Britain were beginning to be replaced by more advanced types—the Typhoon, the Tempest and the new marks of Spitfire. A large and brand-new field of military supplies was being opened up by the development of radar. Less revolutionary, but almost equally expansive, were the coming changes in the army weapons. The 6-pounder gun which generally replaced the 2-pounder gun in the course of late 1941 and early 1942 was to be supplemented, and in part replaced, by the still heavier 17-pounder tank gun and anti-tank equipment. The anti-aircraft artillery was to be supplemented by a new version of the 3.7-inch, but the 4.5-inch, by the much heavier and more complicated 5.25-inch, and by the medium-light twin 6-pounder. Important changes were envisaged in ammunition, both for tank and anti-tank guns and for anti-aircraft guns (proximity fuses). Finally, tanks of the new cruiser type (Cavalier-Centaur) and of the new heavily-armed types (Cromwell, A.30 and A.32) were expected to come into production in replacement of the Matilda, the Crusader, the Valentine and, to some extent, the Churchill. There were also some changes in army organisation leading to demands for special weapons, the outstanding example of which was the formation of airborne troops.

Addition to military programmes also resulted from the growing allocations to the Allies. The Polish Prisoners' Divisions, which arrived in the Middle East from Russia in 1942, had to be equipped from British sources, and there was, of course, the continued drain of supplies to the U.S.S.R. The supplies which Britain undertook to provide un the 'Second Protocol' of June 1942 were to run at roughly the same monthly rates as under the 'First Protocol' of October 19411—200 aircraft per month, 250 tanks per month, etc. And even although the interruptions to the convoys to North Russia which occurred in the late summer and early autumn of 1942 prevented the supplies under the Second Protocol from being in full within the year, the actual burden of the allocations to the U.S.S.R. continued to weight heavily upon the supply programmes and upon the industrial efforts of this country.

These increments, whether emanating from recent offensive plans or inherited from earlier commitments, were all to be superimposed on current programmes. What is more, current programmes themselves were in process of rapid expansion. Planned production was due to be raised in 1942 to reach the culminating rates of output; and the rates themselves were on the point of being expanded in keeping with the wider strategic responsibilities after Pearl Harbor.

The expansion had in fact begun some time before America's entry


into the war. The British strategic hypothesis and programmes discussed at the Anglo-American conference in the autumn of 19412 necessitated additions of about ten percent to the current rates of Service requirements. The Americans did not, for the time being, make clear forecasts of their own, but before long high targets were set up in Washington. As soon as the United States entered the war the American objectives were enlarged further sill, far above all earlier estimates of supplies necessary for victory. In his famous pronouncement to Congress on 6th January 1942 the President set before American war industry aims so immense as to appear fabulous: 185,000 aeroplanes, 120,000 tanks, 55,000 anti-aircraft guns, 18 million tons of merchant shipping—all within two years.3

Industrial ambitions in Britain could not, of course, be expanded to anything approaching the same height; yet they had already been rising and were to continue to rise with the further progress of current programmes, with the more recent increases in the strength of the Forces and with the mounting demands of the developing offensive. Large and on the whole increasing supplies had to be produced in accordance with programmes, and, in addition, special equipment outside the regular Service programmes continued to be asked for and turned our in ever-increasing quantities.


The Offensive Tools


Obvious accretions to military demands were bound to result from the purely tactical requirements of the offensive strategy. The demands for 'tools' specially designed for the attack and the urgent needs of various offensive enterprises had begun to mount long before full concentration on 'Overlord' was decreed. Indeed, heavy calls on the economic resources of this country came from the very undertaking which inaugurated the offensive schemes of the Allies: the so-called operation 'Bolero' for the reception and maintenance of American forces in Britain. At the time when 'Bolero' was planned, i.e. at the beginning of 1942, the Battle of the Atlantic was at its height4 and the shortage of which the planners were most conscious was that of shipping. They therefore laid down that for greater


economy in shipping the stores required by the American forces in Britain should, as far as possible, be found from British production. Needless to say, the burden of 'Bolero' was not to be borne wholly by the supply departments and by war industry. Much of the strain was taken by civil industries of every kind. Some of the burden had to be shouldered by transport services; provision also had to be made for suitable development of the harbours and possibly of the railways of southern England; above all, the operation required a very large allocation of building labour for the construction of aerodromes and camps. In 1943 it was estimated that some 500,000 workers were engaged, directly or indirectly, in providing goods and services of all kinds for United States forces in the United Kingdom, and that of these, thirty percent were engaged in services including transport, thirty percent in building, ten percent in other civil occupations and only thirty percent in providing weapons.

Nevertheless the actual burden on war industries was probably greater than a mere third of the total, for the additional demands now placed on the so-called civil industries made it more difficult to reduce the margin of non-essential labour and materials from which the requirements of war industry could be drawn. It was not until 1944, when the shortage of manpower had come to be felt more acutely than the lack of shipping, that the principle of 'Bolero'; was revised, and the needs of American forces in Britain had to a far greater extent than before to be covered by imports from the United States.5

Other supplies directly related to the coming offensive were too many and too miscellaneous to be listed and described here. They included, however, in addition to the all-important landing craft, one or two items to novel in conception and so spectacular in size as to draw to themselves a great deal of well-deserved publicity. One of them was the famous Mulberry, a series of prefabricated harbours designed to facilitate the landing of supplies on unsheltered beaches; another was 'Pluto', an oil pipe to the armies across the Channel. Measures against the total volume of war production the two projects may not appear very great, but coming, as they did, when resources were stretched to their limit, they were bound to raise production problems out of proportion to their size. Moreover, they had to be fitted to the opening dates of the operation without much time to spare.


Operation Pluto was strategically important, tactically adventurous and, from the industrial point of view, strenuous, but it did not engage any considerable proportion of British resources. More than


a year's experimental work on the project had been organised by the Petroleum Warfare Department and the Combined Operations Experimental Directorate before the operational stage was reached in June 1943.6 Some time before than a joint effort of an oil company, a submarine cable company and a steel company, working in conjunction with rival commercial firms, resulted in two novel types of oil pipe—the Hais (Hartley-Anglo-Iranian-Siemens) cable made of lead and the Hamel (Hammick-Ellis) steel pipe.7 By the summer of 1943 both types were being made in large quantities and arrangements were also made for lengths of the cable to be produced in the United States.8 All preparations for the operation were completed some weeks before D-day.

The carrying out of the project necessitated close cooperation between companies, firms, government departments and the Services,9 and gave rise to complex problems of organisation, but measured in materials and manpower it did not by itself impose too heavy a burden on war industry. In June 1943 it was estimated that comparatively small quantities of such scarce raw materials as steel, lead and rubber would be required.10 The labour needed was estimated to include an unspecified number of workers for the erection of pumping houses, pumps, pipes, tanks, etc., at the English terminal; approximately 600 men for the extension of a land-line to the coast; and some 600 workers, of whom 112 would be skilled, for the execution of the rest of the  operation. Indeed, the main burden of the operation was felt no by industry but by the Services. The resources of the Navy were strained,11 though in the end the project helped to save valuable tanker tonnage needed in the Far East. Both the Navy and the Army also felt the drain on their personnel. In July 1943 the War Office stated that the six or seven hundred engineers employed in connection with Pluto were urgently needed elsewhere. As soon, therefore, as reliable alternative supplies of petroleum became available in sufficient quantities, i.e. from the end of July 1945, the operation was closed down.



Of the two projects, the Mulberry harbour was the larger and the more complicated. Fortunately, the equipment which made it up was highly heterogeneous in conception and construction, and the task could be spread between several ministries and a large number of industries. One of its main components (in the end it turned out to be the most effective of all), the booms of blockships comprising the five 'Gooseberries', entailed little additional effort. The thirty-odd blockships, which formed the British contribution, came out of scarce and fully-employed resources of the Merchant Navy, but at least one-third of the ships provided by the Ministry of War Transport were so old and decrepit as to be no longer usable.12 The remainder, although also old, could not be easily spared from British shipping resources, but at the time when they were being mustered for D-day, it was no longer thought necessary or possible to make special provision for replacing them with new shipping tonnage, and no additions to the current shipbuilding programmes thus resulted. The other main components however—the concrete caissons to form the main breakwater (the 'Phoenix'), the pierheads and other equipment making up the main system of jetties and floating roadways (the 'Whale'), and the steel floats composing the outer breakwater (the 'Bombardon')—all had to be designed and produced anew.

Fortunately, a little of the preliminary work had been done some time before the requirement for the prefabricated harbours took shape. In May 1942 the Prime Minister had drawn the attention of the Chief of Combined Operations to the need for piers specially designed for use on beaches, and the discussions which followed had led to the design of a pier-head capable of floating to its site under its own power and of being held there in position by power-operated legs or 'spuds'.13 The first prototype was ordered from the Ministry of Supply in September 1942 and, very providentially, the Ministry took this opportunity to make certain templates and jigs and to work out a special welding technique in expectation of a bulk order. Similarly, the Special Weapon Development at the Admiralty had for some months been considering a project for a floating breakwater out of which the 'Bombardon' was to develop.

On the other hand, the other components were not designed and could not be ordered until the entire project of the Mulberry was ready, and the latter did not take shape until the early autumn of 1943. It had been under discussion at the headquarters of the Combined Operations and of the Chiefs of Staff of the Supreme Allied


Command, for since the Dieppe landing in August 1942 operations on the Continent had to be planned on the assumption that large ports would not be available in the initial stages of  the landing and that troops and supplies would have to be discharged on open beaches. The plan of artificial harbours did not crystallise into a definite requirement until August 1943 when the Chief of Staff to the Supreme Allied Commander was at last able to notify the Chiefs of Staff that in his view two artificial ports would be indispensable for the landing on the Continent. The requirement was finally approved by the Combined Chiefs of Staff at their Quebec meeting on the 15th August, but the design of the Phoenix breakwater could not be made ready and the order could not be placed until October.14 Similarly the construction of the Bombardon units could not be begun until November. Most of the secondary components of the piers and floating roadways were designed and ordered at the turn of 1943 and 1944. And as the plan of operations made it necessary for the harbour to be ready in the following spring, there were not more than five or six months in which to do the work. The problem was not made easier by continual changes in detailed design and by the later decision to enlarge the project to land two divisions more than was originally planned.

The main weight of the project fell upon the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty, for by an agreement with the Allies the designing and construction of the harbour was to be carried out in the United Kingdom. The Admiralty undertook to supply 115 units of the 'Bombardon', of about 200 tons of steel each,15 in addition to a great deal of minor equipment and modifications required for the block-ships. The Ministry of Supply undertook to produce for erection before D-day 167 Phoenix caissons of various sizes, ranging in weight from 1,600 tons to 5,780 tons (the latter was said to be equal in size and weight to a concrete building five storeys high), twenty-three  pier-heads and other elements of the 'Whale' piers, including eight collapsible steel extensions to pier-heads (the so-called Baker Floating Dolphins of 100 tons each), ten miles of bridging to form floating roadways and a very large number of floating pontoons to support the roadway as well as a quantity of secondary and subsidiary material. Additional components were ordered after D-day: some to repair the damage caused by the disastrous storms of the 19th–24th


June, others to reinforce the surviving Mulberry harbour for use in winter.

The enterprise thus turned out to be large as well as complicated and urgent. No wonder it was watched and helped along by everybody concerned, including the Prime Minister and General Eisenhower, with solicitude not unmixed with anxiety. But, except for a few critical days in April when the timetable hung fire, the project proceeded speedily and smoothly and was completed on time. The caissons for the 'Phoenix' were all but completed by the 16th May, and the last was delivered on the 23rd; the 'Bombardon'; was assembled in Portland by the 16th May; the bulk of the 'Whale' order sufficient for the minimum operational requirements was ready on the 27th May. The entire armada was ready to sail on the dates originally scheduled—the 6th, 7th and 8th June—and reached the Normandy beaches in several instalments by the 9th June.

The renown which soon attached itself to the name of Mulberry may have led the public to exaggerate not only the part which the artificial harbours as a whole played in the success of D-day operations, but also the magnitude of the production task it represented. on the other hand, the speed with which it was manufactured in the difficult conditions of the spring of 1944 may belie the true magnitude of the achievement. The total cost in money of manufacturing the Mulberry components was somewhere about £25 millions, or rather less than five percent of the estimated value of the total output of the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty in the six months  in which the Mulberry was under construction. The labour force directly employed was not at any time much in excess of 45,000 (in the week ending the 15th March 1944 the labour force engaged on 'Phoenix' was about 22,000, while the peak labour load on the 'Whale' was estimated at about 15,000 workers and that on the 'Bombardon' at about 8,000 workers). In all, the direct labour requirements of the project did not exceed about two percent of the total labour engaged in munitions production by the two departments at the time. The material used for the 'Phoenix' was mainly ballast, sand and cement, and the total amount of steel required for the Mulberry did not exceed 90,000 tons.

Yet behind these relatively modest figures lay an effort of great complexity and difficulty. The project matured at a time when a demand for even 45,000 extra men was bound to impose a great strain on the labour market, especially as in that number were included categories of workers who were especially scarce. The 1,200 scaffolders required for the 'Phoenix' were more than the total available in the country. The welders and steel erectors for the 'Whale' components were equally difficult to find, and a special emergency scheme for training welders had to be instituted to satisfy


the demand. The difficulties in the supply of materials were of the same kind. Although only 60,000 tons of steel were required for the 'Whale', it had to be fashioned into 200 completely interchangeable components, and the problem of fabrication was very great. Even the 31,000 tons of reinforcing steel bars required for the 'Phoenix' caissons involved a concentrated effort and a changeover of a number of rolling mills from other work.

When at the end of 1944 Sir Walter Monckton was appointed by the Prime Minister to inquire into the results achieved by the Mulberry harbour and to estimate its cost to the war effort, he was able to report that, according to the evidence he received, the work of constructing the Mulberries in the United Kingdom did not seriously interfere with other important production programmes. This verdict must be read more as a tribute to the manner in which the supply departments succeeded in fitting the Mulberry project into their current programmes than as an estimate of the industrial and administrative effort it called forth. Easiest of all was the provision of labour and material (though not of manufacturing capacity and building sites) for the concrete caissons. Their construction was essentially a building operation, and it fortunately coincided with the time when employment of building labour and materials on aerodromes and factories had slackened.16 For the making of other components no such easements were available, for the main burden fell on the heavily engaged engineering and metal-working industries. In order to prevent too great a disturbance in the manufacture of weapons, the Ministry of Supply had to spread the prefabrication of the pier-heads of the 'Whale' between 300 firms and the prefabrication of the floating roadways among 250 firms. Thus spread, the orders required a great deal of guiding and programming. At the end of the year, looking back on its experience over 'Mulberry', the Ministry of Supply had to report that 'a great deal of work which had to be carried out to meet these programmes was only found possible by the granting of a real overriding priority which was used in some cases ruthlessly'. The report goes on to say that, by any ordinary methods, the task could not have been met and the deliveries to arranged dates could not have been achieved.

No wonder other production had to be sacrificed, even if the industrial effort as a whole as not in any way set back. The war-stores which suffered most were gun carriages, tanks, jerricans, steam-boilers, ammunition boxes, and, above all, Bailey bridges. At one time the making of the floating-bridge units for the piers represented as much as fifty percent of the total production of military bridging. In addition, the fabrication of the pier-heads led to some


delay in ship construction and repair, although no interference in landing craft was permitted. That these losses did no harm is perhaps due to the healthy condition of British supplies and stocks on the even of D-day; that the losses were no greater is evidence of the efficiency and elasticity of British war production in the fifth year of war.


More burdensome still, and from the point of view of the coming operation much more essential, was the demand for landing craft. On the eve of the landing on the Continent the landing craft had become the most urgent and most absorbing of the Admiralty's tasks, but the history of landing boats—their design and provision—reaches back to the early months of the war or even earlier. The need for assault vessels had been realised long before the war, and a few had been included in the Admiralty's small vessel programmes of 1937–39 and were ready to take part in operations in Norway early in 1940 as well as those at Dunkirk. But the quantity of the boats was small, their operational quality very modest, and demand for more and better assault vessels was bound to grow in 1940 and 1941.17 When early in June 1940 Mr. Churchill first urged his plans for Commando raids on enemy-held territories, he also foresaw that the raiding parties would have to be carried by special craft, lightly armoured and capable of landing on beaches.18 His request brought forth the earlier version of the tank landing craft (L.C.T.) of 226 tons light displacement. Twenty of these craft were ordered in July 1940 and a further ten in October. By the end of 1941 they had all been delivered and some had taken part in raiding operations on the Continent as well as in the operations at Tobruk in Libya.

In the course of time the demand for landing craft was to be steeply raised in preparation for the offensive enterprises. The landing of armies on sea coasts required a number of landing craft very much greater than the earlier programmes of naval construction had ever contemplated, and among them ships of larger size and of more elaborate design than the landing-boats of 1940. The main need was for vessels capable of transport and landing tanks and assault craft. In the end several specialised types of such vessels like the L.S.T.s (tank landing ships) capable of ocean voyages. The second and improved version of the L.S.T. (the L.S.T.2), played a prominent part in the shipping armada required for the Normandy


landing. By the end of 1943 there had also emerged a design for a still more advanced landing ship of great endurance, the L.S.T.3, conceived largely in preparation for landings in the Far East. Meanwhile a number of specialised types had also budded off from the basic design of both the landing craft and the assault craft.19

It was, however, the tank landing craft, not the tank landing ship, which was to form the backbone of the British programmes of 1942 and 1943. British production of landing vessels had perforce to be concentrated on smaller types—the small assault craft and above all the tank landing craft—for landing ships could only be built in shipyards at the expense of mercantile tonnage. It was therefore necessary necessary to rely from the outset on the rapidly developing shipbuilding facilities of the United States for future supplies of L.S.T.s. At the time when the United States entered the war no more than six such vessels were available, of which three were makeshift adaptations of older shallow-draught ships, and further supplies of these and other landing craft could only come from the United States. During the months immediately preceding the landing on the Continent efforts had to be made to supply a number of ships from British sources,20 but in the end most of the landing ships taking part in the operations on Normandy beaches were American-built.

On the other hand, various types of tank landing craft and of smaller vessels with numerous specialised variations were to be built in this country. Both the requirements and the orders for them grew throughout the war years, though it not until the second half of 1943 that their building could go forward on a scale and at a pace suited to the needs of the imminent landing on the Continent.21 The programme was drastically scaled up a few months after America's entry into the war, when, for a time, it appeared possible that an invasion of the Continent might have to be staged in 1943. Eventually the programme of 1942 rose to a level as high as 1,168 vessels to be completed by May 1943 as against 662 vessels outstanding under the old programme. The expectations of deliveries never ran as high as that, and the main hopes rested on the 2,500 craft of various types which were to be delivered from the


United States. Requirements nevertheless continued to mount in spite of the fact that the actual production of landing craft, like all other branches of naval construction, had to concede first place to escort vessels. In the spring of 1943 the programme of British construction of landing craft was for 1,050 units, about equally divided between small assault craft and various other types of landing craft. Later in the year additional orders were placed for about 850 landing craft.

By that time plans for landing on the Continent had taken shape, and requirements of landing craft rose to their peak. The campaigns in the Mediterranean had fully demonstrated the crucial importance of landing craft and had brought out the part which supplies of them were bound to play in the timetable of the Allied offensive. The plans for landing on the Continent, as they were the maturing, were based on the clear assumption that the size of the landing fleet available would not only decide the ability to mount the operations on the appointed day but would also determine the size of the landing armies.22 As soon as the date and the general dimensions of the coming operation were definitely decided (in October 1943) the Admiralty was instructed to concentrate on landing craft to the uttermost limit of shipbuilding capacities and at the expense, if necessary, of all other forms of naval construction. The orders and the output soared sufficiently to provide, by May 1944, the British contingent of the landing fleet almost in full. By that time some 3,000 units, of which two-thirds were landing craft of various types had been made available.

The effort which went into building of landing craft and the difficulties encountered will be told later as part of the general story of naval construction. Here it will be sufficiently to note that the effort was sufficiently great not only to require the grant of overriding priority to all other branches of naval shipbuilding, but also to make big inroads into current output. Fortunately for the naval programmes as a whole, the great rise in the demand for escort vessels. Yet even then the strain was great and some dislocation was inevitable.

Bolero, Pluto, Mulberry and landing craft have been singled out for special treatment as examples of the urgent additions resulting from the offensive, but in terms of productive resources they represented a mere fraction of the additional burdens which resulted from the new needs of the offensive campaigns abroad. Above all there were


vast increases in requirements for engineering stores, transport and 'general stores' in preparation for D-day. There were great increases in the demand for ammunition throughout the twelve months of active fighting. But these various additions are even more difficult to separate from the main stream of regular Army demand than were such 'freak' enterprises as the Mulberry.


Naval Construction and Shipbuilding


Viewed from the point of view of the anxieties it caused, the priorities it enjoyed, and the successes it scored, naval construction was almost as typical of the conditions of war production in 1942 and 1943 as aircraft was of the conditions of 1940 and 1941. Throughout the greater part of the period it was under a constant pressure of expanding requirements; and until the second half of 1943 the preference which the War Cabinet gave to parts of the naval programmes helped to sustain the pressure.23 Naval programmes and naval output accordingly expanded throughout 1942 and 1943. Indeed 1943 was the year in which the naval shipbuilding effort in the United Kingdom was at its highest. The average amount of naval tonnage under construction throughout the year was over 1.7 million tons, a far higher figure than that reached during the previous war years. The general cut in munitions programmes in December 1943 was bound to lead to a decline in naval construction, but the decline was neither steep nor sudden. Production continued throughout 1944 on a level no more than ten percent lower than that of 1943.24

On the other hand neither output nor authorised requirements could grow at the same pace over the entire range of naval needs. In conditions of industrial stringency naval construction had to be concentrated on the part of programmes which accorded best with the strategic exigencies of the time. And the exigencies varied sufficiently frequently to make a stable it is only too easy to discover an ever-changing distribution of industrial effort.

The period opens with the battleship in the forefront. The programmes from the previous period were almost exclusively


devoted to the emergency output of small vessels, but in the last quarter of 1941 hopes of being able to shift back to a more balanced programme of naval construction were again running high. The number of small vessels requisitioned from the United States had been growing, and it therefore appeared probable that, if American deliveries continued to come up to expectations, shipbuilding labour and materials might at least be available for other types of ships. Before long hopes were further strengthened by what appeared to be obvious necessity.

The first effect of Pearl Harbor and the war in the Far East was to make the need for 'other types' more urgent than before. Now that the depots and bases at Singapore, Rangoon and Hong Kong had been lost, the Navy had to be supplied with additional facilities for servicing and maintenance to enable it to operate for long periods at long distances away from the full-equipped bases still available to it. But above all it had to be given battleships. In accordance with the Prime Minister's directive of 26th March 1941,25 construction of all vessels except the that could not be completed within two years, except the Vanguard, had been suspended. Outside the George V class the Vanguard was therefore the only battleship being built at the end of 1941. It might well be that with the completion of the Duke of York and with the entry into the war of the United States, the Allies had a superiority over Japan in capital ships which even the loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse in Malaya, of the Hood in the Atlantic and of the Barham in the Mediterranean could not wipe out. Yet considering the dispersal of the ships of the Royal Navy over the oceans, the margin of superiority was small, and might have disappeared altogether if the French fleet were to fall into the hands of the enemy.

Needless to say, events in the Far East had also strengthened the doubts about the efficacy of the battleship, but battleships were still demanded to give the fleet striking power in all conditions of geographical position, weather and light. Above all, it was thought that so long as the enemy possessed heavy ships the battleships would be necessary to counter them. The demand for battleships was therefore maintained and had to be met, though it could not of course be satisfied to the extent of reviving all the capital ship programmes previously sanctioned and suspended. The shortage of materials, men, armaments and instruments was too great for that. The Naval Staff was nevertheless anxious to proceed with at least two new battleships, and to go as fast as possible with the Vanguard.

The emphasis on battleships was not, however, destined to last. At the beginning of 1943 the battleship position no longer appeared disturbing. The danger of French battleships falling into German hands


had gone; the Anson and the Howe had been completed during 1942; and with the British capital ship strength at fifteen the Naval Staff were better prepared to agree again to the postponement of the Lion and of the other battleships on order for the sake of new demands which were becoming urgent.

Some of the urgency had passed to the aircraft carriers. If the construction of carriers had hitherto been somewhat neglected, the neglect was due not so much to lingering doubts about the importance of ship-borne aircraft as to the Admiralty's reluctance to lay down new aircraft carriers until their designs could embody the lessons of the loss of the Ark Royal. By mid-1942 the new design was available, and above all the strategic and tactical value of the aircraft carrier had been strikingly demonstrated in the six months of war in the eastern oceans. Not only had carriers proved a most powerful weapon of naval warfare, but they were also proving very effective in convoy service. Naval opinion was therefore running very strongly in their favour—so strongly that the Naval Staff was now prepared to set its aims as high as an eventual force of fifty-five to sixty-two carriers of all types and sizes.

In the new conception of the Fleet Air Arm large fleet carriers were, to begin with, to play a predominant part, and the mid-1942 plans envisaged a force of some thirteen to twenty fleet carriers, or seven to fourteen more than were at that time in service or under construction.26 Industrial conditions however made it impossible to contemplate an immediate addition of very large ships, while military considerations were against undue concentration on ships that might take five to six years to build and would not be ready in time for operations in the war. So in the end, of the 1942 programme only one large carrier, the Audacious, was laid down, to be completed in April 1946. Two other aircraft carriers, the Implacable and the Indefatigable due to be completed in 1943 and 1944 respectively, were not to be given high priority, while the two remaining fleet carriers of the 1942 programme, the Eagle and the Ark Royal, though ordered, were not laid down. Four more were included in the 1943 programme, but the Naval Staff took it more or less for granted that they would not be laid down in 1943 or the following year.

The need for aircraft carriers was to be mainly satisfied by auxiliary and, above all, by light fleet carriers. The former—essentially escort vessels—were little more than fast merchantmen converted to carry a small number of aircraft. Their provision therefore depended very largely on the supplies of fast merchantmen, and they were mostly to come from the United States. In so far as they


were to be provided from British sources their story is closely interwoven with that of the repair and conversion of merchant ships, and will be mentioned again later.27 On the other hand, the light fleet carriers were specially designed and fully-equipped aircraft carriers suitable both for escort duty and service with the fleet. They were sometimes described as 'intermediate' in that they were less slow and helpless in combat then the auxiliary carriers but small than the large fleet carriers and therefore enjoyed the advantage of easier and speedier construction. The minimum period they took to build was two years compared with the minimum of three years for a large fleet carrier. They were therefore to form a large and ever-increasing part of naval programmes for the rest of the war and were to be given priority over cruiser, battleships and even over large carriers.28 Four light fleet carriers were ordered in the spring of 1942, and twelve more by the end of the year. Of these sixteen, ten were actually laid down by January 1943 and were expected to come into service in late 1944 and 1945.29

The shipyard capacity for larger ships thus came to be mainly engaged on aircraft carriers. There was however no question now of enlarging it at the expense of smaller ships as had seemed possible at the turn of 1941 and 1942. In the course of 1942 the need for escort and anti-submarine ships of every kind was becoming more and not less urgent than before. In June the enemy attacks on shipping in the Atlantic reached their highest point, and losses of merchant shipping and of escort vessels were exceptionally and alarmingly large. Moreover the expectations of American supplies had to be drastically lowered. Now that the United States were at war and their shipping routes were everywhere under direct attack ,they proceeded to divert to their own use most of the escort ships they were building for Britain. The War Cabinet and the Admiralty were thus compelled to revive and to reinforce the earlier emphasis on Britain's own output of small vessels. Towards the end of the summer of 1942 the Naval Staff estimated the minimum requirements of ocean-going escort vessels at 1,050, but in October of that year only 445 such vessels were available and of these about 100 were old destroyers of 1914–15 vintage. The deficiency was great, and at current rates of production and losses it threatened to be persistent as well as high; it was estimated at 352 by the end of 1944 even if American assignments were honoured in full. Additions therefore had to be made to British production programmes for every type of small vessel capable of


escorting merchant ships or of fighting the submarine—minesweepers, sloops, corvettes, frigates, and, above all, destroyers.

The building of destroyers was to be continued to the limit of capacity. But even at its maximum the supply of destroyers could make a relatively small contribution to the problem as a whole. Under the wartime 'emergency' programmes there were by the end of 1941 some 118 destroyers in various stages of construction. To these in the course of 1942 there were added forty-two, of which sixteen were larger fleet destroyers of new design and of much increased anti-aircraft firepower. During 1942, seventy-five destroyers were completed and some 107 were still in hand at the beginning of 1943. An additional forty-three were authorised, even though the capacity of the shipyards was so full engaged that there was very little change of their being laid down or being completed before the end of the war.

The main needs of the escort programme thus continued to be covered by the output of vessels which were easier to build then destroyers: minesweepers, trawlers, and, above all, ships of the corvette type.30 The corvette, unlike the trawler, was a true escort vessel, but it was less elaborately armed and was easier and quicker to construct then the destroyer. It is therefore no wonder that the Admiralty was determined to continue the building of corvettes to capacity and even to forgo the hopes of a wholesale switch to the improved twin-screw type—the frigate. The latter had  a greater endurance and were more habitable than the corvettes, but their construction impinged more on the capacity which now had to be diverted to the intermediate carrier. Above all they could not be expected to come in as quickly as the corvettes. So corvettes, as well as frigates, had both to be built in Britain and ordered abroad to meet the urgent needs of the time.

The supply of corvettes did not at first respond to the urgency of the demand in spite of every advantage of overriding priority, and the output of 1942 and early 1943 was badly behind the ever-mounting requirements. Worse of all were the American supplies. In the course of 1942 the American authorities had made it clear that out of the 150 on order 100 or so would not be made in time owing to shortage of steel plate. So great was the American need for small escort vessels that in the course of the year ten corvettes which were being completed in Britain had to be turned over to the American Navy; the latter was also allowed to buy from Canada the twenty-five corvettes that were being made for Great Britain. Only twenty-eight


British-built and twelve American vessels were added to the Royal Navy by the autumn of 1943, and yet somehow 200 additional vessels were expected between November 1942 and January 1945.

Heroic measures to expand production at home were therefore necessary. Out of these measures the first large-scale schemes of prefabrication and industrial reorganisation were to be undertaken by the Admiralty, and more about the changes will be said later. Reorganisation however took time, and less than fifty corvettes and frigates were completed during 1943. In the meantime the extreme urgency had passed and the emphasis in the naval programme shifted again, this time from escort vessels to landing craft.

The brief story of the evolving design and the rising requirements of landing craft has already been told.31 That story with its successful dénouement on D-day is apt to belie the difficulties encountered in the course of production and the extraordinary measures which had to be taken to achieve the rate of output which the plan of the landing required. One of the causes of the delay—the priority which had been assigned in 1942 and early 1943 to escort vessels—has already been mentioned. In the conditions of 1942 and 1943 the winning of the Battle of the Atlantic ranked in order of time well before the preparations for the landing on the Continent. In so far as the delays in launching the offensive could be attributed to an insufficient supply of landing craft they were in the last resort due to the high strategic and industrial priority which the Allied leaders assigned to the defence of the shipping lanes.

That priority prevented a great expansion in output of landing craft; it did not result in actual reduction of output. It will be shown later32 that a high rate of production could be maintained in spite of the higher preference now given to escort vessels. An even higher rate might have been achieved but for the resistances which the more ambitious landing craft programmes generated in the Admiralty. It was not that the importance of landing craft was not understood or that measures to increase their production were not taken. But throughout 1942 and 1943 the Admiralty worked under great pressure and was faced with a rapid succession of urgent tasks. Above all, so great had now become the difficulty of recruiting and maintaining the labour force and so precarious was the balance of labour supplies and of wage rates that the Controller of the Navy and his department went about in fear lest a sudden spate of orders for landing craft should throw into chaos the entire labour system in the shipyards. The main danger was that a great increase in construction in inland centres of fabrication, where labour was highly paid, would disturb


the settled conditions of employment in the shipyards and would also set up uncontrollable movements of labour.

Substantial as these fears were for a time and great as was the resistance they generated, they had completely vanished in the months of active preparation and above all in the spring of 1944. In these months the output of landing craft developed very fast indeed—probably faster than any branch of naval programmes had ever developed in the past. The output of landing craft in 1942, 1943 and 1944 moved as shown in Table 37.

Landing craft: number and tonnage under construction (quarterly averages)


Tonnage (thousand tons)
First quarter

Second quarter

Third quarter

Fourth quarter
First quarter 1,364

Second quarter 1,336

Third quarter 1,338

Fourth quarter 1,360
First quarter 1,270

Second quarter 1,381

The figures for the first six months of 1944 are even more creditable than it might at first sight appear from the table. For in the months immediately preceding D-day the demands had grown so high and had to be met with such haste that production of hulls again began to give trouble. The capacity in constructional engineering firms was insufficient to cope with it, and a large proportion of the programme had to be brought back to the shipbuilding yards and forced ahead at the expense of other ships.33 The newly-introduced 'landing craft gun' (L.C.G.) proved most troublesome. It was more complicated than the L.C.T.s, it entailed much preliminary work, especially in the drawing stage, and occupied a great deal of fitting-out capacity. Equally trouble some, though in a different way, were the landing ships (L.S.T.s) which, contrary to an earlier understanding with the United States, had now to be introduced into the British programme. There was not enough space in the shipyards to allow boats as large as the L.S.T. to be laid down, and in order to make space, the Admiralty was compelled to remove the keels of naval vessels which


had already been laid down. This was done with one of the battle-class destroyers, with the aircraft carrier Eagle, and with two submarines.

The demand for landing vessels slumped somewhat after D-day, as was only to be expected, but it did not cease altogether. It was maintained as part of the preparations for war against Japan and in some respects was even more exacting then the larger demands of 1943 and 1944. The landing vessels did not however monopolise the attention of the Admiralty, for in the meantime another change of emphasis occurred within the naval programme. This time the most urgent demand was for the so-called Fleet Train—a change connected with the war in the Far East which will best be described elsewhere.34 With it the record of changing priorities in naval programmes came to its final conclusion.


The changing balance within the naval programmes must be borne in mind in considering the ups and downs of output. It imposed additional strains at a time when the prospects of raw materials were precarious, labour short and the supply of components and equipment irregular. Special problems—mostly local shortages and failures in synchronising supplies—arose in quick succession as one naval type after another was singled out for preferential treatment. It is therefore not surprising that delays in construction were becoming troublesome and even disturbing during 1942. The completions by April 1942 were between ten to thirty percent behind the forecasts of July 1941 in all classes of most urgently needed vessels. Whereas the expected production of battleships, carriers and cruisers had been cut down sufficiently low for production to be running full up to forecasts, the output of smaller ships ran as shown in Table 38.

Smaller naval vessels: production forecasts in July 1941 and actual production to April 1942



Forecasts, July 1941
Actual production to April 1942
Convoy escorts
Landing craft
Minesweepers, anti-submarine vessels and other miscellaneous craft were about fifteen percent below forecast


What was more surprising than the delays in 1942 is that in 1943 the rate of completion rose, delays shortened and output improved in spite of the withdrawal of preference. Work in hand rose sharply as the year 1942 drew to its close, and continued to rise in 1943. The increase was most marked in types of ships for which hulls could be prefabricated—L.C.T.s and corvettes. But the general trend of output also reached its highest point during 1943. Tonnage in hand rose from 1,525,000 tons in January to a peak of 1,953,000 tons in December. The tonnage of naval vessels completed rose to 316,000 tons, and the disparity between expectations and fulfilment was now narrower than ever before.

Naval tonnage completing between January 1941 and June 1944 (down to and including trawlers)


Tonnage expected to complete by end of period
Tonnage actually completed by end of period

January to June

July to December
January to June 192,302

July to December 189,227
January to June 134,582

July to December 208,080
January to June 218,532

These improvements can to some extent be ascribed to the priority which naval construction as a whole or parts of it enjoyed during the great part of 1943. It made it easier to obtain materials and more especially labour, for the employment of labour in Admiralty industries steadily rose during this period in December 1943 stood 918,000, the highest point it was ever to reach. But the high rate of production continued even after the overriding priorities had been taken away, thus revealing what probably was the most important cause of rising output, i.e. improvements in the efficiency of the industry. In naval construction the improvements mostly came as a result of new methods adopted in the manufacture of smaller vessels and also in the technical re-equipment of the shipbuilding industry as a whole. Of the new methods, the most important one—prefabrication—has already been mentioned. It was mainly to be employed in the making of corvettes and landing craft, but in this


special field its effects were all but revolutionary. Without it neither the large programme of escort vessels of 1942 and 1943 nor the still greater programme of landing craft of 1943–44 could have been achieved.

The first steps to introduce prefabrication had been taken in 1940, but the whole of 1942 and a great part of 1942 passed before the scheme was in full working order. Its main principle, as it then worked, was to entrust constructional engineering firms with welding large units out of which hulls could be assembled in the dockyards. This division of labour economised a great deal of time in the slips and of dockyard labour, and the economies grew as the scheme was getting into its stride. At first the prefabricated parts were limited to five tons, but by degrees cramped dockyards were cleared, more powerful cranes were provided, and the dimensions and weights of prefabricated units were increased far above earlier limits. In the first half of 1943 some firms were producing prefabricated L.C.T.s in two or two and a half months as against the six months they had taken previously. Unfortunately for the landing-craft programme, but fortunately for the escort programmes, the need for frigates flared up just at the time when the system of prefabrication was at least working at full efficiency. But the system was again to prove of immense value seven or eight months later when L.C.T.s again replaced the corvettes in the engineering shops and on the slips.

Considering how meagre was the pre-war experience of prefabrication—it had been chiefly confined to the manufacture and assembly of certain types of ancillary equipment—the scheme was remarkably successful. Firms were of course able to draw on American experience; they caught the sense of urgency which animated the preparations for the final offensive; but they also undoubtedly benefited from the various re-equipment schemes which the Admiralty sponsored in the course of 1943.

The purpose of this re-equipment was not so much to develop facilities outside the main shipbuilding centres as to re-equip and to modernise the main processes in the shipyards themselves and in marine engineering firms. Their modernisation had to be tackled sooner or later. Whereas some firms, like Vickers, had re-equipped on the even of the war or in the early years of the war, the industry as a whole continued until well into 1942 to suffer from general obsolescence. In the shipyards machine tools, heavy plant, especially cranes and power supplies were generally deficient, and provisions for welding were very meagre. Most of the marine engineers worked with old machines; a large proportion were twenty to thirty years old and were debilitated by wartime working speeds for which they were not designed. The technical processes, especially in coppersmiths' and blacksmiths' shops, were slow and old-fashioned. All these


facts were well known both in the industry and in the Admiralty, but in the earlier years of the war the pressure of immediate production tasks left the firms no time for a comprehensive survey and a drastic reform; and in any case their capital resources were not such as to enable them to embark on a wholesale reconstruction out of their own means.

It was left to the Government to take the initiative. In the course of 1942 the difficulty of expanding output in the shipyards was becoming manifest, and the impression that their equipment was at fault gained ground in the Admiralty and elsewhere. In July 1942 the Barlow Committee.35 reported to the Minister of Production that in its view the industry was in urgent need of re-equipment and modernisation. This view was to be reinforced in detail by an inquiry which an engineer outside the shipbuilding industry carried out on behalf of the Machine Tool Controller.36 In accordance with his recommendations the Admiralty undertook to instigate the re-equipment and to shoulder the main cost. A Shipyard Development Committee was set up inside the Admiralty in November 1942 'to consider proposals and where necessary to initiate action for the improvement of equipment, re-equipment and/or extension of shipyards and marine engineering works with a view to achieving maximum economic production and ensuring that such steps are consistent with the most economical use of manpower'. In all, schemes of capital development were approved at about a hundred contractors' works at a total cost of about £6.9 millions, of which £5 millions were to be borne by the Government. They were designed to provide the industry with new machine tools, cranes, power supplies and certain other improvements of a structural kind. Above all, rapid steps were to be taken to equip the industry for the use of welding.

The early history of welding in British shipbuilding was marked by much scepticism and inertia. Although some welding processes had been in use for years, the foreign successes in producing welded constructions were watched with interest mixed with distrust. There were, to begin with, technical doubts whether welded structures would withstand the special stresses and strains to which ships in general and naval ships especially were subjected, and there were also reasons both economic and social, not to say sentimental, for continued preference both in the Admiralty and in the industry for riveted construction. There was however no doubt about the economies of welded construction in wartime, for supplies of riveters


were short and difficult to expand, while fabrication by welding was proving quicker and cheaper than any other alternative method. Before long the accumulating experience both in naval vessels and elsewhere (especially in tanks) were to prove the technical qualities of welded seams. By 1942 opinion in favour of general adoption of welding was sufficiently ripe for the Admiralty to take the initiative in equipping the yards for a very wide use of welding. Between July 1942 and July 1943 the number of welders employed by the main naval shipbuilding firms grew by almost forty percent, and work could be begun in the first all-welded pressure hulls for submarines and on the first all-welded destroyer.

This and other improvements were carried into effect very quickly. By August 1943 the Shipyard Development Committee was able to report that the bulk of the development scheme would be completed by the end of the year and that the welding scheme would be completed by the end of the year and that the welding scheme would be finished earlier still, by September. And it was largely by these means that the output of hulls was progressively expanded in the course of the year.

The increase in the output of hulls was of course to bring with it its own problems. As elsewhere in war production, accelerated output in any one direction was bound to bring out shortages in others. The industries supplying the shipyards with materials found themselves at the turn of 1943 and 1944 under additional strain. Heavy castings and forgings threatened to become scarce in 1944, and the light carrier Majestic was actually held up on that account.

More serious still and more chronic was the shortage of equipment. The very success of prefabrication in the making of hulls for landing vessels created in the course of 1943 the problem of finding the necessary engines. Admiralty requirements for diesels had reached a peak of 500 per month, for even though minor landing craft were engined from American sources, larger craft had to be equipped by engines made in the United Kingdom. There was particular difficulty over supply sufficient big oil engines (Paxman T.P.12). An additional factory which had been given over to this work started production early in the year, but a shortage of supplies continued, and it was reported in the summer that though output would meet current production it was insufficient to make up arrears or to provide spares. The position, however, never became desperate and had rectified itself by the spring of 1944.

More stubborn were some of the other shortages of equipment, most of which resulted from more recent and above all more exacting requirements. The ships which were being built with a view to possible use in the Far East necessitated improved living conditions, and consequently a large increase in electrical installations of a 'non-combatant' kind, such as laundries and kitchens, and thus added to


the chronic shortage of electrical equipment. The continued development of radar created difficulties in the supply of wireless telegraphy and direction-finding apparatus. In the design of engines there was a marked tendency towards increased heat and pressure, and the standards were rising just when the burdens of production capacity were at their heaviest.

Worst of all was the supply of fire control gear. Not only was the productive capacity barely sufficient to meet to the total volume of requirements, but the requirements themselves were changing as a result of the rapid progress of design. Especially troublesome was the provision of fire control gear for light anti-aircraft guns. The production of modern equipment for the 40-mm. gun (there were two such equipments in production) was giving trouble during 1943, and early in that year the design department brought forward the so-called BUSTER, a twin self-controlled mounting developed from a previous design, which it was to superseded. A successor also had to be found to the pom-pom director, which had not proved a successful equipment at sea; the result was the Close Range Blind Fire Director based on the same principle of control as the BUSTER.37

The industrial situation in 1943 and 1944 prevented these ideas from being fully realised. Much was however done to expand production. Owing to the specialised and complex nature of the products, it was not easy to draw on capacity not specially created for the purpose. So, to begin with, the Admiralty went on entrusting the expansion to firms which possessed sufficient experience to be able to produce work up to the required standard. In the end the Admiralty adopted the 'group system', in which orders were placed with inexperienced firms which were coordinated in groups led by an experienced firm. But although the groups were quickly formed, difficulties in making the system work persisted until the end of the war, and production was not expanded as hoped for. Ships were still being equipped with the multiple pom-pom and its out-of-date control, though experience of Japanese bomber attacks had shown the combination to be inadequate. A large number of ships continued to reach the fitting-out stage with the probability that the equipment in general and fire control in particular would not be ready in time.

Generally speaking, the last year of war in Europe was marked by recurring anxieties about a large variety of supplies: no sooner had shortages in one direction been done away with than, owing to the generally overloaded state of industry, they appeared in another. Wireless items, including the main switchgear, continued to be


difficult. There was a shortage of wireless valves so serious that steps had to be taken to obtain supplies from the United States and from the Air Ministry. Flying-bomb attacks added to production difficulties in this field and helped to create a shortage of dry batteries which continued for several months. At the end of the year it was reported that renewed difficulties were expected over these items, mainly as a result of new designs. But for these and the earlier shortages the achievements of naval construction in the closing years of the war in Europe would have been even greater than the total output shows them to have been.


The record of merchant shipbuilding reflected and recapitulated the general trend of naval construction. It benefited from the increased efficiency of the industry, suffered from changes of emphasis in requirements, and in the end it contracted to fit the falling labour supplies. At the time of Pearl Harbor merchant shipbuilding appeared in a position remarkably and unexpectedly prosperous. It will be recalled that early in 1941 the supply of merchant shipping had gone through a depression.38 Two and a half millions tons of damaged merchant shipping lay immobilised in ports and shipyards at a time when the Battle of the Atlantic was entering one of its intense phases. In March of that year the Prime Minister was compelled to seek a way out of the conflicting claims of repairs, merchant shipbuilding and naval construction by decreeing a general scaling-down in the construction of new vessels. In addition to calling a halt to the construction of heavy warships, he laid down that the output of new merchant ships in 1942 should be reduced from the 'target' of 1.25 million tons previously fixed to 1.1 million tons, and that the Admiralty should not for the time being proceed with any merchant vessels which could not be completed by the end of 1941. The Prime Minister's object was to set 10,000 men—5,000 from merchant ship construction and 5,000 from naval construction—free to deal with the enormous arrears to repairs to merchant ships and their escorts.

In the event, the change of policy did not result in reductions quite as drastic as the Prime Minister was ready to face. The large-scale transfer of labour proved difficult to carry out, and the Admiralty disregarded the direction to suspend work on merchant ships not expected to complete within the year. It did so in the expectation that the accumulated repairs, largely seasonal in origin, could shortly be worked off without recourse to so drastic a step, and that most of the men required for the repair of merchant shipping could be (as they were to be) drawn from long-term naval repair work.


Thus, paradoxically, the prospects of improving the output of new merchant ships were better in 1941, following the lowering of the target figure, than they had been for a long time. Between February and June the number of men engaged on merchant shipbuilding increased owing to a rise in the rate of recruitment, and the increase continued to the end of the year and beyond. Earlier difficulties in the manufacture of propelling machinery were also being resolved. By the autumn the numbers of workers engaged in the construction of marine engines had increased sufficiently to remove the worst shortages, and the supply of engines and boilers for merchant ships had practically ceased to cause anxiety. In addition, the Government's policy of concentrating upon the production of the simplest classes of merchant ships and upon economical and semi-standardised individual types was beginning to take full effect. Before the end of the year considerable progress had also been made in the prefabrication of hulls. The difficulties of riveting and fitting-out still persisted in the shipyards, but they did not arrest the general advance in output. During the second half of 1941 production was at the annual rate of 1.4 million tons. Since March, tonnage immobilised in repair yards had been halved and the production of new merchant ships in the course of the year exceeded by 50,000 tons the target figure of 1.1 million tons then fixed.

Indeed, so favourable did the state of production appear at the end of 1941 that the Prime Minister and his advisers thought it possible to restore the earlier 'target' of one and a quarter million tons. There were even some hopes of exceeding it, and the hopes came true. Production in 1942 reached 1.3 million gross tons and the position in the shipyards and in industry in general appeared to be set fair for some time. There was still difficulty in recruiting special classes of skilled workers, such as riveters, riggers and fitters, but the total supply of labour which had grown in the preceding year continued to increase slightly owing to the introduction of women. What is more, some of the earlier additions to the labour force could now be employed to accelerate the construction of merchant ships, for the burden of ship repairs continued to lighten. By December 1942 the number of workers engaged on merchant shipping construction was approaching 43,000, the highest figure of the war.39

The progress was bound to come to a halt in 1943 and 1944. By then the Battle of the Atlantic and the readjustment of priorities to fit the growing labour shortage began to have their effects on merchant shipbuilding. Faced with mounting losses of inadequately protected merchant shipping, the War Cabinet decided in October 1942 that the right policy would be to use shipbuilding resources for


the production of escort vessels rather than for additions to the Merchant Navy. The hulls for corvettes under the new programme could perhaps be supplied by prefabrication without greatly encroaching upon merchant shipbuilding, but it was impossible to engine them without reducing the merchant shipbuilding programme by at least 100,000 tons. The latter was accordingly scaled down in January 1943 to 1,199,000 tons in 1943 and 1,129,000 tons in 1944.

In accepting this reduction in the merchant shipbuilding 'target', the War Cabinet hoped that increased supplies of labour would make up the loss incurred by the transfer of workers and berths to the making of escort vessels. But the growing difficulties of labour supply left this hope unrealised, and the loss to merchant shipbuilding remained uncompensated.40 After September 1943 the number of workers in shipbuilding began to decline, partly through natural wastage and partly in response to the War Cabinet's request for cuts.

The actual output nevertheless did not slacken off as fast as might have been feared. The total output in 1943 reached 1.2 million gross tons and, moreover, contained a number of vessels more difficult to produce than standard tramps. Even the ordinary tramps built in 1943 were more complex and costly vessels than those of 1940 and 1941. Their speeds were higher, their fittings, defensive equipment and crew accommodation were more elaborate.

The comparative buoyancy of the output figures in 1943 largely reflected the improvements in the physical equipment of the shipbuilding industry resulting from the Admiralty's campaign for re-equipment.41 Of the £6.9 millions which was the estimated cost of the re-equipment scheme sponsored by the Shipyard Development Committees only about £2.4 millions was expended on yards devoted mainly to merchant shipbuilding. In some instances the development schemes may have done little more than arrest the accumulated deterioration of plant and equipment through the war years. Yet as long as the cuts in the labour force were relatively small the improvements were sufficient to keep production slightly above the planned level.

It was not until 1944 that the losses in the labour force coupled with the changes of emphasis within the shipbuilding programme itself, brought about a drastic reduction in both output and programmes. The merchant programme was now deeply involved in the 'final' moves of the offensive strategy. Less attention was being paid to mere volume of output, and resources were being diverted in ever-growing


measure not only to the construction of naval vessels and fleet auxiliaries but also to merchant ships capable of serving the needs of the offensive; and some of these required an increased productive effort per gross ton. Merchant vessels suitable for operational roles had been included in programmes since the summer of 1942—mainly tugs. In the course of late 1942 and 1943 there appeared in the programme numbers of vessels like the coastal tankers for cased petrol to be used in combined operations, tankers of 5,000 tons deadweight for service in smaller Mediterranean and Far Eastern harbours, crane ships, vessels of the 'Bel' type for transshipment of heavy cargoes, to say nothing of tugs and lighters.

Above all, the merchant programme as a whole had to be sacrificed to the building of tank landing craft. In November 1943 the War Cabinet decided that, in addition to tank landing craft produced by standard prefabrication methods, an additional number would have to be built in the normal shipyards, including merchant berths. Shortly afterwards similar accommodation had to be made for a new type of tank landing ship or transport ferry (L.S.T.3) for South-East Asia Command. The net estimated loss of merchant shipbuilding from all these causes in the course of the year was approximately 80,000 tons. The actual loss of output however was even greater than the cuts in the programme and the inroads into it. Total production in 1944 just exceeded a million tons (1,014,000 gross tons) and would have fallen still further had not the downward movement in the employment figures been temporarily arrested in the closing months of the year. By then preparations for war against Japan were in full swing.


Aircraft Production


Much more continuous and more general was the expansive urge in aircraft production. The strategic change-over to the offensive did nothing to impair the importance of aircraft and more especially that of the bomber. In January 1942, as in October 1941, the bomber was still the only means of getting to grips with the enemy at home and ranked first among the offensive instruments available to this country. In the strategic discussions between Britain and the United States an intensive bombing attack on Germany was apt to be considered both as a contribution to the joint enterprise with Russia and as a preparation for the coming landing on the Continent. Even higher estimates of what the bomber could and should do were


current in the R.A.F. The heads of Bomber Command assumed—and acted on the assumption—that, given all the aeroplanes and bombers they asked for, they could bring Germany to the very verge of defeat by bombing alone. This doctrine was never accepted quite so baldly by the high strategic command in this country of the United States, but enough of it entered into the official plans, as they were taking shape in the course of 1942, to keep the demand for bombers at a level at least as high as it had stood in 1941.

Aircraft production therefore continued to enjoy prior claim on resources which it had acquired in the dramatic summer months of 1940. In the course of 1941 it had to share its claims with a number of other urgent war-stores, but its total demands, especially after the introduction of the bomber programme at the end of 1941, were to great as completely to outweigh the burden of other priority demands. It would not an exaggeration to say that throughout 1942 aircraft production was by far the largest single claimant to additional factors of production, and more especially to labour. In requirements under the bomber programmes for more than a million additional men and women42 and for an intake for the first five months of 58,000 per month, were of course greatly exaggerated and could not possibly have been met. Yet even in October 1942, after the requirements had been pruned by the Lord President and the Minister of Production, they still amounted to 208,000 for the second half of the year, which was more than the comparable requirements of the other supply departments together.

In the late autumn of 1942 as a result of the developing battle in the Atlantic the bomber programme had for a time to concede the highest priority to anti-submarine vessels and weapons, and soon afterwards M.A.P. had to share in the December reductions of the manpower requirements of the war. The whole scale of national contribution to the war in the air had to be slightly reduced.43 Yet the reductions which M.A.P. was expected to undergo were much less than those of other departments. In accordance with the Prime Minister's directive the combined effort of the R.A.F. and M.A.P. was to be raised by additions of aircraft rather than by increases in the R.A.F. personnel, and the original manpower demands of the R.A.F. and M.A.P., for 472,000 and 603,000 respectively, were reduced by 225,000 for the former by only 100,000 for the latter. Allowing for the reductions, the combined allocation of M.A.P. and the R.A.F, at 750,000, was still as great as that of the Navy, the shipbuilding


industry, the Army and the Ministry of Supply put together, while the allocation of M.A.P., at nearly 503,000, was nearly 75 percent of the combined quotas of the Ministry of Supply and the Admiralty.44

The allocations were of course lowered again in mid-1943 when, it will be recalled, all programmes had to be drastically cut. On this occasion M.A.O.'s allocation for the eighteen months' period was nearly halved from 503,000 to 259,000.45 But while deciding on these reductions the War Cabinet also reimposed the overriding priority of M.A.P.'s claims to the resources of the country. In the Prime Minister's opinion, the failure to increase the supply of bombers was then the greatest danger facing the war effort as a whole, and every possible endeavour had to be made to enable aircraft firms to obtain the labour they were promised. They were to be allowed to retain the mechanics they had received on loan from the R.A.F. and all the men and women who under existing rules were liable to be called up for the Services. The newly-developed machinery of 'headquarter preferences'46 was to be harnessed to fill the vacancies in the most important branches of aircraft production. So effective indeed was the cumulative action of the various priority measures that for the first time in the history of aircraft production the intake of labour into the aircraft industry exceeded allocation, and by the end of 1943 the industry had received 307,000 persons instead of the 259,000 allotted to it in July 1943. It was not until July 1944 that, with the general curtailment of war industry, M.A.P. at last lost the priority it had enjoyed with but one interruption since 1940.

The strategic importance of the bomber was not, of course, the sole motive behind the priorities. The privileges conferred on the aircraft industry reflected not only the urgency of its products but also the insufficiency of its output. The programmes of September and October 1941, already repeatedly mentioned and described opened up a new phase in the history of expectations. From now on all efforts had to be concentrated, without digression or interruption, on the supply of bombers for the strategic bombing of Germany. But from the very outset the demands of the Prime Minister and of the Air Ministry, and the hopes of M.A.P. itself, proved too hard to fulfil, and in the end they had to be scaled down to conform more closely with economic and industrial possibilities.

This change in the method of 'programming' aircraft production at the turn of 1942 and 1943 was another turning-point. The aircraft industry and M.A.P. were approaching that point all through 1942. It will be recalled that as a result of the discussions in the autumn of


1941 the bomber programmes which M.A.P. undertook to fulfil were considerably less than the 14,500 bombers by 1943 asked for by the Prime Minister. Yet even this objective was beyond the reach of the industry. Whereas the programme of December 1941 laid down that 12,159 aircraft would be produced in the first six months of 1942, only 11,583 were in fact produced.47 In the course of the year output as a whole was only two percent below the programme of July 1941, but this relatively narrow difference concealed gaping deficiencies in more important types of aircraft, and it will be shown that worst of all was the position of the bombers and of naval aircraft. It is therefore not surprising that by the autumn of 1942 a sense of disappointment and disquiet entered into the discussion of future prospects.

The use of 'target' programmes as yardsticks to measure failures served to increase this perturbation. While most people were aware that the 'target' programmes were not wholly realisable, they did not know how great was the measure of 'unreality' taken for granted in their compilation. The final crisis in the use of unrealistic targets came to a head in the autumn of 1942. The Secretary of State for Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair, acting with the knowledge of the Prime Minister made what he called his 'Clarion Call' to the Minister of Aircraft Production to produce enough heavy and medium bombers to raise the operational strength of heavy and medium squadrons in Bomber Command to a total of fifty by the end of the year. The Minister of Aircraft Production, after consultations with the industry, promised by an all-out effort to produce 780 heavy bombers during September, October and November. But although this was 255 more than had been produced in the preceding three months, it was 170 short of the figure laid down in the programme of July 942,48 and the Minister of Aircraft Production had to admit that the July programme 'was too high for the firms to live up to'. Programmes had, he said, customarily been fixed 'rather higher than most firms can probably do … because such a policy keeps them pressing hard all the time'. On the other hand he emphasised that his promise to the Secretary of State for Air of 780 heavy bombers was a realistic one—'what I think can be produced'.

These words gave the clue to the new policy of lower expectations. The Minister, Sir Stafford Cripps, who had been appointed November 1942, and the Chief Executive, Sir Wilfred Freeman, now back at M.A.P., favoured a radical change of method. In their view the effect of the 'carrot' was short-lived: 'if dangled too long it loses its effect altogether'. At the same time it led firms to build up stocks of materials and components in excess of their needs, thus helping to


create shortages. What, then, was to take the place of the old type of programme? No single answer to this question was possible. Programmes had several purposes: first, to serve as a basis on which contracts were placed; secondly, to form a basis for provisioning materials and components and for calculating raw materials, machine tools and labour; and finally to serve as the standard by which the performance of the industry could be judged. Some of these objects could be satisfied by a 'minimum' programme, i.e. a programme which would provide the two Service departments with 'the best and most accurate programme possible' on which to base their strategic planning and give the War Cabinet a fair standard by which to judge industry's performance. On the other hand responsible people at M.A.P.—among them the Deputy Director General of Statistics and Programmes—considered that aims pitched above the minimum programmes might still be necessary. Much was to be said for planning production in a way which would allow the minimum programme to be exceeded, and also for retaining some degree of inflation as an incentive to firms whose management was as yet less efficient than average.

Nevertheless the yearning after a more conservative standard by which the performance of M.A.P. and industry could be judged prevailed over other considerations and found its expression in the first 'realistic' programme of January 1943.49 The programme showed a startling contrast to all its predecessors. It was a 'minimum' programme in that it promised the number of aircraft which M.A.P. was prepared to guarantee that industry could deliver. In the Minister's words, the programme was 'the most accurate forecast (possible) of what we shall in fact get produced'. All predictable contingencies, such as holidays, sickness, and absenteeism, were allowed for, and on this basis a minimum programme for each firm was fixed by reference to its past performance. At the same time the incentive inflation of the 'carrot' was not entirely eliminated. Each firm's programme carried an additional quantity roughly representing the 'extent to which we (the Ministry) believe the firm is likely to fall below an programme which is set it'. The object was, in the words of the new Minister, 'to put the programme for inefficient units beyond their present output but not beyond their reasonable capacity'. Special arrangements were also made for provisioning materials at a rate greater than the programme required as as not to prejudice the possibility of its being exceeded by the more efficient firms.

To the outside world this programme came as severe shock. It dispelled illusions which had been nursed for years, and which successive disappointments seem never to have touched. Compared


with previous programmes, figures were indeed low, for the new programme implied a reduction by the end of 1943 of thirteen percent, distributed as shown in Table 40.

The 'Realistic' programme for 1943 and the previous aircraft programme



Old programme50
New programme51
Heavy bombers
Medium bombers
Light bombers
General reconnaissance
Naval types

Sacrifices of heavy bombers and Fleet Air Arm types were specially criticised; yet compared with the actual output in 1942 the programme promised a steady although not a spectacular improvement. Total output for 1943 was programmed to show, in operational types alone, an increase of thirty percent over the actual output for 1942, i.e. 23,067 aircraft against 17,730, an increase of 5,337. In the end, the programme was approved by the Defence Committee (Supply_ although it was agreed that the estimate of naval types should be further discussed.

With minor adjustments in April this programme continued in force till September 1943 when the time came for further realistic adjustments.52 For in spite of the minimum rates now adopted the firms were still falling down on their programme scales. The result of the revisions in September was to lower again the general level for the remaining months of the year, and to compensate for the immediate decreases by raising the forecasts for 1944. The experience of the next few months, however, showed that the September reductions, like those of the preceding April and January, were still insufficiently realistic, and further reductions would in any case have been necessary in 1944. In the end the reductions came as a result of the general scaling down of munitions programming  at the end of 1943.

The reduced allocations of labour to munitions industries of


December 194353 made it no longer possible to contemplate the old aircraft programmes however realistic. Although the cut in the labour force employed at the end of the year was not great (some 105,000 in all), the expectations of the labour intake which M.A.P. considered necessary for the fulfilment of the existing programme were lowered by 155,000. The programme had to be reduced in proportion—by about eight percent in numbers and four percent in structure weight—and the monthly output was not planned to rise above 2,600 aircraft. The principle urged by the Prime Minister, that of preparing the heaviest possible impact on the enemy in 1944, was not thereby prejudiced. The cuts were mostly at the expense of trainers and of aircraft whose operation quality was unsatisfactory or uncertain, e.g. Stirlings and Warwicks, or whose possibilities of development had been exhausted, e.g. Wellingtons, Hurricanes, Beaufighters and Sunderlands, or whose usefulness was impaired by delays in development, e.g. the Buckingham. The more important types urgently required by the Royal Air Force, e.g. the Lancaster, Halifax, Spitfire, Tempest and the Mosquito, were not only kept in but were 'designated', i.e the firms making these types were promised preferential treatment by means of the recently devised 'preference' machinery for labour vacancies.54 Output of heavy bombers was to increase from 475 in March 1944 to a peak of 670 in October 1945, fighter output was to remain fairly even at about the 1,000 mark, whilst medium bombers and general reconnaissance, transports and trainers were substantially reduced. Naval types alone were to considerably increased.55

The programme with further adjustments in March 194456 remained in force for some months and was not revised until the more general scaling down in the summer. The new programme which was then envisaged forecast a lower and a slowly falling output up to December 1946.57 The peak monthly output figures for all types were reduced to a fairly stable level, which fluctuated between 1,900 and 2,300.


The programme were thus continually scaled down but—to repeat—their scaling down was due as much to the unduly optimistic projects of expansion as to the failure of aircraft production to


expand. For, viewed by itself production grew throughout the period. Output measured in numbers, in structure weight, and in structure weight corrected by man-hours, rose throughout the period, as shown in Table 41.

Output of aircraft 1942–44


Monthly averages
Structure weight
Structure weight corrected by man-hours

(million lb.)
(Jan. 1942 = 1,000)
First quarter

Second quarter

Third quarter

Fourth quarter
First quarter 2,135

Second quarter 2,201

Third quarter 2,171

Fourth quarter 2,246
First quarter 2,473

Second quarter 2,396

Third quarter 2,048

Fourth quarter 1,903

It will this be seen that, however measured production rose steadily in the first half of 1942, somewhat more slowly in the second half of 1942 and the first half of 1943, slumped in the third quarter of 1943 and then rose again towards the end of 1943, and more steeply in early 1944. A marked decline in output did not set in until several months after the cuts in the labour force of the previous December—indeed no until the third quarter of 1944. The labour force grew throughout the period to reach its peak of 1,821,500 at the beginning of 1944, and the man-hour equivalents of finished airframes grew from 42 million per month in the first quarter of 1942 to some 50 million in the last quarter of 1943.58

Yet measured against programme output appeared consistently laggard. In the first half of 1942 the gap between programmes and output was considerably less than the convention fifteen percent exaggeration implied in the 'pre-realistic' programmes. But in the second half of 1942 the scissors opened up very widely until by the end of the year production, especially that of bombers, lagged as badly as at any previous point except the winter of 1940–41.59 Worst


of all during 1942 was the output of heavy bombers. In the first six months of the year their output was some twenty-two percent below the current programme; in the second half of the year the gap widened to about twenty-eight percent of the revised programme of July 1942.60 As has already been indicated the gap persisted even after the first 'realistic' programmes were introduced, In only one month of 1943 (March) did total output of all types of aircraft exceed the programmed figure, though in two months (February and May) it was within two percent of its target. In all other months, in spite of successive readjustments of programme, the gap persisted and was widest of all in July.

The lagging record of total production was somewhat redeemed by the good showing of the heavy bombers and fighters in 1943. From January to June the output of the 'heavies', especially of the Lancasters, at last caught up with the programme and thereafter the gap was relatively narrow. Fighter production also settled down to within a short distance of the programme targets. On the other hand medium bombers straggled behind schedules in spite of the drastic reductions in the autumn of the year. Worse still was the record of naval types. They were far behind programme and the distance between output and programme widened from July onwards. It was only towards the very end of 1943 and during the first six months of 1944 that aircraft production at last approached sufficiently closely the targets of the programmes to make further adjustments of the latter unnecessary.

In this story of output failing to expand until the end of 1943 but expanding more rapidly thereafter it is easy to discern the action of forces some of which were common to war industry as a whole, while others were peculiar to the aircraft industry. Shortages both new and inherited played their part. In the course of 1942 the wholly-renovated department of Materials Production in M.A.P. brought system into the provision of raw materials and greatly raised both estimates of the aircraft industry's needs and the productive capacity of the fabricating firms. But in the meantime shortages of fabricated raw materials could still be blamed for failure of production. M.A.P. used the argument more or less convincingly in a discussion about the naval Barracudas in the early months of 1943. Similarly, in the discussions on the April 1943 revisions of the 'realistic' programme M.A.P. issued a warning that the revised programme, though slightly smaller in total structure weight, might require a larger amount of raw materials than it was safe to assume would be available. Throughout the year raw materials, though


adequate on paper, were still too short for even minor additions to programmes; and this at a time when the programmes were not in fact being met in full. This naturally created the impression that the Director General of Materials Production was still planning under the influence of inflated programmes, i.e. was assuming that programmes would not be met in full and thus need not be fully provided for. The real explanation however was to be found in the more simple fact that the recent expansion of raw materials production was still too recent and that the Director General of Materials Production was finding it difficult to build up the month;s lead of materials which was required by the January programme and was necessary for the smooth expansion of output. By the end of the year however the position righted itself, and the output of fabricated materials appeared more or less adequate even allowing for production of spares and contingencies of scrap. In November 1943 the Deputy Director General of Statistics and Programmes was able to report that supplies of raw materials were running more smoothly than at any time since the war had started; and although occasional difficulties still cropped up till the end of the war, the provision of raw materials in general ceased to count as a major limitation on M.A.P.'s efforts.

Much more important was the shortage of labour. It has already been shown that the net intake of men and women into the aircraft industry between July 1942 and December 1943 ran far behind the original requirements presented by the Ministry or even the much reduced scales laid down by the Lord President and by the Minister of Production in the early autumn of 1942 or by the War Cabinet in the allocations of December of that year.61 It is therefore nor surprising that the insufficiency of labour could provide the Ministry with an obvious explanation of insufficient production. The argument was not, of course, accepted by the Ministry of Labour. Its recurrent rejoinder to M.A.P. was that shortage of labour was not an impediment to greater output. On at least one occasion the Minister of Labour could cite instances of labour being taken on and then finding no real work to do, and on another occasion he was able to claim that it was a common experience for his department to be asked by firms to stop sending labour as soon as labour was sent to the in anything like the numbers they said they wanted. Had the Ministry of Labour been concerned with production it could also have pointed out that in 1942 very few failures to achieve the planned output could be attributed to the shortage of unskilled labour: a fact which was in February 1942 admitted by Sir Charles Craven, then Controller General at M.A.P. Against this M.A.P. argued that even


if labour were sufficient for production at the level at which the latter stood at any point of time, the general shortage was retarding further expansion of plans and further increases of output.

In the final resort, however, supplies of labour were, as they were indeed bound to be, essential for further increases of output. And of this no better proof could be found than in the rise of output in response to the improved labour supplies at the end of 1943. The response was not of course apparent at first sight. The curve of labour intake was at its flattest during the first six months of 1943, but during this period output was well up to programme. During the latter half of 1943 the labour intake curve was much steeper, but the output curve was flatter. The peak output of the aircraft industry came later: in the early part of 1944. These lags do not, however, belie the connection between labour intake and output. If it is assumed that the productive effort of any given labour intake is felt, say, six months later, this would directly connect the fall in output during the latter part of 1943 with the abnormally low labour intake early in the year. Similarly, the spectacular output of early 1944 could be connected with the high labour intakes of later 1943.

However, improved labour supplies were not alone responsible for the rising output curves of the end of 1943 and early 1944. Indeed until the curves began to rise an impression was gaining ground within M.A.P. itself that the aircraft industry as a whole appeared incapable of the growth expected of it and that neither raw materials nor additional labour would lead to commensurate increases in output. In spite of the repeated increases in the aircraft programmes between the summer of 1940 and December 1942 output expanded at slow and very steady rates. The actual curve of production in 1941 and 1942, though rising, did not follow the hopeful curve of any of the later programmes. It rather conformed to the trend forecast of the 'Harrogate' programme of 1940,62 even though the aircraft industry had in the meantime received further additions to its capacity and greater injections of labour and material than the programme of1940 had envisaged. It was thus easy enough to jump to the fatalistic generalisation that a neutral limit to aircraft production was inherent in the scale of British war economy and in the power of the industry's managers.

The generalisation appeared to find some support in M.A.P. and even in its statistical and programming part. Commenting on the stubborn inability if the industry to expand more rapidly than it did, the Deputy Director General of Statistics and Programmes was moved to observe that the administrators had hitherto tended 'to over-simplify the numerous and complex forces which controlled


and limited the growth of an organisation as complex as the aircraft industry.

No one would assert that the size of a man is uniquely determined by the quantity of food given to him; we know that the size is intimately connected with the balancing and integration of the related parts and with the forces which are engendered by growth which finally constitute a limited to the growth itself. But we are too ready to assume that more labour or more machine etc. automatically will produce a bigger industry and more aircraft.

His analysis of the growth of the aircraft industry led him to believe that it was nearing its peak effort. To illustrate this point he showed that during the year 1940–41 the increase in monthly output was 428, during 1941–42 it was 343 and during the year 1942–43 it was only 127. He added that during the coming year 1943–44 the increase in output was programmed to be no less than 600 aircraft and 5½ million lb. of structure weight, or nearly four and a half times that achieved in the preceding year.63 His conclusions from these facts were simple. The new programmes should take account of the unpredictable and intangible influences which held back output and should consequently not be increased beyond the peaks previously planned. This conclusion was soon to be reinforced by a pessimistic review of the prospects of individual firms presented at the end of the year by various production directorates and was willy nilly accepted by the Chief Executive.

Had the diagnosis been made a few months later and based on facts more directly drawn from the daily experience of the industry it might perhaps have been expressed in more concrete and familiar terms. The difficulties of aircraft production as distinct from the difficulties of other branches of production were inherent in both the peculiarities of aircraft firms; and by 1943 few people in M.A.P. did not know what these peculiarities were. From the production point of view aircraft were the most unsettled and unstable of all the instruments of war. Programmes was a whole changed very frequently. It will be shown presently64 that there was a constant pressure for improvement of current types, for additional numbers of later types, and for the substitution of new types for old. The retarding effects of modifications on output had fully manifested themselves before 1942 and will be discussed again at greater length.65

So much for the peculiarities of the product. The peculiarities of


the producer were, if anything, even more obvious. What most of them boiled down to was the strains which expanding industry put upon its human resources. It will be recalled that the experience of 1941 and 1942 had already demonstrated that an industry so new and so unused to large-scale production could not go on expanding indefinitely without outrunning the capacities of its leaders. Similar experiences continued to accumulate in the course of later years, but at the same time the evidence of individual factories revealed that the ceilings were not as low or as fixed in some firms as in others. In firms with previous experience in economic production on a large scale, e.g. Fords or English Electric, or in aircraft firms providentially blessed with production managers of unusual ability, e.g. A V. Roe, output was not—or at least not yet—held back by any 'natural' limits. And that also meant that further improvements in efficiency of management and labour might enable the industry to break through the complex system of impediments which held it back.

This indeed was the sense in which towards the end of 1943 the Ministry of Aircraft Production appeared to interpret the record of the industry. The measures taken were mainly directed at the managerial efficiency of the industry as a whole. They took various forms. Certain firms with bad production record were compelled to change their entire directing personnel, even if this meant that ownership had to pass to the State. Firms which had proved their managerial efficiency, e.g. English Electric, were asked to take an ever greater share of total output, even if that meant their entering into fields from which they had in the past kept away, e.g. the development and production of the Sabre engines. In addition, the Ministry tried to stimulate the efficiency of the industry as a whole by constructive technical advice. The Production Efficiency Board, which M.A.P. set up in 1943 under the chairmanship of Sir Charles Bruce Gardner, a former head of the British Association of Aircraft Constructors and a persona grata with the industry, was step in this direction. The record of the organisation is one of discreet achievement. Without attempting any major reforms or any acts of conspicuous interference, the Board offered technical advice on efficiency devices, on management, on utilisation of tools, on technical processes; and the advice was as a rule gratefully taken.

Above all, the general level of efficiency was rising by its own momentum. In addition to the measures consciously adopted in the Ministry and directed at the higher levels if the industry's personnel, the accumulating experience and 'know how' in the industry itself were having their effect; and the dexterity of the labour force also grew. Viewed separately the improvements were slow and small, but their combined action was sufficient to lift the productivity of the industry as the year 1943 was drawing to its end. Reports from firms


in the course of early 1944 all brought news of improving organisation and growing economy of operations. The man-hour equivalents of most standard types appeared to fall; even their money costs showed a downward tendency.

Thus by the second half of 1944, i.e. about the time when the War Cabinet was due to enforce its wholesale cuts in munitions programmes as a whole, the aircraft industry at last reached its long-awaited and long-delayed moment of fulfilment. Its supplies of labour and raw materials were at last adequate for its most essential needs; its managerial efficiency and the skills of its labour force were at their highest peak. The instability of design and of programmes alone continued to interfere with output almost as badly as heretofore. To this extent—and to this extent only—the earlier hopes of 'mass production' were proving unrealisable. Even here the 'Speer' experiment in Germany and certain experiences in this country in 1938 and 1939 indicated possible solutions (and more will be said about them elsewhere66), but they would have necessitated radical changes in the processes of design and development. With the war in Europe nearing its conclusion the time for radical remedies had passed.


In tracing the rise and fall of aircraft production it is important to bear in mind the effort which was being devoted to the repair of aircraft and the production of spares. For although some provision for spares had been made and some diversion of industrial effort to repairs had been allowed for in aircraft programmes since the earliest days of aircraft production, the effort devoted to spares after 1940 became much greater and imposed a correspondingly greater burden upon industry. The repair of aircraft made a vital contribution to the winning of the Battle of Britain. In August and September 1940—the two crucial months of the battle—nearly forty percent of the current supply of fighters to the squadrons was made up of repaired aircraft. The subsequent growth of the repair organisation and its activities is well illustrated in Table 42 below, though statistics of aircraft repaired are not entirely comprehensive. For example, during the Battle of Britain the so-called 'fly-in' repairs, that is the immediate first-aid repairs which were available to pilots at repairers' aerodromes, escaped formal registration. Out of a total of approximately 164,000 airframes which went to the Metropolitan Air Force between May 1940 and July 1945 more than 79,000 or forty-eight percent were the output of the repair organisation. In 1943 the proportion was as high as fifty-five percent; and although in 1944 the percentage declined the total number of airframes repaired continued to grow.


Number of aircraft going to the Metropolitan Air Force January 1941–July 194567


From new production68
From repair output
Number from repair as percentage of total

1945 (Jan./July)

The increase in actual effort was even greater than these figures reveal. Medium and heavy bombers absorbed an increasingly larger share of airframe repair throughout the war. These types required a greater effort per airframe, and the number of airframes repaired was also rising. During the heavy bomber offensive of 1943 and 1944 the proportion of heavy bombers supplied to the Metropolitan Air Force from repair rose from 29.6 percent to 36.5 percent of the total (see Table 43). Any table based on number of airframes therefore underestimates the achievement of the later years

Heavy bombers: number going to the Metropolitan Air Force, 1942–44


From repair
Number from repair as percentage of total

1942 (Mar./Dec.)

That the burden of repair should have been heavy and that it should have fallen mainly on general industry may appear obvious to an outside observer familiar only with the industrial processes in the later stages of the war. In actual fact the great effort devoted to repairs and the employment of 'civilian' industry for this purpose were relatively late developments. Until August 1938 the prevailing view at the Air Ministry was that, in time of war, repair of aircraft would be physically impossible and from an economic point of view


undesirable. This view was essentially the same as that which was to prevail throughout the war in the air force of the U.S.S.R. where the tendency was to replace worn-out and badly-damaged aircraft by new machines instead of devoting a great deal of effort to continuous and piecemeal maintenance and repairs.

The economies of the doctrine would not have survived a closer calculation or the test of experience had experience been available. The evidence of the later years of the war—1942 to 1945—showed very clearly that it was more economical to expend resources on repairs to the extent to which this was done in Britain than it would have been to devote them to production of new aircraft. Thus it was calculated that the amount of material which was used for Lancaster spares during that period and which made possible the repair and return to service of 3,816 aircraft would, if employed in the construction of new aircraft, have yielded only 622 airframes. Comparable figures for the Wellington were calculated at 1,428 new airframes against 5,865 repaired, and for the Spitfire, 3,915 complete against 9,339 repaired. Similar comparisons are possible between the number of aero engines and propellers which could have been produced by the expenditure of the same quantity of material on new construction. In each case repair meant a great saving of materials. The comparative costs in labour between repair and new construction were more eloquent. The peak of employment on airframe repairs was reached in November 1943 when the number of workers thus employed was 63,000. At the same time 664,200 persons were employed on new airframe production. Yet, as already mentioned,69 fifty-five percent of the aircraft which went to the Metropolitan Air Force in 1943 were repaired aircraft.

The doctrine was in fact given up in August 1938 when the Air Ministry considered a plan for a wartime repair and maintenance organisation. A scheme of the repair organisation as it emerged in March 1939 assumed that repairs would play an important part in keeping the R.A.F. supplied with aircraft; but it did not yet envisage the employment of private industry. Repairs were to be entrusted to a service wholly controlled by the R.A.F. in which civilian labour would be employed and, as a short-term measure, civilian contractors would be engaged. The long-term plan envisaged the establishment of six large general repair depots, three to be staffed by R.A.F. personnel and three by civilians under R.A.F. control. It was eventually agreed that one of the latter should be managed by a civilian firm on an agency basis, and Lord Nuffield accepted the task of running it.


No repair work had in fact been undertaken in the 'agency' depot by October 1939, and by then the whole plan of the repair organisation was challenged by Lord Nuffield and his immediate assistants. They questioned the underlying assumption that industry in time of war would have no capacity available for repair work and criticised the concept of a general repair depot. In their opinion repairs, like production, had to be divided according to the different types of work; and they advocated that repairs should be dealt with by firms specialising in different types of repairs. They also suggested that the management of the entire civilian repair team should be handed over to an industrial firm experienced in dealing with a large number of scattered undertakings. They offered for this purpose the services of the Morris Motors organisation, and the offer was accepted by the Secretary of State for Air.

To begin with, the repair organisation was mainly based on the 'fringe' firms, i.e. aircraft firms producing their own designs which were outside the inner circle of the main airframe contractors to the Air Ministry. At the time there were nineteen such firms with an aggregate floor space of approximately a million square feet. The estimated potential output from these 'fringe' firms and the five 'parent' firms which were undertaking aircraft repair was 250 airframes a month. In addition, a large number of small firms from outside the aircraft industry were introduced to supplement the work of the 'fringe' firms. A great proportion of the contractors came from the motor car sales and servicing units already connected with the Morris Motors organisation.

In the course of 1940 repair facilities were to be removed still further from R.A.F. control and to be distributed still more widely among industry. It was Lord Beaverbrook's settled policy to make M.A.P. responsible not only for the Civilian Repair Organisation, but also for repair work carried out at the Service Repair Depots controlled by the '43 Group' of the R.A.F.  Lord Beaverbrook also subjected the industrial capacity available for repairs to the same measures of dispersal and expansion as the rest of the aircraft industry. As a result, the circle of repair contractors, many of whom were already engaged on production work of some kind, was considerably enlarged.

The intermingling of repair work and new production was also made necessary by the uncertainties and fluctuations of demand, and these led to the Ministry adopted a 'hospital bed' policy. Contractors engaged for repair work were expected to keep themselves in readiness to carry out repairs when the need arose. The apparent wastefulness of this system could be offset only by employing contractors who were engaged on other work into which repairs could be 'spliced'.


With the introduction of the heavy bombers, the expansion of the contractors' circle was to some extent arrested. The complexity of the machines demanded high skill in repairs and specialised knowledge of the types under repair. The policy in M.A.P. therefore was to place on the 'parent' firms—Short Brothers, Handley Page and A. V. Roe—responsibility for the repair of their own aircraft. New factories were to be built, one for each type, to be run either as a subsidiary or directly by the 'parent' firm. This plan did not, however, develop quite as expected. Although factories were in fact set up by the 'parent' firms, transport and take-off difficulties proved greater than at one time anticipated. In 1942 the emphasis shifted to 'on site' repairs, and in 1943 a large number of additional hangars for the repair of aircraft were laid down in airfields used by bombers. The 'on site' repairs yielded a higher return on investment and proved more economical in labour than the system of specialised repair factories, but they could not of course replace factory work altogether. Certain categories of work, e.g. the breakdown of written-off aircraft and the salvaging and repair of parts, were essentially factory jobs. So also was the production of spares.

Indeed, the main problem of repair was not so much the siting of the work and its management as the supply of spares. Throughout the war, and more especially between 1941 and 1943, the people responsible for the repair organisation constantly complained of an insufficient supply of spares. The Air Ministry, concerned as it was with the maintenance of aircraft in service, continually complained of the preference accorded in M.A.P. to new production.

These is no denying that production departments favoured new production. The critical war situation and, above all, the efforts that were put into fighter production in1940 accentuated their preference. Some remedial measures, mostly of an administrative kind, were taken in September 1941, but the supply of spares continued to give cause for anxiety throughout 1942. The anxiety spread outside the Air Ministry and Service circles. In its tenth report the Select Committee on National Expenditure70 argued very strongly against the common attitude that less credit was attached to the production of spares than of complete aircraft. By that time, however, the policy was also changing in the Ministry of Aircraft Production. A Spares Committee was set up to investigate the provision of capacity and materials for spares, the method of ordering and the best way to implement orders. In addition to detailed improvements the committee offered in July 1943 its final judgement that a reallocation of resources between new production and spares was the real solution of the spares problem.


Fortunately, the general improvement in the supply of materials from mid-1943 onwards brought the necessary relief. More spares could be and were produced without conflicting with the requirements of new production. The growth of output was in fact greater than the needs of the repair organisation alone demanded, for growing quantities of spares were also required for the routine maintenance of aircraft; and large quantities of spares were frequently ordered by M.A.P. for direct delivery to the Services. These deliveries added an incalculable element to the problem of spares and may have added to the difficulty of planning their production.

In general, the difficulties of planning may in part have been responsible for the lingering feeling that not enough attention was paid to spares in M.A.P. The production departments maintained that any shortage of spares that existed was artificial and owed its existence to the un-coordinated method of ordering and to the method of distribution, both controlled by the Air Ministry.71 Whatever the real cause, the shortage itself was becoming less pronounced after 1943, as Table 44 shows:

Aircraft awaiting spares as percentages of all aircraft with the R.A.F. Home Commands

TABLE 4472

Total for all Commands
Bomber Command
Fighter Command


June 6.8

December 7.1
June 5.2

December 3.1
June 2.7

December 2.5
June 2.5

In view of the much larger of aircraft requiring repair and repaired in the later years, the much smaller proportion awaiting repairs denotes a very much better supply of spares. The fact that


some aircraft were still kept waiting may suggest that some shortage of spares was still felt, but it is not necessarily evidence of insufficient allocation of resources in industry or in M.A.P. The ordinary hazards of wartime planning were quite capable of creating equally great temporary shortages of parts and components in the main lines of new production.


The Quality of Aircraft


The achievement of aircraft production cannot be fully measured by numbers of aircraft made and repaired. The quality of aircraft must be taken into account in assessing the past record of aircraft production, just as it was taken into account in forecasting future output. The quality of aircraft was subject to changes much more radical and more frequent than those of any other weapon, not excluding the tank. What,from the point of view of this study, is even more important is that, in their endeavours to maintain the quality of aircraft, the Air Ministry and M.A.P. frequently had to sacrifice its quantity. And here again, of no other weapon, not even of the tank can it be said that its output was equally subjected and sacrificed to considerations of quality. Had aircraft design and development been frozen or even retarded at the beginning of the expansion, or even at the beginning of the war, and no modifications or replacements been allowed to interfere with the flow of production, the output would have far outstripped the actual figures. Whenever obsolete types were 'faded out' and new ones were brought in, the flow of production was inevitably interrupted at the very time when all the 'teething' troubles had been overcome and the smooth flow of production could develop. But, apart from new types, continuous modifications of existing types to fit them to the ever-changing conditions of war in the air continually disrupted work at the factories. The curves of of output of all the well-established and, consequently, much-modified types, like the Spitfire, the Wellington and the Mosquito, were bent and broken by repeated depressions, each caused by some new modification or improvement.

The dilemma was well understood and, as a rule, taken for granted in the supply branches of the Air Ministry and in M.A.P. It was apparently accepted by Lord Swinton and his collaborators during the crucial years of the pre-war expansion. On the whole, it also continued to guide the policy of M.A.P. in the war; and nobody expressed


the view more clearly than Sir Stafford Cripps in his speech to the aircraft workers in September 1943.

We have throughout [he said] applied one cardinal principle—that quality is more important than mere quantity. Nothing but the best and most up to date is good enough for our magnificent airmen. Whatever the complications or drawbacks arising from the rapid introduction of improvements or changes, we must introduce these at the earliest practicable moment.74

The vigour with which the doctrine was invariably expressed must not, of course, be taken to mean that it could always be applied to the letter. The dilemma between quantity and quality was much easier to resolve in principle than in application. Occasions were bound to arise, both before and during the war, when in numbers alone the R.A.F. was so deficient that the sacrifice of quantity could not be faced. On these occasions the doctrine of quality had to be much diluted, if not dispensed with altogether. One such occasion occurred at the very beginning of the expansion in 1934, when there appeared to be no other way of inaugurating the process of rearmament in the air except by a temporary contravention of the quality doctrine. It will be remembered that at the time the more up-to-date types of aircraft on which the Air Staff built its hopes for the future were not ready for production, and that public demands and political pressure for a larger air force had to be satisfied by large orders for admittedly inferior types.75 The next occasion when the need for mere numbers threatened to take precedence over considerations of quality was perhaps that of Programme L in the spring of 1938, when following Hitler's march into Vienna the Government sanctioned immediate orders for 12,000 aircraft to be ready by 31st March 1940.76 But it says much for the advanced condition of aircraft development at that time that the programme, for all its emphasis on quantity, contained very few types which the Air Staff could consider as operationally unsatisfactory.77

Concessions to mere quantity were also made in all the extensions and additions to Programme L during the rest of 1938 and in 1938, as well as under the various plans for the deployment of the 'war potential'. Although, in commenting on some of the proposals, the Air Staff had to admit that the additional orders placed immediately after the Munich crisis meant 'equipping many squadrons with aircraft


of which the operation value is limited', immediate additions to the Air Force could not have been achieved in any other way. Yet even then little was done to interfere with the projects of the newer types scheduled to come in during 1940 and later. New and important specifications were being pushed forward in the hope of being introduced into the Air Force in the second year of the war.

Again, in the late spring and summer of 1940 the emphasis on quantity was so placed as to interfere, albeit for a short period, with the Air Ministry's plans for better aircraft. The concentration of production on the five types as agreed on 15th May between Lord Beaverbrook and the Air Staff has already been dealt with.78 Its corollary in matters of quality was a pause in all development which could not be directly related to the immediate needs of the Battle of Britain. This meant that a great deal of development work continued, but it was subject to the overriding test of urgency. Theoretical research into basic aeronautical problems was not stopped, but all other research, design and development work was to be devoted to the modification and improvement of the five preferred types. Such additional effort as could not be absorbed in the aircraft of first priority could be diverted to the aircraft of second priority and to such other work as 'could be made effective within a year'.

This order of priority still allowed work to continue on the heavy bombers of the 1936 specifications (the Stirling, the Halifax and the Manchester) which were expected to come into operational use during 1941. It may also have stimulated improvements in existing types, some of which were doubtless of very great importance. The one for which Lord Beaverbrook would probably take personal credit was the speeding-up of the installation of the 20-mm gun in the wings of the Hurricane and Spitfire in time for the later stages of the Battle of Britain.79 But the period also saw some immensely important developments of radar and of certain other aids to air defence. Only slightly less important was the installation of the new engines, such as the Merlin XX in the Hurricane and the Merlin 45 in the Spitfire,80 or the adaptation of the Blenheim, the Beaufighter, the Defiant and, above all, the Hurricane to new functions in land battles and in sea


convoys.81 Moreover, by the autumn of the same year the first priority was widened sufficiently to include the principal Fleet Air Arm types as well as a certain amount of advanced work on high-altitude aircraft. On the other hand, the work on some advanced types had to be suspended for at least nine months.82 But more important than the suspension of some current projects were the more general effects on experimental work and thought. The concentration on immediate operational requirements affected the practical facilities of research and development. Thus, for a while aircraft and pilots were withdrawn from experimental establishments for service in operational squadrons, with the result that the Director General of Research and Development was moved to complain that 'the establishments were no longer capable of the tremendous effort required … on projects of great urgency'.

This particular difficulty was soon remedied, and the entire emphasis on preferred types came to an end early in 1941. By the spring of that year some of the suspended projects, such as the Typhoon, were resumed again. In this period the prototype Mosquito was completed; the Beaufighter night fighter was developed; the Whittle jet engine was pushed forward and was given priority for further development and production; prototypes were ordered for a new medium bomber, the Buckingham, and came very near to being ordered for the Hawker high-speed bomber.

Broadly speaking, during the first half of 1941 the Air Staff and M.A.P. were able to restore something like the normal balance between quality and quantity; and once restored, this relation prevailed until the end of the war. Yet even then recurrent deviations from the general line were inevitable. A chronic cause of deviation was perhaps the tendency to bridge over the waiting periods for new types delayed in development by means of 'stop-gap' orders for older types. Three aircraft especially, the Battle, the Blenheim and the Whitley, were repeatedly ordered long after the replacement date originally set for them had arrived. Some deviation from the pure principle of quality might also be found in the multiplicity of types of aircraft


serving the same operational function. Thus, as a result of accidents, of delays in development, and of uncertainties in policy, M.A.P. found itself at the end of 1942 having to provide for the continued production of at least three four-engined bombers and of at least four aircraft of heavy bomber weight, with the prospects of a fifth in the offing.

The total effect of these deviations, however, was not such as to obscure, still less to nullify, the influence of the 'quality doctrine'. They were never allowed to become anything more than temporary and unfortunate departures from the ideal, and were always regarded in the Air Ministry and M.A.P. as merely a temporary evil. The government departments in charge of requirements and production never advocated 'output at all costs', and at no time did they allow the quality of output to be wholly submerged by mere numbers.


What in fact impaired the average quality of aircraft was not the departures from the policy of the Air Ministry and M.A.P., and the conscious concessions to the interests of production, but the inevitable delays and postponements in the appearance of new and improved designs. This study, devoted as it is to problems of production, is not the right place in which to discuss the progress in the quality of British aircraft. It will therefore be sufficient to note that over the war years as a whole British aircraft was not inferior and was at some points superior to enemy aircraft. British and German bombers do not, of course, admit of relevant comparison. Whereas Britain did not try to compete with the Germans in the development of dive bombers for tactical use with the Army, the Germans did not seriously tackle the development of heavy bombers for strategic bombing. It was nevertheless generally accepted that the quality of British light and medium bombers, as exemplified by the Blenheim and the Wellington before 1940 and the Mosquito after 1940, and the quality of the heavy bombers, more especially the Lancaster and its successor were equal to the operational demands. In fighters, where the competition was very close and comparison was easier, the race in quality was more or less neck and neck. At some points, as in 1938, early in 1940 and again in 1944, German design drew abreast, or even slightly ahead of the British; at other times the British fighters proved superior in performance and general quality.

The high average level of quality was a great achievement; but what from the point of view of production was more relevant was that the high quality was largely achieved not be frequent introduction of new designs, but by the constant modification and improvement of established types. Had the R.A.F. been entirely dependent for their technical progress on frequent replacement of old designs by new, an


uninterrupted improvement in the quality of their aircraft would have been difficult to attain.

Throughout the war the introduction of new designs was fraught with delays and disappointments. Broadly speaking, between 1935 and 1940 the design and development of fighters proceeded more or less according to plan. The detailed plans under the re-equipment programme of 1936 (Scheme F) were founded upon the expectation that by the spring of 1939 the British fighter squadrons would be equipped with fighters of the quality of the Hurricane and Spitfire.83 These hopes were somewhat delayed, more especially in the case of the Spitfire, but the overall delays were not greater than about seven months. Under Scheme F it was expected that 600 Hurricanes and 300 Spitfires would be delivered to the R.A.F. by March 1939. In actual fact these totals were achieved in October and August 1939 respectively, even though the first aircraft of each type was in production little later than the date promised by the firms and expected by the R.A.F.84 Viewed in detail, some of the other contemporary hopes failed to come true. The much-hoped-for cannon fighter—the Whirlwind—completed its preliminary stages eight months after the expected date, and was not very successful when it appeared.85 Even greater difficulties were encountered during the development of the Tornado-Typhoon, with the result that this type came into general service with a delay of about twelve months.86 Yet disappointing as these expectations were in detail, they did not widely destroy the general plan of providing the Air Force with a cannon-firing, two-seater for night and long-distance duties and with a single-engined aircraft carrying cannon in its wings. The gaps in the programme were filled by the Beaufighter and the cannon-firing Hurricane. Both these innovations were available in sufficient numbers, and approximately at the time at which the appearance of suitable types of aircraft for these functions had originally been expected.

Somewhat longer were the early delays in the progress of new bombers. Already in 1936 and 1937 disappointment and delay in the re-equipment of the Air Force had resulted from the slow development of the Hampden and the Wellington. In the end, the Hampden and the Wellington appeared in production about a year later than


originally expected, and nearly six years after their tender design stage.87 In the case of both aircraft, however, the harm done by the delays was more than compensated for by the improved quality. The Wellington and the Hampden, as they appeared in service in 1939, were not only much larger and better aircraft than those originally ordered from the firms, but were also capable of heavier loads, longer ranges and (in the case of the Wellington) greater development.

In a sense both the failure and the successes of the 1933–36 race of medium bombers left the general plans of the Air Staff unaffected. From the middle thirties onwards the Air Staff plans for bombers were anchored on the heavy bombers. Several developments converged on this point. On the one hand there was the growing belief in bombing as a strategic weapon. To this strategic idea there came to be added in the course of time a set of tactical and technical notions which led inevitably to the same conception of bomber design. For if bombers were to be used as an independent striking weapon they had to be given greater range and carrying power than the medium and medium-heavy bombers than under development.88 By February 1937 the Air Council had definitely made up their minds in favour of the super-bombers, and in the previous autumn there had appeared the two specifications with which the history of the heavy bomber begins, the B.12/36, from which sprang the Stirling, and the B.13/36, to which the Manchester and the original Halifax were both designed.89

Each of the heavy bombers than projected came to be delayed by failure of its engines, hazards of airframe design and by other accidents. The prototypes of the three heavy bombers—the four-engined Stirling (B.12/36), the Manchester and the Halifax (B.13/36)—were ordered in the spring months of 1937, and were expected to be in production during 1940. Under the expanded Programme L, as sanctioned in October 1938, some 3,500 heavy bombers of all three


categories were to be delivered to the R.A.F. by April 1942.90 But in the form in which the R.A.F. could safely use them and the heavy bombers did not begin to appear in service until 1941, and the total of 3,500 delivered was not reached until the spring of 1943. The overall delay was thus about a year.

The delay was not of course a dead loss. In the case of only one bomber—the Stirling—nothing was gained from the postponement, since the bomber as eventually delivered was no better, and probably worse, than the aircraft the Air Ministry had hoped to get. But both the Handley-Page and Avro bombers—the latter as the Lancaster—appeared in the end in a form superior to the twin-engined Halifax and the Manchester. To the historian the episode is therefore bound to appear as a blessing in disguise. Although the number available by the spring of 1942 was less than that forecast, the average bomb-load by that date (to say nothing of the qualities which could not be so easily added up) was higher than that which the twin-engined Halifaxes and Manchester's could have carried.

Thus, until 1940 and possibly even until 1941, plans and achievements did not diverge sufficiently to cause alarm. But the general impression is that after 1940 hopes began to outrun achievements by far wider margins. The expectations continued to be justifiably great, but the difficulties of introducing new types were even greater. One such detailed plan on which great expectations were based in 1940 and 1941 was that for the Spitfire/Hurricane replacement. Much was hoped of the Tornado-Typhoon, but the hopes were continually delayed by the shortcomings of the Sabre engine. The aircraft was planned to appear in service early in 1941; it did not get into service in small numbers till late in 1942; and what is more, the Typhoon as it appeared in service, was not quite the aircraft originally expected. It was clearly a fast, sturdy aircraft, which proved especially suited for the installation of rocket armament and turned out to be most successful in low-level attacks. But it was not a replacement of the interceptor fighter class which was its designed role; and the gap in the development of single-engined pursuit fighters had to be filled by other means, mostly by further developments of the Spitfire itself.91 Fulfilment and promise were somewhat more closely matched in the development of the Typhoon's offspring—the Tempest—though even there, as with the Typhoon, the Sabre engine proved the worst obstacle. The Tempest did not appear in January 1943 as expected; its first deliveries began in October 1943. Its final performance,


though very high indeed, was somewhat lower than originally expected, and was soon exceeded by the latest Spitfire and by the American Mustang III.92 Indeed the Mustang, a marriage of an American airframe with a Rolls-Royce engine, was the only wholly new fighter to appear in service without much delay, and to fulfil every expectation in performance.93

Judged by domestic expectations the progress of new bombers in the same period was even slower. Of the types which reached the production stage, the Warwick was the most delayed and the least successful. It had been designed as a replacement for the Wellington as early as 1935 and then, owing to successive changes of official policy and the vitality of the Wellington itself, it was repeatedly re-designed. It was not until July 1942 that the Warwick bomber came into production, and by that time it was well behind the Air Staff requirements.94 In January 1943 the final decision was made to convert the type into a transport and an air-sea rescue aircraft and it was for those unpremeditated uses that the Warwick began to be produced in numbers in the summer of 1943.

Another heavy bomber, the Windsor, grew out of two converging Vickers-Armstrongs' projects of high-speed bombers first conceived in 1941. The specification was not definitely formulated until 1942, and the difficulties of designs, more especially those of remotely-controlled armament, delayed the early prototype, and by the end of 1944 it was becoming obvious that the bomber would not mature in time to fulfil its original function of a high-speed heavy bomber.

In the same category should be included the only new medium bomber to be produced in that period—the Bristol Buckingham. The origin of the Buckingham goes back to the proposals which the firm made early in 1939 for a companion to the Beaufighter—the Beau bomber. The Air Staff showed no enthusiasm for the project until it was resuscitated at the end of 1940 in connection with the requirement for an Army close-support bomber. Discussions continued from May 1941 until July 1942, while the firm complained that it was losing interest in the project. It is therefore possible that had the Buckingham, instead of appearing in late 1943 or early 1944, appeared as first planned, late in 1942, the result might have justified the original


decision. The relative failure of the Buckingham was to some extent due to the shortcomings of the early Centaurus engine, which was about ten to twenty percent inferior in power-output to that originally planned. Another circumstance which prejudiced the future of the Buckingham was the somewhat unexpected excellence and versatility of the Mosquito. In the end the Mosquito was able to do more than the Buckingham ever aspired to, and much more than it in fact achieved—it could travel faster over ranges only slightly shorter and could carry a load equally heavy, if not heavier. The result was that at the beginning of 1944 the R.A.F. were about to receive a brand-new bomber to fulfil a largely obsolescent tactical function.95

The most outstandingly successful bomber of the period was without doubt the Mosquito. Like the Spitfire, it also succeeded in maintaining its superb quality in all its subsequent developments and modifications as a night fighter, as a high-altitude photographic reconnaissance, as a fighter-bomber, as a special purpose fighter mounting heavy armament. Thanks to the Mosquito, the British Air Force outstripped all its foreign rivals in the field of light bomber and twin-engined fighters throughout the later stages of the war.

The field in which failures occurred and hopes were deferred most frequently was that of naval types. These troubles over naval types were very nearly as old as the expansion itself and prejudiced the quality of naval aircraft even between 1934 and 1940. Naval requirements throughout this period were focused on two special types: the torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance and the fighter-dive-bomber or fighter-reconnaissance. The very hyphenation of the titles points to the unusual character of naval requirements. A Fleet Air Arm aircraft had to be capable of a multiplicity of functions since the limited accommodation in the floating aerodromes did not allow them to house a wide assortment of specialised aircraft. The need for storing aircraft in hangars below deck and operating them from floating platforms added to the difficulty of their design. Further difficulties resulted from certain tactical requirements of the Admiralty. Thus for a time it insisted on providing for a navigator in fighters, even though the general character and dimensions of the design happened to be best suited for single-seater aircraft. These limitations did not appear to matter much so long as the strategic assumption was that the Fleet Air Arm would not be required to operate within range of enemy land-based aircraft, but they became very serious when circumstances of war pitted the Fleet Air Arm against enemy land planes.

This combination of adverse circumstances affected almost every


new project. The series of torpedo-spotter-reconnaissance aircraft produced during the expansion period began with the very excellent biplane—the Fairey Swordfish. But this aircraft, already in production in 1936, was for a number of years to remain the only fully satisfactory naval type in production. As a result the Fleet Air Arm entered the war in 1939 and fought on the seas until 1943 with the majority of its squadrons equipped with the Swordfish, a type which was obsolescent in 1938. With these aircraft the battles of Taranto and Matapan were won, the Bismarck crippled, and—in participation with the R.A.F.—Malta maintained as an offensive base throughout her siege.

The story of the fleet fighter is even more melancholy. What eventually saved the naval fighter force was that in the end, contrary to the Admiralty's belief, converted single-seater land-fighters proved excellent fleet fighters. It was they and the American naval fighters, the Martlet, the Corsair, and the Hellcat, that formed the backbone of the Fleet Air Arm fighter force from 1941 until 1944.

By the third year of the war the insufficient progress of naval types became apparent outside Service circles and was brought home to the public by the loss of the Prince of Wales and the Repulse, and the escape of the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau. A debate in the House of Lords,96 and a series of more fragmentary discussions in both Houses, followed in quick succession, and drew from the unofficial political spokesmen of the two Services a certain amount of explanation mixed with mutual recrimination. But although political discussion for a time succeeded in focusing public attention on the slow progress of naval types, it did little to reveal its causes. Had a proper inquest then been possible it would probably have shown that the difficulties over naval aircraft were partly due to special causes and partly spring from causes common to all new designs of aircraft under war conditions.


In so far as the delays were purely technical and sprang from inevitable hazards of scientific and engineering progress, they need not concern us here at all. But by no means all the disappointments could be regarded as legitimate technical risks. Viewed historically, the most damaging cause of disappointments over performance was not technical failure but the mere fact of accumulated delays. For, in the field of aircraft design, hopes deferred were hopes disappointed. Some designs which, on technical grounds, appeared most promising at the time of their inception turned out to be total or partial failures, merely because they had been delayed in development and were therefore too late to meet the strategic and tactical needs for which they had first been conceived.


The accumulated delays in the various stages were mainly to blame. The time which new types on their way from their first inception as projects to their first operational use in squadrons was determined by two sets of causes: one was largely administrative and concerned the number and the length of the different phases in the progress of a design; the other was largely industrial and was concerned with the introduction of a new type into a production line.

The normal procedure, which was customarily followed before the early years of the expansion, involved six or seven separate phases. The first phase, that of inception, covered the period when the Air Staff compiled the operational requirements for a new type of when the aircraft firms gave birth to preliminary designs in anticipation of a coming operational requirement. The second phase covered the period when the Air Ministry, later M.A.P., formulated the official technical specification embodying the operational requirements of the Air Staff, and also possibly the technical forecasts of industry. The third phase covered the competitive tender, and was largely devoted to a discussion, preceding the issue of the prototype orders, of the relative merits of the tender designs. The fourth phase was that of the construction of the prototype aircraft. This was followed by the fifth phase, that of tests and trials of prototype aircraft. The sixth, and in some cases the seventh, phase covered the development and production orders.

Considering the leisurely progress of new aircraft through the seven ages of design it is no wonder that new types took so long to mature. The length of the various stages of design and development of standard R.A.F. types in peacetime as seen in retrospect in the Directorate of Technical Development in M.A.P. was as follows:

Aircraft: stages of design and development


Stages Time allowed (months)
Small aircraft
Medium aircraft
Large aircraft97
Air staff notify D.T.D.98 of requirements for new type
D.T.D. prepares specification
Competitive tender (tender invitation); tender analysis and placing of prototype orders
Construction of prototype
Tests and trials
Development orders

Development trials
Production orders

Approx. total time
5½ years
6½ years
8 years


The average was thus at least six years, and sometimes more. The interval was obviously too long, even for peacetime conditions, and was impossibly long in time of war. Strategic and tactical needs, which might have prompted a design at a certain stage, could not possibly have remained unchanged through the years of design and development. And to make all the necessary allowances and to forecast the tactical and strategic needs five or six years ahead was beyond the powers of the most prophetic of air strategists.

For all these reasons the six-year span could not be, and never was, taken for granted by the Air Ministry or by industry even in peacetime, the remedies began to be thought of from the early days of the expansion period. There were two ways of bridging the gap: one was to speed-up the procedure of some of the stages; the other was to cut out some stages altogether. The former—the general speed-up—was attempted all along the line, but the more drastic surgical methods were only possible at three stages: the competitive tenders, the prototype and the development order.

The various abridgements of the prototype stage, sometimes incorrectly described as orders 'off the drawing-board', were introduced in a number of designs including the Halifax, the Manchester and the Stirling. In the end, however, the Air Ministry adopted the more drastic policy of cutting out the prototype stage altogether and ordering 'off the drawing-board' in the narrower sense of the term. Instead of delaying production orders until a prototype had been tested, the Air Ministry now placed orders for quantity production at the same time as the prototypes. If, as a result of the tests of the prototypes, modifications appeared necessary, they were incorporated into the production series. The best examples of orders 'off the drawing-board', pure and simple, were the Bristol Beaufighter, designed late in 1938 and ordered in quantity in April 1939, the de Havilland Mosquito, designed in December 1939 and ordered in quantity in January 1940 and several Fleet Air Arm types.

The other stage to be abridge and eventually to be cut out was the competitive tender. For many reasons competitive designs came to be regarded as a luxury which the country could not afford under the stringent conditions of rearmament and war. Competition could be cut in two ways: either by allowing full play to private initiative in the initial stages (so-called 'private venture') or by the policy of special orders to earmarked firms. By accepting 'private ventures' the Air Ministry were able to save from six months to a year which would otherwise have gone on the preparations for competitive designs. 'Private ventures' were frequently combined with the system of 'special orders'. Under this system the Air Ministry of M.A.P. entrusted the design and production of a new type to a firm which, in the Ministry's view, was at


the moment best able to create a new type of the necessary kind. What with the desire to save the time hitherto spent on organising competition, and with the imperative necessity to spare the efforts of the drawing offices, 'special orders' gradually became the prevailing system at M.A.P.

So much for the cuts and abridgement in procedure. What of their effects? Did they result in economies of time great enough to bring the new types out as fast as war strategy demanded? A study of the timetables of development of most of the more familiar types will reveal that the development period of 'special order' types and of the true 'private ventures' was shortened. Yet on the whole the savings were not great or universal enough to be wholly satisfactory in wartime. In spite of the abridgements, and long after they had been introduced into the development procedure, new types continued to be delayed on their way to quantity production. The gestation period of the early bombers was up to seven years, that of the heavy bombers developed during the war was at least four years; fighters took nearly as long.

Thus to all appearances the problem remained largely unsolved. While some savings in the timetable had been achieved by changes in procedure, the growing complexity of aircraft made for further delays in design and development. The estimates of the time required to design and develop an aircraft were therefore little better at the end of the war than they had been at the beginning. In the discussion about the heavy bomber for the Japanese war, which took place at the turn of 1943 and 1944, the representatives of M.A.P. felt it necessary to warn the representatives of the other interested departments that a brand-new heavy bomber type could not be brought into operational service under five years from the date of the specification and preliminary design.

Yet even apart from delays caused by the complexity of later types, it is doubtful whether cuts in procedure could have done much to shorten at all appreciably the gestation period of new aircraft. And the main reason for this was that the new types were delayed partly because the timetable of design and development was too long, but partly also through causes which were largely industrial in character. One of the industrial factors was directly relevant to the business of design. Compared with the aircraft industry in the United States the British aircraft industry suffered from an insurmountable shortage of facilities, both material and human, required for rapid progress of new designs. A technical mission under Sir Roy Fedden, of the British Aeroplane Company, which visited the United States during 1943 brought back remarkable information about American 'layout' for design and development. By comparison with the vast resources of the American design departments, those of British firms were diminutive.


Rolls-Royce was probably alone among the British airframe and aero-engine firms in possessing organisation for design and development of a size comparable to the American. Most of the others were far too small.

The insufficiency could in fact have been blamed, as it was, on the shortage of draughtsmen and section-leaders in the country, and that in its turn could be blamed on peculiarities of British technical education which concentrated on turning out engineers of high standing but offered few facilities for mass production of technicians of humble rank. But a study of the comparable data would probably have suggested that the shortage might to some extent have been due to the industrial policy of the Air Ministry and the economic organisation of the aircraft industry. It was possible to argue that by its policy of maintaining in being at least sixteen design firms the Air Ministry (and after it M.A.P.) brought about an excessive proliferation of design teams and a dissipsation of scarce material resources and people. Even within single manufacturing combines like Hawker-Siddeley's it was possible to maintain several—at least four—independent design organisations, of which two as a rule design fighters and two bombers.

The other industrial factor was not directly concerned with the organisation of design, but was probably more to blame for delays than any other cause so far discussed. This factor was the protracted character of the initial stages of production. That delays occurred at the production end of the timetable will be clear from the story of most aircraft scheduled for appearance under the expansion and wartime programmes. It was in the final phase, i.e. that of production orders and first production deliveries, that the delays proved most stubborn and least amenable to cuts. Examples of types, the first deliveries of which were severely delayed for this reason, were the Wellington, the heavy bombers, and later the Typhoon, the Buckingham and the Tempest. In each of these cases delays occurred after the business of design and development proper had been completed.

Some blame for these delays may be attached to official agencies. Owing to the fluid tactical position and the changing strategical needs, the attitude of the Air Staff to aircraft while they were still under development changed so frequently that it was bound to delay the jigging and the tooling and all the other industrial measures necessary for introduction into production. But even more important than the changes in the official requirements were the purely industrial problems of switching production to new types.

The problem was largely that of quantity versus quality. In theory the time a firm must take to introduce a new type into production is limited only by the speed at which the necessary buildings, plant and machinery can be provided; or, where the buildings are available,


only by the time necessary for the jigging and tooling-up. This in itself leads to delays. And in wartime, when the capacity for the manufacture of jigs and tools and for the making of production drawings was very limited, the delay was bound to be longer than in peacetime. But what retarded the introduction of new types most was that in factories fully employed on well-established types, new types could only be introduced at the expense of old ones. While new types were coming in, the losses in the old types were for a time bound to be greater than the output of new aircraft, with the result that total output declined.

This difficulty could never be wholly resolved, and could only be tackled by dovetailing new production in with the old—a process which came to be known as the 'splicing-in' of production. The theoretical alternative to 'splicing-in' would presumably be a clean cut of the old production followed by a fresh start of the new production. The fact that this procedure did not even receive a nickname was sufficient evidence of its unpopularity. The Air Ministry and M.A.P. seldom contemplated replacing types in production in such a wholesale manner for the simple reason that at no point since the expansion were they able to allow as great a sacrifice of output as would result from a complete hiatus in production. Even at time when the quality doctrine reigned supreme a complete stoppage of output to enable a new type to come in was more than anybody in M.A.P., and still less in the aircraft firms, could recommend. For, apart from the monthly records of production, upon which great store was set, there was also the labour problem. Even in the earliest stages of expansion, and long before the general scarcity of both skilled and unskilled workers developed in industry, the firms and the Ministry took the view that a clean break in production would lead either to a dispersal of the labour force or to an excessive amount of idle time. Either course was distasteful to Government and industry alike. The general policy, therefore, was gradually to 'fade out' the old types and introduce the new types in their stead equally gradually and with the least possible disturbance to total production and to the employment of labour. Thus, in the very nature of things, new types could not come into production, still less reach their maximum rates, for a very long time. The interval between the production order or the beginning of the tooling-up on the one hand and the maximum rates on the other was sometimes as long as two years.

Needless to say, the problem was well understood by the authorities and worried them not a little. The Air Ministry and M.A.P. did everything they could to press the firms to expedite the transition, and often succeeded in extracting from the firms optimistic promises. In a few, but very few, instances these promises were kept. In an overwhelming majority of cases the promised span was exceeded, as it had


to be, by a very wide margin. So before long it came to be realised in the government departments that mere promises were not enough; that the problem was one of policy and industrial organisation; and that as such it could only be solved by general measures and a general policy of production.

From time to time in 1938, 1939 and 1940 various people in the Air Ministry and M.A.P.—in the production departments as well as in the various planning agencies—made tentative studies of the problem and suggested tentative remedies. In the spring of 1942 Sir Ernest Lemon was asked to investigate the length of time necessary for the introduction of a new type.99 In August of that year he submitted a report which covered the whole process from design to maximum production, and contained a number of recommendations. In so far as the delays were due to shortages of draughtsmen or insufficient planning, the remedies he proposed were fairly simple. They mostly consisted of various measures to economise labour in the drawing offices, or to put a time limit on the different stages preparatory to production. As for the main problem, that of 'splicing-in' new production with old, he had few radical measures to suggest. He admitted that in order to minimise the total losses in output, new aircraft would have to be introduced into production very gradually, and proposed an 'ideal' scheme under which the process could be telescoped into about fifteen months. Behind this schedule was the fundamental assumption that what made it impossible to jig-up new production without affecting the old was the shortage of floor space. One of his recommendations, therefore, was that additional floor space should be provided either by new building or by economies in the utilisation of existing floor space. His expectation was that new production would rise as the necessary floor space was cleared or added.

It is at this logical and historical point that the problem came nearest to that of general industrial policy and industrial organisation. The manufacturers needed no government advice to convince them that additional floor space would make the introduction of new types easier. Nor was that point at any time lost on the Air Ministry or M.A.P. Now and again in the expansion years, additions to floor space were sanctioned in order to facilitate the introduction of new types, and the policy was carried over into the war years. Judged by standards adopted in the pre-war schemes of 'war potential', floor capacity in assembly shops was well in excess of what industry needed to produce the aircraft which it was in fact producing in wartime. Under the 1938 and 1939 plans of 'war potential', output was planned


on the assumption of continuous shift-working in assembly shops as well as in machine shops.100 But when war came, the average shifts worked were not more than one long shift in the assembly shops and nor more than two incomplete shifts in the machine shops. Had the aircraft factories found it possible to introduce continuous shift-working, as the Royal Ordnance Factories did in 1941, not only would the surplus floor space which Sir Ernest Lemon demanded have been available in practically every aircraft factory, but great economies would also have been achieved in jigs and machine tools, both new and old. If so, the failure of the industry to create a fully-balance capital equipment and to work it with multiple shifts must be held partly responsible for the insoluble difficulties and the insurmountable delays in 'splicing-in' of production.101 On the other hand, to remedy the failure by a vast programme of new factory construction was a recipe too drastic to be adopted at the height of the war. Above all, it was open to the obvious objection that even if it succeeded in curing delays in the introduction of new types, it might well aggravate many other complaints from which aircraft production was suffering.


The disappointments and delays over the introduction of new types may appear to pose a riddle. If new types were so difficult to bring into production in time, how was it that the Government and industry between them succeeded in maintaining the performance and the other qualities of British aircraft on a level so remarkably high compared with that of foreign aircraft, and with the tactical and strategical needs of the time? The answer to this riddle is that new types were not the only, and in the long run not the chief, means of raising the quality of British aircraft. In spite of all the thought and worry expended over them, the salvation came not only from new types, but also from piecemeal improvements of the old ones.

Piecemeal improvement of existing types fell into two broad classes. There were changes in aircraft which, in the first place, were sufficiently radical or compromised detailed changes sufficiently numerous to justify the allocation of a special 'mark' of an aircraft. In the second place there were changes which were not, taken separately, of very great importance in themselves, and therefore did not justify the allocation of a new mark number: these were 'modifications' in the narrow sense of the term. The line between 'marks' and modifications was thus not very hard or fast, for many mark numbers represented


little more than a collection of modifications centring round a special operational function.

It can of course be argued that there was no hard-and-fast line between 'marks' and brand-new designs. New mark numbers were mostly given to differentiate installation of a different engine or of a special equipment associated with certain operational functions (for instances, cameras, radio aids, deck-landing equipment, etc.). But sometimes whole structural members, such as wings and fuselages, were redesigned, with the result that although the new mark would appear to the lay spectator almost identical in shape with the previous mark, the detailed drawings would in fact be largely different. The new marks which covered these radical redesigns were usually tried out first as prototypes, and in that case a new prototype specification and Air Staff Operational Requirements might be issued.102 Some of the redesigns of existing types were so radical that even a new mark number was not thought to give sufficient recognition of the changes; in these cases a new name would be allocated and a separate set of master drawings would be assembled. Thus the Lancaster outgrew the bonds of the Manchester, the Tempest those of the Typhoon, the Lincoln those of the Lancaster, and the Spiteful those of the Spitfire.

Yet closely as some marks approximated to new designs, the principal distinction between the two (which is also the justification for new marks as against new designs) was that a new mark, however radical, required for its design, or for its jigging and tooling, or for both, much less time and effort than a brand-new design. The history of the Spitfire is the best illustration of this. Vickers (Supermarine) have tabulated the man-hours expended on the principal marks of the Spitfire and thereby revealed  that no single mark required an expenditure of man-hours on design as great as that originally spent on the Spitfire Mark I. The highest number was that devoted to the Spitfire F.21 which was 165,000 man-hours compared with 330,000 man-hours on the Mark I. The average man-hours spent on design of the fifteen marks tabulated was 41,000 per mark. The total design man-hours devoted to all fifteen Spitfire marks over a period of five years was 620,000 barely sufficient to design two new aircraft of the Spitfire Mark I type. This economy was even more marked in respect of jigging and tooling. The highest expenditure incurred was on the Mark VIII, and possibly the F.21; both were very much below the 800,000 man-hours reached in jigging and tooling-up the Spitfire I. The average man-hours for jigging and tooling marks was


69,000 and the total man-hours for the eleven marks for which figures are available was 760,000.

Indirect evidence suggests that the figures for the other much-modified types, such as the Wellington and the Lancaster, differed little from those of the Vickers' (Supermarine) Spitfire. Viewed as a whole the figures reveal the immense effort which British industry devoted to the modification of its successful types, and as yet at the same time it proves the remarkable economy of the method compared with that of brand-new designs. By this means also the quality of aircraft was much more closely linked-up with the changing tactical needs and technical ideas than was possible under the existing timetable of brand-new designs. By a series of progressive changes, almost metabolic in their continuity and in their cumulative action, British aircraft kept well abreast of the lessons of air battles and of changing conditions in industry.

The five most successful aircraft of the war—the Spitfire, the Hurricane, the Mosquito, the Lancaster, and the Wellington—all provide the best examples of successful modifications. A similar story could be told about almost every other aircraft in service between 1938 and 1944. Some aircraft lent themselves better to piecemeal improvements than others. For example, the Air Ministry and M.A.P. did not subject either the Defiant or the Hampden to the same policy of continuous enlargement and redesign as the Spitfire or the Wellington, for the simple reason that neither aircraft was considered capable of much continuous improvement. In the same way the Whirlwind twin-engined fighter, unlike the later Mosquito, was not given a new lease of life by the installation of new engines, because its fuselage was too small and its entire layout was unpromising. Nor was the Stirling carried forward as a heavy bomber by successive emendations, while the modifications to the Halifax did not in every case produce the results expected from them and did not life it to a position of operational parity with the Lancaster. but whenever an aircraft lent itself to progressive development its life was prolonged beyond the span originally allotted to it. Indeed, to be able to accommodate modifications and to lend itself to continued rejuvenation came to be regarded as a test and a hallmark of a basically good design.

At the same time, however, continuous modifications were much disliked by industry and by those people in M.A.P. whose chief concern was output. For nothing interfered more with the flow of production than continuous modifications. A study of the production record of the Spitfire—one of the most frequently modified types—shows how incessantly the continuity of output was broken by sharp recessions. These recessions were sharpest of all between October 1941 and February 1942, when the Mark Vc and Mark VI were coming into production, and the Mark Vb was running out; between


June and August 1942 when the Seafire I and Mark IX were being introduced into the factory, which was already engaged on turning out three other different marks of Spitfire, and again in the late autumn of 1942 when the Marks XII, XI and VIII were being introduced. The output of each individual mark also suffered recessions which can in part be attributed to the introduction of modifications in the narrow sense of the term. In a somewhat smaller measure the production curve of every successful aircraft in the war showed the same tendency.

Indeed nothing militated more against the very introduction of quantity methods than the policy of piecemeal modification. It is true of several aircraft in quantity production by 1942 that, had the spate of modifications been anticipated when its production was planned and tooled-up, a much less elaborate capital equipment might have paid better than the one actually installed. As a general rule it can be said that most British operational aircraft were never allowed to be produced undisturbed in quantities large enough to reap the full advantage of their jigs and tools. In his memorandum already quoted, Sir Ernest Lemon, basing himself on the Spitfire data, computed that, whereas for the uninterrupted output of 1,500 components the jigging and tooling-up on quantity lines would have paid best, a series of 500 or less might more economically be produced with a far larger proportion of bench tools. Yet, very few unmodified batches of Spitfires were greater than 500, so that many components must have been produced under conditions which were better suited to bench methods than they were to the jigs and tools actually used.

It is therefore no wonder that modifications soon became a favourite subject of criticism in Parliament. But even without these criticisms the damage they did to production was well understood in the Air Ministry and M.A.P. Here, as in every other field of development, quantity and quality had to be delicately balanced, and on the whole the needs of quality were never seriously sacrificed.

In theory the American procedure could have been adopted. The treatment of modifications in the United States followed naturally from the partiality of Americans for undisturbed quantity production. Not only did they jig and tool-up their standard types more elaborately than was customary and possible in this country, but they also took special measures to prevent the flow of production from being disturbed by changes in design and modification. The measure they adopted to this end was to 'freeze' large batches of aircraft under order. By an arrangement with the Services the aircraft manufacturers were allowed to produce large quantities, varying from 500 to as many as 15,000 aircraft, without any modifications in the production line. The modifications would in that case all be grouped and timed to come in at the end of a batch thus 'frozen', and when introduced


they would be again followed by another 'frozen' batch. For modifications which might become inevitable in the intervening period special 'modification centres' were set up.

In this way most of the changes in American aircraft were what in this country would be described as 'retrospective'. In theory this procedure had much to commend it. It enabled quantity production to go on undisturbed for long periods at a time, and made it possible for American aircraft figures to make a brave showing in official returns. But where and when tactical experience was accumulating rapidly and continuously, as in 1942 and 1943 in the case of bombers in use in the European theatre of war, the United States Army Air Force demanded urgent improvement all the time, and the 'modification centres' were soon choked up with aircraft awaiting modification. When this happened, the flow of aircraft to squadrons was much more meagre than the impressive figures of production suggested. In the end it was difficult to escape the impression that the advantages of the system from the point of view of quantity were not as great as they at first promised to be. In addition, the sacrifices in quality were probably greater than they would have been under the more flexible and looser British system.

The method in this country was to introduce modifications as far as possible when and where required, but at the same time to control them in order to reduce their effect on current output. From the early expansion days, a special body in M.A.P., the Airframes Modifications Committee, subjected all proposed modifications to a close scrutiny, classifying them in accordance with their urgency, and laying down a different treatment for each class of urgency. By the beginning of 1943 these rules composed themselves into something of a system, and were enshrined in one or two codifying documents.

This system, however, always remained rough and ready and less perfect in some respects than in others. It was more successful in classifying, sifting and reducing the so-called retrospective modifications, i.e. those recommended for aircraft in service. It was not equally effective in controlling modifications in the production line. At least some sixty to seventy percent of the modifications sifted by special committees were passed as not likely to interfere much with production or to result in great waste of parts and materials. Yet in actual fact the losses in time and scrap were greater than these figures would suggest. Some loss of time and resources followed from almost every modification, however small and innocent, and the aggregate effect of a 'year's ration' of modifications was to delay production even when little measurable delay could be attributed to any individual modification. In addition, there were a number of modifications which were urgent enough to be sanctioned in spite of the delays and the scrap they caused. In other words, production suffered


from modifications much more than in theory it should have done.

Yet in the light of the experience of the war years, it is difficult to say how the position could possibly have been remedied. The major difficulty in controlling modifications in production was that of measuring its two main variables, i.e. the importance of the modification and its cost in dislocation and scrap. In theory, no modification and its cost in dislocation and scrap. In theory, no modification was allowed to interfere with production unless some urgency could be claimed for it. But urgency is a relative concept, merely a special instance of the general conflict between quality and quantity. Would the R.A.F. have preferred, say, 90 modified aircraft to 100 unmodified;  and if not, what other ratios would have been acceptable? If the question were ever put to the Air Ministry, the answer would almost invariably be '100 modified aeroplanes'. In the words of the chairman of the Airframes Modifications Committee, industry had in some measure 'to think itself for this situation because on occasions, and by making a special effort, it achieved the alleged impossible'.

Without some sort of scale of conversion of this kind, measuring the importance of the modifications against loss of time and material, control of modifications was difficult. The Air Staff did not arrange the modifications in order of urgency, but the fault did not lie wholly with the Air Staff. Often quality could not be balanced against quantity merely because, in the treatment of modifications even more than in the design of new types, difficulties were bound to arise from the separation, to quote the same official, 'between quality control and quantity control in the organisation of the industry and the ministries, plus the fact that practically all most be specialised in some limited field, and therefore unable to see the picture as a whole'.

The other difficulty was that of estimating the cost of modifications. It was clearly impossible to know and to judge in advance the extent to which production would be dislocated and scrap created by a modification. For such information as there was, the Airframes Modifications Committee had to rely almost entirely on the forecasts of the firms, but hardly any firm could tell accurately beforehand what a modification would cost in delays of production. So, in the absence of such estimates, to quote the chairman of the Airframes Modifications Committee again, 'how can one do better than impose a generalised resistance towards all modification proposals, tempered by "spot guesses" as to probably dislocation value?' In fact the effects were sometimes difficult to judge even in retrospect. Almost all estimates of the past effects of modifications needed careful sifting to separate the effects of modifications from those of other causes. Without such an analysis it was possible for M.A.P. officials to argue that some delays were due to inefficiencies in the firms' own organisations.

Rough-and-ready control was all that was in practice possible. Here, as elsewhere, approximate balance between quality and quantity


had to be struck, and the fact that in spite of continuous and repeated disappointments over new types, the quality of British aircraft was in fact maintained at its remarkably high level, may perhaps be taken as evidence that the rough-and-ready rule, like so many other rules of this kind, did not after all work out too badly.


Equipment for the Army


The branches of the munitions industry to suffer the earliest and the heaviest reductions were those for which the Ministry of Supply was responsible, consisting mainly of army equipment. It is not that Army plans and with them the demands of the Ministry of Supply remained unaffected by the rising needs and ambitions of 1942. On the contrary, the first reaction of Pearl Harbor was to raise the establishment of the Army and its need for weapons even more steeply than those of any other arm. Some increases in Army establishment and supplies to the extent of five to ten percent followed from the Order of Battle presented to the Victory Conference of September 1941.103 Very much greater were the additions resulting from the extension of the war to the Far East. In order to meet the Japanese attack the United Kingdom had to add to the strength of the field forces raised or wholly supplied from Britain, and there were also large increases in the Dominion, Colonial and Allied troops, which were in part supplied under the British armaments programmes. With the requirements for static troops in India, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa added, the total British Army plans at one time looked like exceeding 140 divisions or very nearly twice the level at which they stood in the spring of 1941.104 Pruned of exaggerations and excrescences the plan as it took shape in May 1942 provided for some ninety-seven divisions105 and was to remain at that level until the first reduction in the planned establishment of the Forces in December 1942.

There was of course no question of equipping and supplying the additional armies out of British production alone. Troops in the East especially Indian and Dominion formations, were to an increasing extend to be supplied from local sources. Above all, America was to


become the main provider for most of the post-Pearl Harbour increases. As new strategic commitments grew, the proportion of British requirements to be covered from American sources rose, thus greatly diluting the assumption of self-sufficiency on which British rearmament had previously rested.106 Nevertheless, the War Office demands on the Ministry of Supply had to be greatly enlarged. By the middle of 1942, i.e. before the first cuts in the War Office programmes were made, the amended requirements for 1943 were at least fifty percent above the forecasts for that year made in May 1941.

Fortunately the bulk of the increased demands could be met out of the resources already available. Productive capacity created by the Ministry of Supply for its current programme was of necessity so great that it was able to tackle after 1942 great additions to current programmes without much apparent difficulty. Since the beginning of rearmament the underlying assumptions of the plans of the Ministry of Supply were that sooner or later the initial equipment of the Army would be complete and that the task of war industry would thereafter be reduced to covering replacements and wastage in the field of battle. Under the expansion schemes of 1940 and 1941 that point was expected to be reached by Z + 27, i.e. by the end of November 1941. Before long the final dates had to be postponed, and the culminating date commonly assumed during 1941 had to be put off, it never ceased to be envisaged as a summit to be held for but a short time. As the year advanced it was becoming clear that the summit would be higher than originally planned, for industry was coping out not only with the requirements of that year but also with the deficits carried over from 1941, and this meant lifting the rates of production above the levels previously planned. But this merely made it doubly certain that before long productive capacity would be in excess of current demands and could be made available for further additions to programmes.

This being the situation, the reactions in both the War Office and the Ministry of Supply to the new demands were by no means alarmist. Commenting on the first War Office intimation of the coming increases, the Under Secretary (Supply) pointed out that the programme as a whole was not as terrible as it looked. For, as he observed, the Ministry's plans had been made to complete the programme by December 1942, and then to continue those rates even if they happened to be in excess of requirements for 1943 as stated in May 1941. The Ministry of Supply had in fact considered and approved a production programme policy on that basis, and its implications had been formally discussed with the Treasury. What this


implication meant in terms of programmes will be clear from the fact that the increases in the programmes, although fifty percent above the earlier forecasts for 1943, were only ten to twenty percent above the planned production for 1942.

The increases in the current plans for army weapons were thus modest. Yet increases they were. In order to maintain the rising rates of output the Ministry of Supply continued to add to its productive capacity, and above all its labour force, and had every ground to expect some further additions, however small, until at least the end of 1943. In midsummer 1942, when the limits of manpower for the first time appeared within sight, the labour force under the aegis of the Ministry of Supply (including raw materials and industries not counted with the munitions group) totalled probably more than three millions. In the munitions branches alone it stood at 1,647,000. And in order to meet requirements still outstanding under the current production programmes the Ministry was still in need of at least another 119,000 operatives by the end of the year and another 58,000 during the first six months of 1943, or 177,000 for the twelve months June 1942 to June 1943.107 The gross intake required was of course much greater, for by the middle of 1942 the weekly wastage of labour had reached 10,000 and was not likely to decline. Within the Ministry of Supply it had come to be assumed that even if the intake of labour were to run according to plan, it would by the end of 1943 do no more than balance wastage, and the labour force engaged on munitions would then reach its peak.


Small as was the net increase in the Ministry's plans for 1943 and modest as appeared to be its expectation of labour intake, neither was to be realised. Instead the Ministry was asked to submit to drastic cuts in its labour force and in its programmes. That the Ministry of Supply should have thus been singled out was more or less inevitable. It was nearer the peak of its output than were the other ministries; and it has already been shown that in approaching the peak it had built up a volume of capital capacity potentially redundant. In addition, the programmes contained a number of current items which were now beginning to appear excessive. Thus, although the filling factories were in June 1942 still some five percent short of their planned establishment (142,000 as against the planned employment of 150,000) and the gun ammunition they were making was still short of the approved requirements of the War Office, both stocks and current output were well above the current needs. Not only was gun ammunition being consumed or likely to be consumed in the near future at much lower rates than the original plans of the War Office foresaw,


but whole classes of ammunition now appeared redundant, more especially various types of gas-filled projectiles. There were also other items in the army programme which in the changed conditions of 1942 appeared capable of being sacrificed without much damage to the army equipment as a whole.

The causes, the purposes and the general trend of the reductions have been discussed elsewhere.108 In the Ministry of Supply their coming had been foreshadowed for some time before they came up for interdepartmental discussion in October and November of 1942. There was some hope at first that the main weight of the reduction would fall not on the labour force of the Ministry of Supply but on the intake of the Army. For in the early stages of the discussions Lord Cherwell gave warning against the Services' requirements of manpower being satisfied at the expense of the munitions industries supplying them; and this warning appeared to reflect the Prime Minister's views at the time. Before long, however, it became clear that the Ministry would have to share in full the Army's reductions in manpower. In a written directive of 28th November 1942 the Prime Minister suggested cuts in the Army and the Home Guard, and also reduction in anti-aircraft ammunition and in supplies for chemical warfare sufficient to reduce the munitions labour force by 67,000. This meant that the 'target strength' at December 1943 would be 215,000 less than had originally been considered necessary. After much discussion the final decision as taken by the War Cabinet on 11th December 1942 imposed upon the Ministry a labour programme reduced as follows:

Strength of Ministry of Supply munitions labour force at June 1942 1,647,000
Increase estimated to be required by December 1943 +148,000

which would have given a total of
Cut imposed -226,000

giving a target figure for December 1943 of

At this level the labour strength of the Ministry would be the end of 1943 be 78,000 less than in June 1942. The actual cut was to be still higher. The figures in the War Cabinet plan related to the strength at June 1942, but by December 1942, when the plan was adopted, employment had risen to about 1,690,000. This meant that a net reduction of about 120,000 had to be achieved by December1943.

The Ministry accepted the cuts, but was not in a position to carry them out at once. It had stipulated that the reductions should fall more heavily in the second half of 1943 and, to begin with, it continued to take on new labour.109 But the reductions began to take effect


in February and rapidly mounted in March and April. By then the economic stringency had grown to an extent which compelled the Government to accelerate cuts. In April 1943 the Minister of Production advised the War Cabinet to approve certain restrictions in the allocations of steel for the remainder of the year. Consequent on this, the War Cabinet decided that the Ministry of Supply labour reduction, which under the decisions of early December 1942 was to have taken effect by the end of 1943, should be accelerated and be carried out, as far as possible, by the end of September 1943. Additional cuts followed the review of the manpower position in July 1943.110 In accordance with the Prime Minister's proposal a further cut of 87,000 was imposed upon the Ministry of Supply to take effect if possible by the end of the year.

In submitting to the latest reduction the Minister of Supply thought it necessary to warn the War Cabinet that the machinery of his Ministry might not be in a position to cope with labour transfers at that rate. Nevertheless actual reductions in the course of the year exceeded the War Cabinet's instructions.111

Labour force in the munitions industries of the Ministry of Supply, January—December 1943



1943 Total
+ or - on previous month

+ 4,000

1,693,000 - 9,000

1,676,000 - 17,000

1,663,000 - 13,000

1,651,000 - 12,000

1,636,000 - 15,000

1,618,000 - 18,000

1,569,000 - 49,000

1,542,000 - 27,000

1,515,000 - 27,000

1,492,000 - 23,000

1,469,000 - 22,700

Total net reduction for the year

The further cuts which were going to be enforced in the Ministry of Supply's labour force in 1944 were to some extent mollified by the urgent demands of Mulberry and preparations for the invasion of Normandy, and more will be said about them later.112 In December


1943, acting on the assumption that the war in Europe might be concluded during the following year, the War Cabinet decided on a wholesale cut in the labour force of munitions industries. The Ministry of Supply was instructed to she 120,000 operatives in the first half of 1944 and a further 100,000 in the second half, thus reducing its total establishment by the end of the year to 1,249,000. As mentioned above, these cuts were later to be moderated in response to rising demands of the battles in Europe;113 but before they could take effect the War Cabinet and the Ministry of Supply had to face the entire problem of reforming war industry to suit the approaching end of the war in Europe and the active prosecution of the war against Japan.

It goes without saying that reductions of that magnitude in the labour force of the Ministry of Supply could not be carried out without amputating War Office requirements, and doing this more drastically than the cuts in ammunition proposed in the Prime Minister's directive of 28th November 1942. At first the Ministry of Supply hoped that if completion of the munitions programmes for 1943 were to be postponed until 1944 it might be possible to reduce the labour force without cutting too far into the War Office programmes. But when in the course of discussions it turned out that the process would not save as much  labour as necessary, both the War Office and the Ministry of Supply had to agree on more or less wholesale reductions in the current programmes.

As a result of the discussions the War Office and the Ministry of Supply were able to make reductions in all the main types of gun ammunition and in most of the main types of artillery (25-pounder, 7.2-inch, 40-mm., 3.7-inch anti-aircraft and 6-pounder equipments), in 4.2-inch, 3-inch and 2-inch mortars, and also in predictors, binoculars, universal carriers, and, of course, in the gas projectiles and respirators in which a cut had been specially enjoined by the Prime Minister's directive.114 Other stores were to be gradually reduced in the course of subsequent negotiations.

The negotiations were conducted with great dispatch and without any serious friction. Having settled in joint discussions with the War Office the main outlines of the cuts, the Ministry of Supply the proceeded to work out in detail the quantities and types of munitions to be reduced, and these estimates formed the basis of revised requirements of the War Office. In these preliminary stages, as well as in the detailed administration of the cuts, the Ministry was able to draw on a well-established departmental technique. During 1941 it had perfected


the machinery of the 'Production Programme Review Meetings', at which the Controller General of Munitions Production, assisted by the Second Secretary (Supply) and departmental representatives, examined the requirements of the Service departments and laid down 'authorised production rates' upon which the production directorates could work. The 'authorised production rates' so established carried authority throughout the Ministry, i.e. for the provision of buildings, machine tools, labour and materials; and were employed in the statistical returns to measure performance. This method of control could be and was adapted to deal with reductions as well as increases, and was used to establish the new 'reduction drill'. The procedure was the same as that by which new production rates were fixed as 'Production Programme Review' meetings, and the same consultative and coordinating machinery under the Second Secretary (Supply) was employed. So successful and so smooth turned out to be the procedure that it was later to be applied to the complicated business of industrial demobilisation and was in its essential features to be copied by other supply departments.

At the same time the administrative efficiency and ease with which the cuts were negotiated with the War Office and administered within the Ministry of Supply belie the difficulties and complications with which they were beset. Especially difficult were the War Cabinet's desiderata about the geographical location of the cuts. In decreeing the cuts the War Cabinet was anxious that they should be so carried out as to facilitate the transfer of labour to other uses. The Ministry of Labour accordingly insisted that the Ministry of Supply should release labour in areas where large unsatisfied demands of high priority were known to exist. It was also uneasy about the dismissals of labour in areas where alternative employment was difficult to find.115 These desiderata were not always easy to reconcile with the relative order of redundancy which underlay the reductions in munitions programmes. A very large proportion of the munitions no longer needed for other reasons capable of being cut was made outside the areas favoured by the Ministry of Labour. It was very largely in the production of ammunition that the cuts were taking place; and filling factories had as a rule been built in areas which before the war had been classified as depressed areas where alternative employment was scarce. If anything, the difficulties of complying with the wishes of the Ministry of Labour grew as the reductions proceeded. In the course of the earlier reductions, when the same wartime stories were produced


in many factories and in several areas, it was often possible to reduce work where the Ministry of Labour needed relief, e.g. in Birmingham or London, and to keep it going in 'easy' labour areas such as South Wales, or in small isolated towns with little or no alternative work. But when the time came to cut further, the possibility of choice had gone.

Now and again the decision to cut had to be taken and forced through against psychological resistances within the Ministry and war industry. There was legitimate reluctance to dismantle an industrial capacity which had been built up with much difficulty and might have to be built up again at some future time. There was also every reason to suspect that as the war developed the Army might again demand further increases which the Ministry might not be able to meet. In practice these resistances were not strong enough to affect the course of the reductions, but they were typical of the more general problems created by the cuts. It was essential in administering the cuts not to create a mood of discouragement and disappointment. Hitherto the department had functioned with a single aim in view: the highest and speediest increase in production. All planning was aimed at further increases, al successes were measured by rising output and failures by 'shortfalls' of output. This attitude was transmitted from production branches to contractors and to their workmen, who were continually urged to expand output regardless of any other consideration. Now, with little warning, the officials, the contractors and the workmen had to be told to limit, or even to abandon, the efforts to recently demanded of them. The task was not made easier by the selective nature of the cuts. For, while called upon to cut down in some directions, industry was still expected to continue its forward urge with the old enthusiasm and impetus in other directions.


Fortunately, circumstances made it possible for the Ministry to maintain the total output at a level higher than that to which cuts in the labour force at first threatened to reduce it. While cutting its labour force, the Ministry pressed on with various measures of economy in the use of labour. The programmes of explosives and propellants were adjusted to the cuts in the filling of ammunition and some labour could be spared from them. In the engineering ordnance factories it was possible to reduce the amount of work sub-contracted to trade firms and thereby to economise in man-hours per unit of output, thus reducing production to a smaller extent than the labour force. Above all, efficiency in the filling factories continued to grow and total output did not fall in proportion to labour strength. The output of the Ministry to some extent also benefited from the delayed


timetable of the reductions, for both the labour force and the output continued to rise in the first two months following the War Cabinet decisions of December 1942.

By the beginning of 1944 there also came, as there were bound to come, certain important additions to the Ministry of Supply programmes. All the Services were being urgently prepared for the invasion of Europe, and it will be recalled that during the months of preparation the Ministry of Supply was called upon to undertake a number of projects of special urgency, and in the first place the piers and the concrete caissons for Mulberry. The downward trend in the Ministry of Supply manpower was thus checked.

In December 1943 when the Ministry was again confronted with War Cabinet instructions to bring its labour force down by at least another 120,000 in six months116 the proposed cuts, unlike those of July 1943, were going against the trend of requirements. The Minister of Production invited the War Office to make reductions in many essential items such as spare barrels for artillery, small arms ammunition, signals and engineering equipment anti-tank mines, infantry weapons, grenades and even tanks. But although most of these proposals had to be accepted, they were to a large extent counterbalanced by new operational demands from the field of battle. More especially the demand for artillery ammunition was mounting to an extent which made it necessary for the War Cabinet to revise its earlier labour plans. The cut of 120,000 in the first half of the year was halved, and the total reduction to the end of the ear was not to exceed 170,000.117

In the meantime, what with the growing efficiency of production, the stringent economies of labour and the new trend of demands from the armies in the field, the index of production of the Ministry remained remarkably stable. For the whole of the period it moved as is shown in Table 47.

The index is in many ways an approximate one since it was based on standard money values,118 and money values do not normally give a true measure of industrial effort in terms of real expenditure of resources. The aggregate conceals some very significant movement in separate branches of the Ministry's activities. It tells nothing of the remarkable expansion of guns and ammunition in 1942 and early 1943, and of engineering stores in 1943 and 1944.119 Above all, it hides the high level of tank production throughout the period. The numbers of tanks produced were 4,841 in 1941, 8,611 in 1942, and 7,476


Index of Ministry of Supply total output of warlike stores, 1942–44

(Average of four months September to December 1939=100)













January 757

February 821

March 818

April 765

May 808

June 718

July 684

August 631

September 746

October 721

November 740

December 625

January 661

February 737

March 711

April 686

May 666

June 608

July 584

August 554

September 614

October 631

November 626

December 545

in 1943. Measured by weight the progress was much more marked. During this period the tank shared with the aircraft the privilege of being maintained in full production to the very end, and of not suffering the reduction to which the bulk of army weapons had to submit in 1943. The story of how during this period the design of tank and tank guns—the 'sore spot' of 1941—was gradually improved, has been forecast in an earlier chapter.120 But the course of improvement was chequered and uneven and resulted in a constant stream of modifications which added to the difficulties of production. The vehicles in production were also more complicated and heavier than the tanks made at the beginning of the war. That in spite of all the difficulties, old and new, tank production stood high and in general improved does credit to the administration of tank production


Index of Ministry of Supply output of guns, small arms, ammunition, tanks, engineer and transportation stores, 1942–44

(Average September to December 1939 = 100)



Guns(a) Small arms(b) Shells and bombs Small arms ammunition Armoured fighting vehicles Engineer and transportation stores

Filled Empty components

January 484

February 580

March 606

April 608

May 657

June 696

July 617

August 609

September 712
2,902 1,842

October 701
3,393 1,835

November 770
3,795 1,737

December 760
January 778

February 793

March 763

April 704

May 767

June 653

July 597

August 532

September 639

October 563

November 530

December 421
January 431

February 454

March 445

April 321

May 362

June 323

July 308

August 298

September 267

October 214

November 169

December 170

(… not available)
  1. Includes field, medium, anti-aircraft, and tank and anti-tank guns.
  2. Includes small arms, machine guns and mortars.

in the Ministry of Supply,121 and above all to the efforts of industry. The difficulties and peculiarities of tank production were a challenge to which many firms responded with great readiness and resource.


No index is available to reveal the expansion in certain fields in which the volume and value of output were small in comparison with those of the major weapons, but in which most remarkable progress was made. One such field was that of 'general stores' and, above all, that of medical supplies. The Ministry's responsibilities for 'general stores' and the part these stores played in its programmes were always great and on the whole tended to become greater in the later phases of the war. If army clothing no longer loomed as large as it had done at the beginning of the war, other miscellaneous articles accumulated in the Ministry's production programmes. A good example of these were 'packing cases, drums and other containers', especially jerricans.

The War Office decision early in 1942 to adopt the German type of petrol container, soon to become known as the 'jerrican', did not of course present a production problem of anything like the same magnitude as that of the major weapons. But its manufacture was not as easy and simple as its name suggests (it was no mere can). And, coming as it did, at the height of industrial mobilisation, it raised considerable difficulties. Its manufacture involved the extensive use of 'outside' firms;122 plant and buildings to the value of over £1.5 million had to be provided. By the end of the war some 50 million special petrol cans had been produced, at a maximum rate in the second half of 1943 and again during the late quarter of 1944 of about had also been given responsibility for the production of the conventional type of metal drums and kegs. Requirements of these for the War Office alone rose at the end of 1943 from under a quarter to three-quarters of a million per month, but in the same period output to meet these requirements was raised from one-third of a million to just over three-quarters of a million. Increased output was mainly obtained by rationalisation and more intensive use of existing capacity.

The most remarkable achievement outside the conventional range of weapons was undoubtedly the production of medical stores. From 1941 to the end of hostilities the major task of the Directorate of Medical Supplies123 in the Ministry of Supply was to expand the output in the United Kingdom of a large variety of drugs and equipment, but it also had much responsibility for the control and economic allocation of inevitably scarce supplies. What with the accumulating casualties of war, the needs of Russia and of military and civilian relief in Europe and the Far East, requirements of drugs greatly increased and many vital demands proved exceedingly difficult to meet.

The problems were somewhat different from those of other war-stores. Without exception all the final processes in the manufacture of the dugs were of a specialised nature and could only be directed


by specialised technical management. New capacity was therefore developed within the existing specialist firms; much of it had to be added to existing plants, and, apart from the large schemes for the production of penicillin and a few small schemes covering a wide variety of drugs and instruments, it was financed by the firms themselves. But although the Ministry was not as a rule called upon to build new factories and extensions it had to initiate and sponsor a vast amount of activity, especially in the discovery and production of new drugs or the output of drugs previously imported.

The relative importance of special drugs varied at different times of the war, and the following are only two examples of the more important operation requirements which had to be met so very frequently. One such example is mepacrine, the new anti-malarial drug, and the second if the scrub typhus vaccine. In 1939 production of mepacrine in the United Kingdom was in the experimental stage, but large-scale production was achieved in time to meet the much increased demands from the Far East from 1943 onwards when supplies of the normal drug, quinine, were at a very low level. The submission by the War Office in 1944 of an urgent requirement for the scrub typhus vaccine to counteract serious conditions rapidly developing in the Far East necessitated the establishment of a special breeding and cultivation station for what was comparatively specialised and highly dangerous work. By the use of every resource and full priority, supplies were provided within six months.

Of the new general drugs brought into full-scale production during the war, the sulphonamides and penicillin were by far the most important. Between 1942 and 1945 the yearly rate of output of sulphonilamide, the original drug of the sulphonamides group, was raised from 153 to more than 500 tons. Production of other drugs in this group was on a somewhat smaller scale, ranging from 10 to 100 tons per year, but few of these drugs had been produced in any quantity previously, and the bulk of the supplies was made available in the later phases of the war.

Service requirements of penicillin, which was only in laboratory production in 1942, rose quickly, and large-scale planning became essential. To the end of the war home production in 1942, rose quickly, and large-scale planning became essential. To the end of the war home production of penicillin remained far short of the large War Office requirements,124 but between December 1943 and November 1944 approval was given for six new factories to be provided at Government expense at the cost of over £2 millions, with a planned total weekly output of over 35,000 mega units. Until 1944 however, production was entirely from pilot plants set up by manufacturing chemists. Other unassisted schemes were expected to increase output to about 9,000 mega units per week, but this increase was not achieved. The average monthly output in the


first nine months of 1944 was only 1,500 mega units, but output increased to 10,000 mega units in December 1944. By the spring of 1945 three of the government factories came into production, and by June output was over 34,000 mega units a month.125 The total output to the end of the war was about 230,000 mega units, still below the War Office requirements; but whereas during 1944 United States supplies of penicillin to the United Kingdom were ten times those of United Kingdom production,126 during the first nine months of 1945 United Kingdom production exceeded supplies from the United States,127 and made it possible to look forward to compete independence from imports.


Production of Radio


The tasks imposed upon war industry cannot be full judged without taking account of the instruments of war which did not occupy a permanent place in the separate programmes of the three Services, and could not be counted as special 'offensive' projects, but were nevertheless of great importance and raised major problems of design and production. One such inter-Service weapon, radio, assumed in the later stages of the war an importance both military and economic sufficient to justify a section to itself in this study.

From the administrative point of view, M.A.P. carried a large measure of interdepartmental responsibility for various aspects of radio production, and particularly the valves and components. It acted during the first years of the war as an agent for the other departments directly, and from the autumn of 1942 onwards as an agent for the Radio Board. The latter came into being as a War Cabinet committee with controlling powers, but its organisation continued to be under the Minister of Aircraft Production as the ministerial authority on all radio matters, and Sir Stafford Cripps, in particular, took a large and ever-growing interest in its work. Yet in spite of all its close constitutional links with M.A.P. the supply of radio equipment was from every point of view an interdepartmental enterprise. The wireless equipment of the R.A.F. and the various devices which budded off from it were, of course, the most novel and


most spectacular of the weapons in use in the later stages of the war, but they were by no means the only ones. 'The use of wireless in the Army', said the Assistant Chief of the Imperial General Staff in May 1944, 'has grown to a point where it now extend from the highest headquarters right down to the lowest component part of fighting units', and similar statements could have been made about its use by in the total requirements of wireless, measured by their demand for valves, were thirty-three percent, forty percent, and twenty-one percent respectively.

The radio devices became more ubiquitous and more indispensable as the war advanced. How much they in fact expanded can easily be seen from the growing expenditure of the three supply services on radio and radar.

The expenditure of the Admiralty, Ministry of Supply and M.A.P. on radio and radar, 1939–44


£ millions








Although the cost was mounting throughout the war years, the main increases came between the end of 1941 and the end of 1944. The total expenditure for these three years, at £322.7 millions, accounted for more than three-quarters of the total expenditure since 1939. Thus, as a supply problem, radio and radar is very largely a feature of the last three years of the war.

The 'peak' of the rising demands did not come into sight until 1944, and the output was still being expanded on the day the war in Europe came to an end. For this reason, if no other, the industrial problems of radio production were in the closing years of the war still to some extent beset by problems of initial growth which the rest of war industry had left behind. Acute labour shortages came to radio manufacturers at about the same time as to the rest of war industry, but until the end of the war manufacture was held back more by a shortage of skilled labour than by that of manpower in general; and to the very end the main problem remained that of manufacturing capacity.


Before 1941 the demand, though growing, was well within the capacity of the radio industry and raised no awkward problems of


labour, materials or components. From the point of view of wartime demands, as they were to reveal themselves later, the radio industry of the thirties suffered from many limitations. Its staple product was the simple broadcast receiving set, and only a few of the large and well-known firms were experienced in the manufacture of equipment like transmitters, or had facilities for developing complex designs. Even the more experienced firms were unaccustomed to the special needs and exacting standards of military service; especially as Service specifications often displayed a certain indifference to ease of production. Nevertheless, productive capacity in general appeared fully equal to the foreseeable demands in wartime, for the radio industry was a large and growing one. The value of its final product (sets) rose from £5 millions in 1930 to nearly £13.75 millions in 1935, and its total employment from some 20,000 to 43,000 workers between the same dates. The progress was arrested in the years between 1935 and 1938, but not sufficiently to disturb the confidence of the men who were in 1938 engaged in planning industrial mobilisation in time of war. When in 1938 a committee was set up to investigate the supply of high-grade radio equipment for radar and interception purposes, it was able to report that there was 'no apparent shortage of suitable manufacturing capacity'.

The same verdict applied to other types of radio equipment, including most of the standard components. It applied above all to one component which was common to all radio equipment and which was later to become the main limiting factor of wartime expansion, i.e. valves. The production of valves before the war was almost entirely in the hands of the half-dozen or so valve manufacturing firms which, together with the distributing organisation, made up the British Valve Manufacturers' Association. Of the total output of 12 million valves per annum, not more than half a million were produced for government uses before 1939. There was thus what appeared to be a vast reserve of capacity for wartime use, and the Air Ministry and other supply departments felt satisfied with the prospects. All they were concerned about were possible shortages of special types (then very limited in numbers) and the location of industry. In order to remedy the undue concentration of valve production in London, the Air Ministry establish a 'shadow' factory to be operated by the General Electric Company (G.E.C.) in Lancashire. At the same time the Mullard Radio Vale Company began preparation for the manufacture of valves in the North, and the Admiralty took steps to safeguard the output of envelopes for silica valves by establishing a 'shadow' factory also in the North. with these additions the industry seemed to be capable of meeting a greatly increased military demand, and of doing so with reasonable security against enemy attack.


The experience of the early years of the war did not appear to disturb the confident picture of the pre-war planners. By 193 a large number of firms had, often with the assistance of the Radio Department of the Royal Aircraft Establishment, learned to design and produce equipment of specialised character for the R.A.F. and the other Services. A vital part of the industrial effort was that which was devoted to the construction of the so-called 'home chain' of radar stations. The history of its conception and development will be told elsewhere,128 and when told, it will show how by 1938 early scientific discoveries in the field of electronics enabled the Bawdsey Research Establishment of the Air Ministry to develop a technique for the detection of approaching aircraft. The home chain equipment then design required about twenty transmitting and receiving sets; and the equipment was well within the technical and economic resources of the two firms—A. C. Cossor and the Metropolitan-Vickers Electrical Company—from whom it was ordered.

The supply of components, and above all of valves, appeared almost equally satisfactory. The valve industry was proving equal to the calls made on it, although the expected figure of one million valves per month was not regularly reached. It was not until the needs for 1941 came to be assessed that existing capacity for the first time proved insufficient. Service demands for 1941 had risen to 17 millions, and a further six millions were still required for civilian use. Yet even then the increase was small enough to be met by a quick and sharp spurt. In the industry as a whole production was stimulated by suppressing unnecessary types, by working longer hours, and by introducing managerial expedients of various kinds. As a result of all these measures the annual rate of production reached the figure of 18 millions by the end of 1941. At the same time, to meet future needs, a few new factories were laid down, e.g. factories to be operated by the Cosmos Manufacturing Company and by A. C. Cossor.

The situation was to be radically changed in the course of 1941. The range of application of wireless techniques immensely expanded. Designs advanced by rapid steps, and the demand consequently grew both in quantity and complexity. No sooner had the main requirements of the home chain been fulfilled than various types of other wireless equipment, whose development had been delayed in the interests of the home chain, had to be ordered. The most important of these devices were a naval warning set, which as Type 279 and later 281 was to play a notable part in the early period of the war at sea; a radar device for laying anti-aircraft guns, known as G.L.; an air interception equipment to be carried by night fighters, called


A.I.; and a device for the identification of aircraft, called I.F.F. (Identification Friend or Foe). Yet even with these devices in being and other devices on the horizon in 1940, it was still impossible for anyone except a small number of scientists to foresee the effect of a technical revolution which had for some time been in progress.

The revolution followed the development of centimetric radar, which in its turn became possible when early in 1940 the 'cavity magnetron' valve was invented. It permitted the radar pulses to travel as it were along a narrow bean instead of 'floodlighting', as in the case of the home chain station, or of spreading along the comparatively broad beam of the early A.I. And this opened up new possibilities and enabled radar to play the great part which it did in various naval and military operations and in the bomber offensive of 1943 onwards.

The device for detecting submarines from the air, known as A.S.V.; the naval surface search equipment called the 271 set; the anti-aircraft gunlayer, G.L. Mark III, all depended upon centimetric technique. From the point of view of the bomber the new technique, in the form of the device called H2S was a godsend.129 The accuracy of bombing had come under suspicion by the end of 1940, and in the summer of 1941 an analysis of night photographs carried out at the instigation of Lord Cherwell confirmed the consistent failure of bombers to locate their targets.130 What was wanted was a device which would give precision bombing, and this need was supplied by Oboe and H2S. Oboe was first used operationally in December 1942, and in the following spring it was used to control target-marking Mosquito aircraft in the great series of attacks upon the Ruhr. H2S made use of radar's ability to discriminate between echoes reflected from open country, and therefore was an aid to navigation as well as to precise bombing. H2S was first used in the Pathfinder force in January 1943, and was later fitted in a large proportion of the heavy bomber force. In the later stages of the war at sea Admiralty scientists developed a series of combined gunnery and surface warning sets which greatly advanced the revolution in naval warfare which had begun with the early type 279.

From all these designs a greatly increased demand for equipment and components was bound to follow; and new demands in the radio industry were also coming from elsewhere. The experience of the B.E.F. in France had shown the need for a much more extensive use


of lightweight radio communications equipment for infantry use, and it was also realised that radio would play a part of ever-increasing importance in armoured warfare. As an example of the army demands which were to follow from these experiences may be taken the No. 38 set, a man-pack equipment of some 200,000 were manufactured in the course of the war. Since War Office planning at this period assumed that the valve would be renewed seven times in the life of the equipment ('seven valves per socket'), a large industrial effort was required to supply the new need. During this period also the use of very-high-frequency communications equipment was greatly extended both in the Navy and the Air Force.


A new industrial situation was thus created. If early demands were well within the capacity of the peacetime industry, the new demands, especially those which came after 1941, outstripped it by a very wide margin. The output of main components as well as the capacity available for their assembly were all proving inadequate. More especially, the supply of valves, the main constituent of all wireless equipment, was beginning to hold back the expansion.  From now on it was to be the main limiting factor in wireless production.

The problem of valves was not of course one of numbers alone. Radar required special valves; the centimetric devices in particular were built around the cavity magnetron, which was much more difficult to manufacture than a simple receiving valve. The appetite of radar devices for special valves appeared to be both insatiable and fickle; a valve which was urgently demanded one week would be obsolescent in the course of the next. During 1941 new types were being introduced at the rate of three a week, and the production of cathode ray tubes rose from 3,000 in January of that year to 14,500 in October. In January the total capacity of the British Valve Manufacturers' Association firms for all types of special valves was only about three percent of total valve capacity; by the end of the year the demand for special valves was approaching ten percent of the total demand and remained about ten percent for the remainder of the war. So even though the industrial effort can best be measured in terms of bulk programmes for simple valves, the problem of special valves must be borne in mind throughout the story.

At the end of 1941, i.e. at the time when the new phase of wireless design was beginning to affect production programmes, the requirements for valves in 1942 were forecast at 24.4 millions, i.e. nearly twice the rate of 1939. What is more, demands for 1943 threatened to reach the figure of 39.5 millions against the earlier estimate of 21.5 millions and a previous output of 12 millions. By cutting down provision for spares and by other economies the figure of 39.5 millions


was reduced to 32.4 millions, and eventually to 30 millions, for which, it was hoped, capacity could be made available. The remaining deficiency of general types, it was hoped, could be made up by American imports, upon which high hopes were already being placed. But even while the 30-million programme was being discussed, the need for further expansion was becoming clear.Late in 1942 the Parliamentary Secretary of M.A.P., who had been given a measure of interdepartmental responsibility, submitted a paper to the Aircraft Supply Council which foresaw the necessity of valve production at the rate of 50 millions per annum; and the forecast was to be fully borne out by the developments of 1943.

In that year the centimetric radar device for laying anti-aircraft guns, after many design vicissitudes, due to come into full production. Naval equipments such as the latest surface search equipment had achieved great success and was being widely fitted in more advanced versions. In the Air Force H2S and its sea variant were not on order on a large scale. Moreover, from now onwards every expansion of the armed forces—ships, armoured fighting vehicles, infantry battalions, training formations, air force commands—raised new demands for radio and radar, and miscellaneous requirements of various kinds were coming in large quantities from every quarter. Radio equipment was needed not only for home broadcasting but also for the B.B.C.'s activities overseas, for the resistance movements in enemy-occupied territories, for radio counter-measures such as jamming, for the police and for many other purposes.

It is therefore not surprising that requirements for valves in January 1943 leapt to 52.5 millions.131 Nor is it surprising that the Radio Board found the demands well in excess of what could be supplied. The Services had to be asked, and agreed, to cut their requirements to the basic minimum, but further demands for 1944 were brewing while the current demands were being cut. By the autumn of 1943 the valve programme for 1044 stood at 60 millions. M.A.P. was prepared to accept a target of 45 millions in the hope that 15 millions would come from the United States, and proceeded at once to authorise additions to the manufacturing capacity. Yet these additions were soon to prove insufficient. In January the Aircraft Supply Council was informed that current output was that the rate of 42 millions, 'and the demand for 1944 now totals 90 millions'. For by now further types of equipment were coming into general use. Above all, on the defensive side the system of devices for the ground control of interception set up a large demand for components; and at about the same time centimetric radar sets to give warning of low-flying aircraft and of ships were introduced. Another large


requirement followed the adoption of radio beacons for aiding airborne forces; and, needless to say, the use of radio and radar equipment continued to spread in the routine operations of the three Services.

To deal with the new increments M.A.P., acting as the executive agent of the supra-departmental Radio Board, launched a combination of new projects and in particular an industrial expedient known as the 'feeder' system, about which more will be said presently. But the new projects could not bear fruit at once, and to meet the immediate difficulty other expedients had to be tried. They were for the most part painfully familiar: a careful apportioning of supply and a more stringent sifting of calculated demands, culminating by April 1944 in further and more drastic cuts. The War Office, for instance, reduced its demand for valves from 47 to 35 millions; the other departments tried to reduce their requirements in the same way. On 4th May 1944, the Service representatives reluctantly agreed to accept an 'irreducible minimum' of 52 million valves.

A gap of some 15 to 20 million valves still remained, and was eventually filled with supplies from America. The importance of the American contribution to British supplies of wireless equipment in the last two years of the war has already been mentioned.132 The imports of valves from the United States grew from 1.4 millions in 1942 to 2.3 millions in 1943, and then soared up to 17.4 millions in 1944. In addition, during that year large numbers of complete wireless equipments were supplied directly to British forces in various theatres with valves in situ and as spares.


What made the remarkable rise in American supplies possible was that the American radio industry, like the rest of their war industry, had enough time and resources at its disposal to plan its operations as a long-term enterprise laid out and tooled up for standardised output on a mass scale; and by the end of 1943 this policy had begun to yield vast returns. But even more than in most branches of American war production, the high returns had to be paid for in time spend on preparation. This alone would have prevented the British radio industry from following the American method, even if ability to do so had been present. Production in this country had grown between 1940 and 1944 from 12 million valves to over 35 million—a very great increase indeed. But it was achieved by gradual improvements in the efficiency of plants, and above all, by piecemeal additions to capacity made to match each increase in demand as it occurred. It has already been shown that this was the method by which 1940


increases in capacity from 12 million valves to 18 million valves and then to 24 million were obtained. When at the turn of 1941 and 1942 the 30-million programme for 1942 matured it was also met by additions largely piecemeal to existing capacity. The plant kept in reserve as an insurance against enemy action was brought in, and so was the capacity of one of the larger radio firms not previously drawn upon for the supply of valves for war purposes. The British share of the 52.2 million programme for 1944 was met in the same way, by making additions to the capacity at three of the largest manufacturers of valves and electric bulbs, who had already made themselves responsible for a large share of the total output.

The bulk of the new additions was organised and tooled up on lines not radically different from those which had prevailed in the industry on the eve of war. More efficient machines had become available but, in general, the processes remained dependent on supplies of skilled labour. The only project involved radical change of method was that of the 'feeder' system, by means of which M.A.P. hoped to meet the 1944 programme. Valve manufacturers were to be split into two sections: one requiring specialised technical supervision and costly plant; and the other requiring light equipment relatively little specialised technical supervision. Most of the latter were assembly factories equipped with little more than benches, spot-welders and jigs, and employing mostly unskilled and semi-skilled female labour. Thus differentiated, the industry was arranged into groups each consisting of feeder plants associated with a main factory. It was hoped that by thus means the industry might be able to expand its current of output by about fifty percent and reach the target of 63 million British-produced valves per year. Unfortunately the proposal came too late to make much difference to the 1944 output.

In the manufacturing of equipments the introduction of radically new manufacturing processes was likewise a difficult task. Before the war the assembly of complete wireless equipments—mostly receiving sets—in this country was not a highly organised or elaborately equipped industry. While large establishments such as G.E.C. were able to supply their own valves and components and to maintain elaborate facilities for research, most of the manufacturers as a rule purchased their components and assembled them in simply-equipped establishments. So limited were their staffs and equipment that some of them bought designs of circuits from the valve manufacturers who supplied them with valves.

The rise in military demands was not accompanied by fundamental changes in the method of assembly. Now and again some of the larger firms were able to rationalise the flow of production: thus on the even of war E. K. Cole redesigned the general-purpose communication set for the bomber so as to make it amenable to


mass production. But this was not the common procedure. Even the firms anxious to reorganise their methods of production found themselves working in conditions inimical to economic planning of output. The industry expanded in response to immediate military needs and to rapid progress of scientific designs, and the 'regular' programmes were urgent and unstable enough. But, in addition, so essential was it to make newly-design equipment available with the least possible delay that 'crash' orders had frequently to be fulfilled at the shortest notice regardless of cost. Notable early examples were the production of the centimetric A.I. sets by G.E.C. and of the first fifty H2S equipments by E.M.I. (Electrical & Musical Industries) in 1942. 'Crash programmes of this kind became standard practice as the war progressed, and most of the later mark numbers of existing equipments were regularly ordered in this manner.

The pressure for 'crash' programmes came mainly from scientists representing research establishments, but their value was clear to all impartial observers. Lord Justice du Parcq, reporting on 'crash' programmes in 1943, recorded his conviction that:

where need is urgent (as it is with regard to many [radar] devices), facilities for quick small-scale production should be greatly increased. … There are many cases in which 200 sets now are of more value than 1,000 in nine months time.

No one believed more firmly in the value of 'crash' programmes than Sir Robert Renwick, the Controller of Communications Equipment in M.A.P., who justified resort to them in a paper prepared for the Aircraft Supply Council, and pointed out that they

permit initial deliveries of equipments to the Service in fix to six months, instead of a minimum of twelve months which is required for tool production.

The idea of the 'crash' programme, once it was established, dominated the whole field of radio production. It is probably true to say that almost every manufacturer of equipment undertook at least one 'crash' programme of some importance. The more important firms undertook many. Certain firms and certain factories belonging to the large firms were devoted very largely to this type of work. Dynatron Radio, a small firm which devoted itself before the war to the making by hand of high-quality receivers, was an example of a firm which was used almost entirely for this purpose. Allen West & Company undertook a similar role for the Admiralty; and this department also placed 'crash' programmes, as did the others, with the big radio firms with which it was most closely associated, such Metropolitan-Vickers, B.T.H. and Ferrenti. As regards 'crash' programmes of Air


Force radar, a factory of E. K. Cole was also assigned to the manufacture of equipments in small numbers. Although it was sometimes diverted from this purpose, its main role was not entirely lost sight of.

How inimical 'crash' orders were to be rationalised production can be shown by a few examples. Twenty-one Monica equipments produced by 'crash' programmes were priced by A. C. Cossor at £482 each; a normal production programme of 7,000 of the same equipment by the same firm was supplied for £180 each. A radar display unit cost £1,400 for each of thirty equipments by 'crash' programme and £800 for each of 600 under a normal production programme. Fifty receivers produced by E. K. Cole as a 'crash' programme cost £215 each; 600 produced as a normal programme cost £25 each.

Although the relatively high costs of items produced by 'crash' programmes were in themselves a tribute to the freedom with which the firms employed emergency methods, it nevertheless makes it easy to understand why, essential as they were, such programmes were so disliked in the industry and in many quarters within the ministries. They required an abnormal use of skilled labour on what were essentially hand-made, or at least semi-tooled, projects, and they disrupted rational planning of production and provisioning of factories. Added to the general fluidity and urgency of the programmes they helped to deter the manufacturers from embarking on a thorough-going reconstruction of production methods.

The need for expansion was thus met not by recasting the industry to suit the mass demand but by enlarging the floor space in factories. Two of the leading firms, A. C. Cossor and E. K. Cole, which may be taken together for a moment as an example, had expanded their combined floor space nearly four-fold between 1934 and 1941, and by 1942 the industry at its assembly end appears to have possessed sufficient floor space to cope with most of the additions to programmes.

In this process the limiting factor was labour, and in view of the industry's methods, the labour problem was mostly that of skilled and supervisory grades. Complaints of labour shortages recurred continually from May 1941 onwards. The 1942 crisis in radio production was ascribed primarily to shortage of skilled labour, and in April 1942 the Director of Radio Production revealed that owing to the labour shortage about eighty percent of the industry's plant was worked for only six hours a week, and the American plant which was being installed in the industry was thus operated for little more than half the number of hours which the Americans regarded as essential for its economic utilisation. What added to the difficulty of labour supply was the great need of the Services for young radio technicians and the continuous losses which the industry consequently suffered from labour call-ups.


Various attempts to deal with the problem were made, mostly the same as those which two or three years previously had been successfully adopted in war industry in general. Training schools were established, upgrading was carried to its furthest limit. Other measures followed the report of a committee which the Minister of Production set up early in 1943 to inquire into the utilisation of labour in the radio industry. The skilled labour employed by the industry—some 8,000 men and women—were 'frozen', i.e. retained in the industry irrespective of age and irrespective of alternative claims on their services.133 The recruitment of the university-trained personnel, for which the demand of the radio industry and the radio research establishments appeared insatiable, was taken in hand by a committee under Lord Hankey's chairmanship established in October 1939.

Compared with the shortage of skilled labour, that of unskilled and semi-skilled labour did not appear to cause great difficulty, or at least did not cause any difficulty which was not already besetting war industry as a whole. According to the report of the 1943 committee to the total employment in the radio industry, though difficult to estimate, was about 100,000, and the Ministry of Production accepted the figure of 120,000 by January 1944. The total demands for additional labour were estimated in January 1943 at about 30,000, but the estimate was very rough and the subsequent movement of employment showed that it was exaggerated. The industry was advised to resort to areas where labour was easy—Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Plymouth, Llanelly and Wigan. At that late hour the advice was not and could not be adopted as a whole. Nevertheless, complaints of the difficulty of recruitment of labour in general were not as insistent as they were at the same time in other branches of war industry. The general impression is that the intake of unskilled labour continued to be limited by the shortage of skilled and supervisory grades—and fortunately the resulting gaps in supplies were easier to meet out of American production than in most other programmes of weapons.

Apart from the atomic bomber, no weapon of warfare devised in the Second World War made to deep an impression on the imagination of the public as did radar. Devices such as H2S, reproducing on a screen in an aircraft a map of the country over which the aircraft was flying, seemed uncanny. The effort of producing such revolutionary


devices under extreme pressure of time, and subject to an incessant flow of modifications from scientists was very severe. But it was only a part of the effort made by the British radio industry. The great build-up in the production of communications equipments, of valves and of components was an industrial undertaking of the first magnitude; and it was bound to make a great addition to the economic problems of Britain at the height of her industrial effort.


Contents  *  Previous Chapter (V)  *  Next Chapter (VII)


1 See p. 119.

2 See p. 239.

3 How high these targets appeared even in some American eyes is shown by the press comments quoted in The United States at War, op. cit., p. 103.

4 The shipping crisis lasted for approximately fifteen months, January 1942 to March 1943. For further details see W. K. Hancock and M. M. Gowing, British War Economy, op. cit., pp. 417435.

5 The adjustments were greatly eased by the work of the Combined Munitions Assignment Board (C.M.A.B.). See p. 240.

6 The Navy then assumed responsibility for the laying of the main section of the submarine line, the Army for the distribution end on the Continent and the Petroleum Warfare Department, in collaboration with the Petroleum Division, for the supply unit at the home end.

7 In spite of the lack of previous experience in the use of bare steel pipe on the bottom of the sea, construction work had proceeded on the Hamel as it was by no means certain that there would be sufficient supplies of lead available to produce all the Hais cable required.

8 Of the 710 nautical miles of Hais cable produced for the operation, 570 miles were made by various firms in the United Kingdom, 140 miles cam from the United States.

9 For a detailed account of the industrial effort, see A. C. Hartley, 'Operation Pluto', Proc. I. Mech. E., Vol. 154, 1946, p. 433.

10 15,000 tons steel, 6,500 tons lead alloy, 25 tons other non-ferrous metals, 1 ton rubber.

11 By mid-December 1944 the operation employed, among other naval resources, four cable-layers, five ocean-going tugs, nine motor barges and six motor fishing vessels.

12 Some old warships were also dedicated to the purpose.

13 This incorporated some still early ides of the Directorate of Transportation at the War Office, and indirectly derived from the highly successful 'Lucayan' dredger design and manufactured in 1923 by Lobnitz & Co., of Renfrew.

14 The timetable was as follows: on 31st August 1943 the project of the Mulberry was approved by the Joint Staff Mission in Washington and on 2nd September it was commended by the Combined Advisory Committee to the Chiefs of Staff; on 6th September the Chiefs of Staff officially instructed the War Office to take steps to ensure the design and construction of the two harbours. The final stages in the design of the 'Phoenix' were carried out in the War Office by the end of September; on 27th September the Ministry of Supply established the special department in charge of the 'Phoenix'.

15 This number was reduced to ninety-three in February 1944. The total weight of each Bombardon was 1,000–1,500 tons.

16 It did, however, interfere with civil building, especially with the repair of bombed buildings.

17 See Appendix I, Table C.

18 Mr. Churchill traces the suggestion to the bullet-proof lighters and tank-landing lighters which he suggested in 1917 as part of a proposal for an amphibious operation against Borkum and Sylt. The Second World War, Vol. II, pp. 215–17. The Inter-Service Training and Development Centre (I.S.T.D.C.) was experimenting with light assault boats in 1938 and 1939. See Rear-Admiral L. E. H. Maund, Assault from the Sea, Chapter I.

19 The types of landing craft with which British production was concerned in 1942 were Tank Landing Craft (L.C.T.), Mechanised Landing Craft (L.C.M.), Assault Landing Craft (L.C.A.), Heavy Support Craft, Beach Protection Vessels, Coble Raiding Craft and Second Flight Craft. Mechanised Landing Craft were small vessels which could be carried on the decks of ships. Assault Landing Craft and Coble Raiding Craft were infantry-carrying vessels, as were Second Flight Craft. Heavy Support Craft and Beach Protection Vessels were armoured craft with anti-aircraft guns. Further specialised types were designed in 1943 and 1944, but few of them were ready for operations in Europe.

20 See p. 293.

21 The first sizeable programme for landing craft was put in hand in the spring of 1940, and the numbers under construction gradually rose from 128 in the second quarter of 1940 to 348 in the last quarter of 1941. The rate of progress was thus satisfactory while Britain was alone and large-scale offensives on the continent of Europe were not yet in view.

22 For the crucial part which the supply of landing craft played in the strategic decisions of 1943 and 1944 see W. S. Churchill, The Second World War, Vol. IV, pp. 282, 298, 430.

23 See pp. 29092. In July 1943 super-priority was given to the bomber programme. See p. 305.

24 Naval tonnage actually completed was 316,000 tons in 1943 and 286,700 tons in 1944.

25 See p. 63.

26 In mid-1942 the fleet carriers in service were the Illustrious, the Formidable, the Victorious, and the Indomitable, and two more, the Implacable and the Indefatigable, were due for completion in 1943–44.

27 See pp. 301302.

28 The Indefatigable was at last handed over by the spring of 1944, but the speedy completion of the Implacable had to be sacrificed; the three carriers of the 1942 programme so far laid down were not expected to be completed before November 1946 and 1947, and none of the carriers of the 1943 programme was laid down.

29 In fact only six light carriers were in service by the end of the war in Europe.

30 There were more minesweepers and trawlers on order at the end of 1942 than in any previous year: 229 in the United Kingdom and 167 abroad; further orders were placed in 1942, mostly abroad. Yet fewer were building in 1943 than the minimum demands of the Navy, and of those building fewer were coming from British yards than the Admiralty had hoped, even though the American supplies were improving.

31 See pp. 28486.

32 See p. 293.

33 The big ships were to suffer most, and carriers, like the Ark Royal, the Leviathan, the Triumph, and the Hawke, had to be delayed in the early months of the year so that landing ships and craft might be hastened. The destroyers building at Swan Hunter's and at Hawthorn Leslie's and, in at least one instance.

34 See Chapter VII.

35 This committee, under the chairmanships of Mr. Robert Barlow, had been appointed to report on the use of labour, dilution, payment by results, etc., in the shipyards; it interpreted its terms of reference in sufficiently broad terms to cover the organisation and re-equipment of the shipyards themselves.

36 See p. 204.

37 In the design of the BUSTER special care was taken not to compete for production capacity with a somewhat earlier type of fire control equipment for 40-mm. guns, and the Close Range Blind Fire Director was designed to embody most of the control components of the same fire control for the 40-mm. guns. This alleviated but did not remove the industrial difficulties of transition.

38 See p. 62.

39 See Statistical Digest of the War in this series, Tables 113 and 21.

40 In view of this, and of the unsatisfactory results achieved in the first six months of 1943, the estimates of merchant shipping output were revised in July to a total of 1,145,000 tons for 1943 and 1,103,000 tons in 1944.

41 See pp. 29698.

42 i.e. for the programmes of September 1941 and the supplementary bomber programmes (see pp. 12526). This figure of labour requirements was reduced in consultation with the Lord President's Office to 850,000 additional workers by the end of 1942 (see p. 220).

43 See pp. 22425.

44 The total allocation for these was 785,000.

45 See Table 33, p. 225.

46 See pp. 26869.

47 See Table K, Appendix 3, and Appendix 4.

48 See Table L, Appendix 3.

49 See Table M, Appendix 3.

50 i.e 'Consolidated' Programme, date July 1942. See Table L, Appendix 3.

51 i.e. 'Realistic' Programme, dated January 1943. See Table M, Appendix 3; this programme also included ninety-two transport aircraft in 1943.

52 See Table N and O, Appendix 3.

53 See Table 34, p. 227.

54 See pp. 26869.

55 The War Cabinet, which took note of the Minister of Production's conclusions that the efforts of the Service and supply departments to adjust requirements and production have avoided an injury to the vital war machine, approved the programme on 27th January 1944.

56 See Table P, Appendix 3.

57 This programme was approved by the War Cabinet and issued in August 1944. See Table Q, Appendix 3.

58 The growth continued well beyond that date. Unfortunately the basis of computing man-hour equivalents was changed at that date thus making accurate comparisons impossible.

59 In the first half of the 1942 production of all types of aircraft was ninety-seven percent of the programmed figure in the 'Bomber' programme of December 1941. In November 1942 it was eighty-one percent of the programmed figure and in December eighty-three percent.

60 In the same periods the output of light bombers was some thirty-six percent and thirteen percent respectively below the current programmes.

61 i.e. 307,000 compared with an original requirement of 603,000 and an allocation in December 1942 of 503,000, adjusted to 259,000 in July 1943. See pp. 225 and 305.

62 See p. 69.

63 The year was measured from October to October.

64 See Section (5) of this chapter, the Quality of Aircraft.

65 For delays in the development of new types, see pp. 5556, 12425, 17374. The effects of modification on aircraft production are discussed in sub-section (d) of Section (5) of this chapter.

66 See pp. 408 and 46465.

67 Repairs contributed relatively little before May 1940 whereas new production was considerable. A figure of twenty-five percent for 1940 would appear reasonable.

68 North American and British.

69 See p. 316.

70 Select Committee on National Expenditure, Session 1942–43, Tenth Report, dated 4th August 1943, para. 23.

71 The Rolls-Royce spares problem was solved by the setting up in November 1940 of the Sawley Spares Depot, which was operated by the firm as the sole supply and distributing centre for Rolls-Royce spares. Distribution delays were thereby avoided, shortages were foreseen and immediate production action to met them was taken by the firm.

72 This table relates only to aircraft in squadrons and not to those dealt with by the Repair Organisation.

73 No figures prior to June 1941 are available.

74 Speech made by Sir Stafford Cripps on 21st September 1943 to delegates from the management and workers' sides of firms in the aircraft industry.

75 See p. 16.

76 See p. 18.

77 Although larger numbers of Wellingtons, Hampdens and Blenheims were then ordered than the interests of an up-to-date bomber force justified, the orders for fighters consisted entirely of the most advanced types—the Hurricanes, Spitfires and Defiants.

78 See pp. 12324.

79 Four-cannon wings were introduced in the Hurricane production line at Hawker's (Mark IIc) in February 1940. Thirty Spitfire I.s with wings fitted with two cannon only were delivered to the Service in August 1940. Thirty sets of damaged Hurricane wings were converted by semi-tooled and bench methods to carry four cannons. Owing to technical difficulties they were not delivered to the Service until January 1941.

80 The Hurricane II with Merlin XX engines had been projected since the early months of 1940. It was not at first expected to come in until December 1940, but the delivery was now brought forward to August 1940, several months earlier than originally expected. The installation of Merlin 45 engines into Spitfires was first suggested in December 1940. It became an urgent Air Staff requirement and was introduced into the production at Supermarine's (Marks Va and Vb) in March 1941. Twenty-three Spitfire I.s were converted to Spitfire V.s by Rolls-Royce and were in service by February 1941.

81 The Hurricane Mark IIb with twelve-Browning wings was introduced in March 1941. Other variations included the important Sea Hurricane Marks Ia and Ib with catapult and arrester gear for the merchant ship fighter scheme which was rushed through in the early spring of 1941; the tropical version of the Hurricane Mark II was also completed in the spring of 1941. The Beaufighter was modified for long-range fighter duties with Coastal Command. The Beaufighter Mark II with Merlin XX engines fitted to be used for night fighting in conjunction with the newly developed A.I. interception equipment, was introduced into the production line in March 1941. The Defiant Mark I was modified for night fighting and later owing to Service requests the Defiant Mark II with Merlin XX engines was introduced.

82 Among the projects jettisoned first were the prototypes of some of the aircraft with which it was planned to re-equip the Air Force in 1942, e.g. the new bomber designed to the 1939 specification (B.1/39) which was under development at the Bristol Aeroplane Company and at Handley Page and the cannon-turret under development at Boulton Paul Aircraft.

83 See p. 16.

84 The first Hurricane was delivered in December 1937 and the first Spitfire in June 1938.

85 The firm had promised to bring the aircraft into production nine months after the production order. The order was given in January 1939 but according to statistical returns the first Whirlwind was not delivered until June 1940, that is eight months later then the firm's promise.

86 According to the July 1939 programme, the first Typhoon production aircraft was expected in July 1940, but according to the statistical records the first Typhoon was not delivered until July 1941, a delay of twelve months.

87 At the production conferences in 1936 it was estimated that the first production Wellington would be delivered in June 1937, and the first production Hampden in August 1937. According to statistical records the first Wellington was not delivered until October 1938 and the first Hampden not until September 1938, that is sixteen months and thirteen months late respectively. The tender design conference for the Wellington and Hampden was held on 29th May 1933, that is nearly six years before the delivery of the first production aircraft.

88 The underlying technical ideas were part of the concept of the 'Ideal Bomber'. In a document prepared by Mr. B. N. Wallis of Vickers-Armstrongs (dated November 1938, entitled 'Bomber Aircraft—determination of the most economical size') and circulated by the company to the Air Staff, the optimum size was put at about 50,000 lb. all-up weight, or some sixty-six percent more than the greatest weight to which the Wellington had then been developed. (The Wellington Ic weight 30,000 lb. all-up).) In the official Air Ministry memorandum on the ideal bomber of March 1938, the optimum size was put up to 65,000–70,000 lb. At this size the aircraft was expected to attain the maximum carrying power and range compatible with the greatest possible capacity for defence. It was also thought to be more economical than smaller types in crews and ground maintenance. Both documents, however, did not do more than justify what by then had become the accepted trend of official requirements.

89 Specification B.12/36 issued 15th July 1936; four-engined heavy bomber. Specification B.13/36 issued 8th September 1936; twin-engined medium bomber.

90 1,500 Manchester's, 1,500 Stirlings and 500 Halifaxes.

91 The speed of the Typhoon in operation proved to be 30 m.p.h. below M.A.P. forecasts and about 60 m.p.h. below the figure which the designers had at one stage suggested—according to official performance figures issued by M.A.P. the actual speed was 400 m.p.h. Its climb and ceiling were inferior not only to the contemporary German aircraft, but also to the contemporary Spitfire, and the unreliability of its engine, the Sabre in its earlier versions, was a great handicap.

92 The firm estimated a speed of 455 m.p.h. for the Tempest I. This was confirmed by M.A.P. but according to official performance figures issued by M.A.P. the actual speed was 427 m.p.h. The Spitfire XIV had a speed of 456 m.p.h and the Mustang III a speed of 450 m.p.h.

93 Other plans in the field of fighters concerned the high-altitude fighter, and there delay did not turn out to be of material importance.

94 The first prototype redesigned with Vulture engines flew in August 1939 and the second with Centaurus engines in April 1940. The production order was finally placed in December 1940. Owing to a shortage of Centaurus engines considerable numbers of early Warwicks were modified to take American Pratt and Whitney Twin Wasp engines. Tests of the first aircraft revealed great weaknesses in the design; the aircraft was heavy, slow, under-powered and unable to maintain flight on one engine.

95 It may be worth noting that the American Douglas Invader, a medium bomber scheduled to appear in 1944, had a history which from some points of view was as disappointing as the Buckingham. In 1942 official estimates gave promise of a really high speed, 972 m.p.h., but, as was the case with the Buckingham, this speed, one of the chief attractions of the type, was not realised.

96 H. of L. Debs., Vol. 125, Cols. 794–828, dated 27th January 1943.

97 Excluding large flying boats.

98 Director of Technical Development.

99 The direct origin of this investigation appears to have been the anxiety of the Air Staff during the winter of 1941–42 for new types to be introduced (i.e. the Buckingham, the B.8/41, B.11/41, etc.); M.A.P. was unable to introduce new types within its existing capacity on top of the recently agreed Bomber Programme of December 1941.

100 See p. 41.

101 The same factors (the unbalanced character of the industrial equipment and its incomplete utilisation) also entered into the allied problem—that of transferring factories engaged on the production of one type to that of better types in production elsewhere.

102 The new mark numbers covered by the simpler modification procedure on the other hand would merely require a trial installation of the special equipment with its fixed and removable fittings. The specifications to cover such a mark number would be a straightforward document for contact purposes merely listing the modifications that were to be incorporated.

103 See p. 239.

104 The Combined Order of Battle agreed during General Marshall's visit in March 1942 was interpreted to require 25 armoured divisions and 125 infantry divisions to be provided by April 1943 with British type of equipment.

105 The equivalent of 73½ infantry divisions and 23 armoured divisions which Britain had the responsibility of equipping.

106 See Chapter V, Section (4)(b).

107 Later reduced to 132,000. For requirements to the end of 1943 see Table 32, p. 225.

108 See pp. 22327.

109 See Table 46.

110 See p. 225.

111 Actual transfers were far less than anticipated. The turn-over however was so great that the labour force was largely run down by not replacing all the labour lost.

112 See p. 353.

113 See p. 227.

114 The Prime Minister's directive on the subject was dated 4th December 1942 and the Defence Committee (Supply) gave special authority for reduction in the output of respirators on 29th December 1942.

115 These fears were to some extent based on a simplified notion about the local effects of cuts. In most of the major centres of the munitions industry a large number of firms were simultaneously engaged on contracts for several supply departments. In these cases cuts in the M.O.S. labour force often resulted in nothing more than a book-keeping transfer of labour from contracts for M.O.S. to those for M.A.P. and Admiralty. Marginal transfers of labour, however, were inevitable even in these cases.

116 See p. 350.

117 See Table 34, p. 227.

118 See p. 175.

119 Table 48 shows the Ministry of Supply index figures for certain warlike stores, 1942–44.

120 See Chapter IV, Section (10).

121 The branch of the Ministry of Supply in charge of tank production was made in the summer of 1941 into an autonomous division, headed by Commander E. R. Micklem, of Vickers-Armstrongs.

122 See p. 399.

123 Established in July 1941.

124 1¾ million mega units.

125 It was only after the end of hostilities that the two factories established for the deep culture process came into production and output rapidly soared.

126 357,000 mega units compared with 36,000 mega units produced in United Kingdom.

127 196,000 mega units compared with 174,000 mega units imported from the United States.

128 See Design and Development of Weapons, op. cit., Chapter XV. See also p. 195n.

129 Non-centimetric devices, however, continued to play an important part.

130 Radar scientists had not up to that date had much opportunity for studying a problem of this kind, but fortunately some attention had been given to radar as a navigational aid at an earlier period. As a result there emerged a device known as Gee, which enabled a navigator to determine his location. It went into service in March 1942.

131 They rose at first to 61.4 millions, but acting at the request of the Radio Board the minimum demands were reduced to 52.2 millions.

132 See p. 248.

133 This was not a new expedient. In October 1942 Mr. Garro Jones (as he then was), the chairman of the Production, Planning and Personnel Committee, which had been formed that month, tried to secure a 'standstill' order from the Minister of Labour.l Mr. Bevin was not prepared to issue a 'standstill' order, but he gave an assurance that he would give effect to Mr. Garro Jones' representations, provided the Labour Supply Officers of the departments would support the request. The departments, however, proved to be unwilling to do so.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by David Newton, HyperWar Foundation