'Not by rambling operations , or naval duels,
A. T. Mahan (Sea Power in its Relation to the War of 1812).
In order fully to understand the discussions on the contribution of the Royal Air Force to the war at sea which lasted throughout 1942, it is necessary to review how matters stood as the previous year drew to a close.
When Air Chief Marshal Bowhill turned over his responsibility for Coastal Command to Sir Philip Joubert de la Ferte in June 1941 the strength of his command was thirty-five squadrons, nominally of 582 aircraft. This was about double the strength which he had commanded on the outbreak of war; but the number of aircraft available on any day for operations was only about half his actual strength.1 On giving up his command Bowhill stressed the urgent need for new types of aircraft. He wanted Mosquitos to work off the enemy's coasts instead of the obsolescent Hudsons; Beaufighters to replace the Blenheims, and a real force of long-range aircraft for anti-submarine work instead of his mixed lot of Whitleys, Wellingtons and Hudsons. Air Chief Marshal Joubert promptly reassessed his needs-including aircraft for anti-invasion reconnaissance, shipping reconnaissance and attacks on shipping-and arrived at a total of 818 aircraft for all purposes in the home and Atlantic theatres only. His hopes were short-lived. In October the Prime Minister proposed to transfer his bombers to the attack on Germany, and when the First Lord demurred Mr. Churchill merely postponed the question till the New Year. All the new long-range bombers were meanwhile being allocated to Bomber Command; prospects for deliveries of new flying boats to Coastal Command were also very bad. As a final blow, just before the end of the year the Air Ministry rejected almost completely the expansion proposals of the Commander-in-Chief. In January 1942 the Admiralty's anxiety about the Command's strength (its daily availability was then only 156 aircraft) was increasing, and Air
Chief Marshal Joubert renewed his attempt to get some modern long-range bombers. Plainly the clash between the rival purposes of bombing Germany or helping to sink the U-boats and to bring our convoys safely home had now reached a point where the matter had to be weighed and decided by the Cabinet and the Defence Committee.
The very serious losses suffered by the Navy in the closing months of 1941, the ever-increasing strain of maritime operations now become world-wide, the pressure of new and heavy commitments such as the Russian convoys, the extreme peril in the Indian Ocean and the rapidly rising tempo of the Atlantic Battle all combined to make the early months of 1942 among the most anxious of the whole war. As the First Lord said early in March, 'if we lose the war at sea we lose the war'. The strains from which we were suffering at sea, and the heavy anxieties about the future, focused the Admiralty's attention on the one direction from which it seemed that some fairly prompt easement might be obtained. This was considered to lie in the diversion of more long-range aircraft to Coastal Command, and in accepting the inevitable decline in our bombing offensive against Germany. Readers of our first volume will remember that the question who should control our maritime aircraft and who should supply and train their crews ran like a thread-and a somewhat inflammable thread-through the whole story of relations between the Navy and the R.A.F. since 1918.2
Early in 1942 a match was set to this powder-train by a paper sent to the Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Air in which he stated that 40 per cent of our bombing effort was being directed at the enemy warships in Brest, that it was difficult to hit those 'extremely small targets', and that the effort to do so was causing us heavy losses and so reducing the effect of our bomber force in its attacks on industrial Germany. Two days after this paper was written the question of bombing the warships in Brest was actually removed from the agenda of all committees by the ships themselves escaping back to Germany.3 But the paper from the Air Ministry put the whole machinery of the Naval Staff into a state of intense activity-and of some indignation. Ever since 1940 we had been losing warships all over the world for lack of air cover, our losses of merchantmen had been particularly heavy in the waters where aircraft could not reach out to our convoys, and the Ministry of War Transport had several times warned the Admiralty and the Cabinet that losses above a certain rate were bound to affect the morale of the Merchant Navy. It was, in the Admiralty's eyes, hard to believe that all these troubles could best be cured by bombing German towns. Their reaction to
the Air Ministry's paper was prompt-and, perhaps, slightly sarcastic. There could not, wrote the First Lord, be any objections in his department to the Air Ministry's proposal. Indeed, the heavier bombing of Germany would be warmly welcomed. But before such a programme was embarked on, the Admiralty had two outstanding and urgent needs which the Air Ministry might be able to fill. The first was for improved long-range reconnaissance in the Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal; about ninety-four merchant ships were at sea on any one day between Calcutta and Ceylon and they were now exposed to sudden attacks by Japanese warships. Two long-range reconnaissance and three more flying boat squadrons were needed to give warning of such raids. The second need was for far more intensive anti-U-boat patrolling in the inner and outer zones of the Bay of Biscay.4 This required the transfer to Coastal Command of six-and-a-half Wellington squadrons and eighty-one of the American Fortress aircraft, so the Admiralty calculated. The tinder ignited by the Secretary of State for Air now blew rapidly into flame. On the First Sea Lord's desk a vast file of arguments and counterarguments began to collect. He called this 'The Battle of the Air'. Even at a time of crisis and strain Sir Dudley Pound could show a quiet, sardonic touch of humour. The battle ebbed to and fro for the next six months in the Chiefs of Staff and Defence Committees, and before the Cabinet. At the risk of irritating the reader an attempt must be made to summarise the arguments used by both sides. For on the findings of a successful solution victory at sea may well have depended.
On the 5th of March the First Lord followed up his first reply to the Air Ministry's view regarding the relative importance of the war at sea and the bombing of Germany with a full statement of what Admiral Pound called 'The Needs of the Navy'. Certain ancient and fundamental strategic principles were first restated. Thus it was pointed out that if our merchant shipping tonnage, particularly in tankers (of which we and the Americans had recently been suffering what the First Lord elsewhere called 'frightful losses'), fell below the point needed to bring in our essential imports and maintain our armed forces, we should lose the war. The best and quickest way of rectifying matters, said the First Lord, was by 'largely increasing the strength of our land-based air forces working over the sea'. This dictum could hardly be disputed and, indeed, the Air Ministry later expressed its cordial agreement. However, the First Lord widened the issue by also claiming that 'if we are not to conduct the war at sea at a disadvantage we must have naval operational control of all aircraft employed on sea operations, on lines similar to those now in
force with Coastal Command in home waters'. The question of the organisation of sea-air co-operation was thus thrown into the arena simultaneously with the different question of providing adequate strength for that purpose. A third demand by the Admiralty was that the Navy should henceforth be 'intimately associated' with the training of Coastal Command aircrews in work over the sea. The last point arose through the Admiralty's dissatisfaction over the standard of training in Coastal Command. As the First Sea Lord expressed it a little later, the real difficulty had been' to persuade air personnel that there was, in fact, any real difficulty in attacking a U-boat . . . Once this simple fact is absorbed and the airman has determined to learn and, more important still, to practise, the situation changes completely and the efficiency of air attack on U-boats bounds upwards'. Although it was certainly the case that in the early days R.A.F. aircrews had lacked training in anti-U-boat warfare, the Air Ministry had entirely revised its instructions in July 1941.5 But it was, of course, bound to take time before the beneficial effects of the new tactics made themselves felt at sea.
Table 4. The Admiralty's Assessment of Maritime Air Requirements, March 1942
Station Flying Boats General Reconnaissance (Long and Medium Range) Photographic Reconnaissance Striking Forces Long-Range Fighters TOTAL Home Waters 50 410 30 160 140 790 Central and South Atlantic 20 70 --- 20 --- 110 Indian Ocean 90 250 20 120* 90* 570*
A. and W. Australia 20 60 --- 40 --- 120 Mediterranean --- 100 30 120* 100* 350*
TOTAL 180 890
(250 Long-range, 640 Medium-range)
* These figures include a proportion of naval aircraft provided by the Admiralty as shown in the totals columns.
The size of the gap between the requirements of the Admiralty and the actual number of aircraft available in the various theatres is shown in the next table, which gives the contemporary strength of the Empire's Air Forces mainly employed on maritime work. It will be seen that only the first three horizontal items in the table affected the Battle of the Atlantic.
Table 5. British Empire Aircraft employed mainly on Maritime Operations, March 1942
(Fleet Air Arm aircraft excluded - See previous table)
Theatre G.R. Flying Boats G.R. V.L.R. and L.R. Recce. G.R. Medium and Short range Recce. G.R. Anti-Shipping L.R. Fighters Photo Recce. TOTALS Western Atlantic
25 20 40 Nil Nil Nil 85 E. Atlantic and Home Waters
(R.A.F. Coastal Command)
(plus 11 float planes)
16 121 147
(also used on A/S work)
91 60 497 Gibraltar
(R.A.F. Coastal Command)
6 Nil 10 Nil Nil 6 22
Total available for Battle of Atlantic = 604
14 Nil 20 Nil Nil Nil 34 Indian Ocean
(R.A.F., R.I.A.F. and S.A.A.F.)
6 Nil 30 6 Nil Nil 42 Australasia
16 Nil 120 12 Nil Nil 148 Mediterranean
(R.A.F., R.A.A.F. and S.A.A.F.)
4 Nil 27 40 40 8 119 TOTALS 122
plus 11 float planes
36 368 205 131 74 947
1. In addition to the foregoing totals, the ordinary bombers of the Royal Air Force and, in some cases, of the Commonwealth Air Forces were used on various operations concerned with the war at sea, such as mine-laying, attacks on ports, anti-shipping and anti-submarine work. As they were not allocated to or controlled by the authorities responsible for the maritime war, and it is impossible to give a realistic figure to represent their contribution, they have been omitted from this table. 2. Abbreviations used: G.R. General Reconnaissance S.A.A.F. South African Air Force L.R. Long Range R.A.A.F. Royal Australian Air Force R.C.A.F. Royal Canadian Air Force R.N.Z.A.F. Royal New Zealand Air Force R.I.A.F. Royal Indian Air Force
The Air Ministry, however, generously accepted the Admiralty's estimate of its needs and affirmed that it was 'incumbent on us to do our utmost to meet them'. They pointed out that, provided deliveries from American production reached the planned totals, they would all be met by the end of the year. It had to be accepted that, for the first six months of 1942, Coastal Command would be 'seriously under strength' in long-range reconnaissance aircraft. The Admiralty's needs would, therefore, be met 'in quantity though not in time'. This was, perhaps, rather chilly comfort to the department which was responsible for protecting the country's merchant shipping, and knew that it was disappearing at a rate which would render it inadequate within a very definite period of time. The help of the R.A.F. might well be coming. But would it come in time?
The Air Ministry would not consider diverting bombers to long-range reconnaissance until they were fitted with radar, because without it their reconnaissance work could not, so they maintained, be effective. So the radar supply programme, which had fallen badly in arrears, was considered to be the limiting factor. To use bombers without radar for reconnaissance would be 'a dispersion of our bombing resources'; and the 'considered view' of the Air Ministry was that the biggest contribution Bomber Command could make to the defeat of the U-boats was to bomb industrial areas in Germany.
On the 18th of March the Defence Committee approved the transfer of three Catalina Squadrons to the Indian Ocean. The need for them there was certainly urgent, but the consequence was still further to reduce the strength of Coastal Command at home. In London the argument between the Admiralty and the C.-in-C., Coastal Command, on the one side and the Air Ministry and Bomber Command on the other centred around the allocation of the American Fortress and Liberator aircraft now coming across, though still in small numbers, under Lend-Lease. At the end of the month Air Chief Marshal Joubert found that his position was getting impossible. He was, he said, 'kicked by the Admiralty for not asking enough and blamed by the Air Ministry for asking impossibilities'.
The War Office had meanwhile joined in the argument, and on the 1st of April the Air Ministry took the Navy and Army's proposals together and placed its views before the Defence Committee. The issues at stake were, firstly, the provision of larger forces and, secondly, the organisation for the control of those forces. Meeting the first was, said the Air Ministry, only a matter of time, and would be done. But, in their view, the other services' proposals under the second heading constituted in substance if not in name the division of the R.A.F. into three separate services. There may have been some grounds for the feeling that the patient who, in 1941, had been saved from 'a surgical operation' of this nature, was now once
again being forced towards the operating table.6 And the reason for it was, in the opinion of the Air Ministry, that lack of co-operation was being confused with the lack of the means to co-operate. Was it sound, they asked, to make acute shortages a reason to change the organisation? The Admiralty had, in its statement of the Navy's needs, praised the German sea-air organisation and had argued, from the fact that it appeared to be more effective than our own, that 'Coastal Commands' were needed on every station. Actually the Luftwaffe's organisation was, so argued the Air Ministry, the antithesis of the Admiralty proposal; for they had no 'Coastal Commands' at all, and very little naval air strength. Our post-war knowledge certainly does not indicate that the Germans achieved a better system of organisation than our own, nor that co-operation between their Navy and the Luftwaffe was at all good. In fact, the lack of it was a constant cause for complaint by Admiral Raeder and the German Naval Staff. The Air Ministry prophesied that, with American help, we were going to subject the Axis powers to the full rigour of an overwhelming air superiority, which they expected to prove decisive. But to accomplish that the R.A.F, must not be split up. On the issue of the control of Coastal Command aircraft they argued that, whereas at home it was vested in the Admiralty and not in the naval Commanders-in-Chief, abroad, where there was no organisation equivalent to that of the Admiralty, the position was different. On no account would the Air Ministry agree to the R.A.F. squadrons serving on foreign stations being placed under the naval Commanders-in-Chief. The Air Ministry also described the employment of aircraft at sea as a predominantly defensive role, and here they were perhaps on less firm ground; for not only were the offensive capabilities of aircraft of decisive importance to the maritime war, but the prosecution of the entire Allied offensive strategy depended on control of sea communications. As Mr. Churchill put it early in 1943, 'the defeat of the U-boat and the improvement of the margin of shipbuilding resources are the prelude to all effective aggressive operations'.7
The basic issue which had to be settled by the Cabinet was, therefore, whether, taking account of the prevailing shortage of aircraft, a balance could be struck between the accepted Allied policy of bombing Germany and Italy as heavily as possible and the urgent need to improve the protection of our convoys. One fundamental requirement was to estimate just how effective the bombing of Germany had already been, and also how effective it was likely to become. Lord Cherwell forecast that in 1943 bombing of built-up districts would deprive about one-third of the population of Germany
of their homes, and that this might be decisive. In mid-April the Prime Minister requested Mr. Justice Singleton to survey the problem and estimate the results likely to be achieved in six, twelve and eighteen months' time. His conclusion was that, although little could be expected in the first period, the effect in a year or eighteen months would be substantial.
In the middle of April the Chiefs of Staff decided that four squadrons (Wellingtons and Whitleys) should be transferred from Bomber to Coastal Command for anti-submarine work in the Bay of Biscay and the North-West Approaches. This did not satisfy the Admiralty, and in the following month the First Sea Lord told his air colleague that he could 'find very little cause for satisfaction in the present state or future prospects of Coastal Command' - a conclusion with which its Commander-in-Chief could but agree. Nor was the employment of the long-range bombers the only issue; the old problem of Coastal Command's lack of anti-ship striking power was again to the fore.8 Its Beauforts had mostly been sent abroad, the Hampdens had proved unsuitable for such work, and in June Beaufighters had to be converted to carry torpedoes. But it was plain that little improvement in striking power could be realised before the end of the year.
The enemy had meanwhile strengthened his fighter resources in Holland and Norway, and our reconnaissance aircraft and Hampden torpedo-bombers were suffering heavy losses from his Me. 109s and F.W. 190s. Long-range fighter protection for the air striking forces, and a better photographic reconnaissance aircraft than the Spitfire were urgently needed. Next, the last two Beaufort squadrons went abroad, and Coastal Command was left with virtually no striking force at all. Not until September were plans made to restore to it a force of torpedo-bombers, and then it was decided that it must consist of converted Beaufighters.
In the early summer the Admiralty's anxiety deepened. U-boat sinkings remained very high, in the Mediterranean 'the situation was precarious', the Far East 'was in a state of disintegration', and our ability to hold the Indian Ocean 'was in balance'. 'Ships alone', they said, were 'unable to maintain command at sea' ...'a permanent and increased share in the control of sea communications had to be borne by [the] air forces'. The requirements were once again analysed, and a deficiency of 800 aircraft was arrived at. But the Air Ministry still felt that 'to dissipate the Royal Air Force's strength' in order to reinforce Coastal Command would be a strategic error. They held that, as the bombing of Germany gained momentum the threat to our sea communications was bound to diminish. By reducing the
weight of our bombing we might merely postpone the day when the rising curve of Allied merchant ship construction would overtake our losses. To this argument the Admiralty's reply was that, quite apart from the great value of the ships lost, every one of their cargoes was of immense importance to the nation's war effort; that there was a real danger of our war production and transport slowing down, or even coming to a stop, through failure to bring in the essential imports of food and raw materials; that losses on the present scale could not continue without the morale of the Merchant Navy suffering, and finally that unless stronger air escorts were provided the enemy's rising U-boat strength would overwhelm the defenders of our convoys.
The Air Staff fully agreed over the shortage of suitable aircraft to help in the maritime war, but did not see how it could be quickly overcome. However, they considered that it might be mitigated by making better use of what aircraft we possessed. It was indeed plain that, for one reason or another, the difference between established strength and daily availability was far too great. From the investigation of this problem was developed the system known as 'Planned Flying and Maintenance', whose object was to extract the greatest possible operational benefit from every man-hour spent on aircraft maintenance. Though the scheme was ultimately adopted throughout the Royal Air Force, it was more fully applied in Coastal than in the other commands. It contributed much to improving the availability of aircraft for operations.
Meanwhile the views of the naval Commanders-in-Chief had been obtained from meetings in the Admiralty. They, of course, shared to the full the anxiety of the department to which they were responsible; but they were, perhaps, not well placed to view the whole complex problem in all its aspects, as could the inter-service and ministerial committees in London. To Admiral Tovey, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, a situation had arisen which demanded, and could only be resolved by drastic action. He considered that 'substantial reinforcement of Coastal Command both at home and abroad [was] absolutely vital', and that reinforcement and re-equipment of the Fleet Air Arm was no less important. We had, so he considered, reached a point where the Board of Admiralty should resign rather than allow matters to continue as they were-a recommendation which, in spite of the distinguished source from which it emanated, the Board found unwelcome.
In addition to the need to obtain more and better shore-based aircraft to work with the Navy, the Admiralty was also at this time beset by many difficult problems arising out of the great expansion of its own Fleet Air Arm. At the end of 1941 it had consisted of 2,665 aircraft of all types, but it was estimated in June 1942 that by
the end of that year its needs would reach the formidable total of 6,350 aircraft. This great expansion was mainly required to equip the thirty-one escort carriers then under construction or ordered. In particular the Navy was in a very bad plight for carrier-borne fighters. The prototype Firefly (2-seater reconnaissance anti-submarine aircraft) had crashed, the new single-seater Firebrand fighter was still an unknown quantity, and the American Martlets were too slow to deal with the Ju 88s commonly used to attack our shipping. The only remedy was to obtain more Seafires (converted Spitfires) and Hurricanes, and the Admiralty asked the Air Ministry for 500 more of the former and a few of the latter. In July the matter was considered by the Defence Committee (Supply) and it was agreed that the Navy's needs must somehow be met.
Strike squadrons of torpedo-bombers were also expanding. In March the Navy had twenty-eight squadrons of Swordfish and Albacores, and the R.A.F. six squadrons of Beauforts. Torpedo production, which was an Admiralty responsibility, was now about 440 a month; the Navy took three-quarters for its own many and varied purposes, and allocated the remainder to the Air Force. This was enough to expand the latter's strength to six squadrons at home, and a like number in the Mediterranean and Indian Oceans. In April the Chief of the Air Staff agreed to plan for a total of fourteen squadrons that year. The Navy attached great importance to the torpedo-bomber equipment of the sister service, because of its striking power against enemy surface forces.
To return to the basic conflict between strategic bombing and the needs of the maritime war, by May little had been done to allay the Admiralty's anxieties, and an appeal to the Cabinet to divert some of Bomber Command's aircraft to Coastal Command was being planned. On second thoughts, however, it was decided that, even if such an order was given, it was unlikely to produce the desired result unless it had the willing support of the sister service in general, and of the Air Staff in particular. Accordingly the appeal to the Cabinet was shelved, and a new attempt made to reach direct agreement. Discussions between Rear-Admiral E. J. P. Brind and Air Vice-Marshal J. C. Slessor (Assistant Chiefs of Naval and Air Staffs) therefore took place. They did not lead to any transfer of aircraft, but did produce agreement that a fixed number of sorties should be flown weekly by bombers against U-boats crossing the Bay of Biscay. The Admiralty accepted this half measure, though with reluctance.
In August papers reached the War Cabinet from the hands of the Commander-in-Chief, Bomber Command, and Lord Trenchard. They had not been considered by the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and represented only the views of the writers. The Prime Minister did not endorse the views expressed and indeed, when he circulated the
papers to his colleagues, he added a rider that, in his opinion, a good case was spoilt by overstatement. We, with many of the enemy's records in our possession, are able to see how near the mark the Prime Minister was. But to the Admiralty the optimistic results claimed, particularly from bombing U-boat yards and bases, were not borne out by the trend of the Atlantic battle; and Lord Trenchard's statement that 'the two-dimensional [air] operations in the Atlantic ... are purely defensive' and that 'the place to hit the submarines is where they are made and to mine the seas where they emerge, instead of only hunting them over the illimitable sea' read a little strangely. For the fact was that hardly any damage had as yet been done to U-boats by bombing raids, and their numbers at sea in the Atlantic were increasing rapidly9; moreover, all our experience since 1939 had shown that it was the sea and air convoy escorts which destroyed most U-boats, and it was chiefly for more of these that the Admiralty was pleading-not to hunt for U-boats 'over the illimitable sea'. The Naval Staff prepared a sober and moderate reply, which was used by the Chiefs of Staff when they placed their views before the Cabinet. At the meeting of the latter on the 12th of August Mr. S. M. Bruce, the 'accredited representative of the Government of the Commonwealth of Australia', said that he did not consider adequate data had been furnished by the Chiefs of Staff to enable the Cabinet to reach sound decisions on so difficult a matter. He said that he was disturbed to find that we were apparently working on the basis of providing the minimum air strength needed to secure our vital sea communications, and that he felt that a task of such paramount importance demanded a much higher priority. In particular he was profoundly disturbed by the lack of maritime air strength in the Indian Ocean, where the defence of Ceylon was now 'a matter of importance second only to that of the British Isles'. In general he felt that there had been' a lack of drive and determination' in meeting the urgent needs of the maritime war. He had placed a memorandum of his own before the Cabinet, but it must not be read 'as in any sense an attack on the policy of bombing Germany'. He did, however, consider that the urgent needs of the maritime war should be met, even at the cost of accepting some delay in building up the bombing offensive. The Cabinet therefore instructed the Chiefs of Staff to provide the full data which Mr. Bruce considered to have been so far lacking.
In his reply the Secretary of State for Air restated the agreed Allied policy that the defeat of Germany was the key to victory, and said that, in order to implement that decision, diversions to safeguard other vital interests must be kept to the minimum. Only a month earlier the Combined Chiefs of Staff had, he continued, recorded
their recommendation that, for the years 1942 and '43 'Allied air strength should continue to be built up in the United Kingdom to provide a constantly increasing intensity of air attack on Germany'. He also reminded the Cabinet of the many and varied ways in which Bomber Command had recently contributed and was still contributing to the war at sea by lending squadrons to Coastal Command, by bombing U-boat bases and building yards, by laying thousands of mines, and in other ways, too. His report was accepted by the Cabinet as evidence that in the circumstances then prevailing the best was being done with the aircraft available. It thus came to pass that no definite change of policy was ordered by the Cabinet; but the Prime Minister took action to obtain a shift of emphasis in the allocation of our air effort.
In the previous June and July Mr. Bruce had suggested that a small committee, composed of those best equipped with knowledge and experience, those responsible for policy and those capable of rapidly translating policy into action, was necessary to resolve the conflicting needs of the maritime war and the bombing offensive. At the Cabinet meeting on the 12th of August this suggestion was accepted, and the necessary measures, including the explanation of our purpose to the Americans, were put in hand. The fact that the Committee had Cabinet status enabled decisions to be quickly reached, and priorities firmly decided and enforced. On the 4th of November Mr. Churchill took the chair at the first meeting of the body, which was called the Cabinet Anti-U-boat Warfare Committee. His colleagues were the Ministers and Service chiefs most concerned in the maritime war, and a number of prominent scientists. Mr. Harriman and Admiral H. R. Stark, U.S.N., represented the United States. Mr. Churchill described the Committee's purpose as being 'to give the same impulse to anti-U-boat warfare as had been applied to the Battle of the Atlantic10 and night A/A defence'; its meetings were to be held weekly. At the first meeting the First Lord estimated that 243 U-boats were then operational and that production of new boats was running at the rate of twenty to thirty a month. Since the start of the war he considered that we had sunk or captured 159 and probably sunk 44 more.11 In other words, we were not destroying more than one-third of the monthly output of new U-boats. The first need was to fill the 'air gap' in mid-Atlantic12,
for which we required about forty long-range radar-fitted aircraft; the other need was for more and longer-range air patrols in the Bay of Biscay. The outstanding issues were thus at once placed in the foreground of the Committee's deliberations.
It must be emphasised that there was no disagreement between the Admiralty and the Air Ministry regarding the needs. What was difficult was to provide the V.L.R. aircraft quickly. The only British aircraft comparable to the American Liberator was the Lancaster, which had only just started to come off the production line, and was in every case fitted for land bombing. It was therefore plain that only by allocation of Liberators from the United States could the need be met quickly.
By the middle of October some improvement in the strength of Coastal Command could be shown. There were now forty-four squadrons, compared with thirty-nine twelve months previously. But the increase was really owed to loans from Bomber Command, which could at any time be recalled, and to the four squadrons of naval Swordfish lent by the Admiralty. There were still only two squadrons of Liberators-the most urgently needed aircraft of although two more were forming. Deliveries of this type under Lend-Lease had been very disappointing, because the Americans now claimed the lion's share for their own purposes-including the Pacific war.
At the third meeting of the Anti-U-boat Warfare Committee on The 18th of November, the Chief of the Air Staff made clear and definite proposals whereby the Admiralty's needs regarding air patrols in the Bay of Biscay would be met in the very near future. To cover the outer zone he proposed to transfer thirty Halifaxes to Coastal Command, while the Wellingtons already patrolling the inner zone would be re-equipped with more modern aircraft fitted with Leigh Lights13 and, gradually, with improved radar which the U-boats would be unable to detect. To mitigate the loss of strength to Bomber Command the Prime Minister agreed to ask the U.S.A. to release thirty Liberators, a request which the Americans fulfilled to the extent of two U.S. Army Air Force squadrons.
These measures satisfied, to a considerable extent, the needs which the Admiralty had been pressing since the previous March. One of the Assistant Chiefs of Naval Staff remarked to the First Sea Lord on returning to the Admiralty after this meeting that he had 'sensed the relief of the committee that agreement had been reached'. Doubtless that same sense of relief was felt, in even greater measure, by Admiral Pound himself. It may, therefore, be said that the 'Battle of the Air' of 1942 was closed by the meeting of the Anti-U-boat Committee on
the 18th of November. It will be told in a later chapter how the crisis in the Atlantic in the early spring of 1943 caused the same issues to be reopened.14 Meanwhile, Coastal Command remained an integral part of the R.A.F., and its part in the Atlantic struggle grew with the improvement of what the Chief of the Air Staff had aptly called 'the means to co-operate' with the Navy.
In conclusion it must be stressed that the divergent views described in this chapter were both sincerely held opinions regarding the best way of accomplishing the defeat of Germany. In Whitehall the matter was repeatedly and frankly argued in committee and on paper, but never in such a way as to indicate or arouse ill-feeling between the two services. In the Naval and Royal Air Force commands concerned with the day-to-day prosecution of the struggle, there was a deep and mutual sympathy with and understanding of each other's difficulties and problems; and the good sense of the officers and men of both services prevented the natural differences in their outlook affecting the conduct of operations.
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