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21 Note by Bruce

[LONDON], 12 August 1942


The Chiefs of Staff paper with regard to the provision of aircraft for the war at sea, W.P. (42) 302 [1], and my paper W.P. (42) 326 [2], were considered by the War Cabinet.

Attlee first asked the Chiefs of Staff for any comments they wanted to make and Pound spoke on their behalf Pound started by pointing out that at the beginning of the war Coastal Command had had very few planes but these had been progressively expanded. He gave some figures, like go planes at the beginning of the war and over 600 now. He said progressively, however, the commitments with regard to our sea routes had increased to the point where the Admiralty had to ask the Air Force for additional help.

He expressed his agreement with the proposal of a loan from Bomber Command and indicated that he thought it was a good arrangement.

He then referred to paragraph 19 of the Memorandum and said that the Navy was in complete accord with this paragraph. (This is the paragraph which deals with the question of engineering aircraft to make them effective for use over the sea as well as over land.) Pound then referred to an agreement that had been arrived at between Portal and himself with regard to the Mediterranean but gave no details as to when the agreement had been arrived at, or what the extent of it was.

He next referred to-Japan's entry into the war in December 1941 and said that following on that the Admiralty in February 1942 had to ask for additional help in the Indian Ocean and the Bay of Biscay.

He said that in March the Admiralty's general requirements were the same as those set out in the table annexed to the Chiefs of Staff report. He, however, did not say that any agreement to take action had been arrived at in March.

He then said that the Cabinet had asked the Chiefs of Staff to further consider this question in June; that they had done so and that the result had been the Chiefs of Staff report now before the Cabinet.

Pound expressed his concurrence with the Chiefs of Staff report and said that they had had to take into account the increases coming to Coastal Command and the time that it took to convert machines for operation over the sea and to equip and train the Squadrons.

At the conclusion of his remarks he stressed that priority (b) only laid down the provision of the minimum allocation. He finished by referring to the number of Squadrons of long range aircraft that would be in the Indian Ocean by the end of the year.

As he picked this theatre out for special reference it almost suggested that he had some qualms with regard to what was being provided.

When Pound had finished Attlee asked me if I had anything I wished to say. I replied that I had made my views, I hoped, quite clear in the Memorandum I had submitted to the War Cabinet. I said, however, that there were perhaps one or two observations I should make with regard to the First Lord's statement. I said that he had stressed the word 'minimum' in (b). I was doubtful whether the word should be 'minimum' and certainly in view of the serious position we were now faced with minimum should certainly be interpreted in a very liberal sense.

I then pointed out that under the Chiefs of Staff proposals this minimum would not be reached for many months and in regard to some theatres there was no evidence that it would ever be reached.

I then urged that it was imperative that we should deal with this question of the security of our sea routes in the light of the position as it was at the moment. I pointed out, however, that that position might seriously deteriorate by further reverses in Russia and the Middle East. If it did the United Kingdom would be regarded as a bastion outpost and we would go into something like a flat spin with regard to preserving its sea communications.

Surely it was better to deal with the question now rather than wait for that atmosphere to arrive.

I next referred to the First Lord's statement that [sic] as to the long range aircraft that would be in the Indian Ocean by the end of the year and said quite flatly that we had all the warning as to the necessity of this when Japan came into the war and the 'Prince of Wales' disaster occurred, even if we had not seen the necessity before.

My point was that the long range aircraft should be in the Indian Ocean now as we had had ample time to have made the necessary preparations. I said I did not want to go over all the Admiral had said but I did want to stress that we had not sufficient information. I emphasised that my whole point was to get that information so that we could come to a balanced judgment and I referred to paragraphs 10 and 13 of my Memorandum.

As to the information we wanted I indicated- (a) The effect on our air offensive against Germany which [sic] any steps we decided to take to protect the security of our sea communications. I made it very clear that I was not opposed to the bombing of Germany, but I thought it was a question of timing. I also stressed that I thought the effect of any action we might decide to take upon the bombing of Germany was being exaggerated and I referred to paragraphs 11 and 12 of my Memorandum.

(b) The actual position with regard to the possibility of making available long range bomber aircraft for work over the sea.

I instanced paragraph 19 of the Chiefs of Staff report and said that while this paragraph presented a comforting picture I had grave doubts whether all that could be done was being done and further it was necessary we should know when the first steps were taken.

(c) What was the position with regard to Aerodromes, with adequate run-ways, at vital points and the position with regard to equipment, bombs etc. and ground personnel at these points.

I said that these were only examples of the sort of thing we should know, but, summarised, what I was asking for was a complete picture so that we could come to a considered judgment.

A general discussion then developed from which it was obvious that the consensus of opinion of the whole Cabinet, with the exception of Archie Sinclair, who went on bleating about the bombing of Germany, was that we had not sufficient information and that it should be provided.

Attlee, Cripps and Anderson were all very emphatic as to how illogical, in the light of their own priorities, the Chiefs of Staff report was.

Alexander was far too defensive of the Chiefs of Staff Memorandum in his attitude and did not fight nearly hard enough for what should be the Admiralty point of view.

The upshot of the discussion was that further information is to be produced and was summarised in the War Cabinet record as follows:-

'The War Cabinet Asked that a statement should be prepared showing- (a) The target figures and present strength of our air forces (together with those of our allies) in the theatres covered by the Annex to W.P. (42) 302, both on a functional and geographical basis.

(b) The present policy governing the allocation of resources as they became available.

(c) To what extent the aircraft at present devoted to "The offensive both direct and in support of land operations" were capable of being diverted to "The Fighter defence of the United Kingdom", or to "Securing our vital communications and interrupting those of the enemy".

(d) What steps have been taken to ensure that aircraft now in production are being equipped with the necessary fittings to enable them to operate as effectively as possible over the sea or in tropical climates.

(Thus to what types of aircraft, and to what proportion of our production, is this practice now application [sic], and what has been done to ensure that this policy is made effective over as wide a field as possible, with the minimum delay.)'

1 See Document 5, note 1.

2 See Document 13, note 1.

[AA:M100, AUGUST 1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013

Category: International relations

Topic: History