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25 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Pound

[LONDON], 16 August 1942

Pound came and dined with me-we had about 2 hours talk after dinner.

I told him at the start of our talk that I wanted to go over the question of the Air against the Sea because I was anything but happy at the way in which the matter was developing.

Pound then proceeded to tell me the story of what had happened very much down the lines of what he said in the Cabinet [1] when presenting the Chiefs of Staff views upon my paper. [2] The real conclusion to be drawn from what Pound said was that his mind was running down the lines that it is frightfully difficult to get anything out of the Air Ministry but the position had slightly improved over the last two months, and the Air Ministry was becoming slightly more reasonable and the relations between the Admiralty and Air Ministry were improving.

In the light of this Pound's attitude seems to be that they should be thankful for small mercies and accept what the Air Ministry was prepared to let them have. This attitude I challenged very strongly and urged on Pound that the situation with regard to our sea communications was so serious that it did not seem to be a matter of gradually improving the position but that the Admiralty should insist upon what they believed was vital and be prepared to fight to the last ditch for it. I then tried very hard to stir Pound out of this attitude and bring home to him the great responsibility that rested upon his shoulders.

I stressed to him that I was not arguing in the least for the abandonment or material reduction of the Bomber offensive against Germany-what I was arguing for was that the Bomber offensive against Germany and the ensuring of our vital sea communications had got to be kept in proper perspective. If the Air Ministry were prepared to play on that basis I was entirely in favour of avoiding rows and creating a tense situation. On the other hand, however, so vital did I consider the question of the protection of our sea communications and so dangerous did I think was the situation that had developed, that if the Air Ministry were not prepared to play on a reasonable basis then it seemed to me there had got to be an all-in fight even to the point of the elimination of those at present responsible for the policy of the Air Ministry.

I put it to Pound that was it not possible to induce the Air Ministry to take a more reasonable view. On this Pound was not very optimistic as he referred to Portal's article in to-day's Sunday press, with special reference to his statement that the bombing of Germany would so destroy the industrial machine as to render it unable to provide for the needs of the fighting forces and the people of Germany.

I said that while that might be the position we could hope for at some point in the future, it was an impossible attitude to adopt in respect to the next few months.

We then had a fairly long discussion on the part which the bombing of Germany should play in the eventual defeat of the Axis powers.

This was down the lines of a progressive increase in our bombing offensive up to the maximum point with the proviso that delay in reaching the maximum point had to be faced if it were necessary to delay in order to provide for our vital Air against the Sea requirements.

This part of our talk was very exhaustive and very protracted but eventually I asked Pound what he saw as the next move. On this Pound clearly had nothing in mind and made the somewhat astounding statement that he was not clear what had been the upshot of the Cabinet discussion as he and the other Chiefs of Staff had to leave the meeting before any conclusion was reached, in order to attend a Conference with the Americans.

I asked him if Alexander had not told him and he said that the First Lord had not made it at all clear to him what the final decision was.

I told him that the result of the Cabinet discussion had been that the order of priority laid down in the Chiefs of Staff paper had been approved and that the War Cabinet had instructed that a new statement should be prepared showing with all the relevant information- (a) when and how the Navy's essential requirements could be met if treated on the basis of giving to such requirements an absolute priority and (b) the effect of (a) on other operations, e.g. the bombing of Germany.

I stressed to Pound that what the War Cabinet required was the fullest information as to the present and prospective position with regard to our Air resources. The statement asked for was designed to provide this information and in the light of it the War Cabinet could then come to a decision with a full knowledge of what the effect of that decision would be.

None of this appeared to register as it should have with Pound and the conclusion I arrived at, as the result of our conversation, was that Pound has not the necessary force and drive to ensure that the vital requirements of the Navy for co-operation from the Air will be provided.

On the whole the conversation was distinctly depressing and if what is vital to be done is going to be accomplished it will be necessary for Pound to go.

One point that seems to me [? to indicate] that the present situation is all wrong is that from my conversation with Pound it was quite clear he and the other Chiefs of Staff did not have before them the picture with regard to the Air in the detail necessary for them to arrive at the decisions embodied in their report to the Cabinet.

S. M. B.

1 See Document 21.

2 Document 13.

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

Category: International relations

Topic: History