Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Naval And Royal Air Force Cooperation 1942

House of Lords Debate 15th of April 1942

Volume 122 cc587-649

LORD WINSTER rose to direct attention to the question of co-operation between the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said:

"My Lords, in rising to move the Motion which stands in my name I should like to make it clear at once that I hope that nothing that I say will be regarded as in any way attempting to raise contentious matters between the Services concerned.

I have noticed a tendency in certain quarters to suggest that, whenever one tries to raise such matters as we shall be debating this afternoon, the danger exists of arousing contention between the various Services.

Nothing could be further from my intention, and I believe, from everything that I hear, that no such feelings exist in the Services themselves.

Those Services are working between themselves in the happiest possible spirit; in the words used by the noble Earl, Lord Cork and Orrery, in a
recent debate in your Lordships' House, and which are almost the words of the Athanasian Creed, there are in fact not three Fighting Services but one Fighting Service.

That is the spirit in which the Services are operating to-day; and although, of course, each Service will always have its little jokes at the expense of the other Services, yet behind that there is a great spirit of mutual respect and admiration between them.

I am glad to think that this debate may give us the advantage of hearing a contribution from the noble and gallant Viscount, Lord Trenchard.

I understand that the noble Viscount has repudiated those who have credited him with holding the view that the principle of war—that is, the overcoming of the Armed Forces of the enemy—does not apply to the Royal Air Force, because the Royal Air Force is able to strike directly at the will of the enemy.

Many held that to be a most dangerous theory, and I may say that I think immense harm can be done when a man of great status and prestige happens to be backing a theory which is wrong, because in such a case the measure of the man's reputation is the measure of the harm which he can do.

Napoleon said that he feared the man of one idea.

Well, I think we all do, especially when the idea happens to be a wrong idea.

I do not know if anyone now can be found to endorse what has been recently described as a most pernicious doctrine—namely, that wars can be won by aircraft alone.

I think that is a pernicious doctrine, although it seems to have received some measure of endorsement in a publication called Bomber Command, issued under the auspices of the Air Ministry.

And then again, there is the theory of the possibility of obliteration by bombers of German industries.

That also I think is wearing rather thin, and has recently been described as a task which is impossible of achievement.

I mention these matters as a preamble to what I am going to say because I wish to emphasize that I do not think that any such royal road to victory exists, and that air power alone cannot achieve a quick decision against a strong enemy.

To deal with the question of co-operation between the Navy and the Air I must give a brief account of the genesis of the matter.

I feel that the Navy has, to a very large extent, been the victim of the theory of an Independent Air Force, and in my view naval aviation was wrecked on that theory and remained a disembodied spirit until 1937.

Photo: Mr. S.A.Devon Royal Air Force official photographer

In that year the Navy obtained control of the Fleet Air Arm, that is to say, it gained control of ship-borne aircraft, but it did not control our flying boats or our shore-based aircraft engaged in naval operations.

That was in 1937.

It meant for all practical purposes that the Navy only obtained control of the Fleet Air Arm immediately before the war broke out, and it was therefore confronted with immense difficulties—difficulties in particular which included the fact of an enormous expansion of personnel, which means that the Naval Air Staff has always been starved and at a disadvantage.

The Air Force has always had many more Staff officers employed than the Naval Air Staff has had at its disposal.

If I mention these difficulties against which the Fleet Air Arm has had to struggle, I would like in one short sentence to pay a tribute to the present Fifth Sea Lord, Admiral Lyster, and to say that, from everything which I have heard, the Fleet Air Arm feels the most immense confidence in him as a man to whom all idea of intrigues or back-scratching is entirely abhorrent.

Photo: Steve Cadman

The Fleet Air Arm knows that the Fifth Sea Lord at the Admiralty, where the Fleet Air Arm has not always enjoyed the support which it should have from officers of an older generation not completely in sympathy with the air-mindedness of the present generation, will do everything that a man can do to secure for it the machines and the equipment which it should have.

When I mention machines and equipment, let me say that in those days when the Navy was dependent upon the Fleet Air Arm for its aircraft and equipment there often was great reason to complain.

Design alone was very often extremely unsatisfactory.

The Fleet Air Arm had to put up with machines which were designed primarily for the Royal Air Force and modified for the Fleet Air Arm.

In those days five or six years might elapse between demand for and the supply of equipment.

Training was very unsatisfactory.

In those days the Admiralty had no control over training or over design or over materials.

After 1937 the Admiralty still had no effective control over design or supply, and the fruits of these eras are still with us to-day.

Our Fleet Air Arm is still struggling with semi-obsolete machines and with too few machines.
Let me take the question of too few machines.

Your Lordships may or may not have noticed an article which appeared last October from the naval and military correspondent of the New York Herald-Tribune.

He there alleged that at Matapan the aircraft carrier "Formidable" had twenty-seven aircraft instead of seventy, which is her complement, and that the "Illustrious," in that gallant action at Taranto, had to borrow eight torpedo bombers from the "Eagle" in order to make up a striking force of twenty-one.

He also said, in regard to the search for the "Bismarck," that the "Victorious" had on board nine Scout bombers and six fighters instead of her complement of seventy, and that the "Ark Royal" had twenty bombers and nine fighters instead of her complement of sixty.

Of course, I cannot vouch for these figures—I merely quote them—but if these figures which have been published in America are not correct, it is very important that some, I will not say denial, but some correction should be published.

Let me say that I quite appreciate the difficulty of publishing exact and effective figures on this matter.

It might not be proper or safe or wise to do so, but it would be very interesting to your Lordships to have some comment on these figures which have been published in America.

If any comment is made, I hope it will not be merely in the nature of a broad statement that the figures are inaccurate.

If this correspondent said that the "Formidable" had twenty-seven aircraft instead of seventy, whereas in fact she had twenty-eight instead of seventy, it would be quite possible for the Government to say that his figures are inaccurate.

If the figures are indeed inaccurate, I hope we shall have some substantial contradiction of these statements.

Again dealing with this question of too few machines, the Norwegian campaign is a long time back now, but in these events in Norway there were no long-range flying boats available for reconnaissance or for action against newly-landed and vulnerable enemy troops, and many of the aircraft operated from carriers in the Norwegian campaign were out of date.

It might interest your Lordships if I quote some comments from officers in the Fleet Air Arm bearing upon the points I have just raised of the inadequacy and the out-of-date nature of the aircraft with which the Fleet Air Arm is called upon to operate.

Here is an extract from a letter from an officer of the Fleet Air Arm written after the campaign in Greece.

He says: There is certainly plenty of excitement—fifteen hours a day on duty, and nearly half that in the air, with some fairly alarming contacts with Hitler's first-line squadrons and we, in rather ancient and battered aircraft, heavily outnumbered. 

Photo: Unknown photographer

Here is another comment from a flying officer who took part in that convoy action in which the "Illustrious" and the "Southampton" were involved: The story could have been very different if there had been machines in the air which could climb.

The last message sent out on the R.T. before things started' to happen was 'For heaven's sake climb.' 

It was not much use to reply, 'Not possible except very slowly,' with the result that the bombing run was more or less undisturbed except for antiaircraft fire

Photo: Lt. L.C.Priest Royal Navy official photographer

On the general issue of the obsolete nature of the machines, here is an extract from another letter: Compare the Fleet Air Arm pilot in a Skua with an R.A.F. pilot in a Spitfire.

The Fleet Air Arm pilot has only his own morale to support him, as he knows that he is inferior in every other way as a fighter.

Photo: G.Woodbine Royal Air Force official photographer

The Spitfire pilot knows he has the very best. 

The whole thing is summed up in this comment: The Fleet Air Arm has not had parity of priority with the Royal Air Force, although it has had to bomb Air Force targets unsuitable for the Fleet Air Arm.

Photo: Lt. H.W.Tomlin

To turn from that to the question of how far the Navy should have control of certain aircraft, there was a time when the Prime Minister, in discussing this matter, used to use a rather cumbrous phrase about the Navy having what he called "integrity of operational control of its aircraft." 

In my view that is what is wanted to-day in respect of all the aircraft which operate with or against ships.

That is the simple proposition upon which I base my remarks—namely, that the Navy should have control of all aircraft which operate with or against ships.

That operational control must in my opinion carry with it control of design, of equipment, of training and of disposition.

In regard to disposition may I make this remark?

Photo: Lt. H.J.Abrahams

We have all been saddened by the loss of certain ships in the Far East, and so far as the question of air cover is concerned I would ask this question.

Did the Air Ministry allocate as much out of what was available as the Admiralty would have allocated had the Admiralty had power to give an order instead of having to ask?
That, I believe, is the crux of the matter.

There is such a world of difference in these matters between having the power to give an order for what you want and having to ask for what you want.

I think the proposition which I have advanced, that the Navy should have full control of all aircraft which operate with or against ships, is reasonable, because aircraft operating with or against ships should be regarded as ships themselves.

They may have been lifted out of the water into the air, but it is all the same thing; they should all be regarded as ships, and to draw a distinction in regard to such operations between shore-based aircraft and ship-borne aircraft is misleading.

As regards sea operations, in course of execution they are all one, and the Navy should, in my opinion, have full control of them.

Air power is not likely ever to supplant sea power.

It is essential to sea power, it is an indispensable element of success in many types of naval operation, but when working with a naval force or an army force an air force, however indispensable, can never be more than an auxiliary, and on this account alone the more knowledge which an airman who has to escort ships has of the inwardness of what he sees below him, the more he will appreciate the needs and the difficulties of the ships which he is escorting.

Observation at sea is an extremely tricky business.

What appears very simple in reality requires years of training, and only those years of training enable a man to assess rapidly and accurately what he sees going on below him.

Some noble Lords present to-day will agree with me when I say that even very highly trained naval officers after years of experience make mistakes during Fleet exercises.

During manœuvres or in action even highly-trained naval officers make mistakes about what they observe at sea.

I do not want to refer to personal matters, but on one occasion I myself happened to fire upon a porpoise.

These mistakes are very easily made, for observation at sea is an extremely tricky business.

On that account alone, in my opinion, naval aviation must be in every way a part of the Navy, and ships and aircraft engaged in a naval operation must be members one of another and not accessories of each other.

Almost every sea or land operation requires air action, out the fact remains that the decision will always be reached on the surface.

The decision will be reached on the sea or on land, it will not be reached in the air.

The Commander on sea or land should, therefore, control the Air Force, and the air forces must be trained to understand the technique of the sea and of land forces so that they can do what is wanted even if, as may happen on certain occasions, there is no means of telling them what is wanted.

They must have the training which enables them to do what is wanted in the absence of specific orders.

It is a matter of training.

War at sea requires all concerned to give their full time to what is involved.

Men employed in aircraft operations over the sea should have a long and specialized knowledge of the sea, and only if such aircraft are under naval control can the personnel involved be given adequate training.

That leads me to the question of cooperation.

I think in this regard "co-operation" is a bad word.

I prefer a word which has been used by Admiral Richmond, who is a great authority on these matters.

Admiral Richmond said he would prefer the word "integration" to that of "co-operation." 
Integration between the Navy and the Air Force is what is required.

Well, co-operation is a very blessed word, but it takes two to co-operate.

Co-operation may mean one party meets the other party's needs, or it may mean docile acceptance by one party of non-co-operation on the part of the other party.

I believe that co-operation in the Mediterranean between the Fleet Air Arm and the Air Force has been fairly good.

The Air Force has attacked naval objectives, and the Fleet Air Arm has attacked military and air objectives.

Whichever Service could best attack a given target has done so, and that seems to be the right idea; but I confess I would like to hear more about this co-operation in the Mediterranean.

Things have worked, but have they worked as well as they might?

I ask this because I have seen a very striking criticism of this co-operation in the Mediterranean.

Photo: Lt.S.J.Beadel,Royal Navy

That criticism speaks of faulty reconnaissance and reporting by the Royal Air Force, and, in particular, says that Admiral Somerville's indecisive action off Sardinia might have been turned into a very decisive victory but for these faults.

I have referred to that convoy action in which the "Southampton" and the "Illustrious" were concerned.

Photo: Unknown photographer

I notice that General Wavell's push in Libya was prepared for by attacking the enemy's air base.

I read of no such preparation for this convoy action in which the "Illustrious" was involved, but I did notice that after that action the Air Force bombed Sicilian aerodromes, and they claim to have put thirty aircraft out of action.

But they did that after the action, and the question naturally arises, why did they not do it before the action? which might have greatly facilitated the proceedings. 

Photo: Unknown Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service photographer 

Then, in regard to the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," the Prime Minister, in his statement on that subject, said Admiral Phillips took steps for fighter protection up to the limit of the range of the short-range fighters available, but he went on to say that only after he left harbour was the Admiral informed that fighter protection could not be provided in the area in which he intended to operate.

Photo: George Charles Beresford 1 May 1918

It all seems to me to lend great point to recent remarks of Admiral Drax in which he said: If the public want the truth let them ask the large numbers of officers and men who have suffered from a measure of air co-operation not as effective as it might have been.

Indeed, my Lords, I think that we might hear a little more of this question of cooperation between the Navy and the Air Force.

I turn for a moment to the question of Coastal Command.

Again I think that is a bad phrase.

It induces confusion of thought because to protect our coasts and to protect the trade off our coasts are quite different jobs.

Fighter Command protects our coasts; Coastal Command defends the waters off our coasts.

I think that the term Coastal Command is misleading and a bad one.

Coastal Command was entirely under the Air Force at the outbreak of war.

The Admiralty were directly responsible for protecting the shipping off our shores.

We ought never to have entered into this war under such a ludicrous system which had the most unfortunate results and of which Admiral Drax recently wrote that it was "an error which came near to costing us the war."

Even now Coastal Command is a matter of compromise.

The Admiralty only exercise operational control.

What are the working arrangements between Coastal Command and the Royal Air Force, especially as regards reconnaissance and fighter patrols?

I should like to ask in particular whether Coastal Command was strong enough to carry out such constant and effective reconnaissance of Brest as to ensure that the slightest movement of any ships in Brest was noted.

If they were not strong enough, was any assistance available from the Royal Air Force?

If sufficient aircraft were available and if the co-operation between Coastal Command and the Royal Air Force is satisfactory, then one can only say that the escape of the German ships from Brest is most alarming.

I do not know if it is suggested that the operational handling of Coastal Command by the Navy was faulty.

In Norway, again, Coastal Command, not having trained personnel, did not know what to look for or the meaning of what they saw, and they failed to report German naval movements accurately.

We look at the story of the Western Approaches.

Before Coastal Command was put under the Navy the results were very unhappy.

I have seen them described as preposterous.

As I have mentioned the matter of the German ships at Brest I would like to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, who I understand is going to reply to this debate, if his attention has been called to a passage in the publication Bomber Command, which I understand has been published by the Ministry of Information under the auspices of the Air Ministry.

Photo: Unknown photographer 

The passage to which I refer is this: There is very little doubt that by keeping the 'Scharnhörst' and 'Gneisenau' in port Bomber Command compelled the German Admiralty to send out the 'Bismarck' in a desperate attempt to regain the initiative which it was rapidly losing.

The sinking of that great ship is thus indirectly, but none the less surely, due to the part played by our bombers. 

Photo: Unknown Royal Navy official photographer

I should be very interested to hear from the noble Lord if the Air Ministry support that statement made in Bomber Command, because if so, I can only suggest that he tells it to the Marines and I advise him not to try to tell it to the mariners.

I would like to say a word also about the inquiry into the escape of those ships.

The terms of reference in that inquiry were obviously designed to dodge the main issue which was in question.

Three assessors were appointed to inquire into this matter.

They have issued their Report and, like the three monkeys, they have reported that they "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil." 

That is the gist of their Report.

The Dominions Secretary in another place was questioned about that Report.

He replied that there is nothing of real importance revealed by it and that there is nothing worth troubling anybody about.

If that is true, if nothing of real importance has been received from that Report, then the only thing that we can deduce is that German capital ships are at perfect liberty to promenade the Channel whenever they feel they would like a little fresh air.

When I read such statements as that I can only say that I really wish this Government might be put on points rations in regard to whitewash.

The real issue in this inquiry is whether the Navy or the Royal Air Force had the right weapons available.

In the case of the "Prince of Wales" and the "Repulse," the right weapon to use against them was the torpedo bomber.

Photo: Unknown Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service photographer

The Japanese had the weapon available and they employed it and the ships were sunk. In the case of the "Dorsetshire," the "Cornwall" and the "Hermes," the right weapon to employ was the dive bomber.

The Japanese had the dive bomber available and again the ships were sunk.

In the case of these German ships going up the Channel, the question is whether we had the right weapon to employ against them.

Undoubtedly we had not the right weapon to employ against them.

Photo: Unknown German official photographer

As I have mentioned this question of weapons, let me refer to the question of dive bombers and ask when our Air Arm is to be supplied with dive bombers.

Bombing in the horizontal plane has been proved demonstrably ineffective.

The dive bomber is 30 or 40 per cent. more accurate.

Experience everywhere at sea—in the North Sea, the Channel, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean—has proved the value of the dive bombers.

I am not going to quote figures of ships sunk because I do not know whether they have been published, and I want to say nothing about what may not be published, but the deadliness of the dive bomber has been proved by experience over years and in instance after instance.

Yet we are to gather from reported speeches by authorities at the Air Ministry, that there is still a conflict of opinion at the Air Ministry as regards the efficacy of the dive bomber.

One authority says the dive bomber is "obsolete" and another authority says, on the contrary, that "we are exercising all the pressure we can to hasten their delivery from America."

 What is the position of the Fleet Air Arm regarding the dive bomber?

Is the Fleet Air Arm to be supplied with this weapon or is it not?

As compared with aircraft capital ships move and turn slowly.

Therefore the air-borne torpedo is a very formidable weapon when employed against capital ships.

Photo: Lt. S.J.Beadell Royal Navy official photographer

When the torpedo bomber is employed against our ships the ships are sunk, but when we employ aircraft against the enemy the ships are merely winged and proceed quite comfortably to their destination.

A great many of the points I have endeavoured to raise are really points connected with another subject which I ventured to mention upon previous occasions when addressing your Lordships' House.

The interesting comparison is with the Wehrmacht.

I have been trying to get all the information I can upon that subject and what I find is that in Germany all agencies for attaining victory are co-ordinated into a High Command under a General.

That General at one time, I believe, was General Keitel.

I do not know whether it is General Keitel at this moment.

This General is a member of the War Council, and he is assisted by a Combined General Staff which coordinates the work of the heads of the three Services each of which has its own Staff.

For any given operation this Combined General Staff selects the best man regardless of the Service to which he belongs and regardless of his seniority.

Experience, ability and efficiency are the only qualifications.

This man in turn selects his own Staff and draws up his own plans.

In such plans, or in such an operation the Air Force will not operate as an independent Force, but in co-ordination with the other Forces, because it is considered by the Germans that independence would impede and not assist the success of the operation.

So that we see that while Germany has a separate Air Force it is a co-ordinated Air Force, it is co-ordinated into the Wehrmacht.

In addition to independent operation the German Air Force has two main missions; co-operation with the U-boats in their attacks upon our shipping and cooperation with the Army.

Now the important point to my mind is this, that a co-operatively trained Air Force, as is the case in Germany, can also act independently; but the converse is not true: an independently trained Air Force is not able to act co-operatively.

We had very little co-operative training before the war, and in consequence during the war improvisation is the order of the day, often with the most unfortunate results.

Whereas in any given operation Germany enjoys co-ordination and control we rely upon co-operation and agreement.

The German system of co-ordination and control results in decision.

Our system of co-operation and agreement results in divided responsibility, in compromise and in half measures.

Crete is a classic example of that.

It is a classic instance of our divided responsibility.

Crete was a defeat for which the responsibility can be assigned to no particular individual, because divided responsibility allows of excuses for everything and allows for the covering up of every mistake.

This system of divided responsibility is simply the Civil Service system introduced into the conduct of the war so that responsibility can be fixed on no individual at all.

Photo: Major Geoffrey Keating (Photographer) No. 1 Army Film Photographic Unit

Compare General Wavell's operations between Sidi Barrani and Benghazi; in that case all Air Forces were put under the control of a General and the result was a success.

In Crete the operations were not put under the control of one authority and the result was a most disastrous defeat.

If I may emphasize the advantages of the co-ordination and control enjoyed by the Germans as compared with our system of co-operation and agreement, I think the matter has been admirably summed up in a letter which Admiral Drax, whom I have quoted before, wrote to The Times this year.

He wrote that he wanted "every strategical move and every tac-tical encounter" planned as a combined operation.

And he went on: In my own wide experience of working with the Royal Air Force I have only found it necessary to state one's case with logical reasons in support of it. 

As soon as the arguments are seen to be sound and incontrovertible the Royal Air Force ceases to be independent and real co-operation begins. 

That sounds very well. 

But war goes on at three hundred miles per hour.

Time is the essence of the bargain, and it is essential to shorten the chain of command by cutting out every link that one possibly can.

Admiral Drax states that he has only found it necessary to state one's case with logical reasons in order to secure support.

I remember that at one time in regard to the Naval Staff the great word was "mobility' and lectures and articles and so on all contained this word.

A caricature was published depicting an Admiral marching up and down the bridge of his ship with shoulders hunched, cap down over his eyes, and saying to himself: "Am I mobile, am I mobile?" 

Apparently we have got to add to that picture.

An Admiral at a time of great crisis has got to get into his motor car and drive off to see the Air Command saying to himself "Am I logical?" because unless he is logical there will be no help forthcoming and his ships will be sunk.

That, I think, illustrates very clearly what I have been endeavouring to impress upon your Lordships.

Photo: Unknown photographer

In conclusion, may I say that I know it will be useless to ask the noble Lord, Lord Sherwood, who is going to reply, to enlarge upon this question of co-operation between the Air Force and the Admiralty?

These are great secrets.

I would no more expect the noble Lord to reveal details of this matter than I would expect a man and a girl found in an embarrassing situation to produce their marriage lines.

I think that, of course, the noble Lord will say that everything is perfect as between the Air Ministry and the Admiralty, that nothing could be more perfect than the relations which exist between these two Departments.

He will say that it is a marriage of twin souls, and the public can only regret that the fruits of this marriage are so frequently miscarriages. 

I would ask the noble Lord if he would be kind enough to deal with the axiom that I ventured to put forward that all aircraft engaged with or against ships should be under the control of the Navy.

I would ask him if he can tell your Lordships anything as to when the Fleet Air Arm will be equipped with the proper machines and the proper equipment to carry out the hazardous and dreadful duties which they are ordered to perform from time to time, and, in particular, if it is possible for him to say something on the question of the provision of dive bombers for the Fleet Air Arm.

I beg to move."

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