a Canadian was appointed to the position of Minister for Aircraft Production
on May 14th 1940 after Churchill became Prime Minister and announced his
new War Cabinet. Beaverbrook was an indignant, self opinionated and often
ruthless man that had been given a peerage during the First World War period
by the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Churchill thought him the
ideal man for the task and the Air Ministry at the time thought that Beaverbrook
would control the production of the aircraft that they wanted.
Ministry, that controlled both Fighter and Bomber Commands were furious
when they found out that Beaverbrook had great tendencies to lean towards
the thoughts of AVM Hugh Dowding that the present situation in 1940 was
that fighter production for the purpose of the defence of Britain was far
more important at that stage than the manufacture of bombers which were
regarded as attack aircraft. The vision of Lord Beaverbrook was that the
strength of the Royal Air Force lay in fighter production, and that by
building a superb defence force it would allow manufacture of bombers to
continue at its own pace where they can be used at a later date to their
the war, 'shadow factories' had been created, under the direction of big
industrialists such as Lord Nuffield, in readiness to build aircraft when
hostilities began. But by the summer of 1940 when Beaverbrook took up his
post, the vital Spitfire 'shadow factory' at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham,
had yet to produce a single aircraft.
used his powers on both sides of the Atlantic to assist in the aircraft
production in Britain. He approached automotive tycoon Henry Ford to assist
by building Rolls Royce Merlin engines under licence, but Mr Ford stated
that it was not the policy of the United States to become involved in the
war in Europe at this time and refused to support the British war effort
saying that Britain had enough automotive manufacturers to construct "the
damn engines themselves". After this, Beaverbrook became even more determined
and made the approach to the Packard Organization in which after lengthy
discussions, and the promise of enough money to enlarge the Packard factory,
the deal; was signed and America began to built the Rolls Royce Merlin
telephoned Vickers-Supermarine, manufacturers of the Spitfire, and told
them to take over Castle Bromwich from the Nuffield Organization, which
had been running it, and to forget about the Air Ministry's orders that
Castle Bromwich must also tool up for Wellington and Halifax bombers.
Deighton Battle of Britain Jonathon Cape 1980 p164
were already being manufactured in Canada, and some in the U.S, and these
were being shipped across the Atlantic by the Merchant Navy and the process
was slow, and sometimes dangerous because of the U-boat activity. Beaverbrook
approached the Air Ministry and proposed to them that the aircraft should
be built across the Atlantic and finished to flying condition, then ferried
across to Britain where they could be finally fitted out. The Air Ministry
objected stating that it was impractical and absurd. Beaverbrook went ahead
with the decision anyway without the War Cabinets approval and the Atlantic
ferry system came into being. Up until March 1941, 160 aircraft had been
ferried across the Atlantic with only one aircraft lost. A remarkable feat.
heard of Beaverbrook's actions, and required an explanation as to why he
had organized the deal with Packard and the ferry system without the authority
of the cabinet, Beaverbrook explained the advantages of aircraft and engines
being built outside of Britain. It would relieve many men to do other duties,
and it would slow production should manufacturing establishments were damaged
by air attacks. Regards the ferrying of aircraft across the Atlantic, it
would put an aircraft into the air much quicker than if Britain had to
wait the lengthy amount of time it took to cross the ocean, then have to
assemble the aircraft here in Britain. Churchill listened and afterwards
gave his stamp of approval and all was secured, but emphasized that "we
must not upset those at the Air Ministry."
for the construction of aircraft was another of Beaverbrook's concerns.
He thought up the idea of getting public participation, not only for the
purpose of gathering as much aluminium as possible, but if we (the government)
could involve the general public that by donating all the old aluminium
saucepans, pots and pans and any other utensil that was made of aluminium,
it would impress upon the people that they were 'doing their bit' and should
if nothing else, boost public morale. So, the slogan "Saucepans to Spitfires"
programme was started and it was a public relations programme that became
an inspiration to all.
the Battle of Britain, Beaverbrook maintained that fighter production should
still be the top priority. He had a very good relationship with both Dowding
and Park and it seemed that whatever decision he made, approval was given
by Churchill. Beaverbrook and Dowding had one thing in common, that was
the fact that both had sons who were pilots with Fighter Command. Max Aitken
was a Squadron Leader with 601 Squadron while the C-in-C's son was a Pilot
Officer with 74 Squadron. Beaverbrook often contacted Group HQ to gain
news of any combat action as any father would do under the circumstances.
after the crisis at Munich, Britain introduced the Civilian Repair Organisation
or CRO as it became known. Lord Nuffield was placed in charge. The task
was that in the event of war workshops had to be organized to accommodate
and repair damaged aircraft. Methods of retrieval had to be organized and
storage areas where spare parts from destroyed aircraft could be systematically
stored and despatched whenever needed. When Churchill appointed Beaverbrook
to his ministerial position, he transferred the CRO to Beaverbrook's authority.
Again, a war of words developed between the Air Ministry and Lord Beaverbrook.
The Air Ministry claiming that all aircraft in storage units were their
responsibility and should be under their control. Beaverbrook argued the
point that he was the minister responsible for the allocation of aircraft,
and that they would be placed where they would be most needed.
then sent some of his men to padlock all the hangars that contained aircraft
in storage and those that contained important and essential spare parts,
and enthused by what he had done sent a message to the Air Ministry stating
that he was going to store fighter aircraft in Winchester Cathedral !!
'low loaders' were built to carry damaged aircraft back to the CRO. Those
damaged beyond repair were stripped and all usable parts and placed in
'spare parts storage'. Any aircraft repairable were done so and lived once
again to fly another day. Even enemy aircraft were dismantled and stripped
of all aluminium which was sent to the smelter, then to a factory where
it was turned back either into new parts or into sheet metal. The results
was that British aircraft were flying back over Germany with materials
that were once Messerschmitts, Dorniers or Heinkels.
of new aircraft produced under Lord Beaverbrook did not always come up
to the figures planned for. July 1940 was the only month that production
exceeded the number planned. But under the circumstances, he did manage
to provide enough so as to keep Fighter Commands 'head above water'
below indicate production of aircraft during the Battle of Britain: