Lord Beaverbrook,a Canadian was appointed to the position of Minister for Aircraft Productionon May 14th 1940 after Churchill became Prime Minister and announced hisnew War Cabinet. Beaverbrook was an indignant, self opinionated and oftenruthless man that had been given a peerage during the First World War periodby the then Prime Minister David Lloyd George. Churchill thought him theideal man for the task and the Air Ministry at the time thought that Beaverbrookwould control the production of the aircraft that they wanted.
The AirMinistry, that controlled both Fighter and Bomber Commands were furiouswhen they found out that Beaverbrook had great tendencies to lean towardsthe thoughts of AVM Hugh Dowding that the present situation in 1940 wasthat fighter production for the purpose of the defence of Britian was farmore important at that stage than the manufacture of bombers which wereregarded as attack aircraft. The vision of Lord Beaverbrook was that thestrength of the Royal Air Force lay in fighter production, and that bybuilding a superb defence force it would allow manufacture of bombers tocontinue at its own pace where they can be used at a later date to theirbest advantage.
Beforethe war, 'shadow factories' had been created, under the direction of bigindustrialists such as Lord Nuffield, in readiness to build aoircraft whenhostilities began. But by the summer of 1940 when Beaverbrook took up hispost, the vital Spitfire 'shadow factory' at Castle Bromwich, Birmingham,had yet to produce a single aircraft.Beaverbrookused his powers on both sides of the Atlantic to assist in the aircraftproduction in Britain. He approached automotive tycoon Henry Ford to assistby building Rolls Royce Merlin engines under licence, but Mr Ford statedthat it was not the policy of the United States to become involved in thewar in Europe at this time and refused to support the British war effortsaying that Britain had enough automotive manufacturers to construct "thedamm engines themselves". After this, Beaverbrook became even more determinedand made the approach to the Packard Organization in which after lengthydiscussions, and the promise of enough money to enlarge the Packard factory,the deal; was signed and America began to built the Rolls Royce Merlinengine.
Beaverbrooktelephoned Vickers-Supermarine, manufacturers of the Spitfire, and toldthem to take over Castle Bromwich from the Nuffield Organization, whichhad been running it, and to forget about the Air Ministry's orders thatCastle Bromwich must also tool up for Wellington and Halifax bombers.
LenDeighton Battle of Britain Jonathon Cape 1980 p164
Aircraftwere already being manufactured in Canada, and some in the U.S, and thesewere being shipped across the Atlantic by the Merchant Navy and the processwas slow, and sometimes dangerous because of the U-boat activity. Beaverbrookapproached the Air Ministry and proposed to them that the aircraft shouldbe built across the Atlantic and finished to flying condition, then ferriedacross to Britain where they could be finally fitted out. The Air Ministryobjected stating that it was impractical and absurd. Beaverbrook went aheadwith the decision anyway without the War Cabinets approval and the Atlanticferry system came into being. Up until March 1941, 160 aircraft had beenferried across the Atlantic with only one aircraft lost. A remarkable feat.
When Churchillheard of Beaverbrooks actions, and required an explanation as to why hehad organized the deal with Packard and the ferry system without the authorityof the cabinet, Beaverbrook explained the advantages of aircraft and enginesbeing built outside of Britain. It would relieve many men to do other duties,and it would slow production should manufacturing establishments were damagedby air attacks. Regards the ferrying of aircraft across the Atlantic, itwould put an aircraft into the air much quicker than if Britain had towait the lengthy amount of time it took to cross the ocean, then have toassemble the aircraft here in Britain. Churchill listened and afterwardsgave his stamp of approval and all was secured, but emphasized that "wemust not upset those at the Air Ministry."
Materialsfor the construction of aircraft was another of Beaverbrooks concerns.He thought up the idea of getting public participation, not only for thepurpose of gathering as much alluminium as possible, but if we (the government)could involve the general public that by donating all the old alluminiumsaucepans, pots and pans and any other utensil that was made of alluminium,it would impress upon the people that they were 'doing their bit' and shouldif nothing else, boost public morale. So, the slogan "Saucepans to Spitfires"programme was started and it was a public relations programme that becamean inspiration to all.
Throughoutthe Battle of Britain, Beaverbrook maintained that fighter production shouldstill be the top priority. He had a very good relationship with both Dowdingand Park and it seemed that whatever decision he made, approval was givenby Churchill. Beaverbrook and Dowding had one thing in common, that wasthe fact that both had sons who were pilots with Fighter Command. Max Aitkenwas a Squadron Leader with 601 Squadron while the C-in-C's son was a PilotOfficer with 74 Squadron. Beaverbrook often contacted Group HQ to gainnews of any combat action as any father would do under the circumstances.
In 1938,after the crisis at Munich, Britain introduced the Civilian Repair Organisationor CRO as it became known. Lord Nuffield was placed in charge. The taskwas that in the event of war workshops had to be organized to accomodateand repair damaged aircraft. Methods of retrieval had to be organized andstorage areas where spare parts from destroyed aircraft could be systematicallystored and despatched whenever needed. When Churchill appointed Beaverbrookto his ministerial position, he transferred the CRO to Beaverbrooks 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 theirresponsiblity and should be under their control. Beaverbrook argued thepoint that he was the minister responsible for the allocation of aircraft,and that they would be placed where they would be most needed.
Beaverbrookthen sent some of his men to padlock all the hangars that contained aircraftin storage and those that contained important and essential spare parts,and enthused by what he had done sent a message to the Air Ministry statingthat he was going to store fighter aircraft in Winchester Cathedral !!
Special'low loaders' were built to carry damaged aircraft back to the CRO. Thosedamaged beyond repair were stripped and all usable parts and placed in'spare parts storage'. Any aircraft repairable were done so and lived onceagain to fly another day. Even enemy aircraft were dismantled and strippedof all alluminium which was sent to the smelter, then to a factory whereit was turned back either into new parts or into sheet metal. The resultswas that British aircraft were flying back over Germany with materialsthat were once Messerschmitts, Dorniers or Heinkels.
The numberof new aircraft produced under Lord Beaverbrook did not always come upto the figures planned for. July 1940 was the only month that productionexceeded the number planned. But under the circumstances, he did manageto provide enough so as to keep Fighter Commands 'head above water'
The tablesbelow indicate indicate production of aircraft during the Battle of Britain: