Document-42.    


BOBHSOC

Aircraft Production During
The Battle of Britain

Lord Beaverbrook, 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. 

The Air 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 Britian 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 best advantage. 

    Before the war, 'shadow factories' had been created, under the direction of big industrialists such as Lord Nuffield, in readiness to build aoircraft 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.
    Beaverbrook 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.
    Len Deighton Battle of Britain Jonathon Cape 1980 p164
Beaverbrook 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 damm 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 engine. 

Aircraft 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. 

When Churchill heard of Beaverbrooks 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." 

Materials for the construction of aircraft was another of Beaverbrooks concerns. He thought up the idea of getting public participation, not only for the purpose of gathering as much alluminium as possible, but if we (the government) could involve the general public that by donating all the old alluminium saucepans, 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 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.  

Throughout 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. 

In 1938, 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 accomodate 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 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 their responsiblity 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.  

Beaverbrook 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 !! 

Special '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 alluminium 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. 

The number 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' 

The tables below indicate indicate production of aircraft during the Battle of Britain:


 
MONTHLY OUTPUT OF FIGHTER AIRCRAFT
JUNE - OCTOBER 1940
MONTH
PLANNED
ACTUAL
DIFFERENCE
JUNE
1.164
1,163
-1
JULY
1.061
1,110
+49
AUGUST
1,143
1,087
-56
SEPTEMBER
1,195
908
-287
OCTOBER
1,218
917
-301
The table below indicates the number of fighter aircraft available to squadrons for operations: 
 
AIRCRAFT AVAILABLE FOR OPERATIONS
MONTH
DAY
TOTAL AIRCRAFT AVAILABLE
JUNE
22
565
29
587
JULY
6
644
13
666
20
658
27
651
AUGUST
3
708
10
749
17
704
24
758
31
764
SEPTEMBER
7
746
14
725
21
715
28
732
OCTOBER
5
734
12
735
19
734
26
747
NOVEMBER
2
721
Source for both tables: Wood & Dempster "The Narrow Margin" 1961


The Battle of Britain - 1940 website Battle of Britain Historical Society 2007