Beverley Baxter's LONDON LETTER
Air Power Will Shorten the War
THERE is nothing noticeably in common between Sir Archibald Sinclair, Secretary of State for Air, and a small trader except that each lives over his shop. When Mr. Churchill formed his Government in 1940 he asked that the Minister for Air and the Foreign Secretary should emulate the established traditions of the First Lord of the Admiralty and live on the premises.
More than one bond of sympathy exists between the Prime Minister and the debonair Leader of the Liberal Party v/ho assumed the control of British air power nearly two and a half years ago. They both had American mothers. When Churchill went out in the last war to command a battalion in the line young Sinclair served under him with the rank of major.
In the turbulent years of peace that followed the static horror of war Sinclair served Churchill as personal military secretary at the War Office and their friendship grew with understanding. Eventually Churchill went into the political wilderness and Sinclair became Chief Whip of the “deciminated” Liberal Party which had never recovered from the Asquith-Lloyd George split.
Eventually he became the parliamentary leader of the remnant, heir to a great tradition and a small bus load of fairly capable debaters. But in the campaign that was waged in the Commons against appeasement and its apostle, Chamberlain, one could see Sinclair and Churchill, once more in unison, training their fire on a common target.
There was and is, however, a particular bond of congeniality between them. They both stay up late. Churchill is the worse offender but Sinclair is a good second. Poor Harry Hopkins, then a guest at No. 10 Downing Street, said to some of us a few weeks ago: “Isn’t there anything in the British Constitution about the Prime Minister having to go to bed? It’s mighty hard on us folks who have never learned how to do without sleep.”
I have given this picture of Sir Archibald Sinclair because I want to take you with me to his room in the Air Ministry. It is all right. He is expecting us. I told him that Maclean’s wanted a complete picture of the Air Force situation today and he realized, naturally, that what Maclean’s wants it must have.
A visitor to the Secretary of State is treated with every courtesy by the sentinelsand commissionaires who guard the entrance to the massive building.
Warned by the Minister’s secretary in advance the sentinels welcome the visitor and conduct him at once to the anteroom and, exactly at the minute arranged, he is ushered into the presence of the Secretary.
On this particular occasion not only was Sir Archibald there but the Parliamentary Undersecretary, Captain Harold Balfour, who has gained such a
wide firsthand knowledge of the Empire Training Scheme and who acts as Chairman of the appropriate Committee in the Air Ministry, which guides the scheme from this end. Harold Balfour is the victim of his own success. He has proved such a good undersecretary that no one will shift him, whereas other men of lesser abilities pass from undersecretary to senior ministerial rank.
I thought that both men were showing a certain suppressed excitement. No wonder. The first 1,500 mile raid on Genoa was to take place that night and the attack of the Eighth Army against Rommel was only a few hours off.
Air Power Paves the Way
PERHAPS you had better put some questions to us,” said Sir Archibald.
Thus invited I asked what was on many lips: “How far can bombing be a substitute for the establishment of a second front in Europe?”
The Air Minister was expecting that. “It is not a substitute,” he said. “We all know that at the proper time an Allied Army must engage the enemy but air power can prepare the way and co-operate when the attack comes. More and more this is a war of machines which means that factories constitute an increasingly important target. It is our job to interrupt and dislocate supplies. Just let us consider what we have accomplished in that regard.
“In the raid on Le Creusot we destroyed factories turning out guns and railway engines. It may interest you to know that railway engines have
become a No. 1 priority in Germany—which is significant Many railway locomotive factories which had been turned over to tank production are now being changed
A. Beverley Baxter, M.P. German railways
are one of Hitler’s worst worries.
“At Renault’s we struck heavily at the production of tanks and lorries: and you know what those mean to a modern army. At Delmenhorst, near Hamburg, we destroyed two of the largest clothing factories in Germany. The repercussion of that raid will be felt harshly when the Russian winter sets in.
“At Lubeck and Rostock there were large supplies accumulated for the Russian front. Well, we visited them and did a particularly thorough job. I make no claims but I merely call your attention to the fact that there was no attack on Leningrad or Murmansk this summer. You can imagine what Hitler would have given to take Murmansk and stop the flow of supplies to Russia by sea. You see, preparations for an attack in modern warfare are so interlocked and interdependent that when accumulated supplies are destroyed the whole scheme is thrown out of joint and it takes a long time to reconstruct.”
Sir Archibald paused. Balfour nodded assent.
“All this is done at a cost of heavy casualties,” I said. “You admitted the other day that in twelve months of aerial warfare we had lost just over 1,000 bombers.”
Harold Balfour leaned forward.
“You were in the last war,” he said, “as we were. Supposing you had been given the job of making an attack on Cologne with the objective of destroying 250 factories and disorganizing the life of the community to the extent that 250,000 people had to be evacuated. And supposing you had accomplished all this with a loss of two hundred or two hundred and fifty men. It would have been rightly regarded as the most incredible military feat in history.”
Sir Archibald took it up. He was back in the last war, the battalion major on the eve of an attack.
“You think what happened last time,” he said. “We would be given an objective. Thousands of picked troops would be assembled with terrific artillery support, and after a bloody battle with hundreds of men killed what would we gain? A hill, or a ridge or a line of enemy trenches. Contrast that with what it cost us to destroy the Renault works and all that they meant to the Nazi war effort.”
Then his voice grew more serious. “I know,” he said, “that even when our losses are small compared to the last war we are losing the very cream of our young men. That has to be admitted.” Archibald Sinclair does not lack humanity. He cannot callous his heart
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Continued from paye 9
against the tragic message: “G for
George overdue, G for George overdue.”
We changed the subject. I reminded him that it is now some months since the Prime Minister announced that we had achieved air parity with Germany. “We must now have a pronounced superiority,”
I said. “Therefore why do we not overwhelm the Luftwaffe, engaged as it is on the Russian front?”
Both Sinclair and Balfour made gestures of impatience.
“Parity in numbers is one thing,” said Sir Archibald, “but manoeuvrability is quite another. Germany is operating on interior lines of 1,200 miles connected up with a vast railway system. We are operating on exterior lines of 12,000 miles. People asked why we did not fly 500 bombers to aid General Auchinleck last June. Certainly we could have flown them, but what good are bombers without spare parts and every facility for servicing them? Once they went into an attack they would have to become cannibals living on each other for replacements.
“The Germans can rush material, personnel, and set-up by rail to airdromes all over Europe. When we send supplies to Egypt it takes months to get there. At any given moment there is always a heavy quantity of Air Force equipment immobilized at sea. Then remember that we had to divert bombers to the Far East and fighters to Russia. Think how we had to assign more and more bombers to the battle of the Atlantic. The whole of Europe is a German airdrome. Our airdromes are scattered over the world.”
“New Bombs On Fresh Targets’’
FROM that to another question which is asked in Britain as well as Canada. If we can raid Cologne with a thousand bombers, why not more thousand bomber raids or even two thousand?
Balfour took on the task of replying. “The 1,000 bomber raid caught the public imagination,” he said, “and was an invaluable experience in organization. But it would be foolish to become engrossed with mere totals. The essential question is— how much concentration of bombs do you need to carry out your plan and after that where can you go next most profitably? You don’t want bcmbs duplicating the work of other bombs and destroying what is already destroyed. You want new bombs on fresh targets. When you do strike, strike hard, and you must remember that the 8,000 lb. bomb of today is a very different affair from the 1,000 lb. bomb of a year ago, both as to size and destructive effect, pound for pound weight of explosive.”
He smiled at the thought. I suspect that the R.A.F. carries a sinister load of mischief these days.
“You must remember that we have not unlimited aircraft,” warned Sir Archibald. “The 1,000 bomber raids were exceptional feats of organizaI tion. At present they can only rarely ' be repeated, and indeed I have never
held out an early prospect of frequent four-figure raids. But as the production of heavy bombers swells in the months to come they will be less infrequent than in the past.”
“Are the German defenses very strong?” I asked.
“Very,” said the Secretary of State, “and they are improving.”
“How are we meeting that?”
“Our methods of attack are also improving,” said Sir Archibald. “In all wars there is a fluctuating battle between attack and defense.”
Another question, the human equation. Is the intake of the R.A.F. personnel keeping up and meeting the constantly increasing output of the factories?
“Yes,” said the Secretary of State, “but we could never have done it but for the Empire Training Scheme in Canada. Before France fell there was much pressure on the Air Ministry to construct training camps in Morocco and French Africa and other places on this side of the world. The Canadian scheme seemed so vast and the preparations so cumbersome. Well, thank heaven, we stuck to our plan. We simply couldn’t have manned our machines without the Canadian scheme. And I must say the Canadians have been marvellous. They co-operate instantly and efficiently in everything we ask—even if sometimes they argue a bit afterward.”
“Chubby Power was over here, wasn’t he?” I put in. “What did you think of him?”
Sir Archibald inclined his head in the best Gladstonian manner. “A striking personality,” he murmured. “And I am certain, most capable.” Balfour interposed, “I have worked with him in two Empire Training Conferences. I could not want a better colleague.”
“By the way,” said the Secretary of State, “another important factor in securing the right human material is the Air Training Corps movement where boys from fifteen and a half to eighteen get preliminary training in their spare time. This is proving a tremendous help in getting the best young material and training it up ready for full entry into the R.A.F proper.”
So we talked on about the grim but fascinating business of war in the air. It was good of Sinclair and Balfour to give us so much of their time but other duties were calling them. I could not resist one final comment however.
“A lot of people in Washington,” I said, “were surprised when Air Marshal Sir Arthur Harris was given the Bomber Command. He wasn’t universally popular in the diplomatic corps there.”
“We didn’t want a diplomat,” said Sinclair. “We wanted a bomber.”
Allied Air Superiority
LATER I was shown many inter-!
esting things at the Air Ministry, j instructive, heartening and impresi sive. And from all that I saw and . heard I have come to one or two ¡ conclusions for what they are worth:1
(1) The supremacy of the British (I bomber over the German dates back to 1938 when the despised Chamberlain Government laid down plans for the super fourengine Halifax and Stirling which (! have now reached a high pitch of perfection in the Lancaster. In spite of desperate and sustained attempts the Germans have not been able to produce superbombers in numbers yet.
(2) The defeat of the Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain was due primarily to the vision and stubborness
of Lord Swinton, Chamberlain’s n Air Minister, who supported his c experts in the contention that the e prime duty of a fighter was to ß carry the maximum of gun fire. ^ The Germans concentrated on q speed and design but they could r not overcome the hail of fire that ^ came from the eight blazing s machine guns of the Hurricanes n and Spitfires. }-,
(3) The American Flying Fortresses are developing a masterful techa nique of day bombing. In a s recent raid they were able to j bring into play a concentration a of 2,000,000 machine-gun bullets
a minute. In other words both ( the British and Americans are ß transforming the bombers into a medium of attack against fighters y if they are interrupted. a
(4) With the development of day c
bombing the time will come when I Germany will have no respite by \ day or night. e
(5) The Spitfire defense of Malta is f
now so fierce that in recent enemy raids hardly a single bomb t dropped on the island. c
(6) The morale of the Luftwaffe I
crews is still high, but German c flying prisoners admit that they t would prefer to fight anywhere p else than over England. \
(7) Germany is finding difficulty in f
maintaining the high level in i flying personnel such as she had two years ago. i
(8) The Luftwaffe is definitely strained. It must try Hitler’s exasperation to the limit that he cannot attack our factories while we blow his factories into the air.
(9) The Luftwaffe will, undoubtedly, bomb England again if the Russian front is stabilized by winter and if their bombers are not required for more pressing engagements elsewhere. But the percentage of losses over this island should be greater than the Germans can stand.
I am aware that this is an optimistic picture and that some of my conclusions may be falsified by events, but in that long visit to the Air Ministry I came to the conclusion that the British have not changed. They are slow, aggravatingly slow in reaching momentum, but their patience and their thoroughness, unspectacular as they are, bring a maximum of efficiency at the vital hour.
“England is an aircraft carrier anchored off the coast of Europe,” said Ribbentrop in a lucid moment. How right he was! And what an aircraft carrier!
Genoa, Milan, Libya, Le Creusot, Cologne, Hamburg, Lubeck, Rostock, Augsburg . . .
There is no safety for the Axis powers anywhere. The spirit of attack, lit like a torch by the Canadians at Dieppe, is sweeping across England at this hour. The hour of vengeance has struck, and, unless every portent is wrong, this will prove the final winter of the war.
Airplanes cannot win a war, but they can shorten it. Hitler has conjured many horrors into being. Now he is face to face with the horror of enemy bombers that fly by day and by night, carrying to Germany the punishment and the retribution that were spared to her in each of the four previous wars which she forced upon the world.
“There is a tide in the affairs of men ...”