Don't Get the British Wrong

Ambassador Halifax draws back the curtain of military secrecy to dispel the 'shadows of misunderstanding' about Britain’s war effort


Don't Get the British Wrong

Ambassador Halifax draws back the curtain of military secrecy to dispel the 'shadows of misunderstanding' about Britain’s war effort


Don't Get the British Wrong


Ambassador Halifax draws back the curtain of military secrecy to dispel the 'shadows of misunderstanding' about Britain’s war effort


The original of this article appeared in the American Magazine entitled, “You’ve Got The British Wrong,” and was addressed to a U.S. audience. MacLean’s publishes this digest, with permission of both Lord Halifax and the American Magazine, in the belief that what Lord Halifax has to sag on this subject merits as large an audience as possible.

I SUPPOSE every enduring partnership is liable to be clouded at some stage of its existence by the shadows of misunderstanding. Usually such periods are transitory, and they are most apt to occur at times of stress, when, each partner is assailed by a suspicion that the other partner cannot possibly be working as hard as he is or with such self-sacrificing devotion.

The people of the United States and the people of Great Britain are sufficiently conscious of the need for unity to guard against the dangers of excessive mutual criticism. But because we have been warned we must never cease to be watchful.

I believe there is more to the matter than honest doubt. I believe we are seeing a new phase in the war. It began as a war of blitzes; the Germans are now adding a war of whispers.

I have no intention of honoring these rumors by enumerating or discussing them. In recent weeks I have taken the time and trouble to trace many of them to their origin - enough of them to know beyond question that they are psychological projectiles forged in the Nazi propaganda factories and exploded among us in an effort to separate our peoples.

Most of us know that instinctively, and few of us take these stories seriously. Even those individuals who repeat them do so in loose gossip, not really believing them, moved perhaps by that perverse

spirit of daring which makes an impish child repeat a naughty word.

But I believe it will be an excellent spring tonic to draw back the curtain of military secrecy which has shrouded some of the aspects of Great Britain’s co-operation with the war effort of the United States and our other Allies. Perhaps, in our zeal to withhold information from the enemy, we have withheld too much from ourselves. In the plain facts of Britain’s achievements you will find implicit refutation of many of the nasty stories our foes would like us to believe.

Britain’s Contribution

TWO YEARS before the United States was plunged into the war, the British Government was pouring millions of cash dollars into American industry-—to the makers of aircraft, aircraft engines and propellers, ordnance, ammunition, machine tools, motor vehicles, and ships.

The total thus spent since September, 1939, has been $3,200,000,000.

Most of this considerable sum went for purchases but fully $200,000,000 was spent outright to expand factories and build new ones—the very factories which today are leading producers of America’s Arsenal of Democracy.

The airplane industry may be taken as an example. More than two years ago the British and French discovered that, while American capacity for constructing airplane frames was fairly adequate to meet the increased needs, there was hardly any airplane engine and propeller industry at all. It had to be built from the ground up.

Immediately the British began furnishing the money for plant expansion and construction, and

a total of $89,000,000 has gone into capital assistance—which means land buildings, and, most important, machine tools. Six famous American corporations received the bulk of this assistance.

But this is only a drop in the bucket. Altogether British expenditures with the American aircraft industry total some $1,750,000,000. While this may not seem a staggering sum in the light of subsequent Congressional appropriations, it means that America had an airplane industry built up and operating when she realized her peril—an industry that would have taken a much longer time to build up, had it not been for Britain’s earlier assistance. . .

Or let us consider tanks. The United Nations today have the finest tank in the world—the twenty-eight-ton General Sherman. It is the custom in both armies to think of this General Sherman as an American product, and so in one sense it is but in another it is a joint Anglo-American enterprise, as is proved by the story of its evolution.

The forerunner of the General Sherman was a tank the Americans called the General Lee. It was slightly lighter. We in Britain had the Mark VI, which we believed to be a match for any likely opponent until it went against the Germans in the Battle of France and was decisively beaten. We stopped making the Mark VI at once and sent our experienced veterans to the United States to buy quantities of the General Lee. Perhaps you can imagine our dismay, in those dark weeks after Dunkirk, to discover that the General Lee had all the faults and weaknesses of the Mark VI.

There was no time to build an entirely new tank. British and American engineers sat down together, with our men who had been in France, and made changes in the General Lee. Even while they were making preliminary sketches, British money was being spent to rebuild American factories and equip them with new tools. Out of this surge of effort came the first General Grant, which proved adequate to hold the Germans in North Africa in 1940. But still it was not good enough.

In the ensuing weeks nationalities were forgotten. Americans, Englishmen, Canadians, Scotsmen worked side by side, designing, testing, discarding. American money and British money went over the same counters. And out of this came the new General Sherman, which, as everyone knows, was a potent factor in the British Eighth Army’s brilliant victory over Rommel’s vaunted Afrika Korps. . .

I have mentioned machine tools. I think everyone realizes their importance in mass production, but less familiar, perhaps, are the great advantages derived by the machine-tool industry from British financial encouragement to American manufacturers. Let me give you specific facts:

The normal volume of the American machinetool industry is $250,000,000 a year. Long before the United States began its armament program Great Britain launched a program of “float orders” in the American factories, the object of which was to increase capacity, but the effect of which was to form a pool of standard machine tools from which both British and American firms could draw. By mid-1940 this pool was an accomplished reality-and the volume of the industry had been raised to $350,000,000.

By the end of 1941, the time of Pearl Harbor, the annual volume had risen to $750,000,000, three times its prewar size. But far more important was the fact that indispensable machine tools were on hand to make possible the overnight conversion of many factories to wartime ends.

I have been told that the output of machine tools in America is expected to reach $1,500,000,000 next year. That is six times the productive capacity of the industry before 1939, a growth which could hardly have been achieved without initial British impetus.

Before we leave the industrial phase of Britain’s co-operative war effort, let us examine the matter of ships.

Some people would be surprised to learn that the Liberty Ship being turned out in the United States

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today is basically of British design, and that two of the shipyards now achieving production miracles were built with British money.

The story begins in September, 1940, when the British Merchant Shipbuilding Mission came to the United States to place orders for sixty cargo vessels. After surveying the field, they could find no shipyard or group of shipyards capable of building them rapidly. They decided, therefore, to build the yards.

Sites were selected and purchased at Richmond, Calif., and Portland, Ore. Two brand-new American companies were formed to build the yards and the ships. One of these, the Todd-California Shipbuilding Corporation, at Richmond, had for its president Mr. Henry Kaiser, who until that moment had never built a ship.

It is hardly necessary to speak of Mr. Kaiser’s exploits. He built the shipyard and thirty ships in approximately eighteen months. Less well known, but hardly less spectacular, was the achievement of the



new shipbuilding company at Portland, which accomplished a similar feat in twenty-two months. The entire project cost the British $125,000,000.

The incident is noteworthy for two reasons: First, because it introduced a new giant in the world of production, Mr. Kaiser,who continued to utilize his British-financed experience to turn out ships faster and faster for the U.S. Maritime Commission to which the Richmond yard was sold. And, secondly, because it standardized a type of cargo ship for the United Nations.

Although they are now being made on an all-American program, the Liberty Ships remain British in basic design and dimensions. It is the design the British Mission brought to

America in 1940, although the ship now burns oil instead of coal and the crew’s quarters are grouped about the funnel instead of being fore and aft, as is the British system. It was this design added to the shipyards and experience paid for with British cash which have helped to make possible the American shipbuilding speed records which today are the marvel of the maritime world.

Britain’s Production Record

THE MOST recent figures I am able to find show that Great Britain’s war production per head of population is still greater than that of any o£her nation on earth.

Britain has a population of 33,000,000 between the ages of fourteen and sixty-five. Of these, 33,000,000 are working full time in either industry, the armed forces, or civilian defense. This is equivalent to the mobilization of about 60,000,000 people in the United States.

Women between the ages of twenty and thirty are liable to conscription in the armed services, and while all women between nineteen and forty-five have been registered for employment, those between eighteen and thirty may only be engaged through the offices of the employment exchanges.

This concentration of men and women into wartime work means that apart from a limited amount of finequality goods for export to those countries from which we must import certain raw materials, production has practically ceased in such industries as wool, cotton, silk, rayon, hosiery, carpets, pottery, cutlery, leather goods and furniture.

All commodities are rationed. Gasoline, except for essential services, cannot be purchased at all. Barbershops have vanished by thousands, as have other shops catering to personal service.

Taxes weigh heavily on everybody. A single man earning $33 a week pays an income tax of $9.55 a w-eek, and it is taken out of his envelope every payday. A married man with two children and the same income pays $3.65 a week. The rates above $33 weekly rise sharply, until a very wealthy man pays 97 ]/¿ per cent on all of his income over $80,000 a year. I should say most definitely that

Britain is not doing business as usual.

Nor can it be said with any truth that Britain is building up stock piles of surplus materials of war, while continuing to take what she can from the United States. In 1941 we exported four times as many aircraft as we received from other countries, and sent out fifteen times as many tanks as we took in. And thus we arrive at the moot question of


What some Americans often forget is that Lend-Lease is reciprocal. It works both ways. Britain has promised to supply America and Americans with everything possible. Supplies furnished to the American troops prior to and during the invasion of North Africa may be cited as an example. During the last six months of 1942 thes'e supplies represented approximately 1,125,000 ships’ tons, of a value which cannot be estimated. They ranged from airplanes and I assault boats to candy and bee: hives.

Typical of the spirit of Lend-Lease, I think, is an incident which occurred

in the last few days before the invasion, when American fliers discovered they needed radio equipment of a new type. They had no such equipment among their supplies, but the R.A.F. had some. Without an instant’s argument, R.A.F. fliers stripped their own planes and helped install their apparatus in the American machines. Beside this it seems almost ridiculous to mention that British Lend-Lease supplied American troops with 2,000000 blankets, 2,000,000 sets of underwear, and 4,000,000 pairs of wool socks. Yet that was another example of reciprocal aid.

But perhaps the story can be summed up most comprehensively in the language of dollars and cents. In the last war the United States War Department alone spent more than $2,000,000,000 for supplies in Great Britain and France. T his time, up to December, 1942, all United States forces together spent only about $1,000,000. This is the sort of give and take which must give Hitler many a bad moment.