Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation
Maintenance in the Pre-War Expansion period
The following is extracted from Chapter 1, AP3397'Maintenance'(AHB - 1954)
The Expansion Schemes
In 1918 Great Britain possessed the most powerful air force in the world. She disbanded it, except for a nucleus, after the war, and in a few years ranked only fifth amongst the Air Forces of the Nations. No such voluntary self-disarmament was undertaken by other countries, so in 1928 we began to re-arm, in a very modest fashion, and the programme then adopted was still far from complete ten years later. The reasons for the retardation were partly political and partly financial. In 1923 Germany commenced to re-arm and in a few years developed and equipped an air force of major proportions. In an attempt to achieve parity with Germany's increasing air strength, the British Government introduced a number of schemes for the expansion of the Royal Air Force, which followed each other in quick succession. between the years 1934 and 1939.
The first scheme (Scheme 'A'), adopted in July 1934, was a very modest programme. It was followed by Scheme 'C' when the size of Hitler's air force became known in 1935. There was no Scheme 'B'. Scheme 'C' was succeeded by Schemes'F, ''L' and 'M'. Schemes 'H', 'J' and 'K' were formulated also but never passed beyond the stage of proposals; and the missing letters represented tentative suggestions which did not mature. The purpose of these early programmes was to make a show of force and thus, it was hoped, to deter Germany from proceeding with her plans. Militarily, however, these schemes were unsound, as the necessary reserves of equipment to meet them were not provided for and the question of maintenance was practically ignored. Everything possible was crammed into the first line while a background to the facade was almost non-existent: Fortunately, the tendency to create a force which was not as strong as it appeared was eventually checked, and the schemes which mattered most, such as 'F, 'L' and 'M', did not err in this way. They were, on the whole, sound and well-balanced schemes, so far as they went.
Scheme 'C' was notable in so far as it provided (in 1935) for a Metropolitan Air Force of 123 squadrons, which was, in fact, only one less than the number of squadrons on our nominal first-line establishment in the autumn of 1939. The programme was, however, to have been completed in 1937, but before that date it was superseded by Scheme 'F' - the longest lived of all the schemes. It was the only one which ran its full course and was completed before the war began. Framed in the light of the speeding-up of German re-armament, it provided for a Metropolitan Air Force of nearly 1,750 first-line aircraft, as compared with a little over 1,500 under Scheme 'C'. It was a distinct improvement on Scheme 'C' in so far as it gave our air striking force more offensive power and provided more reserves. It was approved in February 1936. Scheme 'F' would not, however, have given us parity, so, at the end of the year, Scheme 'H' was proposed. This increased the first-line strength at the expense of the reserves and the overseas formations. Scheme 'H' was withdrawn soon after it was proposed, and the next scheme ('J') which followed it a year later also failed to commend itself to the Cabinet.
Scheme 'J' was in some respects the best of all the pre-war proposals. If it had been speeded up and the necessary measures taken to expand production, it would have enabled us to make up at least most of the lee-way in our pursuit of parity. It would have given us a Metropolitan Air Force of nearly 2,400 first-line aircraft, including nearly 900 heavy bombers, by the summer of 1941. But such progress was too slow - Germany would, it was estimated, have had as many aircraft by the end of 1939. To put us on even terms we should have had to accelerate the completion of the scheme considerably, necessitating interference with the course of normal trade and involving the country in considerable financial expenditure. These measures were not acceptable to the Government and the Air Ministry was instructed to prepare a cheaper version, which it did in the form of Scheme 'K'.
Scheme 'K' came before the Cabinet in March 1938, but by that time the German move into Austria had occurred, and the necessity for an accelerated programme became evident. Scheme 'L' was the result. It provided in the usual way for a number of bomber, fighter and other squadrons, but was not adopted in that definite form. What was approved on 27 April 1938, was a programme of construction which represented the maximum output estimated to be obtained from industry within two years, Scheme 'L' being kept as a background to this programme. Long before the first year had passed, however, the Munich crisis occurred, and the relegated Scheme 'L' was superseded by Scheme 'M' which was approved on 7 November 1938; approved, that is to say, in the sense that the establishment for which it provided - 2,550 first-line aircraft in the Metropolitan Air Force - was substituted for the first-line aircraft contained in Scheme 'L', the constructional programme already in force being continued meanwhile.
Scheme 'M' was timed for completion by 31 March 1942, i.e., two years later than Scheme 'L' so that when the war commenced in September 1939 our establishment of aircraft, in the absence of the necessary reserves, was not even sufficient to meet the requirements of Scheme 'F' The 124 squadrons and (approximately) 1,750 first-line aircraft authorised by Scheme 'F' existed nominally, but we had not that establishment. Some of the squadrons had to be 'rolled up' to provide six weeks' reserves, whilst others were needed to serve as training units, and as a result the effective first-line strength of the Metropolitan Air Force did not exceed 1,500 aircraft in September 1939. To produce that number, we had to leave the fighter squadrons with practically no reserves behind them. In contrast, the first-line strength of the German Air Force was about 4,000 aircraft with sufficient reserves available.
The programme of construction involved in Scheme 'C' was not beyond the capacity of the firms existing in the aircraft industry who up to that time had supplied the needs of the Royal Air Force. Scheme 'F', however, was too large for these firms to undertake unaided, and it was therefore decided to bring into operation a number of 'shadow factories' which it had been intended to reserve for zero hour. The factories in question were large motor car plants in the Birmingham and Coventry districts, and in order that the ordinary business of the manufacturers concerned should not be interfered with, the shadow factories were erected in close proximity to the parent works. This involved some additional risk in the event of air attack, but it facilitated supervision of the new works and lessened the difficulty of labour supply. Strictly, the opening of the shadow factories for the purpose of the pre-war expansion was a departure from the purpose for which they were intended, which was to serve as an additional source of supply after the war had begun, but the absence of adequate reserves of engines and airframes rendered this procedure necessary.
The motor manufacturers originally selected were the Austin, Daimler, Rootes, Rover, Singer, Standard and Wolseley Companies. Lord Nuffield (Morris Motors) was asked to participate but at first refused. In fact he raised considerable opposition to the scheme, and it was not until May 1938 that he agreed to organise a big factory at Castle Bromwich for the production of Spitfire fighters. Of the other companies, Singer and Wolseley fell out of the scheme before it was inaugurated, and their places were taken by the Bristol Aeroplane Company and the Austin Motor Company, which had thus a double role.
In addition to the airframe and engine factories, others were established for the manufacture of propellers, carburettors and magnetos. The decision to adopt the shadow factory scheme was not allowed to pass without challenge and there was considerable opposition from the firms engaged in the aircraft industry before the expansion commenced. The scheme generally, however, was successful, although many difficulties were encountered. In the case of the factory at Castle Bromwich it was necessary eventually to place it under the control of Messrs Vickers, as the methods of the Nuffield organisation, based as they were on the mass production of motor cars, proved to be unsuitable for the rapid production of aircraft.
Repair and Maintenance Facilities
At the beginning of 1938 there was no RAF repair depot or properly planned system of repair. There were two primary reasons why it had by this time become essential to develop a sound Service repair organisation. First, the industry was occupied to capacity with new production and was unable to expand its repair facilities on the scale which would be required in war; it was anticipated that, until an efficient repair organisation had been built up, wastage of aircraft in the event of war might rise to 40 or 50 per cent per annum instead of the normal 16 to 20 per cent. The second reason was that repair overseas was almost entirely a Service responsibility and to supply the skilled personnel necessary to man overseas depots on a much expanded war-time scale, it was essential that a pool of fully trained men should be maintained on which overseas depots could draw. Such a pool could be constituted only by establishing, at home, Service repair depots at which all types of aft repairs were undertaken. The Home Aircraft Depot, Henlow, had been temporarily converted to a School of Technical Training to assist in the expansion programme, and it had never been possible to re-establish the depot as had been intended. Two new Service depots had been approved at Sealand and St. Athan respectively. They would not be opened until mid-1939, however, and it would be well into 1940 before they were in full operation. Steps were taken to provide additional schools of technical training to relieve Henlow, which it was decided to reopen as a depot as soon as possible.
There was considerable discussion as to whether it should be reopened as a civilian or as a Service depot, the argument in favour of the latter being that it would be the first depot in full operation and should therefore be used for training of maintenance personnel for overseas. The objection to a Service depot was that it would put a further strain on the technical staff resources of the Royal Air Force at a time when the shortage was most acute. A further argument in favour of a Service depot was that it had become increasingly necessary to supply RAF parties to units to install equipment in aircraft not incorporated before delivery and to incorporate certain major modifications. Such work was at present a drain on skilled unit personnel or on factory staffs where firms working parties were supplied. Where working parties could not be supplied, aircraft had to be returned to the factories with consequent delay and expense. The lack of a pool of skilled personnel, which could in emergency supply overseas repair units, had been a serious disadvantage on more than one occasion in previous years.
The inevitable question of cost arose, and as a Service depot was more expensive to run than a civilian-maimed unit, it was urged that the two RAF depots under construction should suffice. The discussion was inconclusive at this meeting and was left to the further attention of the Air Member for Personnel and AMSO. At the following meeting, during a discussion on the provision of facilities for surplus pilots to obtain flying practice, the Secretary of State stated that the crux of the matter was the need to improve the repair and maintenance facilities in order to eliminate the delay in returning unserviceable aircraft to the force. AMSO replied that the Director of Aircraft Production was already engaged on a survey of spare contractor capacity which could be used for repair work. He preferred to see the increased repair requirements handled by a civilian organisation rather than by Service depots, which, he considered, were essentially training establishments rather than productive units. The Air Member for Research and Development anticipated considerable difficulty in staffing civilian repair depots, if established, and pointed out that personnel could not be held after training. The Secretary of State made a suggestion that units near industrial areas might relieve their manpower shortage by employing civilians. This was opposed, however, on the grounds that the provision of Service transport would raise difficulties and that, in any case, the work of most units was restricted by the available technical equipment on the station. Following the Cabinet acceptance of the accelerated air programme (Scheme 'K') S of S evolved a plan on 15 March 1938 for overcoming the bottleneck of skilled repair and maintenance personnel: selected firms were to erect shops alongside their factories to be used for the repair of aircraft. Firms would repair their own products and thus allow Service personnel to concentrate on maintenance rather than repair. In spite of this proposal and the apparent realisation of the seriousness of the existing lack of proper repair facilities when the question of repair depots was raised again six months later, it was reported that Henlow was still awaiting the completion of St. Athan and Weston-super-Mare as schools of technical training before reverting to its proper function as a depot. Although work was proceeding night and day, AMSO was unable to forecast dates for the completion of these two stations. He pointed out that the question of repair depots was typical of many items essential for the maintenance of the Air Force which were lacting. We had, he continued, been building up a front-line Air Force which was nothing but a façade. We had nothing by way of reserves or organisation behind the front line with which to maintain it. The meeting decided that a repair organisation should be got going as quickly as possible and that for the time being AMDP would be the member responsible; the arrangements for the reversion of Henlow to its proper functions being pressed on in the meanwhile.
Three Service depots were now approved and in course of preparation Sealand, St. Athan and Henlow. A previous proposal for three civilian depots, had been turned down as it was considered that on completion of the expansion programme the shadow factories could be utilised for repair work. The September 1938 crisis and continued expansion led AMSO to raise the question again. He proposed the formation of two civilian repair depots, but after discussion it was decided that one only should be considered at present. After the investigation of a possible site at Preston it was agreed finally to establish the unit at Warrington (Burtonwood). By November 1938 work had started on this site, and it was decided to pursue the original plan for a total of three civilian-manned depots, machine tools for all three to be ordered immediately. A factory site at Dumfries was considered but the Treasury and the Ministry of Labour objections ruled this out. There was a difference of opinion as to the advisability of having two larger depots instead of three smaller ones. The Director of Repair and Maintenance considered that each depot should be capable of repairing 500 aircraft annually but he asked for an outside opinion if possible. It was decided to consult Sir Amos Ayre and Mr Beal. Following the report of these gentlemen the Council decided to seek the advice of Sir Malcolm McAlpine on the construction of the depots and of the industry concerning the economies of layout, expeditious routeing of jobs and the complements and grading of industrial, supervisory and managerial staffs likely to be required. The second depot was sited at Abbotsinch, and on 27 June 1939 it was reported that a site had been decided for a further depot at Stoke. With the increasing shortage of skilled manpower, however, the staffing of these depots was likely to be difficult, and it was realised that though there would be little work for the depots in peace the expansion in the event of war would be rapid. A managerial staff with the necessary knowledge of the industry and of trade union and labour matters was necessary and it seemed advisable to have the depots run on an agency basis by large engineering firms whose work was likely to diminish in war-time. War came, however, without a definite policy having been decided upon.
Increased Recruitment and Training of Maintenance Personnel
With the adoption in 1935 of the programme of expansion, it became impossible to turn out fitters II in adequate numbers and with sufficient rapidity to man the flights of all the new squadrons on the approved basis. As a temporary measure it was decided to introduce the trades of flight mechanic and flight rigger to fill the aircraftmen posts in flights under, the supervision of skilled fitter and rigger non-commissioned officers. The new tradesmen were to be recruited from men with some engineering or mechanical training, enlisting initially for training as mates, the best being selected at the end of the mates' course for a further eight months' training to fit them for the flight servicing of engines and airframes; it was also decided to increase the intake of apprentices in excess of immediate requirements.
The employment of unskilled mates in flights, introduced in 1932, had not proved to be a success in view of the advent of aircraft of greatly increased power, speed and complexity. In fact, it was considered by the Commands to be highly dangerous. For the first three years of the expansion, therefore, the squadrons functioned on one of two systems, i.e. (a) fitter 1 - fitter II - mate or (b) flight mechanic - flight rigger supervised by fitter and rigger NCOs. Another measure taken to provide skilled personnel for maintenance purposes - was the encouragement of ex-airmen to return to the Service. The response was encouraging, and the numbers obtained from this source steadily increased. No training was given to former mechanics.
Throughout the summer of 1935 new recruits came in satisfactorily, but the numbers sent forward by the recruiting centres had to be reduced owing to the lack of accommodation at the Depot at Uxbridge. The old trade of' Aircrafthand and mate was kept as low as possible, but every available fitter was taken. By 8 October 1935, 1,700 applications had been received from boy apprentices. These applications continued satisfactorily, but the intake, except for fitters, had to be restricted to the accommodation available at the apprentice schools.
The Scheme 'C' programme required 15,792 airmen in the fitter group, but, following a change of policy in favour of medium as opposed to light bombers, the requirement was altered to 17,236 to be reached by 1 April 1939. This necessitated an increased recruitment during 1936 and 1937 for the new trade of flight mechanic and flight rigger at the rate of 650 per annum, the total requirements in this trade being estimated at 8,613 by 1 April 1939.
Recruiting of skilled men continued satisfactorily for some months, but, in spite of a Press campaign, the applications in 1937 fell off. In May of that year the total for the previous 12 months was only 1,400 compared with 1,670 for the corresponding period in 1936. It therefore became obvious that to meet the expansion programme many more men would have to be trained by the Service. No. 1 School of Technical Training at Halton was incapable of dealing with numbers required, and although a site for a new school had been selected at Cosford, construction had not begun. It was not until November 1937 that the building of the new school commenced.
Towards the end of 1937 a number of discussions took place at the Air Ministry regarding the difficulties of training sufficient servicing personnel. One suggestion put forward by the Air Member for Personnel was that certain Group II tradesmen could be obtained from elementary schools, but this was considered eventually to be impracticable owing to the special treatment such young entrants would require. A syllabus for the training of airmen at contractors' works was then drawn up and a plan to this end was submitted to aircraft firms for their concurrence. With the exception of Messrs Handley age, who required certain relaxations, all agreed to co-operate. Courses were arranged for from 12 to 20 men at a time at each firm and the Commands were instructed to release airmen for the special courses even if it meant units working at reduced pressure.
By March 1938 it was realised that additional steps must be taken to provide trained men of all trades for maintenance duties in the Royal Air Force under the expansion programme and that the whole of the overseas maintenance organisation depended upon the availability of personnel from the home depots. In April, therefore, the Air Member for Supply and Organisation prepared a memorandum on the accommodation required for training units to meet the Scheme 'K' programme up to April 1939. He drew the conclusion that an immediate and considerable expansion of ground training facilities was necessary, and that even with such an expansion several years would elapse before deficiencies in certain trades would be made good. The new repair depots, which provided training facilities, at Sealand and St. Athan had been approved and would be ready by mid-1939; they would not be working to capacity, however, until well into 1940. Henlow, the one original home aircraft depot, had been turned temporarily into a school of technical training and should have reverted to a depot in 1936 or 1937, but, with the successive increases in the expansion requirements, this had not been possible. The position in March 1938 was that even the opening of a new school of technical training at St. than would not permit Henlow to be re-established as a depot. Ground training accommodation had not been extended since the inception of Scheme 'C' but it had been possible so far for Henlow and the School of Technical Training, Manston, to cope with requirements. The new training figures were, however, far in excess of the capacity available.
In order to permit the re-establishment of the depot at Henlow, and at the same time to increase the total training capacity, it was decided to establish a new technical training school of three Wings at Weston-super-Mare for the instruction of fitters II as an alternative to Manston, which was in a very vulnerable area, and to erect hutted accommodation for 1,000 electricians at Henlow.
Meanwhile it was recognised as no longer practicable to employ mates on modern aircraft to the extent to which they had been used in the past. In fact there was now no work on which they could be employed which could not be done equally well by aircrafthands, and in April 1938 the 'mate' system was abandoned.
The crisis in September 1938 resulted in another effort to obtain skilled airmen in sufficient numbers. It was then decided to accept the maximum possible of suitable recruits irrespective of the Scheme 'L' establishment and to use hutted and temporary accommodation to house them. This decision made the accommodation problem even more acute, but the shortage of maintenance personnel made it essential that applicants should not be kept waiting. A further school of technical training additional to Weston and St. Athan was also considered necessary, and the possibility of using holiday camps for the purpose was examined. These, however, were thought to be unsuitable.
The Air Member for Personnel tried to raise the intake of recruits to 1,000 a week during November 1938, hoping to take advantage of the effect of the crisis, but this number was not achieved and it became apparent that the only way of maintaining an adequate flow was by National Service.
The recruiting position was changed completely in the early part of 1939 by the introduction of the Military Training Bill. By 13 June of that year between 25,000 and 26,000 men had expressed a preference for the Royal Air Force against a total of 12,000 vacancies. The shortage of trained men in squadrons continued, however, and it was decided that the, dilution of skilled personnel which had been adopted in the past to relieve the position must cease for at least nine months. As an alternative to dilution, the Air Member for Supply and Organisation was asked to consider the possibility of the further civilianisation of RAF establishments.
As war became more imminent the personnel requirement increased to a total intake of 45,000 against the original figure of 26,000. This necessitated an entry of at least 900 a week until the end of the year. To reach this figure the Grade I medical standard was relaxed. It was also decided to withdraw from courses all men who had completed 75 per cent of their instruction in certain trades in order to provide training facilities for the newcomers. These measures did not, however, produce the numbers required and it was only the large influx of volunteers which resulted from the declaration of war that clarified the position. In the first 19 days of war 7,000 men were accepted and it was estimated that the total would reach 14,000 by the end of the month with a further 10,000 in October. The number of skilled men accepted was considerably in excess of existing training facilities but they had been taken on in order to secure a lien on their services. The dilution of fitter grades had been considerably reduced by the call-up of reservists, but as the latter were being regarded as fully trained men the figures could not be taken at their face value. The instrument trades were in the worst position and it was decided to transfer 800 recruits from West Drayton to Manston in order to permit the use of West Drayton as a training centre for women instrument repairers. A reduction of the annual intake of fitter apprentices from 2,000 to 500 was agreed since the capacity at Halton was required for training older skilled men, and it was considered that on the basis of a 3 year war the apprentices would not become effective sufficiently early to be of value. It was decided in November 1939 that the total number of apprentices under training should be reduced to 2,700 with a farther reduction to 1,000 early in 1941. It was not considered possible to accelerate the training of the apprentices but it might be feasible to give certain parts of their training away from Halton - such as putting them into productive work in factories for a period.
Inception of Maintenance Command
In September 1937 the Director of Organisation prepared a Note for the consideration of the Air Council on the advisability of the formation of a Command to control the maintenance units of the Royal Air Force.
In his Memorandum the Director of Organisation drew attention to certain unsatisfactory features about the existing maintenance organisation under which the maintenance units were controlled and administered in a technical sense by the Director of Equipment, while their domestic administration was in the hands of the Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command. This meant that the Director of Equipment was, in effect, acting as an executive AOC over units whose numerous functions were remote from him, and it was wrong in principle that he should do this in addition to being a Staff Officer in charge of a department of the Air Ministry. In any case, this arrangement - which had been possible (and indeed desirable on grounds of economy) in pre-expansion day - could not now continue without the machine becoming clogged. The Air Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Training Command, for his part was in the position of having to deal with the domestic needs of units with whose functions and operations he was not concerned, and this arrangement which, for a variety of reasons, was unsatisfactory in peace-time would be totally impracticable in time of war.
The aim of the new Maintenance Command, which it was suggested should be set up, would be to control and to co-ordinate the various maintenance services, and to undertake a large part of the operational control at present exercised by the Air Ministry, and also to relieve the Training Command of its present administrative duties in respect of the maintenance units. The organisation which had been drawn up for the proposed Command had been based primarily on the conditions in which units in the United Kingdom would have to operate in war, but the arrangements proposed would also satisfy the requirements of the Overseas Commands and of the Continental contingents.
The Memorandum then went on to discuss the basis (geographical or functional) on which the Maintenance Command ought to be organised. It was pointed out that the purpose of the maintenance organisation must be the service of the flying units, and its duties in the main were salvage, repair, holding and distribution. Further, although distribution from the maintenance units was carried out on a geographical basis, the variety of maintenance units involved made it impossible to arrange for a complete supply system for a particular geographical area, and the areas supplied by different types of maintenance units inevitably overlapped.
The conditions which must determine the grouping and subdivision of the supply areas were so varied that any organisation of the Maintenance Command as a whole on a geographical basis (or on a pattern matching that of the Commands it served) was impracticable, and the conclusion reached in the Memorandum was that it would be necessary to establish the Command on a functional basis. Each of the groups within the Command would then control a number of distribution units (organised for servicing on an area basis) and in some cases a number of reserve holding units also from which the distribution units would be replenished;
It was proposed that there should be four such groups with functions as under
(a) A repair and salvage group comprising the aircraft depots, and any other workshop units which might become necessary.
(b) An ammunition and fuel group comprising the ammunition depots, ammunition parks, fuel, and oil reserves and distributing depots.
(c) An equipment group comprising the equipment depots.
(d) An aircraft, mechanical transport and marine craft group comprising all the aircraft storage units and the packing depot.
The proposals contained in the Director of Organisation's Note were considered at an Expansion Progress Meeting of the Secretary of State for Air on 21 September 1937, and, after discussion, it was decided that
(a) The formation by gradual stages of a maintenance organisation, consisting of a number of Groups (the exact number to be left open), to control the various maintenance units, and a central organisation to co-ordinate the functions of the Groups, should be approved in principle. The question of the designation of the central controlling authority should be reserved, as also should the question of whether or not the higher organisation and the various Groups should be under one roof.
(b) The control of the Groups would be under Equipment Branch officers, the central authority under a General Duties officer.
(c) The new maintenance Groups should be functional in character and, with whatever higher organisation which might eventually be decided on for their control, should be located outside the Air Ministry.
(d) The Air Member for Supply and Organisation should work out the various stages by which the new Maintenance Organisation should be put into effect.
Initial Difficulties of Maintenance Command
Although the decision to form a Maintenance Command had been taken six months elapsed before it was decided to press forward with the necessary arrangements. The Headquarters of the Command commenced to form on 1 July 1938, Air Vice-Marshal J S T Bradley taking over administrative and technical responsibilities from Training Command and the Directorate of Equipment respectively. On 7 August 1938, Headquarters, Maintenance Command, moved to Andover, assuming executive command of the maintenance units which had been administered by No. 11 (Fighter) Group, No. 23 (Training) Group and No. 24 (Training) Group.
At the end of 1938 less than half of the minimum and provisional numbers required for the Command and Group Headquarters staffs had been supplied. Another source of worry was the fact that a proportion of the civilian employees at the maintenance units were RAF reservists who, in the event of war, would be called upon to return to Service duties and be lost to the Command. The lack of housing for the civilian employees also provided a problem. Many of the maintenance units were in sparsely inhabited districts, and suitable labour to staff them could not be obtained when houses were not available.
In the Equipment Group there was a lack of planned accommodation which necessitated a considerable dispersion of stocks for security reasons and raised distribution problems almost impossible to overcome. It was apparent in this Group that the inadequate stocks of technical spares would, in the event of war, prove to be most serious. The most acute shortage was in spare parts for the latest types of aircraft. In connection with these spares there were several disturbing features :-
(a) The non-interchangeability of parts of aircraft of nominally the same type.
(b) The numbers of the types and variants for which parts had to be supplied.
(c) The complications created by the acceptance of incomplete material - (e.g. engines less certain parts) from contractors.
The constantly mounting number of mechanical transport vehicles to be stored in reserve against mobilisation was also a problem. The figure at the end of 1938 was 8,000, with little storage space available.
It had been estimated by the Air Ministry that the load of the equipment depots measured in terms of stock issues would increase between seven and eight times immediately upon the outbreak of war. This increase could only be met by the most intensive and detailed peace-time preparations. With the amount of work already in hand, however, it was not possible to undertake such preparations.
The difficulties of the Aircraft Group in 1938 and early 1939 were caused mainly by the lack of' staff for the Group Headquarters. Supervisory control was therefore in the hands of the already overloaded staff, of the Command Headquarters and much of the work proper to the Group was done from the Air Ministry. Another difficulty was in obtaining labour for the storage units. This labour which was required for the preparation and maintenance of aircraft had to be new and trained before it was of any use. By March 1939, in the absence of the required personnel, the aircraft in store could not be properly maintained.
The Ammunition and Fuel Group was generally in a happier position than the others, although only a nucleus staff for the control of the Group had been provided. In the spring of 1939 more stock was available in relation to the consumption to be anticipated, and dependable distribution arrangements had been planned. The stocks of the ammunition depots were, however, disposed unsatisfactorily due to the slow and piecemeal constructional development of the underground storage. The security of the ammunition depots, particularly of the highly concentrated HE bomb holdings, was a matter of concern owing to the large number of contractors' employees at work inside the holdings. The antecedents of many of the men were unknown and it was difficult to guard against possible sabotage.
As regards fuel and oil, excepting supervision of the custody of stocks in situ, the control of the organisation remained with the Air Ministry and the service was an agency one performed entirely by the Oil Companies.
No attempt had been made to form the Repair Group by the summer of 1939 and the lack of salvage and repair sources was the most serious gap in the new maintenance organisation.
Introduction of the Technical Branch
Although the necessity for a technical branch to meet the requirements of the rapidly growing complexity of modem aircraft had been apparent for many years it was not until the early months of 1939 that the Air Council approved proposals for the direct entry of engineers from industry and the universities and agreed to the creation of a Technical Branch of the Service. An announcement to this effect was made in the Press on 1 August 1939. Hitherto the policy for the provision of officers for technical duties in the Royal Air Force had been that they should be general duties branch officers trained as pilots before being trained as specialists; should be employed alternatively in specialist and in non-specialist posts and should be eligible equally with non-specialists to rise to the highest appointments in the Royal Air Force. This policy had originally been laid down by Lord Trenchard. It had been modified by the introduction of commissioned warrant officers mainly for employment on station and maintenance unit duties who had gained their technical knowledge and skill in the ranks. This class filled most of the junior posts and would fill a small proportion of the squadron leader posts. -
On 26 March 1940 the Air Member for Personnel submitted a Memorandum which embodied a scheme for applying in war the policy which had been approved in peace: for forming a technical branch for permanent officers. The branch was to be made up from existing permanent specialist GD officers, from those officers granted GD commissions immediately, before the war for specialist duties only, from existing commissioned engineer officers and signals and armament officers, and in the future from airmen commissioned for engineer duties. The Council approved these proposals
Investigation by the Jones Committee Into RAF Administrative Procedure'
As the result of the proceedings of the first meeting of the Air Council on the expansion of the RAF operational Commands to Scheme 'L' it was decided in June 1938 to form the two sub-committees to examine the existing system of administration in the Royal Air Force in the light of the requirements of operational and general efficiency, readiness for war, and economy, and to make recommendations with a view :-
(a) To ease, as far as possible, the burden of administration on Station, Squadron and Flight Commanders so that they could give proper attention to their operational and training responsibilities.
(b) To confine the paper work of administration to real essentials.
(c) To adopt in peace methods of administration approximating as closely as possible to war requirements.
Amongst some of the main directions in which it was suggested that administration could be simplified were :-
(a) The general policy under which aircraft were inspected, maintained and repaired and the procedure for recording the processes of maintenance.
(b) The procedure for demanding, estimating and accounting for equipment, the holding and transfer of aircraft inventories and the necessity for some of the returns which were being rendered.
Considerable discussion took place subsequently as to the composition of the committees. At first it was thought that the Chairman should be a serving officer of Air Rank. One committee should have a Group Captain engineer, a civilian with engineering and business qualifications, and a secretary. The other would include a Group Captain (General Duties), a chartered accountant, or other civilian with business experience, and a secretary. Eventually, however, I was decided that only one committee was necessary under the chairmanship of a well-known industrialist with a number of civilian and Royal Air Force members.
The first Chairman to be appointed was Lieutenant-Colonel J H M Greenly of Messrs Babcock and Wilcox Ltd., Engineers, but on his appointment as Chairman of the Prime Minister's Panel of Industrial Advisers, Colonel Greenly resigned in favour of Brigadier-General H A Jones of the Imperial Tobacco Company. Several other changes took place before the committee commenced its sittings in December 1938 and after 24 full meetings rendered its report on 2 August 1939. The composition was : -
Brigadier General H A Jones (Chairman)
Major M. J. H. Bruce - London Passenger Transport Board
Air Vice-Marshal A. G. R. Garrod - Director of Equipment. Air Ministry.
Captain A. Hudson - General Post Office
Air Vice-Marshal A. C. Maund - H.Q. Fighter command.
Sir Harry Peat and Mr. H. J. Sanders - Messrs Peat, Marwick, Mitchell & Co Chartered Accountants
Mr H C Chilver (Secretary - Air Ministry.
Every aspect of the administration of the Royal Air Force was covered, including administrative training, administrative control by the Air Ministry, administrative control by Commands, Groups and Stations, the system of assessing and accounting for airmen's pay, equipment accounting, personnel administration, and the inspection and maintenance of equipment. For the purpose of article, however, it is only proposed to deal with those sections concerned with the maintenance services of the Royal Air Force.
The Committee had a great deal to say about the engineer services. It considered that the responsibilities of the Director of Repair and Maintenance were too narrowly understood and that inadequate provision had been made for effective control. There was misunderstanding between the Air Ministry and the Commands on technical matters, inspection schedules were issued based on inaccurate information, instructions regarding inspections were being misinterpreted by units and maintenance was not proceeding in accordance with the intention of the Directorate of Repair and Maintenance. It was recommended that -
(a) The staff of the Director of Repair and Maintenance should be strengthened.
(b) The Director of Repair and Maintenance should be consulted on all personnel and establishment questions affecting the repair and servicing organisation, including the recruitment and training of civilian personnel and instructors.
(c) On technical questions connected with the behaviour of equipment in service, the Director of Repair and Maintenance should correspond direct with Service units and not through the Directorate of Equipment.
(d) The Director of Repair and Maintenance should be placed in a position of full responsibility for the technical control of the repair depots and directly to the repair Group.
(e) The running of the repair depots should be costed.
(f) Endeavour should be made to recruit experienced personnel from civil life for certain senior posts to be filled by the specialist technical branches.
(g) The post of Director General of Research and Development should be held by an officer drawn from one of the specialist technical branches.
(h) The title of 'Director General of Research and Development' should be changed to 'Director General of Engineering Services'.
(i) The Director General of Engineering Services or his nominee should be a member of all promotion boards dealing with specialist technical officers.
(j) When the proposed specialist technical branches came into existence, a larger proportion of the posts connected with the development of Service equipment should be filled by Service personnel.
Regarding the equipment administration, the Committee said that they were struck by the serious shortage of some items of equipment at stations, particularly of spares for airframes and engines. This shortage was seriously holding up repair and maintenance work in station workshops and had resulted in a low rate of serviceability. It was suggested that equipment inspectors or liaison officers should be provided to ensure that items were produced. It was recommended that
(a) Use should be made of equipment inspectors in connection with shortages of equipment.
(b) The equipment, contract and finance branches dealing with particular types of equipment should be accommodated close to each other.
(c) Steps should be taken to ensure that financial scrutiny of requisitions for equipment was not allowed to become a complete duplication of the calculations made by the equipment branches.
(d) Commanding officers of maintenance units should be authorised to spend up to £100 in any one instance on local purchases of equipment, and to accept tenders other than the lowest in all cases where they thought it necessary.
(e) Decentralisation of provisioning from the Air Ministry should be confined to those cases where it was clear that the greater part of the information required was available at the maintenance units or could readily be supplied to them.
(f) The necessity for special returns connected with shortages of equipment should be reviewed periodically.
The Committee examined in detail the current system of inspection and maintenance of technical equipment and found that the system was defective in the following respects: -
(a) The number of aircraft unserviceable on account of inspections was unduly large. The frequency of inspections was unnecessarily great and individual items were inspected unnecessarily often.
(b) The form of inspection schedule in use was inclined to be too indefinite in some of its terminology and certain of the instructions were actually impracticable in some types of aircraft.
(c) The records of inspection were in a form which made it impossible for the individual making the inspection to mark off the items as they were examined. There was no proof that all the items which should have been inspected had, in fact, been inspected. It was thus impossible to obtain essential evidence as to whether inspections were too frequent or the reverse. Consequently, efficient supervision on the spot was extremely difficult, if not impracticable.
It was considered that the inspection system should be overhauled and simplified
In regard to the supply and maintenance of mechanical transport the Committee recommended that :-
(a) Standardisation on one type of vehicle should obtain for not less than six years.
(b) In preparing the list of firms to be invited to tender for vehicles the Director of Contracts should be guided by the directorates responsible for development, production and supply.
(c) Detailed specifications should only be issued when competitive tenders were required for an article which could be produced exactly similarly by different manufacturers.
(d) In selecting new types of vehicles preference should be given to those types which embodied the largest proportion of components which were also used in the ordinary commercial vehicles of the same make and employed interchangeable units or components within the range of vehicles supplied to the Royal Air Force.
(e) Manufacturers should be required to guarantee the supply of spares for specified minimum periods after contracts for vehicles had been placed.
(f) Units should be supplied with manufacturers' part lists instead of the lists being transcribed into the Air Ministry's general vocabulary.
(g) Responsibility for authorising the scrapping of vehicles beyond economical repair should be transferred from the Director of Equipment to the Director of Repair and Maintenance.
(h) The maintenance schedules for mechanical transport should be reviewed.
(i) Fitters employed on the maintenance of mechanical transport and marine craft should be mustered in a separate trade from fitters, aero-engine.
Copies of the Jones Committee's report were not distributed until the end of August 1939, and the outbreak of war on 3 September prevented, of course, the recommendations of the Committee being given the attention which otherwise they would have received. However, a great many of the recommendations, although by no means all, were given effect to as the war progressed.
This page was last updated on 08/07/19
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