British fighter production re-assures Churchill

He sent Prof. and me for some of his cherished graphs and diagrams and began to expound the supply position. Beaverbrook, he said, had genius and, what was more, brutal ruthlessness. He had never in his life, at the Ministry of Munitions or anywhere else, seen such startling results as Beaverbrook had produced; and Pownall, looking at the Aircraft Production charts, agreed that there had never been such an achievement.

Winston Churchill inspecting 9.2-inch guns of 57th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, during a tour of East Coast defences, 7 August 1940.
Winston Churchill inspecting 9.2-inch guns of 57th Heavy Regiment, Royal Artillery, during a tour of East Coast defences, 7 August 1940.
A gas decontamination party from of 167th Field Ambulance dress in protective clothing during a training exercise near Canterbury, 10 August 1940.
A gas decontamination party from of 167th Field Ambulance dress in protective clothing during a training exercise near Canterbury, 10 August 1940.
King George VI talking to a member of the Home Guard during an inspection in Kent, 10 August 1940.
King George VI talking to a member of the Home Guard during an inspection in Kent, 10 August 1940.

The 10th August saw thundery showers and poor visibility which brought a lull in the fighting over Britain, with just a few bomber attacks by the Luftwaffe. Around the south coast the Army continued its preparations for the anticipated German invasion.

At the Prime Minister’s country retreat, Chequers, Winston Churchill spent the weekend in discussions with a wide variety of different political and military figures, including De Gaulle.

His principal Private Secretary John Colville was keeping a fascinating diary of these deliberations at the heart of government, as well as Churchill’s private views on the course of the war.

Of the many issues facing Churchill that weekend the progress of (what would later become known as) the Battle of Britain was uppermost in his mind. He knew that much depended not only the RAF prevailing in the air battles – but that aircraft production had to be able to make good the losses they sustained:

Saturday, August 10th

In a telegram to the Prime Ministers of Australia and New Zealand, promising that we will abandon the Mediterranean and send our fleet eastwards in the event of Japan attacking Australia or N.Z., Winston has written: “If Hitler fails to invade and conquer Britain before the weather breaks he has received his first and probably fatal check.”

Later on, at lunch, Winston gave me his own views about war aims and the future. He said there was only one aim, to destroy Hitler. Let those who say they do not know what they are fighting for stop fighting and they will see. France is now discovering what she was fighting for.

After the last war people had done much constructive thinking and the League of Nations had been a magnificent idea. Something of the kind would have to be built up again: there would be a United States of Europe, and this Island would be the link connecting this Federation with the new world and able to hold the balance between the two. “A new conception of the balance of power?” I said. “No,” he replied, “the balance of virtue.”

Lord Beaverbrook [Minister of Aircraft Production] rang up to say that the Germans had bombed an important factory at Rochester heavily but had contrived to miss with all their bombs. The Almighty is not always against us, he said, “In fact God is the Minister of Aircraft Production and I am his deputy. ”

[At Dinner they were joined by General Pownall, commanding the Home Guard, and Professor Lindemann, the Governments chief scientific adviser]

I … listened to Winston. He mentioned the numerous projects, inventions, etc., which he had in view and compared himself to a farmer driving pigs along a road, who always had to be prodding them on and preventing them from straying.

He praised the splendid sang-froid and morale of the people, and said he could not quite see why he appeared to be so popular. After all since he came into power, everything had gone wrong and he had had nothing but disasters to announce. His platform was only “blood, sweat and tears”.

He sent Prof. and me for some of his cherished graphs and diagrams and began to expound the supply position. Beaverbrook, he said, had genius and, what was more, brutal ruthlessness. He had never in his life, at the Ministry of Munitions or anywhere else, seen such startling results as Beaverbrook had produced; and Pownall, looking at the Aircraft Production charts, agreed that there had never been such an achievement.

W. regretted that the Ministry of Supply had shown themselves incapable of producing similar results for the army.

He proceeded to examine the statistics, calling on Prof. for frequent explanations, and declaring that we were already overhauling the Germans in numbers (our production already exceeds theirs by one third). It was generally agreed that Hitler’s aircraft position must be less good than we had supposed; otherwise why the delay, why the sparsity of attack?

After dinner (i.e. about 11.15!) we walked up and down beneath the stars, a habit which Winston has formed…

See John Colville: The Fringes Of Power. 10 Downing Street Diaries 1939-1955

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Universal carriers and cyclists of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, passing through Haven Street on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.
Universal carriers and cyclists of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, passing through Haven Street on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.
Troops of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, stage a bayonet charge over trenches during a training exercise on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.
Troops of 6th Battalion, The Black Watch, stage a bayonet charge over trenches during a training exercise on the Isle of Wight, 10 August 1940.

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