Minister of Aircraft Production
The Minister of Aircraft Production was the British government position in charge of the Ministry of Aircraft Production, one of the specialised supply ministries set up by the British Government during World War II. As the name suggests, it was responsible for aircraft production for the British forces; primarily the Royal Air Force, but also the Fleet Air Arm.
The department was formed in 1940 by Winston Churchill in response to the production problems that winning the Battle of Britain posed. The first minister was Lord Beaverbrook and under his control the Ministry presided over an enormous increase in British aircraft production. Initially under the personal direction of the Minister (and even, for a time, operating from his private home), the Ministry eventually established permanent offices, and a Director-General of Aircraft Production in charge. The Director-General for most of the war was Eric M Fraser (1896-1960), who remained the most senior non-elected figure in the department. Fraser, whose pre-war career had been with ICI, was first appointed director-general of equipment production, before moving to the aircraft production post which he held throughout the rest of the war.
The first minister, Lord Beaverbrook, pushed for aircraft production to have priority over virtually all other types of munitions production for raw materials. This was needed in the summer and autumn of 1940, but it distorted the supply system of the war economy. It eventually came to be replaced by a quota system, with each supply ministry being allocated a certain amount of raw materials imports to be distributed amongst various projects within the ministries' purviews. Beaverbrook still continued to push hard for increases in aircraft production until he left the ministry to become Minister of Supply.
One controversial feature of Beaverbrook's tenure was the fact that the aircraft programs set bore little comparison to actually expected aircraft production. Beaverbrook deliberately inserted an extra margin of 15% over and above the very best that British industry could be expected to produce. The theory of inserting the extra margin was to provide an out of reach target to British industry so that it would push as hard as possible to increase production. It was not until the 'realistic' programme of 1943 that aircraft production programmes were actually brought back into line with actual levels of production that could be expected from British factories.
The Ministry was characterised by, for its time, highly unorthodox methods of management, that included its initial location at Beaverbrook's own home (Stornoway House). The personnel was personally recruited from outside the Air Ministry, interaction was informal, characterised by personal intervention, crisis management and application of willpower to improve output. "Few records were kept, the functions of most individuals were left undefined and business was conducted mainly over the telephone."
One important change made within days of the creation of the ministry was it taking over the RAF's storage units which were found to have accepted 1,000 aircraft from the industry, but issued only 650 to squadrons. These management and organisational changes bore results almost immediately. In the first four months of 1940 2,729 aircraft were produced, of which 638 were fighters, while in the following four months crucial to the Battle of Britain combat during May to August 1940, production rose to 4,578 aircraft, of which 1,875 were fighters. This production rate was two and a half times Germany's fighter production at the time. This production was augmented by the ability of the ministry, also responsible for repair of damaged aircraft, to return to service nearly 1,900 aircraft.
The result of this effort and management style was that while German fighters available for operations over England fell from 725 to 275, that of the RAF rose from 644 at the beginning of July 1940 to 732 at the beginning of October.
The Ministry of Aircraft Production did not long survive the end of the war. A minister with responsibility for both aircraft production and the Ministry of Supply was appointed in August 1945, and the Ministry of Aircraft Production was fully merged into the Ministry of Supply on 1 April 1946.
Ministers of Aircraft Production, 1940–1945
- Max Aitken, 1st Baron Beaverbrook (14 May 1940 – 1 May 1941)
- John Moore-Brabazon (1 May 1941 – 22 February 1942)
- John Llewellin (22 February 1942 – 22 November 1942)
- Sir Stafford Cripps (22 November 1942 – 25 May 1945)
- Ernest Brown (25 May 1945 – 26 July 1945)
- "Aircraft Production, Ministry of" in Chambers's Encyclopædia. London: George Newnes, 1961, Vol. 1, p. 183.
- Thomas Everard Johnson DFC, "The First 100 Years, 1892-1992", published 1992 in London by the Royal Somerset House & Inverness Chapter of Royal Arch Freemasons, pages 4-5.
- Edgerton, David, "Warfare State: Britain 1920-1970", Cambridge University Press, 2006, page 155
- p.129, Ponting, 1940: myth and reality
- p.130, Ponting, 1940: myth and reality