17 May 1916 – Commons debates air services

The recent announcements of the Bailhache Committee and the new Air Board have done little to mollify the Government’s critics.  Air power advocates in Parliament continue to push the Government to introduce a unified air service.

Today in the House of Commons, William Joynson-Hicks, MP for Brentford, moved a motion “That this House urges that His Majesty’s Government should without delay take every possible step to make adequate provision for a powerful Air Service.”

Mr Joynson-Hicks noted that although he had left the motion deliberately wide to encourage debate, he remained convinced that the only possible way forward with respect to the air services was a single Ministry answerable to the House of Commons.

He said that it was obvious that the current approach was not working as the full potential of the air services was not being used,

He also blamed the Government of failing to act on the warnings of the last 21 months of war. For example it was obvious that aircraft would be needed to provide aerial defence from Zeppelin raids, but in fact, aerial defences had barely moved on since the start of the war and aircraft are totally inadequate to meet the threat.

The Government had also failed to heed warnings that existing anti-aircraft guns were totally useless. It had also ignored proposals from a Royal Artillery officer for improved guns for over three years.

He also rubbished any claims that the British are dominating the air quoting a decorated pilot:

“At the front the tales you are told about our mastery of the air are known by all of us out here to be absolutely incorrect. We have not got the mastery. We have the pluck, we have not got the machines. It may soothe the British public’s mind, but we airmen know the truth.”

Mr Joynson-Hicks believed that main reason for this is simply that British aircraft do not have powerful enough engines and are no match for the Germans.

He concluded thus:

“In conclusion, I want to ask whether we are to go on permitting those who have been responsible for the position of affairs up to date to still go on managing them or whether we are to have a new head for the Air Services? We have had Sir Percy Scott, Lord Kitchener, Lord French, Lord Derby, Lord Montagu and my right hon. Friend himself, and we see the position of affairs to-day. What we want is somebody who will take charge of the Services, who will amalgamate them and who will prevent friction, for friction does go on at the present time. We want somebody who will prevent competition in regard to the supply of machines, who will take charge of the factory which is spending over £10,000 a week in wages to-day, the factory whose head is paid the salary of a field-marshal. That factory is hated both by the Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Service, and it is a factory which many of our best flying officers regard as being a hindrance rather than a help, except from the experimental point of view, in regard to which it is doing quite good work. We are told by the public Press that something is going to be done and that some announcement is going to be made to-day. It is very difficult to speak of the possibilities or probabilities when we do not know what is going to happen; but I want to warn my right hon. Friend that no mere reconstruction of previous Committees will do any good in regard to this question. We do not want Committees, and we do not want a man of the eminence of Lord Curzon sitting as chairman of a Committee, perhaps two or three days a week, and thereby wasting his time, in the same way that Lord Derby and Lord Montagu wasted their time when they were on that Committee. Personally I desire to guard 1559 myself from supposing that Lord Curzon would not make an efficient Air Minister. The question is whether he is going to have the power which will make him an efficient Air Minister. I agree that we must have a civilian because if you put an Army man the Navy will not like it, and if you put a naval man the Army will not like it. May I appeal to the Government not to make another board or another committee, but to put some man in charge who will be responsible, some man with a, reputation to lose, and not a man who wants to make his reputation. It is going to be a dangerous and difficult business. It is going to be a business in which failure is quite possible, a business which a man would only take if he is prepared to risk his reputation for the good of his country.”

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One thought on “17 May 1916 – Commons debates air services

  1. sethspeirs Post author

    The full debate can be viewed in Hansard.

    Of course, Joyston-Hicks whilst being broadly correct about air defence was being very simplistic about engines as in fact allied engine development was on a par with the Germans, and of course the raw horsepower is only one factor in determining the performance of an aircraft.

    Rotary engines at the time were typically between 80 and 110hp but because they were much lighter that inline engines they did not require the same hp to provide the same amount of power. In addition, the design of the aircraft itself also played a large part in its performance.

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