Ever since the beginning of the war there have been charges that the RFC Commanders are a bunch of ignorant buffoons who are effectively killing there own men by providing sub-standard equipment and little to no training. The loldest of these cheerleaders has been Noel Pemberton-Billing, who managed to get himself elected to Parliament as an “Air Candidate”.
Since then he and others including the editors of Flight Magazine have been highly critical of the Government’s handling of the air services and the competition for resources and influence between the War Office and the Admiralty.
This led in the first instance to the Burbidge Committee and shortly after that to the Bailhache Committee. The Bailhache Committee published an interim report on 3 August 1916 in which it refuted Bemberton-Billing’s charges of negligence.
Its final report appeared today, generally praising the RFC top brass and the job done in trying circumstances. Their main criticism is not a new one, that competition for resources between the RFC and the RNAS is inefficient and wasteful and that the supply of equipment should be conducted by the AirBoard entirely independent of the RFC or RNAS Command structure.
The main recommendations are detailed in the report summary:
I.-Our first recommendation, and that to which we attach greatest importance, is that the equipment of the Royal Flying Corps should be entirely separated from the executive command. General Henderson’s position as Commander of the Royal Flying Corps, responsible for it as a fighting arm and at the same time responsible as Director-General of Military Aeronautics for its equipment, is an impossible position for any man to fill now that the Royal Flying Corps has grown to its present dimensions, and especially in view of its probable further growth. There seems no reason why this change should not be made at once. There are officers on the Directorate of Military Aeronautics who have now sufficient experience to take over equipment and deal with it independently.
Whether there should some day be a united air service combining the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service we are not in a position to say. However that may be, we see no reason against having one Equipment Department charged with the equipment of both the Army and Navy Flying Services. There would no doubt be inter-Service jealousy to contend with, but that should not be allowed to stop a much needed reform. There could hardly be a stronger illustration of the need
for a united equipment service than the fact that, at the beginning of the war, the manufacturing resources open to the two Services were divided between them without any possible knowledge of how the division would work out in practice, a division which has in fact given rise to many difficulties. We have seen how separate Equipment Departments for each Service led to friction in France, and how the friction ceased when one officer was sent there tor both Services. A joint Equipment Department would, in our view, tend to abolish competition and friction between the Services and make for increased efficiency.
II.-We think the continued existence of the Royal Aircraft Factory is essential. It should not, in our opinion, become a manufacturing establishment, but should confine its activities, as at present, to the five subject stated in our Report, namely,
(1) Trial and experiment.
(3) Preparation of drawings.
(5) Manufacture of spares.
The R.A.F. would need to be controlled by the Equipment Department of Military Aeronautics, but if this department was entirely divorced from the Royal Flying Corps, much of the Trade jealousy of the R.A.F. would, we hope, disappear. We would have aeroplanes and engines, whether of private or of R.A.F. design, tested by the Royal Flying Corps at, say the Central Flying School quite independently of the Equipment Department in any of is branches. It would probably be necessary for this purpose to add to the state at Upavon mechanical engineers of high standing.
III.-We recommend that, during the war, and until our ideal of interchangeable observers and pilots is reached, observers should receive promotion without having to become pilots, and that a corps of observers be formed with a regular establishment graded for promotion among themselves.
IV.-There are one or two minor recommendations which obviously arise out of our Report, such as the tightening of discipline in the upkeep of school machines. These we we do not think it necessary to repeat.
We have finished the duty we were asked to perform. The task of fault-finding, always unpleasant, became more and more distasteful to us as we proceeded with our inquiries.
When we look back to the Royal Flying Corps at the outbreak of war setting out with its 100 or so pilots, its 66 aeroplanes for the Front, and with its to serviceable ones at home for training, when we remember that none of its engines were of British design, and that it was dependent upon the goodwill of our Allies, the French, for much of its material, and when we see it now increased out of all recognition in numbers and efficiency of its aeroplanes, with their vastly improved engines, its ability to rely upon British manufacturers to supply its needs, its training schools, its aerodromes its equipment, its pilots and observers, its army of mechanics, it seems as though the Royal Flying Corps is a new creation.
Our admiration is increased when we remember that all the work necessary to bring it into its present state of efficiency has been done while bearing the heavy burdens of rendering such services as the Army required of it in the Field and on the fronts.
A microscopic examination has disclosed some mistakes, as we think.
How could it be otherwise? General Henderson bas told us that the responsibility is his for such shortcomings as there are. We ascribe them to the difficult position in which he was placed.The gratitude and thanks which are his due for a great work devotedly undertaken and well done he will, we know, be glad to share with the officers and men who have servedunder him, whether as Commander of the Royal Flying Corps or as Director-General of Military Aeronautics.