Monday, 13 June 2011

A Myth Nailed

There was a 1942 Anglo-American Agreement that made the UK concentrate on producing military aircraft during the war while the US was able to continue building Douglas DC-3s, Douglas DC-4s and Lockheed Constellations and thereby dominate the postwar civil aviation industry.

Actually, an agreement was signed between General Arnold Chief of the USAAC and Air Chief Marshal Portal, Chief of the Air Staff on 13 January 1942 which allocated that year's American aircraft production of various categories between the two countries. This was repeated throughout the war by the Munitions Assignments Committee (Air) of the combined Munitions Assignments Board set up as a result of the Arcadia or First Washington Conference in Washington between 22 December 1941 and 14 January 1942.

The RAF opted to obtain specialised transport aircraft from America because nothing was available from the British aircraft industry. DC-2s ,3s and Lockheed 14 and 18s operated by British Airways and KLM, for example,had proved their superiority over contemporary British models before the war. The production lines for the Bristol Bombay and Handley-Page Harrow  bomber transports had closed as they were interim types ordered to train new entrants to the expanding aircraft industry.  De Havilland types were unsuited for anything except training and communications work. Former Imperial Airways types such as Short Empire flying boats, HP42s and A W Ensigns were as inadequate for military use as they had been for competitive airline operation, something highlighted by the 1938 Cadman Committee. A result of that Committee was the Fairey FC1 four-engined medium range landplane theprototype of which was never completed due to the war and poor workmanship. As the war progressed, obsolescent bombers like the Whitley, Wellington, Stirling and Albemarle were converted as stop-gap paratroop carriers and transports to make up for the shortage of DC-3/C-47 Dakotas.

Unfortunately, the realism of the Arnold-Portal Agreement only lasted until 23 December 1942 when the Brabazon Committee on post war civil aviation in the Empire was set up. As a result of its work specifications for no less than seven different aircraft types were issued to an industry with little experience of civil aircraft. Only the Vickers Viscount and de Havilland Dove were production successes. If only the Labour government had taken the opportunity in 1946 to nationalise and rationalise the aircraft and aero-engine industry which had been artificially expanded by wartime military contracts then the £tens of millions wasted on subsidies and dead-end development could have been concentrated on scarce dollars for DC-4s and Connies to equip BOAC with competitive types and more design and development funding for a smaller range of new types - just imagine if Avro and Handley-Page had been able to assist de Havillands with tthe Comet.
Photo thanks RuthAS


And more evidence for there being no Anglo-American agreement to prevent Britain building transport aircraft was the Avro York which first flew in July 1942 and was only produced in limited quantities to allow Avro to concentrate on building Lancasters (the best examples of which were constructed under sub-contract by Armstong Whitworth).

9 comments:

James Higham said...

If only the Labour government had taken the opportunity in 1946 to nationalise and rationalise the aircraft and aero-engine industry ...

I've just been reading about Neville Shute and the dirigibles - when government tries to do the right thing vis-a-vis technology, it can never get it right.

Brian said...

Agreed. The Government R-101 team at Cardington were essentially a research team for future technology whereas the Vickers R-100 team at Howden (Shute and Barnes Wallis) concentrated on contemporary technology in order to produce an airship that did the job within budget. Unfortunately, both were developmental cul-de-sacs. If only more research into stressed-skin construction, more powerful engines and radio communications and technology had been done in Britain instead of complacently ordering small runs of incrementally better types for Imperial Airways and the RAF. The HP42, for example,was built because state-subsidised Imperial Airways did not need to compete with other European airlines. Hence KLM entered the DC-2 airliner in the 1934 MacRobertson Race whereas Britain developed the dH Comet racer. The DC-2 was developed into the DC-3 still used today.

Thud said...

Iknow little about this interesting subject but if I do ever get any spare time I'd spend a little of it reading up...any good books?

Brian said...

Thud, Problem is there's too many of the rotters - I need more shelves and preferably a library. One recent book I can recommend is Empire of the Clouds by James Hamilton-Paterson. Also anything by Bill Gunston or John Stroud. For a single volume on the early years try Taking to the Skies: The Story of British Aviation 1903-1939 by Graham Smith. I hope I don't get you hooked. btw you might find a book on Liverpool Speke Airport interesting as well as a visit to the Crown Plaza hotel there.

Jim Baxter said...

Marvellously informed, interesting stuff as always Brian.

Procurement issues asisde, surely the Adelphi is the only hotel to stay in or within fifty miles of Liverpool. Or... or... is that the 'Crowne Plaza' now. I daren't look it up myself.

Brian said...

Jim, I remember a fly on the wall (perhaps literally ;-() prog on the Adelphi years ago and it charging full room rates for mattresses on the dining room floor the night after the National was cancelled due to the activities of P. O'Neill. But the Crowne Plaza John Lennon Airport is the old Speke Airport terminal building with aeroplanes on the old apron.
I'm just catching up on a bbc2 prog on Stalin and ww2 fronted by preof David Reynolds at the moment. Looks good so far.

Jim Baxter said...

That sounds like the attitude they take at the Adelphi. On the other hand, they are just as likely to put you in a room that looks like it was specially prepared for the Lion of Judah himself, and only yesterday, for about fifty quid.

The Adelphi and the Philharmonic bar make Liverpool for me. Dunno if it's famous for anything else. Don't care.

Thud said...

jim...the Phil was my local for 20 odd years and is still a decent place.
Brian, I'll start buying asap.

Jim Baxter said...

Thud,

I never miss the Phil any time I visit Lennongrad.