Air of Authority - A History of RAF Organisation


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The Maintenance Organisation September 1939 - April 1940


The following is extracted from Chapter2, AP3397 'Maintenance' (AHB - 1954)

Position at the Outbreak of War

The aircraft servicing and repair organisation of the Royal Air Force in September 1939 was the responsibility of the Directorate of Repair and Maintenance, Air Ministry.  The Directorate issued instructions to the Service regarding the maintenance and repair of airframes, engines and other technical equipment in use.  It also gave technical advice to the Air Ministry design and production staffs regarding the maintenance, repair and interchangeability of parts in new types of airframes and engines in order to reduce to a minimum maintenance and repair problems in the Service.

A Deputy Directorate of Repair and Maintenance was first formed in 1932 with Group Captain Roderick Hill as Deputy Director. Originally under the Directorate of Equipment, which formed part of the Department of the Air Member for Supply and Organisation, it was soon afterwards placed under the Member for Research and Development, who later became the Air Member for Development and Production.  In February 1937, Group Captain Hill was succeeded by Group Captain Sir C J Q Brand who, on 1 July of the same year, when the Deputy Directorate was upgraded to a Directorate, was promoted to Air Commodore.  Further expansions took place in September 1938, August 1939 and November 1939 (See Diagram 1 below).

Organisation of Directorate of Repair and Maintenance - November 1939

Diagram 1 - The situation when the Directorate moved to Harrogate

Repair was carried out only to a very limited extent by Service squadrons in 1939 and work beyond their capacity was allotted either to RAF maintenance units through Maintenance Command or to contractors who operated under instructions issued by the Directorate of Repair and Maintenance.

The supply services of the Royal Air Force at the outbreak of war were administered by the Directorate of Equipment, Air Ministry, under the control the Air Member for Supply and Organisation, the executive work being done by Headquarters, Maintenance Command.  The maintenance organisation of the Royal Air Force therefore presented a somewhat anomalous situation.  The main activities of Maintenance Command, the channel of supplies and their

method of operating within the Royal Air Force plus the administration of the salvage and repair depots all came within the province of the Air Member for Supply and Organisation (See Diagram 2 below).  His machinery for controlling these, however, was lacking in one important aspect, namely, that the technical control of repair and servicing of material within the Royal Air Force was vested in the Director of Repair and Maintenance who operated under the Air Member for Development and Production (see Diagram 3 below).

Supply and Organisation - September 1939 and January 1940
Diagram 2
Organisatio of Development and Production - September 1939 and January 1940
Diagram 3

In September 1939 the maintenance of units in the Royal Air Force, up to the point where it became their own responsibility, was, subject to the general direction of the Air Ministry, the duty of Maintenance Command.  Its activities under peace conditions covered the storage and distribution of serviceable equipment and supplies and the conservation of stocks in such a manner that they would be readily available for use in war.  The Command was also charged with the duty of salvage and, where so directed, the repair of equipment, in order to supplement the main supply from contractors and the technical resources for repair work of the units of other Commands.

In addition to the immediate servicing of units in the United Kingdom, Maintenance Command was also responsible for the despatch of equipment and supplies (with certain exceptions such as fuel) to overseas Commands and to contingents of the Metropolitan Force operating outside the United Kingdom.  The responsibility of Maintenance Command as regards Commands and units overseas ended, however, with the despatch of the required materials.

The Command was divided into four Groups, the functional responsibilities of each being :-

No 40 Group (Equipment)                    Estimating for, custody and distribution of all categories of equipment to home units and equipment overseas. Maintenance of reserve MT vehicles and MT allotment.

No 41 Group (Aircraft)                         The maintenance of all aircraft reserves; their allotment and delivery to home units, and shipment overseas.

No 42 Group (Ammunition and Fuel)    Supply of ammunition, oxygen, aviation and MT fuel and oil to all home units and shipment of oil and ammunition overseas.

No 43 Group (Repair)                          The repair of all types of equipment and the salvage of aircraft beyond the capacity of units to repair.

The allocation of responsibility between Maintenance Command and the Headquarters of its Groups differed from that in the other RAF Commands.  The primary duties of the Command Headquarters' staff were planning and co-ordination.  All administrative and executive work which did not require to be centralised for economical or other reasons was done by the Groups, which were given the staff necessary.  Specialist staff were, as far as possible, concentrated at the Groups, though owing to the nature of the work of the Command most of the staff at Command Headquarters had in some degree to be specialists.  When the Command was formed, the Group offices were placed near to the Command Headquarters office, so making the particular specialists readily available to the Command staff when their advice was needed.

For the purpose of supply of ammunition, oxygen, fuel and equipment the country was divided into a number of subsidiary supply areas, each of which was served by a supplying unit.  The sizes of the supply areas varied according to the intensity of consumption and the distance over which supply was economical.  Flexibility and security were obtained by giving each distribution area an overload capacity and by transferring consuming units from one area to an adjoining one to meet changes in load concentrations.

Composition of the Maintenance Command Groups

No 40 Group (Equipment).

No 40 Group formed at Andover on 1 January 1939, and moved to Abingdon on 31 August of that year.  Under the expansion scheme No 40 Group was planned to consist of seven or more equipment depots, each holding a complete range of equipment to supply the consuming units in their service areas in all respects.  Distribution from the equipment depots was to be entirely by road convoys which would link up all the consuming units in their service areas. The aim in war was to deliver material within 48 hours of demand.

On the outbreak of war six equipment depots were in being but were not yet operating as Universal Equipment Depots (UED).  It was not until December 1939 that the first UED commenced issues on a geographical basis.  In addition to the depots, a number of small maintenance units holding varying items of stores were located in different parts of the United Kingdom (See Diagram 4 below).

Universal Equipment Depots - September 1939
Diagram 4

No 41 Group (Aircraft).

No 41 Group Headquarters formed at Andover on 1 January 1939 but did not assume executive control of its units until 3 April 1939. T he Group Headquarters was responsible for the administration of the Aircraft Storage Units and the Packing Depot in the United Kingdom. The functions of the Group as a whole were to receive, store, equip, maintain while in store and issue aircraft to RAF units at home and despatch those allotted to overseas Commands.

Under peace conditions, the Aircraft Storage Units only held the reserve aircraft behind the initial equipment and immediate reserve aeroplanes with which the flying units were supplied.  Aircraft for re-equipment or to replace wastage were, as far as possible, delivered direct to units from the factories at which they were manufactured, the equipping of the aircraft being completed after they arrived at units.  It was intended, however, that under war conditions the ASUs would supply to squadrons aircraft fitted with the full scale of operational equipment.

The number of aircraft stored at the ASUs at the end of August 1939 was approximately 2,500.  These included reserves for all the RAF Commands and the Fleet Air Arm, those of the latter being held on deposit for the Admiralty.  Deliveries to the ASUs from the factories were at the rate of about 500 per month and issues from the ASUs to RAF units at about 250 per month.

Under the expansion scheme twenty-four Aircraft Storage Units and two Packing Depots were planned, each of the former to have a holding capacity of 400 aircraft.  By 3 September 1939 eleven ASUs had been formed and nine were functioning.  One Packing Depot was in existence (See Diagram 5 below).

Aircraft Storage Units - September 1939
Diagram 4A

The allotment of aircraft to units at the outbreak of war was carried out by the Air Ministry, but it had been planned to transfer the task to No 41 Group Headquarters as soon as sufficient personnel for the purpose could be provided and trained.  Delivery into the ASUs from contractors was undertaken by two Ferry Pools with a total strength of 32 pilots.  One was located at Filton and the other at Hucknall.  They were controlled by the Air Ministry. Aircraft issued to units were normally collected by the consignee.

No 42 Group (Ammunition and Fuel).

No 42 Group Headquarters formed at Andover on 17 April 1939 and assumed executive control of its units on 15 June 1939.  The Group included the ammunition, fuel, oil and oxygen supply services.  It differed widely from the other maintenance groups in that, although the ammunition organisation had features in common with equipment, fuel and oxygen supplies were essentially agency services, in respect of which Maintenance Command controlled a part of the resources of large industrial concerns.

The plan for the Group included five Ammunition Depots.  These were to be universally stocked like the Equipment Depots, excepting that, owing to special storage requirements, incendiary bombs were to be held at only three of them.  The formation of the Ammunition Depots presented special problems owing to the vulnerability of the stock to be held and the fact that the explosive content of much of the stock was so great that explosives regulations made overground storage prohibitive on account of the area required.  Both to facilitate distribution and for security, more depots than those planned were desirable, but their siting presented so many difficulties, chiefly those of finding or building underground storage, that it was not considered possible to develop more.

The stocks at each Ammunition Depot consisted of HE bombs, bomb components, small arms ammunition, pyrotechnics and filling materials. The HE stock was held underground and fully protected.  In some cases disused mines and quarries were used, whilst in others, concrete chambering was prepared on the floor of disused open quarries and covered with soil available from the quarry workings.  The pyrotechnics and other materials of less explosive content were stored in separated sites consisting of small semi-underground buildings which were lightly covered with earth and turfed over.

Under peace conditions, distribution of ammunition was made direct from the depots to the consuming units.  In war it was planned to establish six or seven Air Ammunition Parks in the neighbourhood of the operational units.  It was intended that the Parks would hold one week's stock at war consumption rates for the units they served. Ammunition was to be drawn from the Parks using transport belonging to the consuming units. Distribution to the Parks from the Depots was to be done by rail.

The supply of oxygen for HP breathing apparatus was on an agency basis.  Arrangements were made for eleven drying and compressing plants at civilian works, producing commercial oxygen and suitably situated in relation to consuming units, to provide the RAF requirements.  The oxygen was delivered from the plants in large-capacity transport cylinders from which units recharged their aircraft containers.  Under peace conditions supply was made from the producer direct to consuming units.  In war it was intended that units should draw their supplies from the Air Ammunition Parks unless the supplying firms were nearer to the units than the Parks.

Supplies of aviation fuel and oil for the RAF had, from the termination of the 1914-1918 war to the outbreak of hostilities in September 1939, been obtained directly from the petroleum supplying companies in Great Britain under a scheme of standing contracts.  The Royal Air Force possessed no reserve stocks of aviation petrol, and this commodity was not included in the extensive range of supplies held in Maintenance Command.  In 1937 it was realised that the position was not entirely satisfactory and arrangements were made to construct a limited amount of Air Ministry reserve tankage within the confines of the supplying companies' main ocean tanker reception terminals. Consequent upon the Munich crisis in 1938 this scheme was extended to include a system of underground Reserve and Distribution Fuel Depots of large tonnage capacity to be constructed mainly on the West Coast.  This position was decided upon in view of the fact that aviation fuel would normally be received from the U.S.A. In addition, fuel depots of a smaller nature were to be located in the areas from which it was anticipated that major bomber forces would operate, i.e. East Anglia.  A number of these depots were completed and partially filled immediately prior to the outbreak of war.  The supply system envisaged also included the construction of two Air Ministry owned factories for the production of containers and the mechanical filling of the containers with aviation fuel and oil.

No 43 Group (Repair).

The Repair Group Headquarters had not been formed when war commenced.  Up to 1938 the relatively small amount of aircraft repair was undertaken for the Air Ministry by the aircraft industry.  In 1938, when large-scale planning for war took place, it was decided that there would be insufficient capacity available in the aircraft industry to cope with the increase envisaged in repair work.  The Royal Air Force had, therefore, to aim at self-sufficiency. But, as the expansion of RAF repair depots had to be closely related to mobilisation and training requirements, civilian industry had somehow to find the capacity for the excess of repair work anticipated.  It was not long, however, before doubts about industry's ability to play even this minor role prevailed and the Air Ministry decided to assume direct responsibility for the entire repair programme, using part Royal Air Force and part civilian repair shops.

Following up this decision, it was agreed in March 1939 that the RAF repair organisation would consist of

a) Three Service Repair Depots.

(b) Three Civilian Repair Depots :-

The three Service depots were each to have an establishment of 1,500, and their primary purpose was to provide on mobilisation personnel for aircraft depots for Field and Advanced Air Striking Forces, a war salvage organisation, and aircraft storage units for the erection of reserve aeroplanes.  In addition, it was anticipated that the Service depots would account for 25 per cent of the repair arisings of airframes, aero-engines, aircraft equipment, mechanical transport, etc.  Salvage was to be covered by the establishment of six centres in different parts of the country.

The major part of repair production (i.e. 75 per cent) was to be undertaken by the civilian depots, each with a peace-time strength of 3,500, under the supervision of RAF officers.  The civilian depots were to be regarded broadly as interchangeable units, and war conditions were to be met by increasing establishments and working treble shifts.

When hostilities broke out, no repair had been carried out by the new repair organisation.  Of the three Service depots only No 13 Maintenance Unit at Henlow was in being, while Burtonwood, the only one of the civilian depots to be commenced, was still in the building stage.  Some repair work was, however, being performed by aircraft parent and fringe firms under the control of the Director General of Production.  As soon as war was declared, No 43 Group with Headquarters at Andover was formed to control the repair and salvage maintenance units in the United Kingdom.

Arrangements for the Maintenance of Aircraft

The question of improving the technical organisation of the Royal Air Force had been under consideration both by the Air Ministry and the various Commands for some two years before the commencement of the 1939-1945 war.  As the result of their deliberations an Air Council letter was issued on 1 February 1939 which stated briefly that it had been decided to reconstruct the repair organisation at home and to modify the technical administration at operational stations. In the new organisation, repair and servicing responsibilities were distributed as follows :-

(a) Repair depots were to undertake major repairs and salvage and provide working parties for the embodiment of difficult modifications at units.

(b) Station workshops were to be responsible for the work of allied tradesmen and the repair of mechanical transport.

(c) Squadron servicing parties were to undertake major inspections of aeroplanes, minor repairs and the embodiment of modifications within their capacity.

(d) Flights were to undertake minor inspections of initial equipment aeroplanes.

The main difference in the station technical organisation lay in the introduction of the squadron servicing parties under the control of squadron engineer officers or warrant officers, engineer.  The latter were provided in addition to the station engineer officers introduced several years earlier. The effects of the new organisation may be summarised as under: -

(a) The responsibility for heavy work, e.g. major repairs and complete overhauls was transferred from flying units to a repair organisation.

(b) The functions of station workshops were curtailed.

(c) The varying degrees of skill of tradesmen were more correctly utilised.  For example, flights were manned by Group II tradesmen and squadron servicing parties by Group I mechanics.  All supervisory personnel were Group I tradesmen.

When the war started, the majority of units were in (the) process of reorganising their maintenance on the new lines but were handicapped by a general shortage of skilled tradesmen and engineer officers which prevented the increased establishments, resulting from the reorganisation, being filled.

Transfer of the Repair Organisation to Morris Motors, Ltd.

As stated previously, war came before the RAF repair organisation, as planned, could be brought into being.  Apart from the difficulty experienced completing, equipping and staffing both the Service and civilian depots, the question of the management of the latter had already given rise to considerable discussion.  At a meeting on 10 August 1939, it was agreed that of the three civilian depots one should be operated by RAF personnel, one by a civilian firm on an agency basis, and the third in the way proved most suitable from the experience of the first two   The discussion, however, proved to be academic.  Immediately the war started, the Secretary of State for Air (Sir Kingsley Wood) suggested to Lord Nuffield, the Chairman of Morris Motors, Ltd., that the Morris organisation should take over the control of the repair depot being built at Burtonwood, staff it and be entirely responsible for its management.

Sir Kingsley also asked Lord Nuffield whether he would consider managing the proposed repair depot at Stoke, pointing out that construction had not been started and Morris Motors could develop the new depot as they wished.  On 7 September 1939 Lord Nuffield agreed to take over the Buttonwood depot on the understanding that he would be made Honorary Controller, and the Deputy Chairman of Morris Motors (Mr Oliver Boden) Honorary Deputy Controller.  As an alternative to developing the Stoke project he offered to place at the disposal of the Air Ministry his vacant shop-space at Cowley, near Oxford, for use as a repair depot, saying that there was an abundant source of labour of the right type in the district and the complete executive and staff of the factory available.  Regarding the financial arrangements, Lord Nuffield said the factory could be run on the basis of a fixed Government contribution to overheads and a rate per airframe.  At a meeting held at the Air Ministry on 8 September, which was attended by Lord Nuffield, Mr Boden, Mr E J H Lemon, the Director General of Aircraft Production, Air Marshal Sir Wilfrid Freeman, Air Member for Development and Production and Air Vice-Marshal Welsh, Air Member for Supply and Organisation, it was agreed that Lord Nuffield's offer should be accepted.

The acceptance of the Cowley factory in replacement of that originally proposed at Stoke meant in practice the abandonment of the RAF scheme, already outdistanced by events.  Only Burtonwood of the three projected RAF civilian depots was ever brought into operation.  Moreover, its role was very different from that originally conceived.  After inspecting the site of the depot and the plans for the repair of equipment, Mr Boden said on 11 September that the RAF planning had progressed too far for it to be altered.  He added that the depot was unlike anything in industry and he felt that he could not manage it as a commercial concern.  He would, however, give all the advice and help he could.  Mr Boden also at first recommended that the organisation should not be altered and the Air Ministry should continue to provide personnel for the depot as originally planned.  A manager should, however, be provided by the Morris organisation.

On 23 September, Mr Boden changed his views regarding the participation of the Royal Air Force in running the Burtonwood depot.  At a meeting under the chairmanship of the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Air (Sir Arthur Street) attended by the Air Member for Supply and Organisation, the Second Deputy Under-Secretary (Mr A. Rowlands) and the Director of Works, he stated that he had gone further into the planned repair organisation and had come to the conclusion that, as conceived, the civilian repair depot at Burtonwood would be incapable of providing in war the output required.  In his opinion it had been a mistake to plan the civilian depots to undertake every range of repair, and the remedy would be to form a separate repair organisation within industry itself split up into the various specialised sectors.  It would be necessary to keep that repair organisation entirely separate from the production side to avoid any risk of interference with production.  The RAF conception of the depots had been based on the assumption that in war industry would not be able to undertake repairs. It had now become apparent that that assumption was incorrect and that there were sections of all branches of industry which would be used for repair work.  To meet the position Mr Boden made the following recommendations

(a) The original conception of the civilian repair depots in war should be abandoned in spite of any financial loss that would be entailed.

(b) The aid of a number of well-known industrialists should be sought to set up a repair organisation in industry itself, dividing into its various specialised sectors and utilising existing surplus industrial capacity. One of their number might be appointed to co-ordinate the scheme under some such title as Director General of Repair and Equipment, and Mr Boden intimated that, if he were invited, and provided Lord Nuffield concurred, he would be prepared to undertake this work.

(c) The best use that could be made of Burtonwood would be as a repair depot mainly for airframes on the lines of the Cowley works where damaged airframes were to be stripped of components, which would be sent away elsewhere for repair.  Demands for replacement equipment would be made on RAF equipment depots and the repaired aircraft would be turned out complete.

(d) The delivery of machine tools to Burtonwood should not at present be stopped but they should not be bedded down.

(e) No steps should be taken to post Air Ministry personnel to Burtonwood.

Mr Boden's further recommendations were discussed at length at a special meeting held at the Air Ministry on 27 September 1939.  At the meeting the Permanent Under-Secretary explained the situation which had arisen in connection with the RAF repair arrangements and said that the stage had been reached when two questions called for urgent settlement :-

(a) Whether the original conception of the repair depot at Burtonwood as a general repair depot in war should be abandoned in favour of Mr Boden's recommendations.

(b) If these recommendations were adopted, what arrangements would be required within the Air Ministry for controlling and accepting responsibility for the repair function.

The Air Member for Development and Production expressed his opinion that in view of Mr Boden's heavy responsibilities in other directions, especially in connection with the Castle Bromwich factory, he should not be invited to organise the scheme to establish a repair organisation within industry itself.

On the first question, no decision was taken pending settlement of the second which concerned the revised arrangements required within the Air Ministry.  In respect of the second question, there was considerable divergence of opinion.  On the one hand it was argued that there was intimate connection between upkeep of material and salvage within the Royal Aft Force and the supply of material in war.  Owing to the high wastage which would result in war, the policy of supply of new material must be interlocked very closely with the policy of Repair and Upkeep.  There was urgent need for an organisation which would allow the control of Supply, Repair and Upkeep by a common head, not only in the Air Ministry but throughout the Commands at home and overseas.  The organisation should embrace Supply, which in fact existed under the Director of Equipment, and should also contain a Repair and Upkeep side which was at present directed by the Director of Repair and Maintenance who was attached to Production.  On the other hand it was argued that Repair was as closely connected with Production as with Supply and it was essential that the production work outside the Royal Air Force should conform, to Service technical requirements.  For that reason, the Director of Repair and Maintenance should be attached to Production.  It was equally necessary for any head of the repair organisation to be attached to the production side in order, particularly, to ensure that there would be no overlapping in the selection of industrial capacity and that the available industrial capacity (including skilled labour) was wisely used.

It was generally agreed at the meeting that the present position whereby the Director of Repair and Maintenance was filling a role calling for his direction by two members of Council was not satisfactory and it was finally, decided that the Air Member for Development and Production and the Air Member for Supply and Organisation should each prepare for consideration by the Air Council a close functional analysis on paper of their proposals for the control of and acceptance of responsibility for the repair organisation within the Air Ministry and that, if necessary, the Secretary of State should be invited to determine the issue.

On 21 October 1939 Sir Kingsley Wood decided finally to appoint Lord Nuffield to be the Director General of Maintenance at the Air Ministry and his assistant (Mr Oliver Boden) to be the Deputy Director General.  The appointments were announced on 1 November 1939.  In the meantime, Air Marshal. Welsh and Air Marshal Freeman, after many discussions as to who should control aircraft repairs, agreed to settle the question on a compromise basis.  On 23 October it was arranged that the Air Member for Supply and Organisation would be responsible for the administration and control of the Service repair depots, Burtonwood, and the repair units under the Nuffield organisation, while the Air Member for Development and Production would continue to administer and control all fringe firms engaged on repair work.  The Deputy Directorate of Repair and Maintenance together with all members of DRM's staff engaged on repair were to be transferred to AMSO's Department to assist Lord Nuffield's organisation.  The remainder of DRM's staff was to concern itself only with the design aspects of repair and maintenance.

The Directorate of Repair and Servicing and the Directorate of Maintenance and Design

The splitting up of the Directorate of Repair and Maintenance between the Air Member for Supply and Organisation and the Air Member for Development and Production was found to be unsuitable and was followed, after more discussion, by the formation of two new directorates.  That part of DRM transferred to AMSO became the Directorate of Repair and Servicing (DRS) the remainder under AMDP was named the Directorate of Maintenance and Design (DMD).  Air Commodore G C Bailey from Headquarters Maintenance Command was appointed to control DRS while Air Commodore Sir Quinton Brand became DMD and it was not until 19 March 1940, i.e. over four months after the new Directorates were formed, that the memorandum (No 56 of 1940) defining such respective responsibilities was published.

On 10 May 1940 Mr Churchill became Prime Minister, and shortly after assuming office appointed Lord Beaverbrook to be Minister of Aircraft Production.  The latter as part of his duties promptly assumed control of aircraft repairs in the United Kingdom and took over from the Air Ministry many of the responsibilities which had been allocated to the department of the Air Member Supply and Organisation.

Lordd Nuffield and the Civilian Repair Organisation

The direct result of the appointment of Lord Nuffield as Director General of RAF Maintenance was the establishment of what came to be known as the Civilian Repair Organisation, the controlling and guiding spirit of which was Morris Motors Ltd.  The success which this organisation ultimately achieved owed a great deal to the work of Mr Oliver Boden who was responsible for most of the planning and development in the early stages. Apart, however, from the fact that Lord Nuffield was instrumental in introducing a scheme of building up within industry a repair organisation of firms specialising in the different types of work and controlled by one parent firm, his appointment as Director General of RAF Maintenance was not, in the true sense of the term, a success.  Indeed, it is difficult to see how any industrialist, no matter how successful he may have been in civil life, could have taken over at short notice an appointment such as the Director General of RAF Maintenance without those years of experience of RAF methods which the ramifications of the task demanded, particularly when it is remembered that the maintenance service needed considerable development if it was to meet the requirements of a world-wide war.

The Civilian Repair Organisation operated from the Morris Motors Headquarters at Cowley under the control of a Director.  The staff were not Government employees but Morris personnel paid by that organisation under a comprehensive financial arrangement with the Air Ministry. T he staff at Cowley were considerably handicapped from the commencement of theft activities by lack of knowledge of aircraft repairs and it was necessary to attach experienced RAF engineer officers to the Morris Headquarters in the initial stages in an advisory capacity.

It was not until the week ending 2 March 1940, that the first 12 airframes were produced with a stock holding of no less than 535.  Progress for the next three months was slow and the stock of aircraft awaiting repair steadily increased as the following figures show

Week ending

Output per week

Total holding at the end of the week

2 Mar 1940

12 535

9 Mar 1940 

29 510

16 Mar 1940

27 540

23 Mar 1940

7 560

30 Mar 1940

9 580

 6 Apr 1940

12 600

13 Apr 1940

20 620

20 Apr 1940

28 625

27 Apr 1940

34 630

 4 May 1940

15 640

11 May 1940

17 655

18 May 1940

20  695

25 May 1940

22 720

 It was not until the Civilian Repair Organisation was transferred to the control of the Ministry of Aircraft Production on the formation of the latter in May 1940 that any real improvement was made.  During the week ending 1 June 1940 the output of repaired aircraft jumped from the total of 22 during the previous week to a total of 99, of which 55 were made serviceable on site.  From then on the improvement was maintained and during the week ending 21 September 1940 no less than 199 airframes were repaired, of which 66 were made serviceable on site and 133 at works.

Mr Oliver Boden unfortunately died from heart failure on 6 March 1940, while he was in process of organising the Civilian Repair Organisation.  Mr Boden was a remarkable man and probably got through more work in two days than most men could in double that time.  He carried an immense load.  He was Lord Nuffield's chief executive and as such had to give attention to every one of the Nuffield activities.  These included the Castle Bromwich factory, the Burtonwood repair depot, the Civilian Repair Organisation with all its associated fringe firms, produce depots, etc., as well as the work of the Deputy Director General of Maintenance.  In addition he apparently directed factories both for gun manufacture and tank manufacture and looked after the normal motor-car production at Cowley.  All these activities, of course, only enabled him to put in about two days a week at the Air Ministry.

The replacement of Mr Boden presented difficulties, and after discussion it was agreed between Lord Nuffield and the Air Member for Supply and Organisation that, in view of the work involved, two Deputy Director Generals of Maintenance should be provided at the Air Ministry.  Consequently, on 15 April 1940, two other Directors of Morris Motors Ltd., Mr H A Ryder and Mr H Seaward, were appointed DDGM 1 and DDGM 2 respectively.  The functions of these two gentlemen were: -

The titles Deputy Director Generals of Maintenance were selected by Lord Nuffield himself, although by this time it was becoming apparent to everyone concerned that Lord Nuffield and his assistants were dealing exclusively with airframe repairs in the United Kingdom and not with the provision of equipment or spare parts, the repair of engines and the various aspects of maintenance of the RAF overseas.  Messrs. Ryder and Seaward planned their repair policy and repair capacity in accordance with the requirements of the Royal Air Force at home which were notified to them by the Directorate of Repair and Servicing.  A branch of the Directorate of Contracts of the Air Ministry was attached to Cowley in order that contracts could be concluded without delay between the Air Ministry and the firms selected by the Directors of the Civilian Repair Organisation.

Lord Nuffield at this stage took little part in the direction of repair and left practically everything connected with the Royal Air Force to his two Deputy Director Generals.  When on 17 May 1940 the Ministry of Aircraft Production was formed, with Lord Beaverbrook as its Minister, the posts of Director General of Maintenance with two Deputies at the Air Ministry lapsed, but in view of the fact that the work put into the Civilian Repair Organisation was beginning to bear fruit it was recommended by the Air Council to Lord Beaverbrook that the organisation with its Headquarters at Cowley should continue to exist and be transferred to his Ministry.  This was agreed, and on 16 June 1940 Mr T C L Westbrook of Messrs. Vickers-Armstrongs was appointed Director of the Aircraft Civilian Repair Organisation at MAP Headquarters, while Mr Achurch, of Morris Motors Ltd., retained control of the Headquarters at Cowley.  Lord Nuffield, Mr Ryder and Mr Seaward returned to their normal activities in industry.  The Aircraft Depot at Burtonwood, which had not then reached the production stage, was transferred to the administration of the Fairey Aviation Company.  Subsequently it was managed jointly by Fairey's and the Bristol Aeroplane Company.  It became the chief centre for the erection, modification and repair of American aircraft and was handed over to the United States Army Air Force in 1942.

The Directorate of Equipment

The organisation of the Directorate of Equipment which came into being immediately before the outbreak of war was the result of recommendations made by the Directorate of Equipment in June 1939.  The organisation was designed to carry the load experienced in the early summer of that year under the conditions of peace expansion. The proposals for the war establishment of the Directorate provided for the addition of a number of junior equipment officers, but did not include any upgradings or any splitting up of branches since it was hoped that the additions provided for would meet requirements during the early weeks of the war.

The experience of the first two months of the war showed that this forecast was wrong and the load on branches increased to such an extent as to make it possible for many of the heads of branches to exercise efficient supervision over the range of equipment for which they were responsible. The effect of these developments was that the Director of Equipment found himself having to deal with an increasing number of problems which should have been handled by subordinates.  In addition, his position was complicated by the fact that the Directorate moved to Harrogate when the war commenced but the Air Member for Supply and Organisation to whom he was responsible remained in London.

After considerable discussion the Treasury, on 11 March 1940, agreed to an expansion of the Directorate whereby its various branches were split up so that the load on each branch was no more than the head of the branch could carry.  A number of Deputy Directors were provided to supervise the branches, three Directors of Equipment were added to handle matters without delay on the Director level and the head of the Department was upgraded to Deputy Director General.  Air Vice-Marshal Garrod was appointed the Deputy Director General of Equipment. The three officers selected for the posts of Directors of Equipment were, Air Commodore E W Havers, Group Captain W J B Curtis and Air Commodore R W Thomas.

The Proposal to Appoint a Business Adviser to the Directorate of Equipment

When the arrangements for the reorganisation of the Directorate of Equipment were brought to the notice of the Secretary of State for Air, Sir Kingsley Wood pointed out to the Air Member for Supply and Organisation that several senior posts in the Quartermaster General's Department at the War Office were filled by civilians with large industrial experience and he considered that at least one of the Directors of Equipment should be a business man.  This proposal was not received favourably by the Deputy Director General of Equipment who said that apart from the injurious effect it would have upon the morale of the whole of the equipment branch, no imported man could exercise the responsibility of a Director without having first served his apprenticeship in a number of less important posts.  As a compromise he suggested that the equipment organisation could be strengthened by attaching an experienced business man to his department in an advisory capacity.  The individual selected would remain a civilian and would have no executive responsibilities but would be free to roam over the whole equipment system with the aim of speeding up the machinery, simplifying and reducing paper processes, detecting inefficient or inadequate or excessive staffs and so on.  He would exercise these functions not only by sitting in with the branches of the Deputy Director General of Equipment but also by visiting the units of the Maintenance Command and the equipment organisations of all the other Commands.

This suggestion was put to the Secretary of State by the Air Member for Supply and Organisation on 26 March 1940 and it was recommended that Brigadier-General Jones, who was chairman of the committee which investigated the methods of administration in the Royal Air Force in 1938, should be appointed business adviser to DDGE.  The suggestion was not pursued, however, because when Sir Samuel Hoare replaced Sir Kingsley Wood as Secretary of State for Air on 3 April 1940 it was no longer necessary for the Air Ministry to follow Sir Kingsley's policy of infiltrating industrialists into Service departments.

Business methods were, however, not entirely ignored by the equipment branch of the Service.  When Maintenance Command was first formed in 1938, the Headquarters staff made a point of studying the methods adopted in industry.  Railway General Managers were consulted regarding rail transportation and the layout of sidings and branch lines; the petrol chiefs in regard to the scheme for fuel depots; the Automobile Association for road routeing; Harrods for quick delivery service; Selfridges for post order business and office systems, etc.

Immediately after the war commenced, the Treasury recommended that a firm of business efficiency experts should examine the whole of the RAF equipment system.  This proposal was welcomed by the Air Member for Supply and Organisation and the Director of Equipment so long as the enquiry was not likely to interfere with the work of the Directorate which was operating under high pressure, and provided that any reforms proposed were not likely to slow up or dislocate the Service while they were being introduced.  Subsequently it was suggested that use should be made of the services of men with wide business experience who became available or who were anxious to serve within the equipment service of the Royal Air Force in war-time.

This page was last updated on 21/12/17

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