My Dearest Reggie:
These packets keep getting thicker, don't they? It's not my fault. Blame Herr Hitler, and other matters that Spring brings with it. I gather that even the Canadian press has managed to notice the annexation of the Czech lands into the German Reich. Perhaps I should say, rather, "especially," since it seems to me that all the Hussites ended up in Canada. Or was that America? Or am I confusing my Bohemian heretics? Or, again, is the story of people going to America more complicated than I am given to understand? (Don't we know about such things!)
Speaking of things that shouldn't be mentioned in polite company, I would rather that the club didn't know that I am reading The Economist now, as next they will be suspecting me of having Non-Conformist leanings. The Nineteenth Century never dies around here. Or, rather, the whitewashed Nineteenth Century of their asinine imaginings. Which brings me to the clipping, which purports to show how the American economy has come adrift due to the decline in the number of millionaires since 1929(!) and the decline of investment funds due to Roosevelt's swingeing tax raises. The moral of the story might be that we should think long and hard about how British manufacturing will compete once the Americans finally twig to the idea of allowing investments to be deducted from income tax payments.
Or it might be that The Economist's American correspondent is making disingenuous arguments in favour of lower taxes on the wealthy, but I shan't call him out on that. On the contrary, I shall wish him every success, just so long as I do not have to be seen in public with him.
With that, on to the news of a tumultuous month.
The Economist, 18 February 1939
The White Paper on the Service Estimates was discussed this week. It gives a “comprehensive statement of the aims and progress of the defence programme as a whole.” The borrowing limit for defence spending as a whole is to be raised to 800 millions, and that no less than 80 millions of that are to be spent this year, the whole of the Estimates rising to four fifths of discretionary spending. This is, in one sense, a source of satisfaction, deter the dictators and all that, as seemed to be the objective in the innocent days of late February. Yet the leader is also worried. The supplementary estimates now being voted show that defence production was higher last year than originally projected. The Leader thinks that the Army is under armed and that there are not enough “of the small naval vessels required for anti-submarine and convoying work” and that more needs to be spent on air raid precautions. So something for the shipyards and for the civil engineers. In the last war, we ended by building a good part of the escort force to mercantile standards of construction, something that we could bid on from Hong Kong, do you suppose?
It is, again, a reflection of last month's innocence that the dominant theme of the White Paper is the financial cost. Revenues are lower than expected, unemployment benefits higher. Only the income tax looks like it will meet expectations. The average volume of trade looks to be lower in 1939 than in 1938. The Leader calls for some defence spending to be financed from the floating debt, for which there is not enough product to supply the market, and some from an increase on revenues, in order to reduce reliance on the financial markets, which will be tested by so large an issue of debt as will be required to meet continuing defence expenditures.
Elsewhere in this issue: “[E]ven if the guns made in 1938 can be prevented from going off, the rearmament will at least have proven something that economists have long argued in vain, that government expenditure can affect the trade cycle.”
Flight 2 March 1939
Again what a difference a few weeks make, as the Leader was on about international air control agreements. In peace, to be sure, the issue of controlling airliners crossing international frontiers becomes ever more pressing. In war, if we are to have it, other matters arise. Then there is some substance added to the bit about trousered undercarriages at last: specifically, one George Dowty writes to suggest that the recent problems with jamming undercarriages suggests that design of them be left to specialists. According to your son, this Dowty fellow is making quite a name for himself designing aircraft undercarriages. Who knew that such a thing could become a manufacturing specialisation? On his recommendation, I dropped a few hundred into shares. After all, where would we be if Pou-Pou had not persuaded Great-Grandfather that Burmah oil was a better bet than under-draining more of Surrey?
Not to be diverted (any further) by better times long ago, I notice that two more of the De Havilland Albatrosses have been ordered for the Atlantic. There is not even a mail run across the Atlantic yet, and we are already expanding the fleet? Perhaps New York is going to revive! The Leader inquires as to whether more should be ordered to “relieve the strain” on the Ensigns? I don’t know. Do Ensigns break their backs when they land? Can Albatrosses take off in Mediterranean airs? I would recommend that we walk before we fly were it not so far beside the point.
Article: Francis Chichester, “Square Deal for the Navigator,” an airplane design really needs to allocate some space for the navigator to do his work. Remember trying to hold the charts down long enough to take a measurement back on old Rattlesnake? "….And Bristol Fashion,” is a history of “one of the oldest British aircraft firms and its products," with quite a lovely picture of a Blenheim suitable to be pinned up above a boy's bed. I enclose one, in case you do not receive Flight in faraway Vancouver.
Foreign Service News: Talk of shell guns; a quite remarkable new twin-engined Dutch fighter from Fokker and the entirely unremarkable JU87, one of the dive bombers of the Luftwaffe. The first aircraft works in North Africa is taking shape at Maison Blanche near Algiers. Perhaps the day is not far off when the corsairs of Barbary fly instead of sail? France, not content with corps d'elite that march quickly, ski, or ride bicycles or motorcycles, are now training equipes that will be dropped from aeroplanes --with parachutes, of course. Didn't that American madman, Christie, propose to deliver tanks that way a few years ago? I await the announcement of an air-droppable Big Bertha. China, regrettably, is buying an American fighter, the CW21.
Ah hah! Remember how I remarked on the mystery of Bristol's chief designer giving a public talk in London that Flight apparently could not cover? This number now has a very tight summary of a repeat performance given at the Rolls Royce works in Derby: “A Bristolian in Derby.”A. H. R. Fedden had a much more hostile audience, and we are told, defended himself with fascinating results. Sleeve valves we are given to understand, survive almost all criticism. They are not more prone to failure, nor harder to maintain, a claim that strikes me as implausible, or at least special pleading. On the other hand, I am just an old steam hand, and Fedden is talking about 6.2 hp per square inch of piston as being "in no way the limit!" Fedden is quoted as admired the high-output short life policy seen in Rolls Royce racing engines, but adds that Bristol’s philosophy was reliability at all costs. I am just a simple country boy, but even I see the dagger that hides behind the smile there! Bristol is experimenting with more configurations, such as one, two, three and four row radials, as the Taurus is probably the most compact radial possible. No false modesty there! In a reference that seems aimed at Derby, Fedden notes that an “X” type engine, which might be thought of as a six-row, four-cylinder radial with the engines in a bank, and he allows that Derby might be working on 9 hp/ square inch, cylinders with 6" bores, and fuels of over 100 octane is in sight. This, another informant tells me, implies an aeroengine of as much as 2000hp, which I would dismiss as American bombast had he not given me a little eyebrow-raise to suggest that there is nothing hypothetical about it at all.
In this light, I note that The Industry has a short bit worthy of that little tell: Napier’s chairman refers to a ballon d’essai in his speech to shareholders. Something remarkable is coming from the Napier works soon.
Engineering 3 March 1939
“Research and Industrial development.” “The Iron and Steel Industry in the Armament Programme.” I summarise neither article here. Suffice it to say that research is important to industrial development, and that armaments use iron and steel.
The Economist, 4 March 1939
This week: Franco's government is recognized; the Estimates tabled; Pius XII is elected in conclave. He is thought to be anti-Nazi, opposing “racial persecution and totalitarianism;" Air raid precaution work is at last in full swing; there is a crisis in the Palestine Talks, which I do hope will be resolved soon, so that we can move on to more important matters, such as the terrible developments in Shanghai. The one small consolation of the denouement in Prague is that now that everyone else feels weighed down by an abstracted sense of gloom, I have an easier time concealing my own distress.
-The 48 hour week for shop’s assistants is still a dream. Of shop's assistants, I imagine. Employers, oddly, seem less enthusiastic, although I for one shouldn't mind being waited on by people who have time to sleep between work days!
-The BBC’s budget is up on licensing revenues, but it still needs its Treasury subvention due to the rapid expansion of domestic radio, international shortwave, and television services.
-India’s budget is balanced by increasing taxes and a fall in defence expenditure thanks to an increasing UK subvention. A doubling of the import duty on raw cotton defeats forecast budget deficits. “It is significant that the sharp increase of the import duty on the raw material of India’s primary manufacturing industry, with the effect of protecting the primary producer, seems to have been well received in Indian political circles.” Honestly, between Lancashire and the Indian landlord class, we will lose this Empire of ours in jig time!
-Speaking of which, Mr. Bose and Mr. Gandhi are squabbling.
-No sign of recovery in the US.
-In perhaps not-unrelated news, France is to be reformed by “plough and machines” not by government. All very well, then, says the Leader, but French industry doesn’t want to invest. There is too much uncertainty about the prospects for a recovery in domestic spending. “Ten milliards less in taxes would have meant ten milliards more in false money,” the finance minister says. Well, yes, but we're borrowing to make up for the shortfalls in your air force and, now, apparently, your army.
-Anglo-German talks continue on adjusting trade to both country’s interests. Also being adjusted, “uphill," so that is downhill both ways. Excellent news for bicyclists and locomotives! I should imagine that Herr Hitler's seizure of Prague's foreign reserves is the best indication of where these talks were going.
-Speaking of which, increased taxes in Germany, too. Especially on Jews. Go away, Jews! And pay more taxes. Am I the only one who sees a contradiction here? It's rather like socialists and rich people...
-I neglect to summarise the “Estonia in 1938” article, fascinating as it is.
-D. M. Moore writes to explain “Nazi Economics.” The Nazis invade people when they’re feeling pinched. Timely, Mr. Moore, timely.
-Articles: “Revival in Home Rails?” Railways are over-capitalised and steadily leaking traffic to the roads, but, somehow, some of the domestic rail stocks are undervalued and good investments. I shall stand for the ribbing later like a man, but, frankly, Reggie, I have been burned too often by railway schemers. “Tin Under Control'" Shipping in trouble, cocoa prices down; oat and barley subsidy to cover weaknesses; retail sales in January overall unchanged. That last is interesting, and so is the news that income tax receipts are up, I notice now, as my upset over Shanghai subsides.
Flight 9 March 1939
Leader: Air Estimates higher than Naval Estimates! Note that in your diary, Reggie. Nor is it just the air force. The Fleet Air Arm is growing, too. The Leader is alarmed. Where will we get Jolly Jack Tar artificers? Not from industry, we are told. re will it get artificers? Train your own! Well, yes, and then they're off to industry. I suppose that it is back to the days of Selborne and Fisher, then. Fisher, you will recall, scrapped the South China Station for his artificers, in the end. What will your son's generation sacrifice? Battleships? I shudder to think.
Article: “Bristol Fashion” II: the Rise of the Radial." The Civil Hercules, soon to be lofting us over the Atlantic, is a fine little engine. "Training Carrier:” Flight goes to sea on HMS Courageous. Better you than me, old man, although at least Fisher's Follies are better sea boats than old Argus! The Air Estimates are given a three page commentary.
Service Aviation has a picture of a Skua at sea and a Bristol Bombay being rolled out, only two years late.
Commercial Aviation shows a DC5, which looks astonishingly like the de Havilland DH 95. Are they running out of ideas in Burbank?
The Economist 11 March 1939
Leaders: “The Location of Industry”—companies move, in general from the North to the West Midlands, Greater London Area, and southwest. Someone should do something that doesn’t involve state intervention in the wrong way, but possibly in the right way. I paraphrase, to be sure.
Can Germany’s Jews be ransomed? “The World’s Navies:” Britain has 15 battleships to the Axis (Japan/Italy/Germany 18 (9/4/5); 7 carriers to 5; 64 cruisers to 66 (39/21/5); 174 DD to 200 (118/60/22); a massive inferiority in “torpedo boats,” excluding the small motor type. Now, as for new building, it is 9 capital ships building or authorized to 12 (4/4/4); 6 carriers to 4 (2/0/2). Notice, Reggie, that British aircraft carrier construction equals the entire world’s less the French (2) and the Soviet Union, with 3 authorised. In cruisers, it is 23 to 26 (5/12/9); in destroyers it is 40 to 25 (10/7/8); and in submarines it is 18 to 39 (8/20/11). Right now, it looks like it would be difficult to send many reinforcements to Singapore in the event that Britain and France face off against the entire Axis, but when the British building programme is finished, it will be much more practical.Topics of the Week: the army is to be modernized as a mobile striking force. The 19 divisions mentioned elsewhere are to include 3 armoured and 3 motorised. Only 4 Regular divisions are to be fully armed on a modern basis for the moment, however. China, the Middle East, India, wage pressure in coal and rail not entirely to be resisted; there is a Belgian cabinet crisis, which I hope will be resolved soon so that we can pay attention to more pressing matters; there is no sign of economic recovery in the United States; but France will start recovering quite soon, helped along by cuts in administrative expenditures. There are some signs that this is so, for heavy industry is recovering nicely, although I cannot help but wonder if this has something more to do with defence expenditures than with sacking bureaucrats, and French consumer spending is pulling back. Herr Goebbels blames Britain for Germany’s inability to make trade deals abroad. The Dutch guilder is depreciating, and, in the wake of foreign trade wars, the Government sees it as necessary to stimulate domestic spending (on domestic goods) by increasing import duties; Profits in February were stable, and there was a sharp decline in unemployment. Steel production is up. Major purchases of scrap abroad will soon be necessary.
Flight 15 March 1939
Leader: Debating the Air Estimates. You might imagine, Reggie, that it would be impossible to debate a "candy for everybody" Estimate, but, apparently, one can. Kingsley Wood was asked high frequency directional beacons, apparently the latest thing in air traffic control. How are they coming along, K.W.? The minister is forced to admit that they have onlyy 3 of 19 in. Some Hon. Membs. "Oh. Oh!"; Mr. Hore-Belisha says that the army will send 19 divisions overseas. No more Limited Liability. Notice how this comes before the march on Prague?
Article: “Some Data on Foreign Aircraft Carriers.” Since you were wondering. Britain has 6, four building, 1 on order. America has lots of carriers now. Japan is breaking out of its treaty limits. Gotland is cool. Italy won’t build carriers. Now hold on for a minute, here. As angry as I am at the Japanese at the moment, I cannot help but notice that we're the ones building five aircraft carriers and fitting out one, but that it is the Japanese who are breaking out of the limitation treaties? There are not many times that I miss Jack Fisher's intemperate mouth, but this is one time.
Article: “Air Estimates Debated:” After my facetious first take above, I am compelled to observe, on a more serious note, that the crucial issue right now is the need for more production plant, as opposed to more aircraft.
Article: “QBI –and Why” Just in case you are not au courant with wireless shorthand, "QBI" is flying in non-visual conditions such as night and overcast. This is when air traffic control becomes especially important, but also especially difficult. Having said all that, the notice in this number is that the article is held over for reasons that we would quite understand, if Flight could only divulge them.
The Economist, 18 March 1939
Leaders: “Agony of the Czechs.” What more need be said? Although in its defence, The Economist does find a way to justify issuing a full number's worth of paper for anyone who can summon the interest to read about the alleged cartelisation of England and the need for wage and price controls.
Short topics: Australian political economy, Pacific defence, Palestine, India, rise of Japanese shipping at our expense. The United States is contemplating “recovery by spending.” France’s recovery is helped out by the fact that foreign currencies are inflating even faster than its. The British electric companies are doing surprisingly well. Looking back with a few weeks' distance, I cannot help notice the last. As after a long winter, the first green shoots. . . I think that at some point soon, at least granted that Herr Hitler gives it a chance, we shall see an honest-to-God boom in England again. If so, it will be an odd one, triggered by domestic consumption.
Flight 23 March 1939
Leader: The Air Ministry and War Office have agreed on how many fighter squadrons the BEF gets. It is finally admitted that Britain will be getting the shell gun, with a Royal Ordnance Factory to manufacture it in the UK. I am given to understand that it will be the Hispano, a veritable elephant gun amongst 1" aero-cannons. The RAF will also be getting a twin-engine fighter of more modern vintage than the Blenheim.
Article: the Parnall 382 Trainer is described. Summary of an article debating comparative merits of carburetor versus injection. Apparently the former is more efficient, while the latter allows for more vigorous aerobatics. The ROTOL company's variable-pitch airscrew is described. As is the Percival Trainer.
Engineering 24 March
The Leader has noticed that the Naval Estimates are huge. “It will be recalled that the estimates, now accepted, provide for the construction of two capital ships, one aircraft carrier, four cruisers, 16 destroyers and two flotilla leaders, 20 fast escort vessels and two of normal type, 10 minesweepers and 13 miscellaneous craft such as gunboats and hospital ships.” These are not pure additions to the fleet, which is seriously overage. We are not seriously challenged by Germany on the surface, but the Reich’s new submarine fleet is a menace, while Italy’s battleships may be thought of as a support for the massive light forces that will effectively control the central Med. Thus it is the destroyers and escorts that are the most important part of the Estimates. All very well, but what of "Main Fleet to Singapore?"
The Economist, March 25, 1939
Leader: “England Awakes.” “Business Not as Usual.” There will be conscription, but not just of young men for the services. “Conscription of national industry” is in sight.
Short Topics: The debate on the Naval Estimates has the Opposition calling for even more “light escorts.” In America, it is argued that Treasury borrowing is crowding out the private sector, so the Treasury’s decision that it “wants no new money” in the first half of 1939 is industry’s chance to show that it can absorb American capital.
Articles: “Armaments Profits.” Despite considerable increase in turnover, it is not clear that armaments firms are making large profits. The specialty steel firms are the exception.
Company reports: British Aluminium and Associated Electrical Industries did well last year, and so did British Insulated Cables, although their sales rose less than in previous years.
Flight 30 March 1939
Leader: Air Power in the current crisis. With war in the air, H. F. King gives us “Military Aircraft of the World.” The Bloch 151, Dewoitine 520, Bf 109, Caudron, and an outlandish contraption called the Payen Flechair, apparently not new, are remarked.
Commercial Aviation covers the first commercial crossing of the Atlantic, as the Americans, as expected by everyone, except, apparently, Imperial Airways, have wrong-footed us. Yankee Clipper, a gigantic Boeing(!) flying boat, carried several paying passengers.
Article: “Armament: Some Notes on Recent Developments: Large Bore Shell-guns; installations and Turrets.” Now that we are officially informed of a British Hispano, we are invited to meditate on aeroplane gun turrets large enough to carry them!
Engineering 31 March 1939
Article on Ark Royal and “the resistance of concrete to high explosives.” Editorial: we are beginning to think that the engineering industry did not suffer as heavily last year as was first thought. Employment in the sector rose slightly, reaching 592,913 versus 524,502 in 1928, with unemployed at 47,577 compared with 56,678 in 1928. Let us now stop and give mindful attention to the fact that employment in the engineering sector, notwithstanding the disastrous year that shipbuilding has been having, has risen 12%, in ten years, while registered unemployment in the industry has fallen 17% in the same time period.
In discussing the Estimates as much as I have in this letter, have I brought to mind a particular conversation that we had, one September, long ago, with Doveton Sturdee? If so, you may well understand one of the reasons that I shall be taking advantage of this modern age by flying to Hong Kong this week-end. There is another, which will be broached on a clear, bright day near Whampoa. More, quite possibly much more, next month.