British War Production/Preface

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The present volume has been designed to introduce a series. In his preface to British War Economy Professor Hancock, the General Editor of the Civil Histories of the War, made it clear that the studies concerned with war industry and with the four supply ministries would from a self-contained group of volumes, a series within a larger series. The plan of the war-production histories, which was announced at about the same time, was perhaps more ambitious than the books which are now taking shape. But the general composition of the series has not been much altered. The volumes which are now nearing completion will deal with the supply and control of raw materials, with the supply and utilisation of labour in the munitions industry, with the provision of factories, plant and machine tools, with the administrative machinery of the supply departments, with the finance of war production and with overseas supplies. There may also be a composite volume dealing with the design and development of weapons. It was also part of the original plan to introduce the series by a ‘synoptic’ volume covering the entire field of war production. In fulfilment of this plan the present volume is now offered.

The introductory character of this volume will account for some of its obvious features. That in a general survey of this kind a number of topics should be treated very briefly is something to be expected; and from the point of view of a general reader, or of a ready about to proceed to the specialist volumes, this brevity may turn out to be a fault on the right side. What both the general reader and the serious student may find less to their liking is the book’s lack of consistency in the distribution of space and detail. Whereas some topics, such as the changing demand for weapons or the trends of output and deliveries are treated at some length, other topics, such as raw materials, labour or industrial capacity, are sketched out in mere outline.

The repeated changes in the scale of the narrative interfered with its writing as much as they may interfere with its reading, but they were nevertheless inevitable. In accordance with its introductory and synoptic purpose, this volume embraces the various subjects which form the themes of the specialist volumes. The subjects had to be treated briefly is they were to be accommodated between the two covers; and this could be done in the knowledge that they due to receive fuller treatment in other studies. The introductory volume must, however, contain certain other subjects which could not be thus compressed. Although most of the field of war production had been partitioned among the specialist volume, the partition was not, and could not be, so perfect as to leave no unappropriated residue. Above all, the general trends of demand and supply, i.e. the strategic and economic factors which shaped the ‘programmes’ of the Services and determined the flow of ‘deliveries’, could not be easily relegated to later volumes. They were the common denominator of all the other studies, and, besides, could not be expounded without ranging over every aspect of war industry. They had therefore from the very outset been defined as ‘introductory’ and consigned solely to the synoptic volume. And, so consigned, they had to be allowed more space and a greater ration of detail than the subjects which were due to be dealt with more fully elsewhere.

This inequality of scale has, so to speak, been planned. Other inequalities have been forced by circumstances unforeseen at the time of planning. The political and psychological climate in which this book was conceived is not the climate in which it is now destined to see the light of day. With the country in the midst of another effort of rearmament the interests of security demand that some topics should be eschewed altogether and that others should be cast in a form less specific than that which had at first been intended for them. Thus, the whole of the projected chapter on the quality of weapons, dealing with the problems of design, development, research and innovation has been scrapped. Such fragments of the subject as can conveniently be discussed and are intimately related to the story of production, e.g. the quality of tanks before 1944, the early history of radar, the relation of modifications to new design in aircraft production, have been salvaged from the projected chapter and incorporated in other parts of the book.

The main victims of the new circumstances had been the two concluding chapters of the study. In the original plan a large section, nearly half of the volume, was to be devoted to industrial topics. It was to deal with the size and structure of undertakings, with the managerial and technical processes in factories, with utilisation of space and machinery, with the behaviour and position of labour: in short, with the the whole complex of subjects which in academic classification belong to the ‘economics and sociology of industry’. This, if done, would not only have rounded off the survey but might also have improved its balance. For, in general, the civil histories of the war are, to use the phrase in Professor Hancock’s preface, ‘anchored to the records of Government departments’. They are written in Government offices, are planned and executed in constant consultation with civil servants and are, therefore, bound to occupy themselves with the actions of ministers and officials, and to deal obliquely and incompletely with events and processes of the nation at large. At the time when the present volume was in preparation, there was some hope that its very subject would have made it possible to redress somewhat the ‘departmental’ bias of the series as a whole. The records and publications of a number of firms had to be consulted, numerous industrial undertakings to be visited, views of managers and employees to be take; and this appeared to offer an opportunity for planning a large ‘industrial’ section. Unfortunately, this hope could not be entirely fulfilled. To have done this in the manner originally planned would have meant to discuss in great detail the experience of firms and factories which are now again engaged in the making of weapons, sometimes the same weapons which they made in the last war. Considerations of security have now made this inadvisable, and, as a result, two brief and general chapters have taken the place of what was to be a large part of the volume.

The necessities of a synoptic study have determined not only the choice of topics and the internal balance of the volume, but also the very process and technique of its composition. Like all the other volumes in the civil histories this volume is based on a vast mass of original material. Most writers of individual volumes in civil histories have found their documentation voluminous to the point of being overwhelming. How much more voluminous and overwhelming must then be the documentation of a volume covering the entire field of war production and based upon the records of four Government departments and a large number of industrial undertakings! The number of files which had to be read or looked through in the preparation of this volume may well have run into a score of thousands; recorded testimonies, opinions and reminiscences into many hundreds.

The composition of this volume had therefore to begin with a cooperative effort of pre-digestion. Much of the material had first to be turned into narratives capable of being used in the writing of this book in much the same way in which secondary authorities are used in the writing of ordinary historical treatises. Some, perhaps most, of the narratives I had to compile myself, a number of others are the work of my colleagues and assistants, and some have in fact been written as contributions to the other volumes in the series.

This volume thus owes a great deal to the researches of colleagues who will be producing books of their own. But some credit also belongs to others who will not be able to publish the results of their researches under their own names; and, of those, I should especially like to mention Mr. L. Errington and Mrs. D. Fearon, who investigated the naval programmes; Mr. C. Wrigley, who wrote the story of merchant ship building; Mrs. E. Bridge, who complied an account of the repair of aircraft; and Mr. D. Mack Smith, who cooperated with me in the writing of the preliminary story of the Royal Ordnance Factories. Throughout the year of my work on the history of war production I have have also had the good fortunate of being helped by a succession of personal assistants without whom the task would have been utterly unmanageable: by my wife, by Mrs. Geoffrey Agnew, by Miss A. Nicholson and, above all, by Miss I. Bains, on whom fell most of the work of helping me with drafting of the final version of this book, and seeing it through most of the stages of correction, proof-reading and indexing. It wish space, conventions of the Civil Service and the rules established for the volumes in the ‘civil series’ allowed me to mention by name the very many persons in the Government departments, in industry and politics, who helped me with information, documents, criticism and encouragement. But they all know how much this volume owes to them and how conscious I am of my debt to them.