Air Ministry

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Air Ministry
Royal Coat of Arms of the United Kingdom (HM Government).svg
Coat of Arms of HM Government
Government Department overview
Formed1918
Preceding Government Department
Dissolved1964
Superseding department
JurisdictionGovernment of the United Kingdom
HeadquartersWhitehall
London
Government Department executive
Parent Government DepartmentHM Government

The Air Ministry was a department of the Government of the United Kingdom with the responsibility of managing the affairs of the Royal Air Force, that existed from 1918 to 1964. It was under the political authority of the Secretary of State for Air who controlled and directed the department through the Air Council.

History

In April 1912, following a report by a sub-committee, the Committee of Imperial Defence approved the formation of a Flying Corps, operated jointly by the Army and Navy. The new Royal Flying Corps (RFC) comprised separate Military and Naval Wings together with a Central Flying School and a reserve. The Air Battalion of the Royal Engineers, formed in 1911 by the War Office, was absorbed in the new Military Wing from which the Naval Wing was to diverge, becoming a separate Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) on 1 July 1914 and thereby leaving the RFC as an entirely Army service.[1]

Airships and balloons, which had become the responsibility of the Admiralty's director of naval construction in 1916 remained an Admiralty responsibility until 1919 when this too passed to the Air Ministry. The Admiralty retained control of the aircraft carriers and of operations at sea, and naval officers and ratings were seconded to the RAF for training and service.[2]

In February 1916 a Joint War Air Committee was appointed to co-ordinate the design and procurement activities of the the separate air services of the Admiralty and the War Office. In May 1916 it was superseded by an Air Board. Following the New Ministries and Secretaries Act 1916 the Air Board was reconstituted as a ministry in January 1917. Its president was deemed to be a minister and it was given responsibility for aircraft design, requirements, and allocation. At the same time the Ministry of Munitions took over from the service departments responsibility for the supply and inspection of aeroplanes, seaplanes, engines, and accessories.[3]

The Air Board was dissolved in January 1918 following the creation of an Air Ministry. Its function in regard to aircraft design, programme and policy passed to the Ministry of Munitions.On 3 January 1918 the Air Ministry was set up under a Secretary of State for Air advised by an Air Council. The Ministry's first task was to plan for the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service, which was effected on 1 April 1918 when the Royal Air Force came into existence.[4]

In February 1919 the ministry became responsible for civil aviation which, before the outbreak of war in 1914, had been the responsibility of the Home Office. In January 1920 it took over responsibility for aircraft production from the Ministry of Munitions and between 1919 and 1922 it took over, by stages, from the Treasury the Meteorological Office, into which its own meteorological service and those of the other service departments was absorbed. In October 1921 the responsibility for the payment of service pensions, other than war pensions, was transferred from the Ministry of Pensions and in April 1927 the responsibility for research into atmospheric pollution, previously carried out under the Meteorological Office, was transferred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.[5]

In January 1929 the Air Ministry took over control of the Observer Corps from the War Office; in August 1930 it also took over from that department work in connection with the sale, purchase and administration of Royal Air Force lands. In 1937, following the Air Navigation Act 1936, certain regulatory functions concerning civil aviation were delegated to a newly-constituted Air Registration Board. From the outset relations between the Air Ministry and the other two services were uneasy, and this was particularly the case on the part of the Admiralty as regards the control of the Fleet Air Arm. In 1924 an accommodation was reached on this matter under the terms of the Trenchard/Keyes agreement. In 1925 the principle of a unified air service was reaffirmed by the Colwyn Committee, in spite of the misgivings expressed by both the Admiralty and the War Office.[6]

In 1934 the underlying belief of the Admiralty that the efficiency of the Navy was being impaired because of its lack of control of the naval air service surfaced once again. By now, however, the Royal Air Force had developed sufficiently to enable it to operate independently of its naval arm and in July 1937 agreement was reached for the transfer (not completed until 1939) of the Fleet Air Arm to the Admiralty. The Air Ministry retained control of the shore-based aircraft of Coastal Command until April 1941, when operational control passed to the Admiralty.[7]

Work undertaken for the Air Ministry by the War Office on an agency basis in connection with the supply of munitions, clothing and other stores in common use in the services passed to the newly-created Ministry of Supply in August 1939. In May 1940 responsibility for the design and production of aircraft passed to another new department, the Ministry of Aircraft Production, which also took over a number of Air Ministry research establishments progressively from that date. The new ministry also took over technical, as distinct from administrative, control of Groups 41 and 43 of RAF Maintenance Command, which were responsible for the repair, modification, etc. of aircraft.[8]

When the Ministry of Aircraft Production was dissolved in 1946 and its functions taken over by the Ministry of Supply, the technical control of Group 43 returned to the Air Ministry; a similar transfer in respect of Group 41 followed in 1947. On the disbandment of the Ministry of Supply in October 1959 and its reconstitution as the Ministry of Aviation, responsibility for the supply of equipment to the Royal Air Force was returned to the Air Ministry, except for the production and supply of aircraft and supply powers relating to guided missiles, radar and other electronic apparatus.[9]

With the outbreak of the Second World War responsibility for pensions and grants for service after 2 September 1939 passed to the Ministry of Pensions. Work in connection with camouflage, the experimental side of which had previously been transferred to the Home Office at the beginning of 1939, was also transferred to the Ministry of Home Security. Towards the end of the war the Air Ministry's responsibilities for civil aviation passed to a newly-created Ministry of Civil Aviation under the Ministry of Civil Aviation Act 1945. In July 1959 joint responsibility was assumed with the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation for the newly-established Air Traffic Control Board.[10]

Functions concerning the resettlement of Poles who had fought with the Allied Forces during the Second World War passed to the Assistance Board and other government departments in April 1947 under the Polish Resettlement Act 1947. A Polish Resettlement Corps (Royal Air Force) and a Polish Resettlement Section of the Women's Auxiliary Air Force were set up in August 1946, for former members of the Polish Air Force who had elected not to return to Poland; both were disbanded in August 1949.[11]

In October 1954 the Air Ministry took over responsibility from the Civil Service Commission for interview and selection test arrangements for commissions and cadetships, although the commission retained responsibility for written examinations, etc. In April 1963 the Air Ministry's works services, along with those of the other service departments, were transferred to the Ministry of Public Building and Works.

On 1 April 1964 the Air Ministry was absorbed in the unified Ministry of Defence.[12]

Organisations before the Air Ministry

Air Committee

Joint War Air Committee

Air Board

Establishment of the Air Ministry as a Department of State

Despite attempts at reorganization of the Air Board, the earlier problems failed to be completely resolved. In addition, the growing number of German air raids against Great Britain led to public disquiet and increasing demands for something to be done. As a result, Lloyd George, the British Prime Minister, established a committee composed of himself and General Jan Smuts, which was tasked with investigating the problems with the British air defences and organizational difficulties which had beset the Air Board.

Executive Governance Air Council

Air Council (or Air Force Council) was the governing executive body of the Royal Air Force until the merger of the Air Ministry with the other armed forces ministries to form the Ministry of Defence in 1964. It was succeeded by the Air Force Board.

Towards the end of the First World War, on 17 August 1917, General Smuts presented a report to the War Council on the future of air power. Because of its potential for the 'devastation of enemy lands and the destruction of industrial and populous centres on a vast scale', he recommended a new air service be formed that would be on a level with the Army and Royal Navy. The new air service was to receive direction from a new ministry and on 29 November 1917 the Air Force Bill received Royal Assent and the Air Ministry was formed just over a month later on 2 January 1918. Lord Rothermere was appointed the first Air Minister. On 3 January, the Air Council was constituted as follows:[13]

First Air Council

The Air Ministry initially met in the Hotel Cecil on the Strand. Later, in 1919, it moved to Adastral House on Kingsway The creation of the Air Ministry resulted in the disestablishment of the Army Council's post of Director-General of Military Aeronautics.

Head of Department

Secretary of State for Air (1919–1964)

The Secretary of State for Air was a cabinet-level British position. The person holding this position was in charge of the Air Ministry. It was created on 10 January 1919 to manage the Royal Air Force. In 1946, the three posts of Secretary of State for War, First Lord of the Admiralty, and Secretary of State for Air became formally subordinated to that of Minister of Defence, which had itself been created in 1940 for the co-ordination of defence and security issues. On 1 April 1964, the Air Ministry was incorporated into the newly-created united Ministry of Defence, and the position of Secretary of State for Air was abolished.

Portrait Name Term of Office Political Party
Churchill 1904 Q 42037.jpg The Right Honourable
Winston Churchill[14]
MP for Dundee
10 January
1919
1 April
1921
Liberal
Frederick Edward Guest old photo-crop.jpg The Right Honourable
Frederick Edward Guest
MP for East Dorset
1 April
1921
19 October
1922
Liberal
Sir Samuel Hoare GGBain.jpg The Right Honourable
Sir Samuel Hoare
MP for Chelsea
31 October
1922
22 January
1924
Conservative
LordBirdwood.jpg The Right Honourable
Christopher Thomson
1st Baron Thomson

22 January
1924
3 November
1924
Labour
Sir Samuel Hoare GGBain.jpg The Right Honourable
Sir Samuel Hoare
MP for Chelsea
6 November
1924
4 June
1929
Conservative

LordBirdwood.jpg

The Right Honourable
Christopher Thomson
1st Baron Thomson

7 June
1929
5 October
1930
Labour
William Mackenzie, 1st Baron Amulree.jpg The Right Honourable
William Mackenzie
1st Baron Amulree

14 October
1930
5 November
1931
Labour
Charles (Charlie) Vane-Tempest-Stewart, 7th Marquess of Londonderry.jpg The Most Honourable
Charles Vane-Tempest-Stewart
7th Marquess of Londonderry

5 November
1931
7 June
1935
Conservative
Lord Swinton.jpg The Right Honourable
Philip Cunliffe-Lister
1st Viscount Swinton

7 June
1935
16 May
1938
Conservative
Kingsley Wood cropped.jpg The Right Honourable
Sir Kingsley Wood
MP for Woolwich West
16 May
1938
3 April
1940
Conservative
Sir Samuel Hoare GGBain.jpg The Right Honourable
Sir Samuel Hoare, Bt
MP for Chelsea
3 April
1940
11 May
1940
Conservative
The Air Ministry, 1939-1945. CH10270.jpg The Right Honourable
Sir Archibald Sinclair
MP for Caithness and Sutherland
11 May
1940
23 May
1945
Liberal
Harold Macmillan in 1942.jpg The Right Honourable
Harold Macmillan
MP for Stockton-on-Tees
25 May
1945
26 July
1945
Conservative
William Wedgewood-Benn.jpg The Right Honourable
William Wedgwood Benn
1st Viscount Stansgate

3 August
1945
4 October
1946
Labour
Philip Noel-Baker 1942.jpg The Right Honourable
Philip Noel-Baker
MP for Derby
4 October
1946
7 October
1947
Labour
No image.svg The Right Honourable
Arthur Henderson
MP for Kingswinford before 1950
MP for Rowley Regis and Tipton after 1950
7 October
1947
26 October
1951
Labour
Lord De L'Isle.jpg The Right Honourable
William Sidney
6th Baron De L'Isle and Dudley

31 October
1951
20 December
1955
Conservative
No image.svg The Right Honourable
Nigel Birch
MP for West Flintshire
20 December
1955
16 January
1957
Conservative
No image.svg The Right Honourable
George Ward
MP for Worcester
16 January
1957
28 October
1960
Conservative
Julian Amery 1965-11-10 (cropped).jpg The Right Honourable
Julian Amery
MP for Preston North
28 October
1960
16 July
1962
Conservative
The Right Honourable
Hugh Fraser
MP for Stafford and Stone
16 July
1962
1 April
1964
Conservative

Activities

Aircraft Production

The Air Ministry issued specifications for aircraft that British aircraft companies would supply prototypes to. These were then assessed, if ordered the Ministry assigned the aircraft name. (see List of Air Ministry specifications).

The ordering procedure used I.T.P. (Intention to Proceed) contract papers; these specified a maximum fixed price, which could (after investigation) be less. But when Lord Nuffield got the I.T.P. contract papers for a Wolseley radial aero engine, which would have required re-orientation of their offices with an army of chartered accountants, he decided to deal only with the War Office and the Admiralty, not the Air Ministry. So the aero engine project was abandoned in 1936, see Airspeed. Nevil Shute Norway wrote that the loss of such a technically advanced engine was a great loss to Britain as well as Airspeed, and blamed the over-cautious high civil servants of the Air Ministry. When he had asked Lord Nuffield to retain the engine, Nuffield said: I tell you, Norway ... I sent that I.T.P. thing back to them, and I told them they could put it where the monkey put the nuts! [15]

In later years the actual production of aircraft was the responsibility of the Ministry of Aircraft Production (1940–46), the Ministry of Supply (1946–59), the Ministry of Aviation (1959–67) and finally the Ministry of Technology (1967–70).

Weather Forecasting

The Air Ministry was responsible for weather forecasting over the UK, from 1919 it being the government department responsible for the Meteorological Office.

As a result of the need for weather information for aviation, the Meteorological Office located many of its observation and data collection points on RAF stations.

World War II Technology

In the 1930s, the Air Ministry commissioned a scientific study of propagating electromagnetic energy which concluded that a death ray was impractical but detection of aircraft appeared feasible.Robert Watson-Watt demonstrated a working prototype and patented the device in 1935.The device served as the base for the Chain Home network of radars to defend Great Britain.

By April 1944, the ministry's air Intelligence branch had succeeded in its intelligence efforts regarding "the beams, the Bruneval Raid, the Gibraltar barrage, radar, Window, heavy water, and the German nightfighters" (R.V. Jones). Other World War II technology and warfare efforts included the branch's V-1 and V-2 Intelligence activities.[16]

Abolition

In 1964 the Air Ministry merged with the Department of Admiralty and the War Office to form an enlarged Ministry of Defence.

Footnotes

  1. "Records created or inherited by the Air Ministry, the Royal Air Force, and related bodies". discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. Kew, London: National Archives UK. 1862–1992. Retrieved 18 September 2019.
  2. National Archives UK.
  3. National Archives UK.
  4. National Archives UK.
  5. National Archives UK.
  6. National Archives UK.
  7. National Archives UK.
  8. National Archives UK.
  9. National Archives UK.
  10. National Archives UK.
  11. National Archives UK.
  12. National Archives UK.
  13. Joubert de la Ferté, Philip (1955). The Third Service. London: Thames and Hudson. p. 61.
  14. Also Secretary of State for War.
  15. Slide Rule by Nevil Shute (1954, William Heinemann, London) page 235
  16. Jones, R. V. (1978). Most Secret War: British Scientific Intelligence 1939-1945. London: Hamish Hamilton. pp. 335, 437. ISBN 0241897467.