Guest Column: Winston Churchill's Supply Chain (Part 2)

A look at how supply chain leaders adapt and overcome in difficult circumstances


Beaverbrook was aware that the average life of a fighter in war was two months, and with a fighter force of 34 squadrons, industry would need to produce 350 new aircraft a month just to maintain front-line strength. Although battle losses could be replaced from manufacturing, reserves or repair, Beaverbrook recognized that even with major increases in production likely losses would out strip these. As a result, Beaverbrook had to approach the problem with out-of-the-box thinking, and he instituted or supported the following initiatives:

  • A strategy that promoted production at the expense of all other activity, including spare parts production.
  • The acute shortage of workers as the military draft took its toll: — The Minister of Labor, Ernest Bevin, ended the poaching of skilled workers by rival employers. The Restriction on Engagement Order of June 1940 made it compulsory for recruitment to occur only through employment exchanges. As a result, thousands of workers were directed out of civil industries into war production like fighters. — Women were encouraged to enter the workforce in large numbers to fill the gaps created by military conscription.
  • Agreement that at least until the end of September 1940 all efforts were to be concentrated on the production of just Hurricanes and Spitfires, with fighters taking higher priority over bombers. If it was profitable, then labor from other aircraft factories was to be transferred as well.
  • Spitfire funds where an individual, organization or town could present the cost of an airframe (for a Spitfire this was set at £5,000 ($20,000) although the real cost was nearer £12,000 ($48,000, or equivalent to £200,000 today) and an aircraft would be allocated to bear the name of the donor on the fuselage. The idea of donation caught on, and Beaverbrook organized the project on an industrial scale. Many towns and organizations started to raise funds quickly joined by counterparts in the Dominions and Colonies, as well as other countries around the world. Eventually, there were around 1,500 presentation Spitfires or 17 percent of the total production.
  • An aluminum appeal that asked people to save their old pots, pans and kettles and metal appliances and donate these to the government. Posters were printed and newspapers ran advertisements asking for old scrap metal to build fighter planes. In reality, very little was ever used in aircraft construction, but it boosted people's morale and they felt the satisfaction that they were "doing their bit." This was part of a concerted effort to get people more involved.
  • The Civilian Repair Organization (CRO) was put into operation in January 1940 to recover downed pilots and aircraft. Using small civilian workshops and garages, recovered aircraft were either immediately repaired or cannibalized for spare parts. Initially, Lord Nuffield created a chain of repair shops on RAF airfields, civil aerodromes, garages and large factory areas across the U.K. Automotive engineers switched from automobile to aircraft manufacture, and along with bodywork repairers fixed damaged aircraft, piecing together one good aircraft from two or three write-offs. Repairs were undertaken at a phenomenal rate, within 24 hours, where the pilot waited for the plane and would fly it back to base almost the same day, straight into the battle. These were known as "Fly In" repairs and the "Out-patients' department."
  • In such a lean operation, even enemy plane were salvaged and thrown into smelters to provide raw materials for new fighters.
  • Further, Beaverbrook, a Canadian, had good relationships with industrialists in the United States and leveraged these to secure supplies of precious raw materials and key parts and subassemblies.

"The work you do this week fortifies and strengthens the front of battle next week…The production you pour out of your factories this week will be hurled into desperate struggle next week." Lord Beaverbrook, summer of 1940.

In summary, nothing stood in the way of Beaverbrook's reorganization, and specifically financial considerations were not allowed to impede the program. The functions of the Ministry of Aircraft Production expanded to embrace such diverse tasks as labor, construction, regional services and aircraft distribution to sector airfields. This also included the defense of factories with anti-aircraft batteries. In addition, Beaverbrook was in close contact with Bentley Prior Fighter Command (Air Marshall Sir Hugh Dowding), and Storey's Gate, Churchill's Headquarters.

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