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Memorandum for the Secretary of the Treasury
December 11, 1940 [Washington, D.C.]
My dear Mr. Morgenthau:
I have had Commodore Slessor’s notes on the United States Air Production Program checked over by General Brett and his officers.1 The following are their comments:
A careful study of these notes indicates clearly that they are based upon incomplete investigation and information; that Commodore Slessor had not at the date of these notes consulted with or conferred with the Air Corps engineers charged with development and production; that the information as furnished in his notes is contrary to much of the information furnished by other members of the British Purchasing Commission such as Mr. Fairey, Commodore Mansell and Commodore Baker;2 that he has not personally gone into the details of any of our later models nor has he examined those models, which are available at the various factories.
Also, reading between the lines, it appears-that Commodore Slessor’s ultimate objectives are:
a. Production in America of a British design long range bomber (the Sterling)
b. Production in America of a new British design pursuit airplane.
c. Increased productive capacity of the American aircraft industry (i.e. from 2500 airplanes a month, as now set up, to 4500 airplanes a month by 1943) . . .3
Commodore Slessor’s suggestion that the production be increased to 4500 airplanes per month is a re-statement of the request of July 24 for additional productive capacity. The means for obtaining this increased production appears to be practical. The present production capacity as now set up will reach 2500 airplanes per month, neglecting Government factories now authorized. Tentative British orders for 12,000 airplanes, now being placed, are sufficient for the first increment of increased productive capacity, suggested by Air Commodore Slessor, provided that both the Army and British place additional orders for at least 24,000 airplanes, for delivery in 1943, at an early date.
RESTUDY OF PRESENT PROGRAMS.
The suggestions made by Air Commodore Slessor for increasing production requires a restudy of the delivery objectives established July 23 and 24 for the period June 30, 1940 to April 1, 1942. Consideration should be given at this time to the following:
(1) The release of all airplanes to the British over and above the actual requirements to equip 54 groups.
(2) The matter of finance, facilities.
(3) The matter of placing orders with proper consideration to the ability of the industry to absorb the additional load.
Personally, I am inclined to believe that there is an ulterior motive behind this statement, having in view a complete rearrangement of production and procurement procedure. I am deeply concerned over the slow rate, the dwindling rate of plane deliveries to the Army; but I am becoming even more concerned over the possible effects of the present campaign in certain portions of the press, particularly if supported by statements such as this from Commodore Slessor.
It is natural that Slessor should be dominated by the desire to help the British situation, however superficial his knowledge of conditions in this country may be at the moment. My interest must center on our situation, and I am worried over the disturbing effect this sort of thing has on the airplane manufacturer and other agencies involved.
Our problem is hard enough as it is—in time of peace with an unrestricted press, with the varied interests of Latin America, China, the British Empire, and our own vast expansion—but it is becoming increasingly difficult and confused under the various pressures, some very powerful, and each of which has a special purpose in mind. Incidentally, the recent publicity campaign directed against American types of plane in England as a reflection on the general efficiency of our program, is really an outrageous piece of business. The British Government was given what they pled for, in some cases to our serious embarrassment in training; now we are being damned in the press for that action.
Please note General Brett’s statement on the subject, which is attached.4
Document Copy Text Source: George C. Marshall Papers, Pentagon Office Collection, General Materials, George C. Marshall Research Library, Lexington, Virginia.
Document Format: Typed memorandum.
1. Air-Commodore John C. Slessor, until recently British Air Staff director of plans, had arrived in the United States on November 8. He was sent, he wrote in his memoirs, “to explain to the U.S. Administration the Air Staff plans for expansion and replacement of wastage.” On December 3 he met with Secretary Morgenthau and presented a lengthy memorandum analyzing British needs, particularly increased bomber production, and comparing British and United States aircraft performance. (The Central Blue: The Autobiography of Sir John Slessor, Marshal of the RAF [New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1957], pp. 320-30.)
2. Charles R. Fairey, past president of the Royal Aeronautical Society, was a British aircraft manufacturer. The officers were Air-Commodores L. G. T. (?) Mansell and G. B. A. Baker.
3. At this point Marshall included detailed comments by Acting Chief of the Air Corps George H. Brett defending the armament and performance characteristics of United States bombers and fighters compared with British models. He rejected Slessor’s assertion that British planes then in production were superior in fighting efficiency to United States planes in production.
4. A copy of the attachment to this memorandum was not retained in the Marshall papers.
Recommended Citation: The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, ed. Larry I. Bland, Sharon Ritenour Stevens, and Clarence E. Wunderlin, Jr. (Lexington, Va.: The George C. Marshall Foundation, 1981- ). Electronic version based on The Papers of George Catlett Marshall, vol. 2, “We Cannot Delay,” July 1, 1939-December 6, 1941 (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 367-369.