In its preparations for D-Day the task for the Royal Air Force was primarily one of developing and growing resources. It is a massive story to which justice cannot be given in these few introductory pages.
The War started with British Military Power at a very low standing. Throughout the 1930s the political emphasis was on avoidance of conflict. This fell into the policy of appeasement on which Churchill famously commented:
“An appeaser is one who feeds a crocodile – hoping it will eat him last”
By the late 1930s the latent industrial power of Britain began to be mobilised for the war effort. Happily some vitally important preparations had already been put in place during the pre-war period.
The Royal Air Force had been separated into Fighter Command & Bomber Command, allowing better direction of two different disciplines. New and very strategically important aeroplanes had been designed, ready to have mass
production techniques applied.
After the evacuation from Dunkirk in May 1940, the new Prime Minister took over and immediately mobilised the British Bulldog Spirit as a vital war weapon. It was a moment for a Leader…and Winston Churchill stepped forward – his appointment confirmed by the King on 7th May 1940.
Sydney Camm’s Hawker Hurricane and RJ Mitchell´s Spitfire are perhaps the best remembered. Many other modern aircraft types were either already in service or were brought into service as air force strength steadily grew in preparation for D-Day.
The Vickers Wellington Bomber, designed by Barnes Wallace of Dam Busters fame, was built in increasing numbers and was used to assist the Royal Navy in defence of Western Approaches, patrolling sea lanes and attacking u-boats when found on the surface. Of course aircraft was only part of the RAF need; many airfields were constructed, with all their technical support structures. To establish and protect the Atlantic Bridge, airfields were built in isolated communities of South West Wales and the West Country. In valuable support of the RAF, the Polish & Czech Air Forces were equipped with Wellington Medium Bombers and based at Talbenny & Dale. Pembroke Dock became the biggest facility in the world as it grew to accommodate the huge Seaplanes which patrolled Western Approaches.
To react forcefully to the dire national situation in May 1940, one of Prime Minister Churchill´s first acts was to establish the Ministry for Aircraft Production. As First Minister he put Lord Beaverbrook in charge. In response, Beaverbrook brought his dynamic personality to bear upon the challenge and was able to prioritise industrial efforts to aircraft production. Somewhat unfairly, this Ministry took precedence for some time over other demands and Beaverbrook always kept targets at least 15% out of reach of what was reasonably possible for British Industry to achieve.