46 Note by Bruce of Conversation with Portal

[LONDON], 14 September 1942

I sat next to Portal at a Canadian dinner last night, and had a considerable talk with him.

I started off by saying that it was a great pity in my view that we were getting into an atmosphere where the Air Ministry regarded my attitude as completely hostile to them, when the very reverse was the true position.

I told Portal that I was entirely in favour of the maximum bombing offensive against Germany, consistent with ensuring vital sea communications. I stressed that what was required to achieve this latter objective was a relatively small number of aircraft. I urged that we could surely take the different types and make up our minds whether there could be an acceleration in meeting the sea requirements, which in the Chiefs of Staff paper were in fact met, save in one instance, by April of next year.

Portal showed himself very hostile to the Navy and suggested that they would take away everything that was required for the bombing offensive.

This I told him frankly was an absurd attitude to take up, and I indicated that in my view all the trouble was arising from the extreme attitude both the Air and the Navy were adopting. I explained this by pointing out that he, Portal, would contend that the Navy had no other thought except sea communications, and would grab everything for their own requirements, arguing that the war could be won at sea.

On the other hand the Navy would say that he, Portal, had no appreciation of the vital necessity of preserving our sea communications, and that he would go on building up a bomber force which would be rendered quite useless by the cutting of sea communications.

In achieving their respective objectives, each Service regarded the other as being completely unscrupulous. As an instance I told him I was sure the Navy believed that he, Portal, had taken precautions to ensure that his long range bombers should not be engineered on a dual purpose basis, his object being to make sure that they could not be taken for service over the sea however great the need was. He, however, would say that the Navy would take any bombers, although not being fitted with A.S.V. [1] would make them utterly useless for the purpose they had been taken for.

Portal was very reluctant to admit that he and the Air Ministry were anything but perfect in their attitude. While I think I got my point of view a little more clearly into his head, I am not optimistic enough to believe that I have shaken him in his almost fanatical suspicion of the Navy.

We cleared one point up, namely that we were in agreement on the impossibility of utilising more than 50 divisions as a maximum on the continent of Europe. Our agreement here was complete, both of us taking the view that if circumstances were favourable, 50 divisions will be ample to ensure Germany's defeat. On the other hand if the circumstances were adverse, 150 divisions, even if they could be shipped to Europe, would be useless.

One very dangerous view of Portal's which emerged in the conversation was that, as long as your shipping losses do not exceed 600,000 tons a month, it is a mistake to take too many precautions with regard to your sea communications.

This view I contested strongly with him, arguing that while logically you might take the view as long as our buildings exceed the sinkings we are safe, you have to remember that this position might be suddenly and dramatically reversed. In such case panic steps would be taken to protect our sea routes with disastrous consequence to our bomber forces.

I urged upon him it would be much wiser to make the necessary minimum air protection for the safeguarding of our sea routes, and by doing so avoid crises and disastrous and panicky decisions.

On the whole the conversation was I think of some use, but looking at Portal I felt his head is rather too narrow.

S.M.B.

1 Air-to-surface-vessel radar.
[AA:M100, SEPTEMBER 1942]