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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

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

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.


1 Air-to-surface-vessel radar.

[AA:M100, SEPTEMBER 1942]
Last Updated: 11 September 2013
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