Eighty years ago: roadblocks to rearmament

Rearmament in Britain staggered from one crisis to another. Full scale re-equipment of the Royal Air Force with modern aircraft and operating it on a war footing was beyond the resources of Britain’s small-scale, fragmented and poorly capitalized aircraft industry. It had long been recognised that other sectors would have to be mobilized, above all the motor industry, which had skilled workers and understood the techniques of mass-production. Lord Swinton the air minister had been working on the scheme of shadow factories, under which car companies would develop plants for aircraft production alongside their existing facilities. Unfortunately Swinton had a poor relationship with Lord Nuffield, Britain’s most powerful home-grown car maker, which boiled over into a public squabble. Nuffield had built his business from a single garage in central Oxford and still ran it a personal fiefdom (he owned his companies separately as personal possessions. The term "Nuffield Organisation" had no legal substance) was willing to join the scheme but insisted on retaining full control of the plants. 

France’s recently installed right-wing government under Daladier had secured a political mandate to govern and to pursue rearmament but it still faced severe economic challenges. There was persistent labour unrest and yet another slump in the value of the franc. The government took the forthright step of announcing that it would no longer try to support the currency but simply stated that it would fixed a minimum value against sterling (FF195 to the £). France had entered the sterling zone by default.

Spring was late in coming to Spain. Snow and rain reduced the battlefields to quagmires but Franco’s Nationalist forces continued to advance in the east of the country with active fronts both in Aragon and Levante. The Republicans put up dogged resistance helped by the inability of the Nationalists to use their air superiority in the bad weather. They were still forced back on the ground. Meanwhile the stream of Republican refugees making its miserable way over the Pyrenees to the safety of France continued to grow.


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