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Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill (30 ноя 1874 - 24 янв 1965) Part III 1916–1918 (1923-31)

To All Who Endured

CHAPTER XII

AT THE MINISTRY OF MUNITIONS

The career of Sir Eric Geddes during the war had been astonishing.

As the General Manager of an important Railway, versed in every detail of its working from the humblest to the highest, he possessed not only the practical organizing power of a skilful business man, but the quasi-official outlook of the head of a great public service. To this he added those qualities of mental and physical energy, of industry, of thoroughness and compulsive force, often successful, always admirable, and never more needed than at this time. He had risen rapidly under Mr. Lloyd George to be one of the principal figures of the Ministry of Munitions in its early days. He had reorganized the railways of the British front in France with the rank and uniform of a Major-General. He had controlled the Supply Departments of the Navy with the rank and uniform of a Vice-Admiral. Now the same hand which had conducted him through these swift and surprising transformations placed him at the head of the Board of Admiralty. He reinforced its particularism with an ability and domineering vigour all his own.

The principal limiting factors to munitions production with which I was confronted in the autumn of 1917 were four in number, viz., shipping (tonnage), steel, skilled labour and dollars. The last of these had been rendered less acute by the accession of the United States to the Allies. We had already sold a thousand millions sterling of American securities, and had borrowed heavily to feed and equip ourselves, and our Allies, before this decisive event. Our transatlantic credits were practically exhausted at the beginning of 1917. The dollar situation was now somewhat relieved. A door that would otherwise have closed altogether was now held partially open. None the less the limits of the power of purchase both in American and Canadian dollars imposed a restrictive finger on the lay-out of every programme.

I found a staff of 12,000 officials organized in no less than fifty principal departments each claiming direct access to the Chief, and requiring a swift flow of decisions upon most intricate and inter-related problems. I set to work at once to divide and distribute this dangerous concentration of power.

CHAPTER XIII

THE MUNITIONS BUDGET

Last, and not least of all, loomed the portentous figure of Sir Eric Geddes, First Lord of the Admiralty, charged with the paramount duties of maintaining the Fleet, of crushing the U-boats and of rebuilding the Mercantile Marine. For these purposes the Admiralty was armed not only with Absolute Priority, but possessed a monopoly control over all the firms with which they were accustomed to deal. This priority was interpreted so harshly that skilled men had to be found on one occasion for potato-peeling machines for the Grand Fleet, while they were actually being withdrawn from making range-finders for the anti-aircraft guns.

The attitude of the War Office and the Air Ministry towards us was somewhat different. They lived by our supplies, and to that extent were on our side. They not only demanded the supplies on an ever-increasing scale, but they also simultaneously demanded as recruits for the fighting forces the workmen, skilled and unskilled, without which these supplies could not be produced.

There was therefore set up in the autumn of 1917 the ‘Priorities Committee,’ presided over by General Smuts. On this the Departments fought and tore for every ton of steel and freight. Never, I suspect, in all the vicissitudes of his career has General Smuts stood more in need of those qualities of tact and adroitness for which among his many virtues he is renowned.

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