MUNITIONS AND MORE MUNITIONS
AN ADDRESS BY
THE HONOURABLE C. D. HOWE, B. Sc., M.E.I.C.
MINISTER OF MUNITIONS AND SUPPLY.
Chairman: The Third Vice-President, Mr. E. F. Thompson.
Thursday, April 24, 1941
MR. E. F. THOMPSON: Gentlemen of the Empire Club and our Unseen Audience of the Air: today we are to have the pleasure of hearing an address from one of Canada's leading citizens. (Applause.) Although of American birth he became a citizen of Canada in 1908 and is now serving in the Federal Cabinet. Born in Massachusetts and educated as a civil engineer, a graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the holder of the Degree of Bachelor of Science, he came to Canada thirty-three years ago to assume the role of Professor of Engineering at Dalhousie University, that University which has given so many men to Canadian public life. Later he was Chief Engineer for the Board of Grain Commissioners at Fort William. He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1935 and was at once taken into the Cabinet as Minister of Railways and Minister of Marine. These portfolios were later combined as the Ministry of Transport. As Minister of Transport he became prominently identified with the early development of Trans-Canada Air Lines. This, coupled with his engineering and business experience, gives him an exceptional grasp of war programmes in which air training and air equipment play so important a part. His parliamentary experience has been shorter than that of many of his colleagues but he has proven a great strength to the Administration. He is one of the most able and one of the most indefatigable of Ottawa Ministers.
It is my privilege to present to you the Minister of Munitions and Supply-The Honourable Clarence D. Howe. (Applause.)
THE HONOURABLE C. D. HOWE, B.Sc., M.E.I.C.: Mr. Chairman, Honoured Guests and Gentlemen: It is my purpose at this time to discuss developments in Canada's munitions programme in its endeavour to meet the changing needs of warfare. I appreciate the fact that to most people the production of munitions is a prosaic business. Nevertheless I have been thinking of little else for the last eighteen months and, therefore, find it difficult to speak on any other subject. To me the production of munitions of war is the most important job in the world and I hope that my fellow-Canadians can have some appreciation of the magnitude of the task that we are attempting in that regard.
After more than eighteen months of war we find three great battles in progress--the Battle of the Mediterranean, the Battle of England and the Battle of the North Atlantic. So far as the defence of Britain is concerned, the first named is the least important. We have seen Egypt attacked by the Italian armies of Libya; we have seen these armies driven back into Libya and practically destroyed. We now have the Italian army replaced by a well equipped German army, while great numbers of our own troops have moved from North Africa to Greece. The call to aid the gallant armies of Greece came late in the day, but nevertheless effective aid has been given. German successes in that area have been at tremendous cost of men and munitions. The British, Australian and New Zealand troops in that area are performing miracles in holding back enemy forces greatly superior in numbers and in armament. British troops and supplies destined, for the Mediterranean must take the long route along South Africa and through the Red Sea, while Germany has an overland supply line. Whatever the outcome, the Greeks will know that England has not failed them in their hour of need. I say that this is the least important of the three battles, for defeat in the Mediterranean would not mean the loss of the Battle of Britain.
The Battle of England is still confined to aerial attacks, coming with increased frequency and severity. The British Air Force have stopped day bombing, but the defence against night bombing has not as yet been perfected. This is not a war against British troops, but rather against the British civilian population-men, women and children. I have had some small personal experience with this type of warfare. I recall the last Sunday evening of 1940, when London experienced one of its heaviest bombing raids, and perhaps the greatest loss of property, through incendiary bombs. The air-raid signal came at about a quarter past six and about half-past six a bomb struck immediately back of my hotel, cutting off the lights and water in the hotel and wrecking the Egyptian Embassy across the street. The guests at the hotel assembled in the lobby and, as candles were lighted, conversations were resumed where they had been interrupted. I had an engagement that evening to dine in Grosvenor Square and about half-past seven 1 left the hotel for my destinationa walk of about twenty minutes-through the blackout, accompanied by my oldest boy, who is serving in the British Navy, both of us wearing steel helmets as a protection against shrapnel.
I think I will always remember that twenty minute walk. Two or three times we found streets closed by newly-opened bomb craters and had to detour. Bombs fell almost continuously, some near and some farther away. Occasionally we would hear the patter of falling shrapnel from our own anti-aircraft guns in Hyde Park. We reached our destination without incident, and I can tell you that 1, for one, was very glad to find a roof over my head. After dinner, we walked back to our hotel. By this time the raid was pretty well over. The fires in the vicinity of St. Paul's Cathedral made the streets as light as day. After we got back to our hotel we climbed to the roof to see the fires. I never expect to see a more terrifying or a more spectacular sight. There were fires in all directions and it looked as though all London must be burning. But by next morning, a large part of London was doing business as usual.
Today, when I read of a heavy air-raid in London, I think of that evening, which was the worst of many similar evenings that I experienced during my month's stay in London. I think of the thousands of men and women who were out that evening, some as fire watchers, some as drivers of ambulances and food-waggons, and some serving as firemen or members of bomb-disposal squads. That is the Battle of England as it is today. Tomorrow it may have the added horrors of an attempted invasion. If that comes, Canadian troops will be in the key positions. They will be trained to the minute, well armed and certain to give a good account of themselves. Loss of the Battle of England means the loss of the war, and much as our troops envy the Australians and New Zealanders their active fighting, they realize the importance of their own post.
I am certain that the Battle of England will not be lost. England today is an armed camp. Every open space that could be used as a landing place for aeroplanes has been trenched and filled with obstacles. Broad highways have obstruction wires overhead and tank traps at frequent intervals. Men of the civilian population have been armed with rifles and trained as Home Guard units. Seasoned troops, well trained and well equipped, are located at all strategic points. Britain's aerodromes are manned with fighting units for defence and bombing units to carry destruction into enemy territory. Britain's defensive and offensive strength in the air is growing daily as new aeroplanes are turned out by her factories and received from North America. Bombing has had surprisingly little effect in slowing down the production of aeroplanes and munitions in Britain. It must have been a surprise to Hitler that bombing so far has had the effect of increasing the determination of the British people to fight on until victory comes. (Applause.)
The United States has sent many skilled observers to Britain in the last several months and all of them have brought back the report that Britain will win the war. I believe that all of them have based their opinion on the character of the British people and their ability to stand up under punishment. At the moment, Germany has the preponderant strength in numbers of troops and armament, but Britain is strong in the character of her population.
Now, we come to the third battle, the Battle of the North Atlantic, which has broken out with renewed fury since the beginning of this year. During the past winter every shipyard in Germany and in the occupied countries has been occupied in building submarines and these are now loose on the North Atlantic. Every armed vessel possessed by Germany and her Allies is being used as a surface raider. Dive bombers are attacking our ships almost half way across the Atlantic. Losses to Britain's merchant shipping have been severe, in spite of the magnificent work of the British Navy. We must remember that, since the outbreak of war, Britain's Navy has been called upon to do the work that was taken care of by four Allied navies in the last war, in protecting Britain's shipping lanes in all parts of the world. To date that Navy has won its every battle and has maintained its mastery of the Seven Seas, but adequate protection for all allied shipping has been beyond the possibilities. Britain's shipyards have been working to full capacity, building naval and merchant ships, but nevertheless losses have greatly exceeded new construction. Recently the shipbuilding capacity of the United States has been added to that of Britain and her Allies, with the result that by next Spring, new construction will greatly exceed the present rate of loss, but throughout the next few months the Battle of the North Atlantic promises to be the crucial one for Britain.
Canada's munitions programme has been varied from time to time to meet the present needs of Britain as they have appeared. From the outset it has been evident that convoy vessels would be needed and we lost no time in starting a programme designed to build convoy ships in considerable numbers. We have completed or are now building one hundred and ten corvettes, which are small destroyers very suitable for anti-submarine warfare. We have built or are building some sixty steel mine-sweepers, and we have built or are building a large fleet of smaller boats, some of steel and some of timber.
Recently, when the losses of merchant shipping began to mount rapidly, we turned our shipbuilding capacity over to the construction of ten thousand ton freighters. Every yard capable of building this type of boat now has work under way and we are developing an "all out" programme for building merchant ships in all parts of Canada. This work has been placed in the hands of a Government-owned corporation with the name of Wartime Merchant Shipping Limited, under the presidency of Mr. H. R. MacMillan. A standard design has been adopted and the construction of hulls, boilers, engines and fittings is being undertaken on a quantity production basis. To date contracts have been placed for twenty-six merchant ships, and it is expected that within the next month this number will have been trebled. At the beginning of the war Canada's shipbuilding industry employed about fifteen thousand men. Today the number stands at more than twenty-two thousand, and our purpose will be to expand these numbers as rapidly as possible.
For the future, our policy will be to confine our construction programme of corvettes, mine-sweepers and smaller navel vessels to shipyards on the Great Lakes, and to use shipyards on the St. Lawrence River and on both oceans for the construction of merchant ships. Many additional building berths are being constructed at existing shipyards. In order to avoid disorganizing existing yards, the creation of new shipyards will not be undertaken until the personnel of existing yards can be brought up to full requirements.
Until recently it has been the practice of Great Britain to make only temporary repairs on this side of the Atlantic and to do permanent repair work in England. The bombing situation has made it desirable to reverse this policy, with the result that our present repair facilities are proving inadequate. Extensive additional facilities are under construction and by autumn we expect to be able to handle all repair work promptly. We fully appreciate the fact that the quickest way to provide shipping for Britain is to avoid delays to ships in Canadian ports. To reduce the time required for loading, an extensive lighterage system is being built to supplement dockage capacity of our Eastern maritime ports and this will be in operation at the close of the St. Lawrence River season. The concentration of labour at our Eastern ports has created a serious housing shortage and this is being met by the construction of new buildings. We are also building rest and recreational facilities for merchant seamen and are undertaking extensive training courses designed to provide skilled seamen to man the ships now being built.
At the outset of the war, Canada undertook a large programme for building shells, small arms, ammunition and explosives which were her main contribution of munitions in the last war. All these shell plants are now in full production. Now plants for the manufacture of small arms ammunition have been completed and the work of training new personnel is being followed up intensively. Three very large explosives plants have been built, and two of those are now in full production. Four shell-filling projects are under construction, and one has been completed and placed in operation. Huge chemical plants have been built to supply raw material for ammunition, and in the main those are in full operation. Canada's ammunition programme is nearing completion on a scale far larger than in the last war.
Canada has a strong motor industry, and no time was lost in tooling up this industry for the production of motor transport vehicles which are so essential in modern warfare. You are all familiar with the fact that the motor vehicles used in the Egyptian campaign were manufactured in Canada as were the motor transport vehicles for our troops in England and in Canada. Canada has sent motor vehicles to every country in the British Empire and orders are in hand to keep this industry fully occupied until the end of the current year. The motor industry is also producing the Universal Carrier, which is now being manufactured in considerable volume for our own troops and for Britain. We have developed a light high-speed tank, which we will call on the motor industry to produce as soon as opportunity offers. I am happy to say that our motor industry has lived up to every promise that it has made.
Since Dunkerque the call has been for guns and heavy tanks. The manufacture of guns accounts for about one-third of our capital investment in new plants, which now reaches $400,000,000. We have undertaken the manufacture of almost every type of gun used in this war from Lee Enfield rifles up to 6-inch naval guns and 3.7 antiaircraft guns. This has been a business new to Canada, but by calling on our strongest industrial firms we are making a creditable showing. New gun plants are now coming into production from week to week and, by midsummer, guns will represent our largest munitions export. We were particularly fortunate to have undertaken the production of Bren guns prior to the outbreak of war, and these are moving across the ocean in large volume.
The production of heavy tanks has presented many problems. It has been necessary to develop the production of armour plate and many components new to Canadian industry. Two types of heavy tanks are in production--the heavy infantry tanks and cruiser tanks. I am happy to say that our design and production problems have now been solved. Within the next month the infantry tank will also be in volume production. In my opinion these tanks have represented the greatest challenge to Canadian industry of any type of war munition.
In the matter of aeroplanes, we started from very small beginnings. Our primary job has been to meet the requirements of our great Air Training Programme and this we have been able to do. At the same time we have made a substantial contribution to Britain's fleet of fighting planes. At present we are turning out about forty-five planes per week, of which about 40 per cent are fighter planes and 60 per cent trainer planes. The types of these planes run from primary trainers to advanced trainers, to fast fighters, to heavy bombers and flying boats. The personnel of the industry has expanded from one thousand men pre-war, to some twenty-two thousand at present, and is growing rapidly. We have recently undertaken the manufacture of a fast American-type bomber and the latest type of long-range flying boat. Our Air Training Programme involves a large maintenance and overhaul programme which is now well organized and equipped.
In expanding our programme of finished munitions it has been necessary to greatly enlarge our production of primary products such as steel, aluminum and chemicals, and many millions of dollars have been expended in that direction. The result is that we are self-contained for most of the components and raw products of our munitions programme.
The growing importance of secret radio devices as a means of defence has led us to establish a plant in the vicinity of Toronto for the manufacture of these devices, as well as optical glass for the manufacture of gun-sights and binoculars. This plant is just now coming into production. It is one of the most spectacular of our munitions projects, and orders are pouring in from Britain and from other countries. A number of British manufacturers have co-operated in developing the processes being developed here, and I believe that the plant, when in full operation, will be unique in the British Empire.
I sometimes think that my work of organizing war production in Canada is the most discouraging of jobs. My days are spent in a battle against time. Munitions are needed on the day the order is placed, but it takes from eighteen months to two years to bring into production a gun plant for field guns, anti-aircraft guns and naval guns; anywhere from a year to eighteen months to bring into production a plant for rifles and automatic guns. It takes about fifteen months to bring a new bomber plane into production, and from nine months to a year to develop a new type of trainer aircraft. The battle for machine tools never ends. The production of machine tools in Canada was seven times as great in 1940 as in 1939 and will be fifteen times as great in 1941 as in 1939, but even then we must import about 90 per cent of our tools. I am too busy to think of production that is going well; I am too occupied in trying to find a solution for bottlenecks. That this situation is not peculiar to Canada was indicated by Mr. Churchill in his remarks in the British House of Commons a short time ago. Here are his words
"It is not possible to make a warship go to sea and fight against the enemy, until fires have been lighted, and the water in the boilers changed from cold to tepid, to warm, to hot. Then steam is generated and the vast power is given. While this is going on, there is no use rushing about uttering alarming cries."
However, I occasionally find time to visit a war industry that is in full production, and in doing so I feel a good deal of compensation for the troubles of the week.
There are a great many war plants in production that will repay a visit. One of the most spectacular is the aluminum plant at Arvida, which has been expanded threefold since the war began and which makes about one-half of all the aluminum produced on this continent and more than one-quarter of all the aluminum produced in the world. Associated with it are the new plants at Kingston, producing aluminum sheets, rods, extruded shapes and forgings. Here in Toronto we have an automatic gun plant which, when brought up to full production, will be the largest plant of its kind in the world. The explosive plants at Nobel and de Salaberry Island, now in full production, are a spectacular size, and the shell-loading plant at St. Paul l'Ermite is also a tremendous operation. Some fifteen chemical plants are manufacturing raw materials for explosives, and one at Niagara Falls, built at a cost of $20,000,000, is unique in that it produces a product never before manufactured in volume. At Fort William we have an aeroplane plant employing fifty-seven hundred men and women, which turns out fifteen Hurricane planes each week.
One interesting project is the Government Arsenal at Quebec, which has been expanded greatly for the production of small arms ammunition. This plant is operated by civil servants. Employment before the war was five hundred and sixty-five. At present, thirty-seven hundred persons are employed, and ultimately employment will reach eighty-five hundred persons. When the war broke out this plant was producing less than two hundred thousand rounds of ammunition per week. It now turns out over thirty-five hundred thousand rounds per week and will ultimately make fourteen million rounds per week. The most pleasing feature is the quality of its product. The highest grade ammunition is marked with a red label as suitable for aircraft guns, and about 90 per cent of all ammunition from this plant is red label as against about 40 per cent for other similar plants. I am told that aircraft gunners in England ask for Canadian ammunition whenever it is available. I recently saw a letter from the head of the British Procurement Division for Small Arms Ammunition, who wrote our manager to say that he had seen every arsenal in the world and considered this plant the most efficient that he had ever visited.
I often wonder why some of my fellow-citizens seem to take pleasure in belittling Canada's effort in the production of war munitions. I spent part of last week in Washington and while there I had a talk with an official of the United States Government. He was loud in his praise of the magnificent contribution that Australia is making to the war of Britain. I agreed with him wholly and from the bottom of my heart. Later on I suggested that Canada was also making a considerable contribution. He seemed rather surprised and stated that he had been led to believe that Canada's contribution was far from "all out". I told him something of our effort and as the story developed he expressed amazement. Finally, he said that he had been told by Canadians that Canada was not doing what it could do in the war, and that he found it hard to realize that what I was telling him could be true.
None of us will be disposed to belittle the effort of Australia, or to doubt that it is a "full out" effort. I could, however, call your attention to a recent statement by Premier Menzies that, in the current fiscal year, Australia would produce munitions to the value of $100,000,000, and at the same time remind you that we estimate the value of Canada's production of munitions in the same period at $1,500,000,000, or fifteen times as great.
Measured in dollars, we have set ourselves a gigantic task. The cost of Canada's war effort in the current fiscal year is estimated at about $1,500,000,000, and in addition we must find about $1,100,000,000 to finance purchases of Great Britain in Canada. I hope those who delight in belittling Canada's war effort will take equal delight in belittling their own tax bills.
A mighty factor in the war of Britain is the support of the United States in the production of ships and munitions of war for Britain and her Allies. Whereas the United States, in relation to Canada, has a population of some eleven to one, its national income is as $80,000,000,000 to our $5,000,000,000 per year, and its production of finished steel products, an important index, is eighty million tons per year as against our three million tons per year. There is no doubt that our great neighbour is placing herself on a war footing as rapidly as possible. Her contribution of aeroplanes and other supplies is already an important factor in the war, and these contributions will grow in geometrical proportions as the months go by.
The agreement recently announced by Mr. Roosevelt and Prime Minister King from Hyde Park, which provides for use of the productive facilities of both countries to best advantage by an exchange of products that each is best suited to produce, is of the highest importance to our munitions programme. We believe that Canada can finance all that can be produced in Canada, but we share with Britain the difficulty of finding American dollars to purchase components that can be manufactured much more economically in the United States. On the other hand, we have a problem in arranging for continuous production for our munitions plants built to supply munitions for which the requirement is urgent but limited as to quantity. It is expected that the agreement recently announced will go far toward enabling us to pay our debts in the United States with munitions for which we have a surplus capacity from time to time, and at the same time iron out peaks and valleys of war demand. United States is lease-lending ships, munitions and supplies to Britain. The agreement provides that this arrangement will be extended to United States components of British munitions manufactured in Canada. While United States has authority to lease-lend to Canada, we hope that the new agreement will avoid the necessity for our obtaining goods for our own use by resorting to the lease-lend arrangement.
I fully believe that Canada is making an "all out" war effort. I know that our people will be satisfied with nothing else. I hope that Canadian workmen can be found to man the productive capacity which is being created. Somehow or other men and women must be found for that purpose, even if domestic production is seriously curtailed. I find the greatest encouragement in the way in which Canadian Industry and Canadian Labour are both putting their backs behind war production. Canada is a united country, and united in its determination to win this war. The road may be long, but victory rests at its end.
My recent visit to Britain has given me some appreciation of the debt we owe to those men and women who live and walk in danger, eat scanty meals and yet are strong in their determination to fight the war to its bitter end. They find leadership and inspiration in the towering figure of Winston Churchill, who has the power to put into living words the battle cry that is in the hearts of all. I have seen something of the hardships of the British merchant seamen in their battles with submarines and dive bombers. I have heard first-hand accounts of the exploits of our Navies and Air Force, and I have seen the precautions taken in the protection of Britain against invasion. If every Canadian, man and woman, could cross the Atlantic and spend a month in England, no words of mine would be needed to urge the utmost efforts of all of us to rush the last ounce of aid to those gallant men and women in their hour of need. (Applause-prolonged.)
MR. C. R. SANDERSON: Mr. Chairman and Gentlemen: I think we were all conscious before that the portfolio of the Minister of Munitions and Supply was a twenty-four hour job. We are more convinced of that than ever. And, Sir, we know you must have come at personal sacrifice, because your job does not wait, it still has to be done when you get back from having taken these hours out of an already over-full day. But at the same time when every one of us is holding his breath with anxiety as to what the next newspaper headline will be, it is a good thing that you will take time to come and tell us the progress that is being made in this vital job which you have undertaken. And the Dominion is fortunate in having a man holding your portfolio who is an engineer and who has personally experienced what warfare means both on sea and on land. And when to that background there is added the ability, the energy, the personal drive that you put into this vital task, today, Sir, gives us one more opportunity of re-expressing our personal appreciation and our confidence in the vital task which you are carrying on. (Applause.)
MR. E. F. THOMPSON: Gentlemen, thank you, Mr. Sanderson, and through you, the Honourable Mr. Howe. The meeting is now adjourned.