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Lord Beaverbrook Flexed Britain’s Air Muscle


Investors Business Daily (27 Oct 2010) – Canadian-born Beaverbrook became minister of the U.K.’s aircraft production in 1940 and made sure fighter production smothered Germany’s. AP

In 1940, Winston Churchill saw that Britain’s defense against a Nazi invasion relied on the air force.


He needed to get planes to the brash young pilots who would fly in the Battle of Britain.


So he turned to a man he respected, and with whom he often disagreed: Lord Beaverbrook.


“I needed his vital and vibrant energy,” Churchill later wrote in “Their Finest Hour.”


He appointed Beaverbrook minister of aircraft production.


The move would mean victory in the skies for Britain.


Born William Maxwell Aitken in Maple, Ontario, in 1879, the Canadian investor and press magnate used his cunning and determination to put new planes in the air and make damaged planes airworthy.

He took the assignment on May 14, 1940, as the French surrendered and the British army pulled back to the beaches of Dunkirk, France.

With the royal navy and private yachtsmen plucking 338,000 British and other Allied soldiers from the water, Beaverbrook was already gearing up for the air war to come.


In the four months before he took over, Britain had built 2,729 planes. Just 638 were fighters.


He tripled fighter production the next four months, with 1,875 rolling out to the royal air force. Beaverbrook’s output was 2.5 times greater than the Third Reich’s.


He had two ways of getting people motivated, says Desmond Morton, a professor of history at McGill University in Montreal. “He could engage them or terrify people into getting the job done,” Morton told IBD.


Leaping Hurdles

Beaverbrook looked at roadblocks he inherited and got rid of them. “He fired people and achieved terror,” Morton said.


Beaverbrook set production quotas 15% higher than British plane makers had reached. He simply inspired people with what seemed to be unrealistic targets.


The war of attrition took its toll from July 1940 to the end of the battle in early October. German fighter strength fell from 725 to 275. With production outpacing losses, RAF fighter planes rose from 644 to 732.


With Britain safe from invasion, Beaverbrook became Churchill’s wartime minister of supply.


Max Aitken was the fifth of 10 children. He spent his boyhood in Newcastle, New Brunswick, where his Scottish-born father was a Presbyterian minister.


At 13, Max showed the skill that would make him a press magnate. He published his first newspaper, a weekly called the Leader. He got out three editions, setting the type and running the press himself.


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