British Aircraft Production, 1938-1944 – Monthly Deliveries of New Aircraft

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British Aircraft Production, 1938-1944

Monthly Deliveries of New Aircraft

Click to enlarge image This diagram reflects the overall scale of aircraft production in the UK as specified in the preceding tables. The overall ...
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This diagram reflects the overall scale of aircraft production in the UK as specified in the preceding tables. The overall acceleration in production rates is readily apparent.  In graphical view some points of note become more apparent. One of them is the significant “jump” of production in April-June 1940, indicative of the effects of Lord Beaverbrook’s appointment to the post of Minister of Aircraft Production but also of the fact that full potential of the industry had not been realised before the end of the “phoney war” in the West. Also around this period,  fighter became the most numerous aircraft type in production, a position which it retained for the remainder of the war.

The overall production reached its peak in mid-1944, after which it began steadily declining to drop sharply in the second half of 1945 after the end of hostilities in Europe.

Indirectly the diagram shows also the demise of the light bomber concept. By mid-1943 its role was almost entirely overtaken by fighter-bombers on all both of the conflict in the European theatre so that the production of dedicated light bomber aircraft ceased. Heavy bombers, on the contrary, came to play a major role in the expansion of the RAF in the second half of the war, and although never as numerous as the fighters, their production consumed considerable industrial resources.

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The second chart allows for comparison of production numbers between most widely produced categories of aircraft: fighters, bombers (with heavy bombers shown separately) and trainers/miscellaneous types. As can be seen, the demand for trainers seem to dominate production orders un until the end of 1940. However, this could also depend on the fact that light aircraft were the main product of the British aircraft industry in peacetime; converting the manufacturers to production of infinitely more complex and demanding high-performance military types wasn’t an easy process and it took considerable time to accomplish.

It can also be seen that the pre-war rearmament programme wasn’t in fact fighter-centric; production of bombers actually exceeded that of fighters up until June 1940.

As production of heavy bombers increased in 1942, industrial resources were reallocated from medium and light bomber production so that the number of produced twin-engine bombers (indicated by the gap between Bombers total and Heavy bombers lines) gradually decreased.

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Looking into the percentage of fighters and bombers in the overall production reveals the dominating role of the fighter in the RAF during the war period. From the beginning of 1942, fighters (mostly the Supermarine Spitfire) accounted for over 40% of total number of aircraft produced in Britain. Contrary to the common view that British World War II fighters were mostly defensive weapons which played their greatest role in the defence of Britain during 1940, the demand for fighters in proportion to entire RAF requirements actually increased as the force went on the offensive in later war years.

Bombers, in comparison, accounted for between 25-20% of overall production throughout the described period, although, as mentioned previously, the proportion of heavy bombers in that number was increasing.

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Beside the sheer numbers of aircraft produced, it it interesting to see which type of aircraft consumed the largest share of effort of the British aircraft industry. This diagram provides a rough estimation of these proportions, based on the assumption that four-engine aircraft required at least four times as much effort in terms of material, labour, machinery and factory space as single-engined aircraft, and so on. Although the method of estimation is open for discussion and further refinement, the result indicates that bomber production came to consume the largest share of effort in the aviation industry.

Such large industrial undertaking inevitably required redistribution of resources, and industrial effort expended on other types of aircraft decreased roughly in proportion to the increase of heavy bomber production. The production of fighters, however, was not affected, consuming roughly between 20-30% of the overall industrial effort during the period 1941-1944.

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