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Shipping Losses

Volume 387: debated on Thursday 25 March 1943

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asked the Prime Minister whether he is aware of the recent claim broadcast by the German news agency that more than 30 ships of a convoy, totalling 200,000 tons, were sunk in a recent attack in the Atlantic; and whether he will now adjust the policy of complete secrecy concerning the increasing attacks and losses on our sea communications and, in particular, make a statement on this convoy?

All sorts of claims are made by the German radio, and they would very much like to know how far adrift they are from the truth. But nothing would induce me, while I am responsible, to do anything to clarify enemy knowledge on this matter. I may however state for general reassurance that the United Nations have afloat to-day a substantially larger fleet than they had at the worst moment in the U-boat war and that this improvement is continuous.

Is the Prime Minister aware that there is a very considerable measure of anxiety on this subject? Might he not be able to consider at some time conveying some more information, at any rate to Members of this House?

I think the public have pretty good confidence in the Government, and I think it would be undesirable to add to the information which has been given. I feel that very strongly. I see the enemy making all sorts of absurd claims, and I much prefer to leave him in his delusions than to give him the accurate information to enable him to find out what success he has had with which attacks and which submarine commanders were telling the truth, and so on.

May I ask the Prime Minister, without controverting what he has said it would be very improper to do, whether he can give favourable consideration to this fact? Necessarily it was impossible for the First Lord of the Admiralty, when introducing his Navy Estimates, to tell the House anything of real importance about this campaign against the U-boats; would it not be desirable to have a meeting in Secret Session when the Prime Minister could address the House?

As I say, if there is a general desire, I could say things in Secret Session that I would not be able to say outside, and I could, in particular, give an idea to the House of the difficulties we are encountering and are surmounting. On the other hand, I would not like, even in Secret Session, to give the facts.

Is it not true that there is still an insufficient number of bombers being supplied for the protection of convoys? Is the Prime Minister further aware that there is an insufficiency of interception equipment?

I do not think that arises out of the Question, but I am very fully acquainted with every detail of the matter.