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Anti-Mine Devices

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 4 May 1943

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asked the Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that on many occasions in recent operations in Tunisia the advance of British troops has been held up for lack of adequate minesweeping tanks; and why, when a suitable mine-sweeper was offered to his Department some two years ago, the development was not proceeding with?

For the answer to the first part of the hon. Member's Question, I would refer him to the answer I gave to the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) on 13th April. I am not aware that any device was rejected by the Army unless extensive trials showed that it did not meet requirements.

As the reply given to my hon. Friend was totally unsatisfactory, may I ask my right hon. Friend whether he is aware that officers who have been in these battles have told me of the inadequacy of the mine-sweeping equipment and that equipment much better was offered to the Department two years ago? Why has it not been proceeded with?

I am not prepared to accept as accurate, to put it mildly, the hon. Member's facts.

In regard to the reply which my right hon. Friend gave me the other day can he assure the House, in view of the extensive use which the Germans are making of minefields, that an improvement is being made in the method of overcoming them?

I can certainly give the assurance that a great deal of attention is being paid to it and that a special organisation has been set up inside the Army to conduct research, experiments and trials in anti-mine devices.

Have any representations been received from the headquarters staff in North Africa on this subject? Is my right hon. Friend aware that officers who are on leave in this country have made statements to the effect that proper devices are not obtainable and that that has entailed a great loss of life?

As regards representations from the Middle East, certain devices which were under trial in the Middle East have been sent home and are under active development here. As regards the second part of the question, I am not aware that there have been any general complaints, certainly not official complaints, from the Middle East of any unwillingness on our part to conduct research in this very important matter.

Is it not true that by far the majority of the losses in killed at El Alamein were on account of the absence of adequate mine-sweeping facilities? It is nonsense to pretend that they were not.

I should require notice of that question, but I beg leave to doubt it very much.

May I refer my right hon. Friend to the Prime Minister, who made a statement to that effect in this House? It is absolutely true, and he knows it is true.