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Air Raids (Pilotless Machines)

Volume 400: debated on Friday 16 June 1944

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By the leave of the House, I desire to make the following statement. It has been known for some time that the enemy was making preparations for the use of pilotless aircraft against this country, and he has now started to use this much-vaunted new weapon. A small number of these missiles were used in the raids of Tuesday morning, and their fall was scattered over a wide area; a larger number was used last night and this morning. On the first occasion, they caused a few casualties, but the attack was light, and the damage, on the whole, was inconsiderable. Last night's attack was more serious, and I have not as yet full particulars of the casualties and damage, nor of the numbers of pilotless aircraft destroyed before they could explode. The enemy's preparations have not, of course, passed unnoticed, and counter-measures have already been, and will continue to be, applied with full vigour. It is, however, probable that the attacks will continue and that, subject to experience, the usual siren warning will be given for such attacks.

Meanwhile, it is important not to give the enemy any information which would help him in directing his shooting, by telling him where his missiles have landed. It may be difficult to distinguish these attacks from ordinary air raids, and therefore it has been decided that, for the present, information published about air raids in Southern England, that is, South of a line from the Wash to the Bristol Channel, will not give any indication where the air raid has taken place, beyond saying that it had occurred in Southern England.

While I have thought it right to give the House, at the earliest opportunity, information about the use of this new weapon by the enemy, the available information does not suggest that exaggerated importance need be attached to this new development. All possible steps are, of course, being taken to frustrate the enemy's attempt to supplement his nuisance raiding, by means which do not imperil the lives of his pilots. Meanwhile the nation should carry on with its normal business. As, however, the raids by pilotless aircraft may occur during daylight when the streets are full of people and anti-aircraft guns will be used to shoot down the machines, I must impress upon the public the importance of not exposing themselves unnecessarily to danger by remaining in the streets out of curiosity, instead of taking the nearest cover while the guns are firing.

Perhaps I might add that, for the time being at any rate, the guns will shoot, but that is liable to review as we go along, in the light of experience and of what is expedient. The only other thing I would say is that hon. Members will, I am sure, endorse the arrangement we have made for the Press, with a view to conveying to the enemy nothing as to where his pilotless aircraft are falling. I am sure that all hon. Members, in Questions they may put down, and particularly in oral supplementary questions and observations, will, themselves, act up to the practice which we have asked the Press to observe.

Is it the Home Secretary's intention to continue the warnings as they are now, irrespective of whether it is a pilotless or a piloted aircraft, because if that is done it will mean that a large number of people will stay in their dugouts for a considerable period?

It is my intention, at present, to treat both the piloted and the pilotless aircraft in the same way, but there is a point in what my hon. Friend says. In all these matters, we have to learn as we go, and I shall not hesitate to modify the system if, in the public interest, it becomes expedient to do so.