Illusions of Grandeur: 1962–6

  • C. J. Bartlett


The average life expectancy of each defence review since 1945 had been a mere two and a half years. This was far too short, given a usual gestation period for each new weapon of from two to four times that figure. But things were to get worse, not better, in the mid-1960s, with doubts and dissensions developing at almost every level of British defence policy, with strategy, fundamental weapons and administrative methods all being thrown into the melting pot. Denis Healey, Labour’s talented Minister of Defence from 1964, declared that he had inherited ‘a runaway train’ from the Conservatives, but in the next three years, despite several sudden applications of the brakes, the train was not brought under control. Finally it was hopefully diverted on to a new line altogether from January 1968. Recurrent economic crises and internal Labour divisions were ostensibly responsible for this erratic progress, but more fundamental was the accumulation of past mis­takes, misconceptions and misfortunes whose implications could no longer be avoided.Many observers were becoming persuaded that the post-war policy of piecemeal adjustments to meet Britain’s changing position in the world was no longer enough, and that even so drastic a transformation of policy as had occurred in 1957 had been less radical than it appeared on the surface.1


Nuclear Force Defence Policy Defence Spending Military Aircraft Defence Review 


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  1. 2.
    C. J. E. Harlow, The European Armaments Base (Institute for Strategic Studies, 1967) part 2, pp. 9–10.Google Scholar
  2. 4.
    D. Healey, House of Commons, 27 June 1967Google Scholar
  3. 11.
    See J. L. Moulton, RUSIJ (1962) pp. 19–28.Google Scholar
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    E. Monroe, Britain’s Moment in the Middle East (1963) pp. 214–217Google Scholar
  5. 19.
    D. Healey, House of Commons, 4 Mar 1970Google Scholar
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    Sir S. Zuckerman, Scientists and War (1966) p. 45.Google Scholar
  7. 28.
    Lord Kilmuir, Political Adventures (1964) p. 321.Google Scholar
  8. 37.
    G. Williams (ed.), Crisis in Procurement chap. viii. In contrast Military Aircraft Procurement (R.U.S.I., 23 Oct 1968) adds little of importance.Google Scholar
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    R. Beaumont, an ex-test pilot, fiercely defended the quality of British aircraft in his Phoenix into Ashes (1968)Google Scholar
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    L. R. Beesley (Director General of Aircraft Production, Ministry of Aviation), Aircraft Engineering (Oct 1966) pp. 26–36.Google Scholar
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    Christopher Soames, House of Commons, 13 Apr 1965.Google Scholar

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© C. J. Bartlett 1972

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  • C. J. Bartlett

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