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“Caught in the cross fire”: Sir Gerald Campbell, Lord Beaverbrook and the near demise of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, May-October 1940

Fedorowich, Kent


Kent Fedorowich
Associate Professor in British Imperial & Comnwealth History


This essay examines a highly significant but little know incident –the ‘Campbell affair’ - that occurred during the first six months of Winston Churchill’s premiership between May and October 1940. As the RAF and Luftwaffe fought for aerial supremacy in the skies over the British Isles, an equally important campaign was being waged in the corridors of Whitehall between the Air Ministry and the newly-created Ministry of Aircraft Production, headed by the bumptious Canadian-born peer, Lord Beaverbrook. The wrangling centred on the control over aircraft supply, procurement and the level and location of RAF pilot training. Entwined within this jurisdictional bickering was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, a scheme which Beaverbrook allegedly had little enthusiasm. Corrosive remarks made by the minister during the height of the Battle of Britain, which were reported to Canada’s mercurial premier W. L. Mackenzie King and then relayed back to London by Sir Gerald Campbell, Britain’s high commissioner in Ottawa, not only threatened to unhinge Anglo-Canadian wartime relations at a pivotal juncture of the war; but they also led to the possible jettisoning of the entire air training scheme. Moreover, the incident occurred at a time when Churchill’s leadership as prime minister was far from secure. Caught in the diplomatic and political crossfire was Sir Gerald Campbell, who Beaverbrook insisted be recalled along with the RAF’s chief liaison officer, Air Vice-Marshal L. L. D. McKean. In the end, after the swift intervention of the newly-appointed dominions secretary, the 5th Viscount Cranborne, neither of these officials was recalled; nor was the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan abandoned. However, it was a messy and untimely affair that possessed dire consequences for Churchill’s premiership as well as for the future conduct of Anglo-dominion, especially Anglo-Canadian, wartime relations.


Fedorowich, K. (2015). “Caught in the cross fire”: Sir Gerald Campbell, Lord Beaverbrook and the near demise of the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan, May-October 1940. Journal of Military History, 79(1), 37-68

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jun 1, 2014
Publication Date Jan 10, 2015
Deposit Date Jan 28, 2016
Journal Journal of Military History
Print ISSN 0899-3718
Publisher Society for Military History
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 79
Issue 1
Pages 37-68
Keywords Beaverbrook, Campbell, Churchill, British Commonwealth Air Training Scheme, airpower, Royal Air Force
Public URL
Publisher URL