Planning and profits: the political economy of private naval armaments manufacture and supply organisation in Britain, 1918-41

Miller, Christopher William (2015) Planning and profits: the political economy of private naval armaments manufacture and supply organisation in Britain, 1918-41. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

Full text available as:
[thumbnail of 2015MillerPhD.pdf] PDF
Download (2MB)
Printed Thesis Information:


This thesis examines the relationship between the private naval armaments industry, businessmen and the British Government’s supply planning framework between 1918 and 1941. More specifically, it reassesses the concept of the Military-Industrial Complex by examining the impact of disarmament upon private industry, the role of leading industrialists within supply and procurement policy, and the successes and failings of the Government’s supply organisation. This work blends together political, naval and business history in new ways, and, by situating the business activities of industrialists alongside their work as government advisors, it sheds new light on the operation of the British state.
This thesis argues that there was a small coterie of influential businessmen, led by Lord Weir, who, in a time of great need for Britain, first gained access to secret information on industrial mobilisation as advisers to the Supply Board and Principal Supply Officers Committee (PSOC), and later were able to directly influence policy. This made Lord Weir and Sir James Lithgow among the most influential industrial figures in Britain. This was a relationship which cut both ways: Weir and others provided the state with honest, thoughtful advice and policies, but, as ‘insiders’ utilised their access to information to build a business empire at a fraction of the normal costs. Outsiders, by way of contrast, lacked influence and were forced together into a defensive ‘ring’ – or cartel – and effectively fixed prices for British warships in the lean 1920s. However, by the 1930s, the cartel grew into one of the most sophisticated profiteering groups of its day, before being shut down by the Admiralty in 1941.
More generally, this work argues that the Japanese invasion of Manchuria was a turning point for supply organisation, and that between 1931 and 1935, the PSOC and its component bodies were governed by necessity. Powerful constraints on finance and political manoeuvre explain the nature of industrial involvement. Thus, it is argued that the PSOC did a broadly effective job at organising industry with the tools it was given, and the failings were down to the top levels of policymaking – the Cabinet – not acting upon advice to ease procurement bottlenecks early enough, to the extent that British warship construction was more expensive and slower than it could have been. In sum, this group of industrialists, the Admiralty and a few key figures in the PSOC such as Sir Harold Brown, effectively saved MacDonald, Baldwin and Chamberlain’s National Government from itself.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Additional Information: Supported by a full studentship from the AHRC, and by the Economic History Society, the Lind Foundation, the Snell Exhibition, the University of Glasgow’s College of Arts and Centre for Business History, and Yale University.
Keywords: History, business history, war studies, political history, rearmament, armament manufacture
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D204 Modern History
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D501 World War I
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
D History General and Old World > DA Great Britain
Colleges/Schools: College of Arts & Humanities > School of Humanities > History
Supervisor's Name: O'Brien, Dr. Phillips and Stokes, Prof Ray
Date of Award: 2015
Depositing User: Mr Christopher W Miller
Unique ID: glathesis:2015-6976
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 12 Jan 2016 10:21
Last Modified: 04 Apr 2019 16:26

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year