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Rearmament plans

Naval plans

Naval rearmament was limited from the outset by the disarmament process. Expansion only got underway after 1936, once the limitations of the 1922 Washington Treaty and 1930 London Treaty expired on 31 December 1936. The Defence Requirements sub-Committee's standard fleet (their projection of what the Royal Navy would need to meet certain commitments) essentially brought the one-power standard (which stated that Britain's navy should be equal in size to the biggest naval power) up to date. This involved the modernisation of existing warships to compensate for the deterioration in qualitative superiority since 1922.

However, the Defence Requirements sub-Committee soon recognised that the one-power standard was out of date, and during 1936 a two-power standard (which stated that Britain's navy should equal the combined strengths of the two largest navies), based on the potential combined strengths of Japan and Germany, was developed. However, the Cabinet decided against committing to a two-power standard in favour of speeding up existing programmes.

By 1937 shipbuilding was at full capacity following the acceleration of the Navy's programmes. Any new standard of naval strength was of academic interest only, as it would not be achieved for some years. Even the gain of the Fleet Air arm from RAF control to the Navy was too late to ensure wholesale re-equipment with modern aircraft before the outbreak of war.

Aerial plans

Between 1933 and 1939 the Royal Air Force (RAF) was given higher priority in terms of rearmament plans than the other services. The policy was driven by the pursuit of parity with Germany more than by defence and strike needs (there was no fixed ratio of bombers to fighter aircraft to guide procurement).

Of all the RAF expansion schemes between 1934 and 1939, only scheme F was actually completed. Importantly, this scheme included realistic numbers of reserve aircraft and personnel, something that the earlier schemes had failed to do. The RAF also issued requirements for modern fighters in 1935, and heavy bombers in 1936. In November 1938 the emphasis moved from bombers to fighter defence, but delays meant that modern aircraft were in short supply.

Army plans

Re-armament constraints and the priority given to the Navy and RAF meant that the Army's schemes had the lowest priority. Before spring 1939 policy towards land rearmament was that of 'limited liability' and stated that sending an expeditionary to Europe was unnecessary. Instead the emphasis was on imperial defence - providing coastal defence and anti-aircraft guns in the United Kingdom. Modern weapons and suitable mechanised equipment were in short supply, a particular problem for Territorial Army units that desperately needed the equipment to train with.

In the spring of 1939 the Cabinet agreed that a modern British force would have to fight on the continent. In March the decision was taken to double the size of the Territorial Army and in April, it introduced conscription.  This massive expansion, plus the fact that many of the Army's programmes had not been completed, meant there was considerable period before the Army was ready for war.