31 MAY 1957, Page 7

NOTHING THAT Mr. Duncan Sandys has been say- ing or

doing about defence has brought home strategic developments so clearly as an item of the news on Monday morning. It was reported that Admiral Sir John Eccles, Commander-in-Chief, Home Fleet, taking the fleet out to meet the royal yacht on its return from Denmark, had hoisted his flag in a minelayer. I am sorry to have to admit that the word minelayer conjures up for me, merely a piece in the game 'Dover Patrol' (do people play it still?) which blew up other pieces with which it came in contact, but was not allowed to do any attacking itself, and was consequently only of value as a movable blockship. The excuse given for the admiral's decision was even more remarkable : that the weather might be too rough for the fleet's larger warships. Well, really ! Yet minelayers, I suppose, are the Navy's only surface yessels which have any attacking role today. Mr. Sandys apparently shares the Admiralty's fond delusion that the aircraft carrier can replace tilt battleship and the cruiser as a striking force; but. as no suitable carrier aircraft have been evolved it is of use only in operations like Suez, where there is no fighter opposition. In choosing a mine- layer for his flagship, Admiral Eccles may simply have been demonstrating that he, at least, is under no illusions about the future.

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