Exhibition showcases war machinery produced in Midlands

RAF vehicle on display at Coventry Transport Museum.
RAF vehicle on display at Coventry Transport Museum. Photo: ITV News Central

When the Nazis tried to destroy Britain they not only had to defeat the country's military - but also its mighty industries.

And playing a key role in the civilian version of the Battle of Britain, were the workers of the Midlands motor companies.

Factories that produced cars, lorries and tractors quickly adapted to the mass production of war machinery - anything from military vehicles to aeroplanes.

That story is told in an exhibition called War Effort which opens to the public from Friday July 12th at the Coventry Transport Museum.

According to the museum, Britain was not ill-prepared for war. As 1930s Germany pumped vast sums of money into its battle plans and rearmament, Britain too had been investing - by putting the motor firms on to a war footing.

Among those at the forefront to save Britain were the Rootes Group, Rover, Daimler, Standard, Morris, Ford, Austin, Vauxhall and Nuffield Group.

Thousands of women were given jobs on the production lines; their significant contribution played a vital part.

The Nazis were not oblivious to what the British were up to - with the building of so-called shadow factories.

Although much of what went on was top secret and factories were covered in camouflage to help protect them from aerial bombing by the Luftwaffe, Hitler had been given some insight into Britain's industrial mass production capabilities.

It was a bit like the USSR's impressive public displays of weaponry during the Cold War - a kind of "don't mess with us" message.

The Government showed high-ranking military personnel around the shadow schemes as well as the Luftwaffe as late as 1937 in order to illustrate that Britain was not to be trifled with if we reached the abyss of war.

– The museum's Curator of Vehicles, Christiaan van Schaardenburgh, from Holland

Many of the British factories suffered from bombing, and Coventry was among the worst hit cities.

But production of war machinery remained huge throughout the conflict. Although the factories later helped Britain capitalise on the post war boom, a good many of them closed down in the 1970s and 80s.