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machine shops, compressed into the space of motor truck chassis,
sped here and there to render first aid to damaged guns. Ammuni-
tion trucks, supply trucks, spare parts trucks, observation trucks,
motorized, and caissons and limbers of all sizes were either parked
in service on their batteries or were moving into position. Eight-
inch howitzers on wheels raised their ugly snouts toward heaven
that they might send their selected targets to hell. Fifteen- and
twenty-ton tractors pulled these heavy monsters about with ease
over fields and ditches. All these things belong to Ordnance.

"Overhead the throb of an enemy's plane brought our antiair-
craft service into play. Complicated instruments, products of
Ordnance, were sighted upon the plane, determining its altitude,
speed and direction and taking into account the windage and the
trajectory of the shell, predicting its position at the moment of fire.


We Story~ gf Ordnance in the World War

Up went a salvo of antiaircraft shell, each one fitted with a special
fuse so delicate in action that contact with the thin fabric of the
airplane wing was sufficient to explode it, and yet so designed that
accidental dropping upon the ground, in handling, would not cause

"Still farther back were the monster railway mounts from
eight-inch to sixteen-inch caliber. Each battery of these mobile
monsters was accompanied by its quota of ammunition cars, spare
parts cars and railway machine shops, all furnished and designed
by Ordnance. Night came and bombing planes started out, each
fitted with a release mechanism that held fused and loaded bombs —
a dozen or more of them — and which dropped them .one, two at a
time, three at once or all together, as desired. Each plane had its
bomb sight, an instrument which told the bomber when to release
his ^gg' so that it might find its desired mark a mile or more be-
low. Release mechanism, bomb sight and bombs, all came from

"Signal lights and rockets displayed red, white or green signals
or 'caterpillar' combinations. Powerful illuminants suspended from
parachutes made No Man's Land as bright as day. Signal stars
shot from signal pistols told the positions of patrols. Back from
their successful mission came the bombing planes, flares fastened
to their wing-tips, lighting the landing field. All of these varied
pyrotechnical displays were the products of Ordnance."

Yet this statement but lists the products of Ordnance. It tells
nothing of the story beneath, which is the work of Ordnance.
To continue the story : Artillery provision is required for an Army
of 5,000,000 men. In thirteen years the government arsenals have
produced precisely as many guns of one caliber called for in the
program as must now be produced each month. Or again, with
other calibers, not a single gun has ever been produced in the
United States. There is not even a design, a gun on paper.

We must borrow plans from our friends the French. But
their measurements are different. Their drawings must all be


We Story" sf Ordnance in the World War

changed to conform with standardized American shop practice.
We have no plant where this gun can be built, nor even an
operating personnel to undertake the task of building and run-
ning such a plant. Negotiations are opened with a group of men
successful in the manufacture of automobiles. The facilities of
their plants are fully absorbed with the production of war materials
of other sorts. But they agree to build a plant for the manufacture
of one part, roughly one-third, of the particular gun in question,
if Ordnance will finance them and aid them with raw materials and
labor. On a bare tract of land work is begun. In three months'
time the plant, covering thirteen acres of ground is completed.
Next six millions of dollars worth of machine tools, specially de-
signed and built for this work, are installed. Shop men turn their
hands to the making of a mechanism of French design such as
was never produced by American mechanics before. In one pro-
cess two borings are made in a steel tube, seven feet in length and
these must run parallel for the whole length without a deviation
of more than one two-thousandths of an inch. Beset with shortages
in labor and raw materials, this force of men must learn this un-
familiar task and perfect their shop practices until they can turn out
this intricate mechanism as though they were Ford automobiles.
When this has been accomplished, one-third of one of the guns of
the artillery program has been provided. Multiply this task by the
provision of sixteen plants for the making of cannon and by twenty-
six plants for the making of gun carriages, on which the cannon
rest ; design, buy, build and install machine tools in these plants at
a cost of nearly $100,000,000; find labor for them and raw ma-
terials for them in a chaotic war market ; inspect and proof -fire their
product, and you will begin to have some idea of the significance of
the statements of Mr. Van Deventer when he captures your im-
agination with the word picture of a gun raising its snout toward
heaven on the battlefields of France.

Yet even in making this statement we encounter one of the dif-
ficulties ever present when one attempts to convey an idea of the


W? Story gf Ordnance in the World War

Ordnance program. The vast engineering and industrial problem
we have just sketched represents only one part of the work, namely
the provision of artillery. This same process, to a greater or less
degree, had to be fought through with in the case of small arms,
machine guns, tractors; tanks and trench warfare weapons of a
hundred different sorts, not to mention the supplementary material
of sights, range-finding instruments, pyrotechnics and such in-
cidental items as sawed-off shotguns that Yankee ingenuity was
inclined to add to this bewildering assortment of Kultur cures.

At the outset, upon the declaration of war, the ready resources
of the United States for the manufacture of Ordnance were loaded
down with orders. There was only one delay. These orders had
to be placed in accordance with the system in vogue with our
republican form of Government. The year before the war, Con-
gress had embarked upon a military program contemplating the
yearly increase of the armed forces of the country by 250,000 men
until a strength of 1,000,000 men was reached. The Ordnance
program, dictated to the Army Ordnance Department by the Gen-
eral Staff, which in turn received its orders from Congress, was to
have followed out this man-power program. When war was de-
clared against Germany, the Ordnance Department did the thing
calculated to set the wheels going in the quickest possible time.
Instead of attempting the very difficult and slow process of formu-
lating a new Ordnance program, it crammed the total specifica-
tions of the four-year peace time program into one and thus stood
ready, or sought to stand ready, to begin immediate operations
with an Ordnance program of unprecedented size for the United
States, albeit one quite insufficient to meet the demands of a world
war. But before operations could be begun, Congress had to ap-
propriate funds. And before the estimates could be laid before
Congress, they had to be embodied with the estimates of other de-
partments of the War Department. When finally they were pre-
sented to Congress, committee hearings were begun upon the de-
tails of the program. It was not until three months after the dec-


There is no chance for bluff with Ordnance mate-
riel. It is made for men and issued to men who
have no other insurance of victory, no other safe-
guard against death. The dependence placed
upon it is too great to allow it to long enjoy a
false reputation. When soldiers in battle express
confidence in Ordnance material, they are backing
their opinion with their lives and their judg-
ments must weigh with the rest of us accordingly.
A burst rifle barrel, a jammed cartridge means
the life of a soldier for which Ordnance is respon-
sible. Ordnance placed in the hands of the
American soldier rifles that gave his country his
worth as a man, plus his value with the best of
the tools of war in his hand. The weapon had to
be adapted to the man ; measured to fit his intel-
ligence and his training. A rifle suited to the use
of a Russian peasant soldier would not efficiently
serve the American infantryman. A rifle designed
for an expert marksman would not efficiently
serve an army put into the field with but little


*®e Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

laration of war that the first dollar was made available for tne
manufacture of Ordnance materiel to fight the war. This was but
a preliminary, emergency recommendation. Immediately the Ord-
nance Department began the preparation of its estimates for the
real work in hand, the creation of what really amounted to a new
national industry throughout the land, the industry of munitions

At this point, it is felt necessary to make the first criticism of
the Ordnance Department. It failed to break the law quickly
enough. The law forbids the expenditure of money or the con-
tracting of obligations before Congress has made an appropriation.
Through the summer of 1917, the Ordnance Department proceeded
to discuss contracts with hundreds of manufacturers. Every de-
tail in these contracts was threshed out and the contracts made
ready for signature while Congress was safeguarding the people's
funds with its hearings upon the estimates. Finally in August,
1917, the Ordnance Department broke the law. Work was started
upon contracts with the approval of the Ordnance Department.
Congress made the necessary appropriation the following October.
The first emergency appropriations of June, 1917 were for $1,057,-
557,030 and the appropriations of October were for $3,374,633,102.

But even at this preliminary stage this was not a business that
could be directed by those fifteen Ordnance officers who were on
duty in Washington in April, 1917. The directing force, the com-
posite mind of the commissioned personnel, had to be provided
before the plants or the guns. Whence were to come the special-
ists in designs and industrial processes to direct the execution of
this stupendous program?

Other of the technical and supply corps of the Army could find
a ready-made stock of mental ability requiring but slight reshaping
or training to fit it for war duties. The banks and accounting de-
partments of commercial establishments offered trained material
for paymasters ; electrical engineers, experts in telegraphy and tel-
ephony were ready at hand for the signal corps; physicians and


&e Story gf Ordnance in the World War

surgeons offered their skilled services to the Medical Department;
civil engineers entered the Engineer Corps. Since men must be fed
in peace as in war it was simply a matter of taking into the Army
the trained men who directed food industries in peace times to ex-
pand the commissary department. The automobile industry pro-
vided technical men for the Motor Transport Service. In short each
technical corps of the Army received trained men from the cor-
responding industry developed as a part of the industrial peace-
time organization of the country.

But for Ordnance there was no corresponding industry in the
peace organization. Ordnance is used only in war for the sole
purpose of destroying the enemy, of killing men and demolishing
fortifications or for the counter purpose of overcoming the de-
structive force of the enemy's Ordnance.

The weapons that are used for destruction are totally dissimilar
in both design and manner of construction from any of the tools
of peace. Consequently the engineers, chemists and industrial ex-
perts in civilian life who had devoted themselves to the develop-
ment and production of materials useful to a world at peace had no
knowledge of the design or manner of making these specialized
tools of war. This was the general rule. The exceptions to that
rule were the relatively few experts of the only two commercial
establishments in the country devoted to the manufacture of artil-
lery, the experts who had been developed for the commercial manu-
facture of powder and explosives and those in the very few peace
industries closely analogous to certain branches of the work of the
Ordnance Department, limited practically to the fireworks or pyro-
technics industry and to the tractor industry. Knowledge of the
industrial problems in the manufacture of rifles had also been de-
veloped by commercial enterprise, particularly by orders placed
with American manufacturers by the European belligerents be-
fore the entrance of the United States into the war. The need for
the services of this handful of experts in the plants being loaded
down with orders for munitions was so great that the Ordnance


1$e Storjr gf Ordnance in the World War

Department had to forgo a claim upon them and only in very few
instances were Ordnance officers obtained from their ranks.

An idea of how Ordnance "experts" were improvised can best be
given perhaps by reciting the policy of the Machine Gun Section
of the Engineering Division. Before the war, a single Ordnance
officer in that group of fifteen on duty in Washington had served
as the expert "staff" on automatic weapons and he had combined
his direction of machine-gun development and manufacture with
numerous other heavy duties. Certainly not more than four other
officers of the Ordnance Department in the field could have qual-
ified as machine-gun experts. All of them were young officers, the
highest rank held by any of them being that of Captain. To obtain
an adequate staff of machine-gun "experts" a search was made
through the training camps for men experienced in gas engine de-
sign and manufacture. This was the closest analogy possible.
These men were quickly trained in general knowledge of machine
guns and then were made to specialize upon some particular

By this same process of taking from civilian life an engineer
familiar with material bearing some analogy to something to be
produced by Ordnance, then quickly training him in the gen-
eralities of the line he was to follow in Ordnance and finally by
jamming within the confines of some small fraction of one of the
Ordnance problems his entire broad technical knowledge, were
most of the Ordnance "experts" of the war period improvised. It
is a tribute to the genius and adaptability of American engineers
that they succeeded so remarkably well under such conditions.
But also it is significant to note that in every instance where at
the end Ordnance production was having hard sledding, the lack
of expert technical knowledge was most difficult to overcome at
the beginning.

Nor was the lack of this technical knowledge felt only in the
matter of design. To but a slightly lesser degree did it handicap
the industrial work of production. Ordnance industry did not


^e Story" sf Ordnance in the World War

know commercial industry and commercial industry did not know
Ordnance industry. Not only were the tools and equipment of the
two different, but their ways of doing things were different. Their
practice and methods had to be introduced to each other and
harmonized. The ablest men from the industrial field were brought
into the Ordnance Department only to find the necessity of learn-
ing many things before they could hit their stride. And the Ord-
nance Department of the Regular Army likewise had to reform
and alter many of its arsenal practices when it began production
in 5,000 private plants.

At a monthly rate of increase which it is simply absurd to state
in percentages, these 5,800 Ordnance officers were commissioned
from civilian life and put at this new and unfamiliar business — en-
gineers, industrial executives, financiers, administrators, labor ex-
perts; designing, buying, building, inspecting, things they had most
of them never seen prior to April 6th, 1917. Indeed, more than a
year after the declaration of war the Trench Warfare Sections of
the Ordnance Department gave a demonstration of materials they
were making, at which time Colonel Ragsdale, in charge of the en-
gineering work on trench warfare devices, frankly confessed that
he had witnessed the use of some of the things for which his section
was responsible for the first time in his life. If that was this of-
ficer's familiarity with some of the 100,000 different things Ord-
nance was producing after a year of war, it is interesting to con-
jecture what knowledge of them most of the officers from civilian
life had. Nor will any Ordnance officer consider frivolous the sug-
gestion that in shaking down and transforming into an efficient
industrial organization this huge number of executives (there were
79,720 civilian employees as the Ordnance clerical force) the mere
task of finding office accommodations for them and the frequent
moves from office to office and from building to building it was
necessary to make, was, of itself, enough to ruin the Ordnance pro-
gram and lose the war for democracy.

The United States was at war nineteen months. As has been


*3fe Story* gf Ordnance in the World War

said, the first appropriations made for the expansion and creation
of plant facilities for the manufacture of Ordnance passed Con-
gress in October. The work of organizing the Ordnance Depart-
ment was carried forward meanwhile. These facts are repeated to
emphasize the pertinent fact that in judging of the result achieved
by the Ordnance Department in nineteen months of war, a good
many of these months at the beginning should be eliminated from
the reckoning because of unavoidable lost motion and of inactiv-
ities for which the Ordnance Department was by no means respon-
sible. It is my purpose, in presenting the final achievements of
the Ordnance Department to use as a standard of measurement
the actual production of Ordnance materiel by France and Great
Britain during the same nineteen months of the war. It is there-
fore important to bear in mind what transpired in the United
States during these first months of that period because it is pro-
posed to match achievements with two great nations who had been
at war for three years before the period of comparison begins.
You will concede, I doubt not, that it is a bold thing to attempt
such a comparison. It is indicative, at least, of the confidence the
Ordnance Department has in its record of achievement.

Having given an idea of the disadvantages under which the Ord-
nance Department undertook its superhuman task, let us see what
handicaps were provided in favor of Ordnance. The allied nations
made every possible effort to overcome the great disadvantage of
lack of technical preparedness. They gave with unstinted gen-
erosity plans, specifications, working models, the closely guarded
secrets of their famous 75 millimeter gun and all other secret
devices and processes. The three years of war experience of the
Allies was made an open book for the United States Army Ord-
nance Department. They sent Ordnance officers to the United
States to assist. But the transportation of this technical knowl-
edge to the American engineering and industrial field was a very
difficult and slow process. For example, the French gave the
specifications and models of artillery. But these specifications


t^e Story" if Ordnance in the World War

were drawn to the metric system of measurement. American spec-
ifications are based upon measurements by inches and fraction
thereof. Wherefore every specification had to be changed. This
was difficult. 1 inch equals 2.54001 centimeters. For the transposi-
tion neither an exact multiple nor a simple fraction is offered.
And there is not a plant in America where a single tool, drill,
die .or screw will function to produce the result specified with the
French plans based upon the centimeter.

Shop practices in France and in the United States differ widely.
Not only had the French drawings to be changed from the metric
system of measurement, but they had to be made to conform to
American shop practice. Not otherwise could American tool
equipment and standard American steel shapes have been used.
When they were introduced into American shops, these French
specifications used by the Ordnance Department were not a trans-
lation but an adaptation from the French. It is amazing to con-
sider how deeply national characteristics are imbedded in mechani-
cal design. We think of mechanical contrivances as things having
certainly the least relationship to Latin, or Anglo-Saxon char-
acter, psychology or philosophy. Yet the gun that a Frenchman
designs is as French to its finger-tips, as Timothy Healy might put
it, as any gown designed by Pacquin or as any poem of the Latin

The Ford automobile was developed in America as the product
of distinctively American mechanical genius and likewise the
French 75-millimeter gun is the child of French temperment and
French thought. The French could not with whatever assistance
from Henry Ford in the way of plans and specifications duplicate
the success of the Detroit enterprise, and we could not exactly
duplicate the work of French mechanics in the manufacture of
artillery. In America the mechanic becomes a specialist in the
production of a single part working to tolerances, depending upon
the accuracy of guages to produce interchangeable parts requir-
ing little or no hand-fitting and machining when the entire mech-


^e Story" sf Ordnance in the World War

anism is assembled. But the French machinist is developed as a
highly skilled artist working always with the picture of the com-
pletely assembled mechanism in mind and in the habit of doing a
great deal of careful hand-fitting as the parts are assembled. The
French thus gain perfection in their work at the expense of speed.
Generally speaking, highly efficient industrial organization on the
immense scale common in America is impossible under the French
system. But also the delicate work of the French machinist is
impossible for the American workman used to a highly specialized
job and working with guages and close tolerances.

All through the war the effort was continued to perfect the
adaptation of these French specifications to American shop prac-
tices. Experts and foremen from the French arsenals visited the
munitions plants in the United States and in turn the courtesies
of the French plants were offered Americans. Every effort was
made to bridge the difficulties resulting from this differentiation
of national character. Nor is it thought to underestimate the
value of French co-operation which was very great. The net
profit to the Ordnance program from the availiability of French
designs was of much value to the United States. But these diffi-
culties encountered in the transposition must be understood before
the Ordnance achievement in the war can be viewed with proper
perspective. Also it is necessary to overcome the prevalent con-
viction, that where French specifications were available to the
Ordnance Department, the engineering problems were eliminated
and the task was solely the industrial one of pushing production.

The size of the Ordnance program has been suggested by the
statement that in dollars it represented the expenditure within
two years and three months of as much money as the United States
Government had spent for every purpose whatsoever in over 140
years. Endless comparisons of this sort might be made to impress
the layman more effectively with the size of the Ordnance task.
For instance, Colonel James L. Walsh, Executive Assistant to the
Chief of Ordnance, determined that the size of the program die-


Ordnance started here with a bare tract of land
and a gun design borrowed from the French. In
three months this thirteen-acre plant was built.
Six millions of dollars worth of machine tools
were installed. An operating organization was
perfected under the handicaps of a chaotic market
for labor and materials. Finally quantity produc-
tion was achieved on a French mechanism of in-
tricate design unlike anything ever built before by
American mechanics, in which two borings were
made through seven feet of steel tubing running
parallel without a deviation of more than two-
thousandths of an inch. Then one-third of one
type of gun of the mammoth artillery program
had been completed. It took Great Britain nearly
four years to completely equip her army with

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Online LibrarySevellon BrownThe story of ordnance in the World War → online text (page 2 of 22)