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carriages for the three types of 75-millimeter gun at the rate of 393
per month, a total of 1,221 having been delivered up to that time.
The production of gun bodies was always ahead of the carriage
output. At the rate of increase in carriage production we would
have been turning out 800 carriages a month by February, 1919.
To equip our divisions in France before it could be hoped that
American factories could attain quantity production in 75-milli-
meter material, the Ordnance Department took advantage of ex-
cess capacity in the French shops, and beginning in June, 1917,
placed orders with the French Government for a total of 2,806 75-
millimeter guns, of which 1,828 had been delivered when the
armistice was signed. But the rate of output attained by our own
ordnance preparation would have been sufficient to supply 75's for
our entire projected army of 3,360,000 men on the front in the
summer of 1919.


In placing in quantity production the 4.7-inch field gun, 1906
model, of which we had 62 in service when we entered the war, the
United States contributed a highly effective weapon to the artillery
strength of the Allied armies. It was a proven weapon, developed
under exhaustive tests and experiments. Had the war continued
so as to permit an effective accumulation of these guns, their best
target would have been the enemy's 77-millimeter gun. With their
greater range and power, they would have been particularly useful
in destroying this enemy weapon.

At its maximum elevation of 15 degrees, this gun throws a 60-
pound projectile a distance of 4 1/2 miles, and has a correspond-


*3?e Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

ingly greater range with lighter projectiles. It has a recoil action
of 70 inches, taken up by a hydraulic cylinder and a system of

Owing to the very limited ready capacity for turning out car-
riages and gun bodies for this unit, the Ordnance Department faced
almost the same pioneer undertaking in its production as in the
case of the French designs. It was necessary to place orders for
gun forgings with manufacturers who had had no previous exper-
ience whatever in the work. Owing to great variations in the gross
section of the gun bodies these manufacturers experienced great
difficulty in the heat treatment of the forgings. The program in-
volved the erection of entirely new forging and machining plants
in many cases. It involved trans-shipment of rough forgings to the
machine shop, perhaps several hundred miles away, under the fear-
fully congested transportation conditions that prevailed in those
months. That is why the output of finished gun bodies determined
in the case of this 4.7-inch gun the number that we could put on the
front. Carriage production in this unit was always considerably
ahead of cannon output.

Despite the enormous obstacles encountered in getting pro-
duction of this gun under way, which we can do barely more than
suggest in this space, when the armistice was signed production
was mounting into substantial monthly deliveries. More than 150
gun bodies had been completed and of the total of 933 carriages, in-
cluding recoil mechanism, ordered beginning in July, 1917, 308 had
been delivered.

There is no finer product of French gun craft than the 155-
millimeter howitzer. Next to the 75-millimeter gun, it was the
most serviceable weapon in the Allied armies and the best known.
There could be no greater testimonial to the skill and resourceful-
ness of American industry than its duplication in the space of a
few months of this weapon which had never before been built out-


*®e Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

side of the factory of its original designer, the French firm of
Schneider & Cie. The French had been developing and perfecting
the design of this gun for nearly twenty years when the war began
in 1914.

The 155 howitzer weighs less than four tons, is extremely
mobile for a weapon of its size, and in one minute can hurl five 95-
pound projectiles a distance of well over 7 miles. This rapidity of
fire is made possible by the perfection of its hydropneumatic recoil
system, which restores the huge gun body to its exact aim within
13 seconds after each shell is fired by means of converting the recoil
action into compressed air energy which realigns the gun. It was
the duplication of this superfine mechanism that formed the crux
of the entire project, just as did the 75-millimeter recuperator.
Consider that this 155 recuperator is turned out from a solid forg-
ing weighing 3,875 pounds, which is reduced to only 870 pounds
when converted into the finished article, after a machining process
requiring the finest precision.

The carriage for the 155 howitzer also proved the most difficult
to manufacture of all the gun mounts placed under production.
The extreme lightness and mobility of this weapon was obtained
by the combination of a very short cannon and the incorporation of
many ingenious features of design to reduce the weight of the
carriage. The latter was built of a multiplicity of pressed steel and
flanged parts instead of one or two major castings, which neces-
sitated the design and construction of numberless jigs and fixtures
before it could be placed in production. It also required a high
grade of steel and bronze that had previously not been manu-
factured in quantity in this country.

Although the plans of the 155 howitzer were secured in the
spring of 1917, the work of translating the specifications into
American measurements monopolized the entire time of an expert
staff until the next October. By August, 1917, however, it was pos-
sible to place an order for 3,000 gun bodies for this unit. The con-
cern that accepted the order built and equipped an entire plant and


A French-made 155-m.m. howitzer firing from the
ruins of the captured town of Varennes at the
retreating German columns. The French had
been developing and perfecting the design of this
gun for nearly twenty years when the war began.
From the Spring of 1917 until the following
October was spent in adapting the design of this
gun to American shop practice. The concern that
accepted the order for the gun bodies, built and
equipped an entire plant and was turning out 12
gun bodies a day within six months. The first
gun carriage was completed in July 1918. An-
other $10,000,000 plant was built for the manu-
facture of the recuperator of this gun, the most
difficult mechanical operation of all. By Novem-
ber, 1918, recuperators were being produced at
the rate of 16 per day; 854 having been com-
pleted when the armistice was signed. When hos-
tilities ended, the first regiment equipped with
these weapons made in the U. S. A. was waiting
to embark.


If you will stop to count the number of caissons
and limbers shown in this picture it will give you
a basis upon which to build an understanding of
the magnitude of the artillery program. There
was nothing very difficult in the production of
these caissons and limbers — a mere problem in
quantity production. It was to provide the cor-
responding gun and carriage for each of them that
was the herculean task of Ordnance. With one
type alone — the 3-inch or 75-millimeter — it was
the task of Ordnance during the World War to
produce a number each month equal to the total
production for the United States Army during the
thirteen years preceding our entrance into the
war. The United States Army had never been
provided with the larger caliber mobile field guns,
for the very good reason that American artillery,
designed for American defense, was not intended
for the special task of fortress demolition en-
countered in the war in Europe.


W? Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

was turning out 12 bodies a day within six months after the con-
tract was signed. This feat, performed by the American Brake
Shoe and Foundry Company, of Erie, Pa., stands out as perhaps
the most remarkable of our Ordnance preparation. Orders for
2,469 carriages were placed in November, 1917. Despite the dif-
ficulties encountered in getting production under way, the first car-
riage was completed and ready for test in July, 1918.

The recuperator was the third group into which the manufac-
ture of this weapon was divided in order to obtain the advantage of
specialization. Great difficulty was experienced in locating a con-
cern willing to undertake the manufacture of such an exacting
piece of mechanism as the 155 recuperator. The responsibility was
finally accepted, however, by Dodge Bros., of Detroit, manufac-
turers of motor cars, the order being placed in November, 1917. To
execute it they built and equipped an elaborate plant at a cost of
$10,000,000, carrying out the project under the handicaps of labor
scarcity and the severe winter that followed.

A variety of difficulties arose to prevent proper functioning of
the first recuperators assembled. The work of machining the forg-
ings had proceeded favorably until the final operation. This con-
sisted of polishing the interior of the long cylinder to a mirror like
glaze and still retaining the extreme accuracy necessary to prevent
leakage of oil past the piston. Several weeks elapsed before this
operation could be perfected. Then changes in the quality of the
oil were found necessary. The primary difficulty of the whole
undertaking was due to the fact that we were using French draw-
ings and technical devices with American shop methods. French
shop practice may vary much from the drawings, relying on "hand
fitting" instead of working within "tolerances" on measurements
as is generally done in American shops. Thus we have the explana-
tion of how the last and most persistent obstacle was overcome by
a slight alteration in two small parts of the recuperator. These had
been produced according to drawing, but evidently in their pro-
duction the French tended to closer hand fitting.


W? Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

By undaunted perseverance production was finally gotten under
way and recuperators that duplicated the perfect functioning of
the French product were being turned out at the rate of 16 a day
by November, 1918. Of the 3,714 recuperators ordered, 854 had
been finished when the armistice was signed, and this number was
increased to 1,238 a month later.

Meanwhile production of the howitzer gun bodies had pro-
ceeded so favorably that it was possible to sell 550 to the French
government in September, 1918, a total of 1,172 having been com-
pleted when the armistice was signed. The howitzer carriage pro-
ject had reached a total production of 154 and the rate of increase
would have placed this total at 230 a month later. Of the 2,575 car-
riage limbers ordered, 273 had been completed when hostilities

Although this great project was pushed forward as rapidly as
possible, hostilities came to an end before any of the 155-millimeter
howitzers built in this country could be packed and shipped over-
seas. The first regiment to be equipped with this weapon, however,
was ready to embark and the guns were awaiting shipment at the
dock when the fighting ceased. Deliveries on early orders placed
with the French for the 155 howitzer totaled 821 up to the signing
of the armistice.


The story of the reproduction in America of this French weapon
runs for the most part parallel to the history of our 155 howitzer

Being of the "gun" design, this weapon has a longer cannon body
than its howitzer brother and thus achieves the exceedingly high
muzzle velocity of 2,400 feet per second with a 95-pound projectile
which it hurls considerably more than ten miles. Its chief ad-
vantages lie in its wide range of usefulness combined with its ex-
tremely simple and rugged design. To absorb the rolling shock of
the eight tons of steel amassed in this unit the mount is spring sup-


We Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

ported, and the wheels are equipped with a double tread of solid
rubber tires. By an ingenious arrangement it is also possible in a
few minutes to attach a caterpillar tread to the wheels whenever
soft ground is encountered. A large clearance for recoil at high
elevations of fire and also a wide angle of traverse in directing fire
are made possible by the split trail design. The weapon is equipped
with a hydropneumatic recoil system so arranged that the gun
body slides directly in the recuperator forging during recoil. A low
center of gravity is obtained by small diameter wheels and a
trunnioned "cradle" which reduces considerably the height of the

While recuperators for the 155 gun were ordered from Dodge
Bros., their special plant having been built to house this as well as
the howitzer recuperator work, the project was made secondary to
that of the howitzer and work was not commenced on it until April,
1918. Much difficulty was encountered in machining the first forg-
ings. Even with this overcome, it was impossible to complete a
recuperator under normal conditions in less than three months from
the time the forging came into the machine shop. The first re-
cuperator was delivered in October, 1918. A total of 110 rough
machined recuperator forgings were shipped to France, however,
to be finished there and made available for units shipped from the
United States without recuperators.

The carriage of this gun was very much simpler to construct
than the howitzer carriage. It consisted principally of two large
steel castings as contrasted with the multiplicity of parts called for
in the howitzer carriage. An order for 1,446 carriages and the
same number of limbers was placed in November, 1917, and the
first carriage was delivered in August, 1918. By the last week in
October production had increased to the rate of 7 a day.

Design of the cannon or gun body of this unit is complicated by
the necessity of providing resistance to the high velocity of its
shell fire. The long body is built up of a number of jackets and
hoops to secure this strength. Its production, therefore, involved


*®e Storjr gf Ordnance in the World War

more than the forging and machining of a single heavy piece.
Orders for the cannon were placed in November, 1917, and were
divided between the Bullard Engineering Works, at Bridgeport,
Conn., and the Watervliet Arsenal. A total of 2,160 cannon were
ordered. The Bullard Engineering Works had first to construct
an entirely new plant and assemble and set up all necessary equip-
ment, while the arsenal had to extend its shops and also secure
much new equipment. The project was an enormous one, but de-
liveries from the arsenal began in July and during the single month
of October a total of 50 gun bodies were completed there and at
the Bullard Works. Early in 1919, with the latter company com-
ing into heavy production, it is certain that deliveries would have
reached eight per day.

We gain some conception of the magnitude of such a project as
the production of this 155 gun when we consider that, exclusive of
all cannon parts, a total of 416 drawings and tracings were re-
quired to carry out the translation of the original French drawings
into our units of measurement. Despite the enormous difficulty at
that time of securing competent draftsmen, all of these drawings
were completed in a few weeks, which may, indeed, in itself be
ranked as an extraordinary achievement.

When the armistice was signed, 368 carriages and 370 limbers
and 71 gun bodies for this unit had been actually completed. Six-
teen combinations of these parts had been floated for overseas to be
matched with the recuperators which we had sent to France for
machining, and the balance were packed for overseas shipment.
Had hostilities not been brought to an end in November our own
recuperator project for this gun would have been in a short time
brought up to match the output of carriages and gun bodies, to
make us entirely independent of French shops in producing the 155
millimeter gun. The Dodge plant was expected to develop a max-
imum production capacity of ten recuperators a day. With the
company's original order reduced to 880 recuperators after the



*®e Story* gf Ordnance in the World War

signing of the armistice, all of this number had been completed by
May 1, 1919.


Overflow of British orders to American plants for the British 8-
inch and 9.2-inch howitzer designs had developed ready capacity in
this country for the production of field weapons of the larger size
which the Ordnance Department at once took advantage of upon
our entrance into the war. This 8-inch howitzer had been designed
by the British in the early days of the war and had proved its fight-
ing qualities on the battlefield. Just eight days after our declara-
tion of war with Germany, April 14, 1917, we ordered 80 of these 8-
inch units from the Midvale Steel & Ordnance Co., at Nicetown,
Pa., the concern that was manufacturing them under British con-
tract at that time. It was understood that production on our order
would begin upon completion of the British order. Production pro-
ceeded so favorably that the first completed unit was proof -fired on
December 13, 1917, with excellent results, and by May, 1918 pro-
duction had increased to six per week. Under a subsequent con-
tract the total order for this unit was increased to 195, of which 146
were completed and accepted to November 14, 1918; 96 being
shipped overseas.

To keep up with the stride of artillery development during the
war, it was found advisable to design an 8-inch howitzer with
longer range than the first unit produced by the Midvale Co.
When this design was brought out it proved a range of nearly
13,000 yards, or about 2,000 yards greater than that of the first
8-inch design. This second design was known as the Mark VIII-
1/2 and the first as the Mark VI. An order for 100 of the new type
was placed with the Midvale Co. on October 2, 1918, carrying
specifications also for a new and heavier type of carriage.

The Bethlehem Steel Company was working on a contract with
the British government for the British 9.2-inch howitzer when we
entered the war. The company expected to complete the orders by


Vfe Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

July, 1917. Here also was established capacity for early heavy gun
production and the Ordnance Department took advantage of it
by placing an order with the Bethlehem company for 100 of the
9.2-inch howitzers calling for British specifications throughout. At
the same time we placed orders for 132 of these units in England,
British production of medium and heavy guns having become so
well established at that time that it was possible for them to under-
take to contribute to the equipment of our first divisions. The
Bethlehem company was unable to reach production on our order
but the British concerns delivered 40 howitzers before the armistice
was signed.

But in the general scheme laid out for equipping our divisions
with heavy howitzers, orders for both the 8-inch and the 9.2-inch
design were placed merely because established facilities insured
early deliveries. Our goal was quantity production on the French
240-millimeter howitzer design, the project that we will next re-
view, and production of the other designs was from the beginning
subordinated to our preparations for turning out the French

Recognizing that production of this enormous weapon on the
scale contemplated would tax our already over-burdened industrial
capacity to the limit and that early quantity production therefore
was out of the question, deliveries in the 240-millimeter howitzer
program were aimed entirely at the year 1919. The British
howitzer designs, with ready facilities for their production, had
been turned to to fill in the gap before the tremendous task of trans-
planting the manufacture of the French weapon to this country
could be pushed to the point of deliveries.

The 240 howitzer is only a fraction of an inch larger in bore
than the British 9.2 howitzer, measuring almost exactly 9.5 inches.
Yet, against the latter weapon's range of about 6 miles with a 290-
pound shell, the French design hurls a 356-pound shell, carrying a


*®e Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

high explosive bursting charge of 50 pounds, a distance of nearly
ten miles. The British design was an effective weapon, however,
and should not be discredited by comparison with this superlative
product of French gun science.

It was planned that our entire second army of 30 divisions
should be equipped with 240 howitzers, based on the rate of in-
crease in our overseas forces contemplated during the first few
months of our participation in the war. In the summer of 1917 the
French and British Governments had advised us that they would be
able to equip our first 30 combat divisions in 1918 with heavy
howitzers. With this source to supplement our British howitzer
orders here, therefore, it was anticipated that quantity production
of the 240 howitzer beginning in the early spring of 1919 would be
well timed to meet requirements. And by surplus production in
1919 it was planned to replace all losses in the 8-inch and 9.2-inch
designs with the 240 howitzer.

As we adapted the 240-millimeter howitzer from the French
Schneider model, it was composed of four major parts — the how-
itzer barrel, the top carriage, the cradle with recoil mechanism, and
the firing platform. We may glean some idea of the immensity of
this project from the fact that it was necessary to provide each
of these parts with its own transport wagon and limber and a ten-
ton tractor for motive power. The weapon was set up for action
by means of a complete erecting frame and small crane, the firing
platform being first placed on the ground, the top carriage imposed
on that, this bearing the cradle with recoil mechanism, and finally
the howitzer barrel itself was set in place.

Each of these major sections, of course, was composed of a mul-
tiplicity of smaller parts, requiring in their production exacting
grades of iron, steel and other metals as well as the most precise
machining, and having to pass rigid tests for strength and dimen-

Indeed, the production of one of these monstrous weapons
would, in pre-war days, have been considered a difficult undertak-


Upper : Railroad gun in action north of Mailly,
France, May, 1918. Lower : Railroad gun in tran-
sit. An 8-inch gun and narrow gauge armament
train. Ordnance received assistance with its rail-
way artillery program, finding available 464 big
guns, completed or under manufacture, which
came from the coast defense and from the Navy.
Ordnance had to design and produce the gun cars
and mounts, and complete armament trains.
Despite delays incident to slow deliveries of mate-
rial, labor shortage, etc., eighteen complete units
had been turned out when the armistice was
signed and — of even more importance — the plants
had developed a capacity of fifteen units per
month. Three complete units had been shipped
overseas. No part of the Ordnance program
shows more clearly the potential military strength
America possesses in industrial genius and
capacity, or more strikingly the need of a degree
of industrial preparedness to mobilize that
strength at the fighting front in due time.


t^e Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

ing for any industrial plant. The difficulty and complexities
involved in the manufacture of more than 1,200 of them, under the
pressure of limited time and the manifold handicaps of the in-
dustrial and transportation conditions then prevailing will be

The 240-howitzer project actually got under way on September
1, 1917, when an order was placed with the Watertown Arsenal for
250 carriages complete with recoil mechanism, transport vehicles,
tools and accessories. Although this only opened the program, an
allotment of $17,500,000 was necessary to cover the estimated cost
of the order. Despite the elaborate equipment of this arsenal at
the time for the production of heavy gun carriages, it was neces-
sary to build an entirely new erecting shop with a capacity equal
to that of all the old buildings combined. The force of mechanics
was increased from 1,200 to over 3,000 in several months.

To obtain the extensive equipment of heavy machine tools re-
quired it was necessary to comb the entire country; experts were
sent out to locate and procure them wherever available. Great dif-

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Online LibrarySevellon BrownThe story of ordnance in the World War → online text (page 4 of 22)