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line of them burst forth that the strip of land before you is swept
with lead as a sheet of flame sweeps a prairie. It was the multipli-
cation, again and again, of the number of automatic rifles and ma-
chine guns brought into action that gave these weapons their
prominence in the Great War.

Two distinct things were required of and accomplished by the
Ordnance Department with respect to machine guns ; first, distinct
new types designed for a tactical use theretofore not expected of
automatic fire arms had to be and were developed; and, secondly,
automatic weapons of all types had to be produced in quantities
undreamed of before the war. The automatic rifle, a light weapon
of fourteen pounds weight, carried forward and operated by one
man, firing from the hip or shoulder in bursts of twenty or forty
shots at the rate of 500 shots per minute, is distinctly a develop-
ment of this war. The water-cooled gun (so-called heavy type)
was developed to a serviceable stage prior to the time of the Span-
ish-American war. It was greatly improved in design during the
European war, but it was the vastly greater number of them em-
ployed that was of more consequence than the improvement in de-
sign. Machine guns were counted by the score at the outset of the
war and by the tens of thousands at the end.

This vast expansion in materiel necessitated a prior expansion
in personnel, for the guns could not be produced until there were
men to produce them. Prior to the war the development of ma-
chine-gun experts had been proportionate to the importance at-
tached to this weapon. The machine gun was almost an incidental
item in Ordnance equipment, and the machine-gun expert was al-
most an incidental, accidental appendage of the military establish-

For a specialized Ordnance personnel we find in 1916 Captain
(later Colonel) Earl MacFarland as the sole Ordnance machine-
gun expert in Washington. Nor were machine guns his specialty
except in so far as his predilection and his surplus energy dictated.
He was attached to the Gun Carriage Division of the Office of the


We Story sf Ordnance in the World War

Chief of Ordnance and was charged with all inspection matters re-
garding seacoast carriages and with several other heavy duties, of
which machine-gun development was but one. In the field the ma-
chine-gun problem was left to Captain (later Lt. Col.) J. S. Hatcher
who, under the commanding officer of the Department of the
Southwest, established in 1916 the first school for the instruction
of line troops in the use and care of automatic weapons. So much
for the prologue. To appreciate better the terrain over which the
Ordnance Department progressed in the development and supply
of machine guns until the day of the signing of the armistice, let us
just here glimpse the final achievement.

At the outset of the war Germany was credited with a stock of
50,000 machine guns and was the only belligerent nation to per-
ceive the character of the role to be played by these weapons. Nor
did Germany then place all the emphasis advisable upon her ma-
chine-gun program.

As a result of a careful study of the experiences of our allies in
the war, it was decided at an early date that each of our divisions
should be equipped with seven hundred sixty-eight automatic rifles
and two hundred twenty-four machine guns. When this require-
ment is compared with the pre-war allowances of about fifty ma-
chine guns and no automatic rifles at all to an Infantry Division,
and when it is remembered that at the beginning of the war this
country had on hand only approximately thirteen hundred machine
guns of all types, and these were not generally accepted as suitable
for service in the war, some idea may be gained of the difficulty con-
fronting the Ordnance Department relative to weapons of this
type. As an indication of how well the Ordnance Department met
its obligations in this regard, it should be noted that during the
nineteen months we were in the war, sufficient automatic rifles were
produced to equip over one hundred divisions at seven hundred
sixty-eight guns each, or an army of approximately three million
five hundred thousand men, and sufficient machine guns were pro-
duced to provide an army of seven million men. In addition to


Upper: The Light Browning Automatic Rifle.
Lower : The Heavy Browning Machine Gun
mounted on tripod. The automatic rifle is a
weapon of fourteen pounds weight which is car-
ried forward in an infantry advance and operated
by one man, firing from shoulder or hip in short
bursts of fire. Such tactical use of an automatic
weapon was a development of this war, perfected
through the superior design of the Light Brown-
ing. The heavy machine gun is a water- jacketed
weapon capable of continuous stream fire. A
Browning heavy has fired as many as 40,000
rounds without malfunction or jamming. During
the nineteen months the United States engaged in
war, enough automatic rifles were produced to
equip an army of 3,500,000 men, and enough
machine guns were produced to equip an army of
over seven million men. These guns develop
more power than does a racing automobile.


^e Story* gf Ordnance in the World War

these weapons which were provided for use on the ground, the
Ordnance Department produced during the nineteen months of the
war, seventy-one thousand one hundred twenty-five aircraft ma-
chine guns. In all a total of eighty-one thousand automatic rifles
and one hundred twenty-five thousand seven hundred fifty- two ma-
chine guns of all types were produced.

Quantity production, however, poorly measures the full extent
of the achievement. Testimonials as to the quality of that produc-
tion are available from officers of the American Expeditionary
Forces, from machine-gun experts of the Allied Armies and, in-
deed, from the enemy himself who swallowed the fire of our

Back of this prodigious production, is the expert organization
which Ordnance improvised and developed — the work of the Ord-
nance Department. I know of no standard of measurement, no
calculation that will permit the layman to sum up the human labor
this accomplishment required. The work of the Ordnance person-
nel is always, for the layman, the incalculable component of victory.
But to return to the details of the task :

The rifle and small arms manufacturing facilities of the
country had been largely developed prior to our entry into
the war, due to the fact that the Allied governments had
placed large orders for rifles and ammunition with our manu-
facturers. This condition of affairs did not exist in the case
of machine guns and automatic rifles inasmuch as the Allies de-
pended almost wholly upon their own resources for these weapons.
Only two American plants were actually producing machine guns
in quantity; the Savage Arms Corporation of Utica, N. Y., was
nearing the completion of an order of 12,500 Lewis machine guns
for the British and Canadian governments, and the Marlin-Rock-
well Corporation had manufactured large numbers of the Colt ma-
chine gun (old type) for the Russian government. On April 12,
1917, a week after the declaration of war, an order for 1,300 Lewis
guns was placed with the Savage Arms Corporation and on June


*®e Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

2nd an order was placed for 2,500 Colt guns for training purposes.
The stock on hand when war was declared consisted of 670 Benet-
Mercie machine rifles, 285 Maxim machine guns, Model 1904, and
350 Lewis machine guns chambered to use the British calibre .303
ammunition. It is evident from these facts that manufacturing
facilities were extremely limited and that to achieve the rate of
production of machine guns and rifles required for the man-power
program of the General Staff new plants had to be provided and
tooled up, an operation that requires a long time.

The policy of the Ordnance Department was to employ every
available resource and to create new resources as quickly as pos-
sible. Existent facilities for the manufacture of Lewis guns were
fully employed and new facilities were sought for the manufacture
of the Browning (heavy type) machine gun and the Browning
automatic rifle which were not only proven to be excellent in de-
sign but also comparatively easy to manufacture in quantity with
standardization and interchangeability of parts.

Surveys were made of the facilities of various plants for the
manufacture of the Browning guns, the Government having com-
pensated Colt's, owners of the Browning patents, and Mr. J. M.
Browning, the inventor, for this right. In July, 1917, orders were
placed with the Colt's Patent Fire Arms Manufacturing Company
for ten thousand Browning machine guns and twelve thousand
Browning automatic rifles; in September, 1917, orders were placed
for fifteen thousand Browning machine guns with Remington Arms
Union Metallic Cartridge Company of Bridgeport, Conn., for 5,000
Browning Aircraft guns with the Marlin-Rockwell Corporation,
New Haven, Conn., and for 20,000 Browning automatic rifles, light
type, with the Marlin-Rockwell Corporation. The Winchester Re-
peating Arms Co., of New Haven, Conn., also began preliminary
work on the manufacture of the Browning automatic rifle and a
formal order for 25,000 of these rifles was placed with that com-
pany in October. Facilities of the Mayo Radiator plant at New
Haven, the New England Westinghouse Company's plant at


W? Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

Springfield, Mass., and of the Hopkins and Allen plant at Norwich,
Conn., were also pressed into service for the manufacture of Brown-
ings as quickly as possible.

Such was the progress made during the summer and early fall
of 1917. To provide for the training of troops of the National
Army then being called into service, the Ordnance Department
ordered shipped to each National Army camp fifty Colt guns. This
order was given within a month of the time that the first con-
tingent of the National Army was called into service. Within
another month the Colt guns were supplemented at each of these
camps by twenty Lewis guns and 30 Chauchat automatic rifles of
French manufacture. At about the same time, thirty Colt guns,
thirty Chauchat rifles and from fifty to seventy Lewis guns were
issued to the National Guard camps. Thus did Ordnance keep
step with the demands for machine guns for training purposes.

The first twelve divisions of the United States Army to embark
for France were equipped with Hotchkiss Heavy machine guns and
Chauchat automatic rifles, purchased from the French, upon their
arrival in France. These divisions embarked prior to May, 1918.
During May and June of 1918, Vickers guns were issued to the
eleven divisions next to embark. Upon debarkation these divisions
were equipped with Chauchat automatic rifles of French manu-
facture. Subsequently all divisions were fully equipped with
Brownings, machine guns and automatic rifles. Part of such equip-
ment was issued to them in this country and the remainder upon
debarkation in France.

Browning guns, of both types, went into action against the
enemy on September 13, 1918, in the hands of men of the 79th
Division. The following extracts from the report of the Com-
manding General of that Division to General Pershing, show the
opinion of these guns held by the men who used them.

"All of the 14 machine gun companies in the 79th Division but
one were engaged at some time during the operation. Approx-
imately 117,000 rounds of ammunition were fired. Practically no


We Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

malfunctions occurred which caused the guns to go out of action.
The guns operated under most serious adverse conditions of rain
and mud. They met these conditions admirably. The following
quoted reports of a Platoon commander will establish the satis-
factory operation of the heavy Browning machine gun during this
operation :

" 'During the five days that my four guns were in action, they
fired approximately 12,000 rounds of ammunition. They had very
rough handling due to the fact that the infantry made constant
halts, causing the guns to be placed in the mud. The condition of
the ground on these five days was very muddy and considerable
grit got into the working parts of the guns. Guns became rusty on
the outside, due to the rain and wet weather, but in every instance,
when the guns were called upon to fire, they fired perfectly. Dur-
ing all this time I had only one stoppage, and this was due to a
broken ejector.

" 'The condition of the belts, in every instance, was muddy and
wet. Belts that were shrunk were fed into the guns, making it very
hard for the extractor to function. However there was not one
instance where the gun failed to operate due to muddy and wet
belts/ "

"The rifle proved a good weapon but only partially satisfactory
in this operation on account of the very adverse conditions of rain
and weather. Many rifles became useless because of clogging with
mud, and as the operation developed the men became so wet and
their clothing and equipment so soaked that there were no dry rags
toward the end of the fighting, and no oil with which to keep the
mechanism of the rifle in proper condition.

"On the whole, the Browning automatic rifle functioned well
without jam or stoppage in spite of the fact that mud or dirt had ac-
cumulated on the working parts. Some automatic rifles became
useless with clogging of mud. This was easily corrected when they
were cleaned and oiled."

There is no "color" certainly in this report of the men who were


We Story* gf Ordnance in the World War

depending upon these weapons for their lives. This was the first
time the Browning guns were in action and the conditions were
extremely severe. No one at all familiar with the use of automatic
weapons will fail to appreciate the value of this testimonial, for
malfunction and stoppage with these stream fire weapons is com-
mon even under favorable conditions.

Of machine guns and automatic rifles, the United States pro-
duced during the nineteen months of her participation in the war
a total of 206,752 as compared with 181,404 produced by England
and 229,238 produced by France. England and France had been
at war three years. During these nineteen months they were at
maximum production. The United States, however, had to spend
many of these precious months building factories and equipping
others. A fairer basis of comparison is the rate of production for
the months just prior to the signing of the armistice. The British
rate of production was 10,947 guns, the French 12,122 and the
American 27,270. Not only did America provide for her own needs,
but had the war continued through the Spring of 1919, she would
have provided large quantities of these guns for her allies.

The pistol presented one of the greatest problems in Small
Arms production; possibly because of the very fact that at first it
seemed the simplest. We had one of the best military pistols in the
world, the outcome of the exhaustive tests of 1904 when a dozen
models of varying calibers and types were tried out on both the
human body and living flesh to determine their man-stopping
power, the nature of the wounds inflicted and their general all-
round efficiency. The development of the U. S. .45 was the result.
It is interesting to note that in those trials, the two models of the
famous German Luger proved the least destructive, which may ac-
count for the facts that the Germans with their 26 types of pistols
ranging from .22 to .45 in caliber and including the infamous
"murder" and "camerad" pistols, were reported to turn tail quicker


We Story" §f Ordnance in the World War

before the Yankee pistol than any other weapon, that the American
pistol shooters were feared no less than the mysterious "Ladies
from Hell," and that military surgeons reported that pistol wounds
were rare among the Allied troops.

The Colts Patent Fire Arms Company was tooled up for a
large production of this weapon and it was believed by both the
plant and Ordnance Department officials that they would be able
to take care of the entire program. That this prediction later
proved erroneous is not surprising, nor can blame be laid on either
the company or the Ordnance Department. With no precedent,
neither could foresee and count on the magnitude of the labor situa-
tion about to confront the country, the scarcity of steel, the
tremendous increase in requirements in the Spring of 1918, the
crippling lack of expert tool-makers, the railway congestion, and
the score of other limiting factors which played so great a part in
the pistol program.

When it became apparent in December 1917 that the Colt plant
could not possibly meet requirements, contracts were placed with
the Remington Arms and that company immediately started to
create facilities. But tooling up a plant for quantity production is
no sinecure. A minimum of four months is required before a pistol
can be started ; two more are necessary for any production ; securing
that most elusive of all artisans, the expert tool-maker, has proved
far more elusive than gunning for the Hun ; the necessity for mak-
ing new drawings and effecting absolute inter changeability in the
product of the two plants; the nicety of pistol manufacture itself,
representing 619 separate operations with exceedingly close toler-
ances; the securing of the necessary eight grades of material and
the building of the 1,264 machines for the Remington plant, pre-
sented a problem which made the opening production in August
1918 an unusually quick piece of work.

By that time the situation had become very serious and con-
tracts to the extent of 2,550,000 pistols were placed with eight com-
mercial firms such as the Burroughs Adding Machine Company,


*®e Story* gf Ordnance in the World War

the Lanston Monotype Company and other firms whose peace-
time products required machinery which might be converted to
manufacture pistols. None of these, however, got into production
up to the time of the Armistice.

At that time, cumulative production totaled approximately
450,000. The practically negligible production of 1917 had been
built up to 65,000 monthly, and had the War continued until the
new contracts were under way, the Spring of 1919 would have seen
a monthly output of 650,000 pistols.

That pistol production could not at once meet the tremendous
immediate requirements was inevitable and it was decided to use
the caliber .45 revolver as a substitute until such time as pistol
production should justify its abandonment.

The revolver in question had several drawbacks; it was two
inches longer than the pistol, harder to manipulate, capable of only
about 1/3 the speed in shooting and it contained only 6 instead of
7 cartridges. On the other hand, it was capable of using the same
ammunition as the pistol ; there were two plants, Colts and Smith
& Wesson, sufficiently tooled up to begin almost immediate pro-
duction, and it was the best available substitute.

Its production started in October, 1917, and remained through-
out the summer of 1918 at a fairly even average of 25,000 monthly,
no attempt at increase being made, as this would have entailed a
corresponding decrease in pistol production.

Only about 268,000 were produced to November 11, 1918, the
October production having reached 33,400, a daily output of 1,200,
double that of January, 1918.


The story of cartridge production during the War is one of the
most spectacular in the history of industry. Early in 1917, existing
facilities could not produce more than a small fraction of require-
ments. Frankford Arsenal, the chief source of manufacture, had a


The best military pistol in the world, the U. S. 45.
During the trials when this pistol was made the
standard of the United States Army, the two
models of the famous German Luger proved the
least destructive, which may account for the fact
that the Germans, with their 26 types of pistols
and including the famous "murder" and
"camerad" pistols, were reported to turn tail
before the Yankee pistol quicker than before any
other weapon. At the time of the armistice the
United States was producing more small arms
ammunition of the service type than France and
England combined. A single plant, the Reming-
ton Arms U M C Company, was turning out
6,000,000 rounds daily, double the quantity of the
largest order they had ever received prior to the
war. This plant's first year's output of 1,000,-
000,000 rounds equaled 35 years of peace-time


Fig. 1 : What the public sees of our product. Fig.
2: What that product really is. An exterior and
a cross-section view of the head of a seventy-five
millimeter shell. The shell is composed of
seventy-three component parts made with all the
precision and delicacy of a watch. The layman,
observing an ammunition dump with these shells
stacked in thousands, has no appreciation of the
difficulties of design and manufacture encountered
in the production of the first type shell and
until quantity production is achieved. This in-
tricacy of design is what makes possible the
timing of the explosion and the perfect control
of the force of the shell. A particular shell is
developed for each tactical requirement; shrapnel,
high explosive or gas. Shrapnel would be em-
ployed against personnel, high explosive for
demolition purposes, and gas to break down the
morale of an enemy force preparatory to an ad-


W? Story" gf Ordnance in the World War

capacity of 100,000,000 yearly. Requirements called for 2,756,-
608,000 to July 1, 1918.

The difficulties attendant upon the production of the cal. 30 ser-
vice cartridge were numerous. Heretofore, our service ammuni-
tion had been used in one type of rifle and two machine guns. Ow-
ing to the impossibility of having the complication resulting from
a variety of small arms ammunition, it now became necessary to de-
velop a cartridge which would function satisfactorily in two rifles
and seven machine guns, each having firing-pins of differing shapes,
sizes and methods of functioning, and each giving a different pres-
sure on the primer. To develop a cartridge adapted to the
eccentricities of any one of these guns would have been a compar-
atively simple matter, although the logical method is to fit the gun
to the cartridge. To develop one suited to all nine, one which
was adapted equally well to service on land and in the air, which
must therefore be absolutely free from jamming and hang-fire and
which could be produced in billions by a dozen different manu-
facturers was a task challenging the keenest faculties of ammuni-
tion experts. To devise a perfect cartridge for peace-time manu-
facture is one thing ; to develop one which can be made at the rate
of 1 1,000,000 per day is another.

The cartridge itself is one of the most difficult in the word to
make, many of its tolerances being less than a thousandth of an
inch. There are 88 operations aside from gauging and inspection
on each cartridge.

Early in the fall of 1917, a conference of all the small arms
ammunition manufacturers in the country was called to devise a
means of creating new facilities and to discuss standardization.
The problem of facilities was settled by an agreement on the part
of the manufacturers to expand as much as possible, thus provid-
ing for an extra billion rounds per year. Existing facilities, how-
ever, which were for the cal. 303 British cartridge of the rimmed
type, had to be modified to produce the U. S. ammunition, which
was very different. This required six months before quantity pro-


^e Story" sf Ordnance in the World War

duction could start. The brass and cupro-nickel shortage, the
transportation congestion, the labor difficulties naturally resultant
from high competition, lack of wage standardization, and the lack
of a type of labor for which the peace-time demand is practically
negligible — all operated to delay manufacture.

Forty thousand guage makers were needed at once. There
were 4,000 in the nation. The Allies- claimed it would take two
years to train our tool-makers; we did it in two months. Jig-
makers, guage-makers, inspectors, skilled mechanics of every type,
had to be procured and trained almost overnight.

And the result was that at the time of the Armistice we were
producing more ammunition of the service type alone than France
and England combined. A single plant, the Remington Arms

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Online LibrarySevellon BrownThe story of ordnance in the World War → online text (page 8 of 22)