William A. Barr had a business career in engineering and has published many articles and books.
Much has been attributed to the feats of our twelve million fighting men--and deservedly so--in the Great War we fought and eventually won so decisively in Europe, North Africa, Burma, China, and across the Pacific on land, in the air, and over the seas. Yet little recognition has been given to the planning, production, and distribution of the tools of war wielded by our fighting men. After four years, gradually and eventually, the mighty war machines of both Germany and Japan were overwhelmed by wondrous weapons produced by our free-market, private-capital industries.
On that "day of infamy" when the Japanese made their dastardly attack, we suddenly found ourselves in the thick of a global war. The Japanese and the Germans had the plans, full mobilization, preparation, initiative, momentum, resources, logistics, experience, and the shock of surprise to carry out their treacherous designs. Our leadership was instantly compelled to react while climbing out of the depression of the '30s. When we were in the process of becoming the "arsenal of democracy," America desperately turned to all its resources for an engine of victory.
President Roosevelt and his advisors looked to the creation of the War Production Board to manage war mobilization. With American industry as that engine, the WPB took hold of the throttle and the tiller.
Back when war raged in Europe in 1939, President Roosevelt presented America's industries as the "arsenal of democracy" with William S. Knudsen of General Motors and Sidney Hillman, labor advocate, as co-heads of the Office of Production Management (OPM) which did much in connecting military and naval needs to providers to improve the economy and make progress in munitions production. But in December 1941 with America now at war, the need for managing the entire economy called for a central director, a wartime czar.
America's victory engine--our vast free-enterprise, private-capital, industrial complex--was front and center in Churchill's mind when he predicted:
. . . that the United States is like a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate. . . . All the rest is merely the proper application of overwhelming force.
Engine of victory, or "gigantic boiler"--synonyms for America's industrial potential.
How grim were those 1942 news accounts of our army trainees wielding broom sticks for rifles in mock attacks on trucks labeled as "tanks"; of our shattered naval strength smoldering in ruins at Pearl Harbor, of London blitzed and afire; and to learn of the devastation of Allied supply convoys by wolf packs of U-boats. But the flood of bad war news from the Russian front, North Africa, Burma, Singapore, the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Guam, Wake Island, and the threat to our life line to Australia/New Zealand was met with our unified resolve while we began to organize our vast resources.
Contrast, if you please, those desperate conditions in early 1942 with our absolute victories in Europe by May 8, 1945 and in the Pacific on September 2. We emerged from World War II as masters of the air, flying unopposed over Germany and Japan. We dominated the seas as our battleship Missouri rode at anchor in Tokyo harbor. We obliterated Hitler's Nazi-Aryan travesty and Tojo's Southeast Asian plunder. We exacted total capitulation of our enemies as they were forced to agree to the occupation and control of their lands by Allied armed forces. Add to that our exclusive atomic power. To what extent did our industrial engine contribute to this overwhelming achievement?
One of the WPB's initial objectives was to measure and qualify America's total economic potential placed against estimated military and civilian needs in an all-out war. By October 1942 America's capacity appeared to be $66 billion or $75 billion adjusted for 1945 dollars. Vital commodities were soon identified--manpower, rubber, aluminum, oil, lumber, steel, farm grains, cotton, wool, leather, coal, transportation, and electric power were given priorities, allocations, capital injections, and incentives all for the total result. And that result was: our national economy grew from $88 billion in 1940 to $ l99 billion in 1944, a 125 percent increase, while an avalanche of war materiel clinched our victory. From July 1940 through July 1945 America produced:
* Ships (naval combat) 1,201; (landing craft) 64,546; (cargo/tanker) 2,686.
* Aircraft (fighters) 98,686; (bombers) 96,675; (transport) 23,661.
* Tanks (T34/76) 40,000, (M4A3) 49,000; Trucks 2,455,964.
* Heavy Field Guns 16,048; Machine Guns 2,681,052; Antiaircraft 724,538.
* Crude oil, refined and delivered for ships, trucks, planes, and tanks to all theaters of war for all Allies.
* Ammunition (torpedoes) 53,261; (helmets) 22,618,000.
In the two years after l942 the rate of U.S.A. munitions output rose from $1 billion per month to $5.2 billion per month and held at that high level until V-Day.
In the generation between the World Wars the wooden frames and canvas skins of biplanes gave way to aluminum alloy sheets riveted to the metal studs and spars of modern monoplanes. In June 1940 America's aluminum capacity was merely 400 million pounds per year. Aluminum mills had to be built from scratch near electric power and manpower sources. By October 1943 old plus new capacity reached 2,344 million pounds per year, an increase of 586 percent in three years, enough for 125,000 airplanes in 1943. Magnesium, another critical aircraft engine component, was increased 3358 percent in the same period. Steel was also vital for naval and maritime ships and army tanks, trucks, guns, and armor. Iron and steel production grew 185 percent between 1939 and 1944.
Quoting The World Book Encyclopedia on the subject of World War II:
Many historians believe that war production was the real key to Allied victory. The Allies not only mobilized more men and women in their armed forces, but out-produced the Axis in weapons and machinery. The avalanche of war materiel from the home front in the United States alone included 296,429 airplanes, 86,333 tanks, and 11,900 ships.
In spite of this clear statement about "the avalanche of war material" being "the real key to victory," the War Production Board and Chairman Donald Nelson are not mentioned in the 33 pages devoted to World War II nor anywhere else in that encyclopedia.
The same curious omission or lack of recognition of industrial production's contribution is found in Samuel Eliot Morison's history of the US Navy in World War II. In the author's conclusions he points to our being "caught unprepared" at the outset and formidable at the end without recognizing the construction and repair feats that supplied our "massive Third Fleet." Nimitz's account, The Great Sea War is similarly mute. The first Essex-class carrier was commissioned on the 31st of December, 1942, when we were in desperate need. At Japan's surrender there were 20 Essex-class aircraft carriers at sea.
In B. H. Liddell Hart's History of the Second World War the only inference to industrial strength being related to the fall of the Axis is the Allies' "tremendous air superiority" and, "In the Far East, too, the master key of air power made the collapse of Japan certain," again, giving no credit to the producers of that air power.
General Eisenhower's Crusade in Europe reveals his preoccupation with "supply" in terms of efficiently moving supplies from storage to the fighting front. No notion is evident of what it took to produce those vital supplies in spite of so many photographs showing England sinking under the weight of thousands of trucks, tanks, planes, and guns lined up for the Normandy invasion.
Mark M. Boatner's Biographical Dictionary of World War II does include a sketch of Donald Marr Nelson among over a thousand other people, but fails to mention any achievements in production or economic stabilization during the war.
The American Heritage Fifty Year Cumulative Index lists one mention of Donald Nelson among its 330 issues since 1954, a two-page article, The American Superweapon by John Steele Gordon, which features U.S.A.'s "astonishing industrial feat," the production from our privately owned industrial complex. Gordon concludes with this final sentence:
Thanks to Donald Nelson and his legions at WPB who did an immensely complex, largely thankless job, the United States was able to win the Second World War using the same simple strategy Ulysses S. Grant had used eighty years earlier: assemble overwhelming men and materiel, and pound the enemy into the ground with them.
Why have historians typically overlooked the heroic efforts of the producers of our overwhelming tools of war? Perhaps it is easier to recognize heroism in such seamen as those during their convoy runs in the Arctic under the very noses of German subs and planes while delivering vital cargos to Murmansk than to recognize the efforts of steel workers or coal miners hard at work. But American industries had major problems to solve during the war such as manpower when twelve million were away in the service and out of the labor market. Much of the shortage was taken up by Rosie Riveters. Female laborers proved to be much more productive in America's war machine than the sullen, wretched, foreign laborers pressed to toil in the German Ruhr.
In the infancy of aviation and the anguish of the depression years free enterprise generated hungry competitors striving for the scraps of business available from meager naval budgets. Brewster, Loening, Fairchild, and Seversky attended to the various and exacting requirements of the navy for carrier-based fighter planes but Leroy Grumman did it best. Ten years and seven models went into the development of the F4F Wildcat, which by 1941 became the navy's standard carrier fighter. By late 1943 Grumman's F6F Hellcats displaced the Wildcats to earn this awesome record: 5,156 enemy aircraft destroyed which was 75 percent of all U.S. navy aerial victories in WW II! By war's end Leroy Grumman's Long Island factories and licensed cohorts turned out 12,272 Hellcats; 9,812 carrier-based torpedo bombers (TBF Avengers); and 5,500 F4F fighters--more than any other aircraft supplier to the navy, marines, and the Royal navy during the war.
In the matter of World War II aviation the contribution of Grumman mentioned above is but a piece of a vast panorama. Contributions similar to Grumman were made by such aircraft producers as Boeing (B-17, B-29) in Seattle and Renton; Bell (P-39, P-63) in Buffalo and Marietta; Consolidated (PBY, B-24) in San Diego, Willow Run, and Fort Worth; Curtiss-Wright (P-40, C-46, SB2C) in Buffalo, Columbus, St. Louis, and Louisville; Douglas (A-20, A-26, SBD, C-47, C-54) in Santa Monica, Long Beach, Tulsa, El Sagundo, and Chicago; Lockheed (P-38, PV-2) in Burbank; Martin (B-26, PBM) in Middle River, and Omaha; North American (P-51, B-25, AT-6) in Inglewood, Kansas City, and Dallas; Northrup (P-61) in Hawthorne; Republic (P-47) in Farmingdale; and Vought (F4U) in Stratford.
Of equal importance were the engine designers, manufacturers, and licensees for the above aircraft such as Allison in Indianapolis: Rolls-Royce/Packard in Detroit; Curtiss-Wright in Paterson, Cincinnati, and Chicago; and Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford, Kansas City, Chicago, Kenosha, Melrose Park, and Muskegon. To lend some scope to the accomplishments of our collective aviation industry in World War II, Pratt & Whitney alone produced 375,627 radial engines and Curtiss-Wright even more!
Is it possible to find true heroes in this American industrial complex? Emphatically, Yes, Yes, Yes! For every aviation entity listed above there were that many aviation pioneers of the 1920s and 30s who became production giants during the war. Great chronicles could be written (but haven't) about Donald Douglas, Glenn L. Martin, Leroy Grumman, and many other industrialists who met the call for innovation, excellence, and compounded production quantities through those hectic, stressful years.
To identify such a hero let us consider George Jackson Mead. He was the designer of Wright Aeronautical's J-series radial aircraft engines in the 1920s. The J-5 powered Lindbergh's Spirit of St. Louis in his epochal flight in 1927 and helped give birth to America's commercial aviation by powering the legendary DC-3 passenger plane. In 1925, Pratt & Whitney was founded with "Jack" Mead as Vice President of Engineering. Through the 1930s he and Andy Willgoos developed the Wasp and Hornet series radials for most of the military and commercial American planes. Their engines configured seven and nine radial cylinders and eventually 14- and 18- cylinder twin bank engines, the latter being the R-2800 that outperformed all German and Japanese aircraft engines during the war and gave the U.S.A.A.F. and U.S. naval aviation undisputed mastery of the air by 1945.
After the fall of France to Germany's blitzkrieg, President Roosevelt addressed Congress on May 16, 1940, and proposed the unheard-of production of 50,000 American airplanes! Our country was about to become the "arsenal of democracy." The next day F.D.R. appointed Jack Mead to implement and coordinate his 50,000-plane proposal after being recommended by a consensus of aviation's military and industrial leaders. As the aviation member, Jack Mead, took his place in the National Defense Commission under Chairman William S. Knudsen. The eventual American aviation complex outlined above attests to Jack Mead's organizational ability. For his feats he was awarded the Medal of Merit, the highest honor accorded to civilians, by President Truman in April 1946.
Jack Mead not only designed the engines that powered the planes that won the air war over both Germany and Japan but he also organized the aviation industry so effectively that the United States emerged from World War II as the absolute leader in world aviation. His paycheck as Special Advisor to the Office of Production Management on July 2, 1941 was $0.05 (not a typo).
Jack Mead, unheralded by historians, without reservation merits our first Yes.
Such is the substance of our victory and world dominance through air power. Naval supremacy runs parallel to the above aviation analysis and is just as compelling.
One of the most significant developments in the war at sea was the obsolescence of battleships and the rise of naval aviation. Airplanes became the main offensive weapons as the American and Japanese navies fought for control in the Pacific. At the same time carriers were inherently vulnerable to enemy planes. The defense against carriers being easy targets was the fast task force (30+ knots capability) with three or four carriers with their compliments of fighter and bomber planes clustered at the center of concentric rings of cruisers and destroyers bristling with antiaircraft guns and sonar/radar detection gear all for the primary purpose of protecting the carriers from enemy subs, surface ships, and planes. The fast task force concept employed another innovation of the war, a radar-based ability (PPI) to coordinate the positions of the entire task force members, often more than thirty ships, night or day, fog or clear, and avoid collisions or defense gaps. Our task forces moved in unison like schools of fish at all times and under all conditions.
It is interesting that early in the war (1942), before we had enough ships to form task groups, the U.S. navy lost all but one of its front line carriers (the Enterprise), but once enough ships became available to fill out task forces, no Essex-class carriers were ever sunk by the enemy or by typhoons.
In the Atlantic and Mediterranean, our navy finally overcame the tragic losses of cargo ships to German U-boat wolf packs by adding "jeep" aircraft carriers with a compliment of patrol planes to the convoys. Suddenly, the attrition rate of U-boats jumped to 90 percent and our cargo and tanker deliveries became more certain. Henry J. Kaiser not only came up with the idea but also supplied all fifty "baby flattops" to the navy.
Even more constructive to victory were the 1,460 U.S. merchant ships produced by Kaiser shipyards. Although it had taken 150 days for others to build Liberty Ships, Kaiser yards launched them in as few as four days by innovative subassembly methods. Kaiser yards supplied about a third of all U.S. merchant ships launched in 1940-45. Even beyond shipbuilding, Kaiser constructed an entire steel mill in Fontana, California, to supply his West Coast shipyards. He also went into the cement business to supply the Boulder, Grand Coulee, and Bonneville Dam projects in the 1930s. When magnesiurn sources were scarce he built a magnesium plant for the aviation industry.
Henry F. Kaiser, unheralded by historians, fully deserves our second Yes.
With all of the shrimping and fishing boat activity in the Mississippi Delta region, Andrew Higgins' company subsisted before the war. When the navy needed small ships for amphibious assaults for North Africa landings during Operation Torch in late 1942, his shops expanded to factory-size and worked around the clock seven days a week building so many LCPs, LCPLs, LCVPs, and LCMs that all were called "Higgins boats" by the soldiers that rode in them to the beaches in the Mediterranean and the Pacific. High above the production bays in his New Orleans factories were huge signs that read, "THE GUY WHO RELAXES IS HELPING THE AXIS!"
Andy Higgin's companies also made high-speed PT boats for the navy, and glider planes for the army, both of which utilized his special knowledge and use of high strength plywood when steel availability was wanting.
To put Higgins Industries' production into perspective, by September 1943, 12,964 of the navy's 14,072 vessels came from Higgins.
As an example of how war production brought victory, consider that in 1942, early in the Pacific war, 82 ships were rounded up to conduct the Guadalcanal landing. In the June 1944 invasion of Normandy 987 ships churned the waters and hit the beaches. In March 1945 the Okinawa assault and occupation took 2,261 ships, an armada across the horizon farther than the eye could see!
Andrew Higgins, unheralded by historians, merits a resounding Yes!
Yes, there were true industrial heroes in our engine of victory. What prevents me or other historians from delving further to find and honor three more heroes, or a hundred more, is where to begin and where to stop. Just as there were G. I. Joes in foxholes or storming the beaches, there were hard workers in factories, forests, and mines, night and day, turning out our overwhelming tools of victory. Bless 'em all! *
"All our talents increase in the using, and every faculty, both good and bad, strengthens by exercise." --Anne Bronte