FIGHTING ON OUR OWN GROUND
THE WAR OF PRODUCTION, 1920-1942
Dr. Thomas C. Hone
Defense Systems Management College
As Alan Milward pointed out in his fascinating study of World War II production, War, Economy, and Society, 1939-1945, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), the United States not only produced the material and food it needed to wage war and sustain its allies, the American economy also enlarged during the war. The economy of the United States did not just surge. It grew. Unlike its enemies and allies, the United States did not have to drain its economy to wage war. As a result, the American economy was the only one to emerge from the war actually strengthened by its wartime experience. This is a-side to World War II often neglected, especially in popular histories. If there is a popular mythology of wartime production, it is that the nation rallied after Pearl Harbor and "muddled through" the problems of coordinating and managing a wartime economy. The energy and dedication aroused by Japan's surprise attack are, in this mythology, credited with the feats of wartime production. Historians should know better. Patriotism did play a role -- and an essential and powerful one. But the source of American economic victory in World War II can be traced back to 1920, and to the efforts by the Army and Navy after 1920 to prepare for the next industrial war.
At the end of World War I, the Navy and Army decided that the confusion and corruption of arms production and supply which they had endured (and helped create) in 1917 and 1918 was an experience they did not wish to repeat. The National Defense Act of 1920 was an effort to create a system of war mobilization planning that would make sure the procurement problems of World War I did not recur. The act placed the responsibility for mobilization planning in the hands of the Assistant Secretary of War, thereby both centralizing industrial planning and entrusting it to an office headed by a civilian. The act also authorized the creation of joint Army-Navy boards to draw up mobilization timetables and requirements. In addition, the law allowed the military service secretaries to place what were called "educational orders."1 Such orders for equipment could be used to prepare commercial producers for wartime production by underwriting their purchases of special tools and giving their workers experience in working to military specifications.
The act was an experiment. It assumed that planning for wartime industrial mobilization could be done successfully by small staffs of military officers. As war threatened, the plans would be implemented by executive agencies whose members would represent both military and civilian organizations. But the act, did not give the Army and Navy the power to create such organizations or to lay out their structure in peacetime. Though the Secretaries of War and the Navy acted under the of the law to create the joint Army and Navy Munitions Board (to parallel the Joint Army-Navy Board, which coordinated war planning), and though the Army and Navy Munitions Board (ANMB) was the source of joint mobilization plans before World War II, the plans themselves were largely thrown aside when the United States went to war in 1941. The assumption, basic to the 1920 law, that successful planning could be carried on by the services in isolation from industry, labor, and farm organizations was proven false.
There were several reasons why military plans produced by the ANMB could not be a success. First, mobilization planning was closely tied to war planning, and war planning in the 1920s was dominated by the Navy's focus on Japan. In a war with Japan, the Army's role was subordinate to that of the Navy, and it followed then that "industrial mobilization" would focus on ship construction and -- after the late 1920s -- the manufacture of airplanes. The Army was never happy with this situation and was therefore unenthusiastic about its participation on the Joint Army-Navy Board.2 It grew even less happy during the late 1930s, as the prospect of a two-front war became a real one. Indeed, only after the start of war in Europe did the President accept a war strategy which not only assumed a two-front conflict but also made the European conflict a higher priority than the anticipated fight with Japan. So the war planning effort, meant to feed mobilization planning, was either off the mark (because it did not seriously anticipate a major war in Europe until very late) or just not serious enough (because of Army-Navy differences).
Second, most of the detail work of mobilization planning was left to the services, and the services either could not do such work in the necessary detail or did not want to do it.3 To plan for mobilized war production, the services needed to know what their requirements were and where the factories were that could meet those requirements.4 The requirements were derived from war planning (through the Joint Army-Navy Board, when it functioned) and from the state of technology. When both were accepted and relatively stable (as in 1929), the services could put together a reasonable Industrial Mobilization Plan (as they did, for the first time, in 1930). However, where technology was rapidly changing, or where the nature of the enemy (or enemies) was uncertain, requirements were anybody's guess, and that was precisely the situation in the late 1930s.
Both services did compile lists of firms that could engage in war production, and Army and Navy members of the ANMB even prepared a Directory of Allocated and Reserved Facilities, which
divided the available industrial potential between the two services.5 However, the Navy's materiel bureaus did not support the industrial mobilization planning process, and the Navy's Bureau of Supplies and Accounts (BUSANDA), charged with drawing up contracts for industry projects, actually opposed the ANMB's planning process.6 Army Air Corps planners at Wright Field, Ohio, even objected to the use of educational orders on the grounds that aircraft manufacturers would not be willing to share their trade secrets with firms engaged in mass producing items such as automobiles.7 As I. B. Holley observed, companies like Boeing, Douglas, and Martin might well have objected to helping the government set up potential competitors through the practice of letting educational orders, but that was a very minor issue indeed when set beside the need to win a major war.8
Third, Congress was reluctant to support mobilization planning with appropriations for staff, studies, and educational orders. Quite the reverse at times. In the 1930s, Congress actually prohibited the Army from conducting research on motor vehicle standardization, forcing the Army to use standard production items from American automobile producers.9 Congress also placed a ceiling on profits which firms could make from producing items such as ships and aircraft, and Congress did not modify the legislation covering military procurement to allow negotiated (as against sealed-bid) contracts.10 It would be inaccurate, however, to place all the blame on Congress. The Air Corps Act of 1926, for example, authorized the Secretaries of War and the Navy to negotiate contracts for experimental aircraft, and the discretion given the service secretaries by the law was great enough to allow for the integration of research and development into contemporary aircraft designs.11 Congress also continued to support the Navy's own aircraft factory, despite aircraft manufacturers' claims that a government aircraft factory was a threat to the growth of the domestic aircraft industry.12
Fourth, there was not enough pressure, in peacetime, from the White House on the services to plan to produce huge numbers of items such as airplanes and tanks. The services were content with smaller numbers of such pieces of equipment because (a) they lacked the trained manpower to maintain many tanks, planes, and ships, (b) the technologies of aviation and armor and communications were changing so fast in the late 1930s that service leaders were afraid to freeze the designs of wartime equipment too soon and (c) the services did not have many people trained to deal effectively with industry in areas like contracting and finance. The procedures for dealing with industry were formal and rigid, and the organizations which supervised industrial production were ineffective.13 Only White House pressure could have overcome the inertia of the existing procurement organizations, but White House pressure was lacking until the eve of the war. President Roosevelt shocked the leaders of military procurement after Pearl Harbor by setting what they thought were unachievable production goals for tanks and aircraft. The fact that they were surprised shows how they were constrained, even in their planning, by past habits and by what Holley called "rigid time-consuming contractual formalities."14
Fifth, the services had not developed means to move innovations from the laboratory to the production plant quickly. Mobilization was not seen widely as both a problem of production and as a problem of research and development. Prewar planning focused on a quantitative approach to mobilization: making lots of planes, tanks and ships and then training the great numbers of soldiers, sailors and airmen required to field those items. In fact, during an extended conflict, production modifications and entirely new technologies were as important as mass producing basic models of ships, airplanes and tanks.
In their study of the Navy's Bureau of ordnance during World War II, for example, Buford Rowland and William Boyd detailed the means by which the bureau and its contractors were able to take drawings and specifications developed in Europe (by Bofors and Oerlikon) for European production methods and modify them for American-style mass production.15 The effort was a great success. Much less successful, however, was the attempt by the Army Air Corps to integrate modifications (derived from combat experience) into ongoing production lines. As early as January 1942, the Army funded the major airlines to turn their maintenance facilities into post-production modification centers, and, by war's end, the Army had created or funded about "twenty permanent modification centers" with nearly twenty million square feet of work space.16 But first producing a plane and then taking it apart again for a combat-related modification was expensive: "anywhere from 25 to 50 percent of the total labor spent in turning out military aircraft was actually performed at the centers."17 The Army was more successful in modifying the production process for tanks. The shift from the model M-3 medium tank to the model M-4, for example, went as smoothly as the shift from one production model automobile as another because the process of mass producing tanks was basically the same as producing automobiles.18 Aircraft modifications were another matter altogether.
Getting innovations from the laboratory to the production line was also a serious problem. Neither the Army Air Corps nor the Navy, for example, made the shift from propeller-driven aircraft to jet aircraft by the end of the war, and even the development of new propeller-driven aircraft (such as the B-29). was expensive, fraught with technical problems, and dangerous for flight test crews.19 Despite the best efforts of Army ordnance engineers, "no satisfactory range finder for tanks was developed."20 Indeed, Charles Baily has gone so far as to argue that "it was difficult to see who was in charge" of tank and tank destroyer development. His claim is that there "was a definite lack of a thorough grasp of tank and tank destroyer development at the highest levels in the U.S. Army."21 Whether Bally's claim is correct or not, the fact remains that Army ground forces did not receive adequately armed and armored tanks for their assault on France and Germany in 1944. Moreover, Army armored divisions were also not able, during the war, to engage in offensive combat operations at night, something operational commanders very much wanted to do.
So much for what prewar planning did not achieve. What were the reasons? What could planning by the Army and Navy not do? First, the presidency itself had to be prepared for the war. In the summer of 1939, President Roosevelt finally brought the Army -Chief of Staff and the Navy's Chief of Naval Operations, the Aeronautical Board (which linked the aviation organizations in the services with the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics), the-Army-Navy munitions Board, and the Joint Economy Board (which brought together the military departments and the heads of Treasury and Commerce) directly under his supervision as Commander-in-Chief.22 Only that September did Congress pass the Reorganization Act of 1939, which established the Executive office of the President. From the authority granted the President in that law, Franklin Roosevelt created the plethora of alphabet soup agencies which he used (and at times ignored) to direct war production.
Economist Eliot Janeway, who was part of that effort, argued after the war that Roosevelt ran war production and mobilization the same way he ran New Deal agencies: by creating multiple centers of power with overlapping jurisdictions. When the new agencies could not agree on a course of action (which Roosevelt understood they often would not), they appealed to the President, leaving him with final authority over their actions (and over the general policies they were supposed to implement). In 1939, however, Roosevelt was feeling his way cautiously, careful to not step too far ahead of public and Congressional sentiment. He took the authority Congress had granted him and used it, but he did not demand more. For example, Congress authorized the services in 1939 to negotiate cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts for new base construction. The services would have liked the power to negotiate similar contracts for weapons production, but the White House did not ask for it for another year, and even then, after granting that power, Congress limited the fixed fee to 7% of the estimated cost.23 The legal restriction on the use of negotiated cost-type contracts for weapons production was not lifted by Congress until after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Janeway also argued that Roosevelt's cautious and inefficient (because it was based less on plans than on the measure of public sentiment) approach to wartime mobilization was the only sensible one the President could have pursued in light of the division in the country regarding the issue of American participation in the war. In Janeway's view, Roosevelt knew that, once fully committed, the nation's population and its private institutions would produce what was needed in the time allowed. What Roosevelt had to do, in this view, was to wait while public opinion moved toward supporting a war. Put another way, Roosevelt's mobilization policy was not to bypass partisan politics but to allow it to work. The President knew that, even with public support for a war policy, his administration would have to deal with the social and political divisions which crisscrossed American society.
To Janeway, then, the conflicts which plagued the civilian-led agencies of mobilization were inevitable, unavoidable, foreseen by the commander-in-chief, and absorbed by these same institutions. But these institutions could not do either their political or their economic work unless the President could create them, so the willingness of Congress increase the power of the presidency in 1939 was essential to mobilization and to victory. Essential, too, was Roosevelt's willingness to continue politics during the war in the area of mobilization. As far as grand strategy and the actual fighting were concerned, Roosevelt was commander-in-chief. In the "war of production," however, he was politician, moving cautiously and cleverly to guard his authority (and that of his office) while opening up the direction of war production to the leaders of private industry (many of whom were his political enemies), labor, and agriculture.
It was not clear, for example, just how to make the agencies of war production both effective and representative. To be effective, war production agencies at the federal level had to (1) have data on what U.S. industry and agriculture could do, (2) be able to anticipate the right kinds and numbers of items needed by the fighting forces, (3) have control over civilian manpower, (4) have a means to control scarce resources, (5) maintain a stable currency by monitoring and controlling prices, wages and savings, and (6.) work closely with the agencies implementing foreign and fiscal policy. To do these things, the leaders of war production-would need public support, the support of the President, the cooperation of the armed services, and the knowledge necessary to make workable policies. Yet it was not really clear to Roosevelt and his advisors how to create a hierarchy of politically legitimate institutions which had the capabilities required to perform the tasks necessary to effective mobilization.
This explains the start-stop, trial-and-error progression of war production agencies, from the War Resources Board of 1939 to the Advisory Commission to the Council of National Defense in 1940 to the office of Production Management in 1941 to the War Production Board in 1942. As the country moved closer to war, the weakness of the specific prewar plans developed by the Army and Navy alone became clearer. The services just could not be expected to plan for the political problems which came with a directed economy of such size and potential. President Roosevelt understood that the productive potential essential to winning the war existed. If Janeway's account is correct, the President also knew that the economy could not be managed from the White House. Roosevelt's intuitive appreciation of the productive power of the economy was matched by his understanding that directing the economy would be difficult, from both a technical and a political perspective.
Yet as commander-in-chief Roosevelt was obliged to take responsibility for mobilizing production. To retain ultimate control while shielding himself (as partisan political leader) and the institution of the presidency from blame, the President created a batch of agencies, gave each limited but overlapping responsibilities and powers, put ambitious and talented people in these agencies, and trusted in the resourcefulness of private industry. He turned himself into the audience (along with the "public") and let his new agencies and their staffs perform. When they worked (or appeared to work), he left them alone. When they appeared to lack authority, or seemed to be failing, he replaced them or their leaders, usually after allowing the organizations or their leaders to serve as lightning rods for public dissatisfaction.
In his memoirs, Donald Nelson, head of the War Production Board, tells a revealing story. There was a dispute over which firm would get the contract for mass production of the jeep. There were three primary contenders, according to Nelson: Willys, Ford and Bantam Car (the company that had pioneered what became the jeep design). Ford argued for the contract on the grounds that its competitors could not produce jeeps fast enough to meet the Army's needs, but Nelson believed that Willys could in fact produce the vehicles at the required volume, and he was instrumental in seeing to it that Willys got the contract.24 What Nelson did not say in his memoirs was that Bantam really deserved the production contract because it was the jeep's designer. The Army chose not to award the contract to Bantam because it did not believe the firm could produce enough of the vehicles to meet the Army's great need. As a result of this decision, made rationally by the Army, Bantam did not reap the benefits of production sales of an item it had developed, and it suffered economically after the war.
The story demonstrates the managerial dilemma facing the War Production Board: there was no way the board could really manage the whole war production effort (let alone the whole economy) because, first, there was no way the board and its staff could understand all the details of what was going on, and, second, there were few legal, established means both to compensate fairly a firm like Bantam and to free the Army to rationalize its war production by limiting the number of producers of specific pieces of equipment. This was the sort of issue which should have been resolved before the war, but it was also an issue which the Army and Navy lacked the authority on their own to resolve. Because it had not been resolved by 1942, the war production effort came close to staggering.
The production timetables produced by the Army and Navy Munitions Board had already been rejected as inadequate, even by the services themselves. In their place, the President had set incredible production goals; in February of that year, for example, he had directed the Army to procure 105,000 medium tanks -- 169,000 tanks of all types -- in one year.25 This was a tremendous number (double what was eventually produced during the whole war); it sent the production and ordnance experts reeling. Even worse, it ignored the need to produce ships, trucks, artillery and aircraft. But the Army had to respond, and respond it did -- with an investment in production facilities that was double the amount eventually deemed necessary.26
In response to protests from his senior military advisors, Roosevelt modified the tank production goal: to 136,000 in April 1942, 121,000 the following September, and 99,000 by November.27
But the services had already begun to respond to his direction. If the President's effort to spur the mass production of war items had had the beneficial effect of forcing the military and civilian managers of wartime procurement to face the magnitude of their problem, it had also revealed how hard it was to manage a wartime production effort. "Commanding" production levels made no sense if the services, empowered by law and by executive order to negotiate and manage contracts, could not draw on the economy for the resources and manpower they needed. It made even less sense if equipment, once delivered, could not be supported and serviced. But the services could not be let loose to compete for resources, as they had been in World War I. There had to be some coordination. otherwise, war production would be chaotic, and priorities in resources, electric power and labor would be set through a series of ad hoc negotiations among a crowd of public and private executives. Instead of being directed by constitutionally authorized authorities, and performed in pursuit of definite war aims, war production would be unregulated and inefficient.
The solution to this problem was not obvious, even to Roosevelt, that master of political and bureaucratic manipulation. Congress was not a problem after 7 December 1941. The laws restricting negotiated contracts with industry were waived when Congress granted the President emergency war powers after Pearl Harbor. As early as 1940, Congress had suspended the requirement that profits on shipbuilding contracts be limited to ten percent.28 The real problem was how to coordinate the wartime economy without managing it from the White House or tolerating a series of essentially political deals among the major producers and the services. The solution was suggested by Ferdinand Eberstadt, an associate of Navy Under Secretary James Forrestal. It was called the "Controlled Materials Plan," and it balanced the need for central coordination of war production with the fact that the production itself had to be decentrally managed, industry by industry.
1942 was the key year. It began with Congress granting the President impressive and sweeping powers. In response, Roosevelt created the War Production Board, Office of Price Administration, National War Labor Board, and the War manpower Commission (all in January) to support the work of the already active Office of Production Management. But the creation of these organizations (and a host of lesser offshoots) did not solve the basic problem of giving sensible direction to the war-related economy. Neither did the President's effort to set targets. The targets were a kind of plan, but the emergency organizations did not have a means to turn the plan into reality. They did not even know what information they needed to decide if and how the specifics of the President's production goals needed to be revised.
The Stabilization Act of late 1942 was the first step toward a solution. The law created the post of Director of Economic Stabilization, and Roosevelt persuaded James Byrnes to leave the Supreme Court and take the job. Donald Nelson, head of the War Production Board, had not found a way to balance central direction with decentralized action to Roosevelt's satisfaction, but the President apparently wanted to avoid pushing Nelson aside and, in so doing, admitting that the war production effort was faltering. So Byrnes, a close confidant, was brought in above Nelson. In October 1942, Byrnes, Roosevelt, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, and Navy Secretary Frank Knox accepted Eberstadt's Controlled Materials Plan, and the plan itself was formally adopted at the beginning of November.29
The plan was deceptively simple: it controlled the flow of steel, aluminum and copper, and left other materials alone. It did not attempt to regulate wages or prices directly. Civilian rationing, for example, was left to the Office of Price Administration, and the Office of Production Management continued to try (and not very successfully until 1943) to balance the needs of the services against those of allies, as it was intended to do.30 What the Controlled Materials Plan did was leave the bulk of war production decisions to officials in the services and in the industries the service officials negotiated with. The plan was the second positive action which had to be taken to overcome the obstacles to effective war production.
In the Navy, for example, the Office of Procurement and Material (OP&M) stood as the gateway to the quotas set by the War Production Board. Navy acquisition bureaus (such as Ordnance, Ships, and Aeronautics) could not negotiate contracts which depended for their completion on a violation of the Controlled Materials Plan quotas. OP&M, headed by a vice admiral, had the power to review (and reject) all major material contracts being negotiated by the bureaus. Once the Controlled Materials Plan quotas were set, there was no appeal from the bureaus over the head of the officer in charge of OP&M. If bureau officers could find a substitute for steel, copper or aluminum, then they could proceed; OP&M would not interfere. If not, then the bureaus' uniformed leaders already knew they could not get OP&M permission. Under the Controlled Materials Plan, OP&M's standards were known ahead of time by bureau officials working with industry. OP&Ms staff did not have to review all major material contracts because the bureaus knew up front what they could get away with and what not.31
After the war, Janeway argued that the Controlled Materials Plan "doubled the economy's finished, usable production in 1943 without curtailing consumer expenditures, and while slashing plant expansion from its inflated 1942 peak."32 The plan did not solve every war production problem, however. Manpower allocation was a major problem in 1941 and it stayed a serious problem all through the war, despite prodigious efforts to expand the industrial labor force. Controlling wages and prices, and administering rationing (indirectly related to production efficiency) was difficult and controversial. Coordinating production with transportation was also difficult. Donald Nelson, head of the War Production Board, had an uphill struggle persuading the major railroads to invest in sufficient locomotives and railroad cars to ship resources to factories and finished products to service depots. As it happened, the railroads were able to double their capacity with just 10 percent more locomotives and 20 percent more freight cars, but that was an unanticipated stroke of luck, not the consequence of good planning.33 Indeed, Roosevelt's faith in American industrial productivity and innovation was vindicated. Examples abound. During the war, the Army's Detroit tank arsenal and other sources produced over 45,000 M-4 medium tanks in fifteen variations. In 1941, German factories produced 3,256 tanks; U.S factories 4,052. In 1942, the numbers were 4,098 and 24,997, respectively, and the Germans -- despite efforts which more than doubled production levels -- never came close thereafter.34 In 1943 alone, U.S. factories made over 4.4 billion .50 caliber machine gun cartridges.35 In 1940, Congress authorized a "two ocean Navy," and Navy planners believed that, by the end of 1945, the Navy would have 13 large aircraft carriers and five escort carriers. The actual numbers were 27 large carriers, 9 light carriers (based on converted cruisers), and 85 escort carriers. Aircraft -production was so great that it was often measured in pounds, not numbers delivered. 'But all the numbers Were staggering: 324,750 planes turned out in the years 1939 through 1945.36 A total of 2,089,436,000 airframe pounds in yearly totals as follows:
The key to such massive production and innovative support, as economists as different as Janeway and J.K. Galbraith recognized, was just the right balance between central direction and decentralized production. It worked because (1) the industrial and managerial potential was already in place, (2) there was overwhelming support for the war production effort, (3) Roosevelt and the business community recognized the need to keep the civilian economy strong even while war production boomed, (4) the strategy of burying the Axis in mass produced war machines worked, (5) the U.S. was never threatened with attack, and (6) the Army and Navy -- especially the latter -- had quietly worked with industry to develop means for expanding production. Though prewar Army and Navy plans were largely useless by 1941, both services had developed means to communicate their needs to industry, and both had cultivated sets of manufacturers who expected to increase production in the event of mobilization. The development of regular ties to industry was the third factor which allowed the United States to overcome the obstacles to effective war production.
The Navy, for example, had had extensive experience by 1941 manipulating and supporting major shipbuilders. In the years after 1933, as the Roosevelt administration and Congress sustained a steady program of military and merchant ship construction, commercial yards were encouraged to identify potential "second sources" for wartime needs. Navy shipbuilding contracts were also spread around in the lean years of the 1930s, despite federal legislation which required the Navy Department to award shipbuilding contracts through a process of "sealed bids." The Navy was supposed to prepare a package of ship specifications, and then circulate these to interested yards. The yards would then submit proof of their ability to build what the Navy wanted, along with a confidential bid. The winning shipbuilder was supposed to be the one with the lowest bid.
Theoretically, this system was supposed to drive down costs by giving an advantage to productively efficient firms. winning a contract in the first place by bidding competitively, an efficient builder would get better at estimating and controlling costs over time, reducing both the government's cost for a ship and the number of firms able to bid (unless the losers could find contracts building commercial hulls). The hitch was that the Navy did not want to steadily reduce the number of yards able to build Navy ships. Quite the reverse. The Navy wanted to cultivate the major shipyards, spreading the available business among them so that there would be a large pool of skilled shipbuilders when the decision to mobilize was finally made.
The Navy got around the intent of the law by using the first step of the two-step "sealed bid" process. In that first step, yards had to convince the Navy that they were qualified to build whatever ship type the Navy wanted. To keep some potential bidders out of the running, the Navy Department ruled that firms were not qualified to bid unless they had already built that kind of ship. To spread the work around, the Department also judged the ability of a yard td produce numbers of the ship type wanted, so that even the lowest bidder might only get a few ships. The Navy, forced by law to award fixed price contracts, used the requirement to its advantage by requiring bidders to bear the costs of capitalization. What that meant was that one yard could rarely walk away with all the destroyer contracts for one year, for example. The law allowed the Navy to award multiple contracts if the lowest bidder could not build all the ships authorized, and the Department consistently did so. The result was a "stable" of competent builders, each of which was required to identify emergency expansion yards for potential use in wartime.
The Navy also won support in Congress for expansion of the merchant marine. As early as 1934, the Shipping Board Bureau of the Department of Commerce began development of "standard types of merchant vessels acceptable to the Navy."39 Navy participants in this process of designing new commercial shipping later assumed responsible positions in the Maritime Commission, an organization created by the Merchant Marine Act of 1936. The purpose of the act was to grant federal subsidies to shipping companies so that they could afford more expensive American-built ships. In return for federal support, U.S.-owned firms bought ships whose designs were standardized by the Maritime Commission and the Navy. Finally, the Navy Department was able to persuade President Roosevelt that ship construction was a form of public works, and therefore eligible for support under legislation such as the National Industrial Recovery Act.40
All this prewar work paid off handsomely when Congress authorized increases in the Navy's strength in 1938 and 1940. Yet the Navy faced the same basic production problem after 1941 as the Army Air Corps: would it convert other industries to make what it needed, or would it simply expand the existing base? As in the case of the Air Corps, it did both. That is, the Navy and Maritime Commission supported and financed the expansion of existing yards and the development of new ones. The same policy was followed by the Army in procuring tanks: existing facilities were expanded and brand new facilities were purpose-built. Aircraft were procured according to the same strategy by both the Army and the Navy. What forced both services to modify their prewar production surge plans was the need to manufacture such great numbers of tanks, planes and ships, plus the need for so many specialized if technologically unsophisticated items such as landing craft.
Indeed, for the Army war production was a kind of revolution, especially in areas such as tank production and -- especially -- aircraft production. The numbers of tanks and planes required to defeat the Axis were so great that making them overwhelmed the habits of Army procurement officials. Within a matter of months, these officials, cautious in dealing with industry, and trained in formal, slow methods of contracting, had to change completely the way they did their work. I. B. Holley's Buying Aircraft tells in detail the dizzy story of the Army's effort to break free from its old procurement habits and its reliance on a small number of airframe and engine manufacturers. only three factors made the change possible: (a) a conscious decision to freeze what were essentially prewar designs (such as the B-17) for wartime use, (b) an unanticipated ability of U.S. industry generally to support aviation production, and (c) hard, long, exhausting work by Army Air Corps procurement officials.
Interestingly enough, the same factors sustained the Navy. Very few major combat ship types, for example, were actually developed during the war. New designs were largely confined to amphibious types and auxiliaries. The combat types which were "developed" during the war were in fact mass produced versions of already developed Navy concepts -- the escort aircraft carrier and the destroyer escort. Both types were made in great numbers because both designs were suited to quantity production. Neither type was especially favored by the Navy because the uniformed leaders of the service knew that mass production ships (like the "Eagle" antisubmarine patrol boats of World War I) would not have much value after the war, in a fleet which would not get numbers of replacements postwar for perhaps two decades.41
It took pressure from civilian leaders (the President and Under Secretary Forrestal) to move senior Navy officers to accept "war emergency" production, just as it took the President's extreme 1942 war production goals for aircraft to get the Army to question its commitment to expanding the aircraft industry (with which it had close ties) as against converting the automobile industry to aircraft production. What both Army and Navy military leaders wanted was the freedom to put their prewar plans into effect. What President Roosevelt recognized was that the prewar plans -- to say nothing of the mentality which produced such plans -- were unsuitable. On the other hand, civilian leaders -- simply because they were civilians -- had no lock on an understanding of the essentially political nature of the "war of production." Aroused after Pearl Harbor, American workers, engineers and managers pulled off what seem now to have been miracles of production. This immense effort could not have been successful if the services had not learned something from their World War I experience. The difference between the Army and Navy was that the latter had had more opportunities to create the linkages which, during the war, helped speed war production.
So what really won the war of production? Prewar planning? A consensus among American political and industrial leaders that the mistakes of World War I would not be repeated? Patriotic fervor? The answer is all of these a more.
Though prewar plans produced by the Army and Navy were unrealistic as to numbers and as to the means by which they would be carried out, prewar efforts to plan and to maintain bases of supply in American industry proved invaluable. Moreover, as Milward showed, the American strategy of mobilizing assumed that the civilian economy needed to be kept strong as a necessary support to war production. The general acceptance of this assumption was a key to victory and to success after the war. Because the assumption was shared so widely, Roosevelt did not have to abandon his New Deal and business could participate enthusiastically in the war effort. Furthermore, as Janeway argued, partisan politics was not suppressed during the direction of war production. Politics, the legitimate competition among different individuals and interests over social priorities, was deliberately carried right into the war mobilization agencies, but the President was able to retain control of the direction of the mobilization effort because he stood aside from the day-to-day direction of the economy.
Roosevelt also realized that the White House was not suited to managing war production. War production was best managed at a much lower level. The task facing the government was to direct that management. But not in detail. American managers, workers and farmers could and did manage and innovate on their own. The Navy and Army had to train thousands of firms to produce items to government specifications, but many firms willingly and successfully took on what had been strictly government responsibilities, such as test and evaluation of military items (tanks and airplanes, for example) in development. This grass roots eagerness to produce, save, recycle and innovate is now a major American myth. What is so impressive is that much of the myth was quite real.
Perhaps the primary lesson learned by military officers managing procurement in World War I was that there was no good reason not to be able to tap the productivity of American industry, labor and agriculture in wartime. Indeed, it was recognized in 1920 that the U.S. advantage in war was the country's ability to bury its enemies in piles of machines manned and maintained by healthy, well fed and well trained personnel. This vision was not lost between the wars. What was never quite worked out -- and probably could not have been -- in peacetime was the precise. relationship of public to private institutions during mobilization, and the proper and effective relationship between the military services and the civilian agencies of government which-, would have to guide them.42
1. I.B. Holley, Buying Aircraft: Materiel Procurement for the Army Air Forces (Washington: Office-of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1964), p. 151.
2. The U.S. Naval Institute soon will publish an exhaustive study, prepared by E. Miller, of Navy "War Plan ORANGE" planning.
3. Holley, Buying Aircraft, pp. 153-55. Robert H. Connery, The Navy and the Industrial Mobilization in World War II (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1951), pp. 38-53.
4. Holley, Buying Aircraft, p. 155.
5. Ibid., p. 152.
6. Connery, The Navy and the Industrial Mobilization in World War II, notes, p. 39.
7. Holley, Buying Aircraft, p. 160.
9. H. C. Thomson and L. Mayo, The Ordnance Department: Procurement and Supply (Washington: office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1960), p. 269.
10. Holley, Buying Aircraft, p. 35.
11. Ibid., pp. 89-92.
12. W. F. Trimble, Wings for the Navy. A History of the Naval Aircraft Factory, 1917-1956 (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1990), p. 85.
13. Connery, The Navy and the Industrial Mobilization in World War II, p. 125; Holley, Buying Aircraft, p. 107.
14. Holley, Buying Aircraft, p. 109.
15. Buford Rowland and William Boyd, History of the Bureau of Ordnance in World War II (Washington: CPO, 1953).
16. Holley, Buying Aircraft, pp. 530-31.
17. Ibid., p. 532.
18. W. W. Stout, Tanks Are Mighty Fine Things (Detroit: Chrysler Corporation, 1946).
19. Thomas Collison, The Superfortress Is Born: The Story of the Boeing B-29 (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1945).
20. C. M. Green, H. C. Thomson and P. C. Roots, Planning Munitions for War (Washington: Office of the Chief of Military History, Dept. of the Army, 1955), p. 342.
21. C. M. Baily, Faint Praise: American Tanks and Tank Destroyers During World War II (New York: Archon Books, 1983), p. 145.
22. Eliot Janeway, The Struggle for Survival, A Chronicle of Economic Mobilization in World War II (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1951), p. 44.
23. Connery, The Navy and the Industrial Mobilization in World War II, pp. 66-67.
24. D. M. Nelson, Arsenal of Democracy. The Story of American War Production (New York: Harcourt Brach, 1946).
25. Thomson and Mayo, Procurement and Supply, p. 64.
26. Ibid., pp. 255-57.
27. Ibid., p. 64.
28. Connery, The Navy and the Industrial Mobilization in World War II, p. 268.
29. Janeway, The Struggle for Survival, pp. 315-16.
30. Ibid., pp. 197-204.
31. Connery, The Navy and the Industrial Mobilization in World War II, pp. 393-98.
32. Janeway, The Struggle for Survival, p. 317.
33. Ibid., p. 353.
34. Thomson and Mayo, Procurement and Supply, p. 263.
35. Ibid., p. 65.
36. Holley, Buying Aircraft, p. 548.
38. W.W. Stout, Mobilized (Detroit: Chrysler Corporation, 1949), P. 111.
39. F. C. Lane, Ships for Victory. A History of Shipbuilding Under the U.S. Maritime Commission in World War II (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1951), p. 24.
40. R. H. Levine, The Politics of American Naval Rearmament,1930-1938 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1988).
41. Norman Friedman, U.S. Aircraft Carriers: An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1983) U.S. Destroyers, An Illustrated Design History (Annapolis: U.S. Naval Institute Press, 1982).
42, T. J. Gough, "Origins of the Army Industrial College: Military-Business Tensions After World War I," Armed Forces & Society, vol. 17, no. 2 (Winter 1991).