Chapter 9: Small Arms Ammunition
Rounds of small arms ammunition were produced during World War II in greater numbers than any other item of Army supply. Whereas most Ordnance matériel was counted in the thousands or millions, small arms ammunition was numbered in the billions of rounds, total production for the 1940-45 period amounting to more than forty-one billion. Some measure of the magnitude of small arms ammunition production may be gained by comparing it with total wartime production of artillery ammunition (excluding bombs, grenades, and mines) of one billion rounds, or with procurement of high-volume Quartermaster items such as men’s socks, about half a billion pairs, or shoes, about 145,000,000 pairs. If fired at the rate of twenty rounds per minute, night and day, year after year, the small arms ammunition procured by Ordnance in World War II would have lasted for almost forty centuries. (Table 17)
The huge quantities of ammunition required for World War II dramatically reflected the impact on warfare of rapid-firing weapons. In the days of the American Revolution the firing of muskets was a slow process, each shot requiring the hand loading of both powder and ball.1 A century later, after breech loaders had replaced muzzle loaders, the rate of fire increased somewhat, but it was not until late in the nineteenth century that the mechanical marvel known as the machine gun boosted the rate of fire a hundredfold.2 Soon developed to the point where it could fire hundreds of shots in one minute, the new gun’s appetite for ammunition was virtually insatiable. During World War II the trend toward faster-firing weapons continued, including all types and sizes but advancing most among the smaller calibers. Armed with the semiautomatic .30-caliber rifle M1, a U.S. infantryman could easily fire an 8-round clip in half a minute. With the semiautomatic carbine a 15-round clip could be fired with similar speed while the fully automatic carbine—adopted in 1944 and equipped with a 30-round magazine—could be fired even more rapidly. Standard machine guns using .30-caliber and .50-caliber ammunition, and submachine guns of .45-caliber, could fire at rates ranging from 400 to 1,200 rounds per minute. Armed with such weapons a single infantry platoon or individual bombing plane in World War II possessed as much
Table 17: Small arms ammunition production, 1940-1945
Source: Whiting, Statistics, p. 51.
small arms firepower as an entire infantry division of the Civil War era.
The huge volume of small arms ammunition procurement must not be interpreted as meaning that it exceeded artillery ammunition procurement in either size or complexity. There were only twelve government-owned, contractor-operated small arms ammunition plants as compared to more than sixty artillery ammunition plants and works. The dollar value of small arms ammunition was about one-fourth that of artillery ammunition. The difference in tonnage is suggested by the fact that a round of .30-caliber ball ammunition weighed only a few ounces while a 105-mm. howitzer round weighed about forty pounds. Compared to the twenty different calibers of artillery ammunition there were only three important sizes of small arms ammunition—.30-caliber, .45-caliber, and .50-caliber—-and there were only five main small arms types—ball, armor-piercing (AP), armor-piercing-incendiary (API), incendiary, and tracer.3 The manufacture of the smaller ammunition was not only simpler but easier, for it did not involve the production of fuses or the manufacture and loading of high explosives. (See Table 17.)
The mass production of high quality small arms ammunition was nevertheless an exacting process. Each round had to meet rigid specifications, particularly if it was to be used in aircraft machine guns. A defective round could usually be cleared from a ground machine gun without great difficulty, but fixed aircraft guns mounted in the wings could not be serviced while the plane was in the air. A slight imperfection in one cartridge might put the gun out of action at a critical moment and cause loss of both crew and plane. The Ordnance objective was to produce ammunition that could be fired round after round for billions of rounds, whether in tropic heat or arctic cold, in desert sand
or steaming jungle, without malfunctions and without significant deviations in performance.
Of the large reserve of ammunition held by the United States in 1919, a small portion was used in training each year during the 1920s and 1930s, and the remaining rounds gradually deteriorated in storage. There was some new production by Frankford Arsenal, but the quantities were small, and by the spring of 1940 the national stockpile was only about half what it had been twenty years before. Reserves of .30-caliber, which far exceeded all other calibers in volume, dropped from about one billion rounds in 1919 to a little over half a billion early in 1940.4 This long, slow process of attrition was one cause of the shortage of small arms ammunition that developed with the approach of war in 1940-41. Reserves were further depleted in the summer of 1940 by shipment of rifle ammunition to the hard-pressed British forces.
The transfer of 138,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber ammunition to the British after Dunkerque took a big slice—nearly 25 per-cent—from the existing United States stock. A later shipment brought the total for British aid up to 188,000,000 rounds before passage of the Lend-Lease Act in March 1941. The first shipment was paid for through the U.S. Steel Export Company on a “cash-and-carry” basis; for the second shipment the British agreed to release fifty million rounds of new ammunition from their Remington contract to replace the old ammunition received from the United States.5 But, regardless of the method of reimbursement, transfer of this matériel seriously weakened the Ordnance position. Just at the moment that demand for ammunition was rising—for troop training and equipping defense forces—Ordnance saw its reserves suddenly cut by from 25 to 30 percent. Pressure for increased production became intense during 1941, and Ordnance was subjected to frequent criticism for not having more ammunition on hand and for not producing new ammunition fast enough. Even without aid to Britain there would have been a shortage of rifle ammunition in the winter of 1940-41, but it was most disheartening for Ordnance officers to find in the fall of 1940 that, after two decades devoted to husbanding their reserves and planning for an emergency, they were short of the very types of ammunition most needed, and some of them tended to place more than the proper share of blame on aid to Britain.6
More important than apportionment of blame for the crisis was the action taken to meet it. Frankford Arsenal quickly stepped up its production but could not hope to keep pace with the mounting needs of the armed forces. Ground was therefore broken in the fall of 1940 for three large new government-owned ammunition plants with capacities running
into the millions of rounds per day. But bringing new plants into production was a time-consuming operation. No amount of emergency action could banish the ammunition shortage overnight, and the lack of small arms ammunition hung like a cloud over the Ordnance program for the next year and a half.
Prewar Plans and Operations
During the 1930s Frankford was the only plant in the United States producing military small arms ammunition. Several commercial firms made sporting ammunition—Remington, Western, and Winchester were the best known—but the difference between sporting and military ammunition was great, comparable to the difference “between a taxicab and a tank,” in the words of one observer.7 Incendiary, tracer, and armor-piercing ammunition, to name three outstanding examples, presented production problems that had no counterpart in peacetime manufacture of cartridges to be used by hunters, farmers, or policemen. Private companies received no contracts during the 1930s for military ammunition because they could not underbid Frankford, and the Army was forbidden by law to purchase from industry unless the price was less than the cost of arsenal-produced ammunition. But by 1936 two facts had become apparent to Army planners: (1) a major war would require, in addition to Frankford’s production, large-scale manufacture by commercial arms makers in existing plants, and (2) this production would have to be supplemented by a new government-owned ammunition plant in the midwest operated for the government by a leading industrial firm. In 1936 and 1937 Ordnance representatives conferred frequently with officials of the Remington Arms Company with a view to having Remington expand its capacity in time of emergency and also take over operation of a proposed new government plant. Following these discussions a formal statement of the plan drawn up by Frankford Arsenal was concurred in by Mr. C. K. Davis, president of Remington, in 1938.8
At the same time, after nearly twenty years of starvation rations, Frankford received $5 million for the purchase of new machinery and equipment of all sorts, part of an Ordnance-wide move to modernize all the arsenals. Navy orders and federal work relief projects helped supplement the regular appropriations. In 1939 Frankford obtained additional funds to expand its facilities for powder storage and .30- and .45-caliber production, and to build a complete new .50-caliber manufacturing section. The arsenal also purchased $800,000 worth of specialized production machinery known as War Reserve Equipment, and stored it for emergency use by the Remington Arms Company and Western Cartridge Company.9 Arsenal personnel drew up plans for speeding production in the event of war, including model plant layouts, descriptions of manufacture,
estimates of personnel needs, lists of tools and machinery requirements, and data on commercial sources of raw materials. To prepare industry for its role in an emergency, Frankford placed twelve orders for small arms ammunition under the Educational Orders Act in fiscal years 1940 and 1941. Ten of these went to the Remington Arms Company for .30-caliber tracer, .30-caliber AP, .45-caliber ball, .50-caliber tracer, and .50-caliber AP. The remaining two orders went to the Western Cartridge Company for .30-caliber ball and .45-caliber ball. Frankford made exhaustive tests on all ammunition these companies produced to determine its conformity to drawings and specifications. The quantities in the early orders were small, seven contracts totaling only twenty-five million rounds, but in 1941 the three largest orders totaled nearly three hundred million rounds. The primary purpose of educational orders, of course, was not production but education for industry; nevertheless, after the transfer to Britain of over one-fourth the U.S. stockpile of small arms ammunition in the summer of 1940, production became more and more important.10
Allied with educational orders for complete rounds of ammunition were procurement orders placed with machine-tool builders in 1939 and 1940. Orders for machinery that had been developed and tested at Frankford were placed not only with the old line companies such as Waterbury-Farrel and E. W. Bliss but with many others who thus gained experience in building small arms ammunition ma-chinery.11 A most significant result of these steps was the eventual standardization of all American ammunition makers on Frankford Arsenal machinery, and the adoption of this machinery by Great Britain in 1940. This standardization made possible the pooling of machines and the transfer of equipment and spare parts from one plant to another to meet any emergency.12
Although not for educational purposes, the orders placed by other countries with U.S. firms played an important part in preparing American industry for war production. Beginning in 1939, small purchases of military cartridges were made of the Remington Arms Company by China, followed at the end of the year by Britain and France, and by Finland in 1940. The British orders, constituting the bulk of all foreign purchases after the fall of France, called for both American and British calibers including .30- and .50-caliber cartridges for aircraft machine guns, .303-caliber rounds for rifles and machine guns, .45-caliber ball ammunition for Thompson submachine guns, and 9-mm. parabellum cartridges for British Sten submachine guns. As U.S. plants did not have capacity for such production, the British government had to supply machinery and capital for expansion to the Winchester plant in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Remington plant in Bridgeport, Connecticut. In addition, Britain financed the building of three new facilities for making small arms powder and one for making armor-piercing cores. These measures, in the opinion of Ordnance small arms ammunition specialists, were ultimately of value
Table 18: Estimated yearly capacity of Frankford Arsenal
|Year*||Rounds of .30-cal.||Rounds of .45-Cal.||Rounds of .50-Cal.|
* All figures as of 30 June of the year specified. They represent estimated capacity, not actual production.
Source: SAA, I, p. 48. See also Hist, Frankford Arsenal, SA Div, I, pt. 1, p. 23.
to the U.S. war effort because they enabled American producers to expand facilities, buy new machinery, train workers, and make arrangements for subcontracting.13
Meanwhile Frankford steadily increased its rate of production by buying new machinery, allotting more floor space to small arms ammunition, and recruiting employees to man extra shifts.14 Because of the urgent need for immediate production to supply U.S. troops in 1940-41, Frankford was permitted to take for its own use the war reserve machinery earmarked for Remington and Western. In August 1940 the arsenal’s small arms division went on a 6-day week, and added a second 8-hour shift later in the year, but a full third shift was not organized and put into production until mid-1941. As a result of these efforts, Frankford Arsenal’s estimated yearly capacity, based on ‘round-the-clock operation seven days a week, increased. (Table 18)
Building New Plants, 1940-42
At the start of the defense period there was considerable uncertainty as to how much ammunition would be needed and what arrangements should be made for its production. Ordnance leaders tended to be conservative in their estimates and reluctant to embark upon an overly ambitious program. They frequently questioned the estimates of future needs prepared by. G-4 and the Assistant Secretary. In July and August 1940, when productive capacity to meet the Munitions Program of 30 June was under study, the ammunition requirements figures reached such high levels that about half the program was postponed to allow time for reconsideration of the whole subject. Ordnance started planning for only two rew plants. Then in late September Brig. Gen. Richard C. Moore, Deputy Chief of Staff, informed Ordnance that the original requirements were sound and declared it was “imperative” that production of all small arms ammunition, particularly .30-caliber, be greatly increased at once.15
In reply, General Wesson reviewed the steps already taken to increase the capacity of Frankford Arsenal and commercial plants. The only way to gain more new production at once, he pointed out, was to take over the British contracts with commercial firms in the United States. To meet the future needs of the 2-million-man force, General Wesson said he would have to build three new plants (including the two under way) at a cost of $20 million each, but warned that they probably would not come into production for fifteen months. The proposal to take over British contracts was not acceptable, for it ran counter to the policy of aiding Britain, but G-4 and the Assistant Secretary promptly approved General Wesson’s proposal to build three new plants. They thus launched the so-called First Wave of expansion in the Ordnance small arms ammunition program.16
The First Wave
While these discussions were in progress Ordnance drew up detailed plans for three government - owned, contractor-operated (GOCO) plants. After much intensive study, followed by approval of various agencies, the sites were selected—Lake City, Mo., Denver, Colo., and St. Louis, Mo.17 The first two were to be operated by Remington and the third by the U.S. Cartridge Company (a subsidiary of Western Cartridge Company of East Alton, Ill.) with the McQuay-Norris Company operating the core-making part of the St. Louis plant.18 A letter of intent covering the Lake City project was sent to Remington and Western as early as mid-September enabling them to proceed with engineering work and placement of orders for production equipment. Ground was broken by Senator Harry S. Truman the day after Christmas 1940, and the first loaded cartridges were produced in September 1941—three months ahead of General Wesson’s estimate. The site for the St. Louis plant, largest of the small arms ammunition facilities, was selected in January 1941, and production of .30-caliber and .50-caliber got under way within the year. Patterned after Lake City, the .30-caliber Denver plant went up faster, taking only seven months from the start of construction in March to first production in October 1941. With a daily population of some 20,000, the Denver plant was Colorado’s fourth largest community. It covered a 2,000-acre reservation, had more than 200 buildings, a police force larger than that of Denver, a hospital, a railroad station, II miles of railroad track, 17 miles of roads, and 15 miles of fencing.19
These First Wave plants were all in production by December 1941. Combined, they had a capacity of over 300,000,000 rounds per month—more than six times the capacity of Frankford.20 But all during 1941, while they were being built and equipped, Frankford was virtually the sole source of new small arms ammunition. Commercial firms under contract to the British were not disturbed. Frankford thus served as an element of the “Regular Army of production” holding the fort alone until new plants could come to the rescue. It also served as a school where contractor personnel were trained in methods of producing various types of ammunition.21
All during the 1940-41 defense period, small arms ammunition was in extremely short supply. It was the most critical class of items in Ordnance procurement. Both G-4 and the Assistant Secretary of War repeatedly urged Ordnance to open new plants as fast as possible. Secretary Patterson time after time stressed the need for more production. In February 1941, for example, he wrote to General Wesson as follows:
As you know, the situation in regard to Caliber .30 and Caliber .50 small arms ammunition is most critical. The existing stocks together with deliveries scheduled for 1941 are, in general, not adequate to meet the needs of the Army and Navy for target practice ... and to provide necessary combat reserves. ... It will be necessary to limit training to a very small part of requirements.22
A few months later he told General Wesson and General Somervell that the shortage of small arms ammunition was being presented to him from day to day and that
officers in the field considered it “the major deterrent to proper training of the troops.”23 Because of the urgency of the situation, construction and equipment of all the small arms plants was given an A-p-a priority in May 1941, the only such priority rating granted to Ordnance, and their operation after completion was given the same rating.24
The Second Wave
Under these pressures Ordnance drew up plans for the Second Wave of three plants. Approved by the War Department in the spring of 1941, construction of the Utah, Twin Cities, and Des Moines plants began during late July and August. In addition to its already heavy burden as operator of Lake City and Denver, Remington undertook to operate the Utah plant at Salt Lake City. To staff this facility, which covered five thousand acres, the company recruited and trained more than ten thousand employees in a non-
industrial area where workers with factory experience were almost unknown. The Federal Cartridge Company of Anoka, Minn., contracted to operate the Twin Cities Ordnance Plant a few miles north of Minneapolis and St. Paul.25 The plant at Des Moines, Iowa, went to a concern with no experience in ammunition production—the U.S. Rubber Company of Akron, Ohio. Because the rubber shortage had forced curtailment of its normal operations, this concern was able to place part of its managerial resources at the disposal of the Ordnance Department.26 All these plants were of a less permanent type than those of the First Wave and came into production during February and March 1942, averaging only seven months from the date ground was broken. When completed, they brought total monthly production capacity up to 480,000,000 for .30-caliber and 140,000,000 for .50-caliber.27 Steel cores for AP ammunition were supplied all the Second Wave plants by the Toledo Core Plant operated by the Willys-Overland Company.
In 1940 Ordnance saw that the old line brass and copper companies would not be able to produce all the brass strip needed by the ammunition program. As ammunition requirements rose time after time during 1941 the need for new brass strip capacity became more clearly apparent. Ordnance therefore made arrangements for building four new brass mills to be financed by the Defense Plant Corporation and operated under cost-plus-fixed-fee contracts by four leading brass companies—American, Bridgeport, Chase, and Revere. Expansion of existing privately owned plants—particularly Western Cartridge, supplier for the St. Louis plant—was also undertaken, but in 1942 the shortage of brass strip capacity became acute.28
Building and equipping all these new plants during 1941 in competition with hundreds of other high priority projects for scarce machine tools and building materials was not easy. For the First Wave, machine-tool deliveries took almost a year after the orders were placed, and there was nearly as long a delay in equipping the Second Wave plants. Heavy machinery needed for mass production of ammunition was of special design and could not have been built quickly even if machine-tool builders had not been flooded with other orders. At the request of the government, Remington and Western cooperated closely in standardizing equipment and placing orders for machinery, opening a joint office at Frankford for the purpose in November 1940. Intensive efforts were also made to provide an adequate supply of perishable tools at all the plants.29
Shortage of experienced management was another major bottleneck. It was estimated that in 1940 there were in the United States less than one hundred men
with comprehensive knowledge of military ammunition production. To staff the First Wave plants, the small arms industry had spread its executive and supervisory personnel so thin that there was some question as to its ability to take over management of the Second Wave. Ordnance officers were deeply concerned about this matter, for they recalled the failure of many firms to produce in 1917-18. “During the last war,” wrote General Wesson, “a large number of concerns, inexperienced in the production of small arms ammunition, attempted its production and the records show that not one of them ever delivered a satisfactory round.”30
All these factors combined led General Wesson to conclude in the spring of 1941 that, beyond the three First Wave plants under contract and the three Second Wave plants just approved, no further expansion of small arms ammunition facilities should be undertaken. He felt that taxing the managerial ability of the ammunition industry beyond its capacity would jeopardize the entire program.31
The Third Wave
No additional plants were authorized by the War Department during the summer of 1941, but in September, Col. Thomas J. Hayes of the Under Secretary’s office made a comparison of requirements with production capacity and concluded that capacity fell far short of meeting the needs of the Army, Navy, and Air Corps—without even considering defense aid.32 After his requirements figures were confirmed by G-4, Colonel Hayes recommended that Ordnance create additional capacity at once, including facilities for rolling sheet brass. He recognized that copper would be difficult to obtain but did not believe it should be accepted as “the determining factor in this question” in view of the possible savings from converting to steel artillery cases, salvaging used brass cases, and curtailing civilian use of copper.33 General Harris, then acting Chief of Ordnance, was reluctant to undertake this expansion (estimated to cost $225 million if new plants were built) without more definite assurance that copper and machine tools would be available. He cited figures to show that requirements for the new plants, when added to those of existing plants, would total fifty-three million pounds of copper per month, or nearly 18 percent of all copper expected to be available to the United States during 1942. He quoted the Office of Production Management to the effect that this amount of copper could not be allocated to small arms ammunition without seriously curtailing production of other items. But on
November the Under Secretary’s Office overruled General Harris and directed Ordnance to go ahead with the new construction. General Hayes meanwhile reiterated his opinion that curtailment of civilian consumption would ease the copper
shortage and pointed out again that existing plants, even operating twenty-four hours per day seven days a week, could not meet stated requirements.34
Still doubting the wisdom of this decision, Generals Wesson and Harris in mid-November called for a reconsideration of the whole subject of ammunition requirements. They pointed out that facilities sufficient to maintain an army of four million men in the field were under construction and would start producing early in 1942. “By reason of shipping difficulties alone,” they wrote, “it does not appear probable that an American army of 4,000,000 men will engage in combat within the next twelve months either in this hemisphere or in any other theater. This twelve month period will permit filling up the lines of supply and producing a reserve ... sufficient ... for an additional year.” They argued that no new plants were needed, except possibly for special new items, and challenged the validity of the astronomical figures being used for 1942 ammunition requirements. In addition to their contention that four million men would not see combat overseas in 1942, the generals asserted that the established Day of Supply for computing ammunition requirements was far too high and could possibly be reduced by as much as 75 percent.35
While awaiting an answer, Ordnance went ahead with plans to carry out the 1 November directive. To provide the additional capacity as quickly and economically as possible, Colonel Drewry, Chief of the Small Arms Branch, decided to expand existing plants rather than build new ones—and also take into account the fact that the plants were producing from 30 to 40 percent more than expected.36 Space originally provided at each plant for storage of incoming and outgoing materials was taken over for manufacturing. One new building was erected at Lake City and three at Twin Cities. AP cores were produced by the Edison G. E. Appliance Company of Chicago, operator of the Chicago Core Plant, and by Cuneo Press, Inc., and other commercial firms.37 This expansion, generally referred to as the Third Wave, was estimated to cost just under $ioo million and to add about 50 percent to the capacity established by the first two waves.38 While these steps were being taken war broke out with the attack on Pearl Harbor, and Secretary Patterson redoubled his demands for more ammunition. “The combat forces need .50-caliber ammunition more than anything else,” he wrote late in December. “The need is urgent and pressing. ... There is no time to lose.”39
Post Pearl Harbor Requirements
The Ordnance memo of mid-November was answered by the tide of events more than by careful study of production problems. In the hectic weeks following Pearl Harbor the planners reviewed the Day of Supply, the planned rate of mobilization, probable losses through ship sinkings, the maximum production to be expected from existing plants, the time required to build new facilities, the availability of machine tools, the supply of copper, and aid to allies. The British Prime Minister and his staff came to Washington in December 1941 for a series of conferences at which the need for increasing American production goals was forcefully presented. The huge lend-lease requirements then formulated greatly strengthened the case for new ammunition plants, but Ordnance considered them “unrealistic and excessive.” General Harris argued in vain to have the estimates for foreign aid reduced. “But in those days,” he remarked later, “it was practically treason to question anything the British asked for.”40
During January and February 1942 the prevailing attitude among the high-level planning agencies in Washington was that the sky was the limit. There was no time for tediously accurate computations but only for quick and generous estimates. Following the Churchill-Roosevelt conversations in December and the signing of the Declaration of the United Nations on New Year’s Day 1942, President Roosevelt revealed the new production goals in a dramatic message to Congress. The armed
services were to procure during 1942 some forty-five thousand airplanes, forty-five thousand tanks, five hundred thousand machine guns, and “ammunition commensurate to this program on the assumption that these munitions of war are to be used in combat.”41
Under this statement of policy by the Commander in Chief, requirements for small arms ammunition reached dizzy heights, one proposal calling for the production of 122 billion rounds by the end of 1944. General Harris, who as chief of the Industrial Service was responsible for procuring these vast quantities of ammunition, felt that the Presidential advisers, and their British counterparts, were suffering from an attack of the jitters and were asking Ordnance and American industry to do things that were neither necessary nor possible. Conceding that there was an ammunition shortage at the moment, he urged patience and assured his listeners that when the new plants came into production the nation would find that, for the first time since the emergency began, it had “too much, too soon.” “Give us a little time,” he pleaded, “and you will have ammunition running out of your ears.” He and General Wesson warned
that additional plants were unnecessary, would be a waste of money and materials, and would not be able to operate for lack of copper. But these pleas were out of tune with the prevailing Washington mood, and in mid-February, when G-4 commented on the Ordnance memo of 17 November, the existing Day of Supply and the over-all ammunition requirements were upheld. “The quantities contained in current programs,” wrote General Somervell, “are not excessive.”42 The War Production Board gave assurance that sufficient copper would be available, and Ordnance was directed to build eighty more production lines—the equivalent of three new plants—before the end of the year.43 These new lines, known as the Fourth Wave, could produce during 1943 about 5,500,000,000 rounds of .30-caliber or 3,240,000,000 rounds of .50-caliber. G-4 was to determine the proportion of each caliber and type. One hundred more lines were tentatively proposed for the first half of 1943, but it was planned to review the situation again before these lines were finally authorized.44
The Fourth Wave
The 80-line expansion was mostly for .30-caliber ammunition, 51 of the lines being devoted to that caliber. It was designed to increase existing capacity by about 40 percent and bring total yearly production up to 22,500,000,000 rounds.45 Ordnance decided to achieve it by expanding four existing plants—Lake City, Denver, Des Moines, and Evansville—, by converting the Kings Mills plant from .45-caliber to .30-caliber carbine, and by converting five commercial plants that had formerly made candy, textiles, rubber tires, and automobiles. Remington undertook to operate the Lowell Plant in Massachusetts, Kelly-Springfield Tire Company the Allegany Plant in Maryland, U.S. Rubber Company the Eau Claire (Wis.) and Milwaukee plants, and Simmons Bed Company the Kenosha plant in Wisconsin. A new cup plant in Detroit, to be operated by the Parker-Wolverine Company, was added in the fall. Contrary to expectations, most of these plants got into production before the end of the year, Milwaukee and Eau Claire starting up in August, Allegany and Lowell in November. At the year’s end there were twelve small arms ammunition plants in operation, and the peak of the wartime expansion had been reached. (See Illustration) The designed capacity of these plants was about twenty billion rounds per year, but their
Small Arms Ammunition Plants
|1.||Allegany Ordnance Plant||Cumberland, Md.||Kelly-Springfield Eng. Co. (Goodyear)|
|2.||Denver Ordnance Plant||Denver, Colo.||Remington Arms Co.|
|3.||Des Moines Ordnance Plant||Des Moines, Iowa||United States Rubber Co.|
|4.||Eau Claire Ordnance Plant||Eau Claire, Wis.||United States Rubber Co.|
|5.||Evansville Ordnance Plant||Evansville, Ind.||Chrysler Corporation|
|6.||Kings Mills Ordnance Plant||Kings Mills, Ohio||Remington Arms Co.|
|7.||Lake City Ordnance Plant||Independence, Mo.||Remington Arms Co.|
|8.||Lowell Ordnance Plant||Lowell, Mass.||Remington Arms Co.|
|9.||Milwaukee Ordnance||Milwaukee, Wis. Plant||United States Rubber Co.|
|10.||St. Louis Ordnance Plant||St. Louis, Mo.||United States Cartridge Co.|
|11.||Twin Cities Ordnance Plant||New Brighton, Minn.||Federal Cartridge Co.|
|12.||Utah Ordnance Plant||Salt Lake City, Utah||Remington Arms Co.|
maximum actual capacity was close to thirty billion.46
Coming just before the 80-line Fourth Wave, but generally considered part of it, was the Evansville plant in Indiana operated by the Chrysler Corporation to manufacture .45-caliber ammunition. Requirements for this caliber had been low during 1940 and most of 1941, but in August 1941 new British and Chinese requirements necessitated doubling existing capacity. A contract was soon placed with Remington to convert its Kings Mills plant at Cincinnati, Ohio, to .45-caliber production, and in late January 1942 the Chrysler Corporation agreed to convert its idle body plant at Evansville, Indiana, to .45-caliber production. In the summer of 1942 the Kings Mills Plant was converted to .30-caliber carbine cartridges. Between June 1942, when it started producing, and the spring of 1944, when it closed, Evansville turned out over 90 percent of all .45-caliber ammunition produced in the United States. The Sunbeam Electric Company operated a division of the Evansville Plant making cartridge cases.47
The Fourth Wave was the high point for small arms ammunition, so high, in fact, that it was never reached. Plans for one of the plants were canceled before the contract was signed, and during the summer of 1942, as Ordnance had predicted, the shortage of copper and a revision of requirements led to curtailment at all other plants. Because of the lack of copper, Twin Cities, Des Moines, and Utah were specifically directed in June to freeze their production at the level attained in mid-May. In spite of efforts to use steel in place of brass, the copper shortage caused a loss of over one hundred eighty-five thousand rounds in the single month of June 1942.48 Magnesium was so scarce that Ordnance reported its plants were “living from hand to mouth—eating off the stove.”49 Before the Fourth Wave plants were more than half built, substantial cuts were made in requirements. With .30-caliber, for example, requirements for 1942 production were cut back from 8.6 billion in March 1942 to 4.8 billion in September. There were some increases in .50-caliber and .30-caliber carbine requirements for 1943 but they were small in comparison with the cuts in .30-caliber and .45-caliber.50 Total output required for 1942 dropped from fifty-nine billion in February to twenty-three billion in November.51
The Fifth Wave
As early as July 1942 Ordnance submitted recommendations for curtailing 1943 production and making minor
changes in plants already in operation or under construction. The recommendations were promptly approved by the Services of Supply and the Under Secretary and, though calling for reduction rather than expansion, came to be known as the Fifth Wave. Kenosha was canceled entirely; Kings Mills shifted from .45-caliber to .30-caliber carbine; Evansville closed down twenty lines; Allegany and Lowell switched from .30-caliber ball to .50-caliber AP; and additional capacity for .50-caliber was created at Lake City, Des Moines, and Twin Cities. Including other minor changes, forty-three lines were canceled and four added—two for .50-caliber incendiary and two for .50-caliber AP. Planned production for 1943 was reduced by 2,500,000,000 rounds. The period of facilities expansion, which had cost about $500 million for buildings and equipment, was over, and the period of readjustment and retrenchment was beginning.52
The Philadelphia Suboffice
General Campbell decentralized the office force for administration of the small arms ammunition plants in the summer of 1942 by creating the Small Arms Ammunition Suboffice in Philadelphia. It was headed by Lt. Col. Boone Gross and was administratively attached to Frankford Arsenal. Under control of the Small Arms Division in Washington, it coordinated small arms ammunition production in much the same way that FDAP in St. Louis coordinated production of artillery ammunition. Inspection problems and requests for engineering changes were handled by the Philadelphia office in collaboration with Frankford Arsenal. Manufacturing costs at the GOCO plants were studied and compared, and efforts were made to reduce contract prices where the evidence warranted such action.53 In July 1943 the Philadelphia suboffice adopted an incentive plan for determining fees paid to plant operators. This plan provided that the contractor’s fee would be raised or lowered, within specified limits, according to the success he achieved in producing high quality ammunition, lowering costs, and using manpower effectively.54
All the plants were further tied together by industry integration committees. The foundation for this cooperative effort was laid in 1940 when Remington and Western, with Ordnance approval and encouragement, agreed to use identical machinery in the new plants they were to operate. This was long before industry integration committees were formally established in 1942. Remington and Western were soon joined by other contractor-operators, Federal Cartridge, U.S. Rubber, Chrysler, and Kelly-Springfield, and by many concerns making bullet cores, clad metal jackets, tools and metallic belt links, and ammunition containers. These committees held countless meetings to iron out technical difficulties, exchange information,
and agree upon standard engineering practices. “It is impossible to over evaluate the work of the various participating industries,” states the official history of the Small Arms Branch. “It has been brilliant and distinguished.”55
Production Processes and Problems
The number of GOCO plants making small arms ammunition was only one-fifth the number of artillery ammunition plants and works, for it included no smokeless powder or TNT plants, no chemical works like Baytown, nor any loading plants comparable to Kingsbury or Cornhusker. As smokeless powder for rifle and machine gun cartridges was required in comparatively small quantities it was obtained from the powder plants built for artillery ammunition. High explosives such as TNT and RDX were not used at all in small arms ammunition. Nor did manufacture of small caliber cartridges require separate plants for making cases, shells, fuses, or other components, or for loading and assembling complete rounds. Each small arms plant was a self-contained unit wherein thousands of workers—including as many women as men—completed the whole process of manufacture amid rows of huge automatic machines, conveyor belts, and annealing furnaces. Raw material in the form of brass strips or cups, lead billets, steel wire, and smokeless powder came in at one end of the plant; millions of bright and shining cartridges came out the other end.
Description of Manufacture
Operations within the St. Louis Ordnance Plant, largest of the small arms ammunition facilities, may be cited as fairly representative of the production process. Covering an area of three hundred acres and employing more than forty thousand workers, this $130 million plant, operated by the United States Cartridge Company, was the largest employer of labor in the St. Louis area. Its first lot of ammunition was accepted by Ordnance on the day after Pearl Harbor, and during the next four years it turned out over seven billion rounds, including ball, armor-piercing, and incendiary types.56
Each cartridge made at St. Louis, as at other plants, consisted of three metal parts—case, primer, and bullet. The case was normally made of brass and, except for size, was similar to an artillery case. The primer, inserted in a pocket in the head of the case, was a small cup containing a sensitive explosive. When struck by the firing pin it burst into flame and ignited the propellant powder in the case. The bullet was an elongated lead slug covered with a thin jacket of gilding metal (a soft copper alloy) or copper-clad steel and was held firmly in the mouth of the case. Each of these parts had to meet rigid specifications governing its weight, shape, lineal measurements, and exterior finish—specifications that had been worked out during
many years of experiment and been tested by firing millions of rounds at Ordnance proof ranges.57
Cartridge brass came to the St. Louis plant from Western Cartridge Company’s nearby brass mill at East Alton, Ill., in the form of long strips coiled like huge rolls of cellophane tape. The first step in cartridge case manufacture at St. Louis was to feed these brass strips into a blank-and-cup machine that simultaneously stamped out round disks and formed them into cups. These cups were then washed, dried, and placed in furnaces to relieve stresses and strains developed during the cupping process. If not relieved, these metallurgical pressures might cause the case to crack during later manufacturing operations or during storage. Ordnance later transferred this phase of cartridge manufacture to the brass mills as the shipment to ammunition plants of strips containing a good deal of scrap was less economical than shipment of cups.
As they emerged from the furnaces the cups had to be “pickled” in an acid bath to remove the oxide film that formed during annealing. To wash off every trace of surface impurity they were rinsed in cold water, bathed in hot soapy water, rinsed again, and dried. Only then were they ready for the “first draw” during which a long, powerful punch was forced into each cup, making it deeper and thinner-walled—more like a drinking glass than a cup. Four such draws were needed before the case reached its proper length, and after each draw the cases had again to be annealed, pickled, washed, dried, and trimmed. Company inspectors visually examined the cups after each operation to detect crooked heads, scratches, or other defects; they also gaged them for length, inside and outside diameter, and wall thickness. Next came the punching of a small pocket in the head of the case to hold the primer cup, followed by the heading operation that flattened the end of the case, stamped on it the plant initials and year of manufacture, and cut the extractor groove.
The tapering and necking process was far more difficult than it appeared to be. It demanded careful annealing and precision working of the case to give it a narrow neck, sloping shoulders, and a slightly tapered body. Only the body was annealed—not the head, for it had to remain hard—so the cases were slipped into holes in a revolving dial that exposed the bodies to a row of gas burners while the heads were submerged in cold water. The next step was insertion of the primer. The machine used for this purpose first punched a “flash hole” in the primer pocket, then seated the primer to the proper depth and crimped it into place. After shellac and varnish were applied to make the cases moisture-proof, they were dried and inspected. If they passed muster they were ready to be filled with powder and topped with bullets.
The bullets used at St. Louis were innocent-looking metal slugs that appeared to present no difficult manufacturing problems. But in fact their fabrication involved a number of rather intricate steps. The simplest type of ammunition was ball, with tracer, armor-piercing, and incendiary rounds each introducing its own complications. Ball bullets belied their name. They were not ball-shaped but pointed at the nose. AP bullets not only had a pointed nose but also a slight taper or boattail at the base. The only small arms bullet that
even approached ball shape was the .45-caliber.58 The essential material in .30-caliber and .45-caliber ball bullets was lead, but the lead had to be covered with a bullet jacket, normally made of gilding metal. Cutting the lead slugs from lengths of slender wire was a comparatively simple operation, but forming the bullet jacket was something akin to making cartridge cases. Starting with strips of gilding metal, disks were stamped out and formed into cups which then went through a whole series of annealing, pickling, cleaning, and drawing operations before they were ready to be slipped over the lead slugs. As it did with cartridge brass, Ordnance transferred the process from its ammunition plants to commercial suppliers. For armor-piercing ammunition special AP cores of hardened steel took the place of lead slugs,
and only enough lead was used to insure a snug fit. AP cores used by the St. Louis plant were manufactured by the McQuay-Norris Company in its core-making facility within the plant. A tracer bullet consisted of a jacket containing a small lead slug and illuminant powder that burned while the bullet was in flight. An incendiary bullet contained a chemical mixture that ignited on impact with the target.
Assembling the parts of the cartridge was usually referred to as “loading,” although this term did not include insertion of the
primer into the case. At the loading machine the case was filled with smokeless powder, the bullet was inserted in its mouth, and the case was crimped to hold the bullet securely, i.e., the edge of the case mouth was rolled so that it bit into the groove or cannelure in the bullet. The nose of the bullet was then dipped into lacquer of the proper color to identify it as to type—red for tracer, black for AP, blue for incendiary, and so on. Powder was brought to the plant as needed from the Tyson Valley Powder Storage Area, a 2500-acre plot thirty-two miles southwest of the plant site.
All along the line of manufacture and assembly, company inspectors watched for imperfections that might cause trouble when a cartridge was fired. With the aid of mirrors and magnifying glasses some looked for surface defects while others with hand gages checked various dimensions. For inspection purposes the St. Louis plant used over sixteen thousand precision gages and micrometers costing more than half a million dollars. When completely loaded, the ammunition went through a machine that automatically checked each cartridge for weight, length, and profile. At this point government inspectors entered the picture to take samples from each lot for thorough inspection before acceptance of the entire lot. Ordnance considered this sampling technique, known as “quality control,” adequate because employees of the company had already made countless inspections during the manufacturing process.59 In the St. Louis “proof house” more than a million rounds were fired every month to check their performance; some were taken apart to see whether they had sufficient powder; others were soaked in water to test their ability to “keep their powder dry.” Muzzle velocity tests and accuracy tests were also part of the program to maintain quality at a high level. All told, inspections on a typical round numbered more than fifty.
The St. Louis Episode
In January 1943 sensational charges of faulty inspection procedures at the St. Louis plant appeared in a local newspaper, the St. Louis Star-Times. “Unfit Shells Pass Plant Inspection at Factory Here, Inspectors Charge” was the front-page headline on 4 January 1943. “Five company employees have given statements to the St. Louis Star-Times,” the article read, “charging manufacture of defective ammunition. All are engaged in some form of inspection and testing in the manufacture of .50-caliber machine gun cartridges. They say they have direct knowledge of defects in some of the component parts of cartridges produced under their eyes.” Cases with cracked heads sometimes passed inspection, the employees charged in affidavits, and cases with ragged flash holes were passed “if any kind of hole was visible.” Under pressure to speed production, powder was loaded into cases that still retained water after being washed and dried, or that contained grease or oil from production machines. One laboratory worker declared that defective brass had been used for the past month in cartridge cases despite reports of tests showing the defects. Another charge was that the company’s production department approved cartridges with loose-fitting bullets. As Ordnance inspectors at the plant checked only small samples—less than 1 percent
– from each lot of ammunition before accepting it for the government, the employees asserted there was a “strong chance” that defective cartridges were slipping through unnoticed in the 99 percent of each lot that was not government inspected.60 Though not made public, a report of an inspecting officer dated 31 December 1942 cited complaints by employees that foremen had told minor inspectors to violate established practice by forcing gages to provide a greater amount of aircraft ammunition.61
The United States Cartridge Company promptly denied the charges and declared that “bad or imperfect ammunition has not been sent from this plant.” It branded the charges “false and ridiculous” and called for a complete investigation by the government.62 The other newspapers in St. Louis played down the story and suggested it was based on “tavern talk.” On 6 January a spokesman for the Army declared that “no report had been received by the Ordnance Department about defective material from the St. Louis Small Arms Plant during the current situation.”63 The Federal Bureau of Investigation had been looking into the charges for several weeks before 4 January 1943 when the Star-Times broke the story, but after that date St. Louis was deluged with investigators. Maj. Gen. Thomas J. Hayes, chief of the Industrial Service, announced appointment of a board of experts, headed by Col. Merle H. Davis, chief of the St. Louis Ordnance, district, to review the inspection methods at the plant.64 The commanding officer, LL Col. Charles S. Paullin, meanwhile declared that the charges had unsettled operations and held up production.
The Davis Board spent several days studying inspection practices at the plant with a view toward making them as nearly foolproof as possible. It concluded that inspection at the St. Louis plant was neither better nor worse than at other plants and that, if any poor ammunition got through, it was inconsequential in amount. But it recommended more than a dozen changes in procedure to tighten up the inspection process.65 When the report reached Washington it was not made public, but on 16 January Under Secretary Patterson told reporters, “The method of ordnance acceptance sampling and inspection of the finished product at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant is entirely satisfactory.”66 This categorical statement did not satisfy the critics who wanted to know
why, if everything at the plant was satisfactory, the Davis Board had recommended numerous changes in existing inspection procedures. The next day Drew Pearson in a radio broadcast termed the Patterson statement a “whitewash” and predicted that, in spite of Army opposition, the Justice Department would proceed with its investigations.67 In St. Louis General Campbell promptly branded the Pearson charges untrue. “Do you think a man [i.e., Colonel Davis] who has spent his entire life in the Army is going to whitewash any contractor?” the general asked a group of newsmen. “If you do, you don’t know the United States Army. If the experts who investigated the plant here had found the charges borne out by the facts, you would have found us moving in there strongly. We could cancel our contract at any time.” He went on to say that so little defective ammunition had gone to troops that combat commanders had requested shipments of defective cartridges to show their men how to deal with them.68
Not much was heard of the charges during the next ten months while further evidence was collected and presented to a federal grand jury. Then in December 1943 came the grand jury’s report indicting ten persons on charges of sabotage and of conspiracy to defraud the government while employed at the St. Louis Ordnance Plant. With the indictments the grand jury submitted direct criticism of both the company and the Ordnance Department. After studying the voluminous documentary evidence, the jury concluded:
1. That the then authorized system of inspection and delivery to the United States Ordnance Department by the United States Cartridge Company was inefficient and highly conducive to the commission of the infractions for which true bills have been voted.
2. That the system for acceptance of such ammunition on the part of the United States Ordnance Department was inefficient in a like manner as compared to the contractor and not equal to the task assigned.
The jury went on to say that the circumstances at the time “may or may not have extenuated the situation” and further observed that evidence submitted later showed that extensive improvements had been made in inspection procedure and supervision.69
Trial, Acquittal, and Reform
Trial of five of the indicted employees resulted in their acquittal in April 1944. During the trial three of the defendants admitted that they had passed cartridges without adequate inspection but contended that it was done on orders of their superiors. After acquittal of the first group, charges against the others were not pressed by the government. A civil suit filed against the U.S. Cartridge Company, under the False Claims Act, in December 1943 dragged on for nearly ten years before it was finally settled. The company won its case in both the District Court and the Court of Appeals, and in 1953 the Supreme Court refused to issue a writ of certiorari to bring the case before it. The government introduced voluminous evidence to show that the company had not maintained a satisfactory system of inspection and that defective ammunition from the St. Louis plant had caused aircraft guns to jam in combat. In the opinion of the courts, the company had made every reasonable effort to maintain a satisfactory inspection system and could not be held liable for occasional unauthorized acts of a few employees.70
The facts of this case point to the conclusion that inspection practices at the St. Louis plant in late 1942 were neither wholly satisfactory nor as bad as the sensational newspaper charges suggested. Ordnance officers felt the plant was no better and no worse than other ammunition plants, except, perhaps, in the field of employee relations. There was apparently considerable employee dissatisfaction, and Ordnance officers close to the scene felt that at least some of the inspection complaints came from disgruntled former employees or from employees who did not fully understand the elaborate inspection system. Because inspection of ammunition was not a simple, cut-and-dried process but a long series of checks and rechecks employing many ingenious measuring and weighing devices, it was sometimes misunderstood or misinterpreted. Further, as the grand jury pointed out, there were extenuating circumstances. This huge plant was built and put into operation with great haste during a national emergency. The intense pressure to speed production in 1942 may have led some contractor employees on occasion to take shortcuts and push ammunition through without complying with every detail of the inspection rules. It also appears that, no matter how faithfully inspection procedures were observed, they were not foolproof. They were inevitably subject to improvement in the light of experience gained during the first year of mass production. Combat experience in North Africa and Italy in 1942-43 revealed instances of jammed aircraft guns, including some cases when planes returned with all their guns jammed. But whether this resulted from faulty inspection at the plant or from rough handling that broke the watertight liners of packing boxes and caused corrosion was never positively determined.71
Numerous changes were made in inspection methods at the St. Louis plant immediately after the newspaper charges appeared, along with a similar tightening up at other plants. When, for example, controlled studies during 1943 showed that the existing sampling method allowed poor lots to pass inspection in too many cases, it was replaced by the double sampling procedure.72 The need for improvement and standardization was officially recognized by the chief of the Small Arms Branch in May 1943 when he issued a new directive establishing revised procedures to “insure that the methods in use appear to be sound even to the uninitiated observer, the worker in the plant, or the qualified investigator examining the plant.”73 An intensive study of inspection methods at all plants was made during 1943, prompted in part by the St. Louis episode; it resulted in a clarification of standards and publication of numerous manuals to guide inspectors.74
Maintenance of an adequate force of trained inspectors was always a problem. Salaries were low, and the work offered little room for advancement. Selective service took its share of the inspection staffs while pressure to economize on manpower led to widespread reduction of inspection forces. At one point, late in 1943, General Drewry declared flatly that, in trying to turn out “quality stuff,” he was having some trouble. “I feel that this business of cutting too far is wrong and I don’t propose to reduce our inspectors to the point where we can’t guarantee a quality product. I just can’t do it.”75
The St. Louis plant encountered a good deal of difficulty in dealing with labor unions, and in training and employing both white and colored workers. Some Ordnance officers felt that criticisms of employment and inspection practices that arose during the war were motivated in large part by labor elements hostile to the U.S. Cartridge Company. The location of the plant in a border state and in a city with a large Negro population provided a natural setting for problems in race relations.
In 1941 both U.S. Cartridge and McQuay-Norris had not only to recruit thousands of workers but also to train them in the specialized jobs required in ammunition manufacture. Both companies started with a nucleus of their own trained workers and supervisors, recruited new employees, established training schools, and quickly built up large work forces. Frankford Arsenal trained many employees for this and other plants. By July 1943 the entire St. Louis plant employed a total of forty-three thousand workers—thirty-five thousand by U.S. Cartridge and eight thousand by McQuay-Norris. The tight labor market of the early war years forced both companies to hire some workers who did not measure up even to the minimum
standards of peacetime employment. Nearly half the employees were women, many of whom had no previous industrial experience. To use such unskilled employees effectively, work was simplified as much as possible and new employees were given brief but intensive courses of instruction in the specific jobs assigned to them.76
In recruiting Negro workers the U.S. Cartridge Company, in common with other war plants in the area, adopted a policy of following the St. Louis population ratio of go percent white and to percent Negro. During most of the war years the number of Negro workers at the plant averaged between tzo and 12 percent between three thousand and four thousand but there was no intermingling of the two races. All colored workers were assigned to one production unit, under a white superintendent. The other seven units were staffed entirely by white workers. In the colored unit every major craft was represented and Negroes held all positions up to and including general foremen.77
These practices led to a number of racial disputes during 1943 but did not come under strong attack until late 1943 and early 1944 when cutbacks in production schedules forced the company to lay off many of its workers. Charges were then made that, in selecting employees to be laid off, the company discriminated against Negroes. The President’s Committee on Fair Employment Practices (FEPC) held hearings on these charges (and others brought against other St. Louis plants) during the first week in August. It dismissed some of the complaints as groundless but upheld others and on 29 December 1944 ordered both the U.S. Cartridge Company and McQuay-Norris to abandon their quota systems and stop racial discrimination in hiring and firing workers. Referring to the cutbacks in the spring of 1944 when the use of different seniority systems for white and colored workers sometimes had worked to the advantage of one race and sometimes to another, the FEPC declared:
A racial quota system is equally as mischievous when used to select employees for layoffs as when applied with regard to their hire. Executive Order 9346 does not provide that Negroes or other minority groups shall be hired or retained in employment in accordance with population ratios. ... It is no defense to argue, as the respondent has done, that its quota system on certain occasions operated to the advantage of Negro employees and to the prejudice of white workers. The executive order forbids discrimination against white as well as against colored employees.78
By the time this decision was made the St. Louis plant had only about six months more of wartime operation ahead of it. Its notice to terminate came in June 1945. During this brief period the companies took steps to carry out the FEPC policy. They abandoned the quota system of hiring and attempted to recruit members of both races to work together on a nonsegregated basis, but they encountered considerable difficulty in carrying out the program. Operation of the plant on an integrated or nonsegregated basis, and
hiring without regard to race, had to wait until the plant reopened in the early 1950s.79
Conversion from Copper to Steel
During 1941, as the copper shortage took definite shape on the horizon, Ordnance launched a far-reaching program to conserve copper in all types of matériel, including small arms ammunition. There were two main lines of endeavor as far as small arms cartridges were concerned—substitution of clad steel for gilding metal in bullet jackets, and substitution of steel for brass in cartridge cases. The development of clad steel jackets progressed so rapidly that by the fall of 1942 production of the new type jackets was in full swing. But conversion to steel cartridge cases proved to be a much more difficult problem.
Frankford Arsenal succeeded during 1941 and early 1942 in converting the .45-caliber case to steel, and by the summer of 1942 the steel case went into production at the Evansville plant. After thorough testing, it was accepted as standard in January 1943, the only small arms cartridge fully converted to steel in World War II.80 Meanwhile, research on the .30-and .50-caliber cases encountered a host of technical problems, stemming in large part from the fact that steel is less elastic than brass. But the shortage of copper during 1942 forced continued efforts to develop acceptable steel cases. As soon as the new plants, built to make cases from brass, came into production they ran short of brass and had to begin the difficult task of converting their equipment and processing methods to the use of steel. To save time, development work was done on the production lines rather than in the laboratory. Then, just as success appeared to be within reach, the copper shortage eased, requirements dropped, and the whole steel conversion effort was discontinued except for experimental production lines at Frankford.81 The progress made in producing steel cases was, in the words of General Hayes, “a miracle, but not a big enough miracle.”82
As efficient operation of machine guns was impossible without belts or other devices to feed ammunition, a small but essential phase of Ordnance ammunition procurement dealt with production of ammunition belts, both fabric and metallic. Of these two types, metallic belt links were used chiefly in aircraft guns and fabric belts in ground weapons until the closing months of the war when metallic belt links were issued to ground troops. Though they appeared to be simple to manufacture, both types posed troublesome manufacturing problems.
The principal producer of .30-caliber fabric belts for the U.S. Army in World War I was the Russell Manufacturing Company, which held a 1916 patent on a
fabric belt. After the war this concern continued development work in cooperation with Springfield Armory and in 1936 was granted another patent on an improved belt design. Russell was the only source of fabric belts for the Army during the defense period, but in the fall of 1941, with requirements rising fast, Ordnance adopted a modified design to enable other producers to come into the picture without infringing the Russell patent. The need for this alternate design was eliminated after Pearl Harbor when Russell granted the government a royalty-free license for the duration of the emergency. By June 1942 six facilities other than Russell were producing the 250-round infantry-type belt, but of the twenty-eight million belts manufactured through May, 1944, when all production stopped for about eight months, Russell made slightly more than half.
Meanwhile the temporary shortage of steel and of strip mill and furnace capacity in late 1942 prompted the adoption of .50-caliber fabric belts for aircraft guns. As Russell had previously made small quantities of such belts for foreign sale it was in a position to start production promptly. Several other concerns also made fabric .50-caliber belts before the project was terminated in September 1943 because of the easing of the metals shortage and reduction of ammunition requirements. Production of fabric belts for ground machine guns was resumed for a short time after the German breakthrough of December 1944, but in 1945 fabric belts gradually gave way to steel links for infantry use.83
To manufacturers, metallic belt links were deceptively simple in appearance. Each steel link consisted of three small loops, two on one side and one on the other. A belt of ammunition was formed by placing the single loops of one link between the two loops of the other and inserting the cartridge through the three loops in much the same manner as one slides a bolt through the hinge of a screen door. Any number of links could be assembled in this manner to make a long belt of cartridges that had great flexibility and could be rolled and twisted to fit confined spaces in airplanes.84 In addition, the belt links automatically fell apart as the cartridges that held them together were fired and ejected from the gun. Thus the origin of the term “disintegrating metallic belt links.” Though simple in design these metallic links demanded exceptional accuracy in piercing, cutting, forming, and heat-treating to guarantee faultless performance when used in aerial combat. If links were too hard they were likely to break under pressure, and if too soft they might stretch and cause stoppage of the weapon. If either too loose or too tight they would not function properly. As rust or corrosion on links would render them unfit for use, they had to be given a carefully controlled rustproofing treatment before being sent to the field. Rigid inspection was essential to guard against acceptance of a single link that might cause trouble, for it was literally true that an ammunition belt was only as strong as its weakest link.
During the years of peace Rock Island Arsenal was the sole producer of links in the United States. As there was but a trickle of new ammunition produced each year the need for links was correspondingly small, but during 1940 Rock Island turned out about 50,000,000 .30-caliber links and about 15,000,000 .50-caliber. With requirements for aircraft ammunition on the rise, and with a shift toward the larger caliber taking place, Rock Island placed contracts with industry for .50-caliber links, beginning in June 1940 with the Fort Pitt Bedding Co. and three other concerns in 1941. Approximately 150,000,000 were produced in 1941, three times the 1940 output. In the summer of 1941 production of .30-caliber links began at Jackes Evans Manufacturing Company and General Aviation Equipment Company. After Pearl Harbor, requirements for both sizes combined rose to eighteen billion for the 2-year period 1942-43. To meet these astronomical requirements a speedier production process was introduced, using a progressive multi-station die developed at Rock Island in the 1930s, and contracts for link production were placed with many different firms. To speed production and break bottlenecks a Metallic Belt Link Industry Integration Committee was formed in the summer of 1942, and by September 1943 the monthly rate of production had reached more than half a billion. Thereafter requirements were reduced with some contracts being terminated outright and others continued at greatly reduced rates. Early in 1945, after the Battle of the Bulge, there was a brief period of rising requirements followed by contract cancellation as the end of the war appeared in view. Total production of metallic links during the 1940-45 period reached close to thirteen billion.85
Packing Boxes and Cans
Packing small arms ammunition for overseas shipment was a troublesome problem for Ordnance during World War II. The boxes used at the start of the war were essentially the same as those used in World War I—nailed wooden boxes lined with terneplate (tin-coated sheet steel). When soldered shut, the liners of the M1917 boxes provided a tight seal against dirt, water, or air unless broken by rough handling. They had served well in the 1920s and 1930s but proved less suitable for the combat conditions encountered in World War II. Weighing one hundred pounds or more, they were too heavy for troops or native bearers to carry, and, when subjected to rough handling, the boxes or liners sometimes broke, resulting in dirty or corroded ammunition.86
Another difficulty with the M1917 pack was that it used scarce materials, particularly tin. Solder with a lower tin content was therefore prescribed for sealing the terneplate liners, and less tin was used in the liners themselves. Steel was substituted for brass in the nuts and bolts of the boxes, and zinc plating was used instead of cadmium to plate the handles and other box hardware. At the same time, Ordnance engineers studied the possible replacement of terneplate liners with nonmetallic materials such as wax paper, asphalt paper, and plastic film. The most promising substitute, waxed fiber board, was adopted in the summer of 1942, but it did not prove satisfactory and was abandoned a year later.
In peacetime, most ammunition had been shipped in bulk pack, with troops in
as manufactured by S.W. Farber, Inc., in Hist, New York Ord Dist, vol. too, pt. I.
the field responsible for assembling cartridges into clips or machine gun belts. This procedure was soon changed as the using arms demanded that cartridges be put in so-called functional assemblies or ready-to-use packs. Another major change in packing procedure occurred in the summer of 1942 when responsibility for packing ammunition was transferred from Field Service depots to the manufacturing plants. The earlier practice had been for the plants to pack ammunition in cartons and ship it to depots where it was unpacked, assembled into clips, belts, or links, and then repacked.
All during the first half of 1943 Ordnance received frequent reports that the packing of cartridges in M1917 boxes was unsatisfactory, whether in waxed paper cartons or terneplate liners. The chief complaints were of corroded or broken links and dirty ammunition caused by broken boxes or ruptured liners, but the boxes were also criticized as too heavy and hard to handle in the field. Minor changes and improvements were made, but it was not until the closing months of the year that steps were taken to introduce a completely new type of container. Under contract with Ordnance, the Chrysler Corporation and the American Can Company developed a hermetically sealed can that could be opened with a key in the same manner as a coffee can. The new pack, including an improved wooden box holding two cans totaling about fifty pounds,
was standardized for .45-caliber and .30-caliber carbine ammunition early in 1944. It was extended to other calibers later in the year—too late to have any effect on the crucial Allied drive across France in the summer of 1944.87
The best ready-to-use packs were the .30-caliber M1 box containing belted cartridges and the .50-caliber M2 box holding linked ammunition. These boxes were not only packing containers for storage arid shipment but were also ammunition feed boxes and were cheap enough to be expendable. Functional assemblies had such advantages that they were standardized, whenever possible, for future packing of ground ammunition. There was no need for packing aircraft ammunition in such assemblies, for it was removed from shipping containers and stowed aboard airplanes in special trays and feed boxes.88
Packing ammunition, in the M2 boxes brought its share of problems. As the plants were not designed for this work it had to be squeezed into odd corners. One result was that in September 1943 nearly half the eight hundred thousand boxes packed developed leaks. As Colonel Boone Gross summed up the matter, “we had to go out and run a service program and buy new gaskets and then open up the boxes and test them 100%.”89
Surpluses, Cutbacks, and Terminations
As 1942 was a year of shortages, 1943 was a year of surpluses. Production during the first half of 1943 was so great that, as General Harris had predicted early in 1942, the Army had ammunition “running out of its ears.” The pipelines were filled and the monthly production of two billion cartridges was creating a storage problem for Field Service. At both ends of the line—in the plants and on the battlefield—earlier estimates had proven wholly inaccurate. Te plants were producing at a rate far higher than had been expected, and the mobile tank warfare in North Africa called for much smaller expenditure of rifle and machine gun ammunition than had been anticipated.90 In August 1943 the Procurement Review Board reported that the on-hand stock of small arms ammunition in the United States amounted to 2.5 billion rounds, with an additional 1.4 billion rounds—nearly equal to the entire AEF expenditure in World War I—in reserve in North Africa. It observed that the Day of Supply figures were “excessively large,” that ammunition plants were operating far below their capacity, and that reserves of ammunition were “tremendous” and would soon be “astronomical.” The Board bluntly concluded that “the War Department must take steps to bring production of ammunition and stocks of ammunition into the realm of reality.”91
While the Procurement Review Board was at work a representative of the Bureau of the Budget surveyed the small arms ammunition plants and reached similar conclusions. His report revealed that the existence of excess plant capacity was exacting a heavy toll in terms of production costs because the plants were operating far below their capacity. The most significant factor in the cost of production at any plant was found not to be the managerial skill of the contractor or the supervision by Ordnance representatives but the percentage of maximum capacity at which the plant operated. Efficiency rose and costs declined when a plant produced near its peak; the trends were reversed when the plant operated at a low level. The report recommended that five plants—Allegany, Eau Claire, Denver, Lake City, and Lowell—be shut down and that adjustments be made at the remaining plants to provide needed production.92
Before either of these reports was made, the process of reducing requirements and slowing down production had begun. Over-all requirements for small arms ammunition (1943-44 combined) dropped from the 1943 peak of about fifty billion in February to approximately thirty-six billion in September.93 During the summer of 1943 Frankford eliminated its second and third shifts and returned to its traditional role of laboratory for development of improved ammunition and production techniques. In the closing months of the year six plants were shut down—Allegany, Utah, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Lowell, and Scioto—and production rates were cut by one-third at most of the others. When ammunition production stopped, the plants were promptly converted to other war uses, and the machinery was transferred for use elsewhere, put in storage, or sold as scrap. Frankford Arsenal collected a great deal of technical information from every closed plant—re-ports of experiments, floor layouts, production processes, and related material.
Early in 1944 when ASF reduced requirements again, three more plants closed—Denver, Evansville, and Kings Mills—leaving only four of the original twelve plants in operation. At two of the remaining plants—St. Louis and Twin Cities—several buildings were converted to artillery ammunition manufacture. At the same time production of bullet cores at commercial plants stopped almost completely, and deep cuts were made in the schedules of the privately owned plants of the Remington and Winchester companies in Connecticut. Production of all types of small caliber ammunition dropped from nearly 20 billion in 1943 to 6.5 billion in 1944.94 The effect of the 1943-44 reductions is
shown in the following tabulation of monthly production figures for combat types:95
|July 1943||January 1944||July 1944|
|Cal. .45 and carbine||433,000,000||310,000,000||51,000,000|
With the termination notices that went out in November and December 1943 the Chief of Ordnance sent a letter to each plant explaining the reasons for the action. These letters were placed on employee bulletin boards and published in local newspapers. They cited four factors that made it possible to reduce operations—the high rate of production attained by the plants, the virtual elimination of the submarine menace, the effectiveness of .50-caliber incendiary ammunition in downing enemy planes, and the Japanese evacuation of Kiska without a fight. General Campbell made it clear that the war was far from over but explained that the War Department had ordered the reductions because the worst phase of the ammunition crisis had passed.96 He might also have added that the War Department had decided, in view of the huge stocks on hand, to depend on reopening closed plants to meet any emergency that might arise in the future.
Despite these efforts to explain the situation the announcement of cutbacks brought sharp criticism from organized labor, particularly the United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America, a CIO affiliate. In February 1944 the union charged that, in selecting plants to be cut back, the military authorities “are violating all considerations of national manpower allocation, are closing down the most efficient and maintaining in operation the least efficient small arms ammunition plants, and are closing the plants most favorably located from the standpoint of military security.”97 In reply, Under Secretary Patterson expressed regret that more advance notice had not been given to plant management and workers but declared that the Army, far from overlooking manpower, had made it “the dominating factor in our decisions.” He defended the retention of small-scale production at the privately owned Remington and Winchester plants in Connecticut on the ground that these plants “are an integral part of the Nation’s establishment available for the maintenance and continued development of the small arms ammunition art.” In selecting plants to be retained, Patterson pointed out, the Army considered the kind of ammunition manufactured by each and retained only capacity needed to meet specific requirements. The Army’s explanation did not minimize the effect on labor of the 1943-44 cutbacks.98 The small arms ammunition plants in operation in the fall of 1944 employed only one-fourth the number employed in July 1943 when all plants were in production and nearly 170,000 were at work.
Along with the vertical drop in total requirements there were several significant lateral shifts as some types decreased in importance and others gained. The one
most important shift, in terms of quantities, was the decline in .30-caliber machine gun ammunition and the rise in .50-caliber. Early combat experience showed that the smaller cartridge was far less effective, particularly against airplanes, than was the .50-caliber. This shift was accompanied by a rise in the demand for armor-piercing cartridges for both .30- and .50-caliber and for the .50-caliber incendiary cartridge. A newer type, the armor-piercing-incendiary for .50-caliber, came into production in 1943 and in 1944 accounted for more than half the total .50-caliber output. An even more complicated round, the .50-caliber armor-piercing-incendiary-tracer, came into production in 1944-45. Production of incendiary and AP cartridges was far more difficult than production of ball ammunition and created heavy new demands for machines, furnaces, and tools. The new types also had to undergo continuous testing to determine their performance under extremes of heat, cold, and humidity, and to check their stability in storage. Less difficult to manufacture was the .3b-caliber carbine that entered the picture in 1942 and largely supplanted the .45-caliber pistol cartridge, though .45-caliber ammunition for the submachine gun continued unchanged. In 1944 a new type of smokeless powder—called ball powder because its grains were spherical—was adopted for carbine ammunition. A development of Western Cartridge Company, it could be manufactured much faster than ordinary powder. The largest small arms cartridge produced in World War II was the experimental .60-caliber of which six million were manufactured in 1944-45.99
The downward trend of requirements was temporarily reversed a few months following the long-awaited invasion of western Europe in June 1944. After two and a half years of building up stocks and using comparatively little small arms ammunition in combat, the Allied armies launched the climactic campaign of the war and began firing tremendous quantities of ammunition. In the single month of September 1944 the U.S. ground forces used nearly three-fourths as much small arms ammunition as the AEF expended in battle during the whole year 1918. The huge stocks rapidly dwindled, and in December 1944, when large quantities were lost in the German offensive, they fell below authorized levels in the European theater.100 Further, much of the ammunition that had been shipped to overseas theaters in 1942 and 1943 was not available or not usable in late 1944 and early 1945. Lack of transportation, manpower, and handling facilities at Pacific Island bases sometimes made it impossible to retrieve leftover ammunition, and great quantities had deteriorated. In explaining the need for new production General Kirk said:
Ammunition is a perishable commodity. The powder and the primer cap contain delicate Chemical compounds. If the ammunition is exposed for considerable periods of time to hot weather, the chemical compounds will tend to change. The result is that the powder becomes less powerful. The primer is less sensitive and more likely to hang fire. If moisture gets into the inner package the brass will corrode. ... Ammunition stored under good conditions of care for as little as two years in the tropics becomes questionable
for issue in combat. ... Much of the ammunition which was manufactured in 1943 and shipped overseas has had to be stored under conditions which are far from ideal. ... The point is that we may expect that sizeable quantities of ammunition now overseas will have to be replaced with new ammunition. We will not risk American lives with questionable cartridges.”101
By the end of October 1944 supply-control studies revealed greatly increased requirements for the year ahead, particularly for ground force weapons such as the rifle, submachine gun, and carbine. Ordnance promptly forwarded the new figures to ASF, asked for instructions, and commented that it considered the situation “one of the most serious facing the Army Service Forces.”102 There was no actual shortage in the theaters but General Campbell predicted that, if production were not speeded up at once, shortages would develop in the spring of 1945. ASF immediately issued a directive doubling the 1945 requirements for certain types. In contrast to actual production of about 6.5 billion rounds in 1944, the program for 1945 called for 12.4 billion. Schedules for the first half of 1945 called for a 50 percent increase over output during the last six months of 1944. None of the closed plants was to be reconverted to ammunition production, but the Toledo Core Plant, then in standby condition, was returned to full production. The new schedules were met by doubling the output for the four existing GOCO plants—St. Louis, Lake City, Des Moines, Twin Cities—plus Frankford and three plants owned by commercial producers—Winchester, Remington, and Western. In Canada the Dominion Arsenal and Defense Industries, Ltd., were brought into the picture. Capacity for producing brass strip was more than doubled and, to relieve the critical shortage of AP cores, a contract for their manufacture was placed in Canada with the York Arsenal.103
In March 1945, just as the accelerated program was getting into high gear, the production goals were cut by about 20 percent in view of the imminent defeat of Germany. In May, after the actual surrender, the program was further reduced. Two GOCO plants, St. Louis and Des Moines, were given termination notices in June and production at Winchester was discontinued. When the Japanese surrender was announced on 14 August production stopped at all plants except Lake City, where the .60-caliber line continued for two weeks, and Frankford Arsenal, where experimental types were being produced. Then began the tedious process of decontaminating equipment, preparing it for storage or sale, making final payments to contractors, and closing the books on all the plants. Soon Frankford Arsenal was once again the only producer of military ammunition in the United States. The Lake City and Twin Cities plants, with all their machinery and reserve stocks and with equipment from two core plants, were prepared for long-time storage and retained as reserves for the future.104