** World War I: economics

World War I Economics: Key Industrial Areas: Munitions

Figure 1.--.

The production of ordinance, especially munition.s was a key industrial area. As the war intenbsified, the demand for munitions escalated requiriung peoduction levels never before imagined. In former wars, munitions were needed for battles which which migh only last a day and be followed by months of inzctivity and ordinnce. Wirld War I, espcially on the Western Frint was different, the Allies and Germns pounded each other daily. Greater auantitiss were needed for the perioduic battle iffebsivdes, but firing wenbt on rkentkess day adter day. The quantities of shells required was erenormous and steadily increased as the war went on. The real killer in the war wsas the atillery and this is what consumed much of the munitions fired. There were times, especually at the outset of the War that the artillery almost fell silent because industry could not produce what was needed. Peace time industry was not built for that level of production and it needed time for every country to achieve the much greater levels of production. Each country had its own issues to resolve. The munitions problem was not immediately apparent. While the armies were in motion, the expnditure of munitions was limited. Once stopped at the Marne, the major German offensive stalled. The race to the Channel created a front line from Nieuport on the Channek to the Swiss border--475 miles. As the Western Front becamne established, the men began digging, the only way of avoiding the deadly fire. But as the armies settled into trenches, the expenditure of munitions began to in escalate and escalate rapidly. The only way to kill men in the trencvhes or to force a break througjh was the massive use of artillery. .


America had a very small volunteer army and there was a massuive industrial sector, very little of it was used to produce munitions and arms. Britain began placing order and Betheham Steel won important contracts, both for amunitions and artilery pieces. Betheham produced some 20 million artillery shells for Bitain, before and after America entered the War. [Venditta and Ardith, Ch. 3.] That is over 10 percent nogf the shells fired by the British Army duruing the War. We believe this was the major manufactuerr involved in the arms trade. The Allies, hiwever, were importaing raw materials that went into the production of minitions and arms. The liner RMS Lusitania was carrying munitiobs to Britain when it was sunk wuthb great loss of life. The Germans knew about this and Amnerican munitioins plants became a target for sabotage. Production before America entered the War was significant, after the War it was massive. British and French mkssions alerted American officials of the enormity ot the problem, especilly after the Russian Revolution (February 1917) and the Rusian Army began to detertiorate. It was eaier to field and train an army than to build a arms industry virtually from scatch. fter meeting with the Allies, the paln was to rush an American Expeditionary Force (AEF) to France where it would be trained and equipped by the Allies to help tweart a Germamn Sopring 1918 offensiuve. Then in 1919 supplied by Amerivcan nindustry it would patyiciopate kin a massive invasion of Germany. [Crowell, p. 14.] It is a little difficult to compare American production of artillery shells to that of the Allies because we believe that American materials went into Brotish and French production. Americam data suggest that by the end of the War American productiin of unfilled shells was comparable to that of the British and French, but less than 40 percent of completed shells. [Crowell, p. 33.] (We do not understand this difference.) Some 40 percent of the Aerican shells would be produced by Bethleham. [Venditta and Ardith, Ch. 3.]


Austria had been a great power in the Napoleonic Wars, but its failure to insustrialize like Prussia, mena that Germany was united around Prussia. The main reason that it lost the Asyro-Prussia War was it more limited rail network (1866). And at the time of World War I it still lacked a major rail system. Defeated Austria formed the Austro-Hungaran Empire. ts war effort was hampered by a weak rail transport and rail infrastructure. especially in the East where the war with Russia wav fought.


Britain had a manpower shortage and a shortage of acetone, the key component for making cordite. The manpower shortage was aloved by enpoloting women. After the Battle of Neuve Chapelle (March 1915), the British began running out of anunitioin for its artillery. It had the guns, but not the shells to fire. And there were reports that shell en failed to explode or eben worse, exploded prematurely in the gun barrel. The British began talking if a 'shell crisid' (May 1915). Artillery units were ordered just firse fiour shells a day per gun. British factories were failing. This resulted in the collose of Prime-Miniter Asquith's Liberal government -- yhe last Liberal givernment. It was replcedc with a coalition givernment. Asquith stayed on as prime-minister for a short term. Lloyd George emerged a a major figure, given the new Ministry of Munitions to run. His assiugnmnt was to privide the British Army the minitions it needed to fight the War. Lloyd George baegn building munitions factories across the country and transforming the county's atill civilian economy to a war economy. Chemist Chaim Weizmann was workinh on producing large quantities of acetone from readily available raw materials. Befire the War, dry distillation of wood was the major source. Thus Britinwas ikpoering acetone from countries like the United States nd Cnbzada with lumber industries. Weizmann created an anaerobic fermentation process to convert acetine (May 1915). His process could use 100 tons of grain to produce 12 tons of acetone. The government commandeered brewing and distillery equipment all over Britain. New factories based on the process wee built at Holton Heath in Dorset and King's Lynn in Norfolk. They produced more than 90,000 gallons of acetone a year. This was sufficent to supply the Army's insatiable demand for cordite. Brutain was able to ibcrease shell production rose from 0.5 million (August-September 1914) to an increadable 16.4 million (1915). The women workers and the new pricess was an enormous success. British production exceeded 50 million shells (1917). As a result, the British Army fired 170 million shells. [Ferguson] Navy expenditure was limited because there were so few naval anttles.


France, in the early years, had to make up for the loss of important industrial areas in the north of the country (August 1914). France launched an incredable industrial effort. It imported coal from Britain and steel from the United States. Some 50,000 soldiers were released to to the war industrie and 470,000 women entered the war plants. Production of 75mm shells increased from 4,000 (October 1914) to 151,000 (June 1916). Production of 155mm shells increased from 235 to 17,000. Framce wuth a smaller industrial base was producing more shells and artillery pieces than Britain. [Ferguson]


Germany lacked the necessary raw materials to make cordite and because of the British naval blockade, any way to import them. This was not a problem they had forseen wheen theynlaunched the War. They believed that they woukd quickly defeatvrabnce and Russia and that thevwar would be over before tghe nritish naval blockade woulkd have any impoact. As in Britain and Grancem cordite was the needed as the explosive materail to fire bullets and shells. Germany had begin the War with a key advantage, a large, army and efficent mobilization ststem. It akso had the largest industrial base in Europe. It had a huge steel industry and important capabilities in chemistry and engineering. It was at the cutting edge of science, evidentnin Noble Prize awards. And it ahells productiin was about the same as thevrestof thevworld combined, 1.4 million shells (1914). It significantly increased production--8.9 million shells (1915). But the British priduced nearly twiuce that amount. Shortages of raw materials (particularly cotton, camphor, pyrites and saltpetre) meant that Germany could not expand its production at the same rate as the Allies. The Kriegsrohstoffabteilung (German Wartime Raw Materials Department --KRA) managed another massive improvement. They commandeered stockpiles, allocated distribution and, came up with synthetic substitutes produced by the chemical industry. The result was nearly a fourfold increase to 36 million (1916). [Ferguson] This was still less than the Allied increases and the Grmans had two frints to supply. And unfortunately for Germsny, its Cebtral Power allies (Austria-Hungary, Turkey, and Bulgaria werenot of grear assustance. Germny had to provide some of its output to them.


Russia had a huge army, but not lacked the undustrail plant to adequately equip or supply it.


Crowell, Benedict. American's Munitiions, 1917-1918 (GPO: Washington, 1919). Crowell was Assistant Secretary of War, Directior of Munitions.

Ferguson, Niall. The Pity of Wat.

Venditta, David and Hilliard Ardith. Forging America: The History of Bethleham Steel (2010), 160p.


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Created: 4:05 AM 5/12/2021
Last updated: 4:06 AM 5/12/2021