The Army and Economic Mobilization

By R. Elberton Smith | Go to book overview
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CHAPTER XlX General Aspects of Facilities Expansion

Prewar Planning and the Crisis of 1940

Historians of America's total military and logistic effort in World War II may well agree that the eighteen months of preparation before Pearl Harbor played a crucial if not a decisive part in the outcome of the war. During this period the Military Establishment of the United States was rehabilitated and the foundation laid for America's tremendous war production achievement. The greatest barrier to military preparedness at the time of the crisis of 1940 was the lack of capital facilities, and these required from several months to two years or even longer to create. To have delayed the construction of such facilities until the United States was actually involved in battle might have lost the war before it began.

The facilities problem faced by the War Department in the summer of 1940 was twofold. In order to expand, train, and support its ground and air armies, the War Department had to construct a countless number of receiving stations, camps, and cantonments, airfields, air bases, all their accessories, training and maneuvering areas, general storage and ammunition depots, staging and embarkation facilities, and a host of other establishments too numerous to mention. Facilities of this nature, designed for use in the actual maintenance and operation of the Army, rather than for purposes of procurement, were known as command facilities.

An equally important but vastly more complex problem facing the War Department was the development, in co-operation with industry and the central mobilization control agencies, of industrial facilities for producing munitions of war unprecedented in quantity and complexity. In the spring of 1940 the United States possessed a tremendous industrial potential: it had an abundance of raw materials, a large reserve of unemployed manpower, and the best assemblage of general industrial equipment and technical skills of any country in the world. Yet it lacked the specific equipment for turning out munitions of war.

The desperate and potentially tragic situation facing the United States in mid- 1940 was understood by only a few. Speaking early in 1943, when the ultimate victory of the United States began to be safely predictable, Secretary of War Stimson disclosed our vulnerability at the beginning of the defense period: "We didn't have enough powder in the whole United States to last the men we now have overseas for anything like a day's fighting. And, what is worse, we didn't have powder plants or facilities to make it; they had all been destroyed after the last war."1 The situation

Henry L. Stimson, "America is Ready", Army Ordnance Magazine, XXIV, No. 137 (March- April 1943), 275.


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