The Army and Economic Mobilization

By R. Elberton Smith | Go to book overview

CHAPTER II
Background of Interwar Planning

Economic Mobilization in World War 1

The experience of the United States in World War I was rich in object lessons for those responsible for the nation's security in future emergencies. Economic mobilization for that war was largely a story of hasty improvisation to meet unforeseen crises and fill the void left by inadequate planning and preparation. When war was declared on 6 April 1917, reserve supplies in most categories of military equipment were practically nonexistent and the Army had no clear knowledge of the character and magnitude of its wartime needs. No definite military plan was available to show the intended size and composition of the Army or the rate of its mobilization. Standardization of equipment and detailed specifications were badly lacking so that prospective manufacturers could not be informed precisely what it was that the Army wished to buy. The Army entered the war with a collection of independent supply arms and services, each with separate statutory powers to determine its requirements and to conduct procurement operations. As a result, there was only a vague knowledge of the war load to be placed upon industry, little semblance of a balanced program of requirements, and much overlapping of procurement responsibility.1

At the level of actual procurement operations, the various supply arms and services engaged in a competitive scramble for the products of industry, basic plant capacity, and contributory resources. This competition, augmented by the independent procurement activities of the Navy, resulted in skyrocketing prices, greatly increased procurement costs, and inordinate profits for manufacturers, middlemen, and speculators. Of even graver significance, the un-coordinated placement of contracts and scheduling of deliveries created heavy overconcentration of the war load in particular plants and areas, congestion of transportation and port facilities, and the near pa

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1
For various accounts and interpretations of economic mobilization for World War I, see the following: (1) Grosvenor B. Clarkson, Industrial America in the World War ( New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1923); (2) Bernard M. Baruch, American Industry in the War ( New York: Prentice-Hall Inc., 1941); (3) William Crozier, Ordnance and the World War ( New York: C. Scribner's Sons, 1920); (4) Thomas Goddard Frothingham , The American Reinforcement in the World War ( Garden City, N. Y.: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1927); (5) William Franklin Willoughby , Government Organization in War Time and After ( New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1919); (6) Harold J. Tobin and Percy W. Bidwell , Mobilizing Civilian America ( New York: Council on Foreign Relations, 1940); (7) War Department Procurement Planning, Ch. I; (8) Lectures by Col Frank A. Scott, First Chairman, War Industries Board ( 1936), eleven lectures, 1925-35 (hereafter cited as Scott Lectures), ICAF Library; (9) Maj James C. Longino et al., A Study of World War Procurement and Industrial Mobilization ( 1 June 1939), MS, ICAF Library.

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