Appendices - Hirohito's War
OIL, RAW MATERIALS, AND LOGISTICS: ‘JUST START SWINGING’
Raw Materials Issues of the US Economy: At the start of the war, a US general commented that “The ultimate bottleneck is raw materials. In the final analysis, that is what will decide how much munitions we can produce.”7 In the 1930s, as a result of the Great Depression raw materials had been cheap and plentiful but by 1938 the scramble for resources had become a global issue. Indeed to some extent the idea for Japan’s Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere emerged from the need to ensure supply of raw materials. Also although America was a resource rich country, there were some materials, which were extremely scarce. To a large extent the availability or non-availability of raw materials would determine whether or not munitions could be supplied.
Oil (mainly Californian) and iron ore America had in abundance. However shortages were apparent in aluminum, antimony, chromium, coconut shell char (for gas masks), high grade manganese (steel manufacture), manila fiber, mica, nickel, optical glass (aeronautical and sighting equipment), quartz crystal, quicksilver, quinine (for anti malaria tablets), rubber (airplane and truck tires), silk (parachutes), tin (can, solder, bronze, bearings), tungsten (steel alloys) and wood. Canada could supply nickel and Mexico antimony. South Africa could supply manganese. However rubber and tin came from British Malaya and the Philippines supplied chromium. Silk came from Japan. In May 1940 Harry Hopkins alarmed the cabinet when he told them that the United States had only six months stock of rubber and tin. It was an alarm that turned to near panic when, within six months of Pearl Harbor, Japan had conquered Malaya and Indonesia, which provided 95% of the world’s supply.
In a democracy even acute fears took time to turn into action. Only in June 1941, had Congress been finally persuaded to pass a Strategic Materials Act that authorized the government to begin to stockpile materials. Agencies such as the Reconstruction Finance Company (RFC) were set up to purchase US$300m worth of materials. Such was the importance of these agencies that their heads, such as the tall, over-sized Texan, Jesse Jones, during the course of the war became important power brokers in the Washington firmament. Samuel Lubell, a former Washington Post reporter who was recruited to the Office of War Information by Bernard Baruch, wrote that ‘So vast are Jesse’s powers, so tricky the techniques of financial control that it is virtually impossible for anyone short of a congressional investigating committee to check the RFC’s operations. That, perhaps, is the most important fact about the RFC.’8
The supply of rubber was problematic. Although Henry Ford started a rubber plantation in Brazil and Firestone one in Liberia, these projects failed; as did an attempt to grow rubber trees in Florida. Standard Oil, Dupont and B.F. Goodrich had developed technologies for the production of synthetic rubber but production was limited. Jesse Jones used funds from the RFC to invest in increasing synthetic capacity while at the same time scouring the world for supplies. Even the stockpile of 533,344 tons accumulated by December 1941, according to Jones, ‘the largest stock of rubber that had ever been accumulated at any time in any country’9 was only the equivalent of a year’s peacetime consumption in the United States. At least by then four US companies had broken ground on new plants to produce synthetic rubber. Eventually these new technologies would prove a life-saver with regard to the supply of a product whose limited availability after 1942 could have brought catastrophe to the US war effort. The man who made the essential supply of synthetic rubber possible was Bill Jeffers who was appointed ‘Rubber Czar’; the President of the Union Pacific Railroad was a formidable and fear inducing businessman who brooked no opposition in his determination to provide the military with the rubber it needed.
The politically unambitious Jeffers occupied a suite at the Mayflower Hotel. Famously during his years in Washington, he only left the premises twice for social activities, once to see Blossom Time and once to watch the Washington Senators play baseball. He worked from 8am to 9pm and only left his office to attend the occasional outside meeting. It was a Spartan life that, unusually in Washington, earned him the respect of the media. Almost uniquely among the new men who crowded the Board and Committees of the war, Jeffers shunned the spotlight and never caught ‘Potomac fever’. Under his guidance the government spent US$700m to build fifty-one new plants and increased production from 22,434 tons in 1942 to 753,111 tons in 1944. Once he had done his job, Jeffers returned quietly back to Omaha and his beloved railroad.
Steel was in plentiful supply but was generally low grade from open hearth furnaces. Only 2 percent of capacity was electric furnace that could produce the higher grades needed by the aeronautical industry. Tom Girdler’s Republic Steel, the leader in electric furnaces quickly sought to raise its capacity by 50 percent through the construction of two new electrical furnaces. Bethlehem Steel meanwhile sought to increase production capacity of armor plate that was a product that could only be supplied by four furnaces in the United States.
The supply of each raw material had to be solved individually. With the need for silken parachutes seemingly insoluble, the US Air Force turned to Dupont who had recently developed nylon which had proved to be a smash hit with the development of nylon stocking. Pilots got their parachutes but American women had, for a while to cope without stockings.
As for aluminum there was a basic problem. Not even the aircraft manufacturers knew how much aluminum was used in any given airplane. Thus when Roosevelt issued a call to build 50,000 aircraft it was impossible to estimate how much aluminum would be needed. Availability of supply was also problematic. In 1939 Alcoa produced a record 327m lbs of aluminum that was mainly used in the commercial sector. From where would the additional military demand be supplied? The virtually monopolistic company had little incentive to increase capacity to keep prices low. After much haggling, even consideration of setting up a rival (Kaiser) as a producer, the government agreed a deal in August 1941 whereby Alcoa would build three government owned plants.
Materials sourced from overseas such as chromite from Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and New Caledonia, were held up by a shortage of ships to transport it. Stocks of chromite, used in special steels, built up on the wharves. Cork and kapok supply from the Philippines was similarly delayed. With raw materials in short supply, US industry desperately sought substitutes in the manufacture of consumer products. Thus fridge door edges were fitted with plastic strips instead of rubber. By necessity, manufacturers sought ways to decrease the amount of metal used in any design. A side benefit to US industry was an explosion in new materials and manufacturing processes all designed to save weight and money. One report called it “the most radical innovation in metallurgy since the Bronze Age.”10 Needless to add, the dearth of raw materials and the rocketing prices brought droves of speculators to California, Arizona and Nevada. ‘Old Hand’ prospectors as well as bank clerks, cowboys and petrol attendants out to make their fortune made their way west along with officials from the Bureau of Metallurgy. The new ‘non-precious metal’ rush sprouted new towns such as Tungsten City, reminiscent of the days of the Great Gold Rush.
The sudden boom in defense spending also caught America short of the electrical power it needed. In 1941 the US was not helped by drought conditions that left the Tennessee Valley Dam complex 60 percent short of water. To make up the shortfall Leland Olds, Chairman of the Federal Power Commission, set about raising funds for private utilities to increase capacity by 13.44m kilowatts over five years at a cost of US2.3bn.
While there was an abundance of oil, the same did not apply to aviation fuel. In the mid-1930s it had been shown that high octane fuels produced by a combination of hydrogenation and the addition of Tetraethyl Lead enabled aircraft to operate at much higher compression ratios without incurring ‘knocking’ that reduced power, top speeds and range. More power enabled military aircraft to make shorter takeoffs and gave them greater maneuverability. In 1935 Jersey Standard built the first refineries in New Jersey and Texas dedicated to the production of 100-octane aviation fuel. As Britain fought the Germans in the Battle of Britain, aviation fuel imported from America became the standard drink of Allied fighter planes. It proved a decisive factor in enabling British Hurricanes and Spitfires to outfight their German opponents who did not possess the refining ability to process 100-octane fuel.
In 1940 however, there were only 15 plants in the US that could produce aviation fuel. In addition aviation fuel plants had to compete for oil and investment with the production needs of synthetic rubber plants. As orders and production of planes started to grow exponentially, concerns grew as to where the aviation fuel would come from given that it took 12-14 months to build a new refining plant. Ickes ordered that the production of aviation fuel should take precedence over any other product. The larger oil companies moved ahead with investment even before contracts with government had been signed and in an unprecedented move the refiners cooperated to maximize their plant to produce as much aviation fuel as possible.
By this smorgasbord of measures, Jersey Standard alone managed to increase its output of aviation fuel to 42,700 barrels a day by the end of 1943, a figure that exceeded aggregate capacity for the whole of the United States in 1940. Nevertheless demand increased to such an extent that, in the spring of 1943, there was a cut to allocations both to the US military as well as her Allies. Well might Ralph Davies, the Standard Oil man who had become Ickes deputy, assure the military that ‘everything else will have to be regarded as decidedly secondary…’11
Remembering the collapse in cereal and meat prices in the early 1930s, it had not been expected that food would become a major issue at the start of the war. Shipments to Britain and Russia seemed to show that America was blessed with oversupply; it was something of a shock therefore when food supply verged on collapse during the winter of 1942-3. Although much blame was put on the lack of agricultural machinery and labor, the real reason for the crisis was increased prosperity in the US as well as rising demand from a military, which needed to provide its physically hard working troops with an increased calorific intake. ‘Everywhere Americans saw the specters of food shortages,’12 warned Time magazine at the end of June 1943.
In response Roosevelt set up the War Food Administration (WFA) headed by the president of the Federal Reserve Bank in St. Louis, Chester Davis, a former Iowa farm boy who had become a highly respected commissioner of agriculture in Montana. Complaining of interference from other agencies, he resigned after three months and was replaced by a Texan, Judge Marvin Jones. Meat rationing was introduced. By the end of the year the fears of food shortages had largely abated. Sporadic and localized shortages of certain foods and indeed consumer products in general became commonplace for the remainder of the war. But while the ‘food crisis’ was wonderful fodder for newspapers and a short-term crisis for the politicians but little impacted the health of the nation. The comparison with the near mass starvation in Japan, Russia and later Germany was stark. In Japan, within a few years of the start of the Pacific War, the population was quickly reduced to a subsistence diet of rice and vegetables. Protein in the form of meat or fish was expunged from the diet of all except the lucky elite.