Appendices - Hirohito's War
ECONOMICS OF THE PACIFIC WAR – THE NEW DEAL MOBILIZED
US Aircraft Production: Unlike other industries, the aircraft business enjoyed relative prosperity in the 1930s and was in comparatively rude health when war broke out in the Pacific. In part this was due to the rapid advance of aircraft technology during this period. There were nine major airframe makers (Douglas, Boeing, North American, Lockheed, Consolidated, Curtiss, Republic, Grumman and Bell) who vied with each other to incorporate the latest advances in aeronautical science into their products. A similar technological race was also evident in aero-engines (Pratt-Whitney, Curtiss-Wright, Allison, which was part of General Motors, and Lycoming) as well as in instrumentation (Kollsman, Pioneer and Sperry).
Companies that did not innovate were quickly put out of business. Even the Ford Motor Company, which enjoyed some success in the post World War I period with Tri-motor, an aviation manufacturing venture, it was forced to exit the market after it failed to reinvest in its initial success. The air industry was considered to be the main high technology growth area of the future and as such attracted substantial sums of venture capital. Towards the end of the 1930s the US aircraft manufacturers were also helped by the global demand for their products and technology. Early rearmament in Europe by Britain and France spurred production. America’s production of 3,800 aircraft in 1938 was far more than its industrial competitors. However the figures are somewhat misleading to the extent that 70 percent of production was focused on recreational light aircraft. The technology and manufacturing processes here were not easily transferrable to the military sphere where tolerances and specifications were much more exacting and ‘cutting edge’.
The other unique aspect of the aircraft industry was its resistance to mass production. The scale of unit demand was still limited enough and the technological developments so rapid that almost all components had low-production runs. The result was that planes were essentially hand built bespoke products with no two aircraft of even the same model being produced identically. There were no assembly lines. Aircraft workers put together an airplane, saw it take-off, then tramped back to their hangar to start another. As Henry Ford’s production guru, Charles Sorensen, noted after an inspection of Consolidated Aircraft’s B-24 bomber factory in San Diego, “Here was a custom-made plane put together as a tailor would cut and fit a suit of clothes.”47
William Knudson sought to change this at a meeting in Detroit in October 1940 where he outlined his vision, which called for the construction of ten huge aircraft production facilities in which the mass production techniques of the auto industry could be brought into play. Knudson, who had been appointed Chairman of the National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC) and its successor, the Office of Production Management (OPM), had been a senior Ford executive. He was one of Henry Ford’s bright young men who had helped pioneer the concept of moving assembly line production at the Ford Highland plant in 1913 before being lured to General Motors (GM) by Alfred Sloan in 1931. Knudson gave few favors to his previous employers when he forced them to cut automobile production by half with the aim of bringing output down to 1934 levels. Up to 200,000 people would be thrown out of work pending their transfer to the defense sectors. From 1941 onwards Ford, GM and Chrysler would sustain growth building aircraft, army trucks, jeeps, tanks, armored cars and their related engines and parts. General Motors alone would have 60 plants in 35 cities producing military related goods.
Alongside this, employment in the aerospace industry grew from 500,000 to 2m during the course of the war; production meanwhile grew by 3,000 percent. Operating out of offices at Wright Patterson Air Force base in Dayton, Ohio the Anglo-American Joint Aircraft Committee, comprising senior industry executives with British and American air force officers, coordinated joint ventures and standardized products as well as resources allocation. Thus ten new production facilities for airframes and engines were coordinated into newly formed joint ventures.
Manager Plant Location Plane/Engine:
Glenn Martin Omaha B-26
North American Kansas City B-25
Consolidated Fort Worth B-24
Douglas Tulsa B-24
Ford River Rouge Pratt-Whitney R2800
Buick Chicago Pratt-Whitney R1830
Studebaker Chicago, South Bend, Fort Wayne Wright B2600
Wright Lackland, Ohio Wright B2100
Allison (GM) Indianapolis Lycoming P680
Packard Detroit Rolls Royce ‘Merlin’
The war began a prolific investment boom in aeronautical capacity. It was decided to pursue both air-cooled and liquid cooled engines. The large rotary air-cooled engines designed and built by the Americans were more powerful but larger and less aerodynamic whereas Rolls Royce engines were more efficiently packaged. Packard, with orders for 9,000 Rolls Royce Merlin engines, 6,000 of them for the British, invested US$30m for a new plant. However it would take time to build the manufacturing infrastructure. By October 1941there was a backlog of US$2.8bn unfilled orders for airplanes, engine and parts.
New production methods were adopted. Tom Girdler, a director of Aviation Corporation, a 76 percent owner of Vultee, which took over Consolidated Aircraft in December 1941, threw caution to the wind in building a state of the art 3,000 ft aircraft assembly line along which planes moved as parts were fitted to them. A separate sub-assembly plant delivered wings and fuselage. The plant building B-24 bombers operated on three eight hour shifts a day; it worked six days a week and only closed on Sunday because of a shortage of parts.
Similarly Ford’s Charles Sorensen built a bomber plant at Willow Run, some 22 miles west of its giant River Rouge facility, that was a mile long with more space than the entire pre-war capacity of Consolidated, Boeing and Douglas combined. On its floor stood 1,600 machine tools and 7,000 fixtures and jigs. Overhead conveyer belts carried tail and nose sections. It aimed to be the world’s largest aircraft factory capable of producing an astonishing 1,000 aircraft per month though it suffered considerable teething problems not least because of the increasingly irascible, obstinate and interfering octogenarian Henry Ford. A year late, the plant did eventually turn out a B-24 bomber every 63 seconds and produced 8,685 planes in aggregate. Meanwhile at River Rouge, Sorensen was able to increase capacity from 2,000 engines a day, a level thought to be impossible to a peak of 9,000.
In California eight companies including North American, Lockheed, Douglas and Boeing formed a collective called the Aircraft War Production Council that shared everything from technology to parts. In the spirit of war cooperation the job got done without endless negotiations. Thus when the completion of Douglas’s Navy dive-bombers was delayed by a lack of braiding wire used to eliminate static, North American rushed it over from their stock room. The planes went off to play the crucial role at the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway. Kindelberger recalled that often “planes were delivered ahead of schedule because we threw everything we had into the pot.”48 The issue of post-war competitive advantage was shelved for the sake of the war effort.
In the first year of the war America managed to produce 47,826 planes and came close to doubling that number with 85,898 built in 1943. Between 1939 and August 1945 America produced over 35 percent more aircraft than the Axis powers combined; 303,713 aircraft compared to 111,787 for Germany and 76,320 for Japan. (Remarkably Great Britain produced 131,549 aircraft, significantly more than Germany.) Of America’s total, 99,950 were fighters versus just 30,447 produced by Japan. The weight of production in bombers was even more crushing; America produced 97,810 bombers against 15,117 for Japan.
Knudson’s pragmatic approach worked well though it did produce an ‘ossification’ in product development; when a standard design was signed off and set into mass-manufacturing process, it gradually became outdated. At intermittent stages a new design and manufacturing facility would have to be signed off before an old product could be ditched. This was not a problem confined to the United States. Japan with far fewer resources was much less able to progress along the technological curve than its main enemy. The classic example was the ‘Zero’ that started the Pacific War as the dominant fighter but quickly became obsolete. The addition of more powerful engines and guns simply made it less light and less maneuverable, the attributes that had made it such a brilliant fighter plane in the first place.