Appendices - Hirohito's War
ECONOMICS OF THE PACIFIC WAR – THE NEW DEAL MOBILIZED
Tanks, Artillery, Trucks, Ordnance and the Problem of Obsolescence: The problem of obsolescence in mass manufacture of military equipment is illustrated by the manufacture of tanks. The M-4 ‘Sherman’ tank was put into mass manufacture in 1942. This highly effective weapon with the most modern specifications was a world-beater when it was first produced. However by the time of the Normandy landings in 1944 Sherman tanks were massively outgunned by the more modern German designs, developed in response to the intense fighting with the Soviet Union on the wide-open plains of the Russian steppe. It was generally estimated that it took five Shermans to kill one Panzer; a German ‘Tiger’ tank cost more. When this was discovered the Tank Ordnance Centre rushed a new heavy tank design into production, the M-26 Pershing, with which the American Army was able to push across the Rhine.
As with aircraft, artillery, the tank’s static cousin, had seen a quantum progression in technology across the twentieth century. The development of high tensile steel and complex alloys had allowed the construction of barrels that could withstand the shock of ever increasingly powerful propulsive explosive that had been developed by the chemical industry. These technologies were combined with huge advances in milling and casting techniques to produce previously unheard of fine tolerances. Thus by World War II, a medium weight artillery piece could fire a 30lb projectile for 12 miles to hit with an accuracy of 30 yards. It was a measure of their importance that in World War II, excepting death by disease particularly in the Pacific War, artillery accounted for 82 percent of casualties.
Given this effectiveness, it is perhaps not surprising that munitions was the single largest category of military procurement for the American forces, exceeding in cost even shipbuilding or aircraft programs. The number of guns produced was staggering; heavy field guns (155mm and above), 7,803; tank guns, 156,547; anti-aircraft (60-120mm), 49,775; light artillery (37-105mm), 54,532; mortars (60 – 155m), 105,054. The number of tanks produced was 2,464 heavy (50+ tons), 57,027 medium (30+ tons) and 28,919 light (12+ tons). The manufacture of trucks exceeded these numbers by a large factor. US manufacturers produced 812,262 heavy trucks (4+ tons), 428,126 medium trucks (2+ tons) and 988,167 light trucks (0.5 tons). The increased rate of production was equally impressive. In 1942 American factories churned out 24,997 tanks and in the following year increased the output to 29,497. By comparison Japan produced just 2,515 tanks during the course of the entire war, though it needs to be added that most American-produced tanks were not deployed in the Pacific Theater which was topographically poorly suited to tank warfare. America manufactured 257,390 antitank and antiaircraft guns compared to 13,350 produced in Japan. US automakers rolled 2.38m trucks off their assembly lines while Japan managed 165,945. The United States also made 6.5m rifles to use the 40bn bullets produced. In some areas America may have lacked the technological finesse of their German and Japanese counterparts but they made up for this with the production of reliable war matériel in vast quantities.
Quantity aside, tank technology also underwent a transformation as the United States, left well behind in the technological arms race into the 1930s, began to hit its straps two years into the war as investment in research and development turned into product. In the early stages of the war the British found that the 37mm guns on the American tanks they used in North Africa were massively outmatched by Germany’s technologically more advanced weapons. The lack of inter-war technological investment in armaments was clearly shown up; US industry and the Ordnance Department scrambled to develop competitive products with the development of 50 and 75mm caliber cannons for mobile operation. Prompted by a visit by a Captain Crawford of the Ordnance Department, in 1941 Westinghouse Research Laboratories developed gyroscope stabilizers that enabled tanks to fire accurately while on the move. Previously when traversing rough terrain, the shaking of the gun platform was so violent as to make accurate fire impossible; tanks had to come to a halt to fire. Tests showed that an experienced gunner could hit 70 out of 100 times with the new device fitted to a tank moving at 15mph while no hits were recorded without the stabilizer. In June 1941 Westinghouse signed a contract to produce 55 stabilizers per day, a figure that was increased to 125 per day after a decision to increase tank production to 1,800 per month.
Innovations with technically less complex weapons also proved a success. Time magazine reported that “The Jeep positively will not fly but there is a widespread notion in the Army that it can do anything else.”49 It’s four wheel drive combined with an engine providing just 42 horsepower could cover rough terrain at speeds up to 60 miles an hour. The all-purpose vehicle could carry troops, weapons, field communications equipment and cargo, and pull light artillery pieces. An initial order for 4,500 vehicles was soon followed by one for 16,000 units at a cost of US$900 each.