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Munitions of War

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica

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"MUNITIONS OF WAR. - Under this heading, while it would be impracticable to refer to what was done by all the belligerent countries, the organization of the production of munitions during the World War by the United Kingdom and in the United States, on the one hand, and by the Central Powers on the other, is dealt with. Its history in the United Kingdom is told first.

1.-UNITED KINGDOM The Problem. - When the British army of six divisions took the field in 1914 it possessed about 900 field guns, less than 200 field howitzers, about 60 heavier weapons of 6-in. and upwards and perhaps about 200 obsolescent types, such as the 4.7-in. and the 85-pdr. howitzer, a reserve of ammunition of less than a million rounds weighing some 20,000 tons, and less than 2,000 machineguns. By the end of 1918, the army had received 10,000 field guns, 6,000 other light guns, over 3,000 field howitzers and 7,500 heavier guns and howitzers; 217 million rounds of artillery ammunition weighing 54 million tons and nearly 225,000 machine-guns.

The revolution in the material means of waging war was one which none of the belligerents entirely foresaw. It is true that the German and, to a less extent, the French army had munition reserves on a vastly greater scale than the British; but Germany counted upon a short war, and as she had not made adequate preparation for a continuous industrial effort, her armies were strictly rationed in 1915 while her resources were being mobilized. France was quick to appreciate the significance of the bombardments of the early battles, and in Oct. 1914 set machinery in motion for organizing her industrial resources under the direction of M. Thomas, who was appointed Under-Secretary for War in charge of munitions. For this task France had available a large number of expert officers who had passed through the arsenals, and these were placed in charge of districts in which they combined inspection with control of supplies.

Great Britain, on the other hand, was for various reasons slower to realize the change that had occurred, and in any case had a much smaller trained personnel and equipment for producing land munitions than the continental Powers. The Royal Ordnance Factories were, of course, at once set to work at fullest pressure and in October very large orders were placed with the armament firms who were given very wide instructions to expand their production. Mr. Ernest Moir was also sent to France to report on the schemes of the French Government But time was needed to enable the situation to be seen in true perspective, for Great Britain was faced not merely with the task of providing a new and unprecedented scale of equipment, but also with the need of enlarging the expeditionary force into a continental army. On this last point opinion was slowly changing during the winter of 1914, but even in the spring of 1915 a large section of instructed opinion still urged that Britain's best contribution to the Allied cause was to conserve her economic strength and carry on " business as usual." In this environment the authorities at the War Office, many of whose most experienced personnel had been sent to the front, and who were overburdened by the colossal problem of keeping the army supplied with its most urgent daily necessities, failed to appreciate fully the change needed in the standard of equipment and the sweeping character of the plans that would have to be made for dealing with it. At the outbreak of war, for example, the standard of machine-guns was 2 per battalion and it was not until the spring of 1915 that this was raised to 8 per battalion. At the end of the war the standard worked out at 48 per battalion. As regards ammunition a small increase in the number of rounds per gun per day on which the programme of field-gun ammunition was based was made before Christmas 1914; by the early summer of 1915 the basis was raised to 25 rounds per gun per day for field guns and in Sept. 1916 to 50 rounds per gun per day. One reason for this moderation was that in the early months of the war the officers in the War Office who framed the munition programme constantly had in mind the limited capacity of the country for producing munitions, and it was not until the middle of 1915 that this consideration was abandoned.

1 War Office Policy

2 Armaments and Treasury Committees

3 Labour

4 Foreign Orders

5 Rifles

6 Situation in May 1915

7 The Ministry of Munitions

8 Internal Organization

9 Munitions of War Act

10 The Production Programme

11 Guns

12 Ammunition

13 Explosives and Propellants

14 Trench Warfare

15 Tanks

16 Other Activities

17 Foreign Purchases

18 Financial Control

19 Design

20 The Somme Battle

21 Centralized Administrative Control

22 Control of Steel and Other Materials

23 Foreign Orders and American Intervention

24 Assistance to Russia

25 Internal Developments

26 Inter-Allied Coordination

27 Departmental Reorganizations

28 D

29 S

30 M

31 X

32 0

33 A

34 W

35 L

36 R

37 Allies

38 Man-power

39 Tonnage

40 Inter-Allied Relations

41 The Last Stage

42 Procurement in Time of Peace

43 Military Organization

44 Council of National Defense

45 General Munitions Board

46 Ships

47 Toxic Gases

48 Purchasing Commission for the Allies

49 War Industries Board

50 Labour

51 Government-Owned Corporations

52 Artillery Ammunition

53 Developments in Manufacture

54 Acceptance Conditions

55 Form of Projectiles

56 Painting of Shells

57 Driving-Bands

58 Shrapnel and Shell Shrapnel

59 Iron Bullets

60 Fuzes and Ignition

61 Substitute Metals

62 Explosive Charges and Their Filling

63 Bore Explosions

64 Propellant Powder

65 Gas Shells

66 Special Ammunition

67 Minenwerfer Munitions

68 Grenade Throwers

69 The Production of Munitions

70 Central Management and Organization of Output

71 Austria-Hungary

72 The Adaptation of Industry to War Services

73 Legislation

74 Raw Materials

War Office Policy

This point of view led to a conservative attitude in the placing of contracts. With its staff both at headquarters and in the inspection departments seriously depleted, the War Office not unnaturally clung to old and tried sources of supply and limited its orders during 1914 to Government factories and the armament firms. It relied for increased supplies on extensions to the Royal Ordnance Factories and at the works of Messrs. Vickers and Armstrong's (for ammunition and other munitions), Coventry Ordnance Works (chiefly for field guns and howitzers) and the Birmingham Small Arms Company (for machine-guns), leaving it to the armament firms to obtain any further increase from the engineering resources of the country by placing their own sub-contracts. The immediate result was a big demand for labour from these armament firms, and while this was at first forthcoming, the continued absorption into the army soon made the position difficult. At the request of the War Office, therefore, the Labour Department of the Board of Trade carried out a brisk campaign in Jan. 1915 for the recruiting of labour for these firms. This canvass produced only small results. It brought to light, however, the strong objection of the ordinary engineering firm against permitting their most essential men to be passed on to the armament firms and the demand that contracts should be more widely distributed.

This claim was constantly pressed by the Board of Trade; but during the spring of 1915 the War Office adhered to the policy of dealing only with the armament firms, and continually pressed for labour to be supplied to them. In March, however, the War Office permitted an exhibition of samples of munitions to be held at the central offices of the labour exchanges in the main towns of the country, and as a result a few small con-

tracts were placed with individual firms.

Armaments and Treasury Committees

The nation was, however, rapidly realizing the need for more drastic treatment of the problem, and at the end of March Lord Kitchener appointed an " Armaments Output Committee " in the War Office under the chairmanship of Mr. George Booth, a shipowner and banker.

A week later the Government appointed a committee under the chairmanship of Mr. Lloyd George - known as the " Treasury Committee " - to take charge of munition policy. The " Armaments Output Committee" at the War Office at once became in effect the executive instrument of the Treasury Committee, and one of its first actions was the securing of an order for the Leicester cooperative group. During the months of April and May the Armaments Committee, on which Sir Percy Girouard (a director of Armstrong's) had now joined Mr. Booth, brought into existence several local committees to produce munitions in some cases by cooperative effort and in others to institute national factories to which the various firms would contribute machinery and labour. At first an effort was made to maintain the predominance of the armament firms in certain areas by giving them within these districts a first call on the available engineering labour. Another plan was for the armament firms to " mother " the new contractors and exercise a general supervision over the work of a district. But after much discussion all restrictions in favour of the armament firms were definitely broken down, and by the time the Ministry of Munitions was formed it had become evident that the list of direct contractors must be enormously increased. Following the lead of Woolwich the armament firms thereupon threw open their doors to visiting parties of engineers to learn and study the method of shell, fuze and other armament production.

But while orders could be and indeed had been placed on a large scale, deliveries were not forthcoming. The Armaments Committee endeavoured to deal with some of the difficulties by setting up a machine-tool department in the charge of Sir Alfred Herbert, who at once issued instructions to machinetool makers to give priority to orders in hand for the British Government or for armament contractors. A raw materials section, which was placed in May under the charge of Mr. Leonard Llewellyn, also began an inquiry into the situation as regards copper, brass, aluminium, lead, antimony and spelter.


A still greater difficulty was labour. For several months the Board of Trade had been making great efforts to deal with the labour situation, and in particular to check the recruiting of skilled engineers, both from armament and other engineering works. Lord Kitchener's view on this matter was that any man who wished to enlist should be permitted to do so, and it was not until March 1915 that he accepted the principle that it might be of greater national advantage to retain a skilled munition worker at his occupation in the workshop than to allow him to join the army. A beginning was made in April 1915 by scheduling certain occupations in respect of which the recruiting officers were to discourage enlistment, and by issuing badges to men in armament firms to save them from the pressure of public opinion, which at this time was being exerted very forcibly on able-bodied men to join the army.

But the labour shortage in the spring of '915 was approached not only from the point of view of numbers of skilled men in employment. Attempts were also made to increase production by diminishing lost time, suspending such trade-union rules as restricted output, and admitting semi-skilled, unskilled or female labour to do part of the work hitherto done by skilled men. Up to Christmas 1914 negotiations on these points took place between the shipbuilding and engineering employers and employed, but without result. In Jan. and Feb. 1915 a sudden rise in prices and acute competition for labour between the various Government contractors produced considerable migration of labour and a general state of unrest, which found expression in a series of strikes. On March 15 the engineering workpeople agreed with the employers that, to a limited extent and as experience proved necessary, semi-skilled or female labour might be substituted for skilled labour subject to certain conditions, of which the most important was that the substituted workpeople should be paid the district rate of the men replaced. These relaxations were to be withdrawn at the end of the war.

This, however, hardly went far enough, and, as the result of a series of conferences held between March 17 and March 27, the trade-union leaders signed the Treasury Agreement, under which they undertook to recommend their constituents to suspend restrictive practices for the period of the war in return for an undertaking that the Government would see that the profit resulting from these suspensions did not go to private employers. This agreement coincided with the passing of a Defence of the Realm Act which authorized the Government to " take over " firms engaged on munition work. It was at first intended that this should involve the actual control of the four big armament firms in the same way that the Government had " taken over " the railways. But after negotiations with these firms the idea of handing over their management to an executive committee was abandoned, and the limitation of profits retained as the only substantial element in " taking over." On the other hand, it was increasingly evident that the same rule would have to apply to a far wider field than the four big armament firms. Hence the agreement was not at this time carried into effect, since the trade-union leaders found it difficult to carry out their part of the bargain in practice, while the negotiations with the firms dragged on until the Ministry of Munitions came into existence. The labour situation was complicated during this period by the efforts of various employers to entice away the skilled labour of their competitors, and considerable loss of output was suffered by the migration of labour.

Foreign Orders

At a very early stage the inability of contractors to guarantee prompt delivery led to the placing of orders in America and Canada. These orders, though not very large in amount compared with subsequent purchases, had one important result in the conclusion of a commercial agency agreement between the British Government and Messrs. J. P. Morgan & Co. of New York, who were made solely responsible for the purchase of British munitions in the United States. Orders had been placed by the War Office for 4.7-in. shell and for nitrocellulose powder as early as Oct. 1914, followed in November by orders for rifles, metals and explosives. By the end of the year not only Great Britain but the Allies and the armament firms in all Allied countries were negotiating for munitions, materials or machinery, with the result that considerable confusion and competition existed. Hence, in Jan. 1915, an agreement was arrived at under which Messrs. J. P. Morgan & Co. were made sole purchasing agents for the British Government on the basis of a commission of 1% on all purchases made. At this time the War Office anticipated that the value of these contracts would not exceed 10 millions sterling, but by the middle of the year it was, in fact, approaching loo millions and by the end of the year was over 200 millions. The large commission payable on these orders subsequently gave rise to some criticism; but Messrs. Morgan had in effect to create a munitions department to deal with this immense volume of business without the powers which the War Office and subsequently the Ministry of Munitions exercised in Great Britain. This organization was placed in charge of Mr. E. R. Stettinius of the Diamond Match Company, and the efficiency of its service and the enterprise shown by the commercial agents in protecting the interests of the British and subsequently of the Allied Governments proved of immense service to the Allied cause. The arrangement continued until shortly after America came into the war, when other machinery was needed for obtaining supplies owing to the institution of farreaching control by the American Government.


During these early months public attention was mainly devoted to the question of ammunition. But in fact an even more urgent problem was that of rifles, the manufacture of which requires not only very specialized machinery, but also demands labour of special experience which could only be slowly increased. On the other hand, the number of rifles required for training and equipping a rapidly growing army as well as for replacing wastage in the field was far in excess of the stock in the country. For training purposes old-pattern rifles were repaired and resighted and a considerable number of rifles borrowed from Japan. But the date at which the new armies took the field was largely governed during the first twelve months of the war by the slow but steady increase in the output of service rifles, most of which were supplied by the Government arsenal at Enfield. Early in 1915 the War Office became seriously disturbed at the slow rate of increase in production, and finally orders for a million rifles of a slightly modified Enfield pattern were placed early in April 1915 in America with the Remington Co. which had already been given a large order for rifles of Russian pattern. This order was subsequently increased and additional orders placed, but though delivery was originally promised for the autumn of 1915, the rifles were not in fact available before the summer of 1916 and on arrival were found to need adjustment before they could be issued for service. As the cumulative output of Enfield and of the private firms in Great Britain had by that time overtaken requirements and the wastage in trench warfare had proved less than was feared, none of these American rifles were ever actually sent into the field with the British army. The effect of these orders was, however, that when America came into the war she had available two or three of the largest and most modern rifle plants in the world, which had just come into full production.

Situation in May 1915

By May 1915 it was still uncertain how large a force Great Britain would endeavour to put into the field, and the War Office was still far from realizing the great increase that must be made in the standard of equipment. Substantial orders had been placed at home and abroad; and at home, as a result mainly of civilian pressure, a beginning was being made to place these contracts outside the range of the armament firms. It was, however, fast becoming clear that no contractor would, without assistance, be able to steer through the rising confusion of economic disturbance, and that the Government would have to assist contractors with both plant and material. But the War Office had neither the staff nor the experience to institute effective statistical or technical control over so large a commercial business. A treaty had been made with the labour leaders to abolish restrictive practices and to permit the employment of female and unskilled labour, but the arrangement was not being carried out in the shops. Hence the enormous orders which had been given to the armament firms were not being fulfilled, and subsequent events proved that if the goods had been delivered the inspection, storage, and transit organizations would have been unable to cope with them.

The Ministry of Munitions

The Ministry of Munitions was an inevitable consequence of the failure of contractors g,nd subcontractors to cope with this economic situation, and of the fact that the War Office had not the technical resources, even if it had the will, to create the organization needed for handling so complex and so rapidly changing a problem. It was stated on May 14 by the military correspondent of The Times (approved by G.H.Q., France) that " we had not sufficient high explosive to level the enemy's parapets to the ground after the French practice." It may be noted in passing that, although this comment refers only to H.E., there were two aspects to the problem, namely (1) inadequacy of ammunition as a whole, and (2) the proportion of shrapnel and H.E. respectively to be supplied for field artillery. On the latter question British tradition had always favoured shrapnel, whereas French practice was to use practically all H.E., with their famous 75-mm. field gun.. Experience eventually proved that r8-pdr. H.E. shell, which contained only 13 oz. of H.E., was of little use for destroying deep entrenchments, and it was ultimately limited to use against personnel, against surface works and for wire-cutting.

On the British front the last of these tasks continued mainly to be done by means of shrapnel. Hence, in spite of the fact that, when the initial difficulties had been overcome, the H.E. 18pdr. shell was easier to manufacture in quantity than shrapnel, the British army in France throughout the war fired only 40 million rounds of H.E. compared with 60 million rounds of shrapnel (of which less than 3 million were fired up to the end of 1915). The event in fact proved that the more fundamental deficiency was in heavy artillery firing H.E. shell of large calibre - the standard types of which were ultimately the 60-pdr. shell containing rather more than 6 lb. H.E., the 6-in. howitzer shell weighing loo lb. and containing 122 lb. of H.E., the 8-in. howitzer shell weighing 200 lb. and containing 20 lb. H.E., the 9.2-in. howitzer shell weighing 290 lb. and containing 34 to 52 lb. H.E., and the 12-in. howitzer shell weighing 750 lb. and containing 66 to 105 lb. H.E. In this respect G.H.Q., equally with the authorities at home, were open to the criticism of being slow to see future developments, since at this time they had not put forward any large demand for heavy artillery.

The Times article, backed by the authority of the army in the field, confirmed the growing fear that the British troops were inadequately supplied with ammunition compared with the enemy or even with the Allies. The political crisis which ensued brought the Ministry of Munitions into being, with 1 of 6 Munitions Of War Mr. Lloyd George at its head, and the members and staff of the Armaments Output Committee and of the Treasury Committee as the nucleus of its personnel.

The first year of the Ministry of Munitions was the creative period not only as regards the internal structure of the Ministry itself, but also in regard to its main duties. It was a period in which army demands were defined, manufacturing programmes laid down, methods of dealing with labour formulated and put into effect, large numbers of specialized factories designed for mass production constructed, and devices evolved for exercising control over the industrial life of the country.

The Ministry of Munitions Act, which received the Royal assent on June 9 1915, did little more than create the post of Minister of Munitions. The definition of his functions was left to be fixed by Orders in Council. The Act was therefore followed a week later by an order transferring to the Minister of Munitions the main functions of the Master-General of the Ordnance in relation to contracts and the supply of munitions (including explosives) and the inspection of munitions. The Minister of Munitions was given concurrent power with the War Office under the Defence of the Realm Act which gave authority to take over and regulate the work of any factory. The Minister was also given a general duty to " examine into and organize the sources of supply and the labour available for the supply of any kind of munitions of war, the supply of which is in whole or in part undertaken by him, and by that means, as far as possible, to ensure such supply of munitions for the present war as may be required by the Army Council or the Admiralty or may otherwise be found necessary." In the.. first instance the War Office retained the control of the ordnance factory at Woolwich, the small-arms factory at Enfield, and the Waltham powder factory, and also the right to lay down the standards of inspection to be observed by the inspectors in the factories. Provision was made, however, for the transfer of these or any other functions in the future as might be agreed upon between the Minister of Munitions and the Secretary of State for War or the head of any other interested department, such as the Admiralty.

The ordnance factory at this time and for many months to come was doing the lion's share in supplying the army with munitions, not only because of the volume of its output but even more because its large supply of skilled labour, its staff of technical officers, and the fact that it had drawings and specifications available of all stores in army service, made it the only means of supplying the sudden and of ten small demands which the inadequate and miscellaneous character of the equipment in the field made inevitable. The War Office was therefore unwilling to hand over so vital an institution until the new organization had got on its feet. The transfer was, however, made in Sept. 1915.

Internal Organization

From the outset the work of the Ministry fell into two main sections: that concerned with the supply of munitions and all that this involved in technical assistance to contractors, supervision of inspection, stores, transport, control of materials and regulation of non-munition work; and, on the other hand, the regulation and control of munition labour. These two functions divided the Ministry into two divisions which were housed in separate buildings and developed along divergent lines of organization. The labour section of the Ministry, staffed largely by personnel drawn from the Labour Exchanges Branch of the Board of Trade, developed its organization on civil-service principles, the heads of departments reporting to the Minister through the general secretary of the Ministry, Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith. The business men, on the other hand, who were called in as heads of the supply departments, had a profound distrust of orthodox Government methods and demanded the right of direct access to the Minister. A brief controversy on this point between the general secretary and the director-general of munition supply (Sir Percy Girouard) ended in the latter's victory. This was perhaps justified by the imperative necessity for prompt action; and as Mr. Lloyd George encouraged the heads of departments to act upon their own responsibility on the basis of general instructions, it enabled a large number of activities to be pressed forward at the same time. It had the effect, however, of making the general secretary practically head of the labour sections only of the Ministry; and moreover, as the right of access was secured not only by Sir Percy Girouard (who was succeeded in August by Sir Frederick Black), but also by the deputy directors - Mr. Glynn West (in charge of ammunition), Mr. Booth (establishment, foreign orders, etc.), Mr. Eric Geddes (small arms), Mr. C. E. Ellis (guns) - and by the heads of the departments of explosives (Lord Moulton) and trench warfare (Gen. Louis Jackson, and Mr. Alexander Roger), and as the number claiming this privilege continued to increase, it gave rise to difficulty in coordinating the work of the various sections. Within the first few weeks, these various heads of departments went to the corresponding sections of the War Office, discussed requirements and gave instructions to the contracts department or placed their own contracts, without reference to the programme of the department as a whole. This difficulty was overcome by setting up a " Requirements and Statistics " department, whose primary duty was to be the sole official channel of communication between the Ministry of Munitions and the War Office on all questions relating to supply. Informal discussion was encouraged, but the various departments were authorized to act only on the formal demand from this new department. Since this department had passing through its hands the programme as a whole, it was also given the duty of compiling the statistics of the Ministry and receiving weekly progress reports from the supply departments.

The diversity of experience in organization among the business men also led to confusion in the mechanical arrangements for distribution and registration of papers, and it was some months before the newcomers grasped the essential difference between acting as head of a section of a large public service which is a part of a still greater whole and acting as head of a private business. These defects, which arose from the very qualities which enabled the Ministry successfully to set rapidly in motion and ultimately to control the immense industrial reserves of the country, finally induced Mr. Lloyd George in March 1916 to change his headquarters from the labour department to the main supply department. In March 1916, Mr. E. B. Phipps was transferred from the Board of Education as second general secretary to take charge of the mechanical organization of the supply departments.

Munitions of War Act

The first task of Mr. Lloyd George was to make the country realize that the munition effort must be second only in importance to the work of the army in the field, and must override all such ideas, for instance, as of the importance on economic grounds of maintaining the export trade. Hence during June he undertook a campaign of speeches in the chief industrial centres to prepare the minds of both employers and workpeople for the very great restrictions imposed by the Munitions of War Act.

The chief provisions of this Act (July 2 1915), which brought to a head the developments in the labour situation seen during the first year of the war, may be summarized as follows: - arbitration in disputes as to wages, hours and conditions of service made compulsory; strikes and lockouts prohibited; Minister authorized to declare factories " Controlled Establishments "; profits of these establishments limited by means of a tax known as the " Munitions Levy"; no wage changes to be made in controlled establishments without consent of Ministry; migration of labour prevented by provision that a controlled establishment must not engage a man unless he held a " leaving certificate " from previous employer; Minister authorized to demand statistical returns; Minister given authority to issue badges which protected men from pressure to join the army and to suppress illicit badges; Minister authorized to create corps of war munition volunteers available for transfer at his discretion; Minister authorized to demand removal of labour from non-munition work. The administration of the labour sections of the Act was placed in the hands of " Munitions Tribunals " set up in all industrial centres. The Act had con siderable success in stabilizing labour conditions, and brought to an end the period of unrest.

Almost immediately the Act was passed a strike occurred in the South Wales mines, and it required a personal visit of the Minister to persuade the men to return. But this was the last serious outbreak for a very considerable period.

In regard to female labour and the abandonment of union rules, the objections of the ordinary trade unionist to permitting unskilled labour to do work previously regarded as skilled had been steadily weakening as the shortage of labour became more acute, and as experience of making shells and fuzes on repetition methods spread through the country it became more obvious that the work was unskilled. Finally the disinclination to surrender pre-war practices had largely arisen from the fact that it was impossible to prevent the changes spreading to private work, and in any case it was extremely difficult to distinguish between Government and private work; but as the year proceeded private work fell more and more into the background. Prejudice on the part both of employers and workpeople against the employment of women in engineering work had still to be overcome. The men's opposition to the women was considerably appeased by the decision that women doing skilled or semi-skilled work should be paid the same rate as the men displaced, while the fixing of a minimum wage for unskilled female labour of £1 a week tended to raise the level of women's wages in general and minimize the possibility of men's wages being prejudiced. A department was started to encourage welfare work in the factories, and in many congested districts housing and hostel schemes were initiated. From the passing of the Act the employment of women on munition work increased continuously until the end of the war. In the succeeding six months, the " badging " system of the Minis try (see Labour Supply And Regulation) caused a decided check to recruiting from the engineering factories. Indeed, at a later stage it appeared that badges had been given rather too freely, and many badged men were ultimately released for service. The plan of mobilizing a corps of war munition volunteers met with only a qualified success at this period, and a great difficulty was experienced in obtaining the release of men from the army. This problem was somewhat simplified after the introduction of compulsory military service.

The " Munitions Levy " was ultimately succeeded by the general Excess Profits Duty, leviable on all firms in the country, and the assessment passed from the Ministry into the hands of the Board of Inland Revenue. This Act, which created the powers exercised by the labour section of the Ministry of Munitions, involved a very extensive interference by Government with the liberty of the individual worker, and was the more remarkable since at this date the army was still dependent upon voluntary enlistment. Its passage was only made possible by the clauses limiting private profit on munition work.

The Production Programme

Early steps were taken to ascertain the general requirements of the War Office. But the Minister, in view of the circumstances of his appointment, considered himself in no way bound by these demands, and held that he was free to place such orders as would ensure an enormous increase in the munition-making capacity of the country and also to look very far ahead in placing orders abroad.


The most notable action of Mr. Lloyd George in this respect was in the matter of heavy artillery. In June 1915 a conference on munitions was held at Boulogne, at which French experts strongly urged the necessity of increasing enormously the proportion of heavy artillery per division. Field artillery had practically no effect on deep trenches, and as the whole front had become a vast entrenchment it was necessary to contemplate having in the field as many heavy guns as field guns. Following upon this conference, Sir John French put forward a demand to the War Office to provide for each division and army corps a definite establishment of heavy guns and howitzers 6 in. and upwards. This standard was worked out on the basis of 50 divisions and put forward as a definite demand. In view, however, of responsibilities in other theatres of war and of pressure from the French Government, the War Office was already laying its plans on the basis of 70 divisions. The gun programme, therefore, before being passed to the Ministry was proportionately increased and an allowance added as reserve. On receipt of this demand the Minister early in July allocated these orders among the armament firms and authorized the necessary extensions to plant and the purchase of the large quantity of machine tools required from English and American manufacturers. It was obvious, however, that the scale of the plant to be developed would determine the date at which these enormous orders could be fulfilled. Mr. Lloyd George had at this time urged the necessity of increasing the British military effort to ioo divisions. Partly with this object in view and partly to broaden the basis of the munition output of Great Britain, which was still far behind that of Germany, he increased the programme on his own responsibility in Aug. 1915 to a ioo-division standard, and ordered all the consequential demands for shell, fuzes, explosives, propellants, steel, etc., to be calculated on this basis. This action was much criticized both on the ground of expense and the alleged impossibility of training personnel to man so vast an armament. But Mr. Lloyd George was supported by the Cabinet, though arrangements were in train in the spring of 1916 for handing over the surplus to the Allies and particularly to Russia if and when it matured.

Within a few days, however, of the opening of the battle of the Somme in July 1916, G.H.Q. revised their ideas and put forward an entirely new basis of equipment. The establishment of 6-in. howitzers, which had seemed large in July 1915, was trebled; the demand for 8-in. and 9.2-in. howitzers was doubled, while a new item was added in the shape of heavy long-range guns. When the programme was examined it was found that the surplus orders of the Ministry covered these increased demands for all heavy howitzers except the 6-in. and that only comparatively small additions to the existing gunmaking capacity would be required to enable the Ministry to cope with the whole of the new programme. So complete a vindication of Mr. Lloyd George's courageous action, with its farreaching consequences in the subsequent campaigns, marks it as one of his great contributions to the Allied cause. Indeed, his contention that gunmaking capacity would be one of the vital factors in the campaign was repeatedly confirmed by subsequent events which involved new calls upon British gunmaking capacity. In the first place French experience at Verdun, and subsequently British experience on the Somme, soon showed not only that wastage by destruction would be far larger than had been anticipated, but also that expenditure of ammunition was on so huge a scale that the number of guns worn out and needing relining would be very large indeed. Secondly, it was decided before Christmas to arm all merchant ships with two guns capable of coping with submarines. Thirdly, an urgent and increasing demand arose for anti-aircraft guns, not only on the front but also for the defence of London and many other strategic points in Great Britain. Finally, the development of the use of tanks on a large scale called for the production of an enormous number of guns of small calibre.

Hence it was not until the middle of 1918 that the output of guns of all kinds became sufficient for these combined requirements, and after the output and importation from America of large-calibre shells had enabled heavy stocks to be accumulated, it became necessary to divert some of the projectile factories from shell-making to the repair of guns.


The highly technical processes involved in gun manufacture remained for the most part in the hands of a comparatively few firms. The ammunition programme, on the other hand, with its immense drain on materials and plant, until the end of the war absorbed more than half of the energies of the Ministry and of the munition factories, and was the main cause for the control which was ultimately imposed upon the industry of the country. The shell itself, which at first figured so largely in public discussion, is, as its name implies, merely a container of H.E. or of bullets, and the problem of finding sufficient explosive, propellant, fuzes, primers, cartridge cases and the score or so of other components which go to make up a round of ammunition, proved much more difficult than the manufacture of the shell. The balancing of output, including the appropriate provision of the various metals or chemical substances, was not accomplished without much experience; and as from time to time particular items were ahead or in arrears, the Ministry had to provide for the accommodation of large stocks at all stages of production. The programme thus involved the building-up of a colossal stores organization, the burden upon which was greatly increased by the irregularity in the rate of consumption on the front. Moreover, as the Ministry found it necessary to make itself directly responsible for supplying materials to contractors it became not merely a purchasing department but one of the greatest selling organizations in the world.

The ammunition programme was calculated from the enlarged artillery programme on the basis of the expenditure per gun per day asked for by G.H.Q. But as it was impossible accurately to foresee to what extent new firms or new shell factories would produce the output expected from them, there was added to the net shell demand a margin of 50% in the case of light shell (up to 4.5 in.), which had been ordered largely from inexperienced firms, and 33% in the case of heavier natures, which at first were confined to more experienced firms or new factories built for the purpose. Orders for the former were placed to a large extent through the local committees called into existence by the War Office Armaments Committee or by the Ministry during the June publicity campaign. In some cases the orders went to special factories, in others to cooperative groups, the whole organization being bound together by a local office of the Ministry under a special directorate (in charge of Mr. James Stevenson) at headquarters. The supply of heavier shell was met by orders with armament and other selected firms, but when the programme was increased in Aug. 1915, it was decided that " national projectile factories " should be built for the Ministry and managed by the various experienced firms on a commission basis. These factories, laid out for a special purpose, ultimately proved highly efficient in mass production and enabled an enormous saving to be made in. cost. Additional orders for both light and heavy shell were also placed in America and Canada.

Experience proved, however, that light shell could be turned out much more readily than fuzes and other components, and they began to come forward rapidly and before the filling factories were ready to deal with them. The American share of the programme had also been ordered for early delivery. Hence, by the summer of 1916, an enormous stock of light shell had accumulated, partly as a deliberate policy and partly from fortuitous causes. At various dates, therefore, in 1916 light-shell orders in America were allowed to terminate and output at home cut down, and the machinery partly turned on to heavy shell.

The new artillery programme of July 1916, however, based upon experience on the Somme, not only absorbed the surplus Ministry orders for heavy artillery, but also raised the daily ammunition ration for heavy guns. The Minister was still uncertain what output would be attained in the national projectile factories, which were only then coming into production, and therefore almost his last act at the Ministry was to place large orders in America and Canada, in the two natures in which the biggest increase was asked for, viz. 8-in. and 9.2-in. shell.

Shells could be made in any engineering shop; but explosives could only be handled in factories built for the purpose. Hence, as soon as the ammunition programme was settled the ammunition department set to work to plan and to build a dozen large filling factories, which were rapidly completed and began to handle shell in Feb. and March of 1916. The task of these factories was, however, not merely the technical one of filling shell, making cartridges or filling fuzes, but also that of assembling all the necessary components in proper proportion and of handing to the army in complete condition as rapidly as the Ordnance Department could accept delivery. At Christmas 1915 the organization of these filling factories was divided from ammunition manufacture and handed to a new department. During the spring their work was delayed not only by inexperience, but also by the inability of the technicians to find a satisfactory fuze for detonating amatol filled H.E. shell which would avoid the Scylla of over-sensitiveness, with the resulting casualties to the troops through prematures or gunbursts, and the Charybdis of excessive safety, resulting in " blinds " and ineffectiveness against the enemy. Work at the highest possible pressure at Woolwich at last solved the problem, and solved it so satisfactorily that, a year later, British artillery was probably more immune from prematures, etc., than any other. But the constant change of processes during these critical months held back the factories from getting on with bulk production, and it was not until the middle of May that the Ministry began to hand over large supplies to the army. The date of the Somme offensive was largely determined by these considerations.

Explosives and Propellants

Special steps to develop the production of explosives were taken in 1914 - the problem of increasing the output of tri-nitro-toluol (T.N.T.) and other explosives being remitted to a committee under the presidency of Lord Moulton. Hence, when the Ministry was formed, plans were not only in hand but had already achieved considerable success. Pressure had been put upon gas undertakings throughout the United Kingdom to extract the utmost amount of the by-products of coal distillation at the expense of the illuminating-power of their gas, in order to increase the supply of toluol and of benzol, which Great Britain had begun to supply to France. When the Ministry was formed Lord Moulton's department was transferred, and charged in addition with the supply of propellants. At that time this consisted almost entirely of cordite, of which the supply was fairly ample owing to the large capacity which had been developed for naval purposes.

When, however, the new ammunition programme was decided upon, it was evident that the supply both of H.E. and of propellants would also have to be enormously increased. So far as explosives were concerned it was evident that the world's available supplies were insufficient to enable the programme to be carried through by means of either pure T.N.T. or picric acid. It was known that in theory a mixture of T.N.T. and ammonium nitrate could be made to produce as violent a detonation as pure T.N.T., and that the French army was in fact using a mixture of picric acid and ammonium nitrate. In order not to compete for the supplies of picric acid, it was decided to rely upon a mixture of T.N.T. and ammonium nitrate (amatol), and the design department was set to find a means of satisfactory detonation.

The result of their efforts was that during the war, out of about 625,000 tons of explosive supplied, only 21 0,000 tons (of which 35,000 tons were imported) was T.N.T., less than 80,000 tons picric acid, and the rest ammonium nitrate.

In the case of propellants the stocks and manufacturing capacity for cordite in autumn 1915 were fairly large, and as early steps were taken to increase output its supply never delayed the ammunition programme throughout the war. Its production was, however, limited by the supplies of acetone, and even when an ether-alcohol solvent was used as an alternative to acetone, it was not possible to meet the enlarged programme by cordite alone. The army had accepted as propellant for certain guns a nitro-cellulose powder, which was the standard charge on the Continent before the Ministry came into existence, and since it was not manufactured in England orders had already been placed in America. One of the earliest acts of the Ministry was to place, with Messrs. Dupont of America, enormous additional orders sufficient to justify the manufacturers in making large additions to their plant.

From that date onwards the question between cordite and nitrocellulose continually exercised the minds of the Ministry. The argument for importing finished propellant was the great saving in tonnage involved, since it is necessary to assemble several tons of material for each ton of propellant and nearl y all of the material had to be imported - mostly from very great distances. This advantage had, however, to be balanced against the consideration that, so long as Great Britain remained dependent on a neutral country for a substantial proportion of its propellants, the supplies were out of British control so far as the manufacture was concerned, were liable to serious losses from submarine activity, and in danger of interruption should the United States Government for any reason desire to prohibit the export of munitions. Towards the end of 1916 the last of these considerations assumed considerable importance; and as at that time the use of nitro-cellulose had been adopted for a considerable number of types of artillery, it was decided to commence the manufacture of nitro-cellulose powder in Great Britain. A large factory was projected, but was abandoned when America came into the war.

The novelty of the supply both of explosives and propellants led to the building of large national factories to supplement the limited capacity of the factories in private hands. Indeed, the largest industrial venture of the war was the propellant factory at Gretna, the scale of which is illustrated by the fact that its acid-producing capacity exceeded that of the whole country before the war. As it was considered expedient to build not only out of range of enemy aircraft but also away from industrial centres, it involved building a town to house the workpeople. The factory, which cost £8,000,000 to build, made nearly one-fourth of the cordite required by the army during the war, at a considerable saving of cost.

The relative importance of home sources and of imports of explosives and propellants is shown in Table I, which gives the percentages of the total output during the war: TABLE I.






Picric Acid. ... .





T.N.T.. .. .




Ammonium Nitrate




All Explosives




Cordite.. .








All Propellants




The explosive output involved a greatly increased supply of nitrate from abroad. At first this was readily forthcoming, but at an early date Allied competition led to difficulties in Chile, and later, when lack of tonnage made it difficult to spare ships for so long a voyage, an inter-Allied organization was set up to buy for the Allies in common and to ration supplies. In the last year of the war France met her needs to a substantial degree by the fixation of atmospheric nitrogen; but though a plant for this purpose was begun in Great Britain it never reached the production stage.

Trench Warfare

The stabilizing of the western front led to the employment of a great variety of engines of war subordinate to the artillery, such as mortars, hand grenades, etc., some of which were designed and even produced at the front. These weapons gave great scope for inventive faculties, while the implements themselves did not require the same degree of accuracy as artillery or aeroplanes. Hence they provided an outlet for engineering capacity which was not suitable for more exact munitions, while it enabled civilian enterprise to make substantial contributions on the side of design. The trench warfare department of the Ministry was in fact organized on the principle of setting " design " and " production " side by side. It produced a large number of products which it offered to the army, of which three are of outstanding importance. (1) The first was the Stokes mortar, which was manufactured and sent to the front in spite of a very lukewarm reception by the military authorities. In this case the Ministry proceeded in advance of the sanction of the War Office, but the weapon won its way and became part of the standing equipment in the latter years of the war. (2) The department in the autumn of 1915 experimented with shell filled with lachrymatory gases, and, in the spring of 1916, with poison gases of various kinds. The most powerful of these was at first withheld from use by the army, as the Government was unwilling to go farther in this respect than the Germans; but the experience of the campaign of 1916 finally removed any scruples of this kind. A notable achievement of the trench warfare department in this field was the development of the cast-iron shell as a container for poison gas. This device avoided making an additional call upon the limited supplies of shell steel, and as it could be opened by a less violent explosion than was required with a steel shell there was less likelihood of destroying the properties of the gas and dissipating it too widely. By 1917 the proportion of chemical-filled shell to H.E. shell was rapidly increasing, and as it finally grew from being a small supplement into an integral part of the ammunition programme, the filling of chemical shell was ultimately taken over by the ammunition filling department. In the autumn of 1918, 20% of certain natures and 12% of others were filled with chemical, and the percentage in 1919 would have been immensely greater. (3) During 1916 the department equipped the army with shrapnel-proof helmets, which rapidly became a regular part of the soldier's equipment.


Another feature of Mr. Lloyd George's administration was the commencement of the manufacture of tanks. The design of the first tank was developed (see Tanks) by an Admiralty committee and tested before several members of the Cabinet in Feb. 1916. The design was favourably reported upon by the military representatives present, and a special department was created in the Ministry under Col. Albert Stern to manufacture these new weapons. The secret was well maintained, in spite of the special priority in regard to labour and materials which was given to the manufacturers during 1916. Tanks were first used in the field in Sept. 1916, and thereafter their production assumed its normal place among the other departments of the Ministry.

Other Activities

During Mr. Lloyd George's administration steps were taken to establish a general system of priority not only in regard to machine tools and the use of raw material, but also in all the work done in engineering and chemical factories; but the carrying-out of the scheme in full belongs to a later date.

Foreign Purchases

Within a month of his appointment Mr. Lloyd George sent Mr. D. A. Thomas (later Lord Rhondda) to the United States and Canada to report upon the progress of munition output in America. Mr. Thomas reported that although the commission paid to Messrs. J. P. Morgan & Co. seemed high the work was being well done and he recommended no modification in the arrangement. In Dec. 1915, Sir Ernest Moir was sent to America to exercise a general supervision over deliveries. An organization was set up in New York which kept track of output, followed goods through to port, and reported progress to the Ministry. This organization continued in existence until the end of the war, but became part of the British mission in the United States when America joined the Allies. In Canada Mr. Thomas found an organization in being under Gen. Sam Hughes, the Canadian Minister of Militia, though Gen. Hughes had no direct control over British orders. Subsequently the Canadian Pacific Railway were made agents for the British Government, and their organization developed into the Imperial Munitions Board, which exercised the functions of the Ministry of Munitions in Canada except that of inspection, which remained under an officer in Ottawa responsible to the head of the inspection department in Great Britain.

Financial Control

At the commencement of the war it was evident that in the existing state of uncertainty it would be impossible for Parliament to retain control over the details of expenditure, and from Aug. 6 1914 onwards the money for carrying on the war was voted in the form of unallotted votes of credit, whose distribution was placed in the hands of the Treasury. The latter department, however, at once recognized that it was impossible for the spending departments to submit detailed proposals, and it therefore abandoned the machinery by which it normally sanctioned expenditure. This relaxing of control applied first to direct expenditure for the war, but was soon extended to cover advances to contractors, etc.

When the Ministry of Munitions was formed, similar powers were necessarily conferred upon the Minister except as regards the salaries of officials. Nor was it possible for the finance officers of the Ministry to control expenditure in the sense that they could exercise any influence upon the volume of orders to be placed. It has been stated that at the outset the Ministry placed orders largely in excess of War Office requirements in order to increase munition-producing capacity, and at a later date the Ministry discussed the character of the programme put forward by the War Office from the standpoint of the balance between various demands, the extent to which they could be met from stock, or the limitations imposed by lack of materials, tonnage, labour or other limiting factors. But except as regards the limit of money available for foreign purchases, financial considerations did not, in fact, govern the munition programme.

The task of the financial officers of the Ministry, under the assistant financial secretary (Sir Hardman Lever), was, therefore, confined to ascertaining that the public funds were spent as economically as possible. The limitation of contractors' profits to a large extent suspended the normal stimulus to reduce costs of production, and the first and most important enterprise of the finance department of the Ministry was to develop and impose upon contractors an adequate system of " costing " and cost-accounts. These were developed during the first few months of the Ministry's existence, and enabled the officials of the Ministry to negotiate successfully considerable reductions in prices. This costing system, together with the rapidly increasing efficiency of production through experience of manufacture on a large scale, quickly produced substantial reductions in price as compared with the original sums paid for all classes of munitions. In Aug. 1916 it was claimed by Mr. Montagu in the House of Commons that the Ministry had already saved by this means £20,000,000 on home shell contracts alone and that American and Canadian prices for shell had been reduced 15% and 121% respectively.


A most important expansion of the functions of the Ministry took place in Nov. 1915, when the design department of Woolwich was transferred to the Minister. A new inventions board had already been instituted in the Ministry, but this did not deal with established service articles. It had for many months been a subject of complaint, by those controlling production in the Ministry, that the design department was still working on pre-war traditions and was not sufficiently in touch with the requirements imposed by methods of mass production, nor was it drawing sufficiently upon the experience which was being gained by those actually engaged in this production. The War Office quite properly attached the very greatest importance to questions of d

Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Munitions of War'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica.​encyclopedias/​eng/​bri/​m/munitions-of-war.html. 1910.