2-year spending frenzies prior to a great war


A diamond of an old journal article!

Some 13,000 military vehicles a month are being built by the automobile industry, with 195,000 already delivered and 60,000 others scheduled for early delivery.

In addition to 5,900 passenger cars and 27,000 motor cycles, the vehicles ordered are 4,500 quarter-ton scout cars from Ford, Bantam, and Willys; 69,000 half-ton pick-up and reconnaissance trucks from White; six-ton and heavier units, from Autocar, Bied-erman, Chevrolet, Corbitt, Diamond-T, Dodge, Federal, G.M.C., International-Harvester, Mack, Marmon-Herrington, Reo, Sterling, and Walters. Practically all military trucks are four-wheel drive, many are six, and others are half-track. The total does not include 37,800 trailers for 2-1/2-ton trucks, being built by Nash.

The reported monthly production was far in excess of what Germany + Japan + Italy ever had while actually being in war. The mentioned orders are in one league with total German production of soft motor vehicles during WW2.

All this even BEFORE the U.S. was even at war.
With such figures, there's no point in blaming a certain event for the U.S. entry into WW2; it can only have been a question of "when, not "if".

It's remarkable how this frenzy of procurement happened in addition to the many British orders and until 1940 also French orders - many of which were taken over by the British in summer of '40.
The U.S. had entered WW1 in part because it had to make sure its debtors were able to repay their debt accumulated during the war; back in '41 the U.S. was manoeuvring into the same quasi-trap again. The huge orders for the own military (the article is but an example) were pointing at an intent to go to war anyway, though.

Another remarkable thing; both world wars started after some powers were building up military power for a long time (such as the French army for decades prior to WW1, the German navy after about 1898, the Soviet Union after about '34, Germany since '33 and more seriously since '35). This does commonly get a lot of attention in writing. What doesn't get so much attention is that both in 1912-1914 and 1938-1939 (1940-1941 for the U.S. and Soviet Union) there was an arms racing sprint on almost another order of magnitude compared to the earlier military power growth. Long periods of much, yet sustainable military spending (such as the old War, which was at least sustainable for NATO and the East Asians) are probably less to be blamed than often done. I suggest to pay more attention to the short-term spending frenzy, for this appears to really point at the expectation of imminent war or the intent to go to war soon.

The article shows how extreme and quasi-warlike such a spending frenzy looks in practice. The country is not yet at war, but it behaves as if it was.

S Ortmann

P.S.: Concerning the title: "I used "great war" in its antiquated meaning; war between great powers. It's what's usually meant when people talk about "conventional warfare", but I found that term to be too unspecific. It also includes incompetence competitions such as the Iran-Iraq war in which both sides competed for the most inept replay of the First World War.


  1. If you check the official history on US war economy you will find that some of the relevant economic decisions were made long before 1941, so a better statement is IMHO that the USA was already economically at war in summer 1941. :-)

    It's an "unfair" statement, because it redicules prudent strategic decisions of the years 1939-1940, i.e. prepare your economy for the war, then get actually involved. The German model was the other way round.

    1. More importantly, the Italian model was the other way around...their poor performance in WW2 was in great part due to the fact that they had spent a lot on their military for more than a decade, but not participated in the sprint since 1938.

  2. Who controls Western Europe, controls the world. After WWI, Britain and France were depleted, so only Germany had to be taken care of. The US achieved this by building up the Soviet Union, which served as a hammer during the war, and as a convenient bogeyman after. French and British quips about their colonial empires being dismantled answered by rattling the bear cage. This worked for 45 years. (Incidentally, that's about how long the Russian "threat" lasted after 1812.) The US has been the "perfidious Albion" since the 1920s, while the propaganda machines spins them as naive freedom-loving cowboys who are dragged into wars by others. Nothing is further from the truth. Iraqi "WMDs" are a perfect example of that.

  3. Being more or less networked with corresponding access has a lot to do with the ability to sprint production. Sea-powers with good sea lines of communication have a pretty good access to most items for mass production because bulk transport from all over the world is almost exclusively by sea. Some minor problems with precision hardware could be solved via smuggling from Switzerland. Continantal powers with uncertain sea lines of communication access will be part of a much reduced material access network. They do need a longterm build-up for a fast continental decision. In this aspect Germany played well during the early stages. After the defeat of France there were two possible routes, take over the Russian resource treasures or fight for sea lines of communication access to friendly nations in Latin America and other places.
    The advantage of Germany as a continental power was the know-how accumulation by conquest. Despite the know-how boost and organized war-economy, mass-production on American levels failed. This has been the case in both great wars, the uninterrupted industrial output of the US won the wars. This industrial output seems to have been very focused on artillery, aircrafts and vehicles plus a great quantity and tonnage of ships.

    Lessons learned would be to develop effective measures to attack sea lines of communication access, in this case of the US. Naval mines with submarines in combined arms seem a promising option. Each on its own will be as limited as a measure as the Second Happy Time.
    Next lessons learned, "mass has a quality of its own" (Stalin) and you need a good and rapid organization of conquered know-how for improving existing designs. Mass does include to rethink design. I worked at a snack bar at the Oktoberfest and while I was able to produce the better roasted stuff, a competitor more intent on selling anything as fast as possible outperformed my earnings. Switching to a different mode is a whole problem of mentality.

    Another lesson learned, humans more willingly cooperate for their benefits, including mutual benefits, than they do under coercion. The US as a nation of immigrants had a major soft power advantage and Nazi-ideology or facism were no match as both of them were stabilizers of internal status quo with outside projection of violence in order to destroy the strong socialist movements that threatened this status. The Soviet Socialism from early on started to commit suicide by the routes taken.

    Preparing for war with these lessons learned means to increase capability for quantity with lowered costs per piece - a mental problem for much of Europe, especially nations such as Germany that would rather overengineer. The second quest is to secure sea lines of communication - a challenge towards which all major European nations, except Germany, provide something (we still discuss some amphibs).

  4. I wasn't aware of the 1912-1914 surge within a surge.

    The whole time period had such extremes of technology change, that likely some of it was inevitable.

    If you look at the mercantile counterpart to the dreadnought, and than submarine, naval power in WW1, most commericial shipping was still under sail until sometime right around the war. The most successful German surface raider was under sail (with auxilary engines).

  5. Soviet Socialism committed suicide by allowing itself to be provoked by the US and failing to demilitarize after the war. Khrushchev, as stupid as he was otherwise, at least tried to do something about it. Brezhnev gave the military industrial complex a free rein. The results are known. Will the US follow the same path?