Briefing - British Munitions Production During the Great War, 1914-1918
Although the various European powers had been "getting ready" for over a generation, when World War I actually broke out in the Summer of 1914, it soon developed that what were considered generous allotments of ammunition and satisfactory emergency production facilities proved wholly inadequate to the demands of modern warfare.
The principal reason for this was that the armies all based their projections of shell consumption and equipment wastage on the experience of the last major war in Europe, the Franco-Prussian (1870-1971). In that war, Prussian artillery expenditure had averaged only about two rounds per gun per days. Since the war lasted approximately six months, each gun had fired an average of only about 360 rounds. Although no one expected the coming war to last so long as six months, the military planners of the day erred on what they believed to be the side of caution, and decided to stockpile some 800 to 1200 rounds of artillery ammunition per gun, depending upon type and upon the relative wealth of the army in question. Had the war which broke out in 1914 been like that of 1870-1871, these allotments might well have proven adequate. But in 1870 the armies were small, and there was room to maneuver, so serious battles were relatively unusual; during the entire six months of the war there were no more than about 20 days of heavy combat. By 1914 the armies numbered in the millions and there was little room to maneuver. Once they came into contact, the fighting did not cease until 1918.
As a result, those apparently generous stockpiles of ammunition melted away rapidly. Worse, the production facilities which had appeared adequate before the fact, proved not only unable to meet the rising demand for more shells, but insufficient even to replace existing stocks. In consequence, all of the major armies more or less ran out of ammunition by October, after which fighting increasingly settled into the pattern which would remain the norm until mid-1918, trench warfare.
Some notion of the degree to which the combatants had to increase their production capacity may be gained by looking at the British experience. Beginning with what was clearly the smallest munitions industry of the three principal Western Front powers, the British expanded their production to the point that by 1918 they were not only supplying vastly expanded British, Commonwealth, and Imperial forces, but also were lending a equipping Uncle Sam's numerous nephews, who were arriving in France in their hundreds of thousands with little more than the uniforms on their backs.
|British Munitions Production during World War I|
|Type|| 1914|| 1915|| 1916|| 1917|| 1918|
|Aircraft|| .2|| 1.9|| 6.1|| 14.7|| 32.0 |
|Aircraft Spare Engines|| .1|| 1.7 || 5.4|| 11.8|| 22.1 |
|Artillery Pieces|| .1|| 3.4|| 4.3|| 5.1|| 8.0 |
|Artillery Shells|| 500|| 6,000|| 45,700|| 76,200|| 67,300 |
|Explosives (tons)|| 5.0 || 24.0|| 76.0|| 186.0|| 118.0|
|Machineguns|| .3|| 6.1|| 33.5|| 79.7|| 120.9|
|Rifles|| 100|| 600|| 1,000|| 1,200|| 1,100|
|Tanks|| 0|| 0|| .2|| 1.1|| 1.4|
|Note: Figures are in thousands, and omit prototype or experimental items, such as the handful of tanks produced in 1915.|