Ordnance and the (First) World War

Note: This post was intended to be published prior to our 27 October 16 Post, Why did Ordnance Hate the Lewis Gunwhich led to General Crozier and the US Rifle, M1917 “Enfield,” on 29 October. As a result, this post is somewhat redundant and duplicative, but there is further information in it, so we are delivering it today. 

An OCR’d version of Crozier’s book, mentioned below, is available here: Ordnance and the World War 4.pdf.  -Ed.

William Crozier, Chief of Ordnance

In 1920, William Crozier wrote a fascinating book, Ordnance and the World War, about Army Ordnance in the Great War. Crozier had been the recipient of a great deal of abuse from the press, the public, and Congress; despite Congress having appropriated $12 million as early as 1916, Ordnance stuck to a leisurely peacetime schedule until long after the outbreak of the war, and Crozier’s own preferences and enmities undermined war production.

His reason for writing seems to have been, primarily, to defend himself and his branch of the Army from criticism. The criticism was mostly well deserved; it was the Army’s own fault that it had few and obsolete machine guns.

Some times it was not: the Army was expected by the public, the press and the Congress to suddenly manifest the arms of a multi-million-man force after 50 years of austerity budgets. Crozier explained:

[T]here were four subjects, viz.: rifles, machine guns, field artillery and smokeless powder, upon which criticism centered so fiercely and in regard to which misinformation was so rife that the truth really ought to be known about them; especially as they constitute the most important items in the armament of a fighting force.1

We are, perhaps, most interested in the production of small arms, rifles, pistols, and machine guns.

During the prewar years small arms were under one of several functional divisions, with each functional division having full vertically-integrated responsibility for a given class of ordnance, from conceptual design through fielding to overhaul, withdrawal and surplusing. Such coordination as was needed between, say, the makers of artillery and artillery carriages, which were separate divisions, was effectuated by the Ordnance staff or by the Chief of Ordnance himself. Nine months into the war, this wasn’t working, and they reorganized into horizontal functional divisions rather then vertical, what we might call “market,” divisions.

That is, one division, called the Engineering Division, took over the function of design of all the fighting materiel provided by the department; guns, carriages, small arms, and all the rest. Another, the Procurement Division, placed the orders and made contracts for everything. The Production Division supervised the processes of manufacture in all factories; and the Inspection Division passed upon the quality of all materiel and workmanship.2

This change had been proposed by the Top Men brought in from industry, but as it turned out, making war materiel was not quite like making corn flakes; and the principal result of the change was that there was no line of responsibility when things become unglued — which they rapidly did, with every significant project falling far behind overly optimistic projections and schedules.

Difficulties were encountered with the new arrangement. Responsibility for backwardness of output became obscure, and was almost impossible to locate. And after several months of trial the arrangement was abandoned, and the old one, in principle, restored, with some changes of assignment of work between divisions, and some creation of new divisions to meet enlarged duties; also with some arrangements for coordination between divisions, which, in peace time, the Chief of Ordnance had been able to attend to himself.3

The US entered the war with six arsenals, of which four were germane to small arms: Springfield, which concentrated on small arms; Rock Island, which made rifles among other ordnance equipment; Frankford, which produced small arms ammunition , and Picatinny, which made the smokeless powders used in ammunition great and small.4

Before the war, the arsenals had produced most of the Armed Services’ ordnance needs, and when they could not meet those needs in a single shift, they added shifts. In retrospect, this was one of the reasons that the US was so unready for wartime production. Had they met prewar peak needs by contracting with industry, the ability to surge wartime production to much greater than prewar peak needs would have been as easy as adding shifts to factories in running production. NOTE 4. Ordnance would cling to this lesson learned for many decades; it’s why they sought industrial sources in the 1950s and 60s for the M14 and M16 rifle.5

The most important weapon with which nations go to war is the infantryman’s rifle. …

The standard rifle of the American service, popularly known as the Springfield, is believed to have no superior; but our supply was entirely insufficient for the forces which we were going to have to raise. Our manufacturing capacity for the Springfield rifle was also insufficient, and could not be expanded rapidly enough for the emergency. This capacity was available at two arsenals: one at Springfield, Massachusetts, capable of turning out about a thousand rifles per day, and one at Rock Island, Illinois, which could make about five hundred per day.6

That sounds like a lot of guns, but the Mauser-Werke in Oberndorf could turn out 10,000 and even 20,000 rifles a day. Germany averaged about 10k a day for the whole duration of the war, and ended the war with vast stockpiles of rifles and not enough soldiers to carry them.7

Until September of 1916 the Springfield Armory had been, however, running far below its capacity, and the Rock Island Arsenal, or at least the rifle-making plant, was entirely shut down, due to lack of appropriation. At the end of August, 1916, there had been appropriated $5,000,000 for the manufacture of small arms, including rifles. A considerable sum of this appropriation had to be put into pistols, of which we were even shorter than we were of rifles, but the remainder was used to reopen the rifle plant at Rock Island, and to increase the output at Springfield, as rapidly as these effects could be accomplished in the stringent condition of the supply of skilled labor occasioned by the demands of the private factories making rifles for European governments. The dissipated force could not be quickly regathered.8

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Crozier’s document — which aligns largely with similarly self-serving Congressional testimony — was his defense of the charges that he and Ordnance were prejudiced against Isaac Lewis and the Lewis gun, in favor of the dreadful Hotchkiss knock-off, the Benet-Mercié Machine Rifle. But in his book,Crozier denied any animus to the Lewis’s inventor, Col. Isaac Lewis.

In the case of the Lewis gun the charge of prejudice and unfair treatment was made by Col. Isaac N. Lewis, an officer of the army, on the active list at the time when his gun was first presented to the W a r Department, and subsequently retired.

Lewis offered his gun to the Army, for free, under one condition: that it not be tested at Springfield, which made the Benet-Mercié, and would not give it a fair test.

Crozier arranged tests by Springfield Armory, and every one of these tests found that the Lewis, then serving satisfactorily in combat with various Allies, didn’t work, and the execrable Benet-Mercié was superior.

Senator Hitchcock. And you were unable to get any one to overrule Gen. Crozier?

Col.Lewis. Oh,no. He is absolutely autocratic, Gen.Crozier. You gentlemen year after year have been hearing Gen. Crozier’s testimony in regard to the ordnance conditions in the country, and you can judge better the representations he has made than I can.

The Chairman. May I ask you in a general way what is the trouble with the Ordnance Department? You are an old Ordnance officer?

Col.Lewis. No; I am an Artilleryman. I belong to the fighting branch.

Senator Hitchcock. We have inferred that, Colonel.

Col. Lewis. I am still fighting. I am sixty years old, but I am still in the ring.

Senator McKellar. That is plainly evident.

The Chairman. What is the trouble there? If there has been a fall down in this emergency, where is the trouble and what is the trouble?

Col. Lewis. It is primarily at the present time with the man who is Chief of Ordnance. There has not been a new idea or a new development in ordnance in America in fifteen years. We haven’t a new gun to-day in our coast fortifications; that is, new within fifteen years.

The Chairman. Are the methods at fault?

Col. Lewis. It is not so much Crozier as it is Crozierism thet is at fault. That is what this country is suffering from.

The Chairman. Has he developed the Ordnance Department under this present system and method

Col. Lewis (interrupting). Certainly. It is a one-man machine, Senator.

TheChairman. How long has he been connected with it?

Col.Lewis. Fifteen years — I think, sixteen years. I think he has been Chief of Ordnance sixteen years.

Crozier, to his credit, does include Lewis’s entire line of abuse of him in the book, and then counters it. Certainly Lewis exaggerates a little (it was on Crozier’s watch that the Army adopted the M1911 pistol and began examining Browning’s machine guns and BAR). But the enmity between Lewis and Crozier clearly was real.

Who was right? We note that, unlike the US Army Ordnance Department, the British, Belgian, Italian, and Russian services all made the Lewis gun work.


Crozier, William. Ordnance and the World War: A Contribution to the History of American Preparedness. New York: Scribner, 1920.

Storz, Dieter. “Rifles: Mass Production.” 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Daniel, Ute et al. Freie Universität Berlin, Berlin 2014-12-16. DOIhttp://dx.doi.org/10.15463/ie1418.10509. Translated by: Reid, Christopher. Retrieved from: http://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/rifles#Mass_production


  1. Crozier, p. 54.
  2. Crozier, pp. 15-16.
  3. Crozier, p. 17.
  4. Crozier,p.21.
  5. Crozier, p.22.
  6. Crozier, pp. 56-57.
  7. Storz.
  8. Crozier, pp. 56-57.
  9. Storz.

13 thoughts on “Ordnance and the (First) World War

  1. Bush in Oz

    Hognose, This is off topic but I am now off for a Christmas break and wanted to wish you all the best for the Christmas and New Year, and say thanks for what is a magnificent blog and all the work you do pulling together many varied and disparate subjects.
    Also, best wishes to the many commentators who also make this blog a daily must read. It is going to be a warm’ish Christmas down under with forecast temperatures of around 104 F for our region, just the thing for roast turkey, ham, hot chicken and roast veges.
    Best wishes to everyone.


    Bush in Oz

  2. Sommerbiwak

    Tangentially related question:

    Did US Army test the Madsen light machine gun?

    It was of course NIH twice by being from Denmark and not from Ordnance Department, but should have been a viable alternative to the Lewis gun.

    1. Kirk

      I remember something about US testing, googled it, found the article at Small Arms Review, and here’s the paragraph which is pertinent:

      “The first US testing was done at the Springfield Armory on September 9, 1903. A total of 7,163 rounds were fired, during which enough malfunctions occurred to justify the official conclusion that the Madsen weapon had not reached a state of reliability to warrant adoption. Though Lt. Schouboe himself had conducted the firing, he had to rise to a kneeling position to clear stoppages – a condition with which one can certainly sympathize but can be fatal in combat. US special order No. 86 dated August 5, 1921 provided for a further test of the Madsen in .30-06 at Fort Riley, Kansas. Supposedly redesigned, the Model 1919 included provision for both a bayonet and elaborate, detachable flash hider. It was still deemed unsatisfactory. “

      1. Sommerbiwak

        Thank you. :-)

        And in Brazil Madsen are still in active service by the military police…

  3. SPEMack

    The AEF should have carried Lewis Guns, BARs, and M-1917s into battle.

    Sorry. Totally in the Lewis camp.

    Or, better yet, Wilson should have lived up to,his re-election slogan and kept keeping us out of the war.

    Merry Christmas, Hignose. Hope you get plenty of Porter, CZ pistols, and SMD No II snuggles.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, tonight I had pre-Xmas dinner for the Blogbro’s family. The high point of which was when my nephew, who was under the weather, horked on pretty much everything. The Bro came by later for our regularly scheduled airplane riveting session, and he said the poor kid is still sick as a dog, and now he keeps apologizing. If I thought for two seconds he planned to upchuck, I’d accept the apology, but really, the poor kid was just sick.

      Just put Small Dog MkII back on the recliner by himself so I can queue up some posts for the AM, and catch up this week’s posts in Gab.

  4. Keith

    That document on production totals was very interesting. It explains a lot about the ordering from the USA in 1914-17 by the allies and about how Germany was the arsenal for the Central Powers.

  5. Daniel E. Watters

    I recently found some contemporary reviews of Crozier’s book that were published in “Army Ordnance” magazine, one of forefathers of the NDIA’s “National Defense” magazine. The first four volumes are in the public domain, and have been posted by HathiTrust.


    Another thing to note is that the Ordnance Department was back to its functional organization in time for WW2: the Field Service, the Industrial Service, and the R&D Service. You don’t see the transition to “commodity commands” until the mid-1950s.

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