Wednesday, 1 March 2017


It has been said that while amateurs study tactics professionals study logistics. Whether this is true or not, what is certain is that large scale warfare inevitably consumes munitions and supplies in quantities that are always an order of magnitude greater then was ever envisioned in peacetime. 

The difficulties of supplying sufficient amounts of material in wartime are compounded by the lack of attention, and prestige, given to the subject by peacetime armed forces.

One of the other things commonly re-discovered by even the most professional armies when they encounter genuine large scale warfare is the importance and lethality of artillery. The necessity of providing a greater number of artillery shells then was ever imagined seems to be a constant.

The way to provide for munitions on an industrial scale is to bring the national manufacturing base in alignment with the goal of maximum production of the necessary munitions. Writing in his book “Allied Artillery of WWII” Ian V. Hogg notes that in Britain ‘19-ton’ steel was adopted as the standard shell material. It was an industrial grade of steel that could be handled by virtually any engineering shop.

The drawback of this material was that the shell had to have rather thick walls to withstand the forces exerted when being fired. American shells used ‘23-ton’ steel which gave thinner walls which in turn meant a greater percentage of explosive, in general using  ‘19-ton’ steel yielded an explosive content of 8% by weight whereas ‘23-ton’ steel shells had an average of 13% explosives.  In the end the need to provide the necessary quantity of shells overrode any advantages that ‘23-ton’ steel might have afforded.

Modern artillery shells have come a long way from the simple steel and high explosive munitions of World War I. Guided or "smart" ammunition have been developed in recent years, but have yet to supplant unguided munitions in all applications. Modern guided shells offer greater accuracy at the cost of greater expense.

Expense is of course relative. The point at which the cost of a given number of “smart shells” is less than the cost of a greater number of more basic (but individually cheaper) shells to accomplish a given mission is the point at which the guided shells actually become less expensive to use.

This is also the point at which the supply of large numbers of modern shells becomes a necessity in the event of a great or prolonged conflict. Attempting to supply the number of shells demanded by high tempo warfare is a sure way to discover the limits imposed by industrial constraints.

Like the British during the Great War (as it was originally referred to before it became apparent that we were going to have enough of these things that it would be worth using numbers to keep them in order) we are going to have to think about how we are going to manufacture our modern artillery shells with an eye to mass production. If the limiting factor for modern shells is determined to be the guidance systems then it would be advantageous to design systems which can be built by non-traditional manufacturers.

The burgeoning domestic consumer electronic industry may not think in terms of marketing armaments but that does not mean that they could not do so in an emergency. It would be easier to do this if, before the aforementioned emergency, some thought had been put in to designing guidance mechanisms that were compatible with standard, nationally manufactured, electronic components.

It may be that to do this we will have to accept some compromises in capability in order to insure that standard manufacturing processes can be used. But in the event that mass production becomes necessary it will turn out to be a compromise well worth making.

What the Thunder Said by John Conrad

Allied Artillery of World War II by Ian V. Hogg