Alan Gropman

What do we mean by our title: The Big "L"? We mean we intend to examine World War II logistics from a broad viewpoint. Here are some definitions of logistics indicating the expanse of the expression. "Logistics is a system established to create and sustain military capability."1 Create is a broad term which involves raw materials, people, and finance (or labor and capital), research and development, machine tools, factories and transportation (which we call infrastructure), and acquisition. Sustain is equally broad, involving munitions and ammunition, tbod and cooks, spares and spare parts, maintenance and maintainers, billets and billeters, hospitals and doctors and nurses, and transportation (roads, railroads, airfields, ports, canals, bridges, locks--more infrastructure--pilots, merchant mariners, drivers).

Historian Stanley Falk defines logistics on two levels. At the immediate level, he specifies that "logistics is essentially moving, supplying, and maintaining military; forces. It is basic to the ability of armies, fleets, and air forces to operate--indeed to exist. It involves men and materiel, transportation, quarters and depots, communications, evacuation and hospitalization, personnel replacement, service and administration." On a broader plane, Falk says logistics is the "economics of warfare, including industrial mobilization, research and development, funding procurement, recruitment and training, testing


and, in effect, practically everything related to military activities besides strategy and tactics. 2

A founding father of logistics thinking, Henry Eccles explains the word this way:

Logistics is the bridge between the national economy and the combat forces, and logistics thus operates as military economics' in the fullest sense of the word. Therefore, logistics must be seen from two viewpoints. Logistics has its roots in the national economy. In this area it is dominated by civilian influences and civilian authority. In this area the major criterion of logistics is production efficiency. On the other hand, the end product of logistics lies in the operations of combat forces. There logistics is dominated by military influence and by military authority. In this area the major criterion of logistics is its effectiveness in creating and sustaining combat forces in action against an enemy.

More concisely: "Logistics is the provision of the physical means by which power is exercised by organized forces. In military, terms, it is the creation and sustained support of combat forces and weapons. Its objective is maximum sustained combat effectiveness. Logistical activities involve the direction and coordination of those technical and functional activities which in summation create or support the military forces." Eccles also understood the relationship between logistics and grand strategy: "economic capabilities limit the combat forces which can be created. At the same time logistic capabilities limit the forces which can be employed in combat operations. Thus, it is obvious that economic-logistic factors determine the limits of strategy. The economic act of industrial mobilization is related to the grand strategy. The operational logistic action is related to specific strategic plans and to specific tactical operations. 3


The relationship between grand strategy and logistics, therefore, is fused. In the case of the United States in World War II the connection between the two was intimate--in fact it was intrinsic--logistics was the strategy!4 Germany's grand strategy was lightning war, one that poorly considered logistics, and Germany built a logistics foundation suitable for quick wars against weaker or politically divided enemies. That state put a much higher percentage of its people into uniform, especially the ground forces (Germany mobilized a military force as great as that of the United States with a much smaller population), and the United States put a smaller percentage of its population into uniform (smaller than both major adversaries and both major allies too) and a higher percentage of its population into factories producing munitions for itself and, as importantly, for Germany's (and Japan's) enemies. Germany paid dearly in human losses and defeat.

Military historian Kent Greenfield argued "that the concept


underlying" President Franklin D. Roosevelt's grand strategy, was that "the role of America was from first to last to serve as 'the arsenal of Democracy,' "and that its proper contribution to victory was to confront its enemies with a rapidly growing weight of material power that they could not hope to match; then use it to crush them with a minimum expenditure of American lives.5

Roosevelt declared his strategic logistic intent on 29 December 1940. With half of France occupied and all of Czechoslovakia, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg , Denmark, and Norway fully enslaved by Nazi Germany , and with the United Kingdom economically ruined and fighting alone, he gave his "Arsenal of Democracy " fireside chat. The United States would be the logistic foundation for the alliance it selected to join first politically and more important economically, and after 7 December 1941, militarily. Previously that month, Roosevelt had announced the lend-lease concept in a press conference, and now he was using his very bully pulpit to rally the country to his strategy.

This was Roosevelt's first fireside chat after his third election. He wanted to convey a sense of urgency about United States security and about the need to provide war materials to the United Kingdom and to prepare for combat should that come. The previous month, Roosevelt had sent 50 overage destroyers to Britain in exchange for basing rights. This was an un-neutral act for which Roosevelt did not ask congressional permission. The president (and his military chiefs) believed the consequences of a British defeat for the United States were intolerable. He said:

My friends, this is not a Fireside Chat on war. It is a talk on national security; because the hub of the whole purpose of your president is to keep you now, and your children later.., out of a last-ditch war for the preservation of American independence and all of the things that American independence means to you and to me and to ours. . . .

Some of our people like to believe that wars in Europe and in Asia are of no concern to us. But it is a matter of most vital concern to us that European and Asiatic war-makers should not


gain control of the oceans which lead to this hemisphere. . . . Does anyone seriously believe that we need to fear attack anywhere in the Americas while a free Britain remains our most powerful naval neighbor in the Atlantic? And does anyone seriously believe, on the other hand, that we could rest easy if the Axis powers were our neighbors there?

If Great Britain goes down, the Axis powers will control the continents of Europe, Asia, Africa, Austral-Asia, and the high seas--and they will be in a position to bring enormous military and naval resources against this hemisphere. . . . There is danger ahead. . . . We must admit that there is risk in any course we may take. But I deeply believe that the great majority of our people agree that the course that I advocate involves the least risk now and the greatest hope for world peace in the future. The people of Europe who are defending themselves do not ask us to do their fighting. They ask us for the implements of war, the planes, the tanks, the guns, the fighters which will enable them to fight for their liberty and for our security. Emphatically we must get these weapons to them, in sufficient volume and quickly enough, so that we and our children will be saved the agony and suffering of war which others have had to endure. . . . Democracy's fight against world conquest is being greatly aided, and must be more greatly aided, by the re-armament of the United States and by sending every ounce and every ton of munitions and supplies that we can possibly spare to help the defenders who are in the front lines. . . . We are planning our own defense with the utmost urgency and in its vast scale we must integrate the war needs of Britain and the other free nations which are resisting aggressions. . . . We must be the great arsenal of democracy. For us this is an emergency as serious as war itself. We must apply ourselves to our task with the same resolution, the same sense of urgency, the same spirit of patriotism and sacrifice as we would show were we at war. . . .6


The next month Roosevelt asked the Congress for permission to lend or lease munitions and other supplies to the United Kingdom and to whomever else's defense the president thought vital to the security of the United States. Two months later the Congress gave the president the Lend-Lease authority he asked for. Lend-Lease preserved the United Kingdom in its darkest hours. It sustained the Soviet Union at the moment of its greatest peril, and it provided that state the munitions and raw materials that in very large part contributed to the slaughter of 90 percent of the German military forces who were killed during World War II. (China received Lend- Lease support too in its war with Japan.)

It's an old story, but bears repeating. The United States used a logistic strategy (as opposed to Hitler's Blitzkrieg strategy) to build armaments in depth rather than in width. Hitler, who expected to win his wars quickly, did not invest in infrastructure--that is, he did not use his raw materials to build new munitions factories; he used materials to build new munitions. When he discovered that the war was to be a long one, he had to begin building factories after the United States had completed its factory construction. Germany mobilized more men for its army than did the United States and about as many men in its armed forces as the United States (with a much smaller population), spent a greater part of its gross national product on the war than the United States, and had a higher percentage of its women producing in industry than the United States, but it did not produce sufficient armaments and was drowned in a sea of allied munitions.

This volume, then, will examine logistics defined broadly. Industrial mobilization for the war will be explored, acquisition of materiel will be scrutinized, management of the United States economy will be surveyed, infrastructure construction both in the United States and overseas will be investigated, Lend-Lease (combined logistics) will be appraised, and joint military logistics in both major theaters will be studied. In this way, to varying levels of depth, we will have scanned American logistics in World War II from a broad perspective.


Table of Contents ** Previous Chapter (Foreword) * Next Chapter (1)


1. Jerome G. Peppers, Jr. History of United States Military Logistics 1935-1985. A Brief Review. (Huntsville: Logistics Education Foundation Publishing, 1988), iv.

2. George C. Thorpe's Pure Logistics: The Science of War Preparation, introduced by Stanley L. Falk (Washington: National Defense University Press, 1986), xi.

3. Henry E. Eccles, Logistics in the National Defense (Westport: Greenwood Press, 1981), 17-18, 23, 41. Duncan Ballantine writes: "As the link between the war front and the home from the logistic process is at once the military element in the nation's economy and the economic element in its military operations." Duncan S. Ballantine, US Naval Logistics in the Second World War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 3.

4. An Army "official" history argues: "World War II was a logisticians war. Its outstanding characteristics were the totality with which manpower and resources were mobilized and the vigor with which the belligerents attempted to destroy each other's material resources for war. Fabrication and assembly plants, refineries, laboratories, rail and highway networks, ports and canals, oil fields, and power generating installations, because of their logistic importance were primary objects of offensive action. Developments in mechanized, aerial, and amphibious warfare made the logistic support of armed forces vastly more complicated and extensive. . . . Our cause would have been lost without the magnificent logistic support by our entire Nation. Logistics provided the tools with which our air, ground, and sea forces fashioned victory. . . . World War II was a war of logistics. Never before had war been waged on such varied, widespread fronts. Never had combat operations so directly affected whole industrial systems and populations. Logistics . . . in many cases dictated . . . considerations of strategy, whether the grand strategy of the United Nations or the strategy of a single campaign. From the over-all standpoint, the major logistic problem of the war was the utilization of national resources in meeting the needs of the strategic plans formulated by the Combined Chiefs of Staff . . . for the complete defeat of Germany and Japan . . . No strategic plan could be drafted without a determination and evaluation of the major logistic factors." Director of the Service, Supply, and Procurement Division, War Department General Staff, Logistics in World War II: Final Report of the Army Service Forces, reprinted by the Center of Military History (Washington: Center of Military History, 1993) viii, 32, 33.

5. Kent Roberts Greenfield, American Strategy in World War II: A Reconsideration (Malaber, Florida, Robert E. Kreiger, 1982), 74.

6. Russell F. Buhite and David W. Levy, editors, FDR's Fireside Chats (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992) 163-173.

Greenfield has written: "One of the foundations on which American strategy was built had already hardened into a national resolution before the United States had entered the war. This was that the national interest of the United States required the survival of Great Britain and its postwar freedom of action as a great power. It was embodied in the policy of the President to which the nation gradually rallied in the interval between the fall of France in June, 1940, and December 7, 1941. It remained the foundation of American strategy throughout World War II." See Greenfield, 3.

Transcribed and formatted for HTML by Chuck Roberts for the HyperWar Foundation