The Task We Have Undertaken


By HENRY L. STIMSON, Secretary of War

Delivered before the Senate Committee, April 15, 1941

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. VII, pp. 419-424

MR. CHAIRMAN: The success or failure of the performance of a task cannot be measured without careful consideration of the conditions under which it has to be performed. I have assumed that your committee realizes this and is willing that a general statement of our tasks should be presented to you before you enter into the consideration of the details of its performance.

I have therefore prepared such a statement giving you a general picture of what the War Department has been called upon to do, the difficulties and obstacles which faced it, and the ways in which those difficulties have been overcome. Other witnesses will be ready to testify in detail to all of these matters. My purpose is to present the general picture.


The task of preparing our land forces for defense in the present emergency began in June, 1940, when the battle of Flanders and the fall of France first aroused our people to their danger. Congress had made some previous appropriations for airplanes and other equipment, but the first of the immense emergency appropriations for raising and arming adequate defense forces was not made available until June, 1940. Between that date and October 8, 1940, Congress appropriated nearly $7,000,000,000 further for the Army, over $4,000,000,000 of which was not appropriated until September 9, 1940.

The time and size of these appropriations are strong evidence of the unexpectedness and seriousness of the danger which was suddenly revealed to the nation.


Novelty of the Conditions

The danger was not only unexpected but it was novel in its character. During the Great War the armies of Germany and the Allies were deadlocked on the Western Front

for over four years. In that war those armies found it practically impossible, without overwhelming losses, to break through the barbed wire and the machine-gun emplacements which both sides had erected.

This situation lasted until finally Germany's strategic reserves were exhausted by attrition in the Autumn of 1918. This had led to a belief in the invincible character of modern defensive warfare. The subsequent building of the Maginot Line illustrated this belief.

When, therefore, in May, 1940, a German army suddenly burst upon the world, able to penetrate field fortifications, and which had developed for that purpose a technique in the use of airplanes and tanks hitherto unexpected by any of its opponents, the United States found itself suddenly faced with a problem of defense and training which was fundamentally different from what it had faced in the first World War.

U. S. Took Time to Arm

In 1917 we armed in comparative leisure behind the protection of the stabilized front in France and the complete control over the sea possessed by the Allied fleets.

France and Britain being intact, we bought from them most of the heavy weapons with which we fought. This was true of substantially all of our field guns, tanks and airplanes. True, we ourselves built these weapons, but generally speaking they were not ready for our use until after the war was over.

We also were able to limit the training of troops which was done in America to the training of divisions only and even to send those divisions across the Atlantic in a very imperfect state of training to complete that training after they got to France. The warfare being in trenches, our troops could be put into the trenches side by side with the veteran troops of our Allies and receive the remainder of their training in the face of the enemy.

All of the organization and training of the corps and armies into which our forces were subsequently subdivided was done on the actual battle front in the presence of the enemy.


The Present Problem

Contrast with this the situation and the problems which have confronted us today.

First—We are obliged to create here in America large forces which are fully trained to operate in a war of movement. The teams necessary for warfare must be complete and the men must be trained to the minute in all of the problems of team movements. This means the complete creation in America not only of divisions but of fully trained corps and armies with all of their specialized troops and weapons.

Second—These forces must be armed and trained for a new kind of mechanized warfare involving huge numbers of new and specialized weapons which are extremely complicated in character and slow to build, such as the modern airplanes and tanks and the new forms of anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery.

Third—Every one of these weapons must be built in this country. No other nation has them for sale to us, but on the contrary many nations are trying to buy them from us.

Thus, we have been faced with the task of training to full completeness forces armed with new and complex weapons; trained in new and complicated technique; and to do it all within the United States, Furthermore, our forces must be prepared for the possibilities of war in many and varied terrains, it being quite uncertain in what part of North or South or Central America, or even possibly other regions it ultimately may be necessary to use them in the defense of this country and its possessions.

Finally, in view of the suddenness of the emergency and the critical condition of Great Britain revealed at the end of June, 1940, we have had to do this with the utmost speed.


Domestic Obstacles to Creating Large Army

1. Uninformed critics often overlook the conditions which control the creation of a large army in a democracy like ours. In time of peace we have never kept an army in readiness for a great war. In this respect we have treated it quite differently from our navy, which now is habitually kept up in comparative readiness for the emergent defense of the nation.

In time of peace the Army is allowed to shrink to a minimum number of men and no attempt is made to keep in stock an adequate supply of the constantly changing and developing new weapons necessary to equip an adequate force. The most that can be done by our officers is to try to keep abreast of the methods of war and to create plans for the future expansion of the Army, and to develop and procure specimen types of weapons with which it can be armed.

This, so far as it was possible, had been done before June, 1940. The General Staff had worked out on paper the plans for the organization of a mobile force to be created within the continental United States ready for a war of movement. This force was to consist of four separate armies and nine army corps comprising both Regulars and National Guard, and aggregating over a million men.

Military Forces Then Small

But there actually were on the muster rolls on July 1, 1940, only about 250,000 Regulars and about 225,000Guardsmen. In order to reach the size of the forces contemplated for June 30 of this year, it was necessary to multiply these small existing forces nearly threefold.

The supply officers had kept in touch with modern weapons and developed new types of their own, of which in some cases they had been allowed to build specimens. The general plan of structure was therefore in existence though, of course, the revelations from the Battle of Flanders made certain modifications both in tactics and armament vitally necessary.

2. Not a further step could be taken without both substantive legislation and appropriations. Estimates were prepared in June, placed before the Congress, explained to Congressional committees, debated on the floor, and finally enacted into law. As I have already pointed out, this final step only became accomplished in October, barely six months ago from the time I am now speaking. No contracts for munitions can be made until thus specifically authorized by the Congress.

3. The only method by which we could make sure of sufficient manpower to create the large forces which would be needed was by a compulsory service statute. And never in our previous history had such a law been passed except in time of recognized war.

In consequence, a prolonged popular discussion was necessary before the legislation could be enacted to create this vital pool of manpower, for our future forces. The bill was introduced on June 20, 1940. It was at first hoped in the War Department that it might be passed speedily, early in August, but it was not actually enacted into law until September 16, 1940.

National Guard Training

4. Again, one of our primary lines of defense is the National Guard, which is composed of civilian soldiery under the primary jurisdiction of the forty-eight States. In the light of the requirements of mechanized warfare as revealed in the Battle of Flanders, it became obvious that the National Guard must receive at once a large amount of training beyond what it had ever received before.

No adequate power existed in the Federal Government to order the Guard out in sufficient masses and for sufficient time to give this training. A joint resolution giving such authority was introduced in Congress on July 30, 1940, but final action was not obtained until August 27, 1940.

5. Until these two statutes, the Selective Service Law and the joint resolution authorizing the ordering out of the Guard, were enacted by the Congress, and until the appropriation bills mentioned above became law the War Department could not purchase a foot of ground or let a single contract for housing or arming the men who were to be called out under the authority of such legislation.

By the time the authority was finally given, the Summer was over and our planned construction was at the mercy of the uncertain weather of the approaching Winter. That Winter proved to be exceptionally unfavorable.


Construction Work by Quartermaster Corps

The foregoing outline shows the unavoidable legislative difficulties which faced the Quartermaster Corps. That corps in the beginning had charge of constructing all the proposed troop housing as well as all new munition plants which might become necessary. Tentative plans had been made for this construction and tentative sites for much of its location had been chosen.

But these plans, as well as the Congressional estimatebased upon them, had to be made in unavoidable ignorance of many factors which afterward were certain to arise. The only guides which the men who made them had before them were the per capita costs of the World War cantonments and of certain small camp units handled in 1939-40.

These were known to be insufficient and this fact was carefully pointed out to the Appropriations Committees of the two Houses of Congress by the Chief of Staff when the estimates were presented, and those committees were informed that further appropriations, in all probability, would be necessary.

In the light of retrospect we can now visualize many causes which would necessarily make inadequate for the present emergency estimates based upon former experience in the great war or elsewhere.

For example, in 1917 training areas for team practice for a war of movement were not necessary; today we are obliged to provide for that purpose large manoeuvre grounds in the neighborhood of the cantonments. In 1917 there was practically no training in artillery firing at any of the divisional cantonments. Today it is necessary to provide long firing ranges for the various types of field guns and other long-range weapons. Today the roads must be made much stronger in order to support the heavy tanks and truck equipment which is now used.

These are merely examples of the difference in conditions which necessitate today large outlays in amounts difficult to forecast in detail.

The Chief Difference

But perhaps the chief difference is this: In 1917 the cantonments were intended to house troops for a shorter period than those now being constructed. We then knew that our troops were going to France and that much of our training would be overseas. There was then strong evidence that the contending forces in the war were nearing exhaustion and that, whatever way the decision went, the end was probably not far away.

Today not only are we facing a dangerous emergency but there is strong evidence that this emergency may be very prolonged and that we may have to continue our effort for a long time.

To meet all these contingencies we are now planning a program of training which will cover many successive military units and many successive installments of men, and which in the aggregate may last for five years.

Therefore we are giving the men today more adequate and comfortable housing and better facilities for hospitalization, recreation and education than existed in 1917. The quarters and barracks, the hospitals, the recreation rooms and guest houses are upon a more comfortable and higher scale. Even the utilities, in view of the expectation of a longer occupancy, have been built upon a broader basis.

In addition to this there have been substantial increases in labor and material costs. Details as to all of this will be given by witnesses who follow.

Increase in Estimates

This whole subject of the increase in the estimates has been recently treated by the report of the Committee on Appropriations of the House of Representatives and the conclusions of that committee are worthy of the attention of this committee as indicating a wise and temperate summary of this situation. I refer you to them. See Report 152, Seventy-seventh Congress, First Session, Fourth Supplemental Appropriation National Defense Bill, Fiscal Year 1941.

What I wish now to emphasize and make clear is that the initial delays have already been substantially conquered and overcome; that these new and improved plans are resulting in the successful accomplishment of housing for our troops which will give them better care, better training and better means of recreation and improvement than any American troops have ever received in the history of this country. Furthermore, this will have been done in shorter time than was the case in the Great War twenty-three years ago.

When the Armistice was signed in 1918, more than eighteen months after the United States had entered the war, construction work in the United States had not yet been finished. One hundred seventy-two unfinished projects of various sorts were discontinued with the Armistice.

The Situation Today

Today only a little more than six months after our appropriations were passed in September, 147 new housing projects are either entirely completed or are very closely nearing completion, with all the utilities and conveniences, recreation buildings, theatres, service clubs, chapels, athletic areas, hospitals, bakeries, laundries, cold storage plants, etc., necessary for the comfort of their occupants.

Forty-two of these projects are veritable cities with populations running from a minimum of 10,000 to a maximum of over 60,000 inhabitants. Over 700,000 men are already in occupancy of their completed new quarters.

The status of our construction is in such an advanced condition that we can confidently assure the country that all of the remaining men of our proposed military program will find their quarters awaiting them ready and completed for their occupation with all attendant facilities on the scheduled dates now set for their occupancy.

I think I am speaking in measured language when I say that in no country in the world, including our own, has its military forces ever before been provided for in so brief a time and upon so adequate a scale for ministering to their necessities and comforts.


Additional Building Cost

In considering this progress it must be remembered that the Quartermaster Corps of the Army has been responsible for the planning and completion of a very large construction program other than that of troop housing.

The cost of these additional construction projects amounts to about one-half billion dollars. They include manufacturing plants for the Quartermaster, Ordnance and other supply services; storage depots, twenty air fields, nine general hospitals and other construction work of miscellaneous character.

The projects vary in size from a few hundred thousand dollars to fifty-six million dollars, which is the cost of the Indiana proving grounds and powder project. All of these projects like the housing projects are being prosecuted vigorously and are in a similar excellent state of progress.


Work by Engineer Corps

Prior to the pending emergency the law had required that all construction in the nature of cantonments for the housing of troops should be done by the Quartermaster Corps and accordingly last Summer the plans for the housing of all the forces covered by our defense program were taken up by that corps.

Subsequently the burden of carrying out this immense and unprecedented program became too heavy for the existing

force of the Quartermaster Corps and, on the recommendation of the War Department, Congress wisely passed legislation permitting the division of this labor between that corps and the Engineer Corps.

On or about September 6, 1940, the construction of all of the cantonments, airdromes and other facilities required by the Air Corps, other than a few projects which were then in an advanced state of construction, and also the construction at the new Atlantic bases acquired from Great Britain, were transferred to the Corps of Engineers.

By this transfer the division of construction work as between the Quartermaster Corps and the Engineer Corps results in the Quartermaster Corps now conducting a program of something over $1,000,000,000 worth of construction and the Corps of Engineers conducting a program of approximately $700,000,000 of construction. The construction projects which have been allocated to the Engineer Corps have been actively and efficiently prosecuted and are generally meeting the requirements of their scheduled completion dates.


Procurement of Arms

The character of modern warfare has also had its effect on the procurement of arms. To plan for war today a nation should commence its preparations, at least, three to five years in advance.

Some seven years ago Germany began to concentrate on its preparation for war. It evolved a new technique of diplomacy, a new form of propaganda and finally new tactical methods based on new weapons. The thought and energies of the entire country were devoted to preparation for war.

In spite of repeated warnings, the democracies preferred not to compete with that preparation. As a result, in 1939 Germany was ready to move toward its objectives, first without force and, then, at the first show of opposition to her plans, with terrific violence. Germany disclosed to the world a quantity and variety of modern weapons and, second, a method of employing them which have thus far achieved far-reaching results.

Last year the War Department was faced with the necessity of acquiring in a short time munitions adequate to meet the munitions which Germany had spent seven years in producing.

The weapons of modern war are marked by greatly increased mobility and fire power and it is just these elements which complicate and delay their manufacture. Weapons suitable for modern warfare almost invariably have to be manufactured so as to move faster and fire faster than did their counterparts in the last war.

In 1917 and 1918, with the country actually at war and with an army actively engaged in the field and with all the enthusiasm and devotion to the task which a nation at war could apply, it would have taken us about two and one-half years from the commencement of our effort before we could have fully munitioned our Army. Consequently, as I have already pointed out, we were obliged to purchase from our Allies nearly all of our heavy weapons.

Output Speedier Now

Today, assuming existing priorities are not altered, we shall, in spite of the greater complexity of modern weapons, do the job from eight months to one year faster than we were doing it then.

The Army and the War Department made their initial and, perhaps, their chief contribution to the rearmament of this country in the prolonged studies and advance planningwhich took place long before there was any Office of Production Management to assist or any sufficient money available to put the studies and plans into effect. The capacity of the country to make munitions was studied in peacetime, potential manufacturers were spotted, prototypes were developed and built.

That painstaking work has now been reflected in the speed and efficiency with which requests for appropriations were presented to Congress and the orders placed once Congress appropriated the necessary funds.

What took many months to do in 1917 we did in 1940 in a small fraction of that time. That initial task has now been performed by the department and we are prepared to proceed with the maintenance and expansion programs that follow the first step.

In addition, the department has recently been given the responsibility of instituting a vast new program to cover the needs of those other nations whose integrity we feel it vital to our defense. It will proceed with that program, I firmly believe, with even greater speed and efficiency than marked the programs which were instituted last Summer and last Fall.

Orders Not Filled by Army

But while the Army can place orders, it does not fill them. The Army makes, in its own establishments, only a relatively small fraction of the arms and equipment which it uses. The actual production of by far the greater portion of our munitions is the responsibility of the private industries of the country which receive the orders.

Thus far the department has imposed its military program on top of the normal commercial operations of the country and to date the government has done little to subordinate the civilian needs of the country to its military program.

Possibly we can improve our rates of production if we cut into those needs. But the speed with which our rearmament program has gotten under way and the great improvements over our record in this respect in the last war is due, in the main, to the energy and efficiency of the officers and personnel of the general staff and of the supply arms and branches of the War Department.


Procurement of Ordnance

Comparison of the speed with which our procurement program was instituted in 1940 with similar efforts in 1917 is convenient only to measure our rate of progress with our accomplishments of twenty-three years ago, but it may be of interest if only for that purpose. Let us consider first certain ordnance items.

By the close of the last war we were able to supply our Army in France from sources in this country with rifles, bayonets, cartridges and some other light equipment. All heavier equipment with which our soldiers fought was supplied by the French and the British. Our Army, as has been said, did its fighting with artillery purchased from France. We ordered over 10,000 75 mm. guns to be produced in this country but none was finished in 1917 and in 1918 we only succeeded in shipping 143 to France before the Armistice was signed.

Tanks and Machine Guns

In the last war, in spite of the American familiarity with tractor machinery and in spite of the fact that we ordered over 23,000 tanks to be produced in this country, not a single one of those tanks was finished in time for training purposes at home or for combat use overseas.

Today our production of tanks is already well under way and in quantity production in spite of the fact that the present-day tank is a far more complicated and intricate piece of mechanism than was the tank of the last war.

We have many old type machine guns on hand from the last war. Our production of these weapons is one of which we can be proud but the demands for improved types of these weapons are great and exacting. With the need for heavier calibers and more intricate designs arising from aircraft, anti-aircraft, tank and anti-tank requirements, the problem of machine gun design and manufacture has become much more complicated and difficult.

But here again the department was able to institute the program, select the types and the manufacturers, and place the orders practically as soon as the money was made available by Congress.

We have an entirely new line of artillery and mortars, all involving new designs. These weapons have much greater mobility, range and in many cases, fire power than their World War counterparts. In all of these items we are far ahead of our 1917 schedules. Highly complicated antiaircraft guns—guns which are clock-like in their intricacy and which fire heavy caliber projectiles at phenomenal rates of speed have been developed and are now in production.

In the World War only one gun especially designed for anti-aircraft fire was completely finished in this country by the time of the Armistice.

New Types Anticipated

Before 1940 the War Department had anticipated the need for the new artillery types but it was not until September, 1940, that money was available in sufficient quantity to enable the Ordnance Department to institute an adequate artillery program.

The development of actual warfare culminating in the break-through in Flanders necessitated some rapid modification of types but it is a tribute to the planning of the War Department that the designs required so little change after the reports of the performance of the various weapons began to come in from our observers.

In ordnance items the chief modifications which actual warfare induced were in the design of tanks. The new designs were promptly put in production, however, and as a result all of our equipment now in production is thoroughly modern.

One aspect of the ordnance program which is present as a retarding factor in 1940 and which was not present in 1917 results from the competition which ordnance manufacturers must encounter with the aircraft suppliers for machine tools.

With the metallization of airplanes and airplane parts and with the greatly increased emphasis on the importance of aircraft generally, it has been found that conflicting demands for machine tools have arisen and all ordnance items, except aircraft armament, have been sharply subordinated in their priority to aircraft needs as well as to the needs of the Navy.

But in spite of these delays, unless the priorities of ordnance items are further modified, the ordnance program should proceed in accordance with the above outlines, i.e., with quantity production averaging about one year to fourteen months after placement of the order.


Procurement of Aircraft

Although the problem of aircraft procurement varies somewhat from that of ordnance by reason of the fact thatthe department is dependent entirely upon private industry for the manufacture (and to a substantial extent for the design) of aircraft, the aircraft procurement program has also been marked by the shortness of time within which large orders were placed after appropriations became available.

Whereas in 1917, after war was declared, it was necessary to send a mission to Europe to find out what types of airplanes were required, the Air Corps in 1940 had already made that study and knew what types it wanted. Immediately upon receiving the necessary funds for their procurement they were ordered, practically all within one month's time. Congress made available approximately one and one-half billion dollars for the purchase of airplanes in September of 1940, as against the sum of $365,000,000 made available for the production of planes in this country in July of 1917.

Planes Now Are Costly

Roughly, the airplanes today cost five times more than they did in 1917 and, while some allowance must be made for increased labor and material costs, these figures give a fairly accurate measure of the greater complexity of the planes which we now have to produce as compared with those of 1917.

In 1917, it was not until October—nearly seven months after war had been declared—that a single one of the famous old DH-4's was ordered and it was not until late in 1918 that the first planes were delivered in France. Those planes, by the way, although a standard combat type in 1917, could not anywhere nearly equal the performance of our basic trainer plane today.

Some further conception of the magnitude of the task involved in modern aircraft manufacture can also be given by the realization that one of our newer type four-engine bombers will cost initially to manufacture between $700,000 and $800,000. Even after full production has been attained each one of these planes will cost approximately $300,000.

Modifications in Designs

The exigencies of actual combat brought about, as always, necessary modifications in our designs, but these modifications were mainly in armor and armament. Planes in production at the time of the break-through were promptly modified and some slow-up of production, of course, resulted, but the planes ordered under the new appropriations embodied from the outset the new designs.

A notable instance of the farsightedness of American design is the case of the heavy multiple-engine bomber. One type of these bombers was designed by us as early as 1934 and it has been in service for five years. To this day, it is probably the finest heavy bomber in the air. At the high altitudes at which it can fly, it can outdistance all but the very fastest pursuit ships and its speed is so great that even the fastest modern fighters have difficulty in overtaking it.

In aircraft procurement as in ordnance, although we have greatly speeded up the work involved in placing orders with commercial plants, the general rule still remains true that it takes American manufacturers from one year to one and one-half years to reach quantity production.


Regarding Other Supplies

I have made special reference thus far only to the procurement of ordnance and aircraft items. There are other supply services of the Army which have performed great tasks promptly and thoroughly.

They are less spectacular and we do not hear much ofthem, partly because they do their job well and partly because their requirements, although enormous in the aggregate, can be produced with relative rapidity. Without their services, however, there would be no one to man the guns and planes which take so much longer to produce.

The Quartermaster Corps has many procurement responsibilities other than its construction program. It provides the food and clothing for the soldier and, generally speaking, it provides the motor vehicles and other means by which he is transported from place to place.

No difficulties are contemplated in the prompt completion of the Quartermaster equipment program.

The Engineer, Signal and Medical Corps and the Chemical Warfare Service have also been responsible for the planning and procurement of large stores of material, practically all of which has been ordered and great quantities of which are already on hand.



To summarize—the War Department, due to changed conditions of warfare and to the unexpectedly successful tactics of an aggressor nation in Europe, was suddenly faced last June with a new and difficult problem. It involved the creation in this country of a large, highly mobile force, and it involved training, housing and equipping it for modern combat.

The War Department had the full responsibility of meeting this problem. By the middle of this Summer the Armywill be assembled, housed and in the full course of its training.

The initial phases of the War Department's production responsibility have been completed and this Summer the forces in training will be well on their way to being fully equipped. No soldier will lack the basic weapons sufficient to carry his training well ahead and his heavier equipment will be coming forward steadily and in substantial quantities.

Task Now Up to Industry

All of the work necessary to bring this about has been performed under the greatest pressure and at very high speed. From this point forward, the chief responsibility for the speedy completion of the equipment will rest upon American industry.

The officials of the supply services and the War Department will continue to supervise, coordinate, inspect and supply technical information in connection with the manufacture of equipment, but their contributions to date will have made it possible for commercial firms to advance the delivery of the equipment some eight to twelve months ahead of our 1917-18 experience.

With the magnitude of the task and the speed and pressure under which it was performed, it is inevitable that some mistakes have been made; but, when the work of this committee is completed, I am confident that it will be found that the total of those mistakes will appear quite insignificant when set against the value of the time saved and the size of the task performed.