Sunday 29 January 2012

Answer to the aircraft question

Quiz question. - When Britain and France and the US government began to ask for military aircraft and tanks from the US aircraft manufacturers and car giants in 1938/9, they were met with a lukewarm response. Even though there were plant idle and there was a near record number of unemployed labour, and the governments were offering cash. Why would that be?

The answer is that the industry was small. The US aircraft industry produced about 6,000 planes a year, of all types, for civil and military use, including export orders. An order from France for 200 fighters was welcome. And order for 600 was not as it was beyond the capacity to build without buying in new machine tools, reconfiguring existing production, training more workers etc. Once the order was completed the factories would have been left with all the new equipment they'd just invested in, idle, unused, and possibly unwanted. There was no profit it it. US government tended to order in small batches. And aircraft became obsolete quickly.
The other problem was executives resisted converting to military use, fearful that they would lose the private market to rivals who didn't convert.

The same was true of the UK and France. There was an astonishing array of types and vintages of aircraft in the pre war RAF, as the government handed out small orders to all the different companies to keep them in existence. The Soviet Union, after a successful five year plan, centralised planning and allocation of strategic materials, dedicated to aircraft production had produced 20,000 aircraft of all types, by 1938. Unfortunately they were not very good and were destroyed in their thousands.

The aircraft industry wanted long production run orders, with repeat orders, if it was to be worth making them at all. This is what eventually happened.

The statistics are remarkable. During 1939-1945, the industry became the largest single industry in the world and rose from 41st place to first among industries in the United States.
In the first half of 1941, it produced 7,433 aircraft, more than had been produced in all of 1940. From January 1, 1940, until V-J Day on August 14, 1945, more than 300,000 military aircraft were produced for the U.S. military and the Allies. Total factory space, including engine and propeller production, was 175 million square feet (16 million square meters). Peak workforce, reached at the end of 1943, was 2,102,000. The dollar value of the industry's 1939 output rose from $225 million to some $16 billion for 1944.

In May 1940, President Roosevelt stated that he wanted the U.S. aircraft industry able to turn out at least 50,000 planes a year. This involved expanding from little more than 2,000 planes per year to 4,000 per month.

Beginning in the spring of 1942, factories ran 24 hours a day, six to seven days a week. Aircraft production became more efficient. In 1941, 55,000 individual work hours were needed to turn out a B-17. By 1944, this had dropped to 19,000 hours.

To solve the problem of what to do with post war excess
aircraft assembly plants the government bought the plants and leased them back to the aircraft manufacturers. The industry that had been in only 5 states pre 1939 was made national, so helping the government's New Deal. Companies own existing plant were expanded by the government's taxes. Engine plants were massively expanded. Nationalised Electricity that was sold with a 30% margin pre war, was made available at cost. Extra dams were built to enable power to become available in regions where there was none. The cap on profits/aircraft was reasonably generous to the private companies, worker's wages rose, until it was capped by the government to control inflation, union membership increased immeasurably, and workers earned through virtually unlimited overtime. And with the overtime so came the taxes.

The number of Americans required to pay federal taxes rose from 4 million in 1939 to 43 million in 1945. With such a large pool of taxpayers, the American government took in $45 billion in 1945, an enormous increase over the $8.7 billion collected in 1941 .. Over that same period, federal tax revenue grew from about 8 percent of GDP to more than 20 percent.

Can't help feeling there is a lesson for the stimulus, or Plan B or whatever in all this.

The picture is 'Willow run' The most productive ww2 bomber plant in the USA. Owned by Ford. It finally closed in 2009 when GM went bankrupt.


Electro-Kevin said...

It kind of explains why we now have dedicated munitions manufacturers and lots of small wars.

Budgie said...

BQ said: "Aircraft production became more efficient. In 1941, 55,000 individual work hours were needed to turn out a B-17. By 1944, this had dropped to 19,000 hours."

It is not mere pedantry to argue with the view that reduced production hours = more efficient. What will have happened is that in 1941 a lot more of the aircraft will have been hand made or built compared to 1944.

This is not greater "efficiency" as such, but will have been mainly because of massive investment in jigs, fixtures, autos and dedicated machines suitable for high volume output. And unsuited to low volumes.

Immediate post WW2 volumes will have dropped again meaning new aircraft designs will have reverted to production with high hand craft levels and "low" capital investment.

Jim said...

"Can't help feeling there is a lesson for the stimulus, or Plan B or whatever in all this."

Yes, stimulus works when you're not overly in debt to begin with, you have a massive pool of currently untaxed labour, you have new technologies to exploit, and you have a insatiable demand for new product (because the customer keeps destroying the last few hundred he bought). Then stimulus works wonders!

Anonymous said...

What lesson Bill..?

Britain and Europe in general were bankrupted by the war.

Vast amounts of wealth and capital was lost...

America was about the only country to do well out of the war, and much of the reason for that was technology transfers from Europe during and after.
As well as many of the main participants (1939-1945) owing the US a huge debt.

And ofcourse getting the Dollar to replace the pound as the number one currency for international trade was another advantage for them.

Anonymous said...

"There was an astonishing array of types and vintages of aircraft in the pre war RAF, as the government handed out small orders to all the different companies to keep them in existence."

"Down in the flood of remembrance, I weep like a child for the past"


Bill Quango MP said...

EK. Nowadays we don't need 4,000 e engine bombers with 10 man crews and an 80 man support team each.
1. Smart munitions mean the missile should hit the target its aimed at.
2. We could never, ever afford it.

Budgie: Almost. It was also the motor vehicle techniques such as those at Ford that helped transform the aircraft industry.And 24 hour / 6-7 day a week shifts. Initially the motor production techniques didn't work, much to the surprise of everyone. But it was all sorted out. And decisions were taken that in peacetime would not have been allowed. for example the engines of the Boeing B-29 tended to catch fire in flight. Rather that stop production to correct the known fault, they just carried on, relying on local and finishing maintenance to sort the problem.
Britain too has a remarkably successful story of aviation production during WW2. mostly excellent designs, in record numbers. And an astonishing number of engines. So does the USSR. They produced more planes in 1941 and 1942 than the Germans. Even though their country and their western aircraft plants were overrun.

And post WW2 was the civil airline boom. The jet age.

{incidentally there is an enduring WW2 myth that the Yanks duped us into making heavy bombers so they could make transport planes like the famous Douglas DC-3. Post war the Sceptics cleaned up whilst we had useless bombers from another era. there is no truth to it. The DC-3 was already the USA's established airliner. In 1941 80% of commercial aircraft were DC-3s.
Britain's postwar aircraft failure was really down to too small a domestic market.}

Bill Quango MP said...

Jim. That helps of course. One of the many life changing events of WW2 was the introduction of women into the workplace and into taxation.
The thing about the US aircraft production was HOW it was done. The bureaucratic monster had learned from WW1. It learned to let business do what business does without. And let government do what government does.
And the cost was staggering. Beyond staggering.
But the results created the superpower.

Anon: All of that is true. The Europeans could not take on a second ww so close after the first with a major failure of capitalism in-between.

Laban Great list. So many old companies and old designs.
Every shed was a potential aircraft manufacturer. The twilight of the industrial age

Anonymous said...

Very interesting (and if you read about US aircraft production in this era it is fascinating) topic but surely it's about supply and demand which would simply not allow such an expansion today. So re 'Plan B' what on earth could the domestic UK market generate in both respects that would support a 'plan b'on this scale today.Drugs?

Timbo614 said...

So re 'Plan B' what on earth could the domestic UK market generate in both respects that would support a 'plan b'on this scale today?

Lots of things in energy saving localisation of energy production plus even personalisation of energy production. Trouble is we are "not allowed them" because it would take profits from the energy conglomerates (if I can call them that really they are part of Corporatism). Can the people have efficient / reduced / self supplied energy Bah!

Then there's social / affordable housing - people are desperate for that too. Then there's all our still largely Victorian infrastructure. North/South, East/West water distribution needs attention.

The list goes on. The reason why not? These "utilities" are not owned by the country any more, some idiots sold it all in the globalisation/europeanisation gold rush. So why invest in it? It's only for the people, not for money. There's your problem right there.

Nick Drew said...

what on earth could the domestic UK market generate?

shale gas ! doesn't even need a subsidy

I am with Timbo on this

(shale gas update post follows next week)

Y Ddraig Goch said...

"Can't help feeling there is a lesson for the stimulus, or Plan B or whatever in all this."

I wonder - the sheer scale of what the US did in those years isn't possible any more. For example, you can only bring non-taxpayers into the tax paying role once.

It's slightly off-topic, but I'd like to float a slightly different idea. In the 1938-1940 period, there were a slew of things that the UK government could have done (but didn't) that would have been low cost and nevertheless massively improved the UK's wartime position; fitting drop tanks to spitfires and hurricanes before the Battle of Britain; converting merchant ships into escort carriers in 1939 rather than 1941. There are more if anyone wants to hear them.

Now, the point is not that we need to build ourselves a fleet of drop tank-equipped piston-engined fighters. But, what are the low-cost activities that aren't being done today that could similarly improve our position?

Bill Quango MP said...

Y Ddraig Goch:

I like the idea, but hindsight is creeping in.
Drop tanks were not fitted because they weren't very reliable and thought not needed. The Germans and the allies thought that airfields would be just behind the front lines WW1 style. The Luftwaffe had a superb organisation that quickly turned around captured airfields and allowed their short range fighters to keep up with the advance.
Drop tanks only came into being after the failure of the twin engine fighter, ours and theirs, were exposed.

And escort carriers were expensive, compared to sonar, which was supposed to have made submarines obsolete for convoy attacks.

And sometimes the measures prove unnecessary. there are many pictures of German tanks with a rust coloured paint on them. Anti magnetic paint to combat magnetic mines/shaped charges. The Germans had them and assumed the allies would copy them. But they never did.

What really worries is the cyber war others mentioned.
There is no provision for a return to the paper / ledger system of finance and trade if the computers go down. Imagine the chaos when the cash points are closed, Stock exchanges down, and the internet is switched off.

I'd like some reassurance that dealing with that is in hand?

Jan said...

I agree we will be in big trouble
if the internet/computers cease to function in a cyber war or if electricity supplies are lost which would have the same effect.

Does anyone think about this and is it not talked about in case it gives anyone any ideas?

Demetrius said...

The two wars caused huge disruptions in the ship building industry and left a legacy that gave rise to all the problems of the 1960's and 1970's. This was a long tail disaster that we never dealt with properly.

Timbo614 said...

BQ -CyberWar,

A BIG EMP would be very troublesome, but it does take a big-big one (As I understand it). Hard Drives might survive it but he New SSD (Solid-State Drive, memory based) technology would not. Modern BIOSes would be wiped but old ones survive.
Tapes would be wiped and such is the miniscule scale of much stuff today that it might be permanently damaged. Your photos and mementos in a biscuit tin or paper album would be unaffected :) But bank, HMIT and Government records would be trash which would not necessarily be a bad thing:) Cash & gold would be in high demand I would imagine (if we didn't starve first). The saying 3 weeks to anarchy after food stopped being moved would hold true, for without the internet and internal computer systems I doubt it could be re-organised to manual in that time, but it might for we would quickly be in survival mode and that makes people work together.

Manufacturing of this stuff is scattered right over the far east and other places, replacement would be possible with time, if VERY expensive. The upside - there would be plenty of jobs for clerks and bookkeepers & typists :)

As for switching it off - well 13 "servers" are all that is needed (they are server-farms/clusters to be accurate). These 13 root servers are the most protected high tech property in the world. Unlucky 13 though.

Excerpt from Wikipedia: (the rest is too techy) "Root name server":

"A combination of limits in the DNS and certain protocols, namely the practical size of unfragmented User Datagram Protocol (UDP) packets, resulted in a limited number of root server addresses that can be accommodated in DNS name query responses. This limit has determined the number of name server installations at (currently) 13 clusters, serving the needs of the entire public Internet worldwide."

Root name server if you want to know how to turn off the internet. and the US has the power to do it, AND selectively - Don't want and or .eu - simple take them out of the master tables :(

Many people forget / do not realise how young the Internet is and how not too long ago, someone typed in the initial code and data that these servers build on, by hand, - bootstrapping the internet in effect. It is NOT that much more sophisticated today, I can still type on my keyboard and send you an email via a Mail-server without any software (except the OS), I could do the same on a Sinclair Spectrum from 1983!!

But as you say there is probably no plan in the UK/Europe to avoid an internet-off catastrophe. It might be there but "Top Secret". There are "master" servers else where that could take on the role but confusion would reign for a good time.

Timbo614 said...

Which leads me back to money and big numbers because if this technology strike were to happen, Money and in particular the big numbers in the banks and government computers would become meaningless.

They would be shown up for what they are - a fantasy ponzi scheme cooked up by our own minds into something that completely dominates everyone's thoughts, and guess what - in the event of a catastrophe, It all vanishes, poof! Gone.

Y Ddraig Goch said...


Thanks for that response.

I probably didn't make myself clear. Hindsight wasn't "creeping in" - it was explicit. I wasn't saying that the government of the day were stupid and negligent for not doing those things. Only that those things were entirely feasible (ie I wasn't suggesting they should have built laser-guided bombs) and could have been done at modest cost and would have a made a huge difference. The idea is to learn from that fact and look around for the comparable things that we could do today - not in a military context, but more generally.

For example, the Luftwaffe had perfectly reliable drop tanks in the Spanish Civil War. The real issue is, as you say, they were thought to not be needed - wrongly. So what wrong assumptions are we making today?

Escort carriers were not expensive, compared to the alternatives. The first one, HMS Audacity, was converted from a merchant ship in a couple of months in early '41. In the late '30s it would have been possible to purpose build a few merchant ships that were intended for quick conversion to escort carrier status in an emergency. More expensive than a pure merchant ship but pennies by comparison with not having them when needed. This does rely on hindsight, but the ASDIC of the day (now called SONAR) was demonstrably unreliable, while the U-boat conflict of WW1 had shown the value of aircraft in countering submarines - so what I'm describing was visible at the time. Again, the issue is not that the decision makers of the time were thick for not seeing this - because they weren't - it's what are we missing today?

"And sometimes the measures prove unnecessary. there are many pictures of German tanks with a rust coloured paint on them. Anti magnetic paint to combat magnetic mines/shaped charges. The Germans had them and assumed the allies would copy them. But they never did."

Which supports my point. At modest cost, the Germans protected themselves from a threat that they knew existed (because they already had it).

Bill Quango MP said...

Jan : See timbo

Timbo614: you're going to switch off the internet with a zx81 ? {I feel like Penny from Big Bang} All i want to know is if the bad guys turn it off, assuming no EMP that melts all our stuff, can someone switch it on again? And if they can, but my mortgage account is wiped, do I still have to pay?

Demetrius: Shipping is another key war legacy. As you say, long term decline. Our Uk decline started in the 1930's. Very similar to the pre war aircraft industry, but on a much bigger scale. The RN had something like 350 corvettes or bigger warships. Plus all the oilers and minesweepers and coastal boats etc. The RN was massive. The largest fleet in the world. And consequently the shipbuilders all relied on government orders. The naval treaties of the 20's and 30's had capped the RN and shipbuilding was already in decline.

I read somewhere that shipbuilding in the mid 1930's was just 7-10% of the 1914 level.

But 1914 was also the last of the age of the ship. The aeroplane and freight truck was on the way.

Timbo614 said...

> zx81 - nah zx80 would be cooler and likely to survive the EMP :)

Bill Quango MP said...

Y Ddraig Goch: Ok , I see what you mean. Its a bit known, unknown though. How do we know what we might/should need?

And of course many, many failures of early WW2 stem from drawing the wrong lessons, or lessons that were about to change, from WW1.

Admirals wanted to go back to fleets, not submarines. generals wanted an AFv that was no faster than a walking soldier, Airmen thought that the age of the dogfight was over at 350mph. {and again at 500mph and again at 800mph..wrong each time}.

And as the army say "Never trust an equipment programme with 'Future' in the title, and never ask a PARA as they want everything to fit into a C130!"

Old BE said...

There is one thing the state can do now which it should do: get on with some very large infrastructure projects. It's not as if there aren't things that need doing, it would hardly be make-work.

London and the SE need motorways and railways and the housing that those things bring. We all need much better communications.

The government could even get "other people" to pay for it: issue a bond which pays more than current gilt rates but less than inflation, watch the wall of money pile in.

The main problem with the economy at the moment is caution. If more people could see that there is a future and that Britain is getting down to business then this slow grind could quickly be turned into confidence. There are lots of people and businesses with plenty of cash sloshing around but who are too risk averse to do anything other than lend it to HMG or the Germans.

Y Ddraig Goch said...


I see the conversation has moved on - but I'd like to complete this thought since you took the trouble to reply.

"How do we know what we might/should need?"

In absolute terms, you can't. The idea is to choose actions that either don't cost much if they don't work out or that have multiple benefits so that enough are likely to materialise to make it an overall success.

I'll try to be a bit more specific in a moment.

"Admirals wanted to go back to fleets, not submarines. generals wanted an AFv that was no faster than a walking soldier, "

These illustrate two very different mistakes. The soldiers actually didn't have much to go on. Some small one-sided engagements in the Spanish Civil War, and some mixed results buried in the vast tragedy of WW1, plus their own experiments. The British got it wrong, but at the time it wasn't the open and shut case that it appears now. The Navy's position on the other hand was completely indefensible. In WW1, facing a large German navy, they managed one brief, inconclusive fleet skirmish at Jutland. By the late '30s there was no credible prospect of such a thing happening against Nazi Germany's paltry surface fleet. By contrast, U-boats had nearly starved Britain into surrender in WW1 and were the real and obvious threat for the foreseeable future. But the Admirals desperately wanted to play battleships - so the facts were discarded. By doing this, they threw away (ie they did not "overlook" or "fail to notice", they actively discarded) the opportunity to implement relatively inexpensive counters to the U-boat threat.

So, let me try, belatedly, to be more specific about today. Recently I've encountered the 2010 Equality Act and its consequences in the public sector. It imposes a duty on public sector bodies to promote equality. The legislation is both broad and vague, so it is very difficult to know whether you comply with it or not. For true believers in political correctness it provides the perfect excuse to sink endless effort into futile busyness. However, even for people who are trying to do useful work, the vagueness of the Act compels time-wasting thoroughness in pursuit of a target that isn't clear. So this Act will waste a lot of time, money and effort for little or no gain. I assume this Harman-authored Act is still in place because it would be politically awkward to do the right thing and just kill it. But, why didn't the present government quietly sabotage it? Postpone the implementation date by five years. Defund any agency that tries to enforce it. Set a maximum upper limit to the amount that can be spent on compliance. Anything really to neuter it. As it stands this Act is cancerous; it raises costs and cuts productivity across the entire public sector. Sabotaging it would be cheap and would make the public sector a little less wasteful and a little more productive. Isn't that what we want?