Wars are still won with guns, shells, bullets. canada now makes guns by the thousand, shells by the mil-lion, bullets by the hundred million
EAST with from loads Montreal of scrap metal trucks clutter bulging the untidily South Shore highway. Down the railroad which, before Munich, was just a couple of streaks of rust meandering across French Canada, freight cars laden with torn-up street railway tracks, rusted girders, beams and worn-out skillets crawl along behind wheezy locomotives. During navigation season great scoops hoist the stuff from the decks of barges and the holds of inland freighters as well.
The raw material of naval and field guns is on its way to one of the few arsenals in the world which take in scrap metal at one end of the assembly line and spew forth finished ordnance at the other.
The great scrap piles are the only untidiness on view, however. Inside the walls of the huge streamlined plant which, despite many changes and problems, was the first major gun plant in Canada to get into war production, all is orderly progression. The scrap itself is shovelled into great furnaces, to be melted down, blended with new elements and emerge as new steel, ready for casting into barrels and other outsize parts of fieldpieces and naval guns.
Those immense forgings in themselves are something. As they swing from the moving cranes they would reach from sidewalk to sidewalk of the average city street. This is the beginning, this hulking chunk of roughly shaped steel, of the barrel of a weapon which will pour destruction from the gun turret of cruiser or battleship.
On immense lathes, tended mainly by Frenchspeaking workmen who, less than two years ago, were down on the farm and whose knowledge of fire power was limited to shotguns, the barrels take shape and shine.
Yet these crews handle their multitudinous precision jobs like veterans of a quarter century at lathe and bench. That is something which constantly puzzles and in some small degree still irritates the old-timers, steeped in the tradition of doing everything the hard way.
In Canada the success of armament and munitions production may be credited directly to the fact that its problems were faced as mass-manufacturing problems by mass-manufacturing men. Time was not available for the creation of a corps of veterans. So the experts took their people “off the street” and gave them hurried training in specialized tasks. To the machines they committed much of the responsibility for accuracy, rigging them with stops and checks which reduced the possibility of error almost to the vanishing point, so that the operator, schooled in a few simple
tasks and motions, can’t go wrong so long as he sticks to the rules and keeps his mind on his work.
The statement is true of the whole war production field. Skill had to be created overnight. This huge gun plant is one of the places where the idea developed, simply because it was one of the first major arsenals to move into war production.
Birth of a Giant
IT CAME to production through as strange a series of vicissitudes as a baby enterprise ever encountered. Late in 1937 a shipbuilder came back from Britain armed with a license to build the Vosper mosquito boat and a yearning to make guns. Months passed. Finally, after securing Ottawa’s slowly given blessing, he received an “educational order” from Britain to make 25-pounders in a non-existent plant with the co-operation of France’s Sehneider-Creusot people, who were to provide the experts while the shipbuilder and his association put up the cash. By midsummer 1939 the construction job was in hand.
When France fell, came debacle; the Schneider men packed up and went home, leaving an unborn gun plant sans experts. Finally a motor corporation was asked to undertake the production job and did. On Dominion Day, 1941, the first 25-pounders rolled off the assembly line.
While the problems of mass production of the 25-pounders were being ironed out and assembly lines straightened, the automobile men who had become ordnance men were turning their attention to the big naval pieces. The job called for new tooling on gigantic scale and for the training of new men to new tasks. And the new men are now proving that new men can build big guns.
Varying in its grace notes, but identical in its principal theme, is another of Canada’s new gun plants. This company had no previous knowledge either of guns or gun mounts when they undertook to produce antitank weapons, tank armament and naval gun mountings in August, 1940, but its men knew a great deal about North American production ideas. Today they are turning out better than one gun per hour, twice around the clock, six days a week, and are creating those huge pieces of metal magic, mounts for naval guns.
In the words of Mike Black, who manages the humming plant, the job began “with nothing but a pencil and a sheet of paper” and in nine months turned out its first six 2-pounders. Mike had a building, but the building was filled with an assortment of machinery in no wise related to gun production, so that the first job was to go back behind the preliminary sheet of paper and clear the old stuff out.
The next job was to design the plant, to acquire tool-making machines and adapt them to the job, to install these and a vast assortment of machinery on which the tools could be used to make guns. All this is not as simple as it sounds. Most of these machines were not dreamed up by gunmakers, but by men with the practices of general commerce in mind. First they must be adapted to the job, and in a few cases the engineers charged with setting up the plant found it necessary to strip the new machines down to the tables on which they would operate and to build up from there each finished machine for its specific purpose.
The question of men and women to run the
machines presented another poser. As in other plants, the designers put it up to the machines. They gauged jobs so that it became literally impossible to go wrong, unless you took a nap at your lathe. Black tackled the job with seven keymen, engineers, but not gunmen. These were the nucleus. In one year 2,400 men and girls were at work in two twelve-hour shifts and 2-pounders were rolling out the door. Additional buildings were under construction. The 6-pounders were past the tooling stage. All this from the pencil-and-paper of August, from the arrival of three men in an empty plant in October, from a nucleus of 90 people when the place was officially declared open on February 26, 1941.
Men Behind the Guns
FROM the employment office newcomers to the plant went to school to study the tools they would operate, graduated after a short course onto the actual production jobs. Today you will discover a young gentleman of Chinese birth operating a $25,000 boring mill on no more than three months elementary training in technical school. Three years ago no one without a decade of shop experience would have been allowed to so much as touch so valuable an implement.
Walk through the aisle where barrels are bored and you will come upon an elderly gentleman who not long ago was operating a barber-chair in Moncton and getting letters from a son who had journeyed west to become a munitions worker. The father’s curiosity was aroused. Maybe he could fit into this munitions business. So he put away scissors and razors and caught a train. Arrived at the gun plant, he was turned over to his youngster for schooling. The other day Father finished his five hundredth gun barrel—with only one “spoil” in the list. An amazing record !
Esprit de corps in this, as in other gun plants,
is high. Among Old Countrymen in particular a private war with Hitler is being waged, and the spirit is instilled into everybody else. ' There is, for example, the elderly citizen who in private life is mayor of a near-by town. When war began Ted Brindley was a planer in another plant, but as soon as he heard about the guns he quit. He caught on as a foreman. For the cause he was ready and willing to do what few craftsmen of long experience will do—1-disgorge the knowledge of his years of labor for the benefit of the youngsters. But this was war. Somebody had to get guns across the Atlantic to Britain. If the imparting of his private fund of knowledge to the tyros would make the guns move faster, then imparted the knowledge would be. There is a price on all this information, however. It consists of kicking-in for the Queen’s Canadian Fund every payday if you work on Brindley’s line!
Or there is Tom Carveth, who is trouble-shooter around the humming factory, the fellow whose job it is to keep things moving ahead of schedule. Tom has been around a long time. In prewar days he had played around with new political wheezes, had run a radio forum, believed (quiet correctly) that something had gone seriously wrong with democracy and was always thinking up some new idea which he hoped might fix the trouble. Then war came and Tom became a gunman, personally and completely at war with Adolf Hitler. Now he travels a dozen miles a day over cement floors, pepping up the help, prodding the production lines, keeping things moving, thinking of nothing but guns, guns and more guns—and having the time of his life doing it.
Too bad the powers-that-be have become so chary of production figures and place names after months of telling all, for the record of gun production in this and other plants is something to make a man proud of the Canadian worker and the man who directs the worker at his tasks. Today not merely 25-pounders, naval guns and antitank weapons are pouring from the assembly lines. From other plants come the Bofors and 3.7 antiaircraft guns; trench mortars, Bren guns, Browning aircraft machine guns; Lee-Enfield rifles; safetyfuse pistols and depth-charge throwers.
IN THE realm of cartridge case manufacture Canada has established an enviable record. Five firms are engaged: Robert Mitchell Co., The Pedlar People, Dominion Bridge, Aluminum Goods, Ltd., and Canadian Motor Lamp Co. The plants turn out millions upon millions of shining brass cases to be filled and primed in Canadian explosives factories, or to be shipped overseas empty for filling in Britain. According to Major General R. F. Lock, Inspector-General of Munitions for the United Kingdom in Canada and the United States, workers in British filling plants prefer Canadian empties to those of other manufacture. The Canadian manufacturer and the Canadian workman have done a job!
Two years prior to the war one company made a survey of the case-making potentialities of the Dominion. The result found its way into filing cabinets at Ottawa and stayed there. Finally, six weeks after the outbreak of hostilities, the company was authorized to produce 7,000 brass cases per week for the 25-pounder gun, which uses a propellent that is not, in the jargon of the trade, “fixed” ammunition, but is a separate unit from the projectile which it hurls into the air. By the time the tentative production date was reached in the spring of 1940, the order called for 30,000 cases a week. At the end of May, 1941, however, the machines and their people were out in front of the schedule with more than 60,000 finished cases to show for a week’s work. The first million cases were accepted in 236 days, the second in exactly half the time. Since then new million marks have been passed in rapid succession.
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By the time the 25-pounder cartridges were in production these makers were asked to tool up for the 2pounder antitank gun’s ammunition. Again they beat the production gun by a wide margin; again they turned out quantities far in excess of presumed capacity—the first 1,000,000 cases in 109 days, followed by figures which almost cut the first run in half on the time clock.
The raw material of a cartridge case is a brass disc, varying in thickness according to the size of the finished article. In the case of the 25-pounder, the disc is slightly more than six and a quarter inches in diameter and just over half-inch thickness. It assumes the proportions of the ultimate case through a series of “draws,” in each of which a punch is pushed against the base, forcing the metal upward to assume its cylindrical shape. Annealings restore the plasticity of the metal, and give it ductility to take the next drawing. Along the way each case acquires a fiat base, or head, indented in the centre. After six draws the case is trimmed to accurate final length and is tapered at the top. The indent in the base is drilled through, for subsequent loading of the primer—and voila! the finished 25-pounder case, ready for manufacturer’s and government inspection.
Variety In Projectiles
IN OTHER plants are produced other munitions. Today Canada is producing twenty types of shells, eleven of small arms ammunition, thirteen types of cartridge cases, many other classes of projectiles and propellents. Tens of millions of rounds of .303 small arms ammunition are coming from one plant alone, recently visited by the writer, where almost 4,000 men and women are at work in two ten-hour shifts, seven days a week.
To the unskilled eye your everyday rifle or machine gun ammunition may look comparatively simple to turn out, but forty-nine distinct operations go into its make-up. One machine performs no less than thirteen operations on the bullet while the tiny projectile is hidden from view in its interior! Finally bullet and case are brought together and made one, the case being filled with its load of powder and its base with the primer to explode it. The piece of rifle ammunition is treated to a sawdust bath, known in the trade as “rumbling,” submitted to rigid inspection (government inspection calls for the services of 1,000 people in this one plant alone), and shipped to far-flung battle lines.
Two thousand machines set up a constant humming under this huge roof. In a “corner” approximately the size of a city block one of the greatest machine shops in Canada turns out the tools for the job to the tune of 5,000 a day. A year and a half ago this vast plant was a hodge-
podge of rental tenants, housing a chain store’s offices and warehouses and numerous small businesses. Defence Industries Limited (war work subsidiary of C.I.L.) moved in to provide management when the Government took over the emptied building in December, 1940. Production was reached in March and what may be called “real” production in August, when the plant began to hit seven figures a day in its totals. It is still going up. It will continue until the peak Í3 reached, when, according to Plant Manager Hanna, 8,000 people will be employed.
After producing 130,000,000 rounds of .303 cartridges and 50,000,000 of other types, a small arms ammunition plant, also under D.I.L.-C.I.L. control, in a small Canadian town, recently changed over to the production of tracer for the Air Force. The Canadian product is a compromise between British and U.S. tracer types and has proved exceptionally successful. Approximately 3,000 people are employed, of whom almost fifty per cent are women. Primers for the D.I.L. plant, discussed earlier, are also manufactured in the tracer-bullet factory.