One notable milestone on the path to industrialised, ‘total’ war was the increased importance of out-producing as well as out-fighting an opponent. Despite the Entente – and Britain in particular – enjoying a superiority in industrial and manufacturing capacity at the beginning of the First World War, direction and organisation was somewhat lacking before the establishment of the Ministry of Munitions. Although this was partly the result of vastly increased demand on a private sector that was not adequately prepared for the trials of war, it nonetheless led to shortages in essential supplies. Given the scope, complexity and nature of the Ministry’s work from the summer of 1915 onward, it would be difficult to enter a detailed analysis of its performance in this blog – after all, the official history ran to 12 volumes. Instead, this post will explore the theme of shell production and the early impact of the changes the Ministry oversaw.
Reeling from the failure of the British army’s first planned offensives of the war in 1915, the country and its leadership – both political and military – largely welcomed the idea of centralising war production. From the summer of 1915 the new Ministry of Munitions took control of the development and manufacture of an increasingly broad range of equipment and war materials. As part of this process it oversaw a dramatic rationalisation of the systems of production and the coordination of state and private industries.