*A Call to Arms*

The author is Maury Klein and the subtitle is Mobilizing America for World War II, and it weighs in at almost 900 pp.  So far it is quite good, and well-written, though fairly slow in getting off the ground.  Here is one bit:

The navy was in no better shape.  It too suffered from an antiquated organization and sclerotic leadership that still looked back to the last war.  When Frank Knox took office, his staff included only a military aide and some secretaries.  The navy had six bureaus but no central  procurement authority and hardly any knowledge of or statistics on the proposed expansion program.  Nor did it have any inventory of existing stocks or catalog of facilities or any semblance of long-range production planning.  Its contracting machinery was primitive and glacial.  James Forrestal, occupying the new position of undersecretary, had neither office nor staff nor defined duties.  He and Knox would have to start from scratch, often butting heads with an entrenched officer corps.

Here is a useful WSJ review.


You'd hope that the Army was rubbish because a standing army is a threat to liberty. I don't see the point in a lousy Navy though.

If anyone is interested in this topic, it's worth getting your hands on a copy of "Arsenal of Democracy" by Donald M. Nelson, chairman of the War Production Board, who Roosevelt endowed with nearly dictatorial power over private US production in order to get stockpiles of raw materials and finished products alike at levels sufficient for war. I suspect "A Call to Arms" and other literature on this topic cite Nelson heavily -- you may prefer the first-hand account and level of detail only Nelson can provide. It gets tangled up in politics as well, but it's nevertheless 500 pages shorter than "A Call to Arms" and doesn't shy away from the details. E.g. Chapter 15: "How we Stretched Our Rubber Supply"...

The Navy had some glaring structural defects, as noted, but some overlooked strengths, including a number of imaginative, talented senior officers with the ability to select and put into key positions more of the same. The prewar Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Harold Stark, is forgotten today but at the time -- recognized within a small circle -- he was an outstanding strategic thinker who clarified US global strategy in 1941 with an influential memo endorsed by his Army colleague, George C. Marshall. Stark and others also reached deep into the seniority list after Pearl Harbor to promote Chester Nimitz to the key Pacific Fleet command. Admiral William Halsey was a senior prewar commander who proved to be an effective leader through most of the war, and also pressed Nimitz to promote a very capable junior Rear Admiral, Raymond Spruance, into a series of increasingly responsible posts. The Navy had a lot of human talent, and most of it was in place by early 1942.

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