This article was posted on Thursday, Dec 01, 2022

Continued … Every reasonable effort was made to complete Hoover Dam during the bonus period, when incentives would be paid for early completion. To motivate the men working on the grout curtain, concrete pours were scheduled before the curtain was finished. This was supposed to put significant pressure on those workers who were responsible to find and fill voids in the bedrock.

Prescheduling grout pours was intended to make the laborers work faster. But there is a limit. When they found voids or hot springs too big to readily fill in a timely manner, the workers simply moved on without resolving the problem(s). Of the 393 holes sunk, 58 were incompletely filled, and required corrective action. The work was done in relative secrecy in the nine years between 1939 and 1947.

The dam was dedicated in 1935, two years ahead of schedule. Bonuses were awarded.

Backstory: America entered WWII twice. The first time was on December 8th, 1941, the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. On that day we officially declared war on Japan. Three days later, on December 12th, Nazi Germany declared war on us. The United States was suddenly in a two-front war, and the question was one of how best to proceed.

President Roosevelt (period in office, 1933 – 1945) and his advisors made the strategic decision to distribute our forces unequally. The Army went to Europe. The much smaller Navy and Marine Corps went to the Pacific Theater. The distribution of forces was the last easy decision of the war.

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The European Theater was fundamentally a land war. “This is France, Belgium is up the block. You can walk there.” A land Army was appropriate to that geography.

The Navy was (largely) sent to the Pacific Theater, where battles were contested in the open-ocean triangle formed by Pearl Harbor (Dec, 1941), southwest to the Coral Sea (May, 1942) and thence north to Okinawa (June, 1945). The area subsumes a little over 9,000,000 square miles. During the period from 1942 (Midway) to 1945 (Iwo Jima and Okinawa) a total of seven naval battles were fought.

Logistics: “Infantry wins battles, logistics wins wars”. That is a famous quote by Army General John J. Pershing, who commanded the American Expeditionary Forces during WWI. He was neither the first commander to have such thoughts nor the last. It is not unreasonable to believe that thought has passed behind the eyes of every victorious commander. Wikipedia defines it thusly: “In a general business sense, logistics is the management of the flow of things between the point of origin and the point of consumption . . .”  Logistics is basically the management of the supply chain. It moves things from where they are to where they are needed.

That definition is largely indistinguishable from “Economics is the allocation of finite goods to satisfy infinite demand”, something Harry Hazlitt wrote in his justly famous “Economics in One Lesson” (1946). Interestingly, at a basic level logistics and economics are comparable disciplines. If there is a difference it might be that Economics would be the academic end and Logistics the practical, but they are very close to being the same thing. The first responsibility of the battlefield commander is the timely replacement of consumed men and materiel. It can be, especially at the higher levels, a full-time job. It’s not uncommon for a commander to shed accountability for logistics onto a single man who reports directly to the commander.

General Brehon Burke Somervell

The man who was assigned responsibility for overall American military logistics during WWII was General Brehon Burke Somervell (b. 9 May 1892 d. 13 February 1955). His economic background is unrecorded, but he was a superb logistician. At the time the nascent Air Force had not yet separated from the Army. The Coast Guard would not be considered a belligerent for another year. But we had under arms 1,462,000 Army personnel, 284,000 Navy, and 54,000 Marines, for a total of 1.8 million military personnel. It was General Somervell’s responsibility to have available to each of these 1,800,000 people what they required, in the necessary amount, and at the time needed.

Men and things are broken in battle. Men are wounded and casualties triaged. Ships sink. Ammunition is consumed as though it was free (see below). Hungry men need large quantities of preserved foods. reported that a single meal of WWII C-Rations provided about 1,233 calories. During the Vietnam War C-Rations were replaced by MREs (in government-speak, “Meals, Ready to Eat”). MREs are curated to provide 1,250 calories per meal, about the same calories as C-Rations, for about the same work. That comes out to 3,750 calories per day per man. It should be noted that a pound of body fat is equivalent to 3,500 calories. War rations presume that each man will burn the equivalent of one pound of body weight per day (hypothetically, 365 pounds per year) and those losses must be replaced. Wars consume a lot of energy.

In addition to calories, everybody needs boots that fit, letters from home and much else. All these things and more had to be delivered to where the troops were, or kept and stored until the fighting men returned to base. That is what logistics officers do.

Given the inevitable losses in warfare, victory depends on which country can better replace their materiel losses and battlefield casualties (whether wounded or killed).  The volume of materiel was not insignificant. As an example, logistical problem, a wooden shipping box of C-Rations contained food for 8 men for one day (i.e., 24 meals) and weighed 40 pounds (gross), or five pounds (including pro-rata shipping container) of food per man per day. There were 1.8 million men under arms. Presuming men behind the lines ate approximately the same weight of food as front-line troops, the armed forces consumed 9,000,000 pounds of food per day. (Math: 1.8 million men-under-arms x 5 lbs. per day).

As another logistics example, recorded that “In World War II, U.S. factories cranked out, along with mountains of other munitions, about 41.4 billion rounds of small-arms ammunition”. That’s about 10 billion (with a “b”) rounds annually for each of the 4 years of the war. One hundred rounds of the .30/06 cartridges used by the WWII U.S. battle rifle weigh a little under four pounds. Someone ought to do the math on that one.

It is facially true that wars are won by the defense and maintenance of proper supply chains. When that does not happen, when an army cannot replace its attrition, wars are lost. But that presents a problem. As desperately vital as logistics are, how exactly does an Army general get millions of tons of tens-of-thousands of necessary items to the front lines, over thousands of miles of ocean? That was General Somervell’s responsibility. He was the logistician President Roosevelt placed in over-all charge during WWII.

General Somervell dialed Henry J. In my mind, I imagine Henry J.’s very protective wife, Bessie, whom he deeply loved, answering the phone and responding, “Could you call back, General? We’re having dinner right now.”

Liberty Ships

Kaiser received the prescient call in 1939, two years before we officially entered WWII. He did not need to glance at a map to see that both the Pacific and the European fronts were separated from the United States by significant bodies of water. Clearly, the solution would revolve largely around cargo ships. Henry J.’s response was to create seven major shipbuilding yards on the United States’ western coast. Four yards were built in Richmond, California. The other three were constructed in Vancouver, Washington and Portland, Oregon. The shipyards were owned by the newly established Kaiser Shipbuilding Company. Their major product was Liberty ships and, later, the similarly purposed but larger Victory ships.

Henry J’s. shipyards were not the only ones in California, Washington, and Oregon. There were 16 yards on the west coast. During WWII the west coast shipyards delivered 2,368 ships. Henry J.’s seven yards (44% of the total) produced 1,202 (51%) of the total ships. Kaiser’s yards were simply more efficient than their peers.

It was not only the number of ships. It was also the speed with which they were built. Henry J. improved worker productivity by shifting from riveted hulls to welded, an idea he got from Henry Ford. Welding equipment was lighter than rivets and pneumatic hammers. The lesser weight meant workers could move more quickly from job to job and hulls could be produced meaningfully faster. It wasn’t just worker productivity that was improved, it was also total shipyard efficiency.

Henry J.’s crews completed ships in sub-assemblies (the bow, the stern, the mid-ship bits, etc.). The sections, once completed, would be welded together and voila! a ship came into being.

Average construction time for a Liberty-class cargo ship was 45 days. Henry J. challenged his shipyard workers to incorporate the above improvements and do a little better. The result was the SS Robert E. Peary, whose keel was laid on Sunday, November 8, 1942. She was launched on Thursday, November 12, four days and 16 hours later. Now, it’s probably not sportsmanlike to compare the results of a competitive race to build a single ship against the average time to complete a series of ships, but this was not the first occasion such a challenge had been made to shipyard workers, and it’s certainly fair to compare one shipbuilding competition against another. The previous competitive record had been the SS Joseph M. Teal, which took 10 days to construct.

Henry J.’s managerial improvements were enough to earn him the sobriquet “the father of modern shipbuilding”.

Note to the Reader:  This article is largely sourced from the Wikipedia entry on Henry J. Kaiser. Estimates of Japanese military deaths taken from


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