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Picking Up the Pace: Improving American Ship Building During World War II

Building a warship takes a long time, years in fact.  But during the Second World War the United States, by adopting innovative techniques such as modularization, standardization, and prefabrication of many components, plus the adoption triple-shifts in shipyards, was able to realize a dramatic reduction in the time required to construct almost every type of warship.

Average Construction Time in Months
Type Pre-War Wartime
Battleship 36-42 29-39
Carrier 30-40 13-25
Heavy Cruiser 30-40 20-24
Light Cruiser 27-38 13-23
AA Cruiser -- 19-24

Figures are based on the difference in construction time between ships laid down in the mid-to late-1930s, when America began to rearm, and those laid down after 1939, when the possibility of war became increasingly likely.  Ships that were deliberately delayed of completion in favor of more desperately needed types, notably aircraft carriers and destroyers, have been omitted.

Some ships were completed in amazingly short times  The “record” in each category is:

Battleship Indiana (BB-58) 29 months, though the considerably larger Iowa (BB-62) required only 30 months
Carrier Franklin (CV-13), 13 months
Heavy Cruiser Pittsburgh CA-72), 20 months
Light Cruiser Amsterdam (CL-59), 13 months
AA Cruiser Atlanta (CLAA-51) and San Juan (CLAA-54), 19 months

Figures for smaller warships, notably destroyers and submarines, are harder to calculate, as so many were built, and some shipyards staged publicity stunts in which they completed a ship in record time, often in mere days, but under conditions that could not possibly have been sustained for serial production.  Nevertheless, it appears that destroyers laid down in the late 1930s, when rearmament was just beginning, required some 13-24 months, while those laid down after 1939 could be completed in some 4-8 months, with the record apparently being the Thorn (DD-647), in about 135 days, from keel laying to commissioning.  For submarines in similar circumstances, the figures appear to have been 14-24 months prewar, and as little as 5 months at the peak of the war.  And merchant ships, especially Liberty ships or Victory ships, could be churned out in as little as a month, literally on an assembly line basis.

BookNotes: The best treatment of the design and construction of American warships, which naturally pays much attention to World War II, is Norman Friedman’s “Illustrated Design History” series, with highly detailed volumes for battleships,  carriers,  cruisers,  destroyers,  submarines, and even amphibious ships.

 

Paying the Troops, 1686

In 1686, an English regiment of the foot totaled about 600 officers and men, and if at full strength annually received in pay from King James II £10,922 12s 6 d, today perhaps £15.9 million based on average earnings. 

Each regiment consisted of a staff of eight officers and specialists, plus ten companies, of which the colonel was also captain of the first, while the lieutenant-colonel and major might also command their own companies.  Companies comprised three officers, five NCOs, a drummer, and 50 private soldiers.  

StaffPounds ShillingPence
£ s d
1 Colonel 0 12 0
1 Lieutenant-Colonel 0 7 0
1 Major 0 5 0
1 Chaplain 0 6 8
1 Surgeon 0 4 0
1 Surgeon’s Mate 0 2 6
1 Adjutant 0 4 0
1 Quarter-Master and Marshal 0 4 0
Total for Staff 2 5 2
Each of Ten Companies
1 Captain 0 6 0
1 Lieutenant 0 4 0
1 Ensign 0 3 0
2 Sergeants @ 18 d each 0 3 0
3 Corporals @ 1 s each 0 3 0
1 Drummer 0 1 0
50 Privates @ 2 d each 1 13 4
Total 2 15 4

So total daily pay for a full regiment, including 8 d a day for the colonel as commander of the first company, came to £29 13s 6 d.  Although the lieutenant-colonel and the major might also commanded companies, they had to settle for the same 6 d that ordinary captains earned.

By the way, under existing military regulations, the colonel and most other officers were allowed a percentage of any accounts that they were required to handle, so their actual income was higher than what is indicated here, even without the possibility that they were engaged in less licit skimming.

Of course, the private’s two pence (“tuppence” -- about £12.60 today) was subject to deductions for uniforms, rations, and even arms and equipment, but on average he probably made out at least as well as a common agricultural worker.  Agricultural wages, which were seasonal, were usually about a penny a day when there was work, and might rise to 1½-2 pence during harvest time.   


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