The Wargamer

26 May 2017

Book Review: The American Arsenal

The World War II Official Standard Ordnance Catalogue

Published on 2 APR 2014 6:32am by Paul Robinson
  1. world war ii, ground combat, background / research material, english

The full sub title of this book serves, as it is designed to, as a great summary of what this book is all about – “The World War II Official Standard Ordnance Catalogue of Small Arms, Tanks, Armoured Cars, Artillery, Anti-aircraft Guns, Ammunition, Grenades, Mines, et cetera”.  It is quite a mouthful and I was somewhat overwhelmed when I first opened the book up (which has the re-assuring heft that you do not get with an e-reader!). It is absolutely jammed packed with information and technical detail.  Therefore it took even this veteran reviewer a number of quick “flick through” reads to really get my head around quite how much there is here.

The book as described by its editor, the late Ian Hogg (who was one of the world’s most well-known weapons experts and edited Jane’s Infantry Weapons from 1972 to 1994) is “the ultimate compendium of equipment used by the US Army in 1944/45.  In no other source can so much detail be found, together with authorative statement of the development and introduction process.”  Mr Hogg has drawn together the original pages from the official master catalogue that the Ordnance Department thought was necessary produce to ensure information released to officers and soldiers was of a consistent nature. 

The process of the development of this catalogue (and others) is very succinctly told in the book’s Introduction and over a mere three pages Mr Hogg opens a world of bureaucracy and self-interest that is as fascinating as the rest of the book.  He also points out that in one or two places the original catalogue pages could not be copied or were damaged beyond repair and therefore these have had to have been re-written or re-created.  This does nothing to de-tract from the book overall (and for the purists these pages are fairly easy to distinguish from originals).

The rest of the book is divided into four main sections: Tanks and Automotive; Artillery; Small Arms; and Ammunition.  The Contents page gives the first clue to the amount of information in the book; randomly picking on items of equipment listed we have everything from light tanks (12 or so pages worth), through cargo trailers, railway and seacoast artillery and onwards to sub calibre and practice ammunition!

So what does this all actually look like? For the vehicles the information is laid out in a similar format.  There is a written description of the development of the vehicle (divided into its separate marks or versions where relevant), detail on crew positions for tanks, fuel capacity, weaponry and when the vehicle came into service and when it officially became obsolete.  Then at the end of the written section there is the real technical detail under the label of “Typical Characteristics”.  This really gets into the nuts and bolts.  You’d expect information on armour thickness, engine, height, weight and armament and of course you get that.  However as this is the official catalogue you get track width, engine torque, fuel capacity, transmission type and much more.  For rule writers and wargamers you get not just detail on how much ammo can be stowed for the main cannon and/or machine guns but you also get what capacity for the crew’s personal small arms there was.  So for example in the M26 heavy Tank the crew could stow 12 hand grenades, 12 signal flares, 5 sub machine guns and 1 M2 carbine!   Each vehicle has at least one photograph and a silhouette which shows its dimensions (height, width and length).  It would be impossible to list all of the vehicles listed (this Section is divided into 26 different categories of vehicle type) but I’ll pick five random examples (excluding the obvious Sherman, half-track variants-of which there are several – and self-propelled guns); so we have the 13 ton high-speed tractor M25, the bomb lift truck M1, ordnance maintenance trucks 2.5 ton 6x6, the 5 passenger medium sedan 4x2 and men’s and women’s bicycles!

The next section, Artillery, is the same basic layout as the one on vehicles but the technical detail is listed as “Principal Characteristics” and gives information on weight of gun, powder charge and complete round; length of recoil as well as the rifling details (eg for the 57mm M1 anti-tank gun it is has 24 grooves and a uniform, right hand twist with one turn in 30 calibers).  As this Section only has seven categories it is easy to list them-Mobile Artillery, Railway and Seacoast Artillery, Tank Armament, Antiaircraft Artillery, Sub Caliber Guns, Harbor Defense Mines and Aircraft Armament.  Again a random selection of five individual items of kit will have to suffice to whet your appetite dear reader; 75mm field howitzer M1A1, 8 inch gun Mk VI MOD 3A2 – railway mount M1A1, 37mm subcaliber gun M13 and buoyant mine case M2 (note the section on sea mines and associated equipment is somewhat less detailed than other items in the book).

Small Arms are covered in Section 3.  Twelve categories here.  As well as the obvious machine guns and rifles there is information on machine gun mounts, small arms ammunition, body armor and projectors and dischargers.  Again similar layout to previous chapters with the technical information under the heading of “Characteristics” after a write up of the weapon or piece of kit in question.  You have the information you would expect-weight, rate of fire etc but also information on trigger pull weight and breech pressure.  Two curiosities about this section.  Firstly there is no detail or reference to the Thompson sub machine gun, although the M3 is covered.  But the book does cover the Saber, M1907 and associated scabbard!  I can understand, in a book so full of technical obscurity, why the Ordnance Department would include the latter but not why they would exclude the former?  At the back of this section there are a number of miscellaneous items including holsters, handcarts and ammo boxes.  Truly (nearly) all of military life is here!

The final Section of the book covers Ammunition (20mm rounds upwards) and covers twenty five categories (including fuzes, hand grenades and rocket launchers).   Here as well as the write up on each type of round there is a cross section showing details of the fuze, primer, explosive etc.   Just to give you a flavour of the amount of information here within those twenty five overall ammunition categories there are ten individual types of 37mm round described  (from armour piercing to canister)!

Usually in a review I would comment on the style of writing; is it easy to read, does the author drone on etc.  Ian Hogg’s brief Introduction is a masterpiece in how to put a mass of interesting and relevant information into three short pages.  The rest of the book has really been written by some nameless and unknown US Army bureaucrat.  Now that sounds like a recipe for a dull and turgid read.  However you would be mistaken; the text is crisp and authorative and as long as you have an interest in military equipment (either as a US Soldier of the Second World War, or modern day wargamer, modeller or military vehicle enthusiast) is an excellent read.

So overall this is a very good book, not one for the general reader by a very long chalk but one for the group of people just mentioned.  And given the amount of information here it represents excellent value for money.

The “American Arsenal” available now in hardback from Pen & Sword Books, normal price £30 (ISBN 9781848327269).


NB .The book was first published in 2001 and this is a new edition for 2014.