Edited by Major George S. Brady. Transcribed from the original text by Joe Hartwell 17 February, 2002. A history of the construction and operation of the Base Ordnance Repair Plant and Storehouses at Mehun-sur-Yevre and the story of the organization and distribution of the Ordnance personnel of the A.E.F. The original book was illustrated and printed at Government Print Shop by Ordnance Troops, Mehun-sur-Yevre, France, 1919
The Ordnance repair shops, camp U.S. Troops A.P.O 741, known as Atelier de Mehun-sur-Yevre, are located at the Village of Beauvoir, near the town of Mehun (Cher) on the main line of the P. & O. R. R., which has the main line of communication for the A.E.F.
The total area covered by these shops is 22 acres, there being in all 13 buildings, eight large shops, and five smaller buildings. All of the buildings, with the exception of the Laundry, are of steel frame construction with corrugated iron siding and roofs, the roofs being covered with Rubberoid. Six of the eight larger buildings are of modern monitor type structure, bolted together instead of riveted, in order that, should the occasion arise, the buildings could be taken down and moved within a short time. The Laundry is of frame construction covered with corrugated iron. The floors of all buildings are of firmly packed earth, with the exception of the Administration Building and the Laundry, both of these having concrete floors.
There is approximately 130 acres of parking area, all of which has been used to park temporarily enemy and allied caissons, limbers, guns, salvage and various other materials, which could not be conveniently housed.
Gun Shops number one and two have a total floor space of 294, 000 sq. ft., Gun Shop No. 1 is equipped with five 10-ton cranes and one 15-ton crane, and Gun Shop No. 2 has seven 10-ton cranes. Some machinery has been installed in Gun Shop No. 1, but a portion of this shop is still incomplete, the structural material necessary for its completion having been lost on a torpedoed ship, and although the material was replaced, the armistice had stopped all construction work before it could be erected.
The Reamer Shop is located between Gun Shops No. 1 and No. 2, and has a floor space of 43,200 sq. ft. A few lathes and grinders were installed, but were never put into operation. In addition, two sub-stations are located in this building, one containing two motor generator sets complete while the other has only a switchboard in for direct current.
The Artillery Repair Shops has a floor space of 113,000 sq. feet, over one half of which is occupied by machinery. Nearly all the machines which were to have been installed in this building have been placed, and have been in operation. Approximately 200 machines are installed and range from largest and heaviest lathes, planers, boring mills, shapers, millers and gear cutters, down to the finest precision machines. This shop is also equipped with four 10-ton cranes, two of which operate in one bay, to facilitate the handling of extra heavy work.
The Small Arms Shop has a floor space of 120,000 sq. ft., approximately one fourth of which is used by the Optical Repair Division no machines are installed in this Division, only work benches and tables being necessary to do the work. However, the Shop has sufficient equipment to take care of the tearing down, pickling, polishing and greasing of small arms. This equipment includes four large steam boilers, several batteries of buffers, a battery of three sand blasts and a large number of pickling vats. A gravity roller system is used throughout out to handle the work.
The Forge and Foundry Shop has a floor space of 39,200 sq. ft. This shop has 12 furnaces, three hammers, to drill presses and a few other miscellaneous machines installed.
The Woodworking Shop has a floor space of 64,000 sq. feet. This shop has nearly all of the machinery installed, and as originally planned, and has been operating continuously since the installation.
Warehouses Number 3 and 4 have a total floor space of 240,000 sq. ft., Warehouse Number 4 having sufficient shelving space to take care of an enormous quantity of supplies. The Administration Building covers and area of 10,400 sq. ft., and contains the offices of the Departments of the camp. It also houses the drafting room and a completely equipped printing shop.
The Laundry, covering an area of 1,920 sq. ft., was originally built as a bath house for use of the soldiers employed in the plant, but is now equipped with one complete set of American laundry machinery of the latest type, and it takes for all of the man in camp.
One other steel building, having a floor area of 1, 600 sq. ft., is used by the plant Construction and Maintenance Division as a combined Plumbing, Tinning and Paint Shop.
From left to right; Col. Wesson, Camp Commander, Maj. Ericson, Lt. Col. Hubbard, Lt. Col. Doe, Maj. Brady, Maj. Dodge and Capt. French standing in front of a large artillery park on the base. Photo provided by Paul Szymanski who purchased a photo album of Capt. French with these photos.
The Camp is divided into six Departments: Military, Administration, Shops, Supply, Inspection and Salvage, each a complete unit in itself, but all harmonizing into one complete organization.
The Military Department takes care of the housing, messing, clothing and entertainment of the men in the camp, and keeps all military records.
The Administration Department acts as the auxiliary units for the entire plant, and is charged with the maintenance of facilities and records for the co- ordination of the other Departments. It is composed of six Divisions: File and Record, Engineering, Shops Personnel, Trucking, Motor Transportation and Laundry. The File and Records Division maintains general files, a mail control and distribution system, and it a messenger service. The Engineering Division plans and authorizes all work, keeps records of at its progress, makes all drawings and blueprints, and also has attached to it a completes printing establishment. The Shops Personnel Division oversees the requirements and distribution of the personnel, keeps a record of each man, and takes charge of all other personnel questions. The Trucking and Motor Transportation Divisions maintain transportation, the former within the plant, and the ladder outside the plant.
The Shop's Departments is in charge of cleaning, repairing and preparing for shipment all material arriving at this Post, and of the manufacture of any new material. It is made up of six Divisions: Artillery Repair, Small Arms and Machine Gun, Woodworking, Optical Repair, Construction and Maintenance, and Electrical, each of which are further divided into sections. The Artillery Repair Division handles all artillery, the sizes ranging from 340mm. - 37mm., and in addition takes charge of all battery equipment and artillery accessories. The Machine Shop also comes under its head. The Small Arms and Machine Gun Divisions overhauls, repairs, crates, and prepares for shipment all machine guns, rifles, pistols and revolvers, all hand arms, and small arms accessories. The Woodworking Division manufactures the crates and boxes for the shipment of all material, and any other woodworking material as called upon. The Optical Repair Division is charged with the preservation, repairing and shipment of all fire control and optical instruments. The Construction and Maintenance and The Electrical Divisions are auxiliary in their nature, the first in charge of the upkeep of the plant, and any new construction, which may be necessary, while the latter installs and maintains all electrical equipment including the telephone system.
The Supply Department is charged not only with supplying this plant with working materials, but also the maintenance of records of all material received and shipped, all storage facilities, property and accountability, and acts as one of the General Ordnance Supply Depots for the A.E.F. The Transportation Division of this department oversees all yard operations, and takes charge of checking.
The Inspection Department in specs and recommends all necessary repairs on all material, and is responsible for the proper condition of all material before shipment. It is made up of an Artillery Inspection Division, a Small Arms Inspection Division and a Reports Division. This latter Division keeps a complete record of the condition of each gun passing through the plant, and it makes a report of all enemy material received and the special features of each.
The Salvage Department takes charge of the reclamation and disposition of all salvaged material. This selling, destroying, shipping and otherwise disposing of the large quantity of salvage received from the front.
The provision of Ordnance Repair Facilities for the American Forces in France was the purpose contemplated by the Chief of Ordnance in Office Order No. 47, which established the Divisions of American Ordnance Base Depot in France. Col. D. M. King was relieved from duty at Rock Island Arsenal in July, 1917, and ordered to Washington to take charge of the project, and directed to proceed with the design and procurement of the necessary buildings, machinery and equipment, and to secure personnel required for operating the various shops and establishments then proposed. It had been learned through the French High Commission that existing shops or facilities would not be sufficient for the repair of the Ordnance material for the American Expeditionary Forces in very great quantities.
Steps were at once taken to assemble the required commissioned personnel, and, in order to expedite the design and purchase of material, contracts were negotiated in early August with the firm of Stone & Webster, of Boston. They at once opened offices in the building occupied by the Division of American Ordnance Base Depot in France, and the preliminary work, which the undertaking involved, was promptly began.
The project, at its inception, contemplated the erection, at a point then undetermined, of a complete Ordnance establishment, which would combine at one center, repair and warehousing facilities, approximately 38 buildings, estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $25 million dollars when erected and equipped. As soon as the tentative plans were completed three officers were dispatched to France, September, 1917, with instructions to submit the project to the Commander-in-Chief, and to return as promptly as possible with the information required to complete that part of the work that must be of necessity be done in the United States. In the meantime, the procurement of buildings, machinery, equipment and materials was actively under way. The organization was being perfected, and the commission the personnel was being carefully selected and they assembled. On October 22, 1917, the first shipment of material was made from the United States, consisting of one steel warehouse.
By November 1917, plans were well under way, and a good idea existed of the personnel which would be required to run the plants as projected. A large number of officers had been selected and were assigned for duty with the Division. Schools were started at Rock Island, Watervliet and Frankford Arsenals to familiarize all these reserved officers with artillery and arsenal methods. It developed that enlisted personnel would not be available from other sources, and officers were sent out to various parts of the country for purpose of recruiting men of mechanical training. About 9,000 men were enlisted in the Ordnance Department for this Division during the months of November and December. As many of these men as possible were sent to the Arsenal Schools. The remaining men were sent to camps where accommodations could be found for them.
The work of design was practically completed, and a plant when completed was expected to consist of the following buildings:
|1 Carriage Assembly Shop||240x500 ft.|
|1 Carriage Machine Shop||226x500 ft.|
|1 Woodworking Shop||200x320 ft.|
|1 Forge and Foundry||160x245 ft.|
|2 Gun Shops, each||245x600 ft.|
|1 Reamer Shop||182x240 ft.|
|1 Tractor Shop||245x620 ft.|
|1 Tractor Shop||122x580 ft.|
|1 Tank Repair Shop||245x620 ft.|
|1 Small Arms Shop||240x600 ft.|
|6 Warehouses||240x500 ft.|
About 50 orders for building materials, totaling about $3,500,000 had been placed. The mechanical layouts required forty-two 50 H. P. oil engines and six 100 H .P. oil engines of the Semi-Diesel type for Power and Light, forty traveling Electric cranes in the machine shop, 220 jib cranes, 350 I-beam trolleys and 400 small hoists. Ten miles of track, 400 cars and 200 turntables were to be used for the industrial railways and the storehouses. About 75 mechanical orders involving about $1,100,000 had been placed.
Then machinery and equipment consisted of about 1,800 machine tools of which about 98 percent had been ordered by January 1918, on 350 orders amounting to about $4,500,000.
In addition, about 1,700 orders for material and construction equipment had been placed amounting to about $10,500,000. These orders constituted about 90 percent of the buildings, machinery, equipment, etc., and this material was reaching the port well in advance of the capacity for shipment overseas. By December 18th, 1917, 90 days after the first order was placed, 15,000 tons of the 24,000 tons of structural steel ordered up to that time had been delivered at the seaboard. Representatives of Stone & Webster had then been in France several months to arrange for the receipt and care of material on arrival, and to prepare for the active prosecution of the construction work, which, however, they were only permitted to supervise, as all construction work was taken over by the Engineer Corps.
Colonel King, accompanied by a group of 35 officers, sailed for France on February 18th, 1918, with the intention of actively undertaking the erection of the shops and equipment then arriving. He left in the United States a sufficient organization to complete the work of purchase and shipment. There had already sailed as much of the enlisted personnel as it was possible to dispatch under the A.E.F. program, and other units were organized and awaiting the priority schedule for the shipment of troops.
Plant A, located at Is-sur-Tille, having a been begun during the winter of 1917-1918 and the location of Plant B, having been secured at Mehun, the first material arrived here on January 28th, 1918, consisting of eight carloads, coming from St. Nazaire.
On January 30th, 1918, three Stone & Webster construction men arrived in camp at Beauvoir, near Mehun-sur-Yevre, to start work on “Plant B” of the original American Ordnance Base Depot project. Capt. H. Austill with Company D, 501st Engineers, had already started work on laying track and had laid about 600 ft. the first material was unloaded from the cars from the main line of the railroad.
The French track gang connected yards to the main line of the railroad on February 15th. Warehouse No. 1 was staked out on February 16th. Thirty-seven cars of material had arrived and were unloaded up to this date. On February 27th, Captain Austill turned over 25 enlisted men to the Stone & Webster engineers, and they were placed at work on the excavation of Warehouse No 4. Major Finnell, of the 501st Engineers, arrived at the camp on March 1st, and took charge of operations. Lt. Colonels Ricker and Fulton, Ordnance officers, arrived on March 1st, but the camp remained in charge of the Engineers.
On March 30th, the concrete foundations for Warehouse No. 4 were completed and those for the Carriage Assembly Shop were about half finished. The excavation for Gun Shop No. 1 was complete and the erection of the steel for Warehouse No. 4 was started. An Ordnance Officer was placed in charge of this work.
A steam shovel was operating at this time, and approximately 400 men were engaged in the work of building the plant. A large number of these men, however, were being used to unload cars because of the fact that material was arriving faster than it could be conveniently handled, especially a large amount of machinery which was not to be installed until the erection had been completed.
Two hundred and fifty Ordnance men of Company C, Second Battalion, arrived on April 13th and were put to work on construction. On April 27th, all the sheet-iron work on Warehouse No. 4 had been completed and during the following week so much of the interior grating had been done that the Ordnance men began the storage of material in it. At this time there were about 600 men employed on the work, 225 Ordnance Men, 75 Engineers and Labor troops and about 300 Chinamen.
The filling of orders for Ordnance material for other points in France was began early in April. About April 12th, Lt. Col. Ricker was relieved from duty at the camp and Lt. Col. Fulton was placed in charge of the Ordnance Detachment. About April 25th, two Ordnance men were put to work on storehouse records and six men and checking in the yards. April 30th Capt. J. E. Ericson took charge of the organization of a receiving and shipping storehouse. It was found that a large number of items which had been ordered for the Base Depot work had not been included in the Ordnance Supply Tables, and as urgent demands for this material came in from the more advanced repair shops, and M.O.R.S. organizations, it was found that this material could be obtained from these shops only, and thus a large amount of material was diverted to fill this demand. A system was organized for taking care of the large quantity of machinery, tools, and equipment which was arriving daily. The task of unloading this material without proper equipment was a big one, so a Bucyrus Steam Shovel was rigged up as a locomotive crane. A little later, when a 15-ton locomotive crane arrived and was erected, the labor engaged in this work was greatly relieved.
The work of storing and protecting material was carried out under very adverse conditions. There were no roads; the railroad tracks were in a deplorable state, due to the mud and lack of ballast. As a result practically all in coming freight had been unloaded wherever the cars could be spotted with the least danger of being derailed, and was scattered over acres of ground.
That task to be accomplished was to gather material from along the tracks and store it systematically and in such a manner that it could be easily located in order to satisfy the increasing demand for shipment to advanced shops which were in operation and badly in need of various tools and raw material. All the boxes were plainly marked with Purchase Order number, the package number, weight, cubic contents and manufacturers or shipper's name, all for the purpose of an identification, but as no order lists or packing lists were available at first, it was necessary to open every lot. Material was shipped daily by freight, express and trucks and it was found very difficult to fill orders promptly when they constituted less than a carload, as the French railroad authorities demanded that the cars be loaded to capacity. In spite of these difficulties, 25 machine shops at various places were equipped and furnished raw material from the stores and much raw material and tool equipment was furnished to the Mobile Ordnance Repair Shops.
CONCENTRATION CAMP FORMED
On May 20th, 180 enlisted men of the Signal Corps arrived in the Camp; and on May 25th, 750 men of the 318th Engineers arrived. One hundred and fifty of the Chinese workmen were withdrawn this time. On June 1st the number of men in the camp totaled about 1,600. About the end of May Lt. Colonel A. V. Maish conceived the idea of having all Ordnance men, except those actually with army units, sent to this camp from the ports for classification and distribution to points where needed. It was hoped that by making the camp a distribution point, the services of the men could be utilized on that construction work while they were waiting classification and assignment. Under this arrangement the 3rd Ordnance Battalion of 650 men arrived in camp on June 15th. They were quartered in Warehouse No. 4, which was then roofed over, and they were placed at work on the steel construction, and on the un-boxing of machinery.
During the month of July, Ordnance Depot Companies, 22, 23 and 24, and the 4th Battalion, totaling in all about 1,100 men of arrived on the post. All these men were interviewed and catalog according to trade qualifications, and orders from the office of the Chief Ordnance Officer for tradesmen for Ordnance Shops and the field armies were filled from this personnel.
Considerable extra work was realized from this plan of a classification camp, but it was found to have many drawbacks. Men were withdrawn from the construction work for transfer with only a day's notice, thus breaking up work gangs. Usually the best men were picked to fill orders, resulting very often in the gang bosses and skilled mechanics being taken from the work, making organization of work very difficult. This matter was brought to a head in August, when the 27th Depot Company arrived followed by orders for more men than the Company contained, and Depot Companies 32 to 39 with about 1,800 men followed at once by orders for 1,500 men for immediate shipment, so great was the need for Ordnance men at the front.
During this month of August about 2,000 Ordnance men arrived at the Post while orders were filled for 2,279, usually in small lots of less than 15. Request was made to the Chief Ordnance Officer to allot enough men for a permanent force at the Shops to take care of the supply and messing of these large numbers of transient men, and to provide enough skilled tradesmen to maintain a skeleton organization on the Post. This request was granted, and approximately 900 men were set-aside for this purpose. These were formed into three companies; a Headquarters Company of 400 men, a Mechanic's Company of 450 men, and a skeleton organization of a Casual Company. This latter was to receive the casuals of the provisional companies arriving from the States and being broken up here. Later two more casual companies were formed.
During June work of erecting steel, and of roofing the Carriage Assembly Shop was being done by Ordnance enlisted men under the supervision of Ordnance Officers. The erection of Gun Shop No. 1 was being done by some of the 501st Engineers in charge of an Ordnance Officer. Most of the Engineers, including the Chinese attached were employed almost continuously on the roads and railroad tracks.
The Ordnance personnel consisted of the skilled mechanics enlisted by the Ordnance Base Depot Division in November and December 1917. However, about the first of June one company of the 38th Engineers, electricians, and one battalion of the 318th Engineers, construction men, arrived and did excellent work. The 318th Engineers remained in camp only five weeks. A Negro labor battalion of the 525th Engineers arrived about the first of August. Some of these Negroes were put to work on the roofing under the supervision of Ordnance Officers. Nearly all of the skilled labor, including most of that used on the power lines to Bourges, was furnished from the Ordnance Companies.
MACHINES AND EQUIPMENT INSTALLED
The original project for the American Ordnance Base Depot, called for about 1,800 machines of all kind. These were for “Plant A” at Is-Sur-Tille, “Plant B” at Mehun, and for the various smaller shops at other points in France. The first machines arrived at the Mehun Plant during the last week in March. In June a small temporary machine shop was started to take care of the needs of the construction men, but the permanent building were not ready for any machinery installation until the middle of July. By that time many of the machines had been reshipped to other points, but before the Armistice had been signed over 400 machines of all kinds had been set up and placed in service. At that time five well-equipped shops were in operation.
About the middle of July the work of setting up the machinery and shafting in the Carriage Machine Shop was begun. The lumber taken from the boxes was used to build forms for the concrete foundations. The stringers for the overhead shafting were made from railroad ties. In spite of the shortage of cement, and the great handicap of constantly shifting personnel, there was installed and ready for operation before September 1st, approximately 130 machines, and 30 more were in the shop being set up. All the overhead line shafting was complete. As the electric power from Bourges could not be obtained for the least another month, it was decided to install oil engines. The shop was decided into four sections, each of which was furnished with a 50 h.p. Bessemer Oil Engine. These were ready to run on September 15th. Production work was immediately started, several repair shops were done and some tools made. The first official order from Ordnance Headquarters was for a magneto gear, which was placed in the Machine Shop on September 24th. Up to November 11th there were 69 machines installed in Wood Shop and 93 men were employed. This shop was then taking care of all the camp and plant carpenter work except erecting barracks, was making and repairing small arms boxes, and had began production work on orders from Ordnance Headquarters.
During the month of August the Carriage Assembly Shop was being used partly to quarter Ordnance Troops and partly for the un-boxing and storage of machine tools. On September 7th, it was determined to use seven bays, approximately 34,000 sq. ft., for the repair of small arms. The space had to be cleared of machinery and graded. No lumber was available for workbenches other than that salvaged from the machine tool boxes. It was found that a great deal of the equipment which had been ordered for the Small Arms Shop had either not arrived or had been shipped to other shops in France. Part of the Parkerizing Plant for the bluing of the rifle parts had gone to Is-sur-Tille and most of the acids had been shipped to that plant. On the 14th of October actual production work had been started with 58 men dismantling rifles and preparing the rifle parts for cleaning and bluing. Spare parts for the model 1903 rifle were received from Gievres in such quantities that assembling of these rifles was begun about the 20th of October. Up to November 11th, or less than a month from the start of the work, a total of 39,000 rifles and 122 Browning Machine Guns had been repaired or assembled and shipped. The force had by this time increased to 320 men.
The first week in September work was started on the installation of machinery in the Forge and Foundry. Lack of cement halted the work on the cupola, but the work of installation of Forge Shop machinery progressed until the signing of the Armistice. As soon as some hand forges were set up in early October, production work was started, and during this month all the forging was done for 50 complete sets of mobile shop tools for repair of 75 and 155mm guns. These tools included some heavy forged steel wrenches. The hardening of lathe and planer tools for the main shop and considerable case hardening was done from the beginning. By the 1st of November thirteen oil burning furnaces and seven coal forges had been set up and put into use. Fifteen other machines, including two 200 lb Bradley Helve Hammers and a 2,000 lb Chambersburg Steam Hammer had been set ready for operation.
Electric installation was begun about the 1st of June by a company of the 38th Engineers. Capt. Kutz arrived at that time with about 70 men, and shortly after brought the remainder of this company. In addition, about 30 Ordnance electricians were assigned to assist him in the interior wiring for the power and lighting. About the middle of August, by an agreement with the French, work was begun on the power line to Bourges. Linemen from the 38th Engineers with about 15 electricians and day French interpreter from the Ordnance, went to work on this line, and aided the French at the Bourges Power Plant. The Plant and transmission lines were ready about the first of October and the power was turned on October 7th. No 30,000-volt insulators were available when the line was built, and those installed were for 16,000 volts. The line is being operated at the generating voltage of 5,250. The voltage required at the shops is 440 for Motors and 220 for lighting. Before the 1st of November an Electrical Division was organized of Ordnance Officers and enlisted men to take care of the power, lighting and telephones of the entire camp.
The railroad tracks in the shop yards were laid down by the Engineers in the spring with little, if any, grading or ballast. The soil of this section is a rich loam with a high percentage of Lime. Any slight rain produces a pasty mud to a depth of several inches. As a consequence of this, the un-ballasted track was constantly sinking, spreading and shifting, and the locomotives and cars were off the track almost daily. As the tracks became absolutely unusable, they would be repaired by the Engineers. The truck road from the shops to the camp was built by making to furrows with the scraper and piling the soft earth in the middle. This was an impassible trough of mud after each rain, and much labor was wasted in trying to keep it in repair. In September Lt. Colonel Finnell, of the 501st Engineers, then in command of the camp, set a company of infantrymen on the grading of the old Roman road which ran from Gun Shop No. 1 in a direction parallel to the camp, meeting an old farm lane which ran in the direction of the camp. This route nearly doubled that distance from the shops to the camp, and was never used by anyone going to the plant. It was abandoned after nearly two months of labor had been spent on it.
When the Armistice was signed on November 11th, five shops and two complete and distinct warehouses were in operation. The number of men actually employed in the shops and warehouses totaled 1,044 distributed as follows: Machine Shop 280, Forge Shop 135, Woodworking Shop 93, Small Arms Shop 320, Ordnance Shop Warehouse 111, Mehun Supply Depot 60, Office and Drafting Room 45. Four hundred thirty-eight machines were actually installed ready for operation in these shops. Since April, the Ordinance Shop Warehouse had been issuing steel and other raw materials to the Mobile Repair Shop Units, to the advance shops, and camps throughout France. Machinery and general supplies originally ordered by the Ordnance Base Depot Division were being issue in this same manner. The shops were in operation and were ready to do any kind of machine or woodwork except the lining of heavy guns.
One of the buildings of the American Ordnance Repair Shops at Mehun-sur-Yevre, France
Copyright by The Keystone View Company
The Ordnance Repair Shops at Mehun were a good example of the immensity of the preparations made in France for the support of the American armies in the field. The plant was originally designed to be the base Shops, supplemented by a large advance shop at Is-sur-Tille, for the overhaul and repair of the small arms and Artillery of an army of 2 million men. The complete plant at Mehun would have cost $25 million dollars. The greater part, though not all, of the project was finished and an immense volume of work was done there before the American forces had all left France.
A set of main buildings was in use, each one from 200 to 250 ft. wide and from 500 to 600 ft. long, built of steel and equipped with an electrically driven lathes, planers, boring mills, grinders and gear cutters and other machines of the latest types. In the Artillery Repair Shops, hundreds of pieces of artillery ranging in size from the little 37 mm trench cannon to the great at British guns of 10-inch caliber were repaired and made fit for use again. The Small Arms and Machine Gun Repair Shops had repaired up to April 10th of 1919, 175,000 Rifles, 130,000 Bayonets and 2,600 Machine Guns, in addition to many thousands of individual parts.
In the Small Arms Shops, besides 325 American soldiers and 400 Chinese labor troops, about 200 French women were employed very satisfactorily in cleaning, oiling and inspecting rifles and spare parts. In the Optical Repair Division about 75 highly skilled men, picked from the personnel of the army, were engaged in repairing and overhauling the many delicate and costly fire control and optical instruments used by the artillery.
POST ARMISTICE WORK
After the signing of the Armistice there was a general cancellation of orders from both Ordnance Headquarters and of gun work being undertaken for the French Arsenals. As in other A.E.F. camps, the work slowed down pending the establishment of the general Ordnance policy. Towards the end of November it was determined to send all artillery to Mehun for overhauling and re-shipment to the States. Colonel C. M. Wesson arrived from Tours on November 23rd to take command of the camp.
A policy was decided upon with Ordnance Headquarters at Tours whereby all artillery would be overhauled here, but only the 75 mm and smaller sizes would be crated. Instead of rebuilding it was decided to dismantle all unserviceable rifles, clean the parts, and pack them in boxes for shipment to the States. Lumber for crates and boxes began to arrive in quantities of early in December.
The first incoming material from the Armies, which consisted of enemy and allied artillery, small arms and a large amount of salvage, arrived December 6th. Following this shipment material arrived daily. As the cars could only be held 24 hours and because of the poor condition of the yard tracks, which were constantly sinking and spreading, it was necessary to unload the material wherever the car's happened to stand without regard to future accessibility and convenience. On some days as high as 130 cars were received, and often it was necessary to take many men from the shop work for the unloading of cars. The work was especially difficult due to the serious shortage of locomotive cranes, only one being an available up to the latter part of April.
Some salvage was stored in the Forge and Foundry building, but a considerable amount of it was piled up outside and protected as much as possible by tarpaulins. The salvage arrived unsorted, very expensive optical instruments sometimes been found among almost worthless small arms or other material. The climactic conditions were such that it rained for weeks at a time and the entire yard was an expanse of deep sticky mud, over which it was almost impossible to haul the artillery. Tractors were used to some extent but without roads the task of getting the artillery into the shop to be worked on was very slow and difficult. Because of these conditions many more men were used to handle the material than would otherwise have been necessary and the work was much slower as a consequence.
After the Armistice a general policy of no further construction work except that absolutely necessary was adopted. But in order to handle the heavy artillery, which had to be stored in the yards, it was necessary to build plank roads through the shops and extending into the yards to meet the road being built by the 525th Engineers from the camp to the shops.
There was no rock suitable for road construction in the vicinity and it was impossible to get it in any considerable quantities from the French because of shortages of transportation. Although there was sufficient sand at Gievres, it was unavailable for the same reason, and would have been of little value without a large amount of rock as foundation.
The only practical road which could be built in any reasonable time was one of planks. Before the Armistice no wood or railroad ties could be obtained for this purpose, but in December sufficient ties were released to the Engineer officer to build the mile of roadway required. This latter road, 18 ft. wide, was built during the months of December and January. Before its completion it was impossible to get nearer than a half a mile of the shops with a truck on account of the deep mud.
The steel Administration Building, which was 75 per cent complete on November 11th, was finished in December and the offices of the Department heads were concentrated in it.
French Marshal Petain visits the Ordnance Repair Shops on 7 April 1919
Marshal Petain and company escorted on a tour by American Officers.
Early in December it was necessary to prepare a shop for overhauling and cleaning of artillery sights and fire control instruments. A space 60 by 80 ft. was fitted up, and the work of saving the optical instruments and preventing further deterioration was begun at once. On the shop construction and maintenance work a force of about 150 Ordnance men was kept. These included the millwrights, plumbers and tinners. For maintenance work in the camp a force of about 200 colored Ordnance men was employed. These men erected barracks, build sidewalks, fitted up miscellaneous buildings such as Hospital, K. of C., Y.M.C.A., camp bathhouse, delousing plant, and took care of all maintenance work in the camp.
One of the great problems that entered into the working of the shops was the changing personnel due to the operation of the evacuation camp. Ordnance men from the First and Second Armies and from other shops and depots in France were sent here for evacuation to the States after they had completed their work with their respective units. The men began to arrive here in early December. The first three evacuation companies were formed in early January. The men of these companies were selected by a system of ratings devised by the Chief Ordnance Officer’s Office. It was based on length of service, dependence and certain other qualifications. The percentages of all in the camp were found and those having the highest percentage were drawn. Forty-seven companies containing a total of 4,936 men and 105 officers have been made up and sent to the ports up to June 25th. It has placed a great handicap on the shop as it often occurs that the men were skilled men needed on special work. The men selected to envoy material to the United States are chosen from the same percentage list.
|Production on artillery was rapid from the beginning, about 700 men being employed on 75 mm guns. As many as 85 pieces were knocked down, cleaned and crated in a day. In all approximately 4500 artillery pieces were cleaned, repaired, inspected and shipped, 2,700 being allied material and 1,800 being enemy. Twelve hundred and forty-seven allied and 2,351 enemy caissons and limbers were overhauled, cleaned and shipped.
The following is a list on the right is of allied material handled up to June 1st:
Bayonets, sabers, scabbards, other hand arms and accessories were sorted, cleaned, greased and packed for shipment. German rifles and bayonets were cleaned, greased and sent to the States as trophies. This work required the services of approximately 2,096 employees when at its maximum, 1,140 enlisted men, 490 French woman and 466 Chinese, running two shifts daily. The following summary shows approximately the work accomplished in material shipped up to June 1st:
The Small Arms Shop followed the general policy of dismounting all unserviceable rifles, machine guns and pistols, and of cleaning, pickling, greasing and boxing all serviceable parts, while all material in serviceable condition was thoroughly cleaned, greased and boxed for shipment.
|Allied Instruments||32, 208|
|Enemy Instruments||3, 135|
The making of all boxes and crates for the shipment of material was accomplished by the Woodworking Division with a force of 235 white soldiers, 60 colored men, and 50 Chinese, working two shifts. Approximately 80,000 boxes and crates, also 1,000 targets for the Army of Occupation were manufactured in this shop, along with a large quantity of other woodworking material. The following is an approximate summary of the principal work done:
|Gun tube boxes for 75 mm guns||2, 200|
|Recuperator crates for 75 mm guns||1, 900|
|Wheel crates for 75 mm guns||1,900|
|Trail break and axle crates for 75 mm guns||1,900|
|Spare part boxes||1,900
|Improvised landscape targets||1,010|
|Breech and muzzle plugs||10,000|
|Crates for German rifles||7,800|
|Miscellaneous boxes cases and crates||27,000|
Chinese workers preforming work on rifles in the small arms shop.
More women workers packing optical instruments.
During this time the Construction and Maintenance Division had a squad of 25 men working continually on the salvaging of packing cases, and the Woodworking Division kept another squad on the same work. The wood which came in during the winter months was so wet and a green as to be unsuitable for the packing of the delicate optical instruments, and wood salvaged from broken rifle cases was used for this purpose. Several thousand rifle boxes were saved, or the wood used in this way.
The Motor Transportation Division overhauled and repaired tractors as follows:
|45 H.P. Tractors||1|
Previous to May 6th, salvage material was handled by the Salvage Section of the Small Arms Division. The purpose of this section was to sort out the serviceable small arms, optical instruments, etc., and store them until needed by the Repair divisions.
On May 6th a new department, called the Salvage Department, consisting of four officers and about 300 enlisted men and laborers was organized to classify and list lots of condemned material, which were offered for sale, and proposals accepted it in the usual manner. Great difficulty was experienced in sorting this material, due to the employment of Chinese laborers. Thousands of different articles, both allied and enemy came in together with the salvage from the battlefields. These had been sorted according to class, then separated into serviceable and unserviceable, and finally the unserviceable material was sorted according to kind of material, whether steel, brass, aluminum or wood. In less than a month after its organization the department had expanded to about 600 employees and an immense amount of material was sorted, loaded and shipped. Difficulties of shipping were greatly increased on account of the scarcity of suitable cars. Boxcars were needed for more valuable material, and only certain kinds of French cars were permitted to be used for this work. Up to June 25th, 700 cars, approximately 8,000 tons, of the salvage had been sold and shipped, 43 cars being the record for one days shipment, and it was estimated that there were still 200 carloads to be handled, practically all of which had been sold. Among the more important articles shipped were:
|86 Carloads of Scrap Brass,||Approximately 1,050 tons.|
|122 Carloads of Scrap Steel,||Approximately 1,400 tons.|
|99 Carloads of Scrap Iron,||Approximately 1,100 tons.|
|163 Carloads of Scrap Wood,||Approximately 820 tons.|
|38 Carloads of Artillery Wheels|
SUMMARY, AND CLOSING OF THE SHOPS
The great amount of work accomplished since the Armistice was done with a fluctuating personnel averaging 2,300 soldiers, 900 Chinese, and 600 French civilians. The turnover in some months was as high as 65 per cent, because of the fact that men were constantly being evacuated to the United States. The older and usually the more experience men were the first to be sent home under the rating system, and the problem of operating the plant and training new personnel at the same time was a most difficult one. It was very similar to the situation experienced during the construction period in this summer of 1918 when the men were being drawn from the construction worker to supply Ordnance men to the Armies.
To maintain the men employed in the Shops the Military Department of the camp has had an average of 1,000 enlisted men employed in the camp proper for the housing, feeding and entertainment of the men, bringing the total employees required to operate the Repair Shops up to an average of 4,800 with a maximum of 5,900.
The work which was done here is of the utmost importance to the future of our army. The artillery and small arms was put in such shape that it can be stored for years without deterioration. Had this material been left behind in France we would have been in almost the same state of un-preparedness as we were before the war.
On June 10th an embargo was placed on all shipments to Mehun from the Third Army, and on June 20th and embargo followed for material from all other points in France, Montoir been designated as the receiving point for the small amount of Ordnance remaining. By June 21st all artillery and most of the small arms had been completed and shipped, and on that date 1,000 men were placed in the evacuation camp to be ready to move to a port on June 25th. The following day 600 more men were drawn for evacuation on July 1st. June 28th was designated as the last working day for the French woman, and June 30th as the last day for the remaining 2,700 soldiers. A Caretaker's Detachment of seven officers and 250 enlisted men were left in charge of the camp and shops. The final closing of the property records was left to this detachment.
The following list is a tabulation of the principal items overhauled at the Mehun Shops and sent to the United States since the Armistice:
Statement Of Small Arms Material Shipped
Statement Of Enemy Artillery Shipped
Statement of Allied Material Shipped
Statement of Optical Instruments Shipped
A 42cm German Howitzer being moved by a Holt Tractor.
Michel de Lagarde who lives a few kilometers from Beauvoir Camp, which is the site of where the Repair Shops once stood, took these photos. He reports that "There is nothing except blocks of concrete probably basis of the work shops."
The only buildings that survived were removed from the original spot, with several being moved to Bourges, France, which are being used today as a work shop building, as seen above. Michel de Lagarde states that another building is on a farm near Marmagne, France.
Michel de Lagarde is a local French historian and keeps the memory of the Ordnance Repair Shops alive for the citizens of France. In his words, "I already make a display in Marmagne about the camp and give a lecture about it to remind to the French people how the doughboys help us during WWI." The above photo is of his display detailing the history of the Ordnance Repair Shops, located at Camp Beauvoir, Mehun, France.
Paul Kahn of Milltown, New Jersey related about his grandfather, Charles Bernstein, “I have recently found a copy of his Pay Book and also a copy of a dinner menu for a gala event given by Lt. Joseph Downey on May 20, 1919. The program lists a number of speakers, and has my grandfather listed as a member of the Jazz Orchestra. I believe that he played the drums.”
Paul continues, “He was the first one of his family to be born in the US. All of his 9 siblings were born in Europe and along with his mother and a maid came to New York City in 1893 on a steamship from Bremen, Germany. He was born in NYC in 1886, entered WWI and served in Mehun, France and was discharged in 1919. He married Hattie Strumlauf, my maternal grandmother, in 1921. They had two children, a girl (my mother) named Lydia, born in 1923, and a boy named Harvey born in 1926. I don’t know what he did after he was discharged from the army, but I do know that during the Depression he had a job in the WPA, working from a construction field office that was located under the Brooklyn Bridge. After that he got a job as a taxi driver and that’s the job he had for many years. He retired from driving a cab in the mid-1960s and my grandmother retired from her job as a seamstress. They lived all their lives in NYC and spent summers in the Catskill Mountains in upstate NY. My grandmother died in 1985 at age 86 and my grandfather died in 1995 at age 99.”