Military pay and new equipment took the lion’s share of the 1939 War Department budget for the US Army. The Army appropriations totaled $646,000,000 for 1939. However, $192,000,000, or nearly 30 percent, were for nonmilitary purposes, such as Panama Canal costs and rivers and harbors work. Leaving the Army with $454,000,000. The total US federal budget outlays in 1939 were $9.1 billion making the US Army just under 5% of government expenditures.
Table of Contents
US Army 1930s
US Army Ranking 1939
The US Army total personnel on June 30, 1939, equaled 188,565 which included 672 Army Nurses. Depending on how the comparisons are made the US Army ranked from 17th to 19th largest in the world. Many of their future Allied nations and Axis opponents had spent the 1930s gearing up for action while the US Army mainly held status quo.
US Prewar Military Spending
During the interwar years a wave of isolationism and pacifism engulfed the United States. Many Americans were leery of international involvements especially those in Europe that could include the military. This led to a prevailing notion that American armed forces should focus solely on defense and not offense. This idea was influenced by the Washington Treaties for arms limitation (1922) and the Kellogg-Briand Pact (1929), which further reinforced this policy.
US military spending in the 1930s reflected that attitude. During the 1930s the major nations spent the following percentages of their GDPs on their militaries; Soviet Union – 13.0%, Japan – 9.2%, Italy – 7.7%, Germany – 7.3%, the United Kingdom – 5.9%, and the United States – 1.1% (1).
(1) Source: Military Expenditure as a Share Of GDP (OWID Calculated Based on NMC, Cow & Sipri (2017)), https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/military-expenditure-as-a-share-of-gdp-long?time=1922..1945
New Weapons Funding
Congress provided limited funding for new weapons in 1939, $84 million or 18.5% of the Army budget. Further analysis of appropriations during the preceding decade, computed on the same basis, showed the following percentages of Army budget devoted to new equipment: 1930-8.5%, 1931-9.2%, 1932-9.6%, 1933-6.2%, 1934-3-2%, 1935-7.6%, 1936-15.3%, 1937-16.3%, 1938-14.1%, 1939-18.5% (2).
(2) Source: Watson, Mark Skinner. “Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations.” Page 31, Note 16, Center of Military History United States Army, Washington D.C., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 50-62983, First Printed 1950-CMH Pub 1-1, https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/csppp/ch02.htm#b3
Lack of new weapons funding was felt most in areas of new development such as aircraft. There were several factors that contributed to the United States’ limited development and procurement of new weapons during the 1930s.
Firstly, the aftermath of World War I had left the US with a surplus of weaponry and equipment that was still functional but largely outdated. This surplus was seen as a resource that could be utilized before any new purchases were made. Furthermore, there was a general aversion to military spending and war in the country, which was still grappling with the effects of the Great Depression.
Secondly, the US military was focused on maintaining and modernizing its existing equipment rather than developing new weapons. This was due in part to a lack of funding and resources, as well as a belief that existing equipment could be upgraded to meet new challenges.
Thirdly, there was a lack of urgency in the US military’s approach to modernization. The country was not directly involved in any major conflicts during the 1930s, and there was a belief that the US was protected by its vast oceans and its naval strength.
Lastly, there were political constraints on military spending during this time. Many politicians were wary of increasing military spending and believed that it was important to prioritize domestic programs and social welfare.
US Congressional War Department Allocations – 1939 Data
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|wdt_ID||Allocation (a)||Million $||Percentage|
|1||Pay, clothing, subsistence||267.0||58.8|
|5||Maintenance of arms||25.0||5.5|
|7||Maintenance of plant||25.0||5.5|
|9||Procurement planning (b)||0.3||0.1|
(a) The 1939 appropriations totaled $646,000,000 but, of these, $192,000,000, or nearly 30 percent, were for nonmilitary purposes, such as Panama Canal costs and rivers and harbors work. The military items were thus divided, roughly in millions of dollars and relative percentages
(b) These figures, amounting to less than $1 or 0.1 percent, are absorbed in reaching the rounded totals.
(c) Further analysis of appropriations during the preceding decade, computed on the same basis, showed the following percentages of money devoted to new equipment: 1930-8.5%, 1931-9.2%, 1932-9.6%, 1933-6.2%, 1934-3-2%, 1935-7.6%, 1936-15.3%, 1937-16.3%, 1938-14.1%, 1939-18.5%. A War Department computation, employing different minor items, appearing as an unsigned memorandum in CofS files, Emergency, bndr t, shows new equipment and ammunition as follows: 1937-17%, 1938-16%, 1939-19%, 1940-33%.
Still another computation accompanies a statement by Secretary of War Harry H. Woodring, 28 May 40, copy of which is in a compilation by H. W. Cater, “Annotations of War Department Spokesmen Relative to the Inadequacy of the National Defense during the Period 1919 to 1941,” in Cater files, 1941 folder, Kist Div files. It concludes that of $6,169,300,000 military appropriations for the Army over 16 years (1925-40) 86.1 % was for “recurring changes and improvement of plant,” 8.3% for Air Corps equipment, and only 5.6% for arms and equipment of the ground forces.
Watson, Mark Skinner. “Chief of Staff: Prewar Plans and Preparations.” Page 31, Center of Military History United States Army, Washington D.C., Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 50-62983, First Printed 1950-CMH Pub 1-1, https://history.army.mil/books/wwii/csppp/ch02.htm#t1
Other Government Spending Costs Data
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