The Shell Crisis
May 12th, 2015
By early 1915, the War had settled into entrenched stalemate. The Western Front was a line of trenches stretching 475 miles from Nieuport in Belgium to the Swiss border. The only way for either side to break it seemed to be by bombarding the enemy into submission with shells.
At the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915, British gunners fired more shells in one half hour bombardment than during the whole of the Boer War.
However, back at home there was a shortage of men to make the shells and a shortage of acetone, to make cordite for the shells. Britain had enough guns but it was running out of munitions. The ‘Shell Crisis’ had hit the British war effort.
By May 1915, British guns had been rationed to four shells per day, there was a very real possibility that the War could be lost. In Parliament the Conservative opposition forced the Liberal Government into creating a coalition to deal with the crisis.
A new Ministry was formed, the Ministry of Munitions, led by Lloyd George. It began transforming British industry to maintain war supplies. New munitions and explosives factories were built across the country. Including at Langwith, Derbyshire, where ammonium perchlorate was produced. This was used mainly in marine mines against U-boats.
Production of shells grew from half a million in the first five months of the war, to 16.4 million in 1915 and more than 50 million in 1917. By the end of the war, the British Army had fired around 170 million shells.
Shell cases were refilled and recycled, the R. Russell & Sons Ltd, Peel Foundry on Darwen Terrace in Derby was used for this purpose.
The British were not alone in struggling to feed the war’s insatiable demand for munitions. Germany was suffering shortages of raw materials and was unable to maintain sufficient production of shells. Germany made 8.9 million in 1915, but underwent a similar reorganisation to its production and in 1916 36 million shells were made.