** war and social upheaval: World War II -- metals aluminum








World War II Raw Materials: Specific Metals--Aluminum

B-17
Figure 1.--The primary but hardly only use of aluminum during World War II was the construction of aircraft. The Germans terrorized Europe with a Luftwaffe that had about 3,000-3,500 aircraft (1939-41). The United States during the war built nearly 300,000 planes. The British, Ialians Japanese, and Soviets also built large number of aircraft. With few exceptions, they were built with aluminum frames. All this aircraft construction required enormous quantities of aluminum. Here we see Boeing B-17Es under construction. This was the first released wartime production photograph of Flying Fortress heavy bombers at one of the Boeing plants in Seattle, Washington. Boeing exceeded its accelerated delivery schedules by 70 percent for the month of December 1942. Source: U.S. Air Force.

Aluminum (Al, an13) became a key strategic metal in World War II. There is a lot of steel in aircraft, but aluminum is highly desirable. And America needed a lot of it to produce the amazing 300,000 aircraft manufactured during the War. Aluminum is three times lighter than steel and thus vital in the construction of aircraft frames. France was an important producer of bauxite--the primary aluminum ore. High-quality bauxite ores occur along the northern coast of the Mediterranean Spain to Turkey, including southern France, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The French mines were lost to the Allied cause when France fell to the NAZIs (1940). This was a potential threat to the British war effort which had been importing French bauxite and was launching a major air effort. America mined bauxite, but not near the quantities needed by the rapidly expanding American air forces. And the available domestic American ore grades were low. For this America turned tn South America. [Baptiste] Suriname and British Guiana (Guyana) mined bauxite. Surinamese bauxite was of especially high grade. With American support, production was rapidly expanded. And America established Caribbean bases to safeguard trade routes from U-boat attacks. New technical advances significantly expanded American domestic production. Aluminum had never before been used significantly in warfare. And it was extraordinarily expensive, not because of scarcity. Producing aluminum metal required two major inputs: 1) bauxite ore with was relatively inexpensive and 2) and vast amounts of electrical energy which was the the major cost. Something like 20 percent of the cost of production of aluminum was electricity. One pound of aluminum requires 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity. One source to put this in meaningful terms suggests that this is the amount of electricity to heat a kitchen oven for four hours. The electric energy was a brand new industry. And until it developed and prices reduced, aluminum could not be produced for industrial purposes. This problem was solved by the vast increase in electrical generating capacity during the inter-War years, including hydro-electric projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). The most important military use of aluminum was in aircraft production. This was not the case in World War I. All metal aircraft was a new innovation and only appeared in the inter-War years, mostly the 1930s. In addition to aircraft, aluminum was also used in the construction of ship infrastructure, radar chaff, not to mention millions of mess kits. With the advent of World War II, aluminum production increased exceeding 1 million metric tons for the first time (1941). Germany launched the War as the world's leading producer of aluminum (1939). The NAZIs saw this as an important advantage. A major German effort led by Reich-marshal Göring was launched to expand production, An important part of that effort focused on Norway to utilize that country's hydro-electric power, but it failed miserably. [Frøland and Kobberrød.] Mass recycling programs were launched. The British during the Battle of Britain launched a crash effort to expand aircraft production. They and other countries collected household aluminum utensils. [Thorsheim, pp. 66–69.] The Minister of Aircraft Production directly appealed to the public to turn in household aluminum for the aircraft industry. The United States would become the world largest producer for its massive aircraft building effort, but had at first had trouble with Alcoa. [Seldes, p. 261.] Before World War II, most of the bauxite processed in the United States was imported. The threat of German U-boat attacks on shipping caused the United stated to look for domestic sources. And this was found in Arkansas. Arkansas would provide almost all of the bauxite ore that was mined in the United States during the War. The Arkansas bauxite was, however, of lower grade than the bauxite being imported from South America. The United States had the substantial available electricity needed to produce aluminum in large quantities. As a result, the United States hugely expanded aluminum production during the War. The United States built over 300,000 military planes during World War II. This required the production of more than 3 billion pounds of aluminum. American production alone exceeded that of all the Axis countries combined. The European Axis had access to bauxite. Their problem was the electrical energy needed to produce aluminum. The American production not only supplied American aircraft plants, but also plants in Britain and the Soviet Union. There were also home front recycling drives. Some 'Tin foil drives' (actually aluminum foil) offered free movie tickets as a prize, helping to motivate children. The Soviet Union received nearly 330,000 metric tons of aluminum mostly from America (1941-45). It was mostly used for aircraft construction, but also in tank engines. [Chandonnet, p. 338.] Without Lend Lease shipments, the output of the Soviet aircraft industry would have fallen by more than a half. [Weeks, p.35.]

The Element

Aluminum (Al, an13) is the most abundant metallic element in the Earth's crust. It is extrenmely light weight comparedto most bother metald. Unlike most other metals, aluminum is not found its metalic (chemically uncombined) state. Rather there are silicates, oxides and hydroxides, often combined with other elements such as sodium and fluoride as well as complexes with organic matter. When water enter the pictures sedenmerbtary riock forms along with trace elements -- bauxite. Metalic aluminum has a dull sheen produced by a thin coating of an oxide that forms when exposed to air. This is what creates the metal's resistance to corrosion. In the pure state it is soft and ductile, but it can be alloyed with many other elements to increase both strength and provide a range of useful properties. Alloys of aluminum are light, strong, and easily formed with various metalworking processes. Aluminum alloys can be cast, joined by various techniques, and machined easily. Aluminum is not only light wight, but an excellent conductor of electricity. It has twice the electrical conductance of copper which during the War was the element used for electrical conductivity. Aluminum remained a laboratory curiosity until a French scientist, Henri Sainte-Claire Deville, announced significnt advvances. Deville’s process became the foundation of the modern aluminum industry. Bars of aluminum, made at Javel Chemical Works and exhibited at the Paris Exposition Universelle, introduced the new metal to the public (1855). It was still expernsive to produce, at first more valuable than gold. Paul Héroult and the American Charles Hall who patented the electrolytic method of producing the metal (1888). The fiurst electrolytic prodyctiin began the groiwth if a modern industry. German chemists improved the vporocess. Only after World War I, however, did price levels fall to permit widespread industrial and military use.

Importance

Aluminum became a key strategic metal in World War II. There is a lot of steel in aircraft, but aluminum is highly desirable. And America needed a lot of it to produce the amazing 300,000 aircraft manufactured during the War. Aluminum is three times lighter than steel and thus vital in the construction of aircraft frames. The most important military use of aluminum was in aircraft production. This was not the case in World War I. All metal aircraft was a new innovation and only appeared in the inter-War years, mostly the 1930s. In addition to aircraft, aluminum powder was a key ingredient in explosives. Aluminum use skyroicketed during the War, it was extensively used in the construction of ship infrastructure, radar chaff, not to mention millions of mess kits.

Aviation Developments

Aluminum had never before been used significantly in warfare. Workd War I plances were built with trated canvas and wooden spars. In fact many military aircraft in the 1930s were still built that way. And Britain very nearly entered the war with canvas bi-plane fighters. It did begin the War with the canvas Hurucane--the RAF work horse during the Battle of Britain. And the Royal Navy into 1942 was still using canvas biplanes. Three aircraft which appeared in the mid-1930s changed the game in aviation. Girst the Germans introduced the first modern all-mtal fighter--the Me109 whivh would be the finest fighter in the world for several years, and with many up=grades was built and used throughoutthe War. The German focus was on tactical air, in part becuse thaey did not have the industrial base to build a strategic air force. The American focus in contrast was on strategic operations and Amertica intoduced the all metal B-17 Flying Fortress. Aniother plane came out of Ameriica. It was thev all metal DC-3. It had miitary applications and would become the C-47 Skytrain/Dakaota. These planes and the many other olanes that followed in the 1940s create an enormous demand for aluminum that World War II belligerants struggled to fill.

Bauxite Occurance

The miost imprtant aluminum ore is bauxite. This is a sedimentary rock whiuch can have a relatively high aluminium content. Buxite deposits vary in aluminum content, It is the world's primary source of aluminium and gallium. Bauxite consists mostly of the aluminium minerals gibbsite (Al(OH)3), boehmite (γ-AlO(OH)) and diaspore (α-AlO(OH)). Mixed in with these minerals which is what aluminum producers wanted are iron oxides, the aluminium clay mineral kaolinite and small amounts of anatase and ilmenite. Bauxite has a dull luster and color ranging from brown, white, or tan. The French geologist Pierre Berthier discovered bauxite near the village of Les Baux in Provence, southern France (1821). At the time in had no commerrcial value. Bauxite is mostly found near the surface and thus is normally stripmined. Bauxite today is mined around the world, but not by the same countries that were mining it in World War II, except the former Soviet Union. At the time of the War, about half of the known bauxite deposits were in Europe. High-quality bauxite ores occur along the northern coast of the Mediterranean Spain to Turkey, including southern France, Italy, Yugoslavia, and Greece. The largest known deposits were in Hungary (250 million metric tons (t) which meant that Germany could be cut off from bauxite as was the case for other imoortant raw mnaterialss. Other major reserves were Yugosalavia (100 million t), France (60 million t), Greece (60 million t), Romania (40 million t), Norway/Jan Mayen (30 million t), Italy (20 million t), and the Soviet Union (20 million t). [Collier, p. 75.] Notably Britain did not have bauxite deposits. Canada had no bauxite. America had bauxite, but of a low grade, mostly in Arkansas. Thgere are impurities in bauxite, some of which are valuable duch as chromium, gallium, gold, titanium, vanadium, and other metals. This varies regionally. [Patterson, p. 5.]

Aluminum Ore Mining

The most imprtant aluminum ore is bauxite. At the onset of the War, more than half of all known bauxite resources were located in Europe and Germany wouls control most of them as a result of if its eraly spectacular military successes. This was theoetically more thjan enough to supply Germany witha ll the bauxite it needed. The most imprtant resource was located in Hungary giving the Germans a close easily accessable source. Other imprtant resources were located in Yugoslavia, France, Greece, Romania, italy, Norway, nd the Soviet Union. Significantly, the Soviets reserves t thetime of the war was he smalkes of these countries, kess than 10 percent of what was availble to the Germans in Hungary. The occrance of bauxite is one thing. Actual mining operations are a different matter. The major miners before the War (1934-38) were France, Hungary, Yugoslavia Italy, the Soviet Unipn, and Greece. France was the leading bauxite miner. [Collier, p. 75.] Britain had begun mining operations within the Empire (British Guiana and the Gold Coast.) The Anericans (Alcoa) had begun mining bauxite in Dutch Guiana (1916). An Australian comopmapmy (modern BHP) iniatied mining optration just before the War (1938). There were also bauxite resources in French Guiana and Jamaica, but actual mining did not bergin until after the War.

America

American bauxite comes primarily from Arkansas. It was first noted by Dr. W. Byrd Powell (1842). He described the peculiar character of rock in Fourche Cove, now the Granite Mountain area of Pulaski County. He did mot not understand what he had found. There was not yet an aluminum industry. Mining only began five decades later. John C. Branner, the state geologist, first identified it. Arkansas would provide some 90 ninety percent of all all bauxite mined in America. As the American aluminum industry developed , ALCOA developed more and more uses for the metal. Aluminum consumption ibcreased much more rapidly than mining in Arkansas. This was because the bauxite in the state was a relatively low grade. ALCOA turned to higher grade ores available in British and Dutch Guiana. After America entered the War, the Germans launched a U-boat offensive along the Atalntic coast and Gulf of Mecico (January-June 1942). Ships carrying bauxite from the Guianas were sunk. Ameican planners decided to expand bauxite mining in Arkansas, but fir the rest of the War, ships along the East Coast was safe. The U-boats with drew to the mid-Atlantic Air Gap. As American aluminum production expanded more and more bauxite was needed. Bauxite mining increased to meet wartime needs. Domestic bauxite mining in Arkansas peaked duting the War. It aws critucal for the Allied war effort which relied heavily on airpower. Arkansas mine produced more than 6 million t of bauxite (1943). This rapidly fell off after the War aw Alcoa source the higher grade imprted ores.

British Guiana (Guyana)

Bauxite was discovered in Guyana (late-19th century). It was found in a belt stretching across the country from the North West District to the Corentyne River, with large deposits identified in the Pomeroon, the Essequibo around Bartica, Mackenzie, Ituni, Canje, and Orealla. Bauxite mining was concentrated in northeast Guyana. The two largest mines were located at Linden, on the Demerara River directly south of Georgetown, and at Kwakwani on the Berbice River. The Aluminium Company of America (Alcoa) incorporated the Demerara Bauxite Company (DEMBA) (1916). DEMBA started production at Akyma on the Demerara River, south of Mackenzie. The operation was expanded and processing and shipping facilities were established at Mackenzie (1922). This was a point of ocean navigation in the Demerara River. Alcoa transferred the operations to its Canadian associate, Alcan (1929). Substantil production continued for a decade. British Guina became the world's third largest bauxite producer after the United States and Dutch Guiana. A slump in world bauxite demnd occurred during the Depression (1930-36). This began to change as Hitler began a massive reamnament effirt (1933) and the British anbd French ecentuslly responded. Demand for the bauc=xite needed to produce aluminum begn yo increase. Antother compny entered Britisg Guiana. The Berbice Bauxite Company was a subsidiary of American Cyanamid. They started production of chemical grade bauxite for the manufacture of alum at Kwakwani up the Berbice River (1942). DEMBA extended its operations to Ituni, about 35 miles south of Mackenzie, and by the end of the decade Guyana was the world's second largest producer--accounting for 17 percent of world production.

Dutch Guiana (Suriname)

Bauxite was discoivered in Dutch Guiana at the sanme time it sas fiund in British Guiana (late-19th century). The Pittsburg Reduction Company (Alcoa) fond a rich deposit at Moengo bauxite hills (1915). The Surinaamsche Bauxiet Maatschappij (SBM) was established (1916). The N.V. Billiton Maatschappij obtained a concession for bauxite exploration in the Para district (1939). This led to the discovery of the Onverdacht bauxite deposit. As a result, Dutch Guiana was one of the leading bauxite-producing countries in the world during World War II. This generated a boom in bauxite exploration and research. SBM opened the Paranam bauxite processing plant, named after the Para and Suriname Rivers bordering the mining concession areas (1941).

France

France had an establishged aluninum industry supplied by its own domestic bauxite mines. The country had some 60 million tins of prven reserves. [Collier, p. 75.]0

Gold Coast (Ghana)

Britain's lack of domestic bauxite sources was an uncomfortable position as aviation began to move into the all metal role. Britain had access to bauxite deposits in France which was assumed would surface as France had held up in World War I. The fall of France chnged this (1940). The British could source bauxite in Brutish Guiana and the Gold Coasdt as well as aluminum manufactured in Amnerica and Canada as long as the Royal Navy could keep the sea lanes open.

Greece

At the time of Worlkd WSar II, Greece had some 60 million tons of proven bauxite deposits, They were lovated in the Mt Helikon – Mt Parnassus – Mt Giona zone. They was no aluminum industry in Greece, but there was some mining. .

Hungary

Mining engineer Jenő Balás after World War I discovered a huge bauxite deposit near the small village of Gánte (1920). It proved to be one of the world's largest reserves of readily accessible bauxite. Hungary alone has eserves totaling about 250 million metric tions of usable ore. [Collier, p. 75.] Strip mining began (1926). The mine in the 1930s it was among the most productive mines of the world. The Germans seized control of the mine during World War II. It would be German's primary source of bauxite during the War. The Communists expanded operation after the War resulting in serious ecological problemns the Hungarian are now having to deal with. The radioactivity content of waste producrs is only one of several concerns that pose a risk to the environment. The red muds also have a high salinity and pH. The Ajka red mud spill in western Hungary (October 2010) was the largest documented release of alumina industry byproducts into the environment.

Italy

Italy at the time of World sar II had bauxite resrves totaling about 40 million tons. [Collier, p. 75.] And it had developed an aluminum industry. The Italian peninsula is geologically a relatively young land formation. This means that the country possess few mineral resources, especially metallic ones. The ore resources are generally poor in quality, with limitd quantity, and dispersed across the peninsula, akthough most sctive mines are in the north. This is one reason that Italy lagged behind northern in the industrial revolution. This was especially true for irion and coal, the key components of the Industrial Revolution. Interestngly aluminum was an exception. This wa not a factor in the Industrial Revolution because metalic aluminum was not isolated until the 19th century and could not be priduced economically until the 20th century. It was not economically important until the 20th century, especially when countries began to use aluminum in aircraft construction. Aluminum is found along the southern coast of Europe. Actually alum was impoerant even in ancient times and was mined in Italy. Before the modern invention of chemical dyes, it was used in textile production. There was of course no knowledge of metalic aluminum at the time. A Germnan operation was confiscated by the Government during World War I and turned over to the French. Italy's aluminuminum industry was essentially founded by an international cartel which included the Aluminium Industrie Aktiengesellschaft, European companies formed the cartel--the Aluminium Association» (AA). The opurpose was to compete wiuth Alcoa. Italy bcame one of the battle-fields of this ecinomic struggle. The situation chsnged when as a result of the Depression Alcoa and AA reached an accomodation (1931). The cartel contunued to dominate the Italian industry until the Government intervenbed. Fascist Itay was expanding its military and aluminum was needed for aircraft instruction. In addition, the Government sought to substutute aluminum for metals that Italy was having to import. [Bertilorenzi]

Norway

Norway's Arctic Jan Mayen Island at the time of World War had bauxite resources of about 30 million tins. [Collier, p. 75.] What made Norway important in aluminum production was its enormous hyfro-elctrical production which ciuld be used to refine aluminum.

Pacific Islands

Japan seems to have obtaimned much of its bauxite from Pacific Islnds, although we have not been able to find few details. They also had 'native'" source in Palau, and there was some mining in Shendong peninsula. Prewar they imported bauxite from DEI at least. They may hve also imported scrap luminum fromthe United States. Once they launched the Pcific War, they took Bintan island (DEI) and Johore. These sites were originally prospected by Japanese, IIRC, who then less successfully bid on the mining rights).

Romania

At the time of World war II, Romania ws estimated to have some 40million goims of proven bauxite deposits. [Collier, p. 95.]

Soviet Union

The Soviet Union swas cornocopia of resources, esocially oil, but also mineral resources. Ther was one resource in gich Germany was better ittuted, because of ghe avaibility of bauxite in nearby Hungsry, and tht was the buxite needed to produce, aluminum,. Dat on the sivit Unuin is less reliable than for Europe. One source suggests that the Soiviets had buxite resources of only about 20 million tons. [Collier, p. 75.] This was a small fraction of waht the Germans had access to in Hungary. Firtunately for the Siviet Union, the zmericans would supply much of its aluminum needs throuhj Lend Lease.

Yugoslavia

Yugoslavia had an important bauxite resource, smaller tha n the mnssive Hungarian resource, but still anout 100 million t of usabl ore. [Collier, p.75.] Bauxite was found in Yugoslavia near Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Bauxite deposits were found at at Vlasenica, Zvornik, and Banja Luka. We have not yet found any information on mining before and during World War II. We note one American press report claoming that NAZI Germany was getting half its bauxite from Yugoslvia. [Austin, p.1.]

Cost

Aluminum before World War II was extraordinarily expensive, not because of scarcity. Producing aluminum metal required two major inputs: 1) bauxite ore with was relatively inexpensive and 2) and vast amounts of electrical energy which was the the major cost. Something like 20 percent of the cost of production of aluminum was electricity. One pound of aluminum requires 10 kilowatt-hours of electricity. One source to put this in meaningful terms suggests that this is the amount of electricity to heat a kitchen oven for four hours. The electric energy was a brand new industry. And until it developed and prices reduced, aluminum could not be produced for industrial purposes. This problem was solved by the vast increase in electrical generating capacity during the inter-War years, including hydro-electric projects like the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA).

Country Trends: Aluminum Industry

The aluminum industry was an important factor in World war II, primrily because of the growing role of airpower. Allumunum has a large ranhe of uses, but aircraft construction was by far the most important. All metal construction became adopted in the 1930s by both civilan and military aviation. And of course that metal was primarily light-weight aluminum. The fall of France was a huge factor in World War II. One part of that was the loss of the French aluminium industry. Not only were the French processing plants lost to the NAZIS wehen France fell (1940), but the French buxite mines were lost. This was a potential threat to the British war effort which had been importing French bauxite and whose fate was being determined by the air war. America mined bauxite, but not near the quantities needed by the rapidly expanding American air forces. And the available domestic American ore grades were low. Both the Allies and the Germans attempted to expand aluminum production. For this America turned tn South America for the bauxite ore it needed. [Baptiste] Suriname and British Guiana (Guyana) had important bauxite resources. Surinamese bauxite was of especially high grade. With American support, production was rapidly expanded. Canada was imprtant in this process because of its bydro-power potential. America established Caribbean bases to safeguard trade routes from U-boat attacks. New technical advances significantly expanded American domestic production. With the advent of World War II, demand for aluminum nearky trippled. Aluminum production increased exceeding 1 million metric tons for the first time (1941). The limited Soviet aluminum production was augmnted by Amedrican Lend Lease. The Germans also attemoted to expanbd aluminum producion and despite ample bauxite resources in allied and and occccupied countres, wre unavle to match he Allies. The differebnce was primarily limited energy inputs.

Sources

Austin, Kenneth L. "Yugoslav bauxite found war factor," New York Times (March 30, 1941).

Bertilorenzi, Marco. "The Italian aluminium industry: Cartels, multinationals and the autarkic phase, 1917-1943," Cahiers d'histoire de l'aluminium (2008/1) N° 41, pp. 42- 71.

Chandonnet, Fern (2007). Alaska at War, 1941–1945: The Forgotten War Remembered (University of Alaska Press: 2007).

Collier, James E. "Aluminum industry of Europe," Economic Geography Vol. 22, No. 2 (April 1946), pp. 75-108.

Evenden, Matthew. "Aluminum, commodity chains, and the environmental history of the Second World War," Environmental History Vol. 16, No. 1 (2011), pp. 69-93. .

Frøland, Hans Otto and Jan Thomas Kobberrød. "Norwegian Contribution to Göring's Megalomania. Norway's Aluminium Industry during World War II," Dans Cahiers d'histoire de l'aluminium (2009) Vol. 1-2. (N° 42-43), pp. 130-47.

Granastein, J.L. Canada's War: The Politics of the Mackenzie King Givernment, 1939-1945 (Toranto: Oxford University Press, 1979).

Hall, H. Duncan. North AmericanSupply (London: HM Stationaru Office: 1955).

Linz, Susan J. "World War II and Soviet Economic Growth," Faculty Working Paper No. 1038 (College of Commerce and Business Administration, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign: May, 1984).

Massell, David. As Though There Was No Boundry.

Neukirch, Eberhard. "Die Entwicklung des Leichtmetalausbaues im Vierjahresplan mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Zeit des grossdeutschen Freiheitskampfes ab 1939," (unpublished manuscript: 1943). Bundesarchiv, Berlin, under Reichsamt für Wirtschaftsausbau R112-150.

Patternson, Sam H. "Bauxite reserves and potential resources of the world," Geological Survey Bulletin No. 1228 (U.S. Department of the Interior: 1967).

Seldes, George (1943). Facts and Fascism 5 ed. (In Fact, Inc.: 1943).

Sokolov, Boris V. "The role of lend‐lease in Soviet military efforts, 1941–1945". The Journal of Slavic Military Studies Vol. 7, No. 3 (2007), pp. 567–86.

Weeks, Albert Loren. Russia's Life-saver: Lend-lease Aid to the U.S.S.R. in World War II (Lexington Books: 2004).

"Germany's aluminium industry," Nature Vol. 46, (November 30, 1940), p. 713.







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