The Minister of Munitions was a British government position created during the First World War to oversee and co-ordinate the production and distribution of munitions for the war effort. The position was created in response to the Shell Crisis of 1915 when there was much public criticism of the shortage of shells available.
Lloyd George gained a heroic reputation with his energetic work as Minister of Munitions, from 1915–1916, setting the stage for his political rise. When the Shell Crisis of 1915 dismayed public opinion, with the news that the Army was running short of artillery ammunition, demands rose for a strong leader to take charge of munitions production. The cabinet was reconstituted as the first coalition ministry in May 1915 and Lloyd George was made Minister of Munitions, in a new department created to solve the munitions shortage.
In this position he received acclaim for a big rise in output, which formed the basis for his political ascent to Prime Minister in late 1916. All historians agree that he boosted national morale and focused attention on the urgent need for greater output but many also say the increase in munitions output from 1915–1916, was due largely to reforms already decided, though not yet effective, before he arrived. American historian R. J. Q. Adams provided details that showed that the Ministry broke through the cumbersome bureaucracy of the War Department, resolved labour problems, rationalized the supply system and dramatically increased production. Within a year it became the largest buyer, seller and employer in Britain.
The Ministry was staffed at the top levels by businessmen loaned by their companies for the duration of the war. These men were able to coordinate the needs of big business with those of the state and reach a compromise on price and profits. Government agents bought essential supplies from abroad. Once bought, the Ministry would control their distribution in order to prevent speculative price rises and to enable normal marketing to continue. The whole of the Indian jute crop, for example, was bought and distributed in this way. Steel, wool, leather and flax came under similar controls. By 1918, the Ministry had a staff of 65,000 people, employing some 3 million workers in over 20,000 factories. Most Ministers appointed were senior politicians, starting with David Lloyd George. The post was abolished in 1921, as part of a cutback of government and as a delayed result of the Armistice in 1918.
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