US Army Quartermaster Foundation
Fort Lee, Virginia

Construction; An Index of Civilization

The Quartermaster Review - 1928

Overview of Military Construction with emphasis on WWI

CONSTRUCTION is one of the oldest arts in the world. The builder has truly marked the progress of civilization by his noble works. For instance, from the ancient on thru the middle ages to the fifteenth century the architect was the director of works, hence governed the other arts, such as sculpture and painting. Construction combines the most material and at the same time most ideal of arts. You measure the culture of a race of people or nation by its surviving structural ruins.

History can be traced back seven thousand, even eight thousand, years by the tombs and temples of Babylon and Egypt. Beyond that is either sheer speculation or somewhat nebulous archaeological research. The accomplishments of the ancient builders are even more remarkable when considered in conjunction with the fact iron for tools did not come into use until 1100 B. C. Bronze tools used may have been hardened to a point unknown to modern industry.

Methods of Handling Artisans

We now use either the contract system of building or supervised day labor, as opposed to the slave labor of most of the ancients, the tribute, contract, and military labor of the Romans, and the voluntary religious labor of the monastic age.

It may be of interest to know that the Greeks used a sort of a day labor system with officials to oversee the works, including architects, technicians, and the so-called clerk of the works. The state supplied materials by dealing direct with individuals for quarrying, transportation, et cetera. Great individual responsibility was placed on each workman. This encouraged initiative and developed great pride of accomplishment. Whatever may be said against the system, the fact remains that it was at its height during the golden age of Greece.

The Romans, on the other hand, strongly favored the single contractor system. History teaches us that the Roman contractural system, as opposed to their military construction, occasioned at times considerable speculation with more or less graft, and a consequent sacrifice of quality.

In the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries, the guild system of labor unions, which included in their ranks even architects, sculptors, and painters, developed remarkable results, as these unions seemed to think more of the quality of their work than of upholding their claims. It is a curious fact that a revival of contract work occurred synchronously with the decay of the Renaissance.

The Aztecs, Toltecs, Mayans, and Peruvians of America achieved a high degree of culture evidenced by their colossal structures.

There is no doubt that the day labor system improves quality. It is equally certain that it increases the time and expense factors, unless expert technical and engineering supervision is employed. The Panama Canal, the greatest feat of modern times, was practically a day labor proposition under the skilled direction of the United States Army Engineers.

Many great modern contractors are not builders in the ordinary acceptance of the term. They are financiers, organizers of business, and managers expert in problems of economy with reference to labor saving and time saving factors. In other words, they are more proficient in business methods than in the skill of the architect. This is probably why modern skyscrapers are more noted for their mechanical conveniences than their beauty of outline and artistic conception. However, from the standpoint of economy, the contract system is usually the best. With expert and available technical supervision, the day labor method cannot be excelled.

Army Structures

In the Army, during times of peace we build for permanence and utility with due regard for symmetrical beauty of outline, both in the structures and their landscaping details. Possibly we favor the plain Doric rather than the more ornate Ionic and Corinthian styles.

In war, utility rules, and delicate detail is discarded. Structures are simply to shelter men, animals, machinery and supplies. We follow the Romans in that practicality for storage demands large unencumbered interiors. To this we add the unit theory, this is, if one unit building, say 75 by 150 feet, is required for a certain storage capacity, then we erect a series of such units to multiply the capacity. We carry the same idea into effect with barracks. This scheme insures rail accessibility and prevents too great a destructive loss in the event of artillery or aerial bombardment.

The phenomenal development of aircraft will undoubtedly force our storage building program to rely on rather small units and possibly underground development. The fact of the matter is that the tendency toward too tolerant an attitude with respect to elaborate construction plans in exposed areas should not be indulged. No such objection exists in the zone of the interior, since that is the base of the funnel of supply, and comparatively free from attack, except by air.

World War Construction

Construction in the World War involved a sum of 818 millions of dollars or more than twice the cost of the Panama Canal. Our cantonments were really cities containing over 40,000 military inhabitants and averaging in cost about 10 millions of dollars for each unit. In the United States only, this service successfully handled 540 separate projects. We employed an average of one-fifth of a million men as workmen and used two and two-thirds billion board feet of lumber. Our new construction of warehouse space exceeded 33 million square feet, and we provided hospital space for 123,000 beds. Despite this truly immense wooden building program, we held the fire loss down to 46 cents per capita, as compared to the sum of $5.00 that every citizen in the United States contributes annually, assuming our fire losses were prorated. In other words, despite wooden construction and unsafe emergency stove heating, the Army was more than ten times as successful in preventing fire losses as the civilian population is at the present date.

In France, largely under the direct supervision of the Corps of Engineers, U. S. Army, 831 projects employing 160,000 troops, prisoners, and civilians, were completed at a cost of 450 millions of dollars. They included such items as dockage, barracks, hospitals, electric light and power plants, cold storage plants, machine shops, rail terminals and railroads, saw mills, bridges, et cetera. In fact, we had over a hundred saw mills in operation at one time. In France, 23 million square feet of storage space was provided, and over 1,000 miles of standard gauge railroad constructed. Our great intermediate depot at Gievres could handle 1,600 cars of freight daily. It is of interest to note that a camp was prepared to accommodate 80,000 men, the largest single camp ever utilized for military purposes. At Bassens, there was built the largest single warehouse ever constructed and containing 134,000 square feet of floor space.

Constructing Quartermaster In War

Nine Construction Districts have been organized in the United States. Each has a chief in charge. Decentralized initial mobilization insures that each chief of a Construction District will have a short period to get his projects under way.

A Constructing Quartermaster is directed by the chief of a Constructing District to take charge of the construction of a divisional cantonment. He proceeds to the site named, arranges for office space, furniture, equipment, telephones, storage, et cetera. If accommodation construction is required, he assures himself that the completed buildings fit in with the general plan.

Maps of the site should be prepared at once, showing all topographical and geological features essential to the project. The area and ownership of all real estate parcels should be shown on a separate map. Three maps will be normally required, namely, a map showing geographic and geological features, another indicating real estate factors, and a third covering contours so as to determine the most practical layout for roads, sewers, buildings, et cetera.

If it develops that the site cannot accommodate a division an effort should be made to secure additional brigade sites at a distance not exceeding fifteen miles from the original location. A greater distance would preclude administrative and supply control. Less than a brigade should not be considered, if separate locations must be used. Considerations involved include size of project, water supply, space for training, rail facilities, roads, drainage, target range space, bathing facilities, and reasonable proximity to a labor market and recreational center. Other factors that may be considered are grazing for animals, advantageous markets, absence of insect pests, control of social evils, and weather conditions.

No typical layouts have been developed for cantonment buildings other than the types used in the World War. These do not conform to the present tables of organization, but naturally can serve as models with due allowance for the accommodation required. Portable type buildings for an Infantry Division have been planned, but it is not contemplated that they will be used for anything beyond small and separated units, or emergency purposes, and certainly not for any unit larger than an independent brigade.

Provision should be made for warehouses, railroads, yards, laundry, library, utility buildings, as well as for the usual quarters and administrative buildings. Care should be exercised that open space for drilling is not restricted. Bed space in hospitals should allow for 5 per cent of the contemplated camp personnel. Fire gaps should be not less than 300 feet between buildings of different groups. Officers' rows should be properly spaced. In selecting building sites due regard must be given to drainage requirements, while at the same time consideration is given to the necessity of a pressure water tower at a commanding height to allow for at least a 125 foot head.

Main approaches should be both highway and rail, both with rapid access to Headquarters. Avoid arrangements that permit street car lines to pass thru the usual center open space or along cantonment streets.

Traffic and Roads

Heavy traffic streets should be wide enough for three lines of vehicles, namely, 24 feet. No street should be less than 18 feet, in fact, this is a questionable arrangement, as two five ton trucks traveling at 12 miles an hour should have sufficient road space so as to allow 10 feet for each truck. Of course, light traffic can readily accommodate itself to the18 foot roadway. Road material selected should be, in the order named, preferably concrete, brick, asphaltic concrete, bituminous macadam, and water bound macadam of gravel or broken stone. At warehouses, where turns are frequent, concrete or brick is preferable. Cuts exceeding 3 feet should be avoided, except where otherwise a short grade of 5 per cent or more might result. Horsedrawn artillery normally should not be expected to negotiate a grade in excess of 5 per cent.


Railroads should be so constructed that excavations and fills balance. Minimum distance, center to center, between parallel tracks should not be less than 13 feet, from the center of tracks to the edge of unloading platforms not less than 6 feet 2 inches, and the height of an unloading platform, floors 3 feet 9 inches above the top of the rails. Grades for side tracks should not, if at all practicable, exceed four-tenths of one per cent.

Water and Fire Protection

The water supply should be ample and well protected. Allow at least 55 gallons per day per capita to include all usage purposes. Thru storage for fire prevention this allowance should have around three times this rate for at least 60 minutes on 3 minutes notice. This allows time to secure control of a continued supply if the emergency becomes pronounced. Fire hydrants should have standard 2 1/2-inch hose outlets.

In addition to providing at least 50 foot space between group buildings of normal dimensions and 100 feet for large buildings. acids. Lime, calcium carbide, powders, oakum, oils, paints, hay and feed should be stored in separate buildings. Gasoline goes underground for storage. Paints and oils in barrels should be 150 feet from buildings. Gasoline using machines, boilers, and such fire menaces should be in detached metal clad buildings. Orders should be issued insuring safety installation and operation of ranges, stoves, and heaters. Ventilators should be screened and buildings boarded to the ground so sparks cannot enter.


The sewage system should be for sewage only and not for drainage in addition thereto. Trunks and outfalls should have a minimum mean velocity of 2 feet per second. Six inch pipe should be used for building connection. Grease traps are necessary. Minimum cover for sewer lines should be not less than two feet. At roads and crossings greater depth, and the pipes should be protected by at least an encasement of 6 inches of 1:2:4 concrete.

Standardized Buildings

It is assumed that buildings constructed will be of the cantonment type in use during the World War. Modifications to suit a peculiarity of the building site are determined in the field. In designing these buildings standard commercial lengths of lumber are used, hence widths for one story buildings are 20 feet, with seven foot bays, and widths of 30 to 42 feet, with bays of 8 or 10 feet in the case of two story buildings. Doors are 2 feet 8 inches by 6 feet 8 inches. The standard sash of six, l0x15 inch lights is used.

Permanent buildings allow 60 square feet of floor space for each man in barrack dormitories or 720 cubic feet of air space, whereas 50 square, feet or 500 cubic feet is allowed in temporary buildings.

Military hospitals of temporary construction may differ from the World War type, hence no definite plan can be outlined as to procedure to be followed other than to suggest more than normal precautions as to fire hazards.


Temporary warehouses should not be in groups exceeding four in number. Transportation, labor, yard space, and provisions for expansion should be -given careful insight. Temporary one-story types should be constructed of brick, concrete, or hollow tile exterior walls, brick fire walls, concrete or wood floors, wood roof framing and supports with pitch or asphalt composition built up covering. These warehouses should have fire walls extending thru the roof so as to keep the undivided area around 15,000 square feet. Approved Underwriters automatic fire doors should be installed.

Power and Heat

Electric power should be purchased, if at all possible to do so. Generally alternating current should be installed. Where direct current is required for speed control it should be converted from the alternating. Wiring should be installed with due regard to its danger as a potential fire hazard.

Heating in quarters and barracks will be by stove, in hospitals thru a central plant. Unless buildings are closely grouped, separate steam plants should be installed, if other than hospitals require such plants.

Circular 1

See Circular 1, O. Q. M. G., for data on progress schedules and reports together with steps to be taken on completion of work. In this connection, it may be stated that this circular is an, almost complete compendium of general information on Quartermaster activities and is now being, revised and brought up-to-date.

Constructing Quartermasters have considerable independence of action; which is not curtailed by Commanding Officers, except for strictly disciplinary purposes and administrative control of a general nature. Fiscal responsibility is such that it is advisable for all to make a careful study of finance regulations covered by the 35 group, as well as giving due consideration to the allowances and methods of procedure outlined in the 30 group of Quartermaster Regulations.

Since the peak of construction in case of a national emergency will elapse very rapidly when mobilization expansion ceases, it behooves Constructing Quartermasters to, be prepared for more general duty, particularly with respect to the operation of utilities.

In conclusion, it may be pertinent to observe that for variety of interest and technical diversity this field is unique. Moreover, construction once completed must be maintained. Every post, camp, and station cannot hope to command the services of a trained Constructing Quartermaster, therefore it behooves all Quartermasters to have a fair general knowledge of this subject and its related utilities, particularly repair work, electrical installation, plumbing, sewage disposal, water systems, shop management, and contractural relations. Certainly no type of duty has a more interesting, varied, and constructive appeal.

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