Munitions / Armaments

Before this century Coventry has never had much of tradition for producing munitions or armaments apart from at times of war. Yet its record in two world wars shows a startling capacity to meet the huge demands made on its industrial expertise. Only the Coventry Ordnance Works, set up by a shipbuilding consortium, was solely involved in making weapons before the First World War. Nevertheless the city’s experience in engineering made it a natural base for various types of munitions work and it became a government designated munitions centre. Most of the large car firms had already experimented with aircraft production before 1914 and soon attracted government contracts to provide for the new military tactic of aerial warfare. Not surprisingly, various military vehicles were also produced but some firms such as Rover were considered to have a car that was too light for military use and therefore forced to turn most of its wartime production to mortars, shells and fuses. Rudge Whitworth faced a similar situation but also produced .303 rifle ammunition. However, all firms producing munitions were overshadowed by the operations of White and Poppe in Holbrooks. It was a relatively small engineering firm at the start of the war but by 1918 it was employing 11,000 people at three different sites. After the war many of the firms went back to their pre-war specialisms, but some such as Siddeley Deasy continued and linked up with Armstrong Whitworth to be a major force in aircraft development and production. They also continued to produce cars until the 1950s.