Huge Amount of WWII Surplus? Why?

When I was a kid, Boston was full of “Army-Navy” stores-these places had huge stocks of WWII-vintage military gear-everything from puptents to canteens, army and navy uniforms, gas masks, etc.
It seemed that a lot of this stuff had never been used-I bought a US Army mess kit (for camping out) for $3.00-it was still in its original box (stamped 1944).
It seemed that these stores had an unlimited supply of this stuff-did the US government simply buy too much of everything?
I even recall that old Army trucks and tanks could be had for very little.
Now, the “Army-Navy” stores are all gone-what happens to surplus stuff today-is it destroyed?

The atomic bomb ended the war much earlier than had been anticipated, so Uncle Sam had a lot of stuff in the pipeline. Over the years, it got used up, finally. Today you can still find “surplus,” but modern accounting and purchasing methods mean less “extra” to dispose of. Toss in recycling and you have a much tighter market.

The planned invasion of Japan probably has something to do with it.

The war in Europe ended before predicted as well. The German offensive in the Ardennes had opposite effect as intended, actually gutting the Germans ability to defend the homeland. We had stockpiled a lot of stuff for that which also never got used.

The thing is, a war like WWII isn’t fought on a budget. Armies use up a lot of stuff, so you have to plan to have on hand even more than you THINK you need…otherwise you get what happened to the Germans during their initial invasion of Russia after winter set in. Not good.


After D Day there were some predictions the war would be over in Dec. 1944. The first big problem with that date was the failure of Market Garden which was the invasion of Holland.

There was so much that even some WWII bombs were used in Vietnam.

Of course the problem was that they were used also on the USS Forrestal and that fire turned into a disaster as sailors did not know that the bombs were more unstable than the modern ones.

Another part of the reason was that mass production was easier than fighting.

By 1944 the USA was producing more material goods than the rest of the entire world COMBINED.

Why were the German U-boat threats so ineffective? They weren’t but the USA remedied this by simply producing more. The USA was producing goods and ships faster than Germans could sink them. By 1944 the for every ship that the Germans sunk, three others were making it through to England and the Soviet Union.

This, along with the reasons mentioned above, account for such an overstock. It was simply easier to produce than to care about what happened to the goods.

The US had a big advantage because nobody bombed our factories and oil refineries like the ones in Germany and other parts of Europe.

predicting how much of item X you need, and in what theater of operations, was difficult to get right and the tendency was to overorder as an insurance. The ‘Green Book’ Ordnance Department: Procurement and Supply’ is good on this. The stock control system was also in some disorder, with many similar or identical items [e.g. nuts or grommets] listed under different catalog numbers. IBM machines were beginning to make a contribution to the number crunching later in the war but computerised stock-keeping was still in the future.

All the Purple Hearts being handed out today and all that will be handed out for the foreseeable future were ordered in anticipation of the invasion of Japan.


Of course, I agree the US produced more ships than the Germans could sink - but this isn’t truly due to American ship production gone wild. If the U-boats had remained as effective as they were during ‘The Happy Times’ they still would have won the battle of the Atlantic.

German U-boats became much less effective due to many factors - notably including the fact the British broke their enigma codes and due to increasing effectiveness of anti-submarine warfare (use of pocket aircraft carriers mid-ocean, radar, etc).

The best thing the Americans did was sell the British around 50 old destroyers to help them cover their convoys. By the time the Americans finally entered WW2, the tide had already turned against the German u-boats.

I don’t know whether they exist south of the border, but there are still Army & Navy Department Stores in Canada. It seems to just be a name now though; on the rare occasions that I’ve been in one they didn’t seem to be selling armed forces surplus anywhere I could see.

The other thing to bear in mind is that when WWII kicked off, most of the armies still had heaps of gear left over from World War I, which meant that a lot of the stuff getting produced in WWII (especially later on, at least in Allied countries) ended up in storage. There’s still “new” WWII surplus stuff appearing on the market today.

My understanding is that they were originally set up to sell uniforms and equipment to (some) NCOs and Officers back in the days when they were expected to provide their own gear- not as “Surplus” or “Disposal” stores in the modern sense.

I remember seeing a program on one of “those channels” where they were documenting the transition of the Air Force from propeller aircraft to jet aircraft which happened near the end of WWII. The production pipeline was such that it got to the point where propeller airplanes that had few or no hours on them were destroyed for scrap because they had suddenly become obsolete due to the transition.

The end of a war is not predicable. Yet, the preparation for an ongoing war has to be accounted for. Therefore, at the point that the pipeline gets drained there is going to be a lot of overproduction, whether it is because the conflict ended or a technical advance made the stuff in the pipeline obsolete.

A waste? Yes. That’s just another reason why wars are so expensive.

There’s a few warehouse-size ones in the vicinity of Fort Lewis, Washington (and so I assume near many other big bases). I don’t recall any WWII stuff other than patches & pins, but there was a lot of Cold War stuff. White arctic gear, chocolate-chip pattern cammo, 25-lb. flak vests, piles of black jungle boots with green nylon shanks, East German garrison caps & helmets, etc. I bought a pair of suede desert boots for $25, and some thick wool German army trousers for $10. I wore my UDT shorts way too long, past when the NBA made shorts above the knee look silly. When I lived up north, I still had a pair of Air Force mukluks and a USAF parka with the fur trim on the hood: excellent cold-weather protection.

Army-Navy Surplus stores are definitely still around, at least in Massachusetts. I’ve seen them in Boston, Provincetown, and Amherst. I don’t know how much of their stock is actual military surplus, but they still have lots of great odds and ends.

Not to deny American productive capacity, but this statement is untrue in several ways.

The U-boats were effective, but they were defeated in battle by more effective forces, and actually withdrawn from the Atlantic in 1943.

By 1944, allied ship losses had dropped dramatically, just as the war effort peaked worldwide. I haven’t found a handy stat showing that “for every ship that the Germans sunk, three others were making it through” is wrong, but in 1944 total Allied losses to submarines in the Atlantic were 132 ships; surely many many more ships got through than 3 in 4.

Our local flea market has a guy who sells a lot of Army gear such as jackets, pants, hats, shirts, etc. Most of it looks new to me but some of it is used.