By Jeff RanuMay 15, 2019
PICATINNY ARSENAL, N.J. -- Brig. Gen. William E. Larned was a graduate of the United States Military Academy class of 1911 and a veteran of both World Wars.
He commanded Picatinny Arsenal from December 1941 to March 1948, leading Picatinny Arsenal when its mission achieved the largest scope and scale in its history.
Operations were conducted seven days a week and 24 hours a day, with a workforce reaching near 18,000 in total during peak production in the summer of 1943.
William Edmund Larned was born Jan. 27, 1888, in West Point, New York. He was the son of Col. Charles W. Larned (USMA Class of 1870) and his wife, Louise.
Following in his father and grand-father's footsteps, young William became a cadet at West Point on June 15, 1907. He graduated on June 13, 1911, and was promoted to second lieutenant with the 29th Infantry.
Lt. Larned served with Co. M, 29th Infantry from September 14, 1911 to June 1913, at Fort Jay, New York, and at Fort Niagara from June 1913 to Sept. 1, 1914. He subsequently served at Empire, Canal Zone, with the same Company.
A promotion to first lieutenant occurred on July 1, 1916, with a transfer to the 7th Field Artillery, Battery F at Camp Wilson, Texas. Another promotion to captain occurred one year later.
Service during World War I.
He attended the School of Fire for Field Artillery at Ft. Sill, and became an instructor from September 1917 to March 1918. Two rapid temporary promotions ensued, becoming a lieutenant colonel with the 8th Field Artillery as it prepared to deploy to France as part of the American Expeditionary Force during World War I.
Before shipping out to France, Capt.Larned and Augusta Danforth Greer were married on May 16, 1918, as wedding plans "were hastened owing to war conditions."
While in France, another field promotion was awarded, and Col. Larned commanded the 83rd Field Artillery from October 1918 to January 1919. He returned with the regiment to Camp Knox, Kentucky. The post war draw-down saw William Larned return to the rank of captain on March 15, 1920.
After serving at Fort Knox, he was promoted to major. The Dispatch of Moline Illinois reports that Maj. Larned was transferred to Rock Island Arsenal from Watervliet Arsenal in October 1920. He transferred again to 6th Corps at Fort Sheridan on August 1, 1921.
The Larneds then found themselves stationed in Hawaii, at Schofield Barracks in 1931. Their time on the islands was marked by an active social life.
A costume party on New Years Eve 1934 saw Maj. and Mrs. Larned win a contest for the best couple's costume, dressed as wooden soldiers.
The Larneds even hosted their own Mardi Gras party at the Artillery Club in March of 1935.
This was the last hurrah in Hawaii. Maj. Larned received orders on April 1, to report to the Office of the Chief of Ordnance. A promotion to lieutenant colonel followed in August 1935. He served as the Executive Assistant to the Chief of Field Service until September 1939.
ARRIVAL AT PICATINNY
The conclusion of service in Washington saw a transfer to Picatinny Arsenal as a student officer in the Armaments School on post, after which Lt. Col. Larned became Chief of the Manufacturing Group. A promotion to full colonel followed on April 1, 1940. Col. Larned assumed command of Picatinny Arsenal on December 1, 1941.
One week later, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. The new commander found himself with the responsibility of manufacturing enough armaments to support a World War. Col. Larned immediately put the Arsenal on alert, and issued the following statement:
"The state of war which now exists calls for the utmost effort on the part of each of us to help our country protect itself from the unprovoked and treacherous attack which has been launched against it.
"This means greater and faster production at this Arsenal. It means more careful work. We must never relax for a moment the safety precautions in effect here. We must exercise the utmost care to produce perfect ammunition and its components. A defective shell may mean the death of American soldiers.
"Picatinny Arsenal is a key plant in the whole war program. Our efforts here will count greatly toward victory for our country."
EXPANDING THE ARSENAL
One of the first orders of business was expansion of the Arsenal to provide more space, as well as a security buffer for expanded operations. The acquisition of the Spicertown homes soon followed late in 1941, expanding the Arsenal holdings between what is now Route 15 and the Cannon Gate.
Construction began to expand Building 151, the Picatinny Arsenal headquarters. The opening of the new wing coincided with a promotion to brigadier general for Larned.
Late December 1941, Col. Larned stated at a press conference: "We don't need new buildings. We need ammunition. We can make them in tents if necessary." The commander reiterated, what he really needed were enough people to produce the ammunition at the staggering pace needed to support the war.
A hiring blitz ensued early in 1942, with 509 new employees added the second week of January. By mid-1942, the Picatinny Arsenal workforce increased from 5,500 employees to a high of 17,936.
During the 1930s, much of the commercial ammunition industry in the United States was underdeveloped, outdated, and incapable of supporting the needs of a war on this scale. Picatinny was the only plant in the United States capable of producing large caliber ammunition. The commercial entities were only designed for small arms.
Brig. Gen. Larned had to both oversee the rapid expansion of the Arsenal to increase production rates, and oversee the development of new government and commercial plants to produce large caliber ammunition and explosives.
Maintaining manpower levels was an ongoing thorn in the side of the commander, especially by losing experienced workers to the draft.
During March of 1942, Larned dedicated a plaque in Building 302 in memory of the men of the Operating Department who had been called up to service. The tally was 128 in three months. At the dedication ceremony, Larned reminded the workforce of the critical nature of their mission. "You are supporting the defense effort more than any other Arsenal. Guns are important, but they are no good unless they are supplied with ammunition, and Picatinny is making such ammunition."
Research and development of special ordnance items was also a priority on the Arsenal during the war. Larned had to fight to keep the skilled designers and technicians for specialized work. In 1943, Picatinny was tasked to design, develop, and produce a self-destruct mechanism for an "Identify Friend or Foe" device for bombers.
The Arsenal was given two months to complete the design, and a first delivery of 150 devices. The device used radio waves transmitted between planes in formation. If the enemy was able to capture a downed aircraft, they could determine how to spoof the signal. Washington requested daily updates on the status.
One such inquiry warranted the response, "You've just drafted the only two men who can complete the mold. Now you're holding up the work." The men were promptly discharged and were back at work at Picatinny within 48 hours.
AWARDS FOR HIGH ACHIEVEMENT
On Sept. 30, 1942, Larned learned that Picatinny would be receive an Army-Navy E-Award for high achievement in the production of war equipment.
A ceremony was held on Sept. 30, 1942, in front of Building 151. Larned stated, upon receiving the award: "You can be assured that Picatinny Arsenal's personnel will continue to respond quickly and effectively to whatever demands are made upon it in the future, and that this recognition of work in months past will be an incentive to even more dogged effort in the months to come." Subsequent awards followed in 1943, 1944, and 1945.
Larned kept the public informed of the efforts that Picatinny was undertaking to support the war effort. There were many interviews published in the Montclair Times and Paterson News.
Larned addressed the concerns regarding the large percentage of women working in the ordnance plant, and whether they would be safe in such a working environment. With statistical analysis, he showed that the safety protocols in place in the factories made them a safer location than a typical home.
The versatility of Picatinny operations was evident in the Larned interviews, ranging from recycling materials from old armor piercing shells, to renovating and refurbishment of ammunition and equipment from the European Theater of Operations for transfer to the Pacific Theater of Operation after V-E Day (Victory in Europe Day).
On June 6, 1944, the D-Day landings occurred in Normandy. Larned addressed the workforce after receiving a message from the Chief of Ordnance, Maj. Gen . Campbell, thanking Picatinny Arsenal for providing the ammunition used in the early stages of the invasion.
He also reminded the workforce that there were 4,252 former Picatinny employees in uniform, many in the infantry and part of the invasion force. Those men, Larned continued, were counting on their friends back at the Arsenal to keep them supplied with quality ammunition.
The somber task of creating the Picatinny Arsenal Honor Roll fell to Larned. The Honor Roll listed the names of former Picatinny Arsenal employees killed in action. A plaque was displayed in Building 151 for the duration of the war.
The number of fallen former Picatinny employees was 24 as of February 1944. The number increased to 64 by May 1945, and to 90 by V-J Day in September 1945.
After the war, the employees of Picatinny Arsenal erected a 5-foot tall bronze monument in front of Building 24 that listed the 90 employees. Sometime between 1947 and 1952, the monument was moved to its current location, at the intersection of Parker Road and Route 15.
GEARING DOWN AFTER THE WAR
The end of the war was both a relief and bittersweet for Picatinny Arsenal. There was an immediate downsizing and layoffs of the workforce, which had worked so diligently to win the war.
They now found themselves unemployed. Larned was reduced in rank to colonel. He issued the following statement, reported in the Picatinny News: "It is with great sadness I see so many old and valued friends leaving for other fields, but unfortunately, the American system makes this inevitable. Let me again thank all those who worked so long and well and faithfully for the victory, and wish them all again a well-deserved happiness in their holidays and all success for the coming year."
The end of the war also saw a return to research, development and production process improvement. Work on improving the Bazooka rocket also was underway, and was available for rapid production and deployment at the start of the Korean War.
The first meeting of the Picatinny Arsenal Officers Association of World War II took place on Sept. 13-14 1947, hosted by Colonel and Mrs. Larned.
The officers and their wives posed for a photo in the lawn in front. Colonel and Mrs Larned stand in the rear row at the right hand side of the photo.
Col. Larned's retirement dinner in December 1947 was reported upon in The Daily News, New York.
The tone of the emerging Cold War was clear, even as early as this date. The Chief of the Army-Navy Explosives Safety Board, Col Francis H. Miles Jr, warned of Russian territorial ambitions.
Colonel Larned retired in March 1948, leaving the Arsenal in the capable hands of Col. J.P. Harris.
A LOCAL HISTORY WITH JUST THE FACTS
One of his last acts as commander was to secure the re-hiring of 500 of the employees laid off during the fall of 1946, bringing the total number of employees up to 2,500.
Colonel Larned also commissioned the recording of the history of Picatinny Arsenal in 1942 and reached out to the workforce for material.
Larned issued a request to the workforce: "I appeal to all employees who have been at Picatinny over the years to reduce all their recollections to writing and send them to me. They will be performing a service of real value to posterity. No fancy writing is necessary -- Just facts." He wanted the deeds and the lessons of the World War II to be available for the future generations of Picatinny Arsenal employees.
We lose track of the Larneds after retirement from the Army. We know that William Edmund Larned passed away on June 4, 1965, in Saint Petersburg, Florida. He was 77 years old. He is interred at the place of his birth and education, at the United States Military Academy, West Point, New York.
His grave stone notes the highest rank achieved during military service, Brigadier General. We at Picatinny Arsenal will remember him as our leader during one of this nation's most desperate hours.
Picatinny Arsenal Building 94 bears his name, dedicated May 20, 1967.