The U.S. Army Spruce Squadrons in the First World War

Updated February 4, 2013

During my research on the First World War, I discovered a fascinating corner of American history that has been all but forgotten.

The states of Oregon and Washington form the backdrop for one of the most interesting dramas of the First World War. When the U.S. entered the War, it was quickly discovered that the nation had no capacity to build warplanes in quantity. Even though the U.S. had invented the airplane, by 1917 the European powers had already spent years developing it for warfare, and deploying it in deadly combat. Those nations were trying to produce enough machines to keep the skies occupied over the front lines in France. The U.S. was supplying the Allies with spruce timber, vital to wing construction. However, the actual production volume was small, and the lumber industry was plagued by labor strife.

By 1918, the United States Army stepped in and took over the production of airplane spruce. Army people built a plant to process the wood, built roads and railroads into the forests to access and cut the timber. The Army organized the lumber workers into the "Loyal Legion of Loggers and Lumbermen", to provide good wages and working conditions, and to prevent labor strife. Month by month, the production of airplane lumber soared to levels never before imagined.

The soldiers of the Spruce Squadrons were officially in the Signal Corps, since it was this organization that began and oversaw all Army aviation. The term "squadron" would normally be applied to a flying group, but it was also used for these small construction and logging units. Many of these soldiers were itching to go "over there" and take part in the real fighting. Their labor and brains were needed far more, however, in the forests of the Pacific Northwest.

About 50,000 soldiers, overseeing about 100,000 lumber workers, were in the Pacific Northwest in 1918. Some 10,000 of these soldiers built railroads and roads deep into the forests. Spruce had not been pursued by commercial loggers in the past, so there was no access to the groves of huge trees. Other soldiers worked at small lumber camps and mills throughout the coastal areas of Oregon and Washington. The Army lists the many small camps where these soldiers were located in the Order of Battle book (now also on CD-ROM).

Postal history (which I collect) is rare from these logging camps. Far more material is seen from the soldiers at the large Army training camps located all over the U.S., even though the total population of soldiers in Washington and Oregon equal the population of one of those large camps.

There is an article on Wikipedia that discusses the Spruce Production Division history and operations . Note that I do not have any rosters of soldiers in the Spruce units. The Wikipedia article mentions that:

At the U.S. National Archives in Seattle, there are approximately 187 cubic feet (5.3 m3) of records related to the division, as well as "a complete roster of all military personnel in the Spruce Production Division as of 1 November 1918."[5]

The reference given with this statement is: article about the National Archives material describing the Spruce Squadrons.

I will try to help with histories of Spruce soldiers and units, if you send email. In simple English, my email address is:

bobswansong <at> gmail <dot> com

(note the ending "g" on my name for Gmail)

or, send paper mail to:

Bob Swanson
514 Americas Way #2016
Box Elder SD 57719-7600 USA

If you are looking for the history of a particular soldier, try NARA. Some records were lost many years ago due to a fire, but you may get lucky and find that they can supply the military records for a particular WWI soldier.

Copyright©1999-2013 Robert Swanson

More Links

Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict