Mobile Ordnance Repair Shops

The History of the

Mobile Ordnance Repair Shops

During WWI

M.O.R.S. Mobile Ordnance Repair Shops and H.M.O.R.S. Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shops

Out of the babble of tongues heard on the battlefields of the First World War was a language known and respected of all men, a language that needed no interpreter, a language in which friend and enemy alike help parlay day and night across "no man's land" it was the language of the guns.

History will record that it was in this language that America gave her answer to the Imperial German Government, and gave it in the form of 175,000 tons of hot steel and high explosives and 1 billion rounds of small arms ammunition. And there was never such a talking machine and as the American Army. "We shot away stuff so fast that our allies thought we were crazy," says a report of a campaign during the First World War. "The fighting energy of our troops at the front upset every calculation”, says in another military leader.

It fell to the Ordnance Department of the American Expeditionary Forces to keep this machine going. This meant the procurement, storage, distribution, maintenance and repair of 32,000 different classes of articles ranging all the way from the great lumbering Caterpillar tank to the well known mess kits, and including all offensive and defensive arms and ammunition, from the great guns and howitzers, hurling shells of nearly a ton in weight, down to the small but deadly trench or knuckle knife. To sum up best the achievements of the Ordnance Department is to say that it has met the demands thus made upon it, though they were multiplied by hugely increase in schedules of troops sailing to France, by greatly accelerated programs of military offenses, and by expenditures of ammunition by the American forces enormously exceeding the estimates based upon French and British experiences.

Ordnance experts regard as the outstanding accomplishments of this department of the American Expeditionary Forces the motorization of our Artillery, the system of Mobile Repair Shops maintained with the Armies, and the arming of all airplanes for American squadrons.

The importance of keeping the guns at the front in first-class fighting trim can readily be realized. The motorized shops for that purpose that kept in the wake of the Armies and rendered first aid to all artillery and arms were a distinctive American contribution to the war. There were at the time of the Armistice a number of these Heavy Mobile Repair Shops and 25 Mobile Ordnance Repair Shops operating with the Armies. They could repair any kind of gun and get it back in commission unless it needed major repairs.

The 2nd Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop on the Soissons Front put into action against the retreating Germans 28 pieces of their own Artillery, ranging from 77 mm - 210 mm guns. The Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop attached to the 35th Division established the record of having no piece of artillery out of action over five minutes during the Argonne offensive.

These Repair Shops took care of all Ordnance material, and many other things besides, such as water carts, rolling kitchens, bicycles, typewriters, shower baths, watches, meat grinders, steam rollers, stone crushers, trench pumps and captured German material.

The most interesting project of the entire motor equipment work is probably the Heavy Mobile Artillery Repair Shop. This comprises a vast organization of Repair Shops, tool rooms, lathes, powered generators, air compressors, stock rooms, drill presses, welding equipment and all of the other various accessories of the complete repair and tool shop, all on wheels of great 5 and 10 ton trucks. Each repair shop is comprised of two identical units of 24 trucks each. Each is self-contained and it carries its own personnel, consisting of 51 officers and men, its own power, sleeping accommodations and provisions, and is perfectly independent of the other half.

The range of work done in the Shops is amazing. Theoretically there scope is the repair of light and heavy artillery, small arms, carriages, mounts and vehicles. Actually, everything from motor trucks to Victrolas, from bicycles and rolling kitchens to typewriters and broken eyeglasses is confidentially brought to the shop for mending.

Nine of the shops are required per Army, eight for the eight Heavy Artillery brigades and one for the tank corps. To their credit it should be said, in conclusion, that this program was carried through by a little band of 1,803 officers and 12,205 enlisted men, whose work was as hard as any in the Army and as hazardous, even if in the Services of Supply. The history of our Ordnance Department is the history of success in a race between handicap and American brains and energy, and therefore one in which we can all take pride.


1st Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop

The First HMORS was assembled in America from Ordnance department Regular Army personnel and from volunteers who had qualifying skills such as machinists, mechanics, and men who had experience working on heavy equipment. Once the 1st HMORS was assembled and ready to sail they traveled to Hoboken, New Jersey and went aboard the SS Mt. Vernon on July 7-9, 1918. It was 15-minutes past noon on July 9 that the Mt. Vernon got underway from Pier No. 2 in Hoboken, NJ to start the voyage across the Atlantic for France. They were under the command of Captain Ralph W. Cook, Ordnance Department. There were three officers total in the First HMORS and the other two officers were 1st Lt. Henry L. Jarvis and 2nd Lt. Philip S. Davis both Ordnance Department officers. The senior enlisted was Ordnance Sgt. Edward L. Mcardle who had 180 enlisted men under his command.

Once the war ended all Ordnance Department men in France were routed through the Ordnance Repair shops at Mehun-sur-Yevre, France. There they preformed the task of taking in and caring for and packing for transportation back to the States the vast amount of Ordnance material that the American Army had used during the war. Once this duty was completed and men need to go back home Ordnance Evacuation Battalions were formed at Mehun for the explicit purpose of returning Ordnance Department men and officers. Once the war ended so did the existence of the First HMORS as they were funneled back through Mehun and the men who had come over together as one unit did not all return together or at the same time.

Pvt. Mederic Fournier, Jr. Service No. 1867944

Mederic Fournier, Jr. served with the First Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop supporting artillery units on the front lines during the war. The First World War was said to be an Artillery war and Pvt. Fournier had survived up until October of 1918 by dodging the tons of hot steel and lead the Germans sent into the American lines. But on October 2, 1918 Pvt. Fournier was taken out of the war with the loss of his life, not by German steel or lead but by a different enemy entirely. Pneumonia was the enemy that took Pvt. Fournier’s life.

Mederic Fournier, Jr. was the eldest son of Julia and Mederic Fournier, Sr. and was born on September 10, 1893 in Warren, Rhode Island. Mederic’s father was French-Canadian and had become a citizen on June 13, 1896 while living in Warren, RI. In 1910 the Mederic Fournier, Sr. family was living at No. 57 Market Street in Warren, RI and Mederic Sr. was working as a house carpenter to support his family. Mederic, Jr. was the eldest of four children and his three sisters were Leinrina, Elmor, and Sadie, all born in Warren.

Mederic, Jr. at the time was 17-years old and worked as a doffer in a cotton mill in Warren. This was a job where the “doffer” removes “doffs” or bobbins, holding spun cotton fiber coming from the spinning frame, and places new empty “doffs” back to collect more spun cotton. Historically, spinners, doffers, and sweepers each had separate tasks that were required in the manufacture of spun textiles. From the early days of the industrial revolution, this work, which requires speed and dexterity rather than strength, was often done by children. After World War I, the practice of employing children declined, and the job of a “doffer” ceased to exist in the United States after 1930.

At the time in Warren, RI there were at least three cotton mills, the Warren Manufacturing Company, Cutler Manufacturing Company, and the Inman Manufacturing Company. And so, it is likely that Mederic was working for one of these mills in 1910.

When America entered the war in April of 1917 a Federal Draft was begun and in the first call-up on June 5, 1917 Mederic registered as he was required to do. He was at the time was 24-year old single man, with blue eyes and light brown hair, and was still living in his parents’ home on Market Street. He was then working for the Vanadium Metal Company in Groton, Connecticut as a core maker. The Vanadium Metal Co. was then employed in making various metal castings for the United States Navy, of which submarine parts were a large part of their business.

Mederic had enlisted into the United States Army on December 17, 1917 and they placed him into the Army’s Ordnance Department due to his mechanical job skills. By the spring and early summer of 1918 Pvt. Mederic Fournier, Jr. was serving in the 1st Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop. This unit was selected to sail to France and on July 7-9 1918 was boarding the USS Mt. Vernon at Pier No. 2 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Pvt. Fournier listed his mother Julia and his person to contact in case of an emergency on the passenger manifest.

Three officers and 181 enlisted men of the 1st HMORS when aboard the Mt. Vernon along with several other units, and at 15-minutes past noon on Tuesday July 9 the Mt. Vernon swung away and into the current of the Hudson River. The ship moved downriver into the upper bay and out past the Statue of Liberty and into the Atlantic Ocean.

This would be the last time Pvt. Fournier would see Lady Liberty for the war in Europe would claim many hundreds of thousands of lives in both battle deaths and deaths from sickness.

It was on October 2, 1918 in France that death came calling for Pvt. Mederic Fournier and he died of pneumonia. His body was buried in a temporary grave site until it was removed for return to the States in 1921.

The USAT Wheaton was detailed to take the bodies of soldiers buried in France and return them to America. The Wheaton stopped in Antwerp, Belgium and loaded caskets of returning soldiers and then steamed on to Cherbourg, France on May 1, 1921 where Pvt. Fournier’s casket was loaded aboard and then the Wheaton steamed for Hoboken, New Jersey where they arrived on May 18, 1921. Hoboken had been the place Pvt. Fournier had left from nearly four-years before and now his journey was nearly completed.

Pvt. Mederic Fournier, Jr. was then laid to rest in the Saint John the Baptist Cemetery in Warren, Rhode Island where he rests today. But the last chapter of Mederic’s life was writted nearly 22-years after his death. It was on June 6 of 1940 that Mederic’s mother Julia made an application to have a white marble military grave marker placed upon her son’s grave. That stone was then placed on Pvt. Fournier’s grave on July 19, 1940 there by marking the spot where a soldier who gave his life for his fellow citizens lies resting on eternal guard duty.

Mederic Fournier, Jr. Pvt.
Ordnance Department October 2, 1918

2nd Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop

The 2nd HMORS sailed to France on July 10, 1918 from Hoboken, New Jersey aboard the SS Manchuria. The 2nd HMORS was under the command of Captain William T. W. Underwood, Ord. Dept. The other officers of the 2nd HMORS were 1st Lt. Howard M. Payne and 2nd Lt. John F. Sullivan.

PFC Robert A. Graham, Service No. 1868506

Robert A. Graham was a member of the Second Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop and served with that unit in France during World War One. Graham was a Rhode Island native and was from Cranston, R. I.

The 2nd HMORS had been assembled in the United States and Pvt. Robert A. Graham was serving with that unit when it was formed. On July 10, 1918 the 2nd HMORS was aboard the SS Manchuria and sailed that same day for France. On the passenger manifest Pvt. Graham listed his wife Ethel F. Graham of No. 3 Crawford Street in Cranston, Rhode Island as his person to contact in case of emergency.

Once in France the 2nd HMORS saw duty supporting Artillery units on the front lines. Pvt. Graham during this service was advanced in grade to Private First Class during the war. At war’s end the Ordnance Department men were all routed through the American Ordnance Repair Shop in Mehun-sur-Yevre, France. By early January the Ordnance Department men were busy receiving and handling the vast amounts of ordnance and weapons being taken in at Mehun from the Artillery units coming back from the front lines.

About January 6 or possibly one- or two-days previous PFC Robert A. Graham was involved in a truck accident where he was run over accidentally. It is not known where in France this took place or what the exact circumstances were to this event, but PFC Graham died of his injuries sustained in the accident.

PFC Graham was buried in the St. Mihiel American Cemetery in Thiaucourt, France, Plot D, Row 12, Grave 21. This suggests that at the time of the accident PFC Graham may have been in this area when the accident took place. Thiaucourt is just to the south-east of the battlefields at Verdun, France. His body today lies resting in peace with a white marble cross marking his grave.

4th Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop

The 4th HMORS like the 1st HMORS was formed in America an sailed the same time that the 1st HMORS did aboard the SS Mt. Vernon. The 4th HMORS was under the command of 1st Lt. John W. Hobbs, Ord. Dept. with 1st Lt. Harry H. Davy and 2nd Lt. Frank G. Cooban. The 4th HMORS consisted of the 3 officers and 184 enlisted men.

6th Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop

The 6th HMORS was under the command of Captain James H. Barry with 1st Lt. Okla H. Hershman and 2ne Lt. Arthur C. Hawgood. On September 1, 1918 at Pier No. 97 North River, New York the 3 officers and 185 enlisted men of the 6th HMORS boarded the SS Talthybius for transportation to England. Talthybius was a 10,224-GRT Cargo Liner that was built in 1911 by Scotts Shipbuilding & Engineering Co. Ltd., Greencock, Renfrewshire, United Kingdom for a British shipping line. She was built to serve on the England – Australia route. The Talthybius arrived in Elgland and off loaded her troops. The 6th HOMRS the proceeded to Southampton where on September 14, 1918 they made the crossing of the English Channel aboard the SS Ceasarea.

The 6th MORS then were assigned duty in France with several Coast Artillery Regiments during the war. After the war they likely were routed through the Ordnance repair Shops in Mehun-ser-Yevre, France. On March 3, 1919 Captain James Barry and 76 enlisted men of the 6th HMORS along with 4 officers and 165 enlisted men from the 8th HMORS boarded the SS Awa Maru in Bordeaux, France and sailed for Brooylyn, New York. They arrived at 5:05 in the afternoon of March 17, 1919 and began to off load the troops.

7th Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop

The 7th HMORS was under the command of Captain Oliver P. Tyler, Ord. Dept. and 2nd Lt. George B. France, and 2nd Lt. Francis E. LaFehr. Sgt. Charles E. Wood was the senior non-commissioned officer with 190 enlisted men under his authority. They sailed to France from Hoboken, New Jersey on September 26, 1918 aboard the SS Great Northern. Additionally aboard on this trip was the 8th HMORS.

8th Heavy Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop

The 8th HMORS was under the command of Captain Frank S. Coleman, Ord. Dept. with 2nd Lt. Sebon A. Bishop, Ordnance Sgt. Edwin K. Sisk, Ord. Sgt. Stanley V. Wilson, Sgt 1st Class James L. Bowman, and Sgt. 1st Class Merrill C. Giddings along with 181 enlisted men began boarding the SS Great Northern at Hoboken, New Jersey on September 25, 1918. On September 26 at 4:25 in the afternoon the Great Northern swung away from her moorings and was underway down the river headed out to sea bound for France. They returned as a unit leaving from Bordeaux, France and sailing aboard the SS Awa Maru. On March 3, 1919 they left Bordeaux and arrived in Brooklyn, NY on March 17 at 5:05 in the afternoon. Aboard the Awa Maru was also the 6th HMORS. Additionally the Awa Maru which was a Japanese Ocean Liner, was laid down in 1899, but her most famous voyage was when she left Yokohama on February 14, 1912 carrying 3,020 cherry trees of twelve varieties, which were to be a gift from the Japanese people to the American people. These fragile tree slips were bound for Seattle, Washington where they were shipped across the North American continent via insulated freight rail-cars. On arrival in Washington, D.C., these trees they would form the genesis of the National Cherry Blossom Festival held in Washington, DC.

Above is a Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop truck of the 57th Artillery. As you can see these trucks were special bodies fitted out with a mobile shop filled with lathes drill presses and other items that were needed. Note that these trucks had solid rubber wheels and the cab was not enclosed. These bodies covered with canvas were fitted onto a FWD Truck chassis. The sides of the bodies folded down to make a larger work area for the men. Both of these photos came from the papers of Captain Gebhart who commanded the Ordnance Detachment of the 57th Artillery. This photo shows another view of a Mobile Ordnance Repair Shop Truck. This photo is from my personal collection and is not of the 57th Artillery. But it does show the type of equipment that these trucks carried. The soldier has in his hands a torch and directly behind him is a drill press to the right of that can be seen a lathe. Behind him and to the left can be seen an assortment of bar stock and other parts used for repairs.


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