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Dahlgren's E Award

By Sara Krechel

As World War II raged on, factories, plants, and the entire homefront worked hard to keep up with wartime needs. The era of Victory gardens, bond sales, and rationing highlighted this united effort. Manufacturing skyrocketed as companies concentrated their production for the war. In recognition of those efforts, the War Department and the Navy Department united to honor those organizations whose production facilities achieved “Excellence in Production” of war equipment, the Army-Navy “E” Award. Our very own Dahlgren (Naval Proving Ground at the time) was a recipient of this award.

The Navy “E” pennant was instituted in 1906 as an award for excellence in gunnery. The scope of the award was later extended to include engineering and communication. It was awarded to firms and organizations that showed excellence in producing ships, weapons, and equipment for the Navy.[1] With the onset of World War II, the War Department and the Navy Department agreed to join forces and create a single award to give to the production plants and encourage manufacturing.




Photo courtesy of the Naval History and Heritage Command

All plants, totaling over 85,000, engaged in war production and construction work were eligible.[2] A nomination was initiated by the cognizant inspector or supervisor, which in the case of Dahlgren was the Naval Inspector of Ordnance, and the nomination was forwarded to the Navy Department for review. Once the appropriate Navy bureau approved it, the nomination was forwarded to the Navy Board for Production Awards, which considered the following factors:

  • Quality and quantity of production in the light of available facilities

  • Overcoming of production obstacles

  • Avoidance of stoppages

  • Maintenance of fair labor standards

  • Training of additional labor forces

  • Effective management

  • Record on accidents, health sanitation, and plant protection

  • Use of subcontracting facilities

The award was intended to be for “exceptional recognition of exceptional performance.”[3] If a plant maintained an outstanding record of performance for six months after receiving the award, it was granted a Star Award and was permitted to add a white star on their E flag.[4]

The Naval Proving Ground was notified of its first receipt of the award in 1941 by a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, Frank Knox. The letter was reprinted in the base newspaper on 9 January 1942. The award was given just prior to the combined Army-Navy’s version, so it’s known as the “E” pennant. Note the parts in the letter where Knox mentions that “recent events have made this award of even deeper significance” and “the pressure of national defense,” both ominous references to the attack on Pearl Harbor less than a month prior. The next month, on 7 February, the base held a ceremony to recognize the Proving Ground’s efforts. All employees were granted leave to attend the ceremony, and families were invited to attend.[5] Rear Admiral William H. P. Blandy, Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance (and namesake of Blandy Boulevard!), made the presentation. A brief portion of his inspirational speech was printed in a later newspaper.

"You men who freeze in winter and sweat in summer on the main and plate batteries, you crane operators, laborers, and helpers, you men who tamp picrate into projectiles, you fuse men and drillers, you technicians on the bridge, you draftsmen, ballisticians and clerks, you aviation personnel, officers and men, all of you attached to this station play a vital part in this war.

"It is you who tell us whether the design is good or bad; whether the shrinkage is right on the guns; The depth of chill correct in the armor, the web thickness right in the powder, the accuracy up to standard in the bombsight.

"You are the manipulators of the final slide rule, the supreme court of engineering skill and honest labor. Your responsibility in this regard is direct and final. If you are careless you may pass as good material some of which is in fact, bad. You may cause the failure of guns, mounts, armor or ammunition. You may be the cause of failure of material in battle, a contributory cause to defeat. This is the terrible charge we lay upon your shoulders. You must carry it well. You must be strong and you must be sure."

Unfortunately, no photographs or videos are known to exist of the actual ceremony. We do, however, have some great photos of other organizations receiving the award.

Honorable Frank Knox (center), Secretary of the Navy presenting Bureau of Ordnance Efficiency Award to Mr. Grace and Mr. E.R. Leonard, courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.


Formal award of Navy "E" Pennant to the Boston Navy Yard on February 20, 1942,
courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.


Admiral Chester W. Nimitz (CINCPAC-POA) delivers a speech commending the Pearl Harbor Navy Yard upon its being presented the "E-Award for Production" in 1944. Secretary of the Navy James Forrestal, seated behind the podium, was also present. Photo courtesy of the Naval History & Heritage Command.


And if you have 10–20 minutes, I’d recommend watching the videos available online at the National Archives of Aberdeen Proving Ground and Edgewood Arsenal

Dahlgren went on to receive the “E” Award another five times. Because the Army and Navy joined their production awards in 1942, its title changed. However, some organizations, including Dahlgren, the U.S. Navy Yard in Portsmouth, the U.S. Naval Torpedo Station in Alexandria, the U.S. Naval Mine Depot in Yorktown, and about 71 others elected not to convert to the Army-Navy “E” Award, but the sentiment is the same.[6] The award was terminated at the end of World War II, and by this point the top 5% of plants had been granted the honor. Dahlgren’s five stars placed the base in the top 5% of the awardees. Just another example of Dahlgren has always been and continues to be on the leading edge!

[1] Proceedings of the IRE, October 1942, page xxvi.

[2] Army-Navy “E” Award Termination Sees Award Granted to 5% of Eligible Plants AND CIRCULAR NO. 228, 1942

[3] Policies, Criteria, and Procedures – Defense Production “E” Awards (DD-MB(AR)616; DD-MB(AR)(617), Appendix E, page 4.

[4] Army-Navy “E” Award Termination Sees Award Granted to 5% of Eligible Plants

[5] 6 Feb 1942 newspaper

[6] The American Automobile Industry in World War Two

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