Photograph of wartime U.S. nickel coins

Wikipedia Commons

Nickel is a hard, silvery, non-corroding metal used primarily as an alloying element with iron.  It is almost indispensable for producing good armor plate and stainless steel, though to some extent copper can be substituted in armor plating, as was sometimes Japanese practice.  It is quite expensive for a structural metal ($0.35 a pound in 1940, about twice the price of aluminum.) Nickel could also be used in filaments for vacuum tubes, and the Japanese eventually resorted to purchasing nickel coins at Hong Kong and melting them down for this purpose.

The Allies controlled the world’s most productive nickel mine, at Sudbury, Canada.  Additional useful amounts were obtained from New Caledonia. Nevertheless, demand for nickel in the rapidly expanding American wartime economy was so great that nickel was in short supply.  The Japanese seized the Soroaka mine in the Netherlands East Indies and the Bawdwin mine in Burma but nickel remained a scarce resource, mostly for lack of shipping to bring the ore home.  The amount of nickel produced domestically at Hidaka was totally inadequate for wartime needs.  By the end of the war, the Japanese had virtually eliminated nickel from their steel alloys, with great loss in quality.

Pacific nickel fields









Cohen (1949)

Lacey (2011)

Nakagawa (1997)

U.S. Geological Survey (accessed 29 December 2006)

Van Royen and Bowles (1952)

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