H/T Beyond The Band Of Brothers.

War contributions by U.S. automotive corporations

Our previous article dealt with German car companies assisting the Axis war effort. Today we’ll look at the military involvement of American companies on the other side.
A 1942 Chevrolet “blackout special.” With chromium needed for war production, the grille was simply painted on instead.
Germany wasn’t the only country where companies had to be redirected for wartime production: after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, civilian car manufacturing stopped within two months and factories were converted to act as the famous “Arsenal of Democracy.” The contributions of automobile companies were far too massive and varied to fully describe, so we’ll concentrate on a few iconic or lesser-known examples. Just to demonstrate the variety of their services: Chrysler, in addition to building tanks and radar components, also delivered 1,000 railroad cars’ worth of equipment to the “Secret City” of Oak Ridge, TN. The equipment was used to separate different isotopes of uranium, an important step in producing the atomic bomb.

Deere & Company (owner of John Deere) was founded in the early 19th century, first producing plows, shovels and pitchforks, eventually moving into agricultural machinery. During the war, John Deere’s great-grandson Charles Deere Wilman left his job as company president to serve as a colonel, while the corporation assembled the so-called John Deere Battalion, a unit comprised of employees and dealers who repaired tanks in France and Belgium.

Members of the John Deere Battalion
In addition to producing ammunition, aircraft parts and mobile laundry units, the company also experimented with military tractors. These armored and machine gun-armed contraptions were intended for combat use but failed to make it through trials.
One of several prototypes for John Deere’s bizarre (and unsuccessful) military tractors, with two small turrets for machine guns on each side
Studebaker, though now defunct, made two distinctive contributions to the American arsenal. The M29 Weasel tracked cargo carrier was originally designed to work in snow during a hypothetical attack on Axis-held Norway. The operation never happened but the Weasel became popular in in Italy, the Western Front, Iwo Jima and Okinawa for its amphibious capability and ability to cross very soft terrain. It was also used as a command car, a mobile radio unit and an ambulance in areas unreachable by wheeled vehicles.
M29 Weasel in the Apennine Mountains, Italy in April 1945
The other iconic Studebaker was the US6 six-wheeled 2 and a half ton truck. Though also used in the construction of the Burma Road and the Alaska Highway, most trucks were sent to the Soviet Union as part of the Lend-Lease deal. Soviet soldiers nicknamed them “Studders” or “Studebekkers” and prized them for their ruggedness and ability to operate in rough terrain with low-quality fuel. Many of them were converted to carry the famous Russian Katyusha rocket launchers and Stalin wrote a personal letter of appreciation to the company.
Katyusha rocket launcher mounted on a Studebaker in the summer of 1945
Yet another Studebaker product had an unintentional connection to the war. The company introduced a number of automobile models in the 1920s, named the Commander, the President and the Dictator. The last, a low-end car, was named thus not only because it fit the theme, but also because it was to “dictate the standard” other manufacturers would have to follow. At the time, the name didn’t seem too very politically charged. The only actual dictator of note was Mussolini and he was still a popular figure despite fascist violence. The name did cause political problems in the various European monarchies such as the British Empire and the car had to be sold under the Director name. The rise of Hitler and the spread of Nazism in the 1930s eventually tainted the word “dictator” so much the model was discontinued.
A 1936 Studebaker Dictator
Harley-Davidson had a long history as a military supplier, providing motorcycles for both the Pancho Villa Expedition into Mexico and World War One. During WWII, their main contribution was the Harley-Davidson WLA, used by couriers, scouts, military police and soldiers on escort duty. Unlike its German counterpart, the BMW R75, the WLA, nicknamed the Liberator, was never used for combat or troop transportation and was therefore hardly ever equipped with a sidecar. What it did come with was a set of military modifications including a second set of blackout head and tail lights to reduce nighttime visibility and a number of accessories including a radio rack, an ammo box, windshield and a leather scabbard for a Thompson SMG.
Harley-Davidson WLA mid-jump, with gas mask-wearing rider and
his gun in the purpose-made scabbard
The Willys MB (or simply Jeep) remains one of the iconic vehicles of WWII. Three corporations, the American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland Motors and Fordcreated their competing prototypes but all three ended up producing the Willys design.
A Ford Pygmy, one of the early competitors of the Jeep
Willys MB demonstrating its ability
A less successful brother of the Jeep was the Seep (“Sea Jeep”), or Ford GPA. Produced by Ford, it was intended to be an amphibious version inspired by the larger DUKW (which, in turn, was produced by GM and the Sparkman & Stephens naval architecture company) but it was too slow and heavy on land and not sufficiently seaworthy in open water.
A Ford GPA and a DUKW side by side
Besides the DUKW amphibious vehicle mentioned above, General Motors also produced a staggering range of products from armaments through ground vehicles to aircraft. They produced an entire line of tank destroyers: the M10 Wolverine, the M18 Hellcat and the M36. Their UK division, Vauxhall Motors, built the famed Churchill heavy tank.
An M36 tank destroyer in the Battle of the Bulge
The last of the Big Three, Ford, had a similarly diverse war production. Besides the Jeep, it also produced 390,000 tanks and trucks, engines, various parts and even 8,000 bombers. An entire Ford factory in Michigan was converted to building B-24 Liberatorheavy bombers. The company also built a factory in Britain to make the famous British-designed Rolls-Royce Merlin engine that powered the Hurricane, the Spitfire, the “Wooden Wonder” de Havilland Mosquito, and the Halifax and Lancaster British heavy bombers.
Ford’s Willow Run manufacturing complex after it was
converted over to produce B-24 bombers

 

 

 

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