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Chapter 10: Preparation for Tanks and Other Fighting Vehicles

More than any other weapon of land warfare, the tank in World War II captured the imagination of soldier and civilian alike. Its roaring motors, inscrutable armor, and smoking guns added a new and terrifying element to the already grim life of the battlefield. It symbolized for the ground forces, as did the sleek bombing plane for the air forces, the revolution in warfare that had sprung from the union of military need with industry and technology. It was, by any standard of comparison, one of the most important weapons of the war.

But for Ordnance the tank was the source of more trouble and more criticism than any other item of equipment. Ordnance-procured small arms, artillery, and ammunition were generally praised, as were trucks and other transport vehicles, but all during the war American tanks were the objects of sharp verbal attacks. Army spokesmen, eager to build up public confidence, asserted time after time that ‘U.S. tanks were superior to anything the enemy could produce. General Wesson and General Campbell strongly defended them against all criticism, and cited laudatory letters from combat commanders to prove the point.1 But the secret reports on tank performance submitted by overseas commanders (both British and American) and the Armored Force Board told a somewhat different story. Along with frequent words of praise came many complaints,2 ranging from the lack of good binoculars for tank commanders to the inferiority of U.S. tank guns and armor to the German guns and armor pitted against them. Unofficial observers were quick to take up critical comments from tank men returned from combat, sometimes to the neglect of less newsworthy praise for U.S. tanks. Why, it was asked, could not the United States, with its unrivaled industrial capacity for making cars and trucks of all kinds, produce better tanks than Germany? In particular, why

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did the U.S. Army have no heavy tank to match the German Tiger? By 1945 the chorus of criticism reached a point where leading American newspapers were calling for a Congressional investigation of “a situation that does no credit to the War Department.”3

Meanwhile in both England and Germany there were similar complaints. A Parliamentary committee roundly criticized the Churchill government in 1942 for failing to develop a tank that could hold its own on the battlefield and for losing precious time in getting production started. At the end of the war, when the government’s white paper on tanks appeared, The Times of London observed editorially that, “If there was not a ‘tank scandal,’ there was certainly a good deal of tank muddle.”4 In Germany, where public criticism was less freely expressed, there was considerable dissatisfaction with both designers and producers. When German medium tanks encountered the Soviet T-34 in late 1941 the results were disastrous for the Nazi legions. Hitler personally ordered his designers to come up with a superior heavy tank at once and directed his production ministry to build it in hitherto unheard of quantities.5

The problems encountered in British, German, and American tank production stemmed chiefly from the fact that, at the start of World, War II, the tank was essentially a new weapon with still untested tactical potentialities. Further, it was an enormously complicated machine, difficult to design and difficult to produce. The design phase has been described in some detail in the preceding volume of this series.6 Here we are concerned less with design than with production, but it must be recognized that there is no sharp dividing line between the two processes. Design changes were constantly intruding into the manufacturing area, to the dismay of production engineers, and production techniques were always a limiting factor in design. The only satisfactory approach to the task of understanding the World War II tank experience lies in reviewing the two separate but intertwined threads of design and production from the late 1930s to the end of the war.

Early Plans and Preparations

Production of guns and ammunition rested on a solid foundation of more than a century of development and use, but production of tanks in World War II was based on twenty years of neglect. A few American tanks had been built in 1918 but none saw action in World War I. The Mark VIII’s assembled at Rock Island Arsenal after the war were crude specimens with a top speed of only five miles an hour. All during the next two decades there was no real production, only the building of hand-tooled test models, some described as capable of “bursts of speed

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up to 18 miles an hour.”7 From 1920 to 1935 no more than thirty-five tanks were built, every one a different model. The essence of mass production—acceptance of design and its exact reproduction in volume—was altogether lacking. Not until 1935–36 when sixteen medium tanks were made at Rock Island Arsenal was more than one tank of any specific model produced.8 In England the situation was much the same. One recorder of British tank history described the events of the 1930s as follows:

In 1931 a medium tank of superior design was issued, but the great depression and pacifist agitation on top of it prevented large-scale production. When this was finally decided in 1936 the tank proved to be out of date. There was debate and debate ... and the tank has yet [1938] to reach the men.9

In the War Department plans of the 1930s, tanks were not very important. Army tacticians were not planning to use hundreds of hard-hitting, fast-moving tanks to spearhead lightning attacks. The Tank Corps of World War I had long since been abolished and control of tanks placed with the Infantry, which held armament down to machine guns, limited armor thickness to about one inch, and gave priority to small, light tanks.10 Reflecting this attitude, Ordnance had no Tank Division, made no plans for wartime procurement of tens of thousands of tanks, and confined its development work to light tanks. The unit responsible for fighting vehicles was, until 1941, an appendage of the Artillery Division. Test models built at Rock Island were only a small part of that arsenal’s over-all responsibility, which embraced tractors, armored cars, gun mounts, and recoil mechanisms. It is no exaggeration to say that, before 1940, tank procurement was but a drop in the Ordnance bucket.11

In the educational orders program of 1939-40, tanks were given scant attention. As the using arms had not adopted a clear statement of desired tank characteristics, nor assigned tanks a high priority, Ordnance did not consider it advisable to attempt much by way. of educating industry in their manufacture. Further, the cost of tanks—between $25,000 and $50,000 each—was so high, and the funds for educational orders so limited, that a big program could not be considered. In contrast to the dozens of educational orders

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placed for forging and machining artillery shells, and for making rifles, recoil mechanisms, and fire control instruments, only two small educational orders were placed for tanks. One went to the Van Dorn Iron Works for light tank hulls and the other to the Baldwin Locomotive Works for ten light tanks (M2A4). Design changes and slow deliveries of machine tools and armor plate, coupled with higher priority for medium tank orders, delayed the start of production at the Baldwin plant until after Pearl Harbor. In terms of production preparedness, the two orders brought no significant results.12

In time of emergency, Ordnance planned to place its tank contracts with firms that built railway equipment. Firms experienced in handling heavy rolling stock and in fabricating and assembling big steel components such as American Car and Foundry, American Locomotive, and Baldwin were considered the most suitable contractors. Further, because of the depressed state of the railroad industry, these companies were not very busy. Production plans provided that these firms were to make hulls, turrets, and numerous other parts, but major assemblies such as engines, transmissions, and guns were to be made elsewhere and shipped to the locomotive plants as “government free issue.”

The first tank order of the World War II period illustrates the nature of the procurement plans and manufacturing procedures. It was a fixed-price contract for 329 light tanks, M2A4, awarded by Rock Island through competitive bidding to the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF) in early October 1939 —the first American tank order placed with industry in twenty years.13 ACF engineers immediately set to work checking more than 2,000 blueprints and placing orders for parts and materials. The 12-ton M2A4 required more than 2,800 different kinds of parts, totaling over 14,000 individual pieces—not counting engines or accessories. The aircraft type engine used in the light tank was made by Continental Motors. When ACF found that steel mills were unable to supply in time the type of armor plate required, it installed heat-treating furnaces to make its own face-hardened plate. The company delivered its first tank to Ordnance in April 1940, well ahead of schedule, and completed the entire order (meanwhile increased to 365) in March 1941.14

The most serious problem in the early stages of light tank production was change of design. As early as the spring of 1940, for example, the need for heavier armor plate was revealed by reports from the war in Europe, and the added weight required a stronger suspension system. In July 1940 a much improved light tank, known officially as the M3 and unofficially as the

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General Stuart, was adopted, and orders for it went to American Car and Foundry. During the next twelve months the 7-sided riveted turret of the early model took on a rounded shape; welding took the place of riveting; a power traverse for the turret was added; armor thickness was increased; and a gyrostabilizer was installed to steady the 37-mm. gun while the tank was in motion. ACF received a steady stream of engineering change orders during 1940 and 1941, and, as the contract was of the fixed-price type, nearly every change required a change in the contract price.15 When the new model (M3Ai) was adopted in August 1941, ACF was directed to switch over to its production as soon as possible. In 1942 the M3A3 appeared with an all-welded hull, sloping frontal armor, and an improved radio compartment, but it was soon replaced by the M5.16 This model, using two Cadillac engines and two automatic transmissions, required countless revisions in drawings and specifications. All these design changes added up to a steady trend of improvement, but they complicated the procurement task immeasurably and made field maintenance and spare parts supply extremely difficult. The process required balancing the value of each proposed improvement in battlefield performance against the delay it would cause in getting tanks to the troops. It was the eternal conflict that Under Secretary Patterson had in mind when he declared, “The best is the enemy of the good.”17

While production of light tanks was getting under way, manufacture of medium tanks proceeded slowly at Rock Island Arsenal. After building 18 Ms’s in fiscal year 1939, Rock Island began work on an order for 126 mediums of improved design, M2A1. But in 1940, when much larger orders were being considered, Ordnance opposed further production of this model and urged adoption of a more powerful tank with a 75-mm. gun and heavier armor. As a result, the Army had on hand in May 1940, when the German Army launched its invasion of western Europe, only 28 new tanks-18 medium and to light—and they were soon to become obsolete, along with some goo older models in stack.18 Even more serious was industry’s lack of experience in tank manufacture, and limited production facilities.

The Upswing in 1940

In mid-June 1940, Col. Alexander G. Gillespie of the Artillery Division reported to General Charles Harris that plans for tank production during the coming fiscal year were well in hand. Requirements for light tanks stood at 405. As American Car and Foundry was building this tank at the rate of one per day, no trouble was anticipated in getting production on the 1941 requirements. The medium tank program was much larger-1,741 to be built in eighteen months—but no difficulty was expected with it as both American Locomotive and Baldwin Locomotive had

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unused capacity and were going to submit bids. Gasoline engines for these tanks were to be supplied by the Wright Aeronautical Corporation and diesel engines by the Guiberson Diesel Engine Company.19 But while Colonel Gillespie was writing his report, events at home and abroad were forcing a reconsideration of the whole tank program.

In May and June of 1940 the German Army, led by light and medium tanks and dive bombers, defeated the Belgian Army, drove the British Expeditionary Force from the Continent, and overwhelmed French resistance. In this blitzkrieg campaign, the Germans did not use heavy tanks, nor did they throw great numbers of tanks into the battle, but they employed their well-trained armored forces with great skill.20 Their highly mobile attacking units won a decisive victory over immobile defenses, and brought tanks into a new position of prominence in military thinking. At the end of June a British tank commission arrived in the United States with plans to procure thousands of tanks from American factories as soon as possible.21 On 10 July 1940 the U.S. Army announced creation of a separate Armored Force, thus ending the Infantry’s 20-year control of tank doctrine and formally recognizing the fast-growing importance of tanks in warfare. With adoption of the Munitions Program of 30 June 1940 the War Department began to plan in earnest for mass production of all weapons, including thousands of tanks.22

As early as the first week in June, William S. Knudsen, newly appointed member of the National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC), had looked over the Ordnance tank production plans and concluded they were totally inadequate for the big job that he saw ahead. Convinced that the locomotive companies, which normally built a few specially designed locomotives each year, would never be able to meet the emergency demand for high-speed tank production, he decided to bring the Detroit automobile industry into the tank picture.23 Ordnance leaders were also aware of the need to widen the base for tank production and welcomed Knudsen’s aid in persuading the automobile industry to join them. The big difficulty was that the industry could not be “converted” to tank production overnight, nor could tanks be built in a few odd corners of existing plants. Building tanks required a different set of tools and a complete new production layout; it could not be sandwiched in with automobile production.

Knudsen’s proposal was not to convert

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existing auto plants but to build an entirely new plant in the Detroit area, a tank arsenal specially designed and equipped to make medium tanks. On 7 June he telephoned K. T. Keller, president of the Chrysler Corporation, and arranged a conference with him for the following weekend. When asked if he would consider building and operating such a plant for the government, Keller immediately agreed to put his production planners to work on the problem. Within forty-eight hours he was in Washington conferring with General Wesson and his staff.24

Not only had Chrysler never made tanks before, but few of its engineers had ever even seen a tank. They had to go at once to Rock Island Arsenal to examine a tank model and obtain the necessary blueprints—186 pounds of them. Back in Detroit on 17 June they began intensive work, behind closed doors, estimating the cost of buildings, machines, and materials. They worked from early morning until late at night, seven days a week. Finally, on 17 July, Keller delivered his completed estimate to Knudsen in Washington. A tank arsenal to produce ten medium tanks a day would cost $21,000,000, and each tank (complete except for guns) would cost about $30,000. Knudsen told Keller to give these figures to General Wesson and then make a recalculation on the basis of cutting the capacity to five tanks per day. Reporting this conference to General Charles Harris the same day, Colonel Lewis remarked, “It looks like a good proposition to me.”25

The only real trouble with the proposition was lack of a first-rate tank design. The Chrysler engineers started with the design of the M2A1, mounting only a 37-mm. gun, but reports from the European battlefront had already shown its inadequacy. To meet the crying need for tanks with bigger guns and tougher armor, the Armored Force and Ordnance collaborated in rushing through plans for a new tank, salvaging what they could from the existing M2A1 model and profiting from British battle experience. For the first time a turret basket, power operation of turret, and a gyrostabilizer were applied to an American tank. The 75-mm. gun was put in the right sponson, where it had limited traverse, because Ordnance had tried out such an arrangement some months earlier with good results, but it was understood at the time that a completely new design with the gun in the turret, giving all-round traverse, would be more desirable.26

Design of the tank, the M3, was still under way at the time the contract with

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Detroit Tank Arsenal under 
construction on a 100-acre tract of farmland on the outskirts of Detroit

Detroit Tank Arsenal under construction on a 100-acre tract of farmland on the outskirts of Detroit.

Chrysler was being negotiated.27 At a meeting of top production officials on August, General Wesson stated that the last of the ten thousand drawings required for the new design would not be completed for at least sixty days, but he nevertheless asked for authority to sign the contract with Chrysler so that work on the new plant could begin at once. “As far as it is humanly possible to say, the design is right and settled,” Lt. Col. Walter W. Warner told the meeting. “This design is based on our best engineering knowledge, but I do not believe we have ever built a tank or anything else that did not have to be altered at first.” In spite of the many uncertainties in the picture the conferees unanimously approved immediate action to close the contract for building and equipping the new tank arsenal and producing one thousand medium tanks of the new M3 design, soon to be nicknamed the General Grant. This meant that Ordnance was attempting to go into production, do the development work, and build new facilities all at the same time.28

The contract signed, and a 100-acre tract of farmland on the outskirts of Detroit selected as the site, ground for the tank arsenal was broken early in September 1940. A Chrysler engineer was meanwhile sent to Aberdeen where designs of the new M3 were coming off the drawing boards. He mailed copies of blueprints to Detroit, relayed other information by

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telephone, and, along with representatives of the railway equipment companies, offered Ordnance designers valuable suggestions on engineering changes that would mean cheaper and faster production.29 Late in January the steel of the main arsenal building was up, and in mid-April 1941 the first tank was presented to Ordnance as the gift of Chrysler dealers throughout the country. By July, Keller wrote to Under Secretary Patterson that the tank arsenal was “beginning to look like a producing department” and would turn out 507 tanks during the next five months.30

While the tank arsenal was being built, Ordnance placed large orders for M3 tanks with the American Locomotive Company and the Baldwin Locomotive Works-685 to be built by American and 535 by Baldwin—bringing total orders up to 2,220. The British government meanwhile contracted directly with Baldwin, Lima Locomotive Works, and Pullman-Standard Car Company; the Canadian government contracted with the Montreal division of American Locomotive for 1,157 tanks of the M-3 design. The United States refused to permit the British to place contracts with American firms for British-designed tanks, thus forcing adoption of the M3 by the British and Canadian forces. This step greatly simplified production and maintenance, but the M3 design had been improvised so hastily, and with so little opportunity for test, that it soon had to be replaced by the M4.31

There was a strong spirit of competition among the three Ordnance contractors in early 1941, and each strove to win the honor of producing the first tank. There was also an extreme shortage of certain major components, particularly power trains (transmissions and final drives). In April, when American and Baldwin were about to complete their first tanks, the Mack Manufacturing Company had only one power train available. It was delivered to American, and completion of that company’s first tank was heralded with a demonstration before Secretary Patterson and other high-ranking Army officials. The power train was then quickly removed and delivered by truck to the Baldwin Locomotive Works so that company could celebrate completion of its first tank a few days later. Meanwhile Chrysler, which built its own transmissions, had completed its first tank on 11 April but the acceptance ceremony did not take place until 24 April when General Wesson personally accepted two complete tanks. It was a photo finish with all three companies crossing the line at about the same time.32

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The U.S. Army had no heavy tanks at the start of 1940, and little desire to acquire any. Its plans were oriented toward defense of the nation against invasion, not toward sending an expeditionary force overseas to attack strongly fortified positions. Ordnance tank experts consistently argued for heavy tanks, but the Infantry and other branches opposed the idea. Critics of the heavy tank argued that it was needed only for assaulting major fortifications and taunted the heavy tank advocates by reminding them that neither Canada nor Mexico, the nation’s nearest neighbors, had erected Maginot Lines. But in the spring of 1940, largely due to the shock of the German successes—including exaggerated reports of the size of German tanks—work on development of a 60-ton heavy tank was approved.33 The M6, powered by a 1,000-horsepower gasoline engine and mounting a 3-inch gun, was standardized later in the year, and one pilot tank was ordered from Baldwin in August, but production had to wait for another twelve months.34

It is worth noting that by the fall of 1940 the critics were already attacking the Army for its slowness in rearming, particularly in getting airplanes and tanks. They appeared not to understand that the huge sums appropriated for the so-called “defense program” could not be translated into military hardware overnight. Arthur Krock, writing in the New York Times on October, declared the nation was totally unprepared to meet any challenge in the air, whether at home or abroad, and went on to say, “The Army has about 500 tanks, one-half of which are obsolete. It has ordered one heavy tank, but at the moment it does not own one.” General Wesson declared the following day that U.S. tanks were not obsolete and added that no other country in the world was known to have heavy tanks in quantity35 .” By the end of December 1940 the score on tank procurement stood as follows: light tanks—325, mediums—6, heavies—0.

Doubling the Program in 1941

The first five months of 1941 were relatively uneventful, both at home and abroad. England had survived the bombing attacks of late 1940 and was receiving more American aid. The war against the U-boats in the Atlantic and the fighting in North Africa were both causing concern,. but they were less spectacular than events in 1940. For Ordnance, requirements remained steady and production gradually gained momentum. ACF continued to produce light tanks, and the output of mediums rose steadily at Chrysler, American, and Baldwin. The worst bottleneck during this period was the supply of machine tools, with contractors sometimes finding that lack of a single machine prevented their completing an order. The difficulty in getting tools on time was due to the low-priority rating,

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A-1-g, applied to producers of medium tanks.36

The calm that prevailed in the tank program during the first half of the year was suddenly broken in July 1941—immediately following the German invasion of the Soviet Union—when President Roosevelt stepped into the picture and directed that production of tanks be expedited at once, “with the only limiting factor ... the ability of American industry to produce tanks.”37 This was part and parcel of the President’s plan to gear American production to a comprehensive Victory Program aimed at the defeat of all “potential enemies.” Secretary Patterson gave the President a preliminary estimate that 1,600 medium tanks could be built by the end of the year and that the established objective was production at the rate of 1,000 per month. More than this could not be produced, OPM officials advised the President, “without considerable industrial dislocation.”38 A few days later, General Wesson stated that only 1,400 mediums could be produced by the end of the year—850 by U.S. contractors and 550 by British suppliers—plus 1,900 light tanks. But he warned that even this estimate could not be met if tools scheduled for tank plants were diverted elsewhere.39

During July and August, while General Staff planners were at work on the Victory Program, several important steps were taken to speed production. Ordnance created a separate Tank and Combat Vehicle Division40 headed by Lt. Col. John K. Christmas, thus taking tanks out of the Artillery Division. A short time later, to eliminate conflict of responsibilities between Ordnance and the recently created Office of Production Management, the tank section of OPM, headed by Lt. Col. William W. Knight, Jr., was transferred to Ordnance. Further, control of all tank production, both American and British, was centralized in Ordnance.41

In the midst of this concerted drive to speed production President Roosevelt dropped a bombshell in mid-September. At a White House conference, where Generals Charles Harris and Burton Lewis represented Ordnance, the President reviewed current military production plans. When he came to the schedule calling for production of 1,000 medium tanks and 400 light tanks per month, the President paused, placed a cigarette in his famous long holder, lit it, and then calmly issued this cryptic directive: “Double it!” Monthly production was to be 2,800—or 33,600 per year. The cost would be close to a billion dollars for one year’s production.42

Ordnance leaders, as conservative in their way as the President was bold in his, thought this decision ill-advised. From their point of view, doubling production goals meant a further worsening of the already critical machine-tool situation and meant bringing new, less experienced producers into the picture. Unlike the

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President, they were close to the practical problems of production and not up-to-date on plans to send military equipment on a vast scale to friendly powers, chiefly Britain and the Soviet Union.43 But once the President had spoken Ordnance had no choice but to push ahead with the enlarged program. As a first step, an A-1-a priority was requested for all tanks. Ordnance estimated that with such a priority tank production could be increased 15 percent by 30 June 1942. When this estimate was reported to the President he upped the figure to 25 percent. The next steps were to increase existing tank orders, urge faster production, and build new capacity. Ordnance took over British orders with Pressed Steel, Pullman-Standard, and Lima, firms that had just come into production at old plants rehabilitated at British expense. Contracts for transmissions and final drives were placed with the Caterpillar Tractor Company and the Iowa Transmission Company, the latter a subsidiary of John Deere Company. Negotiations were started with steel foundries to increase their capacity for cast armor, then only half of estimated requirements. At the same time, capacity for producing both homogeneous and face-hardened armor plate had to be greatly increased, with such companies as Republic Steel, Carnegie-Illinois, and Henry Disston heading the list. In mid-November negotiations were completed for an entirely new tank arsenal at Grand Blanc, Michigan, to be operated by the Fisher Body Division of General Motors. Comparable to the Chrysler tank arsenal, it was to have capacity for one thousand M4 medium tanks per month and was to cost something over $37 million for buildings, machinery, and equipment.44

While these long-term projects were being launched, production from existing plants was disappointingly slow. For November, only 306 medium tanks were produced against a scheduled 490. The trouble was in the production of transmissions, with one leading source making only 33 units during the month. Considerable improvement was achieved in December when increased transmission production brought the figure on medium tanks up to 506. The December rate for light and medium tanks combined was a little over goo—far short of the President’s new objective, though well ahead of the rate of 32 in the preceding December.45 Most important, there were five competent producers of medium tanks in the field—American, Baldwin, Chrysler, Pressed Steel, and Pullman-Standard—and the huge new Fisher tank arsenal was under construction. By the end of the year the production score for all of 1941 stood as follows: light tanks—2,591, mediums—1,461, heavies—0.46

The All-Out Effort in 1942

At the start of 1942, while Ordnance leaders were pushing hard to reach the

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“double it” objective, President Roosevelt suddenly raised the requirements still higher. In a secret letter to the Secretary of War on 3 January he set the following tank production goals:47

1942 1943
Total 45,000 75,000
Heavy 500 5,000
Medium 25,000 50,000
Light 19,500 20,000

Three days later the President made these figures public in his message to Congress and touched off a heated public discussion of the feasibility of the new goals—and as to the origins of the President’s figures. On this latter point, one fact was crystal clear: they did not originate with the Ordnance Department. General Staff planners working on the Victory Program were dealing with such big, round figures, but Ordnance leaders were not. General Wesson and his staff not only doubted the need for such huge numbers of tanks but also felt they could not be produced without sacrificing other equally important munitions. Ordnance leaders assigned credit—or blame—for the new objectives to Lord Beaverbrook, British supply chief, and to such Presidential advisers as Harry Hopkins and Robert Nathan.48 In support of this view they cited the conference on 29 December 1941 when Lord Beaver-brook’s views were presented to Donald Nelson and others in the office of Vice President Henry A. Wallace. According to Nelson, the British supply chief stated “that in talking to Stalin, Stalin told him that Germany had thrown 30,000 tanks into the fight with Russia. ... He made the statement that if an invasion of America was attempted we had no conception of the number of tanks we would have to cope with. ... He thinks we should plan for the production of 45,000 tanks in 1942 against Mr. Knudsen’s estimate of 30,000.”49 These exaggerated views were also impressed upon the President who not only recognized the need for “overwhelming superiority in munitions” but also valued the psychological effect of a dramatic gesture to instill confidence in the American people, and in their many allies throughout the world. When questioned on the industrial practicality of figures to be used in his message to Congress, he is said to have answered, “Oh—the production people can do it if they really try.”50

Within two weeks of the President’s directive, Ordnance had its plans drawn up and ready for presentation to the Office of Production Management and the Under Secretary of War for approval. For the medium tank, Colonel Christmas reported, the nine firms so far lined up were considered capable of producing the required 25,000 tanks during 1942, if they got the tools and materials needed. By far the biggest producer on the list was the Detroit Tank Arsenal, which was to be enlarged to make 7,765 units during the year, plus Soo transmissions to be used by other tank producers. It was followed by five railway equipment companies—Amer-ican (both U.S. and Canadian plants), Baldwin, Pullman-Standard, Pressed Steel

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Car, and Lima Locomotive—and the new Fisher tank arsenal. The Ford Motor Company was also to start building tanks and was scheduled to reach a 500-per-month rate in November 1942. On a smaller scale, the Pacific Car and Foundry Company of Renton, Wash., was to come into production in 1942. The conferees concluded that Ordnance had the tank program well in hand but recommended adding two more sources for medium tanks.51

In February Colonel Christmas made a strong case for revising the President’s light tank requirements so that fewer would be produced in 1942 and more in 1943. “There is no doubt that we could achieve these objectives [19,500 in 1942 and 20,000 in 1943],” he explained to a conference attended by Patterson, Harrison, Knudsen, and others, “but there is this major objection to it—if we set up facilities to do that, they will be idle in 1943 to a considerable extent.” Producing 19,500 tanks during 1942 would mean building up to a high capacity in the latter part of the year, capacity far in excess of that needed to produce virtually the same number of units in twelve full months of 1943. But the conference gave no positive answer to the question before passing on to the medium tank. Here, with eleven firms at work, some on the M3 (General Grant) and others on the M4 (General Sherman), Ordnance expressed confidence that the Presidential objectives could be reached, both for 1942 and 1943, if given a high priority. Engines, transmissions, and guns were the critical components, but vigorous efforts were being made to speed their production. As for the heavy tank, it presented the same problem as the light tank—production was too much concentrated in 1942. There was also a further question as to the real need for such tanks, as they were desired only by the British, not by the U.S. Army. “I haven’t found an officer yet in the U.S. Army that proposes that we get these heavy tanks,” commented Deputy Chief of Staff General Richard Moore. “I think that should be deferred until this British tank committee gets over here.” The decision was that Ordnance should “proceed as planned and no further,” and await the joint British-American conferences scheduled for March.52

Two weeks later, Colonel Christmas presented additional thoughts on the tank program. He reported that the prospects of achieving the Presidential objective for medium tanks—25,000 in 1942 and 50,000 in 1943—were good. But, he warned, this could be done only at the cost of other items, particularly armored cars and self-propelled artillery. He therefore recommended that the 1942 objective be cut from 25,000 to 20,000, and heavy tanks be reduced proportionately. This would help balance production by making it possible to produce a proper complement of scout cars, half-tracks, and self-propelled artillery. Colonel Christmas also raised a question as to the reasonableness of the over-all tank objectives, pointing out that they would supply light tanks for 123 armored divisions, medium tanks for 216 armored divisions, plus loo percent

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General Sherman M4A1 medium 
tank assembly line at Lima Locomotive Works, 1942

General Sherman M4A1 medium tank assembly line at Lima Locomotive Works, 1942.

replacement for one year’s operation. He questioned whether the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union could organize and otherwise equip and transport such huge numbers of tank units, and suggested that each nation would do better if it planned to equip more modest forces, perhaps 25 armored divisions each for 1942. Even this figure was nearly three times the number actually activated by the U.S. Army in 1942.53

Later in March the British Tank Mission and the U.S. Tank Committee held a number of conferences to work out detailed plans for coordinating American, British, and Canadian production. A major product of these meetings was the decision to recommend a program of balanced production, as Colonel Christmas had urged. Basically, this meant cutting the President’s tank objectives and boosting those for armored cars and self-propelled artillery. As early as September 1941, when General Wesson was in London, the British had urged the need for self-propelled artillery, citing the “startling successes gained by the German assault artillery.”54 But the President’s January program called for only 2,539 self-propelled weapons in 1942—all of the relatively ineffective 37-mm. type. The British-American conference recommended production of

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General Grant M3 medium 
tank assembly line at Detroit Tank Arsenal

General Grant M3 medium tank assembly line at Detroit Tank Arsenal.

more than 15,000 self-propelled weapons, ranging from 4.0-mm. to io5-mm. Production of these weapons was nearly equivalent to production of the same number of tanks, for they consisted of artillery pieces mounted on tank chassis. Known variously as self-propelled mounts, gun motor carriages, or howitzer motor carriages, they served in many different roles, chiefly as antitank, antiaircraft, and mobile field artillery weapons.55

In spite of the evidence that was piling up, both Somervell and Patterson were reluctant to advise the President that the objectives needed revision. At a conference in General Wesson’s office late in March, when the U.S. Tank Committee’s proposed changes in the objectives were discussed, Mr. Patterson stated that he could not report to the White House that certain items in the program were superfluous and not useful.56 General Wesson was less restrained, bluntly declaring that the program should be “balanced” and “in line with actual requirements,” even if it meant informing the President that his objectives were unsound. When reminded that the President had set his production goals on the basis of Lord Beaverbrook’s advice, General Wesson replied that “he sometimes disagreed with statements made by Lord

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Beaverbrook.” The conferees then considered sugar-coating the proposed changes by adopting a new nomenclature for tanks, self-propelled mounts, armored cars, and other fighting vehicles. General Harris remarked that a heavy armored car was virtually a light tank, and Secretary Patterson agreed. General Clay proposed calling a self-propelled mount an “artillery tank.” General Somervell observed that the Ordnance Technical Committee could hold a meeting that afternoon and rename all its combat vehicles to bring them under the heading of tanks, but General Wesson objected on the ground that any such move would lead to confusion.57 The conference adjourned without reaching a final agreement, but when the Army Supply Program appeared early in April it embodied most of the changes under discussion. Tank requirements for 1942 were cut deeply and large quantities of self-propelled artillery added. With the medium tank, for example, the 1942 requirements dropped from 25,000 to 14,000, but 6,580 self-propelled weapons—built on medium tank chassis—were added. As the self-propelled weapons were nearly the same as tanks, Colonel Christmas described the shift as “a virtual renaming of part of our product.” He estimated the net over-all effect was to reduce the 1942 program by 10 percent to 15 percent, and to raise the 1943 program in proportion. The money value of the new 1942 program was approximately $3 billion, and for 1943 about $8 billion. This shift was of great benefit from the production standpoint because it eased the load in 1942 and transferred some of it to 1943 when new and expanded facilities would be better able to handle it.58

The production problems were nevertheless ominous, for the total tank schedule to mid-1944 called for expenditure of over $16 billion. In February 1942 the difficulty of obtaining machine tools appeared to Ordnance as the most serious problem. In April the supply of materials moved into first place on the critical list, and stayed there for the rest of the year. In the tank program, nine-tenths of the material needed was steel, much of it high-grade steel. Nickel, copper, aluminum, and rubber were also required. “Even now,” Colonel Christmas reported in April, “shortages of material are holding back our production.”59 This was further evidence to justify reducing requirements, and it invalidated earlier Ordnance estimates of production potential. In spite of shortages throughout 1942, production rose month by month from 954 in January to 4,853 in December. But the total for the year was only 25,000 instead of 45,000 as directed by the President in January 1942. The failure to produce more tanks was due in part to reduction of requirements but chiefly to shortages in material, irregular deliveries of material, and increasing emphasis on spare parts.60 Of the vehicles produced, roughly 11,000

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were light tanks, 14,000 were mediums (mostly Grants), and 1 was a heavy tank M6. In addition, there were 11,420 self-propelled weapons, 9,846 half-tracks, and 7,366 scout cars. The total for all combat vehicles combined, including self-propelled weapons, armored cars, cargo carriers, loading vehicles, and others, was about 58,000.61

British and German Efforts in 1942

Meanwhile British tank production came under fire in the House of Commons, with critics citing difficulties not unlike those encountered in the United States. In March 1942 the Select Committee on National Expenditure declared that: “ ... in the matter of settling the design for the weapons of war and the relative quantities of each that are required ... the programme for manufacture as transmitted to industry shows signs of inadequate foresight and sureness of decision, as well as a tendency at times to give consideration to producing the maximum volume of certain articles rather than the exact types required by the fighting forces.”62 Aside from lack of a first-rate design, British tank production suffered from poor coordination between the War Office and the civilian Ministry of Supply. British production rose in 1942 to 8,611 units, but the quality of the tanks produced brought forth a good deal of criticism.63

Two trends dominated German tank production in 1942—increased production, and emphasis on heavier tanks. In January 1942, three weeks after announcement of President Roosevelt’s objectives, Chancellor Hitler decided to expand German tank production—then running at about 4,000 a year—in view of the disastrous losses his armies had suffered in Russia late in 1941. He also directed his generals to begin producing heavy tanks that could cope with the Russian T-34’s. While American tank men were trying out the heavy M6, and preparing to discard it, Hitler set in motion the machinery that brought the powerful German heavy tanks, the Tiger and the Panther, onto the battlefield in small numbers about a year later. Less concerned with mechanical perfection than the U.S. Army, the Germans rushed these tanks from drawing board to battlefield in record time.64 In September 1942 Hitler set a goal of 800 tanks per month to be attained by the spring of 1944—less than 15 percent of President Roosevelt’s objective for 1943. After the tremendous German tank losses at Stalingrad later in 1942, the Adolf Hitler Panzer Program was drawn up by Albert Speer, Minister of War Production, calling for 1,200 per month by the end of 1944. Hitler immediately told Speer this figure was too low and called for sharp increases which production officials regarded as fantastic. Hitler nevertheless issued a decree on 22 January 1943 that all necessary measures be taken to increase tank production “even if by these measures other important branches of the armament industry are adversely affected for a time.” The result was that production rose from about

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9,300 tanks during 1943 to about 17,500 in 1944, with the monthly production rate reaching a peak of 1,600 in July 1944.65

The Tank-Automotive Center

Administratively, the most important development affecting U.S. tank production in 1942 was the creation of the Detroit Tank-Automotive Center (T-AC) later named Office Chief of Ordnance—Detroit (OCO-D). General Campbell took this step in September 1942 when responsibility for trucks and other transport vehicles was shifted from the Quartermaster Corps to Ordnance. He had a dual purpose in mind: to combine truck and tank procurement in one office and at the same time decentralize it to Detroit. Congestion in Washington had reached an acute stage in the summer of 1942, with both office space and housing at a premium. General Campbell made Brig. Gen. Alfred R. Glancy, a newly commissioned industrialist-in-uniform, chief of the center, aided by Brig. Gen. John K. Christmas, former chief of the Tank and Combat Vehicle Division, and Brig. Gen. Donald Armstrong, former chief of the Chicago Ordnance District. Creation of the T-AC, along with the simultaneous transfer to St. Louis of artillery ammunition procurement, made Ordnance the leader among the Army technical services in decentralization.66

Three months after the Tank-Automotive Center was formed, and nine months from announcement of the President’s objectives, the pressure on the production front was relieved by a sharp cut in requirements. In the revised Army Supply Program issued in November 1942 the 1943 figure for Sherman tanks dropped from 46,500 to 24,582, and that for the 105-mm. howitzer motor carriage from 4,400 to 1,200. The only major increase was for 3,000 of the 3-inch gun motor carriages recently adopted as “tank destroyers.” The net effect of all changes was to reduce the requirement for medium tanks and allied vehicles by more than 21,000 units. This sudden drop in requirements marked the end of the “all-out” effort. Although there were few immediate cancellations of tank contracts, General Christmas remarked in December that the cutback had had a bad effect on industry morale, and concluded, “I doubt if we will ever get industry back to its enthusiasm of last fall.”67