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Car and Driver: Your Arsenal: Chrysler and World War II Production [Video]


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M4 Sherman tank

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Seventy-five years ago, on December 29th, 1940, Franklin Delano Roosevelt gave his famous “Arsenal of Democracy” speech to the American people, urging them to stand behind the Allied powers who had not yet fallen under the German boot. Not to set off across the seas to vanquish the Nazis—that would come just under a year later—but to throw their backs into the production of war materiel to aid Britain and the Soviet Union in their fight against Hitler. Given its expertise in the mass production of automobiles, Detroit became a hub of the nascent military-industrial complex. In honor of the massive effort to arm not just ourselves, but our allies, FCA has produced a video noting Chrysler’s role in the proceedings.

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While Fiat was busy turning out trucks and planes for Mussolini’s military, Chrysler was building M3 Grant tanks, used by the British to fight the Germans and Italians in North Africa. The M3, also produced as the Lee for American use, was an awkward thing—a product of interwar engineering—with its main armament unable to rotate 360 degrees. The first Grant was finished in March of 1941 and finally rolled out of the factory in April—before workers had even finished the massive Warren, Michigan factory dedicated to its production. By July, production models were coming off the line. In 1942, work shifted to the superior M4 Sherman [pictured above], which became America’s primary tank for the duration of the war. Over the course of the war, Chrysler alone turned out over 25,000 tanks, eclipsing the total number of tanks produced all German manufacturers combined by some 5000 units.

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Designed in Sweden and deployed on both sides of the conflict, the Bofors 40mm autocannon was originally conceived as multipurpose naval gun for patrol boats and submarines, designed to be effective against both aircraft and light surface vessels. It quickly found favor with the world’s navies, and was used by both Allied and Axis powers during the war. The guns are still in use today, both as anti-aircraft weapons and, in the instance of the AC-130 Spectre gunship, in the inverse air-to-ground role. Its long service life speaks to the fundamental effectiveness of the design, but putting it into mass production proved a challenge, owing to the gun’s complexity. By the end of World War II, Chrysler had cranked out 60,000 of the things, continually seeking out production efficiencies to build them more quickly.

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Over the course of the war, Chrysler built everything from air-raid sirens to Wright Cyclone engines. Seven of the eight huge eighteen-cylinder radials that powered the Enola Gay and Bockscar—the Silverplate B-29s that dropped the Little Boy and Fat Man atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki—were built by Chrysler. What’s more, the company devised the nickel plating that lined the gaseous diffusion chambers at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee K-25 plant, where the weapons-grade uranium-235 isotope used in Little Boy was separated from garden-variety uranium-238.

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But perhaps the most identifiably Chrysler product of the war was the Dodge WC truck. A few years ago, our own Aaron Robinson purchased a WC-54 ambulance, based on the 3/4-ton model, and drove it to Normandy in June of 2014 to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the D-Day landings. Two years after American, British, and Canadian soldiers stormed the dank French coast, and a year after the American atomic bombing and Soviet declaration of war on Japan brought hostilities to a close, the WC-based Dodge Power Wagon emerged. The plainclothes version of the old warhorse brought one of Chrysler’s most enduring nameplates into existence, and along with the civilian Jeep, introduced the pastime of four-wheeling to a war-weary, optimistic American public. That’s certainly a peace dividend we can endorse.

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