The Arsenal Of Democracy

From The Detroit News:

Looking up one of the assembly lines at Ford’s big Willow Run plant, where B-24E (Liberator) bombers are being made in great numbers.

“They have given their sons to the military services. They have stoked the furnaces and hurried the factory wheels.
They have made the planes and welded the tanks, riveted the ships and rolled the shells.”

– President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, August 19, 1942

To honor the heroes who fought in the War and those on the home front who produced the tanks, ships, and aircraft that enabled the United States and its Allies to achieve victory, one of the most diverse arrays of World War II aircraft ever assembled will fly above the skies of Washington, D.C. on Friday, May 8, 2015, the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe (VE) Day, as part of the Arsenal of Democracy World War II Victory Capitol Flyover. The flyover  will include dozens of World War II aircraft flying in 15 historically sequenced warbird formations overhead. The formations will represent the War’s major battles, from Pearl Harbor through the final air assault on Japan, and concluding with a missing man formation to “Taps.” Never before has such a collection of WWII aircraft been assembled at one location, to honor the large assemblage of veterans gathered at the WWII Memorial for a ceremony.

On Saturday, May 9, 2015, a selection of the planes will be featured at the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center at Washington Dulles International Airport for a one day exhibition. The display will be open to the public 10:00 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.  No advance tickets are required.

micrometerIt is impossible to exaggerate the importance of the Arsenal Of Democracy to the United States and its allies.  Without the support of American industry, WWII could not have been won. America gave her all – her sons and daughters, their hard work, and years of deprivation – to win the war.


On May 28, 1940, the phone rang in Bill Knudsen’s office in the General Motors Building. Knudsen, a Danish immigrant who had made parts for Henry Ford’s Model T in a bicycle factory in Buffalo before working his way up to become president of GM, heard a voice familiar from newsreels and radio broadcasts on the other end.

It was President Franklin Roosevelt. “Knudsen?” the voice said. “I want to see you in Washington.”

France was collapsing under the Nazi blitzkrieg. Great Britain was slated to be next. Imperial Japan’s sun was rising in the Pacific.

America had the eighteenth largest army in the world, not much bigger than Holland’s, and no defense industry — it had been dismantled after World War I, “the war to end all wars.”

 What FDR needed from Bill Knudsen, one of the fathers of mass production, was to tell him how to convert America’s economy from making cars, refrigerators, radios and farm machinery into making tanks, artillery shells, and even airplanes.


With Knudsen and other industrialists on board, the country geared up to produce military machines and goods at a rate never before seen. Knudsen, who said he wanted to give back to his country, resigned his position at General Motors, and accepted no pay from the government.

You cannot just order a Navy as you would a pound of coffee, or vegetables or meat, and say, we’ll have that for dinner. It takes time. It takes organization.

—Bernard Baruch

In the beginning, he found that we were woefully unprepared for war. The army didn’t know exactly what they needed.

And increasingly he learned none of them really knew the answer. He had lunch at Fort Myer with General Marshall, who told him his fears of fighting a war when everything from rifles (the Army was still using the ’03 Springfield model) and machine guns to telephone cable and medicine was in chronic short supply, and when trainees would have to train using wooden guns and fire on wooden boxes labeled tanks, and fire salvos of artillery from tree stumps labeled artillery.

“Our greatest need is time,” Marshall told him. Knudsen could see that, but he also needed to know exactly what equipment Marshall and the Army needed and how many, and no one could tell him. The situation in the Navy was much the same. 37 The truth began to dawn on Knudsen. He couldn’t get a straight answer because they were waiting for him to tell them what the American economy could produce, and how much. If the country was going to make itself seriously ready for war, neither the politicians nor the generals nor the admirals were willing to take the lead. American business and industry would have to figure it out on their own.

Excerpt from the book, Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II (Random House)


Consolidated's Assembly Plant, Fort Worth, TX

Consolidated’s Assembly Plant, Fort Worth, TX

Knudsen called upon fellow industrialists across the country, but particularly in Detroit:

Knudsen started things rolling soon after he got to Washington with a phone call to his friend K.T. Keller, president of Chrysler, to see if he thought Chrysler could build tanks. The result would be the Chrysler Tank Arsenal in Warren, where some 25,000 Grant and Sherman tanks would be built, more tanks than Nazi Germany built during the entire war.

Another call went to Knudsen’s old employer, Henry Ford, to see if he could convert part of his River Rouge plant to make aircraft engines for Britain’s Spitfire fighters. Ford said no (in 1940 the old man was still in the throes of isolationism) but Alvan Macauley at Packard Motors said yes.

Macauley and his engineers welcomed the challenge. Soon the Packard Plant on Grand Boulevard became the site of a new facility for making the 12-cylinder, 1645-cubic inch Rolls Royce Merlin engine, and for employing the thousands of young women Packard hired to make them. In the end, Packard would build more than 55,000 Merlins, not just for the Spitfire but for America’s own P51 Mustang.

Then on Oct. 29 Knudsen set up a secret meeting of auto executives at the New Center Building, where he and a then-unknown Army Air Corps Major named Jimmy Doolittle showed them the aircraft parts they needed to have made in record numbers and in record time.

Four weeks after bombs fell on Pearl Harbor, the men at that meeting formed the Automotive Council for War Production, under a dynamic young executive director. His name was George Romney. He and the ACWP pulled together a production plan that wound up making 75 percent of all the aircraft engines, one-third of the machine guns, two-fifths of the tanks, and 100 percent of the trucks and motor vehicles America used during the war, not to mention hundreds of other implements of war from artillery shells and bomb fuses to steel helmets. ….

Together they proved what Bill Knudsen’s had first told FDR, “we can do anything if we do it together.”

Tacom Tank Plant, Warren, MI

Tacom Tank Plant, Warren, MI

America is like a giant boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate. —British foreign secretary Lord Grey

Kaiser Richmond Shipyards

Kaiser Richmond Shipyards

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32 Responses to The Arsenal Of Democracy

  1. Father Paul Lemmen says:

    Reblogged this on A Conservative Christian Man.


  2. stella says:

    By the way, this is a great book about the war effort. I read it in 2012, and is available on Kindle:

    Another excerpt, dealing with the politics of pre-WWII Washington DC:

    One of those in the room that afternoon who wondered if Knudsen was really the right man for the job was Henry Kaiser’s old friend Interior Secretary Harold Ickes. As the meeting went on, he found it “more and more depressing,” he confessed in his diary. Knudsen struck him as “hard and cold and dominating,” someone too impatient and too hands-on to work well in Washington. “I have heard that Knudsen even makes his own notes in handwriting.”

    Even worse, Knudsen came from the world of General Motors and mega-capitalist corporations like Ford and DuPont, which “have vast interests in all parts of the world, including munitions,” and including Nazi Germany. That led Ickes to wonder about Knudsen’s patriotism and “his desire unselfishly to serve his country.”

    Above all, Ickes worried that Knudsen and his friends would use the rearmament program to get big business’s nose “under the Administration tent,” as Ickes put it, at the expense of labor (there was already talk about the need for unions to make sacrifices for the war effort, he noted) and the New Deal agenda.

    It was a fear shared by many of the ardent liberals in town. The economist Waldo Frank, Vice President Henry Wallace, the First Lady, even the president’s chief advisor, Harry Hopkins, watched Knudsen with some misgiving. They were hoping war might offer a chance to complete the New Deal agenda— a super New Deal, in fact.

    Through the regimen of mobilization, the government could finally transform all sectors of American society— business and labor, rich and poor, managers and the unemployed— into a single vast cooperative enterprise. War would force American capitalism to work for the general welfare at last. Businessmen like Sloan, Ford, and Knudsen himself would have to realize “there is no real hope, either for them or for the country,” Ickes furiously wrote, “unless they are willing to be satisfied with much less than they have.”

    In private, Harry Hopkins was even more apocalyptic. “Democracy must wage total war against totalitarian war,” he wrote in a secret memo for the president. “It must exceed the Nazi in fury, ruthlessness, and efficiency.” How likely was it that a man who had directed one of America’s biggest profit-making corporations, and a Republican to boot, would share their collectivist philosophy and goals?

    Liked by 2 people

  3. auscitizenmom says:

    Thank you, Stella. That was so interesting.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Jeffrey says:

    Thank you Stella. My grandfather knew Bill Knudsen, he referred to him as Bunkie. I may be mistaken but I believe Bill went on to head White motors in his later years. I am currently employed in manufacturing as engineering manager at a small concern, and worked for the company my grandfather founded for 13 years before moving on. My grandfather immigrated from Sicily when he was three. Those few of us left making things in the US have been taking a beating for quite some time. Most folks have no idea of the level of complexity involved in the production of precision objects from various matter. I like to remind folks who are admiring a fine new automobile that it is produced from the dirt under their feet. We have been told manufacturing is simple, dirty work for unskilled ignorant people and that “information” should be the US’s panacea. God help us if a major war breaks out now. It’s a shame that it took a war to stimulate output and unity at that time, just think of what could have been done to make the world better with all that wasted treasury. Manufacturing built what cannot even be maintained now.


    • Jeffrey says:

      Uh-Oh! Maybe different Knudsen!… Sorry, balance of comment still reflects my opinion though.


    • stella says:

      I worked in an automotive-related industry (gauging and inspection) for most of my working life – in the Detroit area. My parents both worked in the plants during WWII (in fact, that is where they met, and married in Dec of 1941), as did many of my other relatives.


      • bitterlyclinging says:

        My uncle was vice president of sales at a large machine tool manufacturer. I was an eighteen year old high school grad with absolutely no skills. Uncle lined me up with a job as an apprentice toolmaker. Part of my time was manufacturing experimental parts for military applications. The fuel pumps for the helicopters in Vietnam were being savaged by contaminated fuel so there was a lot of work trying to make them more durable, tungsten carbide pumping gears instead of hardened steel etc. We also built the fuel pump for the SR 71 Blackbird. One of the engineers calculated that pump could shot a stream of fuel a mile straight up. The qualification run took place over the Christmas/New Years period. The pump had to run non stop, cycling from high to low temp without failing for an extended period. It did, but the connections on the fuel lines feeding the pump started to loosen up with the rapid temperature changes. The test shed was floor to ceiling flame, the entire period. When the apprenticeship ended I moved on for better pay. I landed with an outfit that was busy building parts of the space suits Armstrong and Aldrin were to wear as well as the life support for the Apollo and Lunar Lander. Some of the machines we used still bore the tags “Property of The War Production Board”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. gulfbreeze says:

    I echo the big thanks for this info as well. Fascinating…looking forward to reading Freedom’s Forge.

    Sadly can’t help but wonder if this nation could ever do it again if needed. While we found a high measure of unity after 9/11, that was before many were reminded (or for the first time realized) the high cost of freedom…there’s simply far less appetite for war today than there was a decade ago. Can you imagine trying to mobilize industry like the book describes today? Between OSHA- compliance, environmental impact studies, class-warfare of the poor fighting the war of the rich, political battles and protests all fed by media, I fear we’d never get out of the starting gate.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. bitterlyclinging says:

    Japan managed to acquire twelve aircraft carriers from start to finish of the war, all of which were sunk. The US had 48 at wars end, the Bunker Hill was on her way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for repairs of the damage incurred off of Okinawa from five Kamikazi strikes.
    Japanese Foreign Minister Shigomitzu’s aide, looking around the deck of the Missouri and out across Tokyo Bay at the fleet assembled there and at the thousand plane flight of aircraft going by overhead as the signing of the Articles Of Surrender ceremony proceeded wondered to himself how Japan ever could have conceived of defeating an enemy such as this.


    • bitterlyclinging says:

      The Bunker Hill was ordered scrapped as soon as news of the Japanese acceptance of the Potsdam Declaration was received


    • stella says:

      I believe America’s carriers were out to sea at the time of Pearl Harbor, but I could be mistaken.

      It is fascinating to read about the industrial war effort; the greatest generation certainly was that.


      • bitterlyclinging says:

        They were. All three of them. Halsey, standing on the bridge after surveying the damage all around him as his luckiest of vessels sailed back into Pearl later that Sunday afternoon, muttered to himself aloud “When we are finished the only place the Japanese language will be spoken will be in Hell”
        Roosevelt relieved Admiral Gormley from his duty as Naval Commander of the Guadalcanal invasion after the loss of the Juneau and the five Sullivan Brothers replacing him with Halsey. Gormley had given the orders for the fleet to not stop and search for survivors after an engagement. He was sacrificing any seamen who survived their ships being sunk in order to increase the chances for survival of the individual ships in the fleet. Gormey and Halsey were friends and classmates at Annapolis. Gormley graduated near the top of the class, Halsey near the bottom.
        Its not the dog in the fight, its the fight in the dog.
        Early in his presidency, Halsey was the commander of the destroyer or cruiser that carried FDR to his summer vacation house on Campobello. The harbor at Campobello was tricky, FDR offered to sail the vessel into its berth, Halsey graciously turned command of the ship over to FDR.


      • Col.(R) Ken says:

        Yes all 3 or 4 aircraft carriers assigned to Peal were out of the Harbor on 7 Dec 1941.


  7. Sam says:

    I think the US could have done something similar after 9/11, had we understood who the enemy was and had we been rallied to act. Instead, we were encouraged by our political leaders to go shopping and let big government handle it. This is partly understandable since our enemy was not a nation per se but a political ideology with a religious veneer bent on world conquest. But the same could be said about Naziism or Japan’s empire building.

    The Greatest Generation, my parents’ generation, had it easier since the enemy was clearly defined and articulated. My father was in the Army Air Corps; my mother was an Army nurse. Both were deployed overseas. I grew up hearing stories of Army life from my parents and their friends, most of whom participated in the war effort in some way.

    Thank you Stella, for bringing this book to my attention.


  8. 2x4x8 says:

    thanks stella, this reminds me a bit of the movie “Tucker”, wish the US would do one as well as the Japanese animated movie “The Wind Rises” about the builder of their Zero plane


  9. Centinel2012 says:

    Reblogged this on Centinel2012 and commented:

    We could never do this again all our production is in China!


  10. Murse says:

    Last night I watched an episode of the show “How We Got Here” which airs on the cable channel AHC (American Heroes Channel). This episode was about Henry Ford and how much is owed to Ford. They went as far to say that WW II may have been lost if not for the industrial machinery Ford’s vision gave rise to. If not for the assembly line, an idea Ford borrowed from a Michigan meat house, but perfected for machines, America would not have had enough planes, bombs, jeeps, etc to win the war. When I think of Obama’s comment “you didn’t build that” and how we as a people have lost our way, I then think of people like Rockefeller, Ford, and Deere and how wonderful it would be if men like them ran the government. But that’s just it, people who can do things don’t go into government, that is for those who can’t and wish to take from those who can.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. radiopatriot says:

    Very interesting piece. Having just finished watching the WWII BBC series “Land Girls” (commissioned to broadcast the week of the 70th anniversary of WWII) and “Bomb Girls” on Netflix, I particularly enjoyed reading this.

    It also brought to mind Diana West’s book “American Betrayal” in which she posits that FDR’s close advisor Harry Hopkins was charged with being a Soviet spy.

    “The highest, most powerful official to make common cause with the NKVD on Kravenchko’s defection was Harry Hopkins. He was also Roosevelt’s most intimate and ubiquitous advisor. He was also, as well-noted at the time, America’s co-president, who, not at all incidentally, in another acid rinse of the historical record, barely surfaces in our cultural consciousness today. As well he should. A body of evidence has accumulated over the decades indicating that Hopkins was at least an asset, at least an ally, and quite possibly an gent of the Kremlin. That demands our attention.” (American Betrayal, p. 129)

    Hopkins was a very powerful and influential man in the FDR administration – somewhat akin to the Rasputin in today’s White House. Even then, our country was beset with ne’er do wells.


    • stella says:

      And Hopkins lived in the White House.


    • bitterlyclinging says:

      A few members of what were later to become members of Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust” made an illegal visit to the USSR late in the twenties and were treated to a personal visit with Joe Stalin. The later result were communes in Arizona and the Schechter Brothers, immigrant Kosher butchers in Brooklyn being tried for violating New Deal Regulations, letting their customers pick out which chickens they wanted butchered.
      Amity Schlaes “The Forgotten Man”


  12. coeurdaleneman says:

    The excerpt describing liberal politicians hoping to complete the amalgamation of government and big business permanently rings true. Or the full subjugation of big business, more like it. Modern American’s would be surprised about how long after the war that heavy-handed control was exerted from DC, well into the 1950s.

    Even over piddling things. For example, after the war, officials at the Churchill Downs racetrack were prosecuted for using building materials in a minor remodeling job. The federal meddling foisted upon the country under the mantle of the war effort was incredible. It was bureaucratic arrogance gone haywire.,5441607&hl=en

    Liked by 1 person

  13. carterzest says:

    Great post, thanks Stella.
    My Dear Belated Grandmother worked at the shipyards in Vancouver Washington as a welder during this effort. Amazing stories she told of the volume of ships that were being produced in the Columbia Willamette River system.
    When I became a deep draft ocean shipping agent in my late 20’s, I made point to take her out on multiple vessels for fun. She ate it up. She was so proud of me.

    That reminds me, I should probably shoot a few resumes to the shipping agencies I used to work for. That was a cool job.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Tom says:

    I’ll be the poison pill and say that while American productive capacity was important, the Soviets bleeding the Germans white in the East and tying them up there was probably more important in making the Germans lose the war.


    • stella says:

      Don’t forget that the Soviets were able to do that because they were also beneficiaries of the U.S. Lend/Lease program. And they were no help in the Pacific.


      • Tom says:

        The Soviets did get Lend-Lease aid, but it wasn’t a significant factor in the East. For example by the time the Russians had gotten access to M4 tanks the tide had already turned there and the Germans were fighting a losing fight at that point. The Soviets got 7,000 tanks from Lend-Lease in total, they were able to produce over 60,000 T-34s throughout the war, thats not to mention the many thousands of other AFVs that they produced. As regards the Pacific, the Soviets utterly crushed the Japanese army in Manchuria, which even without the atom bomb may have convinced the Emperor to accept Allied demands.

        I’m not trying to diminish the American contribution to the war, I’m just saying that it may at times be over stated. The thing that allowed for the liberation of Europe was the war in the East. The thing that allowed for Normandy or even the Italian campaign was Russia tying up vast quantities of German troops and equipment.


  15. Bitterlyclinging says:

    Murmansk! If you had to go into the water, you had roughly two to three minutes. And deuce and a half trucks courtesy Studebaker, I believe. The Soviets may have had the T-34, the Yak, and the Stormovic, but supplies had to be moved to the front. Empty rifles and artillery pieces fell no foe.

    Liked by 1 person

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