Ford Richmond Assembly Plant - Ford's Conversion to War Production
One of Ford's first big military contracts was for the production of Pratt & Whitney aircraft engines. The company signed a contract with the government in October 1940 to build a new facility costing $23,000,000 at the Rouge plant to manufacture 4,236 engines. In December 1940, as the building was nearing completion. Ford executive Sorensen reported to the government that machine tools were slow in arriving, delaying Ford's ability to adapt other tools to the new task and ultimately to produce engines. A year later, as the U.S. formally entered the war, the Office of Production Management reported that the Ford aircraft engine plant still had only about 28 percent of the machine tools it needed. Labor shortages also prevented Ford from meeting its schedule. Even as Ford was training young men in the skills necessary to make aircraft engines, draft boards were taking them into active military service. Increases in production also left Ford short of experienced foremen. Difficulties with unions also slowed production, as men facing strenuous production schedules filed grievances and initiated work slowdowns and strikes. Despite such difficulties. Ford completed its initial contract for aircraft engines in October 1942, by which time it was producing about 800 units per month. Yet the government wanted Ford to increase its output to 3,400 engines per month. The Rouge plant did not have the capacity for production at that scale. In an effort to meet the government's wishes, Ford assigned the production of some parts to plants elsewhere in the country, and the company steadily worked to increase productivity. As the first contract was being completed, it took Ford workers 2,331 hours to build an engine. By the end of 1944, Ford workers could make an engine in only 1,028 hours. During the war. Ford's Rouge plant produced 57,851 aircraft engines, 7.2 percent of the national total.
Perhaps Ford's most famous ordnance factory during WWII was the plant at Willow Run, near Ypsilanti, built to produce B-24 bombers, or Liberators. Ford began construction of an entirely new plant in March 1941. Cost of the new building and equipment was $47,600,000. By May 1942, 15,500 employees worked there, 1,874 of them women. The contract schedule called for the Willow Run plant to make parts for 405 airplanes per month. Ford would initially ship parts for 100 bombers to a Douglas assembly plant at Tulsa and parts for 155 to a Consolidated Aircraft plant at Fort Worth. Ford would assembly the remaining 150 Liberators monthly at Willow Run. Eventually, Ford was to assemble most of its planes at Willow Run. The plant shipped its first parts to Tulsa in July 1942. The first assembled plane to fly away from the Willow Run plant departed two months later. By January 1943, Willow Run employed 30,000, of whom 10,000 were women. Thereafter, men were leaving Willow Run's workforce at a greater rate than Ford could hire them. Some were entering military service. Many other men, and women as well, quit because there was insufficient housing near Ypsilanti and the commute from Detroit was too taxing. At the peak of employment, the Willow Run bomber plant employed about 47,000 workers, and outside factories supplying Willow Run with parts employed another 22,000. Willow Run's peak month of production was August 1944, when it made 428 Liberators. By June 1945, the plant had assembled 6,791 B-24s and sent parts for an additional 1,893 bombers to other assembly plants.
As a company with numerous plants abroad. Ford was involved in war production elsewhere as well. The Ford Motor Company of Canada, Ltd., for example, had begun negotiations with the Canadian Department of National Defense in 1938 to prepare for possible full mobilization in the event of war. When the war started in 1939, the Ford plant at Windsor, Ontario, converted nearly its entire capacity to producing military vehicles for Britain and its allies, and it quickly became the largest single source of military transport vehicles for the armies of Britain and its former colonies, like Canada, Australia, and South Africa, which soon joined Britain in the war. The Windsor plant employed 11,000 workers, and by March 1941 they had produced more than 50,000 vehicles for the military, including light trucks, heavy-duty tractors for pulling artillery and tank carriers, and a tracked vehicle called the universal carrier, used for transporting troops. One assembly line at the Windsor plant continued to produce civilian cars and trucks to help keep Canada's industrial capacity moving.
Although one of America's "big three" automakers at the time. Ford did not produce as many military vehicles during WWII as did the other two. For example, while Chrysler produced more than 20,000 tanks and tank destroyers, and GM's Fisher Body produced more than 16,000 tanks. Ford produced only 1,683 M-4 tanks and 1,035 M-10 tank destroyers. During the war, U.S. manufacturers produced 2,665,196 vehicles, of which Ford made 387,737 (14.5 percent). Ford's contributions were not necessarily in the nature of finished vehicles, as was the case in America's peacetime auto industry. Rather, much of Ford's productive capacity was devoted to other facets of the larger system of ordnance production. In addition to aircraft engines and bombers. Ford made nearly 27,000 tank engines, which it then shipped to other companies' assembly plants. Ford produced steel armor plate for other ordnance projects. And two of Ford's branch assembly plants, Richmond and Chester, served as tank depots, receiving tanks from other manufacturers, outfitting them with communications equipment and armament, and preparing them for shipment to overseas battlefronts.
After Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and the U.S. declared war on Japan, President Roosevelt asked Americans for an all-out effort to win the war. From Americans working in industry he asked a seven-day work week. He asked that existing plants be expanded, and he asked that new plants be built. Even though Ford and the other automobile manufacturers were already producing vehicles, aircraft engines, and artillery shells, the government asked them to speed production on those contracts so that new contracts could be entered. Government agents also asked companies to embark on projects to produce new kinds of equipment. For example, twelve days after Pearl Harbor, representatives of the National Defense Research Committee showed preliminary plans for an amphibian jeep to officials of the Ford Motor Company at Dearborn, asking the company to develop the concept into a workable vehicle. Ford agreed, further engineered a small three-man vehicle that could travel on land or water, and tested it to the army's satisfaction in the Huron River. In June 1942, Ford received a contract to produce 5,000 of the novel vehicles.
As Ford and the other automakers had been preparing for war by turning ever greater portions of their productive capacity to military production, the government also began imposing quotas on the numbers of passenger cars and light trucks the companies could make. In January 1942, the War Production Board issued an order that all production of civilian cars and trucks must cease. The last Ford car for private use rolled off the assembly line on February 10th.
The elimination of civilian auto manufacturing freed Ford's extensive system of branch plants for other uses in the war effort. At the beginning of the war. Ford had thirty-four domestic branch plants, of which sixteen were assembly plants and eighteen were units in the parts distribution network. During the war. Ford operated only fifteen of the branch plants, selling or leasing the rest to the government, which in turn put the branch facilities to other uses in the nationwide system of ordnance manufacturing, often to be operated by contractors. Ford also owned three old branch plants that were not in use at the beginning of the war; these it leased to aircraft manufacturers. On the West Coast, for example. Ford leased the plant at Long Beach to the government and sold the plants at Portland and Seattle to government. The only plant on the West Coast that Ford continued to operate during the war was in Richmond. Elsewhere in the country. Ford converted the branches at Kansas City and Memphis to its Pratt-Whitney aircraft engine program. The Chicago branch assembled armored cars. The Twin Cities branch was part of both the aircraft engine and armored-car assembly programs. The Dallas, Edgewater, and Louisville branches made trucks for military transport, and those three plus the Richmond plant participated in Ford's contract to build jeeps. Ford operated the Richmond and the Chester branches as tank depots under contract to the Ordnance Department.
The Ford branch at Somerville, Massachusetts, had one of the unique contracts in the Ordnance Department's nationwide system. The plant was the only one in the U.S. to build universal carriers, and it did so during the entire war. As previously mentioned, the Ford Motor Company of Canada was already producing universal carriers at the Windsor plant according to a British design for the British Army. The Windsor plant could not meet the demand, so the Ordnance Department began negotiations in February 1942 to convert the Somerville branch to carrier production. The Ordnance Department gave Ford engineers some latitude in studying the design of the carrier, both to improve its performance and to expedite production. At the end of the summer. Ordnance approved Ford's changes and in September contracted with Ford to build 21,000 universal carriers of the modified design. The original carrier was designed by Vickers-Armstrong, Britain's ordnance manufacturer. It was little more than a small steel box that held two soldiers and a machine gun sitting on caterpillar tracks and powered by a Ford Model-T engine. Vickers-Armstrong redesigned the vehicle to give it greater capacity and a new engine, the Ford V-8. The British used the new vehicle in many theatres of WWII as a personnel carrier, scout car, and mortar carrier. Ford's newer version featured a Ford-Mercury engine with 100 hp. It could travel at speeds up to 55 mph. British forces used it as a light armored vehicle to move machine gun and mortar crews into position. Because the vehicles were much heavier than cars and trucks. Ford had to completely remove its conventional assembly-line equipment at Somerville and design, fabricate, and install an entirely new assembly line, complete with painting systems, ovens, conveyors, and jigs. The Somerville plant produced its first universal carrier in March 1943.
Ford's two main contracts at the Richmond branch were W-883-ORD-2676, the tank-depot contract for the processing and modification of combat vehicles, and W-374-ORD-2862, the largest of the five jeep assembly contracts at Richmond. The jeep contract ran from February 1942 to July 1945. When Ford originally entered the jeep contract with the army, it was under the auspices of the Quartermaster Corp, and the contract number was W-398-QM-11424 (later revised to W-398-QM-13538). When responsibility from manufacturing trucks was transferred from the Quartermaster Corps to the Ordnance Department in July 1942, Ford's jeep contract received the new ORD nomenclature. The tank depot contract ran from July 1942 to November 1945. During the course of World War II, the Richmond Tank Depot processed and shipped 55,904 vehicle units, or 17.2 percent of the total 324,565 vehicle units shipped by all the tank depots.
With the advent of war production at the Richmond branch, security became more serious. Security in and around the plant fell under three jurisdictions. Security on the water adjacent to the plant was the responsibility of the U.S. Coast Guard. Security on land beyond Ford's property line was under the jurisdiction of the Internal Security Command. Ford was responsible for security on its own property, but Ford's security measures had to conform to recommendations issued by the army's Plant Protection Office, based at the Presidio in San Francisco. In June 1942, Maj. Edmund Sawyer of the Plant Protection Office inspected the Richmond branch, by which time the plant employment office had fingerprinted all the employees. Sawyer made some recommendations for enhanced security, including: 1) contacting all caterers, utilities, and other companies that sent regular visitors to the plant, recommending that they fingerprint their employees and provide them with proper identification cards; 2) installing bullet-proof glass on the guardhouse at the main gate; 3) equipping guards with badges and side arms; the installation of an air-raid siren in addition to the existing fire alarm; and 4) equipping the Ford company's emergency responders with gas masks and helmets. Because the Richmond plant was owned and operated by the Ford Motor Company, of course, the Plant Protection Foreman at Richmond had to obtain authorization from Dearborn before he could implement Sawyer's recommendations.