California Division of General
Motors Corporation in World War Two
This page updated on 3-16-2017.
The GM South Gate Assembly Plant was opened in 1936 as the GM's first
plant west of the Mississippi River in order to have a production source
close to the growing market in southern California, hence the divisional
name of Southern California Division. During the 1941 model year
the plant produced 80,046 vehicles.
From July 1942 through August 1943 General Motors produced the M5 and
M5A1 Stuart tanks at the plant. It also provided a proof range for
Army Ordnance to test various types of machine gun and cannon shells.
Space was also provided for Army Ordnance to modify M4 medium tanks.
When M5A1 production ceased in August 1943, the plant was leased
Douglas Aircraft until the end of the war
for aircraft part production. From 1945-1982 the South Gate
Assembly Plant was first part of the Buick-Olds-Pontiac Division (BOP),
and then the
General Motors Assembly Division (GMAD). The plant closed in 1982
and today is the location of several schools. At least it wasn't
turned into a shopping mall!
The GM 1942 annual report on page 46
specifically mentions that the Southern California Division was tasked
by the Corporation to assemble the M5 Stuart tank. It is also the last
year Southern Californian Division is mentioned in the annual reports as a
Division. Nine hundred persons worked at the plant producing tanks
GM South Gate from the front of the plant.
This aerial phtot shows the rear of the
plant and the test track, which would be used to road test every Stuart
tank produced at the plant.
Southern California Division of GM World War Two Production Statistics:
(304) M5 Stuarts from July-December, 1942, (1,196) M5A1 Stuarts from
December, 1942 through August 1943. A small amount of gun shields
were produced for the US Navy. Deck houses were also fabricated in
small lots for the US Maritime Commission. For two months space
was provided for the modification of M4 Sherman tanks by Army Ordnance
personnel. In addition in September 1942 the plant finished
construction of an on-site proof range for the San Francisco Army
This photo and caption from the 1942 GM Annual Report gives credit to
several GM Divisions, including the Southern California Division for
assembling the M5 in South Gate, CA. Photo added 2-12-2014.
The M5/M5A1 Stuart Tank Photo Collection from 2014.
Below are photos from various
events I attended that featured the Stuart Tank, giving a better view of
this WWII tank that was not only built not only at South Gate, but by
Cadillac in Detroit, Massy-Ferguson, and American Car and Foundry.
M5 Stuart tank on display, City Park, Gas
City, IN, April 2014.
The M5 was the original tank produced at South Gate. It is
distinguishable from the later M5A1 in that the turret is round.
The M5A1 has an extension on the rear of the turret for the radios.
In the M5 the radios were in the hull.
Note the round turret. Author's Photo.
Spirit of St. Louis Airshow, May 2014.
The photos below are of the M5A1, which is not nearly as rare as the
This M5A1 Stuart tank was on display with several
other military vehicles. The stairs allowed photos of the interior
of the vehicle. Looking into the tank provides a good view of many
of the parts that were assembled at South Gate into the Stuart light
tank. Author's Photo.
The loader sat on the right behind the 37mm cannon and the commander on
the left. Note the empty shell casings for the 37mm cannon and the .30
caliber machine gun. Author's Photo.
Note the square hatches. Author's
The tank commander had for voice communications between other tanks with
a SCR-508 FM radio, consisting of of BC-604 transmitter to the left in
the photo and two BC-604 receivers in the middle and on the right.
37mm ammunition storage can be seen at the bottom of the photo. Author's
Looking at the front of the turret. Author's Photo.
An intercom box and canteen for the gunner on the right side of the
turret. Author's Photo.
This shows the square hatch covers that folded to the back of the tank.
Here one can see the top of the engine bay which contained two Cadillac
V-8 engines of 110hp each. Author's Photo.
Military Vehicle Preservation Association
National Convention, Louisville, KY, June 2014.
Setting outside at the convention were five
M5A1 Stuart tanks, all of them in operating condition. Author's Photo.
over Michigan Airshow, Belleville, MI, August 2014.
This photo shows the extension on the turret that identifies it as a
Each year the show features a WWII battle twice a day that normally
features one or two M5A1 Stuarts. In 2014 it featured five, many of the
same, if not all, that were at Louisville. Author's Photo.
After the battle I was able to stand by the taxi way as the M5A1 Stuarts
came back in from the battle. Author's Photo.
War Production History
The Southern California Division of General Motors
Below are over 80 pages of information that
the Southern Californian Division produced at the end of 1943 when it
ceased tank production. There is very good information contained
on the conversion of an auto plant into a tank arsenal and an Army Proof
range. Included are rare photos of the M5 tank components and how
they were assembled into a tank. This is a fascinating document
for those interested in the M5 and M5A1 Stuart tank.
Below is the history of the GM Southern
California Division's World War Tank Production.
The first five M5 Stuart tanks came off the
assembly line at the South Gate Tank Arsenal in July 1942.
The total number of Stuart light tanks
produced by the California Division at South Gate, CA was 1,550.
This was 17.4% of the M5 and M5A1s produced. Production of the
M5A1 completely ceased at other locations in June 1944.
Below is the history of the GM Southern
California Division's World War Two Proof Range.
Below are photos and maps of the GM
Southern California Division's Plant at South Gate, CA.
Below are excellent photos of how the M5
and M5A1 tanks were built at South Gate, CA during World War Two.
Note that the Southern California Tank Arsenal had to weld up all of the
supplied armor plate, and then assemble the rest of the components into
a working tank.
South Gate was an assembly plant. It
turned to many of its previous auto suppliers to provided the needed M5
tank components for assembly. Note that the Southern California
Tank Arsenal purchased all of the basic components. Then it had to
weld up all of the supplied armor plate, and then assemble the rest of
the components into a working tank.
Below are photos of the Proof Range at
South Gate during World War Two.