The American Automobile Industry in World War Two
An American Auto Industry Heritage Tribute
By David D Jackson

Overview
The U.S. Auto Industry at the Normandy Invasion, June 6, 1944
The U.S. Auto Industry and the B-29 Bomber   U.S. Auto Industry Army-Navy "E" Award Winners   The Complete listing of All Army-Navy "E" Award Winners   Sherman Tanks of the American Auto Industry   Tank Destroyers of the American Auto Industry    M26 Pershing Tanks of the American Auto Industry

    Automobile Manufacturers:  American Bantam Car Company   Checker   Chrysler   Crosley   Ford   General Motors   Graham-Paige   Hudson
   Nash-Kelvinator   Packard      Studebaker    Willys-Overland

General Motors Divisions
(Undergoing development) Aeroproducts   Brown-Lipe-Chapin   Buick   Cadillac   Chevrolet   Cleveland Diesel   Delco Appliance   Delco Products   Delco Radio   Delco-Remy   Detroit Diesel   Detroit Transmission   Electro-Motive   Fisher Body   Frigidaire   GM Proving Grounds   GM of Canada   Guide Lamp   Harrison Radiator   Hyatt Bearings   Inland   Moraine Products   New Departure   Oldsmobile   Packard Electric   Pontiac   Saginaw Malleable Iron   Southern California Division   Rochester Products   United Motors Service

Truck Manufacturers:   American LaFrance   Autocar  Diamond T   International Harvester    Mack Truck
   Pacific Car and Foundry  Reo Motor Car Company   Ward LaFrance Truck Corporation   White Motor Company

Automotive Tire
Manufacturers:  Firestone Tire and Rubber Company
 Updates and Additions  
Links

 

 The B-29 and the US Auto Industry in World War Two / WWII

This page added 6-15-2016.

The B-29 project was the largest and most expensive project undertaken during World War Two.  It was even more expensive than the Manhattan Project.  The American Automobile Industry was instrumental in supplying airframe components and engines for the B-29.  Below are the automobile companies and their suppliers known to have participated in the building of the most complex aircraft to date.

The US Auto Industry's involvement in the B-29 was immense yet has been unheralded and forgotten.  The auto industry supplied everything from bearings for the remote control gun systems to the major fuselage and wing components, and engines. 

 Boeing's initial work on the concept of a long range bomber started with the February 5, 1940 receipt of specification "R-40B" from the U.S. Army Material Command at Wright Field in Dayton, OH.  The specification was written for a long range four engine bomber with a range of 5,333 miles with the speed and bomb load of a B-17.  Boeing had been expecting the proposal, and had been working on several conceptual bomber models starting in 1939.  The Model 341, which Boeing felt met the requirements, was submitted in March 1940.

In late March  the Army Air Corps realized that the requirements needed to be changed.  A supplementary specification went to Boeing which included more bomb capacity, leak proof fuel tanks, and more defensive armament.  Due to these requirements, the Model 341 evolved into the Model 345.  The Model 345 added seventeen more feet of wing span than the Model 341 and was eight feet longer.  Each Wright radial engines had 200 more horsepower at take-off than the engines designated for the Model 341.  The Model 345 would have a maximum bomb load of 16,000 pounds, a crew of twelve, four remote controlled turrets, a rear turret, and a maximum speed of 382 MPH at 25,000 feet.  This was then designated the XB-29.

As with all military designs, weight of the B-29 went up over time with the addition of new requirements by the military.  The final B-29 design had grown to an aircraft with a design gross weight of 105,000 pounds, while the XB-29's design gross weight was 100,000 pounds, the Model 345 was 97,700 pounds, and the Model 341 76,000 pounds.  The added requirements caused the weight to increase by 29,000 pounds over three years, while the airframe and engines remained constant since the Model 345.

 When it came time for production of the B-29 in 1943, the US Auto Industry was deeply involved as suppliers of airframe components, engines, and many of the internal components of the aircraft.  General Motor had seventeen of its divisions providing parts and structural components.  They were:  AC Sparkplug, Allison, Brown-Lipe-Chapin, Buick, Chevrolet, Delco Appliance, Delco Products, Delco Radio, Delco-Remy, Fisher Body, Frigidaire, Harrison Radiator, Hyatt Bearings, Moraine Products, New Departure, Packard Electric, and Rochester Products.  Chrysler's DeSoto, Dodge, and Plymouth divisions contributed heavily to the B-29 project.  Hudson was the third automaker to supply B-29 components.  Auto suppliers contributing to the construction of the B-29 were Briggs Manufacturing, Firestone, Goodyear, Goodrich, and Libby-Owens Ford.

The US Auto Industry and the B-29 "Enola Gay":  The first three Silverplate nuclear bombers were built at the Boeing Wichita, KS plant.  The "Enola Gay" and the of remaining 43 Silverplate nuclear bombers were all built at the Martin Omaha, NE B-29 plant.  All were modified for the nuclear mission at Martin Omaha. 




As the Martin information from WWII shows, the US auto industry was the major supplier of airframe and structural components to Omaha. 


The B-29 "Enola Gay" is currently on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center of the National Air and Space Museum at the Dulles International Airport in Virginia.  Author's photo.


 Author's photo.


The bombardier's front Plexiglas nose section was built by Libby-Owens-Ford, a prime supplier of glass to the US auto industry.  The front eighteen foot fuselage section was built by Chrysler's DeSoto Division on Warren Avenue in Detroit.  Author's photo.


The Fisher Body Plant # 1 in Cleveland, OH built the rear turret and gun assembly.  Goodyear built the rudder, the vertical stabilizer and the leading edge to the vertical stabilizer.  It also built the horizontal stabilizer and elevators on the "Enola Gay".  Goodyear had aviation plans in Akron, OH and Goodyear, AZ.   The three rear fuselage sections behind the wings, to include the tail gunner's location, were built the Hudson Motor Car Company in Detroit.  Author's photo.


Goodyear produced the two bomb bay fuselage sections.  Chrysler furnished the engine cowlings and the leading edge sections for the wing center section.  Fisher Body Cleveland #1 or Fisher Body Lansing built the engine nacelles and inside the nacelles the Fisher Body furnished the engine exhaust manifolds and the engine oil tanks.  Hudson provided the ailerons, outer wing sections, outer wing leading edges and wing tips.  Briggs supplied the flaps and bomb bay doors.  Inside the wings were four Firestone fuel tanks.  The engines are shown as Government Furnished Equipment.  Dodge in Chicago produced Wright R-3350 engines.  Author's photo.


The name "Enola Gay" is written on the Chrysler DeSoto Division built nose fuselage section.  The eighteen foot long section parting line can be seen about two feet behind the square window.  Chrysler workers installed 50,000 rivets, four miles of wiring and 8,000 different types of parts in the nose section.  Behind the nose section are two Goodyear built bomb bay fuselage sections.  On normal B-29s built there was provision for a Goodrich built auxiliary fuel tank in the rear bomb bay.  For the nose gear and main landing gears the doors were produced by Goodrich.  Author's photo.

Because modifications were made to the Silverplate B-29s, several of components supplied by the American auto industry were not included.  The bomb bay doors were modified to accept the large atomic weapons.  The bomb bay doors normally supplied to Omaha B-29s were not used or were modified.  It is unknown.  Also, the Silverplate aircraft used Curtiss reversible electric propellers, and not the normal Hamilton Standard propeller built by Frigidaire Division of GM .

Nose Section:  The photos below are of the interior of the nose section from B-29A 44-62139 at the National Museum of the Air Force in Dayton, OH.  This A model nose section is representative of all nose sections built.  Most likely this one was built at the Boeing Renton, WA plant.  B-29s built in Marietta, GA by Bell and Boeing in Wichita, KS had Chrysler built nose fuselage sections.  The photos below show some of the 50,000 rivets, 8,000 parts and four miles of wiring.  All of the displays are behind Plexiglas.


 Author's photo.


The left or port side of the bombardier's station.  Author's photo.


The pilot's station.  Author's photo.


 The flight engineer's station.  Author's photo.

Factory Photos


This photo is an exploded view of an actual B-29, showing many of the main components.  The Chrysler DeSoto nose section is separated from the Goodyear built bomb bay fuselage sections.  The Hudson built rear fuselage sections with the Goodyear vertical and horizontal tail and control surfaces can be seen.  The main wing center section was built by Martin Omaha but the outer wing section components built by Hudson are visible.  The Fisher Body engine nacelles have Chrysler built engine cowlings attached.  Frigidaire props are off the Dodge built engines.


There was more to just stamping out the aluminum sheet metal pieces and then riveting them together with 50,000 rivets to make the fuselage.  DeSoto-Warren assembled all of the interior of the B-29 nose section, which included four of the eight miles of wiring in the B-29.  The workers shown above are installing some of the 8,000 parts that went into the construction of the Superfortress fuselage.  The B-29 was the first insulated and soundproofed bomber and the insulation can be seen in this photo   The fuselage sections were shipped via rail to Omaha using oversized boxcars, which were foot wider and one and a half foot taller than the normal boxcar of the period.


Working on B-29 engine cowlings at the DeSoto Warren Plant in Detroit.


This is the Fisher Body Cleveland plant #2 making horizontal stabilizers.  Fisher Body either made them along with Goodyear, or was a sub-contractor to Goodyear for these particular B-29 components. 


B-29 engine nacelles on the assembly line at Lansing Fisher Body.  Photo courtesy of UAW Local 602.


Hudson workers building B-29 rear fuselage sections. 


B-29 rear fuselage end caps under construction at the Hudson plant.

B-29 Components built by the US Automobile Industry in World War Two

Manufacturer B-29 Components Location Comments  
Briggs Manufacturing Aft bomb doors and  forward bomb doors, nose wheel doors, and outer wings. 31,000 employees in ten Detroit plants, one in Youngstown, OH and one in Evansville, IN produced parts for the B-29.

Besides B-29 components the company also provided parts for the A-20, B-17 and many other war products.

Briggs components were supplied to the Martin Omaha, NE plant for final assembly into B-29s including  the "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar". 

Briggs was also a supplier to the other three B-29 final assembly plants.

 
Chrysler - DeSoto and Dodge (568) fuselage nose sections, (559)  leading edges, (4,752) engine cowling sets, and  (18,413) R-3350 radial aircraft engines. The airframe components were built by DeSoto on Warren Ave. in Detroit and the R-3350s were built Dodge in a new, dedicated plant in Chicago. DeSoto provided airfrafme components for the Martin Omaha, NE plant for final assembly into B-29s including, the "Enola Gay" and "Bockscar".  DeSoto also supplied all of the engine cowlings for the B-29 assembly plants in Renton, WA and Marietta, GA. 

Dodge built R-3350 engines went to all four B-29 assembly plants.

Before supplying B-29 parts to Martin it had previously provided (1,586) nose and fuselage sections for assembly into the B-26 Marauder.

 
Firestone Wing Fuel tanks The Coshocton, OH plant built disposable auxiliary fuel tanks for the B-17, B-24 and B-29, The outer wing fuel tanks consisted of seven cells and held 1,320 gallons of aviation fuel, while the inner tanks consisted of four cells and held 1,425 gallons of fuel.  
Fisher Body Div of GM (13,772) B-29 Engine Nacelles - These were the most complex component of the B-29 and had 1,300 sub-assemblies in them.

Horizontal stabilizers, vertical stabilizers, rudders, elevators, outboard wing sections, flaps, exhaust collectors, engine cowlings, tail gun assemblies and rudder pedals, engine oil tanks along with many other  miscellaneous B-29 parts.

Nacelles were produced at the Cleveland, OH Plant #1.

Flaps, vertical and horizontal stabilizers were produced at the Cleveland, OH Plant #2.

Elevators, nacelles and tail sections were made in the Lansing, MI plant.

Parts and Assemblies - Grand Rapids, MI, Pontiac, MI Ternstedt in Detroit, MI, Cleveland, OH Plant #1, Fleetwood, MI, Memphis, TN, Central Development, Detroit, MI, Experimental Unit, Detroit, MI, and the Detroit Aircraft Unit.

Fixtures, jigs and tooling - Flint #1, Detroit Die and Machine Unit and Detroit Stamping Unit.

Fisher Body Division of GM provided the following components to the Martin Omaha, NB B-29 assembly plant.

For each engine:  Exhaust manifold or exhaust collectors, the engine nacelles, engine oil tanks.

Fisher Body also supplied the rear turret assembly, which on the "Enola Gay", "Bockscar" and the other Silverplate B-29 nuclear bombers was the only method of self defense.  All of the other gun turrets and sighting equipment was removed to reduce weight.

Many of the B-29 components built by Fisher Body were supplied to Martin in Nebraska by other suppliers indicating that Fisher Body B-29 built components were being provided to the other three B-29 plants, or subcontracted to the first tier suppliers.  These components would include the engine nacelles as Fisher Body built enough to supply 86% of the 3,970 B-29s built and Martin only used 2,124 or 15%.  Also horizontal stabilizers, vertical stabilizers, rudders, elevators, outboard wing sections, flaps would have been supplied to Bell in Marietta, GA and Boeing in Wichita, KS and Renton, WA.

 
Goodyear Forward and rear bomb bay fuselage sections, Akron, OH    
Hudson (802) rear fuselages,  bulkheads, wing tips, rear turrets Detroit, MI    
Frigidaire Div. of GM (54,737) four Blade Propellers for both the B-29 and P-47. Dayton, OH    
Goodrich        
Libby-Owens-Ford Bombardier's glass nose section Toledo, OH    
New Departure Division of GM 1,417 roller bearings for B-29 Fire control system Bristol, CT    
Packard Division of GM Packard supplied high altitude ignition cable for the B-29 engines.  Warren, OH    

In the table below is the production schedule that the auto companies had to meet for the supply of components for the Martin Omaha, NB built B-29s.  Note that in several months there is no production or at least no accepted production.  It could have been that there was a parts shortage that did not allow the aircraft to be finished and accepted by the US Army Air Force.  I do think the work stoppages were intentional.

Aircraft in WWII were built in Block Numbers, which had frozen designs and did not allow for any changes to the aircraft while coming down the production line.  This allowed mass production of aircraft without having to make the constant changes and improvements that were needed due to information that was coming back from testing and operational units.  When a new block was started it contained updates and improvements.  However, even then to facilitate production, not all of the upgrades would be included and afterwards the aircraft would go to one of nineteen modifications centers for the latest updates.  The modification centers were an important part of the process needed to keep the aircraft production lines operating in a timely manner.  In the case of Martin Omaha it had its own modification center.

Serial numbers reflect the year the aircraft were ordered as indicated by the first two numbers in the sequence.  The first B-29 built at Martin Omaha was the 65202nd aircraft ordered by the US Army Air Force in 1942.  The last one off the assembly line in August of 1944 was the 86273rd aircraft ordered in 1944.

Of the four plants making B-29s during WWII, Martin in Omaha, NE was chosen to build and then modify the operational B-29s for the nuclear bomber Silverplate program.  Martin was considered by the US Army Air Force to have the best quality of the four plants.  The first fifteen came directly off the assembly line and went to Wendover Army Air Field, UT, where they were converted to the Silverplate configuration and then used in training. 

The fifteen operational Silverplates that went to Tinian were also built at Martin and modified at the adjacent modification center.  Modifications included but were not limited to replacing the Hamilton Standard Propellers with Curtiss Wright Electric reversible props, eliminating all of the gun turrets, gun sights, and gun control computers with the exception of the tail turret, and modifying the bomb bays to accept the large atomic devices. 

The Martin Plant received the Army-Navy "E" for Excellent Award on December 13,1943 and then later 3 stars for on-time delivery.  The awards were given for the previous B-26 production at the plant. 

Martin Omaha, Nebraska World War Two B-29 Production Schedule

Month Number built Block Number First Serial Number Last Serial Number Comments
1944          
May 3 B-29-MO-1 42-65202 42-65204  
June 7 B-29-MO-5 42-65205 42-65211  
July 0        
August 8 B-29-MO-10 42-65212 42-65219  
September 16 B-29-MO-15 42-65220 42-65235  
October 28 B-29-MO-20 42-65236 42-65263  
November 0        
December 50 B-29-MO-25 42-65264 42-65313  
1944 Total 112        
1945          
January 69 B-29-MO-30 42-65315 42-65383  
February 18 B-29-MO-35 42-65384 42-65401  
February 67 B-29-MO-35 44-27259 44-27325 The B-29 "Bockscar" was serial number 44-27297 and came off the Martin Omaha assembly line in February 1944. 
March 0        
April 0        
May 33 B-29-MO-40 44-27326 4-27358  
May 35 B-29-MO-40 44-86442 44-86276  
May 39 B-29-MO-45 44-86277 44-86315 The B-29 "Enola Gay" was serial number 44-86292 and came off the Martin Omaha assembly line in May 1944.
June 55 B-29-MO-50 44-86316 44-86370  
July 55 B-29-MO-55 44-86371 44-86425  
August 48 B-29-MO- 60 44-86426 44-86473  
1945 Total 419        
Grand Total 531        

Below are two other B-29s built by Martin built with US Auto Industry fuselage and wing components.


 This Martin built B-29 42-65281, seen here at the Travis AFB Heritage Center, came off the assembly line at Omaha, NE in December 1944..  Author's Photo.


 This Martin built B-29 44-27343, seen here at the Tinker AFB Heritage Display, came off the assembly line at Omaha, NE in May 1945.  Author's Photo.

 

Martin built B-29 44-86408 is also displayed at Hill AFB in Ogden, UT.  Five of the 531 Martin B-29s therefore survive.

 

 

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