B-29s inbuilt Georgia helped the USA win the struggle with Japan.
By Joe Kirby
When Maj. Gen. Curtis Lemay, the hard-driving commander of the Twentieth U.S. Air Drive based mostly in Guam, determined to vary techniques in early 1945 to spice up the effectiveness of the B-29 Superfortress, it was the Bell Plane plant in Marietta, Georgia, that finally offered him with the stripped-down bombers that performed such a key position in ending the struggle within the Pacific.
The Bell plant, often referred to each then and now as The Bell Bomber Plant, had already churned out 357 “common” mannequin B-29s because the first one, assembled principally by hand, rolled out of the plant’s doorways in November 1943.
Between January and September 1945, that plant produced all 311 of the B-29B fashions that shouldered a lot of the load after LeMay determined to modify from high-altitude bombing to low-altitude firebomb assaults. He additionally determined the planes might fly quicker and have much less hassle attaining takeoff velocity in the event that they weighed much less.
Japanese fighter power was in decline and their assaults tended to return from the rear, so LeMay’s answer was to take away all defensive armament apart from these within the tail. That saved the load not simply of the weapons, ammo, and turrets, but in addition of their fire-control system (a then cutting-edge analog pc that corrected for distance, velocity, temperature, gravity, barrel-wear, and so on.). LeMay additionally determined that leaving the planes unpainted would save every one a number of thousand kilos of unneeded weight.
Floor had been damaged for the Marietta plant in March 1942 simply three months after Bell Plane head Larry Bell selected the town as the location for a manufacturing unit during which to assemble the mammoth new bombers beneath contract from Boeing.
Why Marietta? It was only a small city close to Atlanta in the midst of the Cotton Belt with a prewar inhabitants of solely eight,000—only a few of whom had school levels or expertise in an industrial setting. It was greatest recognized, if recognized in any respect, for being within the shadow of Kennesaw Mountain of Civil Warfare fame. Some in Washington initially resisted the thought of coaching farmers to assemble what was to be, as much as that time, the most important and most technologically superior aircraft ever constructed.
However there have been benefits to the Marietta website as nicely. It was solely 15 miles from the massive, untapped pool of labor in Atlanta, which lacked some other munitions crops. These staff might commute by way of the Marietta-Atlanta trolley whereas compo- nents for the B-29 (such because the aircraft’s 18- cylinder Curtiss-Wright R-3350 engines assembled elsewhere by Pratt and Whitney) might be delivered to the plant by way of the Nashville, Chattanooga and St. Louis Rail- means (at the moment’s CSX), whose tracks skirted the western fringe of the chosen website.
As well as, the plant might make use of a runway that was already within the very early levels of improvement by the town and county governments as a part of a cope with Japanese Airways’ President Eddie Rickenbacker of World Struggle I fame to deal with the overflow from Candler Area in Atlanta (immediately’s Hartsfield-Jackson Worldwide Airport).
Marietta leaders had traveled to Wash- ington, D.C., within the autumn of 1940 hoping to land federal funding for his or her airport and wound up hitting the jackpot, thanks partially to President Franklin Roosevelt’s crash rearmament program—and in addition to a fortuitous coincidence.
In 1940 Congress was nonetheless beneath the sway of antiwar isolationists and was reluctant to completely fund FDR’s plans, so he persuaded that physique to pay for the development of greater than 450 civilian airports across the nation. If struggle got here, they might be transformed to army airbases. And, as luck would have it, the Military officer answerable for creating these civilian bases was a local of Marietta.
The Marietta delegation was strolling the halls of the Civil Aeronautics Administration when the town’s mayor unexpectedly noticed on an workplace door the identify of his Marietta boyhood pal, Main Lucius D. Clay (West Level, 1918) of the Military Corps of Engineers. The mayor barged into the workplace—and shortly discovered that Clay was the de facto head of FDR’s airport development program, regardless of his comparatively minor rank.
Clay, the son of late U.S. Senator Alexander Stephens Clay of Marietta, had served as chief engineer underneath MacArthur (and his chief of employees Dwight D. Eisenhower) within the Philippines till 1937. Not lengthy after Pearl Harbor Clay was promoted to director of fabric procurement for the Military. (After the conflict he would function the four-star army governor of the U.S. sector of Occu- pied West Germany and commanded the Berlin Airlift earlier than retiring in 1949.)
However in 1940, Clay’s title was secretary to the approval board for airport development and assistant to the administrator of the CAA. He advised the Marietta leaders standing in his workplace that he needed to see his hometown do properly and that, if they might procure the land for an airport, he would guarantee they obtained federal funding for it.
Clay proved nearly as good as his phrase, first getting the town the funding wanted for the runway (which initially was christened “Rickenbacker Subject” and right now is the centerpiece of Dobbins Air Reserve Base), after which a yr later serving to persuade Larry Bell that Marietta and its new runway can be a superb location for the B-29 plant he had simply been tasked with constructing.
The federal government paid to construct the plant however left it as much as Bell to determine the place it ought to go. “The [Army] Air Drive needed to have a brand new plant—and an enormous plant,” Clay informed his biographer, Jean Edward Smith. “They usually got here to me to ask for an inventory of potential locations the place there was each a labor provide out there and an present airport. And I occurred to recollect Marietta, so I gave it to them as one of many names. It had large labor potential—each from Atlanta and from the encompassing mountain space.”
Robert Lovett, who, in 1941, was assistant secretary of warfare for air, later advised Smith that the rationale the Bell plant went to Marietta was, “It was an space with a big inhabitants of first-class Anglo-Saxon farmers with not a lot to do in the best way of farming. They have been males with a mediocre quantity of schooling, however a great farm boy from that space might take any sort of machine aside and put it again collectively once more. He needed to with a purpose to reside on his farm. So that you had a great primary labor pressure. And once they opened the doorways, the plant was flooded with them.
Lovett additionally famous that Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Walter George was from Georgia, and the congressman who was approaching seniority on the Home Army Affairs Committee, Carl Vinson, additionally was from Georgia.
The federal government spent $72 million to assemble the plant—almost as a lot ($83 million) because it spent on one other main con- struction that acquired began in 1942: the Pentagon. The Bell plant was the most important industrial facility ever constructed south of the Mason-Dixon Line, a distinction it reportedly nonetheless holds.
After breaking floor on March 30, 1942, the three.2-million-square-foot plant was accomplished simply 54 weeks later, regardless that there have been extreme war-related shortages of development supplies, such because the 32,000 tons of metal used for the primary meeting constructing. That constructing was a half mile lengthy and roughly 1 / 4 mile extensive (a measurement corresponding to 63 soccer fields) and boasted sufficient area for a pair of parallel last meeting strains.
The power’s development was an unlimited funding in cash and supplies, particularly when one realizes the prototype for the brand new bomber, the XB-29, didn’t make its maiden flight till September 21, 1942—almost six months after the Marietta groundbreaking.
No try was ever made to camouflage the Bell plant, presumably as a result of by the point it was approaching line in late summer time 1943 the tide of the struggle had turned sufficiently that enemy air assaults have been not a priority.
The plant had one other notable distinction for that period—a function often restricted to authorities buildings and enormous theaters within the prewar period. However, with the Allies struggling towards the Axis within the first two years of the struggle, there have been actual fears that German bombs may sooner or later be raining down on the East Coast, so the plant was designed to satisfy blackout specs in order to not emit any mild at night time, which in flip tended to rule out together with home windows. But a windowless constructing can be unbearably scorching throughout a Georgia summer time.
As well as, because the B-29 can be of all-metal development, the plant would wish to have a continuing temperature to stop metallic plane elements from increasing and contracting. Greater than 100 contractors and their crews labored 24/7 to construct the plant. They labored so shortly, in reality, that many concrete partitions and help footings for the plant’s basement and subbasement have been full earlier than these basement areas had been utterly excavated. As soon as these partitions and footings have been full, the builders realized the doorways to the basement have been too slender for them to get their mechanical excavators again in to complete the job. But there was far an excessive amount of dust nonetheless to be moved for a easy pick-and-shovel operation. The answer? Mule-drawn gear was employed from close by farmers.
Staff had began assembling elements of the primary B-29 even earlier than development of the primary constructing was full. Harold Mintz, a foreman within the plant on the time, recalled in a 2000 interview that meeting work was happening even in areas the place the roof was not but full.
“Whereas we have been beginning off, the top of the shift didn’t imply something,” he stated. “If we had one thing going there we simply stayed. [At night] I might lookup and see the celebs and all the things with no roof…. It rained in [on us].”
Bell introduced a cadre of skilled staff to Marietta from its plant in Buffalo, New York (the place the corporate constructed the P-39 Airacobra and P-63 Kingcobra), however the bulk of the workforce hailed from the larger Atlanta space.
Hundreds of others, drawn by the prospect of regular work at 60 cents an hour, flocked from the Southeast to Marietta (actually doubling its inhabitants within the course of) to work on the plant. And although particular coaching faculties have been set as much as train the rudiments of riveting whereas the plant was being constructed, it was nonetheless sluggish going.
“The Marietta plant might be the most effective illustration out there of the difficulties we’ve got had in manufacturing,” wrote Brig. Gen. Bennett Meyers, assistant chief of air employees of the Military Air Forces, who was appearing on the time as a trouble-shooter for Basic Henry “Hap” Arnold on the B-29 program. “Consider it or not, individuals who have been employed to make aluminum planes needed to be proven what a sheet of aluminum appeared like.”
Stinson Adams, Jr., of Marietta, who labored as an inspector within the plant, recalled that automotive mechanics had expertise that could possibly be put to good use. “In the event that they have been mechanically inclined and knew the best way to tighten a nut and have been prepared to work, we might make an plane mechanic out of them,” he stated.
Richard Croop, a part of the cadre of Buffalo Bell staff who got here South in 1942, recalled, “Lots of people didn’t know what a drill or drill motor or rivet gun was. They’d by no means seen rivet weapons.”
But the Southerners have been prepared to study—and few of them have been strangers to exhausting work. A lot of the plant’s staff had not completed highschool, and lots of of them had gone no farther than eighth grade. Most had by no means seen a time clock or a time card, and various staff have been illiterate and “signed” their card every week with an “X.”
By 1944, the plant employed 28,000 individuals. Some 37 % of the Bell plant’s workforce was feminine, however opposite to the favored fantasy that has grown up round World Struggle II protection crops, the bulk weren’t “Rosie the Riveters.” Moderately, ladies staffed a wide selection of positions.
Along with the standard secretarial/cafeteria jobs, additionally they labored as engineers, software designers, draftswomen, estimators, manufacturing illustrators, bicycle couriers, chauffeurs, inspectors, nurses, radio tower dispatchers, and gun-toting safety guards. Additionally they served as riveters (dealing with rivet weapons that weighed as a lot as 15 kilos), die makers, sheet-metal fabricators, toolmakers, welders, and crane operators.
The Bell plant additionally opened new employment horizons for native black staff; it had greater than 2,000 African People on its payroll in January 1945, though it sadly additionally appeared to have a quota system in place. Not more than 800 blacks at one time have been ever working in skilled-labor positions, in accordance with analysis by Kennesaw State College Historical past Profes- sor Emeritus Dr. Tom Scott. And, whereas Bell was a Northern-owned firm, it adhered to the South’s “Jim Crow” legal guidelines on the plant, with separate restrooms and water fountains for blacks and whites.
Apparently, the plant additionally employed quite a lot of midgets and dwarfs, who might simply squeeze into tight areas, such because the planes’ nostril cones, the place normal-sized adults couldn’t. They usually might work standing up in such locations and never develop into as fatigued as a full-sized individual, who must kneel or crouch. There additionally have been blind staff whose job it was to type by hand the stray rivets swept up off the ground.
All informed, the plant employed 1,750 disabled staff—little question no less than partially a mirrored image on the plant’s supervisor, James Carmichael, who had been left severely disabled by a motorcar accident as a teen.
With so many younger males in uniform, the plant employed many older staff who underneath regular circumstances would by no means have been employed in a heavy industrial setting; the oldest of them was 81-year-old riveter Helen Dortch Longstreet, widow of late Accomplice Common James Longstreet (she married him in 1897 when he was 74).
One of many plant’s most remarked on fea- tures by guests of the day have been the rows of hundreds of fluorescent lights overhead from one finish of the plant to the opposite. The plant had a crew that did nothing however change bulbs, beginning at one finish of the plant within the morning and dealing towards the opposite finish; then reversing path to swap out the bulbs that had burned out since its first cross earlier within the day.
Classic pictures of the sprawling manufacturing unit give a great illustration of what it appeared like at full manufacturing however can’t start to convey what the plant appeared like: a cacophony of hundreds of rivet weapons, metal presses, drills, welding torches, and different equipment. Few, if any, staff wore ear safety.
Like many munitions crops, the Bell manufacturing unit was visited by quite a few celebrities selling bond gross sales and the conflict effort. They included film stars Bob Hope, Al Jolson (in one in every of his last public appearances), Mary Pickford, and Jane Withers, in addition to Basic Dwight Eisenhower’s spouse Mamie and golf legend Bobby Jones. The plant additionally was visited in June 1945 by two of the “flag-raisers” from the simply concluded battle of Iwo Jima in a struggle bond gross sales drive.
Nonetheless one other customer in the summertime of 1945 was Lieutenant Mildred Dalton, one among 77 Military nurses christened “the angels of Bataan and Corregidor.” That they had been liberated that February from hellish captivity at Santo Tomas in Manila by Basic Douglas MacArthur’s males. After a month or so of recuperation, she was despatched on a conflict bond tour that introduced her to Marietta.
The primary 16 of the greater than 600 Tremendous- fortresses constructed on the plant have been assembled principally by hand, and the very first of them rolled out the door in early November 1943; three extra adopted by yr’s finish. Produc- tion slowly ramped as much as a aircraft a day by the summer time of 1944, then to 2 a day by Might 1945. After test-firing the engines on the tarmac, the planes then have been towed to a different hangar by which their armaments, radios, and radar have been put in.
It was some extent of native satisfaction that not a single Marietta-built bomber ever crashed on its ensuing check flight. These Superfortresses and the lads who flew them have been essential cogs in LeMay’s fire-bombing offensive towards the Japanese homeland within the spring and summer time of 1945. And although neither the Enola Homosexual nor Bock’s Automotive have been constructed by Bell, they have been comparable in most respects to those who have been.
Inside weeks of the struggle’s finish, the Pentagon canceled its contract with Bell, and the plant virtually instantly started shedding its staff. They have been all passed by January 1946 and the mammoth plant was used as a storage facility for plane manufacturing gear shipped there from different crops. From a excessive of 28,000 staff through the conflict, the plant employed simply 79 individuals within the late 1940s whereas operated by the Tumpane Company.
That modified in 1950 after the Korean Conflict broke out. A lot of the nation’s B-29 fleet had been mothballed at Pyote Air Pressure Base within the Texas desert. The Penta- gon selected Lockheed to reopen the previous Bell plant (formally generally known as Air Drive Plant No. 6) with two functions in thoughts: to recondition and improve 120 B-29s introduced from Pyote, and to start out assembling what finally have been 394 copies of the nation’s first mass-production jet-powered bomber (beneath contract from Boeing): the B-47 Stratojet.
Lockheed (now Lockheed Martin) continues to function the previous Bell plant, which by way of the years produced 131 C-5 Galaxy cargojets, 285 C-141 StarLifter cargojets, 202 JetStar VIP Transport planes, and all 195 copies of the F-22 Raptor fighter jet.
The plant’s flight line now’s constructing a part of the fuselage for the F-35 Lightning II fighter and up to date variations of the revolutionary C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft (now designated the C-130J). Almost 2,500 copies of the “Herk” have rolled out the plant’s doorways since 1955 (includ- ing 24 in 2015)—sufficient to make it the longest-continuously manufactured army plane in historical past.
And, fittingly, a large variety of the individuals assembling these C-130s are the little kids—and grandsons and granddaughters—of the employees who labored within the plant in 1943-1945 constructing Bell’s B-29s