Friday, May 24, 2013

GE Made Howitzers in Erie During WWII

General Electric made howitzers in Erie during World War II and chances are that someone in your family played a part in the wartime effort. Employment at the Erie Works of General Electric jumped from 5,675 people in 1940 to 9,544 persons during World War II. Between 1946 and 1951, employment averaged 15,031 workers per year.

Back to the howitzers. I remember hearing people talk about this, and I finally found proof in a GE pamphlet published in August of 1941. The text is as follows:

"On machines previously used for making electric motors for street cards and locomotives, skilled machinists at the General Electric Erie Plant are producing the latest 75-millimeter pack howitzers for the United States Army.

The size of the howitzer- it is only 47 inches long- permitted boring operations to be performed on turret lathes already in the plant, and with few changes, other tools on hand were adapted for the work. As production was stepped up it was necessary to add some new machines; special rifling equipment had to be installed. But assembly-line production has been underway for some months, with the men who formerly made motors now making howitzers.

Maximum portability and striking power for its weight and complete interchangeability of parts are features of the pack howitzer. It was originally designed for mule transport, but the new type of howitzer is now towed on pneumatic tires by motorized troops. Some batteries have even been carried by airplane on maneuvers.

This weapon hurls a 15-pound shell nearly three inches in diameter more than five miles. One of its special features is its ability to drop its projectiles accurately behind hills, buildings or other obstructions. It can be quickly disassembled and reassembled with interchangeable parts.

All through production, parts must be made to exact measurements, as the howitzers must be assembled in the field with few or no tools. Parts must be definite fits, and enormous stresses must be withstood in firing, thus providing a continuous job for the Army inspectors. These men see the individual parts as they are finished; they inspect them after they have been given their final polish; they are present at the last tests before the guns are put in packing cases.

At the final tests the individual parts are assembled and reassembled at random to prove their interchangeability, and three rounds of primers in empty shell cases are then fired in each howitzer to check the breech mechanism. The guns are then ready to be shipped out for their mountings, recoil mechanisms and other parts not made in Erie."

This leads to the next question...were the howitzers tested on the shores of Lake Erie?

Note: Click here to read about the philosophy of the Erie Plant here: GE circa 1960

Enjoy more historic facts and photos of Erie, PA at: Old Time Erie

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