A Veterans Day tribute in vintage photography of General Motors’ support for “The great arsenal of democracy”

Tanks being assembled in a GM factory to support the U.S. war effort

During WWII, G.M. converted all of its plant facilities to support the “Arsenal of Democracy.” (Photos courtesy of GM)

BY MARK MAYNARD

It was Dec. 29, 1940, when U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt warned of the impending wartime threat to national security. In a radio broadcast, he galvanized the country when he used the term “Arsenal of Democracy” and urged preparations.

According to Wikipedia, it was nearly a year before the United States would enter the Second World War (1939-1945.) Nevertheless, Roosevelt’s address was a call to arms for supporting the Allies in Europe in total war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan.

The Allied War Effort

“The great arsenal of democracy” came to specifically refer to the industry of the U.S. as the primary supplier of material for the Allied war effort.

A 1943 photo of a GMC Duck used in WWII

GMC delivered its first “Ducks” to the U.S. Army in 1943. A unique central tire inflation system allowed the driver to adjust tire pressure from inside the cab.

Roosevelt promised help to the United Kingdom to fight Nazi Germany. The U.S. would sell the U.K. military supplies while the United States stayed out of the actual fighting. The president announced that intent a year before the attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941), when Germany had occupied much of Europe and threatened Britain.

A vast parking area of completed GMC Ducks

Completed military “Ducks” and trucks built by GMC await deployment. In 1944, GMC received the Army-Navy “E” Award for Excellence in the war effort. The U.S. Army considered the GMC 2½-ton 6x6s the best trucks in service, and the GMC Duck the most outstanding of new ordnance weapons.

GMC Ducks on the assembly line in 1943

GMC built these military “Ducks” at its Truck & Coach Division plant in Pontiac, Mich. After the war, surviving vehicles were used for military training and others landed in the tourism industry.

The arsenal for support came from more than 40 U.S. industries. Among the transportation manufacturers were:

  • General Motors: trucks, tanks, and aircraft parts
  • Ford Motor Co.: trucks and aircraft
  • Chrysler: tanks, electronics, and trucks
  • Packard: aircraft engines
  • Nash-Kelvinator: parts
  • Studebaker: trucks
  • Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.: tires
  • International Harvester: trucks
  • Convair (San Diego-based): aircraft
  • Caterpillar Inc.: tanks
  • Allis-Chalmers: parts
A GMC magazine ad showcased its amphibious military “Ducks”

During WWII, GMC showcased its amphibious military “Ducks” in popular magazines of the day. The campaign encouraged patriotic readers to “invest in victory” and buy war bonds and stamps. From 1942 to 1945, sales of vehicles to civilians all but ended as manufacturing was redirected toward the war effort.

GM Wartime Support

On this Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2021, I found these General Motors’ wartime photos.

GM has supported the U.S. military since 1917 when 90 percent of its truck production went toward WWI manufacturing. During WWII, GM converted all of its plant facilities to support the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

GM claims to have produced more U.S. military vehicles than any manufacturer in history.

Between 1942 and 1945, GM’s Chevrolet division manufactured:

  • 60,000 Pratt & Whitney bomber and cargo plane engines;
  • 500,000 trucks;
  • 8 million artillery shells;
  • 3,000 90mm cannon barrels;
  • 1 million tons of aluminum forgings;
  • 1 million tons of gray-iron castings;
  • 2,850 tons of magnesium forgings, and;
  • 3,800 T-17 Staghound armored scout cars.