Iceboxes, Incendiaries and Images
Right after the Pearl Harbor disaster on December 7, 1941, we began to get into war production with a vengeance. Bill Browne and Jack Stephens of the Sales Department were designated as War Contract coordinators, and began to solicit contracts from Army Ordnance, Army Air Forces, and anyone else that would listen. One of the first War contracts we landed was Contract W799CWS-152, with the Chemical Warfare Division of the Army, for the production of 700,182 four pound Incendiary Bombs. This bomb was designed of one piece of 2" round steel tubing; one piece of hexagonal steel tubing, connected in the center by a machined fitting. The machined fitting had the round steel tube brazed to it. It was a relatively simple type of bomb, but proved to be devastatingly effective in future months in burning out a lot of Japanese cities and their inhabitants later in the war. They were dropped in clusters of about 250 bombs from our B-29 bombers--the main reason for the hexagonal part of the bomb, was to be easily clustered.
We purchased a semi-automated induction welder from the Induction Welder Corp. in Detroit, which really turned out these bomb assemblies. This department was on the second floor of Building 2. The welder we purchased was one of the first production induction welders in existence, and we pioneered its use. The key man in this operation was our Chief Electrician, Russ Franke, a genius of a man. These four pound Incendiary Bombs were first used in mid 1942 in General Doolittle's raid from the aircraft carrier Hornet on Tokyo, which surprised the Japs and established the fact that the United States was not totally asleep. During the previously mentioned early 1945 B-29 incendiary raids on the Jap mainland, there were more of the enemy destroyed than in both atomic raids which ended the war.
At about the same time period, we also procured Contract W374-ORD-1563 with Army Ordnance for the production of 100,000-100 lb. Chemical Bombs. These were about 10" in diameter, 42" in length, threaded on front end for a fuse, and on the other end standard four tail fins. These chemical bombs were for mustard gas; and it is my understanding that our country just had these built for retaliatory purposes, in case one of our enemies started to use chemical weapons of this type. Fortunately, we did not have to use them in WW2. It must be understood that we did not load either the incendiary bombs or the chemical bombs, but just manufactured the basic bomb itself. These 100 lb. Chemical Bombs were built in the basement of Building 2, having been first fabricated in the press room, then welded together, painted, stencilled, and each one put in a neat wooden crate. This contract had a value of $605,000, and the Incendiary bomb contract had a value of $513,000. In today's dollars, that would be in the millions.
Incidentally, in the rear of this publication is a photo section; and practically all of the military items we manufactured are contained therein. I have been unable to secure any photos of the Incendiary bombs, but instead have available a sketch of same removed from a military technical manual. We then obtained Contract W953-ORD-3947 and 4762 for miscellaneous parts for the 20mm Oerlikon Anti-Aircraft Jun, amounting to a quantity of 242,214 parts, with a value of some $1,589,000. This was for a variety of small machined parts for the Swedish designed anti-aircraft gun, which was basically assembled at the old Reo Motor's Truck plant in Lansing. All of these parts were made in our compressor machine shop, and Fred Brendel supervised the production of them, and our tooling department did not have much to do with them. We built a few machining fixtures and minor tooling in our tool room for Fred, and he skillfully took care of this project. Financially, this project was worth more to the company than the combination of the Incendiary and Chemical bomb contracts, butit never got the publicity of them.
At the same time as we were manufacturing the 100 lb. Chemical bombs, we were given Contract NOS95962 and NORD-458 from the Naval Ordnance Division, for 17,518 500 lb. Navy Practice bombs, with a contract value of some $172,000. These were big babies, 20" in diameter and about 5' long, with standard tail fins welded thereon. These were used by Navy dive bombers in practice runs on land targets; and they were filled with powdered cement interspersed with white flour, in order to see the results of the practice runs. These practice bombs had no fuses or explosive charges in them, depending only on the white flour markings left after dropping the bombs on the practice targets on the ground. One of these bombs, as well as one of the 100 lb. Chemical bombs is on display at the Flat River Historical Society museum. We have a display of the incendiary bomb and its results on the Japanese cities and people. We also have 500# practice bombs and 100# chemical bombs in the museum.
Next, we landed our largest contract to date, Contract W374-ORD-1344 and 1899, for 53,052 Aircraft Parachute Flare bombs, with a total contract value of some $2,508,000: This item looked exactly like the 100 lb. Chemical bomb, as far as the outer case was concerned. It, too, was manufactured in the basement of Building 2, along with the other similar bombs. The basement of Building 2 was becoming a bomb lover delight. But this Parachute Flare bomb was indeed different--after fabrication, it was trucked to Belding, to old Factory C (now torn down, but located then just North of the Extruded Metals plant). At Factory C, a parachute, arming mechanism, and a huge block of magnesium was assembled into the body of the bomb, or flare as it was called. Mostly women worked at this location. This flare was used by what were called Airborne Pathfinder groups, made up of units of Airborne Divisions; and these flares were dropped just ahead of the invading paratroopers in the various invasions. The magnesium flare would light up a large area of land, in order for the paratroopers and the glider infantrymen to see where in hell they were landing. Needless to say, if surprise was the objective, flares were not dropped. One of these flare bombs is also on display at the Flat River Museum.
We next received a large contract W33-038AC-4892 and 6310 for 299,929 B-7 and B-10 model Bomb Shackles from the Army Air Forces, with a total contract value of $2,344,000. These bomb shackles were complicated little stainless steel assemblies, about 18" long with a hook shaped lug on each end that grasped the hanging brackets on aerial bombs in the bomb bays of our large bombers, primarily the B24's and B17's. They were connected by arming wires to the bombardier's station in the aircraft. These bomb shackles were assembled on the second floor of Building 5, after the detail stampings were made in the press room. The employees were practically all women; and the supervisor of this department was one Jake Darling of Belding, who previously was a foreman in our metal finishing department (a group of wild rebels and hell raisers of top quality). Jake was in his element, supervising a group of women on this job. He was one of the most profane, arbitrary, disrespectful, obstreperous, characters in the entire shop; yet he was a great foreman and really got the job done. In today's world, he would not have a supervisory job for over an hour or so, as the women's libbers would have him thrown in the penitentiary for a life sentence.
Jake and Walt were old friends from Belding, and the World war 1 days, when they were both in the service. Jake took an immediate liking to me, and always called me "Willie"; and I felt the same about him; although I soon learned to sort out very carefully all the B.S, he would feed me. In 1943, when he found out I was going in the service, he told me, "Holy Mother of Jesus, we are in serious trouble". Then he told me in no uncertain terms, "Willie, never, never trust those goddammed Bolos". I soon learned from Walt that Jake meant Russians, as Bolos was his word for Bolsheviks, or Russians; and I then learned from Walt that Jake had been an Infantryman in WWl in the 339th Infantry Regiment (Polar Bear Regiment), and had fought the Bolos in our country's ill-fated intervention in North Russia in 1918-1919.
When Jake retired in the early 1960's, he and his wife ran a sporting goods and bait shop on Bridge Street in Belding, and I would drive down there to buy bait from him; and he was always tickled to see me, as I was him. Several years ago, I obtained Jake's WWl diary he kept while fighting in the Archangel region of North Russia. I recently wrote a short book about Jake's adventures--it is titled, "Battling The Bolos; the WWl Combat Diary of J. P. Darling of the 339th Infantry Regiment". There are practically no diaries in existence about our intervention in North Russia; and the diary part is very interesting reading about an unfortunate little known part of our country's military history.
Later in the war, about 1943-44, while I was in the Army; the company obtained Contract W33-038-AC-3146 for 41,860 165 gallon Jettison Aircraft Fuel Tanks, with a dollar value of $4,550,000. These were the large tanks suspended under fighter aircraft wings that increased their flying range. They were huge things about 24" in diameter and 10 feet long. These were manufactured in the same area as the Bomb Shackles were; and I believe Jake Darling was the foreman of this operation also. By that time, the Bomb Shackle contract was a thing of the past. Real late in WW2 and also during the Korean War, these jettison tanks were converted into Napalm bombs; thus, we continued our manufacturing of articles of death and destruction. We were a far cry from appliance manufacturing.
All of the contracts mentioned thus far were issued direct from the Government agency involved; and were called Prime contracts. In this type of contract, we had the option of doing everything ourselves, or sub-contracting any details we wished to other manufacturers or suppliers. In all of the contract mentioned thus far, the only subcontracts that can recall were for the outsides of the Jettison Fuel tanks and the parachutes and magnesium flare blocks for the Flare bomb. We did the majority of the manufacturing ourselves. We were extremely busy night and day, and the weekends were filled with work. The work effort, the talent, and the attitude of the factory workers involved in the manufacture of all of the various parts involved, was nothing short of spectacular. We had shut down all of the appliance manufacturing operations; and there were a lot of labor classifications being shuffled around to accommodate the different types of operations, but there were no complaints, as everyone knew we were involved in a war of survival.
In 1942, UAW Local came into being; and there were very few labor-management confrontations during this period. I vaguely remember that we did make one run of about 1500 refrigerators on a government contract for a military housing development, but that was all. Gasoline was rationed; everyone, including babies, had ration books full of stamps for food; auto tires were just about unobtainable; sugar and butter were just about off everyone's menu; and booze was rationed to one fifth per person per month. Fran and I were very lucky, as her father, Keith Kipp, had a grocery store and meat market just one block from our apartment; and he was most generous with us when it came to rationed food items. He went out of business in late 1942, and the honeymoon was over.
I must digress for a moment--right after my "Oldsmobile Caper"; and the big raise to $110 per month was forthcoming, I thought I should have a car to run around in--this was in 1940. I found a nice 1937, four door, eight cylinder Oldsmobile at Beardslee's in Sheridan, Michigan, for the magnificent sum of $350, with payments to GMAC of $25 per month. When Albert Jack heard that I was thinking of buying a car, he called me into his office and lectured me interminably about how I could not possibly afford that car. He proved conclusively to me on paper that it was economically impossible for me to afford the gasoline, upkeep, payments on the loan, interest, etc; but I went over to Sheridan and made the deal to buy the car anyway. He was mad as hell to think I didn't take his advice; and for a week or so thereafter, he just glared at me. But he gradually calmed down and got over it. It didn't bother Walt that I had bought the car, but he told me that Albert sure was mad at me for doing so, and not taking his advice.
Once in a while, when not too busy, Albert would engage me in conversations about anything but work; and one time he reminisced about when he was the Plant Manager of WillysOverland Motor Company in Toledo; and was having a rough staff meeting with his various divisional superintendents, one of them being the first woman superintendent in the automotive business. He got so rough with them, the woman superintendent began to cry; after which Albert told her to stay after the meeting to discuss her problems privately. He said that he told her, "Elizabeth, you have a man's job, damnit, so quit crying and act like a man: "Albert then told me, "Six weeks later, I married her"! Through the years, I got to know Mrs. Elizabeth Jack very well, and she was a wonderful person. She and Albert were both very independent, frugal people, very mechanically oriented and talented; and very seldom did they hire anyone to do any work around their home on West Montcalm St (overlooking the factory, incidentally). They did all their own carpenter work, plumbing, electrical, carpet and tile work, etc. They were both remarkable people.
During another talk session; Albert, Walt, and I were discussing various personal things; and Albert casually mentioned that he had just joined the Baptist Church, and he then told Walt that he ought to be thinking about joining a church, especially at his age. Walt said it was very tough for him to do things like that; after which Albert said, to neither of us in particular, "The toughest thing for me to do is to tell my wife that I love her"; after which he turned to me and said, "Bill, is that easy for you to do?" I replied, "Albert, if you do love her, it’s easy”. That ended that conversation, but Albert had an unusual look on his face. Walt later told me that Albert probably went right home and told Elizabeth that he loved her. I think the same idea was planted in Walt’s mind.
As mentioned once before, I really believe that Albert and Walt thought of me and treated me like a son; as they did not have personal conversations with anyone else that I know of. It was an interesting and fascinating situation for me; as I had not had a son-father relationship for nearly 10 years or so. I was very fond of both of them.
Back to the war production. At the same time we were laboring with all of the Prime contracts; we also had a large number of sub-contracts with various companies. The largest of the sub-contracts was with Ford Motor Co. of Willow Run, Michigan, for 17,130 sets of Consolidated Aircraft B-24 Liberator Bomber Wing Flaps; with a contract value of $7,287,000. This one was a biggie! Ford furnished us everything in the way of parts and tooling to handle it. They did not have the space or manpower at Willow Run to handle these large parts. They had imported about every hillbilly they could find and moved them to a trailer village at Willow Run, but just lacked capacity to do this one. We started on the contract just after the bomb manufacturing was over in the basement of Building 2; so it fit right in. A big job for our tooling department was to install and line up the many large assembly fixtures they furnished us; and I quickly had to learn how to use a surveyor's transit. Ford had liaison tool engineer avail to us for advice; and I soaked up every bit of information I could from him.
Most of the labor for this contract was woman-power. Most of the work was riveting parts together; and it was a very noisy place, with those air operated riveters going all the time. The finished wing flaps were put on large Ford furnished trailers and trucks in special sling type fixtures and taken back to Willow Run each day. The trucks furnished by Ford were very special, with each front wheel being driven by a high powered V-8 engine. I sure would like a photo of these Ford trucks, as I have never seen a vehicle like them; as it was a mystery to me how they coordinated the driving of the wheels with each one on a separate engine.
The next most important sub-contract was with the A. C. Spark Plug Division of GM in Flint, for 72,931 Sperry T-1 Computer parts, mostly aluminum cabinetry; with a contract value of $757,000. These were for the Sperry Gyroscope Company's instruments that computed firing data for large caliber anti-aircraft and shipboard guns. The front piece of the computer cabinet was about 3x4 feet--today a computer of this nature would probably fit into one's vest pocket. I was about ready to leave for my hitch with Uncle Sam about the time we got this contract, so didn't have much to do with it.
We also had a rather large contract with the Packard Motor Car Company in Detroit, for aircraft engine parts. These engines were used in aircraft and tanks; and our contract was for 144,914 sets of these parts, with a contract value of $302,000. All of these parts were machined in our compressor machine shop, again under the direct supervision of Fred Brendel; and about all our tool department had to do was furnish some small fixturing. At the same time, in Fred's machine shop, we had a sub-contract from Continental Motors Corp. of Muskegon for 64,295 Gear Blanks for tank engines, with a contract value of $152,000. We received a small sub-contract from Cook Electric Co. of Chicago for 15,754 Bomb Hoisting Band sets, with a contract value of $54,000. These were heavy gauge steel circular bands used to hoist the 1,000 and 2,000 lb. bombs into aircraft. They were manufactured in the press room.
We received a very small sub-contract with the Tappan Stove Co. for 105 sets of the Jettison Fuel Tank internal parts, with a value of $17,000. These were sets of our own stock of interior parts, which enable Tappan to get started with their own production of jettison tanks. Here we are some 60 years later (2002), and Tappan is part of the Gibson conglomeration.
Another small sub-contract came from Bendix Aviation Co. of South Bend, Indiana, for 1,646 Rotary Vibrators; but this occurred after I left for the service, and I am just familiar with them, nor have I been able to find anyone around who remembers this contract. These had a conract value of only $18,000.
A most unusual sub-contract we secured was for the Argus Camera Division of International Industries in Ann Arbor, Michigan, for 16 Multiple Spindle Lens Polishing Machines. These were to be used to polish the lenses of the famous Norden bombsight; and this contract had a higher priority than most of the other contracts procured. This contract amounted to $87,000. It was most unusual, in that there were no drawings available to be used for fabrication of oarts and assemblies; instead, Argus furnished us a brilliant design engineer named Henry Falt. Henry was the very wealthy son of the President of the Indiana Coke and Limestone Corp. We soon found out this man had an imaginative, steel trap mind. Every detail of these machines was in his noggin; and after he explained to us how these machines were to function, he took drawing paper and began to sketch out detail and assembly items for us to manufacture. Most of the parts were to be made in our tool room by Russ Howell's men; and they all thought Hank Falt was crazy, but after they saw the results of his mind boggling design work, they changed their opinions fast. These were multiple spindle machines; and each spindle moved in three directions--horizontally back and forth, as well as vertically back and forth, plus had an orbital motion to obtain all the motions required to polish concave and convex lenses. They were complicated machines, and we all finally stood in awe of Hank Falt for his fantastic talent. He was about 40 years of age, always with a fedora hat on his bald head; but the most impressive thing about him other than his engineering talent was the 10 carat diamond ring he wore: This ring looked like an airport beacon; and it sure did attract a lot of the female sector.
Now, we get to our company's crowning achievement in World War 2; the manufacture of 1,078 CG4A Waco Combat Gliders for the Army Air Forces, under Contract W-535-AC-30115, with a contract value of $19,435,000. This was the piece de resistance, as said in the trade. The glider was designed by the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy , Ohio, whose personnel followed specifications given them by the U.S. Army Air Forces. It was a strut-braced high wing monoplane, designed to carry more than its own weight. The wings were made of wood, plywood skin, with fabric covering. The 3 section fuselage was made of X4130 chrome-molybedenum steel tubing, and fabric covered. More than 70,000 parts made up the CG4A, and after its design was accepted by the Army Air Forces, more than 7,000 modifications were made before the last one was built in 1945. The nose could be elevated to facilitate loading and unloading of cargo and/or mobile military vehicles. It could carry a Jeep, or a Jeep trailer fully loaded with combat equipment, a 75mm field gun, a 105mm anti-tank gun, specially designed airborne construction equipment, including a small bulldozer; as well as 15 fully armed and equipped glider infantrymen (including pilot and co-pilot).
The CG4A glider was designed by the Waco Aircraft Company of Troy, Ohio whose personnel followed specifications given to them by the U. S. Army Air Force. It was a strut-braced, high wing monoplane, designed to carry more than its own weight. The wings were made of wood, plywood skin, with fabric covering. The fuselage was of welded steel tubing, fabric covered. More than 70,000 individual parts made up the CG4A. After its design was accepted, more than 7,000 modifications were made before the last one was built in 1945. The nose of the CG4A could be elevated to facilitate loading and unloading of cargo and/or mobile vehicles. It could carry a jeep, or a jeep trailer fully loaded with combat equipment, a .75 mm field piece, a 105 mm antitank gun, and specially designed airborne construction equipment including a small bulldozer.
A total of 13,909 CG4A gliders were produced during 1942-1945. The Ford Motor Company was the highest individual producer with 4,190 units. The second largest producer turned out 1,509 units. Some fifteen prime contractors built the CG4A and hundreds of small wood and metal shops did sub-contract work. Several powered models of the CG4A were produced but not in quantity. Quick-mount engine pods were developed and were attached successfully to the main wing struts. All the powered models flew successfully but none survived the war years.
Our Executive Vice President, Louis W. Hamper, was quite instrumental in obtaining this glider contract; and spent a lot of time in Washington, D. C., convincing the War Dept. that our company had the necessary talent to produce on this contract One of the major factors in obtaining this contract was the space we had available in our four large warehouse buildings Another major factor was the experience factor related to our skilled hourly workers in wood and metal working, in particular welding experience.
There were originally 15 companies given contracts to produce this model glider, Gibson being one of the 15. There were very few aircraft manufacturers in the lot, as the Army Air Force did not want the major aircraft producers of fighters and bombers spending time on gliders. I believe there were only Cessna, Schweizer, Robertson, Waco, and Northwestern Aircraft Cos, with Cessna being the largest of them, and they were not what was called a large manufacturer of aircraft. Ford Motor Co. was the largest of the 15 and they planned on using their empty station wagon plant at Iron Mountain, Michigan, in the upper peninsula. Right after we all heard the news about Gibson getting this contract; I could not help but hear Walt and Albert discussing who they would assign as the tool engineer for this contract. This was in early March of 1942.
After listening to them spout off names of several of my acquaintances in the company; i.e., Harold Jording, Ed Ellingen, Ben King, Jerry Klintworth (none of whom had any tooling experience, but worked either in Sales or Service); I went to Walt and Albert and told them I had heard some of their conversations and asked what was wrong with me for the job of tool engineer on the glider contract. Albert sort of smiled and said, "We'll think about it". We were all tooled on the other contracts, other than tool maintenance problems, and I figured I could squeeze in the time for this one. What a monstrous amount of confidence I had, with no, and I do mean NO aircraft tooling experience. But, I was ambitious as all Hell, and was certain I could do the job.
In a few days, we received huge boxes of aircraft drawings, and Albert took them into his office. Shortly thereafter, he came out to the large desk that I shared with Walt, carrying a bundle of blueprints, tossed them on my side of the desk, and said, "You asked for the job, William; get busy:" That was my introduction to my new assignment as a tool engineer for the glider program. Most of these drawings were twice as large as a king sized bed sheet, and there was no room in our office to spread them out. I went out into Warehouse B, and found some space in a large room at the mezzanine level, and spread those drawings out on the floor.
There were no detail parts drawings, nor any sub assembly drawings as we used in the appliance business. They were humungus assembly drawings of each section of the glider; resplendent with various station numbers, odd looking sectional views, etc. After a couple of days out there trying to analyze these devils; out came Albert and Walt. Albert said to me; "We haven't seen much of you for two or three days; are you about ready Lo tell us that you don't know anything about these things?" I readily agreed with them that I was in one hell of a predicament, and surely did need some help in interpreting these drawings, and had to admit I didn't know much about them. Albert smiled and said to not feel bad about that, as no one else in the company did either. I would say that he was not quite right about this, as Earl Nofzinger had an Aircraft Engineering degree; and Tipton had considerable aircraft flying experience. Albert Albert then said he had an expert aircraft engineer coming who would indoctrinate us into the mysteries of aircraft print interpretation, as well as manufacturing techniques.
Incidentally, I really did call Mr. Jack "Albert", and Mr. Emery "Walt"; but only after working for them for six months or more. They never objected to this from, but a lot of the foremen, with the exception of Bill Gorman, always called him Mr. Jack. In a few days, in came Mr. C. G. Taylor, President of Taylorcraft Co. Troy, Ohio; and he spent some time trying to explain and interpret these aircraft drawings for some of us. After a few days talking to a group of us, and looking over the plant, Mr. Taylor advised Mr. Jack that we were in the deep do-do and had better get some experienced aircraft manufacturing assistance and he promptly recommended his Chief Aircraft Welding engineer to us, a Mr. Eric Guenther. That was the kind of man Mr. Taylor was; he turned over to us one of his key men in order to get our program going.
A few more words about Mr. Taylor--he was a very gentle, soft-spoken man, very knowledgeable; and had a pronounced limp when he walked. Everyone immediately took a liking to him. The main reason we needed a man with aircraft welding experience, was the fact that the entire fuselage of the plane was fabricated of X4130 Chrome-moly steel tubing; and further all of the welding personnel were to be U.S. Army Air Force certified welders. The production requirements called for over 50 certified welders. In early April, 1942, Mr. Eric Guenther, complete with his eight months pregnant wife, Margaret, showed up, and Mr. Jack spent some time interviewing him for the job. Eric said that he and his wife wanted to look over the town, particularly the hospital. As Eric told me, they were impressed with the Greenville Hospital (then on the corner of Orange and Irving streets); thus, he agreed to come to Greenville and work for Gibsons.
This turned out to be one of the company's most important personnel acquisitions during World War 2, as I doubt we could have performed as we did on the glider contract had Eric not been on our team. He immediately setup a welding certification school, spent time with Walt and I on blueprint interpretation, advising us what kind of tooling and equipment we needed, laid out various manufacturing departments; and in general, was all over the plant. He was the main cog in the glider operation, no fooling about that.
The metal fuselage assemblies were manufactured in Warehouse A, where we build and installed large welding assembly fixtures for the center and tail sections. We did not make the nose or pilot's section compartment; and purchased that from Ronan and Kunzl Co. in Marshall, Michigan. We had Warehouse B setup for production of wooden assemblies, most of them the smaller items, as we farmed out the wing assemblies to Grand Rapids Industries; and some of the other major wooden assemblies were also made elsewhere; i.e., vertical fin, rudder, horizontal stabilizers, and elevators. Belshaw Manufacturing Co. in Greenville made seat assemblies, dorsal fins, etc., for us as well as other prime contractors in the program. When the Army Air Force started out the glider program; the plan called for each company involved to build a major assembly, crate it, and ship it to a central assembly point overseas. Everyone got to arguing about who should make what assembly; and finally, in the interest of getting the program off the ground fast, a11 sixteen companies were designated as prime contractors, and were each to build and assemble the entire glider, then disassemble it, crate it, and ship to an overseas assembly point.
It didn't take too long to separate the men from the boys with this type program; and the final prime contractors amounted to just eight companies, Gibson being among them. There were several companies issued prime contracts that did not have any buildings or employees; just political clout. One company in Florida had only a large circus tent to begin manufacturing in. These guys were soon weeded out; not with a lot of cost to the taxpayers, as these contracts were all cost plus a fixed fee of 5%. No one had to bid on the contract, as it was a supposed emergency program and to hell with the cost---get the gliders: Back to Gibson---Warehouse C was setup as a final assembly area; and to the west of this building, we built what was called the Dope Shop, where the cloth covered fuselage assemblies were sprayed with aircraft dope. This was one lousy place to work, due to the toxic fumes from the dope. Bill Gorman, our appliance paint department superintendent, was the supervisor in this Dope Shop building. One of my present neighbors, Louise Mahar (Jack Mahar's wife), worked in the Dope Shop; and even today, she talks about how horrible the atmosphere was from spraying the aircraft dope.
I have in my possession a copy of the U.S. Army Air Force report on the entire Glider Program in WW2, prepared immediately after the war. The whole program, I think, was a disaster cost wise as well as combat wise. Casualty rates were as high as fifty per cent in many of the combat landings; and the total efficiency and effectiveness of towing an aircraft filled with 13 infantrymen into battle with a big twin engine C47, was just not efficient use of combat troops and equipment. I personally think it would have been quicker and more practical to have trained more paratroopers, and to hell with the whole glider program. A few of the companies dropped from the program, built gliders at a cost of over $500,000 each; and one actually cost over one million dollars; but Gibson, Ford, and Cessna built them in the range of $18,000 to $19,000 each. One heck of a difference. If this glider program were put into effect today, with the results put forth in WW2, there would have been a Congressional investigation that would make Watergate look like a Sunday school picnic.
Gibson built and flight tested at the Grand Rapids airport our first glider in just six months, and this was primarily due to the individual effort and experience of Eric Guenther. Eric was everywhere in the plant at once, and in his modest, but effective manner, advising exactly how to do everything needed. In fact, Eric himself practically built the whole fuselage section of the first glider, as we did not have enough certified welders trained at that time. After flight testing, that plane was returned to our shop, crated, and shipped overseas. Just a word about the crates. They were huge things about 1Ox10x20 ft. long, and it took five of them to hold a complete glider. All of the major sections of the glider came apart quite easily for installation in these crates. These crates were constructed of very nice wood, all Army Air Force specification, of course, with no knots or defects of any king. Overseas, at the assembly points, mainly in England, these crates were used for housing the military-men who did the assembly work.
Earl Nofzinger was in charge of glider engineering; and one of their first tasks was to take the large assembly and layout drawings and make detail and sub assembly drawings off from them, in order for our people to more easily manufacture everything. This drafting room group was headed up by Byron E. Freitag, assisted by Bill Seibel, Axel Andersenvie, Jack Baker, and Ed Cummings. They were all great friends of mine, and Jack later worked for me as a Tool Engineer for refrigerator production tooling in the 1950s. All are now deceased. Bud Freitag left Gibson right after the war, and went to Ranney Refrigerator Co. as Chief Engineer, later going with General Electric Space Division as Chief Engineer--he was a brilliant engineer, and a great personal friend. Earl Nofzinger passed away in California some ten years ago, and Ed Cummings also passed away at about the same time. Bud Freitag's glider drafting room group made us some great exploded view drawings for all of our large fuselage assembly fixtures being built in our tool room. I wish that I had saved some of these drawings; as they were really works of art. Bud had a degree in Architectural Engineering from the Univ. of Illinois, and was a talented artist-illustrator, as well as engineer.
C. M. Tipton, or Tip, as we called him; was put in charge of the Aircraft Production departments, and had several foremen and superintendents working under his supervision; i.e., Ike Webster, Leon Knight, Bill Gorman, and many others I just cannot remember. Albert Jack was still the overall man in charge, and held the title of Works Manager. Later this title was changed to Vice President of Manufacturing, but in the early days it was just plain Works Manager.
Robertson Aircraft Co. of St Louis, Mo., was one of the prime contractors, and in late 1942, they were flight testing one of their first glider produced, and had as passengers their plant executives, as well as key personnel from the city of St Louis. One of the wing fittings broke, the wing fell off, and the glider crashed, killing all aboard, some 12 people plus the pilot and co-pilot. It was a horrible tragedy and immediately, the Army Air Force stopped all glider production, and sent inspectors into all plants to check all the wing fittings. Ours were one of the few that were in perfect condition, due to the methods of welding and testing setup by Eric Guenther. At that time, we sent Eric to several of the other prime contractors to instruct them on how to do this job correctly. Incidentally, the wing fitting of Robertson Aircraft's was manufactured by a coffin manufacturer: We were soon back into production; and by the end of our contract in 1945, we had manufactured and delivered 1,078 gliders. It was a great achievement, especially for a company with no previous aircraft manufacturing experience.
The enthusiasm and talent of our factory workers was superb; and when one considers the meager wages they were receiving, it was more than superb'. During the war years, a group of young school children in Greenville "purchased" four gliders by selling some $72,000 worth of War Bonds and Stamps to the local population. One of these four gliders was selected, named the Flying Falcon, and our company Advertising Director, Jack Stephens, setup a presentation ceremony at Black Athletic field to make a presentation to the Army Air Forces. It was an impressive ceremony, with plenty of officials from the state and local government, plus federal officials, all of our Company executives, with Frank S. Gibson Jr., as Chairman of this event. The glider was completely assembled on the field, the high school band was playing, the local National Guard unit was out in full uniform and a huge crowd was present. Jack Stephens did not like the name Flying Falcon, as he didn't think it war-like enough; so, it was renamed The Fighting Falcon. The Army Air Forces was so impressed with this whole situation and program, that the decision was made to have the Fighting Falcon shipped to England, and be the first glider to land during the Invasion of Normandy coming up in June of 1944.
Just after midnight on D Day, June 6, 1944, the Fighting Falcon was part of a flight of 52 gliders of the 82d Airborne Division, taking off from locations in England and headed for the Normandy coast of France. At about 3:30 a.m. the Fighting Falcon crash landed in Normandy, the first glider to land; and the crash killed Brigadier General Pratt, the Assistant Division Commander of the 82d Airborne; and also killed the co-pilot. The pilot, Mike Murphy and one other passenger, the General's aide, escaping with major injuries. The aircraft was a total loss.
Thus, the Fighting Falcon became a legend in the city of Greenville, particularly due to the face that school children had "purchased" her with War Bonds and Stamps; and because she was the first glider to land in Normandy on D Day. The newspaper in town and elsewhere in Michigan had numerous feature stories on the subject; and it received a lot of well deserved publicity.
I debated about putting the following pages in this sequence of my memoirs, but decided it was the best spot to do so. In the autumn of 1993, I was approached by two Greenville ladies; Sue Edsall O'Brien and Laura Groom (now Siek), to see if I would act as a technical advisor to a group of school children called the Young Astronaut's Club, who wanted to restore a CG4A glider for the Flat River Historical Society. They came to Belding and when they saw all the accumulated technical information, photos, articles, books, etc., on the gliders, they immediately wanted to copy all of it. I let them have a bale or so of the information, and agreed that I would act as a technical advisor in trying to restore a glider. I also advised them of the possible availability of Eric Guenther, as he was still around and had much technical information and talent. The Young Astronauts Group was headed up by a local teacher-advisor Doug Dodds. I called Eric and he also agreed to serve as a technical advisor to this group. Another digression--in the early 1980's, I was approached by a man named Herb Fyfield from Connecticut, who asked me to assist him in securing glider surplus parts from our area, as he was trying to accumulate them for the future restoration of four or five of them. There was quite a surplus of glider parts and assemblies in the Greenville area, as at the end of the war Gibson had some 60 crated gliders (300 crates), that the Army Air Forces declared surplus, and Gibson sold them at auction. These crated gliders went for as little as $50 per crate; in other words, a completed glider was available for as little as $250: Most of these crated gliders were purchased by farmers, who wanted these beautiful crates for use on their farms. The glider parts and assemblies were thrown away, stored in barns and outbuildings, or stuck down in farm gullies to rot away. At that time I could not find anyone interested in assisting me in restoring a glider, so I assisted Herb Fyfield collect dozens of large assemblies and parts from our area, and transport them out to Connecticut. When I think of the parts that got away from this area at that time, I could kick myself for not finding a place to store them for future possible restoration usage.
Both Eric and I had many reservations about a group of school kids being able to do this restoration, but we did not desire to dampen their enthusiasm too much to start with, especially Doug Dodd's enthusiasm. They had no idea of what a tremendous undertaking it would be. I really believed they thought there would be a huge supply of parts and assemblies lying around in in tip-top condition, and they could just stick them together; and, presto, they would have the Fighting Falcon. The Kalamazoo Air Museum had a CG4A glider about 60 per cent restored at that time; and I had assisted them before in getting some parts from our area; so, we called them and setup a trip by bus for the Young Astronaut's group and their advisors to take a trip to the museum and see what restoration of a CG4A amounted to. In the late fall of 1993, Eric and I, Laura Groom, Doug Dodd, several other teachers, and about 35 school kids took a bus to the Kazoo Air Museum. For over three hours, the personnel of the museum let these kids look over all the restoration work done, and went into all kinds of detail with them as to the work involved.
The kids, as well as the advisors, were quite impressed with the immensity of the project, which was the exact message we wished to convey to them. Right after this trip, Eric and I and Laura took over this project, and received quite a bit of great publicity from the Daily News. We received a number of cash donations that amounted to some $2,000, with Ted Kortes of the Commercial Bank donating $1,100 of the total amount. I shall not attempt to list all the original cash donors in this writing, but there were many of them.
The news articles in the Daily News asked for people to call us if they had any parts or assemblies to donate; and the first call we received was from Mrs. Petersen of Petersen Farms up near Gowen. Eric and I went out to their farm and met Mrs. Petersen's son, who took us out to a farm gully and down in the bottom was a center section glider fuselage, with trees growing up through it, the wooden floor all rotted out, but in restorable condition. We were amazed to find a major assembly so quickly and soon had Pat Czanderna's wrecker service (Pat and Squiggy's) out there to haul the assembly away. Just a word about the Petersens and Pat and Squiggy's wrecker service--Mr. Petersen had this assembly hauled out of the gully himself and had it all ready for loading on Pat's flatbed trailer by the time he arrived, and Eric and I didn't have much to do but watch. Their kindness was most appreciated; and Pat told us that any time we had any hauling to do, please call him and they would donate their services.
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