Tuesday, June 06, 2017

From the Archives: On D-Day anniversary, historian Arthur Herman recalls WWII industrial effort

On D-Day anniversary, historian Arthur Herman recalls WWII industrial effort
June 6, 2012 12:22 PM MST

Charlottesville-based historian Arthur Herman is the author of six books, including the Pulitzer-Prize finalist Gandhi & Churchill (2008) and the New York Times best-seller How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001).

Herman’s latest book is Freedom’s Forge: How American Business Produced Victory in World War II, which was published last month by Random House.

On the 68th anniversary of the D-Day landings at Normandy, the historian met with the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner at the Boar’s Head Inn to talk about the new book, which he sums up as a story about “releasing the innate productive power of American business.”

Herman pointed out there were two business enterprises in Charlottesville that manufactured products that were critical to the American war effort.

Charlottesville’s war effort
One was Ix Mills, located where the Frank Ix building still stands south of downtown.

Arthur Herman AEI Charlottesville historian Freedom's Forge WWII
During the war, he said, Ix Mills “moved from making commercial textiles to making parachute cloth. They really became the center of the parachute cloth making for the Second World War.”

The soldiers “who jumped on D-Day” as portrayed in Stephen Spielberg’s film, Saving Private Ryan, as well as the “airmen who had to jump out over Germany and at sea during the Second World War were using Charlottesville-produced parachutes.”

The other Charlottesville company that Herman discovered during his research was Southern Welding, which “made various kinds of iron piping and steel tubing. During the war, they shifted to making the steel tubing for aircraft, to contain all the electric lines and so on in B-24s and B-25s. What they also did, and their real breakthrough, is they developed the parts for arrester gear on navy aircraft carriers.”

The arrester gear allowed planes to land on the carriers without being pulled apart by a braking mechanism.

“Southern Welding, here in Charlottesville, developed the parts and manufactured the parts that went on aircraft carriers all across the Pacific. In fact, at one point, Charlottesville-made arrester gear and tailhook gear was on 43 separate aircraft carriers during the Second World War.”

Remembering D-Day

When Herman thinks about D-Day, in particular, he focuses on two things.

Arthur Herman AEI World War II Charlottesville historian Freedom's Forge
“First of all,” he explained, D-Day was about more than amassing military personnel “but also amassing a vast industrial effort.”

Two thirds of the landing craft and sea-going vessels used on D-Day were produced in American factories, he said, and “it’s a tribute not just to the bravery of our armed forces but also to the huge logistical possibilities that American industry could generate a landing and an enterprise of the sort that the world had never seen.”

The second thing about D-Day that comes to Herman’s mind is that “the very first Americans to get news that the landings were successful were the people working the night shifts in the factories on the East Coast.”

At the Bethlehem Shipyard in Sparrow’s Point in Baltimore, he recalled, “work stopped and everybody sank to their knees and said the Lord’s Prayer as they got the news.”

That, he said, is “really fitting, that the people who produced the tools that made that victory possible were the very first to learn that what they had done, and what they had contributed to, had been a success.”

Publisher's note: Today is the 73rd anniversary of the D-Day landings during World War II

This article is drawn from my Examiner.com archives. It was originally published on Examiner.com on June 6, 2012. The Examiner.com publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to Examiner.com since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

No comments: