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The Production of the B-24

The Manufacturing of the B-24 Bomber

This fascinating story, of the manufacturing of the B-24, is an extract from 'Manufacturing Victory' by Dave O'Malley, the Website, Branding and Communications Manager of “Vintage Wings of Canada”.

The link to their site:

“Some of the most compelling images I have ever seen of the Second World War are those which show the Ford Motor Company's Consolidated B-24 Liberator assembly line at Willow Run, near Ypsilanti , Michigan. Though Ford did not design the massive, slab-sided, utilitarian-to-the-bone, four-engined heavy bomber, the company's 40 years of assembly-line experience was brought to bear and Willow Run became perhaps the greatest example of America's military industrial might, ingenuity, determination, and commitment. Ford acquired the license to build Liberators, took the already well-developed science of the aircraft assembly line and elevated it to gargantuan, robotic and almost nightmarish (for the enemy anyway) proportions. At its peak, the plant employed 42,000 people.”

“At full operational capacity, Willow Run produced 650 B-24 Liberators in one month, one an hour in two shifts. By 1945, despite there being two other Liberator plants, Willow Run accounted for 70% of monthly B-24 production. The B-24 was built in staggering numbers, more than 18,000 in all. Willow Run, only a licensed manufacturing facility, produced 8,700 of them. Pilots and crews slept in a dormitory with 1,300 cots, awaiting the near hourly birth of a new bomber. The Willow Run plant was so large, it threatened to extend into two counties. In order to avoid paying taxes in both counties, Ford turned the assembly line 90 degrees about two thirds along its length. At this point were massive turntables which rotated partially assembled Liberators so that output could continue unabated. These became known as the “Tax Turns”.”

“The images of Willow Run, which are on the web in the hundreds, show two parallel lines of diagonally parked, overlapping and hulking B-24s in the final assembly hall marching off, not into the distance, but rather into what seems like infinity. One just has to consider the great hulking size of each of the “Libs”, extrapolate this dimension in ones head and the resulting realisation of the shear volume of industrial space contained is breath-robbing. The overhead lighting is brilliant, infinite and galactic, indisputable evidence of power and energy unmolested by military threat from enemy aircraft. It is the luminescence of Victory, the incandescent glow of Inevitability.”

The seemingly infinite Willow Run B-24 Assembly Line – Its output was the whirlwind reaped by Hitler. Photo via the CarGurus Blog.

“Looking at these images, I imagine in my mind the musical score of the contemporary animated Disney feature, Fantasia playing on the PA system throughout the factory. Like the rapidly multiplying and infinitely disturbing images of robotic and multiplying brooms with buckets overwhelming Mickey Mouse in this movie, I see a force unleashed by the Axis aggression, a force for which they did not have the command or magic word to stop. Inexorable, relentless, angry, terrifying are words that come to mind.”

“If the Nazis or the Imperial Japanese were thinking men first and not steadfastly and blindly militaristic; if they could have paused the war in 1944, stepped back and seriously considered the implications for their countries, the consequences for their families; the simple odds; the complete impossibility of success; if they could have visited America, then a guided tour of the godless, churning, 3 1/2 million square foot aircraft assembly machine at Ford's Willow Run would have shaken them to their very Teutonic and bushido-ic souls. They would surely have realised that behind the endless output of Willow Run, there stood phalanx upon phalanx of similarly sized, victory-inspired factories spread across the land – East from Inglewood and Burbank, California and Seattle, Washington to Kansas and on to Farmington, Long Island and South from the heavy industrial belt city of Buffalo through the heartland to Fort Worth, Texas. The great manufacturers, born with the early race to conquer the air, and who would eventually devour each other, worked then in concert for the goal of ultimate victory – Beech, Bell, Boeing, Brewster, Consolidated, Curtiss, Douglas, Grumman, Lockheed, Martin, North American, Northrop, Republic, Seversky, Vought, Vultee and many more.”

“Ordinary household demand for goods was low with rationing, and military demand was high. Industry went where the markets demanded–where the money was. Companies that had previously made tires, rolling stock for the railways or refrigerators now made sophisticated combat and transport aircraft. The scores of titanic assembly lines were supplied in turn by hundreds and hundreds of smaller, yet still substantial sub-assembly factories and those in turn were fed by materials factories and component shops in a complex web that blanketed America . And this was merely the aircraft industry. Layer on top of this shipbuilding, armour, weapons and munitions manufacturing, not to mention a nascent nuclear weapon industry, and the fate of our enemies was sealed the day they the convinced themselves it was a good idea to take what belonged to their neighbours.”

Willow Run - the zenith of mass production of mass destruction.
Not only did Willow Run have barracks for up to 1,300 air crew members, but it had the equivalent of a community college, training young unskilled workers, both male and female, to build one of the most modern combat aircraft of its day. A full-sized mock up of the Liberator's structure can be seen built from plywood behind these students who are learning about a component in this photo. Photo dates from August of 1942. Photo: Ford Motors

Liberators nearing completion move inexorably toward their finish and toward the 90 degree turn in the assembly line - note the B-24s moving to the right in the background. Photo: Ford Motors

Workers install engine components, turrets and machine guns as the Libs head down the line in November of 1944. Photo: Ford Motors

Pre-constructed large components such as rear and forward fuselages undergo inspection and await joining on the Willow Run assembly line in late 1944. Photo: Ford Motors

Another view of the same fuselage storage hall, but from the other side showing the forward fuselage and cockpit sections ready for mating with the aft fuselage. Workers can be seen inspecting the cockpit sections. Everything appears to be ready to connect. Even the wiring harnesses on the right side of the section of each cockpit are bundled in identical fashion. Inside the rear fuselages we can see oxygen bottles and on each fuselage component (forward and aft) we can see the lifting rings used to hoist the weighty components onto the line. These would be removed later. Photo: Ford Motors

Some of Willow Run's assembly line workers pose with the 7,000th Ford-built B-24 Liberator (s/n 44-50267, known as “The Lucky 7”) to come off the Willow run Line. Photo: Ford Motors

Painted, marked and primed for action in January of 1944 at Willow Run, these Liberators are now 100% complete and await the daylight. To the left are the massive hangar doors through which the Liberators will now be towed. Photo: Ford Motors

Perhaps two days output of immaculate and no-time Liberators gleam in the Michigan sunshine and await test or delivery crews. Photo: Ford Motors 

B-24 Liberators in final assembly at the one of several enormous factories (possibly Fort Worth) in the  United States purpose built to produce the type. Production of B-24s increased at an astonishing rate throughout 1942 and 1943. Consolidated Aircraft tripled the size of its plant in San Diego and built a large new plant outside Fort Worth, Texas. More B-24s were built by Douglas Aircraft in Tulsa, Oklahoma. North American Aviation built a plant in Dallas, Texas, which produced B-24Gs and B-24Js. None of these were minor operations, but they were dwarfed by the vast new purpose-built factory constructed by the Ford Motor Company at Willow Run near Detroit, Michigan. Ford broke ground on Willow Run in the spring of 1941, with the first plane coming off the line in October 1942. It had the largest assembly line in the world (3,500,000 ft²/330,000 m²). At its peak, the Willow Run plant produced 650 B-24s per month in 1944. Pilots and crews slept on 1,300 cots at Willow Run waiting for their B-24s to roll off the assembly line. At Willow Run, Ford produced half of 18,000 total B-24s. Photo

On April 17, 1942, the first of three thousand B-24 Liberator bombers rolled out of the new mile-long Fort Worth assembly building of Air Force Plant 4—known locally as the “bomber plant”. After Pearl Harbour the city lobbied the government to build a defence installation here, offering 1,400 acres on Lake Worth. The result was Air Force Plant 4, which opened in 1942, operated by Consolidated Aircraft. When the war had begun, Fort Worth had 176,000 people; Tarrant County had 225,000. During the plant’s peak in 1944-1945 Consolidated employed 38,000 workers. That’s one in five Fort Worth residents, one in six county residents. Probably most blocks in Fort Worth had at least one resident who worked at the bomber plant. Air Force Plant 4 produced B-24s for two years. Photo

B-24s under construction at Willow Run, disappear into infinity, swarmed by factory workers. Photo

B-24s in the Consolidated-Vul tee Plant, Fort Worth, Texas–the other Liberator Plant.  In foreground are Liberator bombers while to the rear of this front line are C-87 "Liberator Express Transports" in various assembly stages. The second line is composed entirely of B-24 Liberator bombers in final assembly stages. Photo via Hometown by Handlebar Blog. Photo

A total off 18,482 B-24s were built by September 1945. At Ford's giant Willow Run plant, which was built to use the "Ford Production System", they built one four-engine Liberator an hour, and by the end of the war a total of 8,700 were delivered from Willow Run alone. Photo