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Thu, May 17, 2018

New Book Looks At Great Lakes Region's Contribution To WWII

Included The World's Largest Building Where B-24 Liberators Were Assembled

When FDR determined that the United States and its industrial base would become “The Arsenal of Democracy”, the heart of that institution was to be the Great Lakes region and the blood that would give it life was the red iron ore that fed the blast furnaces where the steel was produced which became the backbone of the war effort. A new book by Wes Oleszewski ... whom you probably recognize as the artist behind "Klyde Morris" ... looks at the contributions of the region to the war effort.

Canada was the first North American nation to enter the war and a fleet of cargo vessels went from the fresh water seas and joined the battle of the Atlantic. Their sacrifice has for many years been obscured in history. In this book, for the first time, those stories are detailed as well as the stories of the U-boats that set upon them.

As the war drew near to the United States entering the conflict the sleeping giant of the nation’s manufacturing awakened. This book looks at the automobile factories that answered the call and began to manufacture war products. The last to enter the fight was the huge Ford facilities in Michigan. At the little-known place called Willow Run, Edsel Ford led the construction of, what was then the largest building in the world in order to assemble the B-24 Liberator. Those huge aircraft eventually were being produced at the rate on one bomber per hour and that story is in this book. Other plants in the area were already turning out tanks, half tracks, radial engines, jeeps and every other imaginable implement of war fighting from ammunition belt fasteners to artillery guns.

Presented in detail in the book is the story of  the shores of Lake Michigan where submarines were being mass-produced while the only two side-wheel propelled aircraft carriers ever commissioned in the US Navy sailed upon the lake’s surface training new pilots.

The dependence on iron ore made one tiny point on the Great Lakes the most critical target in the war. This was the locks at Sault Saint Marie Michigan, which was the choke point in ore shipping. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Sault Saint Marie rapidly became the most heavily guarded place in North America; one enemy bombing raid could literally have lost the war.

Oddly, among all of this war-time security and production, the Great Lakes region was peppered with POW camps containing captured German and Italian soldiers. Local folks in farm country found POW camps springing up overnight, literally in the back yards.

It is all this activity that “The Great Lakes & World War II” explores in extreme detail and with a touch of humor that you might expect from an aviation cartoonist.

(Image provided by the author courtesy of the Yankee Air Museum)



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