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Early tank production at the Army Tank Aresenal
Early tank production at the Army Tank Arsenal. Photo courtesy Albert Kahn Associates

Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant

This tank arsenal was the first ever built for mass production of American tanks. When World War II erupted in Europe, and Germany began using tanks in its Blitzkrieg offensives, the United States did not have a tank production program. By mid-1940, the U.S. realized it needed an armored force separate from its infantry. In response to this need, the Detroit Tank Arsenal Plant sprang up seemingly overnight in the winter of 1940-'41, on 113 acres of farm land located north of downtown Detroit, in what is now the city of Warren. The mammoth structure measured five city blocks deep and two blocks wide, designed by master industrial architect, Albert Kahn, in the Moderne style.

Owned by the government and run by Chrysler, the plant received its first contract to build 1,000 M3 tanks in 1940. The government accepted the first M3 on April 24, 1941, while the plant was still under construction. The delivery was marked by a festive occasion, broadcast over a nationwide radio hook-up. VIPs and plant workers cheered as the tank fired its guns, smashed telephone poles, and destroyed a mock-up house. The plant also built M4 Sherman tanks, which have a turret mounted 75-mm gun. The plant set an all-time monthly production record by delivering 896 M4s in December 1942. As the war ended, the government suspended tank production.

During World War II, the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant built a quarter of the 89,568 tanks produced in the U.S. overall. Its production closely matched tank production of either Great Britain or Germany. During the Korean War, the plant was modified to build the new battle tank, the M47 Patton. In all, Chrysler built 3,443 M47 Patton tanks between 1952 and 1954. During the '60s, the plant produced 500 of the superior M60A2 tanks, which had a novel turret mounted on an M60 chassis and featured a 152-mm gun launcher that fired both conventional rounds and a guided missile. In response to the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the plant was producing a record five tanks per day.

In 1979, the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant built components for M1 tanks, which were built at the Lima Art Tank Plant, and continued to build M60 tanks. Because the Lima Plant could not keep up the M1 production, the Detroit Tank Arsenal plant also began producing M1s for the army. In 1982, Chrysler sold the plant to General Dynamics, which produced both M60s and M1s until 1987. The plant was closed in 1996, and the government transferred the property to city of Warren, where it is located, for reuse and development.

Documentation includes the publication, Tanks and Industry, The Detroit Arsenal, 1940-1954, an eight-page overview and chronology, 13 black-and-white photographs, and a videotape.

Originally submitted by: Carl Levin, Senator.

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The Local Legacies project provides a "snapshot" of American Culture as it was expressed in spring of 2000. Consequently, it is not being updated with new or revised information with the exception of "Related Website" links.

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