What Was Evansville, Indiana’s Major Role in WWII?
Evansville, Indiana, is home to a lot of things. From the Willard Library, Mesker Park Zoo, casinos, and more. However, do you know what vital roles this Southern Indiana town undertook in part of the war effort? At the onset of the war, Evansville's manufacturing would become critical in how the war would be fought.
America wasn't at war...yet
Due to the Lend-Lease Act that was passed into law on March 11th, 1941 Americans were already helping with aiding foreign allied nations by lending necessary items to help with the war efforts. This was a system that would allow for the sharing of goods to help defend countries vital to the defense of the United States. The American Industrial world was already sending supplies abroad such as food, and supplies that were growing increasingly scarce in the European countries as the war progressed through the continent. By the end of that year, China and the Soviet Union would also be on the receiving end of American-made weapons and goods. This was all due to Franklin D. Roosevelt's pledge that the US would be a "great arsenal of democracy." This along with financial reasons lingering from the years of the Great Depression and patriotic duty is why Evansville entered into the war effort in a dramatic way.
In February of 1942, shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Evansville got to work. After the attack, the country had no choice but to respond. The area was selected for a new 45-acre naval shipyard on the downtown riverfront. The shipyard was operated by the Missouri Valley Bridge and Iron Company based out of Leavenworth, Kansas, under a contract with the U.S. Navy. Six other Evansville-based companies were also involved with the construction and design of the shipyard. A staggering 19,000 men and women of multiple races were employed at the shipyard. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill highlighted the indispensable manufacturing of the LSTs and at one point stated "the destinies of two great empires seem to be tied up in some God-damned things called LSTs.”
What is an LST?
LST is an abbreviation for, Landing Ship Tank. These particular watercraft were built for beach landings to disembark troops, tanks, and other varieties of military vehicles. During the operation of the shipyard, 165 LST crafts were made along with 24 ships, and 35 other war crafts. The last ship launched here was on December 12th, 1945. The use of LSTs became incredibly versatile, being transformed into hospital ships, and repair ships. and to be used for observation plane launches.
LSTs were put to work during the D-Day campaign, transporting more than 41,000 injured soldiers across the English Channel after the Normandy Invasion. LSTs were good and sturdy watercraft, out of the 10 Evansville-made that went down, it wasn't due to faulty manufacturing, they fell in casualty as a result of taking on enemy fire. “This bunch of country boys,” Evansville shipyard worker Roman Ritzert would recall, “built good ships—ships that didn’t sink.”
Even though the Republic Aviation Corporation had its roots planted in Farmingdale New York, the company president, Ralph S. Damon, had ties with the Evansville area. And through his connections, he put into place plans to build military fighting aircraft. A production space was erected near the airport and the workers jumped to the task at hand even before the factory had walls. Often workers would borrow garages to build plane parts. In fact, about the same time the aviation factory got its roof installed, the very first P-47 was rolled off the assembly line. With this kind of remarkable beginning to the plant, as many as 14 planes were being built daily and sometimes those numbers even reached as many as 30 per day. All thanks to the 5,000 employees at Republic Aviation, half of those being women.
The aircraft was said to have had the nickname "the jug" as it somewhat resembled an upside-down milk jug. The P-47 had a 40-foot-9-inch wingspan and from the nose to tail, its length was around 36 feet long. With top-out speeds reaching 436 miles an hour, the plane also boasted having eight mounted .50 caliber Browning machine guns, 10 unguided missiles, with an onboard freight of upwards of 2,500 pounds in bombs. The P-47 was a heavy hitter on the war front and was piloted by men from all over the world to fight against a common enemy. During the span of the war, pilots achieved 3,752 air-to-air kills and destroyed 8,000 railroad cars, 9,000 locomotives, 6,000 armored vehicles, and 68,000 trucks resulting in a crippling blow to Nazi transport systems and the military regime.
Overtaking the Evansville Chrysler Plant
In addition to all the military craft being built in Evansville, other operations were going on as well. 46 other local companies were willing and eager to join with war effort productions, and a large one to note was the Chrysler plant. Before the war, the plant built cars such as the Plymouth in numbers mounting around 275 a day. But with the focus now being the war in Europe, the plant changed things up on the production lines and rolled out munitions instead.
The factory would produce .30 and .40 caliber cartridges to be sent to the battlegrounds of the pacific. The plant also helped rebuild Sherman Tanks and other military vehicles. Workers at the Chrysler plant repaired and reinforced over 5,600 Sherman tanks and Army trucks. The plant's slogan during the war was "bullets by the billions" and they certainly let no one down in their efforts. 96% of all .45 caliber rounds produced in the country were manufactured right here in Evansville.
How to experience the history firsthand
Visit the Evansville Wartime Museum from Noon to 4 pm Thursday- Sunday. General Admission is $11.00, youth 5-17 $8, and Children 0-5 free with discounted admission for military, veterans, and first responders. The museum's address is 7503 Petersburg Road in Evansville, IN.
Visit the USS LST-325! This is the only operational LST configuration in the country. The ship offers guided tours every day Tuesday through Sunday 10 am - 4 pm. Admission rates for adults are $15, youth 6-17 $7.50, and children 5 and under are free.
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