Made with WWII Army Air Corps uniform buttons
Willow Run Bomber Plant and B-24 Liberators
- Witten By Bands For Arms Lead Historian, Suzanne Bosarge
We could not have built the B-24 without women. In a workforce of about 40,000 people, almost half of them were women. Women were important to the B-24s being built successfully here at Willow Run. In fact, it was at the Willow Run Bomber Plant that the original Rosie worked, Rose Munroe.
The Willow Run Bomber Plant was about a 3.5 million square foot factory. The first 50-75 airplanes built here, to put it nicely, were rough. They needed a lot of work. Willow Run was officially known as “Will-It-Run” because of these first airplanes that had to be brought back to the factory numerous times and reengineered before they were successful.
The plant was at full production in June 1944. A fun fact about the plant was that on one end, both assembly lines turn 90 degrees. This was Ford’s genius because he found out that the Wayne County/Washtenaw County Line ran right next to the plant, so he turned the factory 90 degrees to avoid having to pay Wayne County any tax money. This saved approximately $300 US per bomber.
The total number of B-24 Liberator Bombers built at the Willow Run Bomber Plant in Michigan is 8,685.
Because the B-24 had double bombays, the Germans’ assumption was they could carry twice as many bombs as the B-17. In practice, they usually carried about 50% more bombs because if you did the longer missions it required more fuel on board and an airplane’s total load is of course its fuel plus its cargo, or its passengers. That was enough, however, to get the B-24 prioritized as a target for the Germans, so they would always try to shoot down the B-24s first. The B-24 carried gunners: two side gunners, a nose gunner, a tail gunner, a top turret, and a bottom turret. Any bomber that showed a weakness in formation would be instantly singled out by the German fighters and shot down shortly thereafter.
The Norden M1 bombsight was our top secret bombsight used in B-24s. This was a very early computer in a way because the bombardier could compensate for the airplane’s speed, the airplane’s wind drift angle, the bomb’s drift angle, and maybe most importantly, the bombardier could actually fly the airplane via the autopilot through the Norden bombsight, deliver or pickle the bombs, and then turn the controls back over to the pilot. The Norden was crucial in increasing our bombing accuracy, and because of its top secret nature, we had to install autodestruct explosive charges on each bombsight.
In the cockpit is the navigator’s observation dome. He’d get up there with a sextant and take either a starshot or a sunshot, depending on the time of day, to get the aircraft’s rough latitude longitude position on the earth’s surface. When sitting in the cockpit chair, the pilot’s and navigator’s head are extremely close to the unarmored dome of the cockpit and were heavily unprotected from gunfire in those seats, which could account partially for the heavy losses obtained by air crews. The 8th Air Force suffered heavier total losses than any ground unit in WWII. All we asked these young crewmen – 19, 20, 21 years old – was to just give us 25 combat missions in this unarmored, unheated, and unpressurized cockpit and they would have enough points to rotate stateside. That was actually a fairly difficult threshold, 25 combat missions, without getting shot down, injured, becoming a POW, or be missing in action. As the war expanded eastward toward Berlin, and we finished more bombers, we needed more bomber crews, not less, so the threshold then changed to 35 combat missions, and then later to 50. There are only two known crews that ever did 50 combat missions and of course those crews were not intact.