The War Years
“December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy.” So began FDR’s speech one day after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. From that day on, the US was at war. In what has been perhaps the finest hour of American citizens coming together with a common purpose, the country very quickly turned into an industrial land with one purpose: winning a war against Germany and Japan. Everyone did their part; from shuttering lights on the coast, to rationing materials, to producing war materials and weapons, to running various programs, to the thousands of people that volunteered to go to war. Helping that effort, the big automotive manufacturers would also play their part in producing various equipment for the government, usually that of large scale items such as airplanes.
DeSoto, after cutting the 1942 model short in the early part of ’42, quickly retooled to produce war equipment as well. After the first contract issued to Chrysler Corporation for tanks, DeSoto Division produced the nose and center fuselage sections and assembled the Martin B-26 Marauder medium bombers. After the Martin Marauder production was phased out, DeSoto Division started on huge sections of the new Boeing B-29 Superfortress – the airplane that would ultimately bring about a quick end to the war. With 16% of the structured manufactured and assembled by DeSoto, including the nose section of the fuselage, engine cowlings, carburetor elbows, and the leading edge of the wings. Other Chrysler Corporations also supplied parts, such as Plymouth and Dodge, the latter producing most of the Wright 18-cylinder radial engines.
Other contributions by DeSoto towards war production included assistance with streamlined bomber gun covers, production Helldiver wing sections, miscellaneous small bomber parts, and gun collars for the Bofors anti-aircraft guns, as well as labor for ammunition production in other facilities. In all, an impressive 86% of Chrysler Corporation’s auto industry equipment was converted to producing war supplies.
After the war concluded in August 1945, it took Chrysler Corporation some time to reconvert facilities back to producing automobiles, further delayed by new sheet metal changes that some other manufacturers did not have to make. As a result, the first DeSotos did not come out until near the end of the year as the new 1946 models.
Source: The Plymouth and DeSoto Story by Don Butler