Historic California Posts, Camps, Stations and Airfields
Richmond Tank Depot
 
An M4A3(75) "Sherman" Tank at Ford's Richmond Assembly Plant adjacent tot he Richmond Tank Depot
 
The Richmond Tank Depot was a leased Army installation adjacent to the Ford Motor Company's Richmond Assembly Plant which manufactured M4 tanks and GPW "Jeep" 1/4 ton command and reconnaissance vehicles. Tanks were received from Ford and stored until they shipped to the San Francisco Port of Embarkation or other designation via the on site rail siding
 
The site was garrisoned by Detachment 2, 9370th Ordnance Technical Service Unit (San Francisco Ordnance District)
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US Army Corps of Engineers Sacramento District (1994)

During 1944, the War Department acquired 7.53 acres of land for the Richmond Tank Depot site. A license for 0.033 acre of land was acquired by donation and two leaseholds were acquired for a total of 7.56 acres of land.

The Richmond Tank Depot (San Francisco Ordnance Procurement District) was located within the City of Richmond, in Contra Costa County, California. The site was utilized by the War Department for open storage of vehicles in transit. The only documented improvements were railroad tracks, existing pavement, and other undefined surface improvements within the right-of-way.

In 1945, the two leaseholds and one license were terminated for a total disposal of 7.56 acres of land. The acquisition and disposal totals did not account for 0.003 of the 0.033 acre of licensed land; only 0.03 of an acre was accounted for in the totals. A restoration clause was one of the stipulations in the license for the right-of-way.

 

US Army Corps of Engineer Maps


Corps of Engineers Real Estate Map

Aerial Image of the installation.

 

Ford Motor Company History

During the sixteen years prior to 1935, the United States manufactured thirty-three tanks. Between 1935 and 1940, the nation produced 1,000 tanks. In the period 1940-1945, the Arsenal of Democracy produced 87,619 tanks, in addition to tens of thousands of other combat vehicles. The Richmond Tank Depot was but a small component of America's huge technological system developed to manufacture fighting vehicles, but it played an integral role in that critical portion of the system between the tank factories and the Ports of Embarkation, where the army loaded tanks and other ordnance on ships and sent them overseas to U.S. Army units, U.S. Marine Corps units, and the fighting forces of England, the Soviet Union, and other Allies.

To manufacture the combat vehicles it needed. Ordnance contracted with a wide variety of companies possessing the physical plant required, include manufacturers of cars and trucks, farm machinery, and railroad cars and locomotives. The following table lists just a sampling of the kinds of combat vehicles made and the companies that produced them:

 Combat Vehicle

 Manufacturers

Peacetime Production
 M5 Light Tank
American Car and Foundry
Cadillac (Detroit, MI)
Cadillac (Southgate, CA)
Massey-Harris
Railroad Cars
Automobiles
Automobiles
Farm Tractors
 M4 Medium Tank
American Locomotive
Baldwin Locomotive
Detroit Arsenal
Fisher Coach Works
Ford Motor Company
Lima Locomotive
Pacific Car
Pullman Standard
Locomotives
Locomotives
Tanks
Automobile Bodies
Automobile
Locomotives
Railroad Cars
Railroad Cars
 M2 Halftrack Carriers
Autocar Co.
White Motor Co.
Trucks
Trucks
 M3 Halftrack Carriers
Autocar Co.
White Motor Co.
Diamond T Motors
International Harvester
Trucks
Trucks
Trucks
Trucks and Tractors

As the U.S. Army began increasing the output of tanks and other combat vehicles in 1940 and 1941, it recognized a bottleneck in the system. Manufacturers that had contracted to produce tanks would roll nearly finished vehicles off their assembly lines, but sometimes the tanks would sit on lots outside the factories for weeks awaiting accessories, like radios and small arms, or awaiting shipping orders. The delays were not the fault of the contractors but rather of Ordnance, which had the responsibility of supplying the accessories and making sure each tank was properly outfitted for its particular destination. Such delays sometimes slowed production, because contractors did not have sufficient storage space. The delays also depressed morale among factory workers, who were being asked to speed production to assist the nation's war preparedness only to see tanks sitting idly on the ground. The Ordnance Department therefore decided to establish tank depots, under the command of a new Intermediate Storage and Depot Unit, where nearly-finished tanks would await final outfitting. Ordnance started its first tank depot in January 1942 in leased shops of the New York Central Railroad at Toledo, Ohio, contracting with the Electric Auto-Lite Company to operate it. A few months later it contracted with the Ford Motor Company to establish tank depots at the branch plants at Chester and Richmond, the former primarily for processing vehicles to be shipped from the East Coast and the latter primarily for processing vehicles to be shipped from the West Coast. In December 1942, Ordnance moved its Ohio tank depot from Toledo to Lima, and the United Motors Service Division of General Motors took over the operation. Ordnance also had a depot at Longe Pointe in Montreal, Quebec, which processed American-made tanks prior to their shipment to Great Britain under the lend-lease program.

To appreciate the role of Richmond and the other tank depots, it is important to understand their position within the larger Ordnance scheme for managing the nation's production of tanks and other vehicles. The tank depots were part of the Tank Depot Section, which was one small unit within the Tank-Automotive Center, Detroit (later renamed Office of the Chief of Ordnance - Detroit), the creation of which has already been described. Within the organizational structure of the T-AC, major organizational components were each divided into two tiers of staff units and operating units. Staff units had responsibility for various administrative functions, while operating units managed actual operating functions at that particular level in the hierarchy. Thus, T-AC, under the command of the Deputy Chief of Ordnance/Chief of Center, was divided into several branches. The staff branches were designated Executive, Control, and Legal, and there were several sections under them, such as the Policy, Organizational Planning, and Statistics sections under the Control Branch and the Publications, Security, and Fiscal sections under the Executive Branch. There were five operating branches: Development, Engineering, Manufacturing, Supply, and Maintenance. Each operating branch was in turn divided into two tiers of staff sections and operating sections. Planning and Control, Statistics, and Inspection were among the staff sections in the Manufacturing Branch. The Tank Depot Section was one of six operating sections in the Manufacturing Branch, the others being Tanks & Combat Vehicles, Transport Vehicles, Parts & Supplies, Tools & Equipment, and Miscellaneous Products.

As Ordnance was developing the system of tank depots, it recognized that it would have to coordinate closely with the Signal Corps, the branch of the army responsible for procuring, inspecting, and supplying fighting units with radios and other communications equipment. As an organization within the U.S. Army, the Signal Corps went back to just before the Civil War and the work of Albert J. Myer, who developed a code to be used with flags for transmitting information over distances beyond earshot. He continued to serve the army's communications needs during the Civil War and after. In 1880, the army officially created the Signal Corps, and Myer become its general. The Signal Corps was responsible for adapting new communications technologies to military purposes, including the telegraph, hot-air balloons, the telephone, and the wireless radio. In the two years prior to the establishment of the tank depots and America's entry into the war, the Signal Corps was just finishing its adaptation for military use of the FM radio equipment developed for police work by a man named Fred Link. With the help of Bell Laboratories and Western Electric, the Signal Corps was perfecting sets of short-range FM transmitters and receivers that allowed voice communications within and between tanks and other combat vehicles. The Signal Corps would be responsible for inspecting the installation of this equipment by workers at the tank depots. Other Signal Corps equipment installed in tanks by workers at the tank depots included flashlights and flag sets. Working through the Ordnance Department, the Signal Corps was also responsible for seeing that manufacturers produced tanks and other vehicles that were prepared to receive appropriate radio installations.

The San Francisco Ordnance District received instructions from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance in May 1942 to begin the preliminary work of establishing a tank depot in the Bay Area. By then, the Richmond branch had been assembling jeeps for several months. A short time later, an officer in Washington called the Ford Motor Company to inquire about the availability of the Richmond branch to prepare tanks for shipment overseas. Ford's Richmond plant made an ideal facility because of ample outdoor space for storing vehicles and good access for shipping by both rail and sea. On 12 July, the San Francisco Ordnance District received official notification that the Richmond branch was to serve as a tank depot and that the Ordnance Department had chosen the military officers who would supervise the installation. The actual contract no. W-833-Ord-2676 between the War Department and the Ford Motor Company was dated 20 July 1942. It was a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract aimed at handling the equivalent of 250 tanks each month for a year. It stated that Ford would receive, store, prepare, complete, modify, and pack vehicles of many kinds, including light, medium, and heavy tanks, tank destroyers, heavy wrecking trucks, half-track vehicles and personnel carriers, and scout cars. The Richmond Tank Depot would also receive spare parts and accessories for those vehicles and prepare them for shipping. Destinations for vehicles, parts, and accessories would be both domestic and foreign. Under the contract. Ford would commit the entire craneway (40,000 square feet) plus 15,000 square feet of interior space adjacent to the craneway, 23,400 square feet on the pier, and 77,000 square feet of parking space.

When the tank-depot contract was signed, the Richmond branch was using the craneway to box jeeps for shipment abroad. That operation had to be moved outside immediately. Shortly thereafter. Ford built a boxing shed along the east side of the plant to facilitate the crating of jeeps and other vehicles. To make way for Ordnance Department staff. Ford created offices in the branch showroom. The assembly room was converted into an employment office (including waiting room and physical examination room), and an office for the Signal Corps. Ford remodeled the west end of the oil house for use as Ordnance's executive office. By August 8th, Ordnance had already assigned 400 vehicles to the Richmond Tank Depot. Shipping orders were in hand for 225 of them, and 121 had actually arrived. Processing the first vehicles progressed slowly, however, because Ford workers were still getting used to the new kinds of work, and there were shortages of parts and equipment such as radios and guns that were to be installed at Richmond. Ford employees worked eight-hour days and six-day weeks.

As Ford's managers at Richmond were organizing themselves to supervise the work of a tank depot, the San Francisco Ordnance District had to organize its formal presence at the Richmond plant. During August, the depot's first month of operation, three military officers (one from the Signal Corps and two from Ordnance) and twenty-three civilian Ordnance employees organized an office. There was relatively little ordnance being shipped through Richmond yet, so the new personnel had a chance to get used to new procedures and help the Ford people do the same. To make security at the plant easier. Ordnance required that all of its employees wear identification of the Ford Motor Company's workers. The volume of ordnance arriving at the Richmond Tank Depot increased dramatically in September and continued to do so thereafter. Part of the increase was due to tanks being processed for the British. The first official representative of the British Army, Sgt. H. A. MacKenzie, joined the staff at the Richmond Tank Depot in September, and a civilian representative arrived in November, both working in connection with the Lend-Lease Program. Some time later, they were joined by Maj. G. Alexeev, a liaison officer representing the Soviet Government Purchasing Commission. On 1 October 1942, jurisdiction for the jeep contract transferred from the Quartermaster Corps to the Ordnance Department. As a consequence, seven civilians from the Quartermaster Corps working at the Richmond branch transferred to Ordnance. The end of 1942 found the staff of the Ordnance Department struggling to keep up with the volume of work demanded of them at the Richmond Tank Depot.

Richmond was not the only Ordnance installation experiencing difficulties. With the rapid mobilization of production, manufacturers found many materials in short supply. There was a nationwide shortage of the steel alloy needed for tracks, so manufacturers appealed to the War Production Board for the necessary materials. Early in the tank depot program, therefore, tank manufacturers took advantage of the depots, shipping to them tanks that were still missing parts for which the contractors were responsible, such as tracks. Tanks at depots in November 1942 were missing an average of forty specified items. In January 1943, General Christmas issued an order forbidding factories from shipping tanks that were not fully equipped with items for which the producers were responsible. By March, inspections showed that tanks at depots were missing only three items on average.

These problems manifested themselves at the Richmond Tank Depot as well. From the outset, arriving tanks were missing important pieces of equipment that manufacturers should have provided. Late in September 1942, the Ordnance staff at the Richmond depot received an order from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance stating, "Ship no Vehicles from the Depot until on-vehicle materiel is complete for the vehicles on hand." The depot was not able to ship its first group of fully equipped tanks until 19 October 1942. Meanwhile, the Tank-Automotive Center, Detroit, authorized Richmond and the other tank depots to report incomplete tanks to the army Inspector of Ordnance at the respective plants from which the tanks had been shipped. Shortages on tanks decreased gradually through the fall until December, when Richmond received its first tank fully equipped by the manufacturer: Cadillac Division, General Motors Corporation, Southgate, California. Richmond also had difficulty procuring the equipment it was responsible for placing on the tanks prior to shipment. Again, the Tank-Automotive Center placed its own authority at Richmond's disposal in helping to secure the needed supplies. Nevertheless, tank shipments from the Richmond facility grew monthly through the end of the year.'

The Richmond branch quickly became so adept at receiving, modifying, and shipping vehicles that by the end of 1942 it had already shipped 1,720 vehicles, or more than half its expected yearly total. Major Reed, the commanding officer of the Richmond Tank Depot, anticipated that the Ford workers would be able to ship more than 1,000 vehicles in each of the months of January and February 1943. To maintain such a delivery schedule. Ford agreed, at the army's request, to increase the amount of space at the plant available to the tank-depot function. Moreover, once the workers had gained experience, they would be able to complete work on the tanks and other combat vehicles at about two-thirds the cost that had been estimated. In light of these accomplishments. Major Reed recommended the Ford Motor Company, Richmond branch, for an Army and Navy "E" Award in January 1943, just six months into the contract. The Richmond Tank Depot received the award in July 1943.

A year into its operation, the Richmond Tank Depot under the command of Maj. Dick R. Reed had an Ordnance Department staff of five military officers (including Reed) and some sixty Civil Service employees. Reed headed the Executive Office, which also included an executive assistant and two secretaries. Capt. M.L. Taylor was in charge of the Inspection Section, which also included Leo A. Young, chief inspector for Tank Depot operations, G.U. McFadden, chief inspector for the jeep production contract, two secretaries, and sixteen inspectors, four of whom were women. Lt. H.H. Josephs was the Property Officer. He headed a Property Section comprised of one assistant and fifteen clerical workers, fourteen of whom were women. Roscoe B. Smith, a civilian, headed the Fiscal Section, which had a time checker and two accountants, both women. Capt. G.W. Allyn represented the Field Service, and he was also the Executive Officer in Reed's absence. In addition, the Signal Corps had a contingent of one officer, Lt. Vincent J. Zumpano, and twelve civilians, four of whom were women. In October 1943, Zumpano was transferred to Philadelphia and replaced at the head of the Signal Corps staff by Lt. E.D. Cames.

A year after it began operations, the Richmond Tank Depot was receiving and processing hundreds of vehicles each month. The Richmond plant received those vehicles from Ordnance Depots and various manufacturers, including Cadillac, Chevrolet, Ford, Fisher Body, Pacific Car, Pullman, American Locomotive, Kenworth. White Truck. Diamond-T. International Harvester. Allis Chalmers, and John Deere.

Another tally showing the complexity of operations at the Richmond Tank Depot comes from a report for October 1943, when the facility received 2,528 vehicles and shipped 1,413. Of those shipped, 537 were crated for overseas delivery to U.S. forces, and 158 were shipped under the Lend-Lease program. At the end of the month, there were 3,280 vehicles on the grounds at the tank depot representing thirty-one different models, including five kinds of tanks as well as armored cars, several kinds of half-tracks, motor carriages for assorted large gun configurations (howitzers, multiple gun arrays, etc.), and numerous tractors, light, medium, and heavy trucks, cranes and wrecker trucks, and landing vehicles. That month, the Richmond Tank Depot also embarked on a new program of repairing and overhauling tanks and half-tracks that had been damaged during practice exercises at various army training bases in the western U. S. At the beginning of October, Ford had 672 men and 248 women working on the tank-depot contract. By the end of the month, the number of men increased to 753, but the number of women dropped to 227. Ford also made some physical changes at the facility to better accommodate rainy weather during the winter months. Construction crews built a loading dock along the east side of the plant and a shed-roof over the #2 track. Beginning October 12, crews at the depot also moved all stored vehicles to a lot across Hall Avenue so that fill could be added to the storage lot at the Ford branch and the surface graded to allow improved drainage. During the previous rainy season much of the operation around the Richmond Tank Depot had been mired in mud.

The volume of vehicles that moved through Richmond in October mirrored activity at the Chester and Lima tank depots as well. That month, the three depots shipped a total of 13,562 vehicles and processed even more. This was because the nation's and the tank depots' capacity of production exceeded the capacity of the nation's ships and ports of embarkation to ferry the ordnance to overseas theatres. The total number of vehicles in inventory at the three tank depots was 10,282 on October 1st. At the end of the month, they collectively held 14,105 vehicles. With so many vehicles in reserve, the Ordnance Department had the depots maintain a more level rate of production and eliminate much of the overtime that had been logged during previous months trying to rush crucial orders to the front.

At the end of the war, the Tank Depot Branch of the Engineering & Manufacturing Division, OCO-D, compared the nature and number of vehicles processed and shipped by Richmond with those shipped by the other tank depots as follows:

This Depot has handled primarily West Coast export and domestic shipments and the volume of vehicles handled to date has not been as great as for the Chester and Lima Tank Depots. It is also to be noted that, whereas Chester and Lima Tank Depots handle similar type vehicles, the Richmond Tank Depot has handled models and types dis-similar in some respects from other Depots. For instance, this Depot has handled very few vehicles for lend-lease agencies but has handled almost 100 per cent of Marine Corps requirements for Ordnance vehicles.

As mentioned above, the Richmond Tank Depot processed and shipped 55,904 vehicle units during the war. Chester and Lima processed and shipped 152,300 vehicle units and 91,079 vehicle units, respectively. Richmond supplied nearly all of the combat vehicles for the Marine Corps because the Marines were largely responsible for the amphibious landings used in capturing islands from the Japanese during the war in the Pacific.

The Richmond Tank Depot had a steady stream of vehicles to process throughout the war years, but occasionally the War Department made special requests of the workers at the plant. One such instance occurred in spring 1944. Early on the afternoon of Saturday, March 18, Maj. W. Delbert Ball, the new commanding officer who had arrived at the Richmond Tank Depot in January, received a message from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance - Detroit stating that the U.S. Army had an urgent need for sixty carloads totaling 120 landing vehicles, and those vehicles had to depart Richmond within forty-eight hours by special train to New York. (Could it be that these landing vehicles would be sent from New York to England in preparation for the D-Day invasion?) The entire workforce. Ordnance and Ford employees alike, worked long hours through the weekend and met the forty-eight hour deadline. Some workers endured a sixteen hour workday, went home for only four hours rest, and then returned to help finish the job. The Richmond Tank Depot had already received Army-Navy "E" Awards for excellence in production for the war effort over long periods. For their efforts on that weekend, workers at Richmond received an immediate telegram from the Office of the Chief of Ordnance stating, "Richmond's performance in recent urgent shipment most outstanding accomplishment and great contribution to war effort.

The Ford management and production workers at the Richmond branch were judicious in the expenditure of energy, and they were not willing to exhaust themselves needlessly. That attitude was demonstrated that same spring when the Richmond Tank Depot received word that the U.S. Army needed hundreds of 2-1/2 ton 6x6 trucks to be cut in half and then bolted back together prior to shipment overseas. The purpose of the exercise was to prepare the trucks so that they could be shipped to an air field, unbolted, loaded into transport planes, flown to the battlefront, and then bolted back together for use in supplying troops. Each truck modified would be worth 1.7 contractual units. OCO-D told Richmond it would send modification kits for the job, setting a deadline of April 15. Trucks began arriving the first week in April, and crews began modifying a few trucks each day in the absence of kits or instructions. OCO-D pressured Richmond to get the rate up to 100 trucks per day. By authorizing overtime and instituting other emergency measures, the Tank Depot got its rate up to fifty trucks per day by April 20. Even as OCO-D was urging greater output. Major Ball contacted the ports and found that there were no shipping orders for the trucks he was readying. Despite the pressure from above, he therefore maintained output at fifty trucks per day, continuing to authorize overtime to meet that rate. The Richmond Tank Depot completed the order on May 10, but then the crated trucks sat on the lot for more than a month, occupying valuable storage and work space. After the episode. Ball reported to his superiors that the experience had demoralized both the management and the union at the Richmond plant.

By the spring of 1943, the U.S. government had spent $250,000,000 paying contractors to build and equip sixteen factories for producing tanks at an aggregate capacity of 7,705 vehicles per month. The companies were producing tanks at a rate of about 4,000 per month, and output was starting to meet the demand. Recognizing that it had built surplus capacity for the production of tanks. Ordnance began to discontinue some of the sixteen contracts for tanks. Four were terminated in October 1943 and four more the following year. That brought the capacity to make tanks down to about 4,000 per month, but by then output had dropped to about 2,000 per month. These changes yielded some improvements in the overall system, however, as labor and machine-tool shortages in the tank industry were largely alleviated. Shortages of tanks on the battlefront continued, though, because commanders wanted evermore of the newer units. In 1944 and early 1945, Ordnance again tried to increase production, but shortages in tools, capacity, and labor precluded the output meeting demand. As an alternative to building new tanks. Ordnance embarked on a program of remanufacturing tanks and other combat vehicles. This involved reconditioning units that had been used for training troops in the U.S. before they were shipped overseas. These vehicles, which tended to be older, were sent to manufacturers to have their engines overhauled, worn tracks replaced, and guns reconditioned. Then, after a new coat of paint, the remanufactured combat vehicles were ready to battle, at about half the cost of building a comparable new vehicle.

The Richmond Tank Depot was also involved in some of the remanufacture programs, beginning in 1943. In subsequent years, Richmond continued to participate in the program. In 1944, for example. Ordnance had 300 light tanks stored at Yermo, California, that had originally been consigned to the Chinese government. The British had a greater need for the tanks and convinced Ordnance to repossess them, requesting that the Richmond Tank Depot modify them to meet British specifications. Richmond began shipping the modified tanks by rail to the New York Port of Embarkation in July.

Richmond's record of performance reflected the national manufacturing trend, although Richmond's peak of production came, not surprisingly, some months later than tank manufacturers' peak of production since Richmond was processing vehicles already shipped from factories elsewhere. Richmond's peak month for vehicles shipped was May 1944 when the depot shipped more than 2,800 tanks and trucks. Richmond's peak month for contractual units shipped was June 1944 when the depot shipped more than 2,400 units (that being the month when the depot modified a large number of the 2-1/2-ton trucks worth 1.7 units each). During the second half of 1943 and the first half of 1944, Richmond's production had been fairly steady at about 1,600 vehicles worth about 1,200 units. After the peaks in 1944, production at Richmond dropped to less than 1,000 contractual units per month for August through December. Responding to the drop in demand. Ford laid-off about 500 workers in October, roughly one- third of the total work force. Then in 1945, production picked-up again, rising to a second peak of nearly 2,000 units in March. Production remained above 1,000 units for the duration of the war.

During the peak production in 1944, so many vehicles had arrived that the Richmond Tank Depot filled the parking space available on the Ford property and secured a nearby island from the Maritime Commission, where LTVs (landing vehicle tracked) could be parked. The vehicles had to be driven through about 400 yards of water to get to the island for parking. In October, Ordnance leased land at Lathrop, in the San Joaquin Valley south of Stockton, and moved the vehicles there, because the rainy season was coming and the island, built of silt, was expected to become too muddy to be serviceable. By the end of the war. Ordnance had leased four separate parcels of land near the Ford property, including ground owned by the Parr- Richmond Terminal Corporation and Filice & Perrelli Canning Company, to store vehicles for which there was insufficient space on the Ford lot. Some vehicles sat on the various lots so long that in December, Ordnance directed Ford to establish a program for inspecting vehicles' fuel systems to determine whether they needed to be degummed. Enough vehicles were in need of such remedial action that Ordnance authorized Ford inspect and degum pilot models of fourteen distinct vehicles so that the contract could be modified to specify a price for inspecting and removing gum from each kind of vehicle. Ordnance also began shipping vehicles from other depots to Richmond for degumming.

The fluctuations in production were frustrating for the Ford Motor Company and the Ordnance commanding officer. Both parties were tying to keep the unit cost as low as possible, which meant that employment levels had to match demand. Yet it was hard for both the managers at Richmond and OCO-D in general to predict demand because situations on the various fronts of the war were nearly impossible to predict. If Ford maintained an employment level that was higher than needed to meet demand, then unit costs rose. If Ford released employees because predicted demand was down, and then the depot received a sudden emergency order for production, the remaining employees would have to work overtime, thus raising the unit costs.

Because the nation was at war, security at the Richmond Plant Depot was a high priority. According to Major Ball, however, this entailed little change from the Ford Motor Company's practices during peacetime. Ford had a department at the Richmond branch called Plant Protection, and the guards who worked for that department changed their practices little on account of the war-production contracts. In addition to securing the property and building, the employees of Plant Protection enforced all of the company's rules and procedures on the premises. This included monitoring time cards and accounting for all materials received and shipped. Plant Protection's duties also extended to enforcing rules like the ban on smoking everywhere on the 43-acre property except the cafeteria. According to Ball, military inspectors who visited the Richmond Tank Depot routinely reported favorably on the Ford's security organization.

Because of the high degree of security imposed on the Richmond Tank Depot's operations, the military shielded the plant from public view, including from newspaper reporters. The Ordnance Department finally opened the plant to reporters in early July 1943, when Colonel Harmon of the San Francisco Ordnance District and Captain Reed, commanding officer of the tank depot, hosted a tour by journalists and photographers representing Bay Area news organizations. Nearly every Bay Area paper featured a prominent article describing the lifting of secrecy at the plant, the kinds of tanks and other combat vehicles being processed, the assembly of jeeps, the large numbers of women working there, and the tasks involved in preparing vehicles for shipment overseas. A story run in The Labor Herald (the newspaper of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, or CIO, for northern California) provides an interesting insight into the extent of secrecy prior to the July 8 tour. Just as Ordnance was hosting the tour, The Labor Herald ran an article about Soviet soldiers fighting the Nazis near Odessa. One of the Soviet soldiers' battle cries was, "Remember Workers in California," because the soldiers knew their tanks came from a city in California, but The Labor Herald could not reveal the name of the city. The paper could only write that CIO members worked on tanks there. Following the tour, however. The Labor Herald was able to publish a follow-up story revealing that those Soviet tanks came from the Richmond Tank Depot.

W.A. Abbott was Ford's plant superintendent during the entire war. Maj. W. Delbert Ball was the commanding officer through October 1944. The following month, Capt. George A. Spiker took charge as commanding officer when Ball was transferred to San Francisco to take charge of Ordnance District's Tank-Automotive Branch.

During the course of the tank-depot contract. Ford sub-contracted some of the work to other companies. W.A. Bechtel in Oakland, as well as Moore Equipment Company, Allison Steel Manufacturing Company, and Stewart & Stevenson, sub-contracted to recondition some GPW units. These were jeeps that had been remanufactured by others, sent to the Richmond Tank Depot for processing and boxing, and then rejected during inspection because of mechanical deficiencies. The sub-contractors were to repair the deficiencies. This was apparently a troublesome process, because numerous vehicles returned to the Richmond Tank Depot were still deficient after inspection. K&D Industries of Sacramento and Harris Manufacturing of Stockton had sub-contracts worth $83,236.24 and $31,040.48, respectively, to prepare vehicles to be stored at Lathrop Holding and Reconsignment Point, one of the extra plots of land leased to store excess vehicles.

As the processing of combat vehicles began to decrease in the spring of 1945, operations at the Richmond Tank Depot were seriously interrupted on May 2, when the partially outfitted SS DREXEL VICTORY side-swiped the waterfront loading dock of the Ford plant as the ship was being tugged from Kaiser's Richmond shipyard no. 2, severely damaging the gantry crane that served the Ford dock. The collapsing gantry crane damaged the brick wall of the plant, which in turn damaged one of the interior overhead cranes in the craneway. The accident also damaged five military vehicles that had been stacked nearby.

Another accident had occurred the previous month that reflected a different sort of laxity as the war drew to a close. On April 14, two Ford workers took an amphibian jeep for an unauthorized cruise in the bay while a group of the vehicles was being prepared for shipment. Ordnance and Ford managers had received instructions not to test the amphibians because they were not yet ready for travel in water, but the workers evidently had not heard or heeded the instructions. The amphibian jeep sank about 100 feet from shore in 30 feet of water. One worker swam to shore, but the other had to be rescued by some nearby Signal Corpsmen. The depot had to hire a barge and diver to locate and retrieve the jeep.

Immediately after V-J Day, the government terminated most contracts for the production of ordnance and other items needed for the war effort. Ford's contract to operate the Richmond Tank Depot was not, however, one of those immediately ended, although within a few days the steady stream of vehicles arriving at the depot for processing ceased. Some vehicles already en route to Richmond did arrive in the days immediately following V-J Day. In September, only 240 vehicles, representing odds and ends from vehicle manufacturers around the country, arrived at Richmond. The last vehicles received by the Richmond Tank Depot were two heavy tanks, which arrived during the first week of October. Meanwhile, more than 4,000 vehicles on the lots in Richmond still had to be processed to make them usable by the U.S. Army. One of the main changes in processing after V-J Day was that workers no longer prepared vehicles for shipment overseas, although some of the vehicles already under order for shipment abroad were still shipped after Japan surrendered. After mid-August, most vehicles were prepared for long-term storage at domestic army depots in Utah and elsewhere in California.

During the first week in September, the Richmond Tank Depot was shipping about thirty vehicles per day. On September 10, Ford transferred 200 workers to Ordnance work and increased the rate to about seventy-five vehicles daily. Ford put workers on a forty-eight hour week on September 15 to increase output further. On 28 September 1945, the Richmond Tank Depot finally received notice that Ford's contract would terminate on October 31. The depot also received the last of many change orders, no. 95, stating that Ford was to provide all labor and materials necessary for dismantling and preparing for shipment all government-owned equipment and other property. The termination notice included an exception for change order no. 95, recognizing that dismantling the government's operation would not be complete by the end of October.

At the beginning of September, there were still more than 1,000 vehicles being stored at the Lathrop facility, and Harris Manufacturing was still engaged in its sub-contract for "preservative maintenance" of the vehicles. Shortly thereafter, the Richmond Tank Depot received orders to ship all those vehicles directly to the Tooele Ordnance Depot in Utah, by-passing Richmond. Ordnance therefore terminated its contract with Harris Manufacturing and took bids from three companies, including Harris, to simply prepare the vehicles for shipment to Tooele. K&D Industries of Sacramento was the low bidder and received the contract, work to be completed by October 24 (later amended to November 13). In the end about 250 of the vehicles stored at Lathrop were sent to Richmond before being shipped to their final destinations. By the end of September, the Richmond Tank Depot had shipped enough vehicles that it was able to vacate all the nearby leased lots except the one being leased from the Parr-Richmond Terminal. Ordnance vacated that last leased lot by the end of October.

The Richmond Tank Depot met its deadline, shipping the last of its vehicles on October 31. Some of the vehicles stored at Lathrop were not shipped, however, until mid-November. By the end of October, the force of Ordnance employees had dropped to forty. Most of them received notices that their employment would end November 17, with a few remaining to complete the paperwork of terminating the contract with Ford. One Ordnance employee, Mary Ambrosio, resigned her Ordnance position in the Property Branch to go to work for Ford.

Source: Ford Motor History

 

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Updated 8 February 2016