Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Homefront: Welding M-7 Priests and tanks at ALCO

Can you help? I am hunting for the August, 1942 issue of ALCO's Attack newsletter.

Arc welders at ALCO's Schenectady plant in January, 1943.
Courtesy of The Library of Congress.

On November 23, 1940 The American Locomotive Company was awarded a contract to build the Army’s M-3 medium tank. The first completed tank rolled out less than five months later in April. As production progressed company engineers improved their tank-building techniques. Many of their innovations were so successful they were adopted by the nation’s other tank manufactures. The first of Alco’s M-3 tanks were delivered in December of 1944. From mid 1941 to July of 1943 my grandfather worked as one of the welders at ALCO's Schenectady plant. He told me about his work there: “First I was working on locomotives, then they transferred me to over to the tank division. I welded the outside of the tank. The more experienced first class welders had the inside. I was 2nd class, so I had the outside.” In addition to the M-3 "General Lee" tank, M-4 Sherman, and M-36 "Slugger", Alco was secretly producing M-7 mobile howitzers. Corty also welded the M-7 "Priests" destined for the British 8th Army fighting Rommel. All M-7s used in the North Africa campaign were produced in Schenectady.

In recognition for their important work building tanks the US War Department awarded the Schenectady plant with the Army/Navy E-Award. On August 27, 1942 two thousand Alco employees assembled to witness the award ceremony. I found a report of this event in the Schenectady Gazette, but I am also interested in seeing how this story was treated in ALCO's wartime newsletter, Attack. I am hunting for the August, 1942 issue. I contacted the Schenectady Historical Society. They hold issues of the newsletter, but they don't go back as far as I need. The closest we got was a December 1942 issue that reprinted photos from the August article (see below).


This week I discovered that the University of Syracuse Library holds a large collection of ALCO records. They have issues of Attack newsletter, but again I have hit a dead end. They have issues for April, May, and June 1942, but after that it skips to November!

ALCO received further recognition in April, 1943. British 8th Army commanders came to Schenectady to thank the ALCO workers for their hard work. Now that the M-7 was no longer a secret weapon, the British could publicly thank ALCO's many workers. There was a big to-do with a tank parade down Erie Blvd and a screening of the documentary film, Desert Victory.

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