M4 Sherman Tank at the Packard Proving Grounds in 1943

I was very excited when the Packard Proving Grounds (PPG) Vault Project acquired a number of photos of tanks and other armored vehicles that were tested at the PPG during WWII.  As I was entering the photos into the database, I was particularly intrigued by this one (above).  I had always been curious to see what the inside of the Tank Building looked like when first built onsite by Chrysler in 1943.  This photo shows the original wood and concrete construction.  The beams and columns are made of sandwiched or laminated wood planks for extra strength.  And because metal was being directed to the war effort (for guns, ammo, tanks, etc.), very little was used in the construction of this building and only where necessary for pipes, light fixtures, overhead garage door tracks, and heaters.

This photo also features one of the tanks tested at the PPG: a Sherman M4A3. Further research told me that the M4 Sherman Medium Tank was the most widely-used tank of this size by the US and its allies in WWII.  It was reliable and cheap to produce.  A3 was a sub-type, which differed from other sub-types primarily in the kind of engine used.  For instance, the M4A3 used a liquid-cooled, 450 horsepower, V-8 gasoline engine manufactured by Ford Motor Co.  The tank pictured here was a prototype that featured an experimental spring suspension with wide tracks to distribute weight.  It was given the E8 designation and its smooth ride earned it the nickname “Easy Eight.”  The M4A3E8 tank went into full production in August 1944 at the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant.

During WWII the Detroit Arsenal Tank Plant leased the PPG from Packard to use as its proving ground.  The Tank Plant, located in Warren, Michigan, was designed by Albert Kahn and built in late 1940.  It was owned by the Federal Government but operated by Chrysler.  Like other automobile companies in the early years of WWII, including Packard, Chrysler was switching production from automobiles to war materials for the Arsenal of Democracy and began building M4 tanks in the Warren facility in 1941.

Many of the test drivers that worked at the PPG stayed on to test tanks for Chrysler during the war.  One of these drivers, Carl Altz, was interviewed a few years before his death about his experiences as a tank test driver.  You can watch the interview here:

http://memory.loc.gov/diglib/vhp/story/loc.natlib.afc2001001.58859/

The Tank Building at the PPG was modified by Packard after the war for use as an engineering test laboratory. The building saw many changes at the hands of Packard and other site owners over the years.  I will investigate some of these changes in future articles.