One of the more stunning Chrysler accomplishments of World War II was the building of Bofors guns. A complex Swedish design, built largely by hand, it was expensive but much better than anything else at the time. Chrysler engineers said they did not understand entirely how the 120-round-per-minute guns worked, so they did what they could to use stamped and sintered-metal rather than machined parts, and examined broken units to see what wore out. They could not simplify the mechanism — and could not examine it until high speed filming was developed near the end of the war.
Challenges included translating the drawings from Swedish — and from metric units; and blueprints were both less precise than needed and backwards from American practice, finally reading from the “wrong” angle. For the Navy, Chrysler also had to convert it into a twin-barrel design with water cooling. Then they discovered that the Swedish craftsman were not making them to the blueprint specifications anyway.
Chrysler made 60,000 guns at a price that was a fraction of Bofors’ ticket, in a time faster than the Swedish company could have managed, and continually improved their accuracy, firing rate (to 140 rounds/minute), and lifespan. They were also used by PT boats against other ships. The guns had over a thousand parts; redesigning ten items ended up saving 7.5 million pounds of material and 1.9 million man-hours in a single year while eliminating the need for 30 machines. Chrysler’s parts were often made with greater precision by unskilled labor than they had been by highly skilled Swedish craftsmen.
The Navy appears to have appreciated the new weapons, actually telegraphing Chrysler Corporation with the creations’ serial numbers when their guns shot down enemy planes. A press release from early 1944 noted that Chrysler-built 40 mm anti-aircraft guns mounted on one battleship knocked out 32 Japanese plans in the South Pacific, in a single battle. Full story.
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