BERWICK, COLUMBIA COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU)— When World War II broke out in Europe, the U.S. desperately needed firepower on the ground especially armored vehicles so uncle Sam turned to a factory in Columbia County to fill the need.
Berwick was the epicenter of one of the most important pieces of military hardware in World War II the Stuart Tank. The Stuart Tank Memorial Museum on North Vine Street is dedicated to not only the tank but to the thousands from NEPA who worked on the production line. Uncle Sam needed tanks and Berwick came through in a big way.
“It builds a lot of civic pride. The reality is this is the first tank to be built by a private contractor for the military. Going into World War II, the U.S. military only had 300 tanks total.” explained Tom McLaughlin the secretary of Stuart Tank Memorial Assn.
It ended up being the largest production of armor plates in the U.S. during the war. The factory of the American car and foundry was just two blocks away. At its peak, it cranked out 40 Stuart Tanks a day 15,000 in all. This picture from Pennsylvania Avenue in D.C. in 1942 shows a parade of Stuarts every one that was built in Berwick.
The museum’s tank is on loan from the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia and served in the Brazilian Army. In fact, the Stuarts have been used all over the world. One of the most surprising things about Stuart? It’s an engine!
“We have a spare tank engine. People are surprised to find out these tanks had an airplane engines. A 7-cylinder aircraft engine, same as a Stearman biplane from World War I. We purchased that on eBay about 10 years ago,” continued McLaughlin.
The museum is just a year old and it relies on contributors, donors, and volunteers to survive. Visitors have come from all over the world to see what’s inside and donate items.
“Visitors from Australia, Sweden, Germany. People keep bringing in artifacts from relatives who either worked at the factory or served in World War II, so our display keeps growing and we keep changing them out every couple of weeks,” added McLaughlin.
The display includes a flame thrower that would mount inside the tank, and a lens showing the driver’s view when the hatch was closed.
Admission is free.
The Stuart will be on full display the third weekend in July for Berwick’s yearly World War II event.