100 Years of Excellence: The ATC Story, Part 5

Excerpted from an article by Lauren Nelson


Truman President Harry S. Truman during his vist to APG on February 17, 1951.

On August 2, 1948, an entire vehicle convoy departed Development and Proof Services (D&PS) on a 24,000-mile road test. Dubbed “Operation Greaseball,” its purpose was to analyze new and improved lubricants. The convoy traversed the country, taking eight months to complete the journey. Each vehicle was tested extensively under various conditions, like the extreme heat of the Mojave Desert and the freezing cold of winter in Alaska.

In June 1950, North Korean forces invaded U.S.-supported South Korea as Cold War tensions caused by the division of Korea at the end of World War II increased. As the United States moved to aid South Korea against the invasion, D&PS raced to pick up the pace of testing. Construction projects and new developments were taken up with renewed vigor from where they had been left off at the end of WWII.

President Harry S. Truman visited APG on February 17, 1951, and emphasized the importance of developmental testing and proof work for the war effort. He witnessed demonstrations of a number of new mortars, jeeps and machineguns that were being tested for the war effort. The high point of the President’s visit was the presentation of the new, cutting-edge T41 light tank, which was designated the Walker Bulldog in memory of the late General Walton H. Walker, Eighth Army Commander, who was killed in the Korean conflict. The T41 was the first tank to be built around a gun, instead of an engine. It was built primarily for reconnaissance, and its 76-mm super-velocity gun was automatically stabilized so that it held on the target even when the tank was pitching and rolling. The Walker Bulldog set the standard for new tanks everywhere.

In 1952, the first atomic artillery piece was brought to D&PS for testing. This project was cloaked in secrecy, and those who worked on the test were not permitted to speak of the project outside of APG. Several events during this test reminded D&PS personnel of the importance of safety while testing. The first time the piece was fired, a part of the recoil system failed: “the gun reared, jerked, almost tore loose from its platform and the gun carriage was left a shambles.” Thankfully, proper safety procedures had been followed and no one was hurt, but the test had to be reworked and the gun had to be repaired. Four months after the incident, the gun was fired successfully. The shell that was fired from the gun was highly secret, so each shell had to be recovered after firing. “One day…a shell was fired and lost. For two days the range was closed down while all hands went in search of the erratic missile, finally locating it in marshland.” The atomic artillery piece revealed a trend in weapons development during the Cold War. Atomic weapons were a formidable part of many countries’ arsenals. The fear and apprehension that surrounded them set a large part of the tone for Cold War conflicts.

During the Korean Conflict, new developments were made in test technology as well. A flak tester was constructed at D&PS in 1952 to test weaknesses in aircraft. Various aircraft would be suspended in the air by cables, and charges would detonate nearby. After the explosion, the plane would be inspected meticulously, and any defect would be discovered and prevented in later aircraft.

Personnel at D&PS totaled 1,354 people, a much lower number than during WWII. The ratio of military to civilian personnel was in flux, though the number of civilians remained consistently higher. WWII veterans made up a large part of the populace, and their experience and dedication brought a very special dynamic to testing.

Armistice negotiations in Korea eventually led to a ceasefire in 1953. At that time, APG had tested thousands of vehicles over nearly six million miles, fired over a million weapons using more than a billion rounds of ammunition, and spent over a hundred-million man hours perfecting new weapons and equipment. The impressive amount of work accomplished in this short time reflects the vital importance of APG’s mission during the Korean War.