USS Cod repair sparks memories of old Cleveland Diesel Engine plants in World War II
A little memory motor sputtered to life in Jim Jaworski when he heard recent news that the vintage World War II engines of the USS Cod Memorial submarine in Cleveland are being refurbished.
The sub's twin 1,600hp engines were made by General Motors' Cleveland Diesel Engine division where Jaworski's father, uncle and about 5,000 other Northeast Ohioans worked during the 1940s.
Though Cleveland Diesel may not be as renown as the old Cleveland Bomber Plant (now the International Exposition Center) where about 15,000 workers made B-29 bombers, its contributions were just as vital to the war effort.
Some 70 percent of the U.S. Navy's submarine engines came from the Cleveland Diesel Engine plants on West 106th Street and Clinton Road, which also produced engines for 48 types of Navy ships.
Jaworski, 70, of Berea, said the firm originated with Cleveland auto manufacturer Alexander Winton, who switched from cars in the early 1900s to diesel engine production for maritime vessels and locomotives. GM bought the company in 1938.
Jaworski's uncle, Leo Vosniak, started working at the plant as a machinist in 1939.
"That's why I smoke a pipe and became a mechanic, because my uncle did," said Jaworski, seated in his Berea Motor Works shop, surrounded by floor-to-ceiling parts bins, assorted engines, and classic cars, primarily Rolls Royces.
His father, Nick Jaworski, was foreman in an area of the plant that produced engine fuel injectors. But Jaworski said most of the stories he heard about the factory came from his uncle.
Jim Jaworski.JPGView full sizeCourtesy of Jim JaworskiJim Jaworski's uncle, Leo Vosniak, is shown working at Cleveland Diesel Engine which produced 70 percent of the engines for U.S. Navy submarines during World War II.
There was the tale of how these massive, two-story-high engines initially had bronze flywheels -- until one blew through the side of an engine on a ship, through the ship's side and then through both sides of an adjoining ship. The bronze flywheels were promptly replaced with cast iron versions, Jaworski said.
Engines produced at the plant were tested at a slant, reflecting real-world usage aboard ships commonly tilted by waves. Jaworski said that when it was discovered that engine studs could snap when subs were depth-charged, the studs were re-machined to allow for that stress.
The importance of their work was not lost on Cleveland Diesel employees, according to Jaworski.
"Lives depended on them," he said. "So whatever they sent out to sea had to be as right as it could be."
He noted that his uncle once said that before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, parts ordered from suppliers might take weeks to arrive. "He said that after the war broke out, they'd order something and it'd get there still hot off the lathe," Jaworski added.
After the war, production and employment at the plants fell with decreased demand. But Cleveland Diesel continued making engines for Navy ships, including stainless steel versions during the Korean War which wouldn't trigger magnetic mines.
As the Navy converted to nuclear-powered submarines, there was less need for diesel engines, and GM closed the Cleveland plant in 1962.
Looking back on its World War II heyday, Jaworski said Cleveland Diesel might not have gotten its due historic recognition because of the secrecy that workers were sworn to uphold. "They couldn't talk about their work," he said.
But as far as he's concerned, those bygone home-front factory workers are his heroes of the war.
"They had to come up with new ideas and develop stuff that nobody had ever done before," he said. "The work that they did was really technically challenging in terms of the design and machining process.
"It's really a wonderful story."