Army Bases

Dugway Proving Ground, Utah

DPG, covering 798,214 acres, is located in the Great Salt Lake Desert, approximately 85 miles southwest of Salt Lake City, Utah. Surrounded on three sides by mountain ranges, the proving ground's terrain varies from level salt flats to scattered sand dunes and rugged mountains.

As a Department of Defense (DoD) Major Range Test Facility Base (MRTFB), Dugway’s primary mission is testing United States and Allied chemical and biological (CB) defense systems and also performing nuclear, biological, and chemical (NBC) contamination survivability testing of defense materiel. With more than 50 years of experience, the Proving Ground uses its state-of-the-art laboratories and chambers in concert with extensive field test grids to fully determine the performance characteristics of items being tested.

American World War II bombers predominately targeted German and Japanese industrial areas, while the Royal Air Force believed that bombing houses was more demoralizing than bombing the factories. Also, during that time the Standard Oil Development Company developed a new bomb that surpassed the technology of incendiary bombs. All that was needed was for the bomb to be tested.

As a result of this, President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Robert Russell, president of Standard Oil, along with Chemical Corps' General Alden Waitt and Air Force General Hap Arnold held a meeting and determined that the new bomb, the M69/M69X, needed to be tested on the real thing or as close as we could get to the real thing. The President suggested cities be constructed to parallel those of the Germans and the Japanese to test the M69 and other incendiaries.

The Army was not involved in the construction of the buildings which were built on a section of the remote Dugway Proving Ground. The buildings were designed by a German refugee, architect Eric Mendelson. He provided comparative studies of two major roof structures used in Berlin, Leipzig, Breslau and Munich. At Dugway, the German structures were built in two sections, one duplicating Rhineland construction with slate on sheathing roofs and the other, which was more typical of central and northern Germany, had tile on batten roofs.

More than $530,000 was originally authorized for the buildings, but actual costs ran more than a million dollars. Due to the urgency of the project, the contractor was able to recruit prisoners from Utah jails to work with the craftsmen to complete six German units and 24 Japanese apartment buildings in two months.

In order to duplicate the designs, the builders imported wood from Murmansk for the attics of the German dwellings. Because of the wood's unique composition, soldiers had to steam spray the wood at night to prevent it from drying out. This helped simulate Germany's humid climate. The structure's walls were solid masonry, and the high quality of plaster used within the building made it virtually fireproof.

The M69/M69X bomb was designed to lodge in the most flammable part of the building -- the ceiling beams. The attic being the only combustible area in the building other than the furnishings caused the testers to retain RKO studios in Hollywood to verify the authenticity of the furniture being built by a New York furniture company using the appropriate woods to simulate German furniture.

The same care and planning went into building the Japanese housing units. Czechoslovakian architect Antonin Raymond's focus was similar to Mendelson's with 18 years of building experience concentrating on roof structures of the houses located in Japan's industrial area. The Japanese tenements were divided into six double houses with roofs of tile on sheathing and six double houses with sheet metal over tin.

To the project, Russian-born Boris Laiming, author of the report on the 1923 Tokyo fire, added knowledge from his hobby of studying fires in Japan so that the Japanese Village was as authentic as the German Village project.

The intricacy of the Japanese structures included interior sliding rice paper walls, hard-packed rice straw Tatami flooring and pillar supports for foundations.

The War Priority Board confiscated a shipment of Russian Spruce en-route from Siberia. This was used to simulate the main Japanese construction timber -- Sugi. The builders used Mountain Douglas Fir trees to simulate another Japanese wood known as Hinoki. Rattan was used as a substitute for Bamboo which was typical in Japanese construction.

The Board of Economic Warfare determined these buildings comprised 95 percent of all the structures in Tokyo. Raymond's design closely paralleled the housing area of Tokyo's Asakusa district.

Tatami became the most sought after item when furnishing these units. Typical Japanese furnishings included Tatami flooring, and low tables with Futons or pillows for seating. Detailed efforts went into the tables, such as finding the same density wood and crafting it to the same dimensions found in Japanese homes.

The search for Tatami led to Hawaii where Russell's quest yielded two destroyers full of Tatami. This resulted in 80 truck loads, yet the Army feared it would not be enough. Mexican Istle fiber became the substitute because it had properties similar to Tatami. Once the incendiary tests began, special work crews diligently repaired the structures between bombings. An on-site fire department controlled the blazes once the test officers were satisfied with test results. Despite the crew's efforts, 21 target units were destroyed by fire in one week during June 1943. Some units were rebuilt and charred rafter beams remain the attics of the two standing German Village structures, today.

Although the M69 was not used in raids on Germany because of Royal Air Force and U.S. Army Air Force tactics, the volume of data on incendiary bombs produced by these tests proved invaluable in successful fire-bombing raids on Japan.

Fifty years after the testing no evidence of the Japanese Village structures remain. One double unit still stands in the German Village area. The old water hydrants are still intact and a bunker were the testers sheltered during the test bombing raids still have markings on the concrete walls where the testers left small-short notes for posterity.

Occasionally now, the proving ground will use the old building as a nondestructive test site, but most of the time it is boarded up and sits as a grim reminder of a sad time in history.