USS ATLANTA’s Cleveland Diesel Generator Design - by Preston Cook  


In the critical hours of the morning of November 13, 1942 after the USS ATLANTA received massive torpedo and shellfire damage in the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, the cruiser’s emergency diesel generator set became the critical piece of machinery in the effort to save the ship. The emergency diesel generator, located in a compartment astern of the aft engine room, remained serviceable following the battle damage.

With both fire rooms flooded, no steam was available for the steam powered ship service generator in the after engine room, and the diesel was the only source of electricity to operate the emergency lighting and the lone serviceable 5-inch main battery turret (#8), as well as providing most of the power for the pumping effort to contain flooding in the ship.

The shellfire damage and the torpedo hit had effectively cut the ship in half electrically, making the distribution of emergency power to the forward portion of the ship impossible. In common with many of the other design features of the ATLANTA class cruisers which were based on destroyer practices, they were equipped with only one emergency diesel generator. Most larger US Navy warships carried two emergency diesels, one forward and one aft. The need for another emergency diesel located forward was mentioned by Captain Jenkins following the loss of the ATLANTA.

ATLANTA’s emergency diesel generator was a model 268 built by the Cleveland Diesel Division of General Motors Corporation. The generator set, built on Cleveland Diesel Order Number 168-28-A, was completed in 1940 and shipped to Federal Shipbuilding in Kearney, New Jersey for installation in the cruiser. The eight cylinder engine featured 6-3/8 inch cylinder bore size and 7 inch piston stroke, and was rated at 250 K.W. at 1200 R.P.M. This type of diesel engine was widely used by the US Navy as well as by commercial marine and industrial operators.

Cleveland Diesel was originally the Winton Engine Company, founded by Alexander Winton, an early automobile manufacturer. In the early 1930s Winton Engine and the neighboring Electro-Motive Corporation, were purchased by General Motors Corporation, which was interested in their involvement in the marine and railroad diesel markets. Electro-Motive produced powered rail passenger cars powered by Winton Engines, and later became the largest US manufacturer of diesel locomotives. Electro-Motive was renamed the Electro-Motive Division of General Motors (EMD) in the early 1940s.

In the mid-1930s Winton Engine had developed the Model 201A two-stroke cycle diesel engine for use in Electro-Motive locomotives and streamlined passenger trains. This engine was a very advanced design for its time, being built with a welded steel frame, and having a very high power output for its size and weight. The 201A engine was used in several highly publicized applications including the original Burlington Zephyr passenger train which made a record setting run from Denver to Chicago. The engine was also adapted by the US Navy for application to a number of fleet submarines.

The 201A met with mixed success in both the railroad and marine applications. It had a number of mechanical problems, principally involving scuffing of the pistons, but some of the engines remained in service into the 1950s before being retired. The 201A was extensively studied by General Motors Research and it made an important contribution to diesel design. Following the 201A experience, GM introduced beginning in 1937 a family of diesels of varying sizes that went on to great commercial success.

The 201A led most directly to the Electro-Motive 567 locomotive engine which became the standard locomotive prime mover for the two decades following its introduction. The 201A experience also contributed to the development of the Cleveland Diesel Model 248 marine engine, which was widely used in fleet submarines early in the war, and led to the Model 278A engine. These were all relatively large engine designs, which were primarily used for propulsion applications.

The Cleveland Diesel Model 268 used on the ATLANTA was a medium sized engine, using many of the 201A principles, designed primarily for marine applications. It could be used as either a generating engine or a propulsion engine, and many thousands of them were built during World War Two. The application on the ATLANTA class cruisers was typical of the uses for this engine. The 268 and its later variation, the model 268A, were also used as an emergency diesel on destroyers, as a ship service generator on diesel powered destroyer escorts, and as a propulsion engine on larger landing craft.

In discussing the contribution of General Motors to the production of diesels for the war effort, the Detroit Diesel 6-71 engine should also be mentioned. This small engine was developed in 1937 to support the GM acquisition of Yellow Coach which became GM Truck and Coach Division. It was widely adapted for land transportation, construction equipment, marine propulsion, and power generating applications, and became possibly the most widely produced and successful diesel engine on all time. Thousands of 6-71 engines were fitted out by Graymarine for use in landing craft, and GM’s Electro-Motive Division assembled quadruple installations of the 6-71 for use in the larger LCI type landing vessels.

Diesel engines were only one of many products produced by General Motors in support of the US military in the 1940s. GM’s Saginaw Gear division produced M1 carbines, Inland Division manufactured M1A1 paratroop carbines, Buick and Oldsmobile provided aircraft parts, Cadillac manufactured parts for tanks, and Electro-Motive built propellers and shafting for naval vessels as well as diesel engines. Pontiac Motor Division contributed to the war effort by building the highly successful 20mm Oerlikon anti-aircraft guns for the US Navy, the same type of close-in rapid fire weapon which were installed on the ATLANTA class cruisers.


submitted by Preston Cook

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