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Chapter 12: Motor Transport Vehicles

Military historians of the future may some day label World War II the “gasoline engine war,” or, if they prefer a more exact but more cumbersome title, the “internal combustion engine war.” As the twentieth century neared its midpoint, military forces everywhere, on land, at sea, and in the air, depended for their mobility on internal combustion engines, both gasoline and diesel. Three of the most spectacular weapons—the tank, the airplane, and the submarine—were powered chiefly by internal combustion engines, as were the millions of hard-working military trucks that bore the brunt of the task of supply distribution in the field. Although some experimental efforts were made to use new techniques such as jet propulsion and rocket power, they had limited application. The immense power of the atom, utilized in World War II only for the A-bomb, was not harnessed for submarine propulsion until the mid-1950s. But in all the leading armies of the world, gasoline and oil provided the energy—still commonly measured in terms of horsepower—to drive the wheeled and tracked vehicles that made for a war of movement.

In World War II the U.S. Army was better able than ever before in its history to take to the road on gasoline-driven wheels. The purchase of more than three and a half million motor cars and trucks—not counting thousands of tanks and other combat vehicles—marked the end of the horse and mule era of the Army’s history. Although infantrymen in World War II still had to march mile after weary mile, they had at their disposal, for transport of both men and supplies, more trucks, cars, buses, and other vehicles than ever before. As in Napoleon’s day, the armies of the world still marched on their stomachs, but their mobility had come to depend more and more on rubber tires and gasoline engines.1

The motor truck was not by any means a new item of military equipment in the 1940s. Two decades earlier thousands of trucks went to France with the AEF and played a minor role in winning the war, but it was , not until the 1940s that the U.S. Army really became “motorized.” In France in 1918 the U.S. forces had, roughly speaking, one truck for every forty men; in the European theater in 1945 the ratio was about one to four.2 In the latter stages of World War II it was theoretically possible, if not feasible for practical reasons, to put an entire army on wheels—pile everyone into trucks, buses, ambulances,

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and other vehicles, and all take to the road at once.

In one respect truck supply differed from every other type of Ordnance activity: it was suddenly transferred—lock, stock, and barrel—from one technical service to another in the midst of war. On 25 July 1942 War Department Circular 245 formally announced the coming transfer from Quartermaster to Ordnance of responsibility for transport vehicles—research and development, procurement, storage, maintenance, and distribution—virtually everything except the operation of the vehicles, which continued for a time with the Quartermaster Corps and other user arms and services. To see this transfer in proper perspective and to measure its impact on Ordnance we need to review Quartermaster efforts during the 1920s and 1930s to standardize military trucks and in 1940-42 to procure the thousands of transport vehicles needed by the rapidly growing Army.3

The Struggle for Standardization

The experience of World War I had clearly revealed the need for rugged Army trucks that could operate over the worst of roads, ford shallow streams, and be easily repaired in the field. It had shown the value of the 4-wheel drive—used mainly in Ordnance vehicles—and the need for a 4-speed transmission, maximum ground clearance, towing hooks and pintles, sturdy bumpers and radiator guards, electric lights, and many other features.4 But most of all it had shown the need for standardization of Army vehicles and an improved system to provide spare parts for maintenance. The mechanical limitations of the 1917 model trucks were gradually eliminated in the postwar years as production of improved motor vehicles became one of the nation’s most important industries, but standardization of parts was a more stubborn problem. Motor Transport officers fought so long and hard for their ideal, as one of them put it, “Standardization became almost a cuss-word in the Army.5 The history of Army motor transport from World War I to World War II is largely the record of the Quartermaster Corps’ unsuccessful efforts to achieve standardization. In the failure of these efforts lie the roots of the spare parts problem inherited by the Ordnance Department in 1942.6

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Quartermaster officers consistently advocated the standardization concept in the postwar years but found their hands tied by Army Regulations and the laws governing procurement. These laws and regulations, as interpreted by the Comptroller General, required that contracts be awarded to the lowest responsible bidder and forbade the QMC to issue detailed engineering specifications for trucks. There was to be no Army truck of special design but only commercial trucks with a few military trimmings. Nor could the Army adopt as standard any vehicle under its trade name. Specifications were limited to such general matters as carrying capacity, speed, and weight; those intended to secure uniformity of design, materials, or dimensions could not be allowed.7 Each time the Army announced its intention of buying new trucks, scores of manufacturers submitted bids. Nearly every time a different company was the low bidder and got the contract. As a result, the Army continued to add new makes and models to its heterogeneous collection of trucks left over from World War I. These vehicles generally performed well enough but they made maintenance and spare parts supply continuously more complicated.

Purchase of commercial types through competitive bidding was defended on many grounds. It was, for one thing, the accepted way of doing government business, and was designed to guard against favoritism or fraud. It enabled private industry to fill government orders from regular production lines and thus obviated the need for costly, time-consuming retooling of factories to meet special military requirements. In a war emergency, it was argued, speedy production would be more important than perfection of design. The Army would simply buy vehicles it could “pick up on the street:” The delay in getting the specially designed Class B truck into production in World War I was cited as an object lesson, as was the Ford Motor Company’s experience in shifting from the Model T to the Model A.8 Finally, competitive bidding was defended on the ground that it enabled the Army to profit from competition among truck manufacturers and thus keep abreast of the latest engineering achievements without carrying on an elaborate research and development program of its own.

While recognizing the validity of some of these arguments, advocates of standardization maintained that the real problem was ease of maintenance in the field, not ease of procurement. They insisted that’ standardization of parts would speed, not hinder, procurement in an emergency, for it would permit all truck makers to use parts already in production. They contended that the advantages of competitive bidding were far outweighed by the simplification of maintenance and parts supply that standardization would bring. They further asserted that use of commercial types made it impossible for the Army to develop vehicles specially designed to meet military requirements.9

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At the end of the 1920s the Quartermaster Corps attempted to develop a standard fleet by building on its experience with the Class B truck. Although forbidden by law to purchase complete vehicles according to detailed specifications, the Army was permitted to buy vehicle components any way it chose. In 1928, therefore, the QMC decided to buy enough commercial unit assemblies—engines, transmissions, axles, and so forth—to build two complete trucks at its Holabird depot. This was a step toward standardization of vehicles through adoption of standard commercial parts and assemblies, a principle that the Quartermaster Corps was to fight for all during the 1930s.10 In the next four years Quartermaster engineers studied and tested enough major components and assemblies to make up a standard fleet of eighteen truck chassis designed to cover all Army requirements. These eighteen chassis were divided into five groups, according to size, with all major parts in each group completely interchangeable. Most important, all components could be bought from industry and assembled either at privately owned plants or at Quartermaster motor depots.11 Here was a workable plan that applied one of the most important lessons of World War I. But, in spite of being ably defended by Maj. Gen. John L. DeWitt, The Quartermaster General, it soon had to be abandoned.12 It Was, for one thing, opposed by the Chief of Ordnance on the ground that it was impractical, would entail too much delay in procurement in time of war, and would not improve maintenance as much as General DeWitt thought it would.13 The Chief of Staff considered standardization unwise in view of the continuous engineering advances made by industry. Manufacturers of parts liked the Quartermaster plan, but many vehicle manufacturers strongly opposed it.

In September 1933 the views of the vehicle manufacturers triumphed when War Department General Orders No. g appeared, virtually forbidding purchase of parts and assembly of vehicles by the Quartermaster Corps. It was followed in the spring of 1934 by a decision of the Comptroller General that further hampered the Quartermaster program by attacking the practice of buying parts for assembly.14 The prevailing view was that

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the Army should stay out of the business of manufacturing and assembling trucks, and should not carry on any automotive research and development. Appropriation acts in the middle thirties specifically forbade spending money for research on motor vehicle standardization.15 These measures, backed by political pressure from competing truck manufacturers, not only closed the door on General DeWitt’s standardization plans but also locked and barred it. One motor transport officer tartly observed that this government policy was based on belief that “vehicle types and models that fully meet military requirements are not practicable of production in quantity in time of war nor legally procurable in time of peace.”16

As the Army continued to add to its polyglot fleet, the spare parts problem got completely out of hand. The commanding officer at Holabird reported in 1935 that, “the 360 different models of vehicles now in the Army ... involve nearly a million items of spare parts which neither the War Department nor any other authority can control.”17 Two years later the Assistant Secretary of War termed the situation “absurd” and blamed Congress for requiring the Army to buy from the lowest bidder.18 Meanwhile, the German Army adopted a standard fleet which, Motor Transport Division officers believed, was initiated by a German officer who had studied the proposed American standard fleet in 1932. German industry in the 1930s was permitted to produce only those types of trucks that were approved for military use.19

When new Army Regulations on the subject appeared in September 1939, just after the outbreak of war in Europe, they declared that procurement of trucks for the U.S. Army would be limited to “models produced commercially by two or more competing companies. ...” The Army was to use commercial trucks with only a few modifications such as brush guards and towing pintles to fit them for military use. All parts and assemblies were to be standard production items in the automotive industry, but there was to be no specially designed vehicle such as the

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Class B truck, nor any Standard Fleet.20 This policy was intended to assure speedy production at the outbreak of war, regardless of the maintenance and spare parts problem that might develop later. To minimize the maintenance problem the War Department limited procurement to five chassis types—½-ton, 1½-ton, 2½-ton, 4-ton, and 7½-ton.21 As a result of this policy, the only thing standardized about Army trucks at the start of the defense period was their size. The door was still wide open for the procurement of dozens of different makes and models.

The Defense Period, 1939-41

In the late 1930s the Quartermaster Corps kept in touch with all the leading manufacturers of cars and trucks through its procurement planning office in Detroit. This office surveyed plants, filed allocation requests with the Army and Navy Munitions Board, and drew up estimates of emergency production. It counted on the “Big Three” of the industry—General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford—to carry most of the wartime load, but also gave attention to other concerns such as International Harvester, Mack, Willys, and American Bantam, and to suppliers of special components such as the Timken-Detroit Axle Company.22 Only for the latter type of firm did the Detroit office consider plant expansion. It assumed that other plants could easily shift from civilian to military production and could produce all the trucks the Army would need in time of war. With excess capacity throughout the industry in the 1930s there was little reason to believe that some day the automobile plants would have more orders than they could fill. The worst deficiency in this prewar planning proved to be the failure to plan on a realistic basis for mass production of the special components needed for tactical vehicles and for greatly enlarged production of heavy trucks.23

From a virtual standstill in the 1920s, truck procurement built up slowly in the 1930s, pushed along at first by measures to counteract the depression. The Quartermaster General reported in 1935 that he had on hand about eleven thousand trucks, most of them left over from World War I, and that nearly sixteen thousand new vehicles had been purchased during the year, mostly for the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Public Works Administration. These were all commercial types with only minor modifications required by the government. After 1935, when Congress declared the World War I vehicles

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obsolete, procurement for “remotorization of the Army” was in full swing. In July 1940 it was estimated the Army would spend nearly $60 million for new cars and trucks in the year ahead.24

Although these vehicles were not to be of standard design their variety was far less than in World War I. In addition to the 1939 order limiting procurement to five standard sizes, the Quartermaster Corps had taken two other steps to avoid the mistakes of 1917–18. First, it had tried, within the framework of competitive bidding, to keep to a minimum the number of makes and designs, and in 1941 was actually buying only sixteen different makes. Second, it had urged manufacturers to adopt a wide variety of interchangeable small parts such as batteries, spark plugs, generators, fan belts, speedometers, and gas tanks.25 But the one big step that would have made these efforts really effective was not taken. That was the switch from competitive bidding to the negotiated contract.

By June 1940 the Quartermaster Corps had tested and approved three commercial trucks, the Dodge 4x4, 1½-ton, the GMC 6x6, 2½-ton, and the Mack 6x6, 6-ton.26 In view of the big procurement program getting under way, it earnestly requested authority to purchase these vehicles from the firms indicated instead of advertising for bids and awarding contracts to the lowest bidder. The purpose, it explained, was “to take advantage of the lessons of motor vehicle maintenance learned from our World War experience,” and avert a breakdown of field maintenance in an emergency.27 But the request was denied. The Assistant Secretary of War recognized the value of standardization but pointed out that there were also other things to consider. He particularly opposed any action that would “give manufacturers a feeling of monopoly as applied to any particular type of truck.”28

When it enacted Public Law 703 on 2 July 1940 Congress opened the door for the military services to negotiate contracts with firms of their own choosing instead of making awards to the lowest bidder. But

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the War Department was slow to permit its procurement agencies to exercise this new freedom when buying commercial-type items. More than a year passed after Congress opened the door before the Quartermaster Corps was permitted to cross the threshold.29 In that delay the last chance to standardize Army trucks for World War II was lost.

Not until the summer of 1941 did truck procurement by negotiated contract come into its own. Even then it was looked upon with some disfavor because it ran counter to the Army’s efforts to distribute contracts as widely as possible. It continued as a subject of discussion between Secretary Patterson and The Quartermaster General up to Pearl Harbor. By that time the procurement pattern was set and Army trucks had to remain pretty much what they were. Thereafter it was largely a matter of continuing to procure models already in service.30

Getting Production Started

Early in the defense period The Quartermaster General was not in any great hurry to buy new trucks. In May 1940 he proposed that bids for the smaller sizes be held back until September to allow time for testing the new models.31 Although overruled on this point by the Secretary of War, some months later he reported to a meeting of the Society of Automotive Engineers, “We are buying them gradually to make them available only as rapidly as the divisions and other troop units spring into being.” This was done, he explained, to lighten the burden on the automotive industry and “to interfere as little as possible with its regular commercial program.”32 The industry was able to handle without difficulty both civilian and military orders during 1940, but during 1941 the picture changed swiftly. As estimates of future needs rose faster than expected, and also shifted from one type to another, military truck production began to lag behind schedule. From about 30,000 in July 1940, the total number of Army trucks on hand rose to more than 70,000 early in 1941 and exceeded 250,000 by the end of the year.33 By peacetime standards this was a notable achievement but it was not enough to keep pace with the Army’s demands. To ease the drain on scarce materials and speed military production, the Office of Production Management announced in August 1941 a 50 percent cut

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in production of cars and trucks for civilian use during the ensuing six months.34

After the Assistant Secretary of War ruled in July 1940 that competitive bidding would continue to be the rule and negotiated contracts the exception, the Quartermaster Corps was unable to implement its prewar plans for placing orders with allocated plants. Selection of contractors was determined by the play of competitive forces, rather than by prearranged plan. General Motors, Chrysler, and Ford received the first major contracts. For a brief period in the latter part of 1940 the Ford Motor Company was denied government business because it would not accept the labor policy adopted by the National Defense Advisory Commission (NDAC) and approved by the President, but this barrier was soon removed.35 Among the more specialized producers were Mack, Federal, Studebaker, Willys, White, Diamond T, Corbitt, Bantam, Autocar, Four Wheel Drive, International Harvester, Yellow Truck and Coach, and Ward La-France. Behind these firms—all of whom assembled complete vehicles—were hundreds of parts makers such as Timken-Detroit Axle Company, Bendix Products Division of Bendix Aviation Corporation, Borg-Warner Corporation, Budd Wheel Company, Spicer Manufacturing Corporation, Kelsey-Hayes Company, Hercules Motor Company, and many others.36

Critical Components

Most of the production problems of the Quartermaster Corps stemmed from the fact that Army trucks with all-wheel drive required three important components not used to any great extent in commercial trucks—constant velocity joints, transfer cases, and bogie rear axles—and they used two or three times as many driving axles. The constant velocity joint was a device that permitted use of a driving and steering front axle. Intricate in design, its manufacture called for many complicated machining operations and the use of large forgings made to exact specifications.37 In 1939 only two firms, Bendix Products Division and Gear Grinding Machine Company, produced constant velocity joints, and both had but small capacity. By the

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spring of 1942 three additional firms, Ford, Dodge, and Chevrolet, had come into production and boosted capacity to more than one hundred times what it was in 1939.38 Transfer cases were sometimes called “power dividers” because they permitted transmission of power from the engine to both front and rear axles. They also required a great deal of gear cutting and machining, and to supply them in quantity several axle and transmission builders pushed their output far above peacetime levels. Bogie rear axles required heavy parts not previously made in any quantity by the automotive industry and also greatly increased the quantities of axles normally used. Before Pearl Harbor the Quartermaster Corps arranged for two leading manufacturers of axles and transmissions—Timken-Detroit and Fuller—to expand their capacity to meet anticipated requirements, but all such expansions took many months to complete.39

The largest truck contract awarded in the summer of 1940 went to Chrysler’s Fargo Division for more than 14,000 ½-ton 4x4’s. A smaller contract went to Chevrolet for the 1½-ton 4x4. As these vehicles were similar to standard commercial designs, except for the 4-wheel drive, there was no need for new plants or extensive retooling, and both concerns got into production quickly. The chief bottleneck at the start—lack of constant velocity joints—was broken when Chevrolet and Fargo went into production of joints to supplement the output of Bendix and Gear Grinding Machine Company. Licensing agreements were worked out to permit production of the patented items.40

Workhorse of the Army: the 2½-Ton

Meanwhile the Quartermaster Corps placed contracts for several thousand 2½-ton 6x6 trucks with the Yellow Truck and Coach Company41 in accord with earlier plans, and in September 1941 the contracts were greatly increased. When Yellow Truck started production in January 1941 it found that its chief bottleneck was procurement of axles and transfer cases from the Timken-Detroit Axle Company. To meet the demand, Timken had to buy new gear-cutting and gear-grinding equipment, make new patterns and dies, and spend months training additional workers. Other parts manufacturers, notably the Clark Equipment Company, Borg-Warner Corporation, and the E. G. Budd Company also increased their production capacity to keep pace with the Army’s truck demands.42

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The 2½-ton truck, a military adaptation of a commercial model, was an immediate success and remained unsurpassed as a general purpose vehicle throughout the war. “I have seen nothing belonging to our enemies or our Allies that can compare with it,” wrote one combat observer.43 The most widely used truck in the Army’s fleet, it could carry on good roads far more than its rated capacity and soon earned the nickname “workhorse of the Army.” Its six driving wheels were mounted on three axles, each having its own differential. Power could be applied to all six wheels for steep hills or rough cross-country travel, or the front axle could be disengaged on smooth highways.44

The demand for the 2½-ton was so great by the end of 1941 that it ranked as the most serious production problem in the entire truck program. As Yellow Truck could not handle it alone the Quartermaster Corps turned to the Studebaker Company to augment the supply; later two smaller producers—Reo and International Harvester—came into the picture. At first the plan called for Studebaker to make an exact copy of the Yellow model, but this idea was dropped because it would delay the start of production and would cost several million dollars for new tooling. Although most components of the model built by Studebaker were identical with those in the Yellow version, many parts were not interchangeable. For example, Studebaker used engines made by the Hercules Motor Company of Canton, Ohio, while Yellow Truck made its own engines. No serious difficulties developed in this score because the Studebakers were shipped to lend-lease countries-chiefly the Soviet Union, which received over 100,000 and the Yellow models were issued to the U.S. Army.45

Heavy-Heavy Trucks

While the largest orders were going for light, medium, and light-heavy vehicles, the smallest orders went for so-called heavy-heavy trucks capable of carrying payloads of from four to six tons.46 Officers of the Motor Transport Division were convinced that in time of war the Army might find itself operating a long-distance trucking service over improved roads as well as conducting the usual short, cross-country tactical movements. For long hauls the big trucks, labeled strategical vehicles by Motor Transport officers, would be needed in quantity. But the using arms were not interested in such trucks in 1940-41. The Quartermaster Corps was permitted to place a few orders with Mack, Federal, Corbitt, White, and Diamond T, but the quantities were in the hundreds rather than the thousands. This failure to recognize the importance of heavy trucks later proved to be one of the most costly mistakes of the prewar and early war years.47

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Assembling 2½-ton 
trucks at Ford Motor Company plant in Antwerp, Belgium, December 1944

Assembling 2½-ton trucks at Ford Motor Company plant in Antwerp, Belgium, December 1944.

The Versatile Jeep

The only really new vehicle to come into the picture in 1940 was the ¼-ton 4x4 truck, better known as the jeep. The Army, which had begun to think about such a vehicle in the 1930s as a fast reconnaissance car, focused its attention in the summer of 1940 on a lightweight car built by the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania.48 After representatives of the Ordnance Technical Committee visited the Bantam plant and studied its product, seventy of the Bantam cars were purchased for testing purposes. Built to Army specifications, these cars were purely military vehicles. Only eleven feet long and three feet high, they weighed about two thousand pounds but had plenty of power, stamina, and maneuverability.49

After successful tests of the Bantam vehicles the Army was ready to buy jeeps in quantity, and directed The Quartermaster General to procure 1,500 from Bantam. But Maj. Gen. Edmund B. Gregory was

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reluctant to place the entire order with Bantam, describing it as “a small firm with no productive facilities of any importance.”50 As Willys and Ford had meanwhile shown considerable interest in producing such a vehicle, and were then building pilot models, the Quartermaster Corps was permitted to place a contract in November with Bantam for 1,500 jeeps and soon thereafter to make similar awards to Willys-Overland and Ford.51 These were negotiated, not competitive bid contracts, and were concurred in by the National Defense Advisory Committee, subject to delivery of acceptable pilot models by Ford and Willys. When Bantam protested bringing in other concerns that had not shared in the earlier work, and allowing them to observe the Bantam model, the Quartermaster Corps replied that it preferred to have more than one company share in this stage of design and development and be ready to produce in time of war. Protests came also from pro-labor interests who pointed out that the Ford Motor Company had been repeatedly charged with violations of the Wagner Act. In newspapers, magazines, and Congressional committees the arguments raged for some time, but the contracts remained in force.52

After rigorous tests of Bantam, Willys, and Ford jeeps—tests that revealed structural weaknesses in all three and led to many design changes—the Willys jeep was standardized. When the QMC was authorized to procure sixteen thousand it called for bids on an all-or-none basis. Although Willys submitted the lowest bid, by a narrow margin, the QMC preferred Ford as a larger and more dependable producer and recommended that it be given the contract. But when the Office of Production Management refused to go along with this recommendation the contract went to Willys.53 The order was not split up among the three potential producers because it was desired that all jeeps be of identical make, and Motor Transport officers argued there was no time to arrange for identical production by two or more firms. But a few months later, when Willys proved unable to keep pace with fast-mounting requirements, another producer had to be added. A contract then went to Ford to produce jeeps exactly according to Willys blueprints. Willys turned over to Ford copies of its drawings, specifications, and patents, and for the rest of the war

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Jeep, ¼-ton 4 x 4 
truck, on display during a talk given to the employees of Willys-Overland Motor Company by Brig

Jeep, ¼-ton 4 x 4 truck, on display during a talk given to the employees of Willys-Overland Motor Company by Brig. Gen. Burton O. Lewis.

the two firms turned out thousands of jeeps with interchangeable parts. Both firms, it should be noted, bought many of their major components from the same sources—frames from Midland Steel, wheels from Kelsey-Hayes, axles and transfer cases from Spicer, and so on. Both companies also contributed to developing and improving the jeep throughout the war.54

Award of the contract to Ford excluded Bantam from the picture entirely and thus denied to the firm that had pioneered the vehicle any share in its wartime production. Bantam was later given a contract to produce small trailers, but it built no more jeeps for the Army. Enlistment of big producers was defended on the ground that Bantam could never have turned out jeeps in the quantities needed for World War II. From a production viewpoint this decision may have been sound but it brought upon the Army a great deal of criticism that might have been avoided if Bantam had not been entirely excluded from jeep production.55

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As the jeep skyrocketed to world-wide fame controversy naturally arose as to its genesis. In the keenly competitive automotive industry, where all companies had their eyes on the postwar market, the rivalry was intense. Willys-Overland advertisements claimed that its engineers, working with their counterparts in the Army, “created and perfected the jubilant Jeep.” Bantam naturally resented these claims which seemed to add insult to injury. Soon the Federal Trade Commission entered a formal complaint against Willys. After extensive investigation the FTC eventually—in 1948—ruled that the Willys advertisements constituted unfair methods of competition, and issued a “cease and desist” order. Willys had indeed designed and built the model of jeep used in World War II, but Bantam and the Army had laid the groundwork for Willys’ success.’’56

As to the proper division of credit within the Army there was no dispute between the Quartermaster Corps and Ordnance. After transfer of motor transport to Ordnance, General Campbell sent to General Gregory the following forthright statement about the jeep:

All of us in the Ordnance Department fully realize that this vehicle was developed and put into production by the Quartermaster Corps prior to the time when Motor Transport was transferred to the Ordnance Department on August 1, 1942. None of the credit for this achievement belongs to the Ordnance Department and it would be presumptuous on our part ever to allow a shadow of doubt on this point. ... It is a very remarkable achievement for which the Quartermaster Corps, and those who worked for or with it, are entitled to credit. We of Ordnance join with all your other friends in giving this credit completely and gladly.57

A few months after this letter was written, one of the original Bantam jeeps took its place beside other historical properties in the halls of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, and the word “jeep” appeared in the newer dictionaries as a war-born addition to the English language.58

Production Lag

All during the defense period truck production in one category or another lagged behind requirements. As early as October 1940 nearly a third of all vehicles due for delivery were behind schedule.59 They continue to lag behind during the winter, and in March 1941 the Office of the Under Secretary of War called the matter to the attention of The Quartermaster

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General, urging action to bring deliveries more nearly into line with the Time Objective.60 In July 1941 Patterson complained that the automotive industry had “hardly been touched by the rearmament effort” and urged that steps be taken to put munitions ahead of pleasure cars.61

Of the many reasons for the lag in production, most were beyond control of the QMC. Requirements kept rising with every new estimate of Army needs; priorities for trucks remained low; steel and rubber were scarce; productive capacity for certain items was limited; and labor unrest slowed production in some plants.62 The program lacked momentum because the Quartermaster Corps had not pushed forward toward big procurement in 1940.

Manufacturers of bottleneck items —chiefly axles, transmissions, and transfer cases-were induced to enlarge their capacity and help meet the demand, but the QMC could not do much about the remaining problems, for they were fundamental to nearly every phase of war production. As this condition dragged on through 1941, dissatisfaction accumulated both in the QMC and the Office of the Under Secretary. “For the past two years,” wrote the chief of the Procurement Control Branch to General Gregory three days after Pearl Harbor, “it has been known that there were important bottlenecks limiting the procurement of tactical motor vehicles. This problem has been attacked in a piecemeal fashion from time to time with only limited success. ... It is felt that an overall approach to a solution is long overdue ...63

The First Year of War

Pearl Harbor put an end to piecemeal attacks on the whole problem of industrial mobilization. Beginning in January 1942, the nation took drastic measures on all fronts to convert to all-out war production. And the automotive industry in Detroit dramatically symbolized the whole process. The newly created War Production Board moved promptly and decisively in January to issue orders banning further production of motor cars and trucks for civilian use.64 The cars and trucks already on the road or in the stockpile would have to last until the Army’s needs were met.65

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“America’s major industry died in Detroit last week,” one news magazine commented.66 But the industry did not really die. It merely shifted from peace to war production —the greatest model change-over in its history. When the War Production Board ruling freed the entire industry for conversion to munitions making, confidence ran high in its capacity to meet the challenge of war. “When Hitler put his war on wheels,” General Somervell observed after a tour of Detroit industries, “he ran it straight down our alley.”67

Production Problems

But behind the scenes the stubborn, hard problems of production were still there.68 No magic wand or government decree could banish materials shortages or rearrange production lines overnight. Rubber, aluminum, steel, and canvas duck were still in short supply, and production of constant velocity joints and various types of bearings was far below the required level. To deal with these bottlenecks and speed the conversion process, leaders of the industry early in 1942 formed the Automotive Council for War Production, headed by Alvan Macauley of Packard.69 In March, when the Army was reorganized at the top, the newly formed Army Service Forces set to work drafting an Army Supply Program (ASP) that called for production of more than three million vehicles of all types by July 1944 —nearly one

million in 1942, over one million in 1943, and over one million in the first six months of 1944. Quantities of light trucks in this program, although much greater than the mid-1941 requirements, were not beyond the industry’s capacity, judging by its 1939 production. The hitch lay in ASP emphasis on heavy trucks, those that carried two tons or more. In 1939 heavy trucks constituted only 7 percent of the year’s annual production, light trucks 93 percent. But ASP required roughly 50 percent heavy and 50 percent light.70

In May 1942 the Quartermaster Corps submitted a detailed report showing that industrial capacity for light trucks was more than adequate to meet the ASP, but that capacity for heavy trucks, although already expanded 600 percent since 1940, was far below the required level.71 It further reported that the shortage of rubber might force a one-third cut in the Army Supply Program and that lack of strategic metals was a constant drag on the

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production machine. “Motor Transport Service production schedules are almost daily being drastically interrupted by the uneven and insufficient flow of almost every type of metal product,” wrote The Quartermaster General. With scarce metal going into high priority Navy and Air Force items, Motor Transport Service72 had had to get along as best it could with an A-1-i or A-1-f rating throughout 1941. It did not get up even to an A-1-c until after Pearl Harbor, and on several occasions automotive plants had to shut down temporarily for lack of materials.73

What was needed to correct the situation? Nearly everything, it seemed. Further expansion of facilities to make axles, transfer cases, constant velocity joints, transmissions, and other parts was high on the list. This meant collateral expansion of forging and machining capacity and depended entirely on a better supply of both steel and machine tools. Machine tools formed a narrow bottleneck because QMC requests for them went into a miscellaneous classification to which only 8 percent of all machine tools were allotted.74 Speedy production of synthetic rubber was also called for, along with strict economy in the use of existing tires and other rubber products. Deliveries of needed steel had to be assured, and, to reduce consumption, cargo bodies had to be made of wood instead of steel. Finally, the QMC recommended that, in view of the difficulties ahead, the whole ASP should be restudied with a view toward reducing requirements for heavy trucks.75

The Transfer to Ordnance

While the QMG was recommending restudy of truck production goals, and industry was building new plants for producing bottleneck items, General Somervell’s staff was considering a drastic realignment of motor transport responsibilities. The impetus for change came originally in the area of maintenance, not procurement. As early as November 1941 the Hertz report had revealed glaring abuses in maintenance of Army trucks by the using arms and had recommended that Motor Transport Service be given independent status and full authority to enforce maintenance discipline.76 The movement for creation of an independent automotive corps to handle maintenance for both combat and transport vehicles gained considerable support during the winter of 1941-42 but was strongly opposed by both The Quartermaster General and the Chief of Ordnance. As the discussion continued, an alternative idea gained ground, to concentrate all responsibility, including

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research, procurement, and maintenance, for both tanks and trucks either in the Quartermaster Corps or Ordnance. This would achieve the desired unification without creating a new command in the middle of the war. With manufacture of both tanks and trucks depending on the automotive industry for many components—engines, transmissions, axles, and so on—ASF decided to put an end to the unnatural division of responsibility by making Ordnance the sole channel for dealing with the industry. General Somervell issued orders to this effect in mid-July with the first of August 1942 as the effective date. No adequate explanation for the choice of Ordnance over the Quartermaster Corps has ever been given.77

Along with the shift of construction from the Quartermaster Corps to the Corps of Engineers, this was one of the two largest transfers of functions among the technical services during World War II. It caused the shift to Ordnance of thousands of civilians, officers, and enlisted men, along with the motor bases, motor supply depots, and automotive schools they operated. The chief of the Motor Transport Service, Brig. Gen. James L. Frink, did not make the transfer, preferring to remain with the Quartermaster Corps, but most of the others joined forces with Ordnance. General Campbell, who had opposed the move originally, made it clear that he welcomed the MTS personnel and would tolerate no discrimination against them.78 But it was inevitable that they should feel for a long time like strangers in a strange land.

On the procurement side the transfer brought to Ordnance some 4,000 contracts with a total value of nearly $3 billion. And it led to a far-reaching organizational change within Ordnance—establishment of the Tank-Automotive Center in Detroit. The T-AC, as it was called, was formed by moving the QM Motor Transport Service and the Ordnance Tank and Combat Vehicle Division from their offices in the Washington-Baltimore area to the Union Guardian Building in Detroit where they joined up with small Quartermaster and Ordnance units already there.79

By the time Ordnance took over motor transport the worst of the production crisis was past.80 Many difficulties remained, and new problems were to come up later, but the sky-high requirements of the original ASP had dropped considerably, and were soon to drop more.81 Production of bottleneck items was steadily increasing, and the trend toward procurement of more and more different types of vehicles had been halted.82 The War Production

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Board and the Army and Navy Munitions Board had clarified the priority ratings on steel, and the automotive industry had made rapid progress in converting from steel to wooden cargo bodies.83 Steel, rubber, copper, and machine tools were still in short supply, but a production report prepared by Ordnance in October showed most vehicles to be on schedule or just a little behind schedule. The very heavy trucks, four tons and over, were running well ahead of requirements.84

Development work was also nearly complete by the time motor transport came to Ordnance, and definite steps had been taken to freeze existing models. In June 1942, after the ¼-ton jeep had been adopted and the ½-ton truck had been eliminated in favor of the ¾-ton, the Secretary of War had issued orders standardizing the following eight chassis, all then in production:

¼-ton, 4x4 Willys and Ford
¾-ton, 4x4 Dodge
1½-ton, 4x4 General Motors
2½-ton, 6x6 General Motors
4-ton, 6x6 Diamond T
4-5-ton, 4x4 Diamond T
5-6-ton, 4x4 Diamond T
6-ton, 6x6 White, Corbitt, and Brockway

The Secretary of War had further declared that all development, procurement, and standardization of wheeled vehicles would be coordinated by the QM Technical Committee in accordance with AR 850-25. Existing contracts for nonstandard equipment were to be completed but not renewed or extended.85

The Dukw

The most important new vehicle to come into production during the period of Ordnance control—though ordered by the QMC—was the 2½-ton amphibian. In the spring of 1942 the QMC turned over to the National Defense Research Committee responsibility for developing a swimming truck to carry supplies from ship to shore. Landing cargo quickly at overseas destinations, right on the beach without benefit of piers or heavy cranes, was a crucial problem for the Allies in 1942. But ASF was cool to the idea of taking on a new and possibly impractical type of special vehicle. Nevertheless NDRC, working

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Dukw, 2½-ton 
Amphibian Truck, leaving the water with cargo, Noumea, New Caledonia, April 1943

Dukw, 2½-ton Amphibian Truck, leaving the water with cargo, Noumea, New Caledonia, April 1943.

closely with the New York firm of naval architects, Sparkman and Stephens, Inc., and the Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company, soon produced a pilot model that performed so well in tests that several hundred were ordered.86

The new swimming truck took its nickname, Dukw or Duck, from its amphibious qualities and from its manufacturer’s code—D for 1942, U for utility, K for front-wheel drive, and W for two rear driving axles. It consisted of a watertight body on a 2½-ton truck chassis. Thirty-six feet long and eight feet wide, it could accommodate fifty men or an equivalent load of supplies. While on land it used its six driving wheels and conventional steering gear; in the water it used a marine propeller and a rudder. To avoid getting stuck while entering or leaving water the driver could shift controls to provide both wheel and propeller drive. Standardized by Ordnance in October 1942, the Dukw was used successfully at Noumea in March 1943, and by General Patton’s Seventh Army in its attack on Sicily a few months later. General Eisenhower reported the Dukw to be “invaluable.”87

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The success of the Dukw in its first combat test soon led to an increase in requirements. In November 1943 the War Production Board wired Yellow Truck and Coach Manufacturing Company that Dukw production was “of utmost urgency in the war program.”88 Ordnance was authorized to request overriding priorities to help any manufacturer meet his schedules. From 4,508 in 1943, production rose to 11,316 in 1944 before tapering off. All told, 21,147 Dukw’s were purchased before the end of the war. They were all produced by the Yellow Truck and Coach Division of General Motors.89

Lack of experience with this type of vehicle and the haste with which it was put into production led to a long series of design changes. So many engineering changes, including substitutions to save critical material, were made during the production period that some engineers remarked that no two Dukw’s were ever built exactly alike. The Dukw was not a particularly complicated vehicle, but it did present some unusual manufacturing problems such as fabrication of the sealed tubes through which axles and propeller shafts pierced the hulls. The worst problem with the Dukw was maintenance in the field.90

Crisis in Heavy-Heavy Trucks, 1943-45

During the first six months of 1943 truck production moved along at a fairly steady pace. Then in July the lightning struck. ASF suddenly directed Ordnance to double its procurement of heavy-heavy trucks (4 tons and up) in 1944—to produce 67,000 instead of something under 35,000. Fighting in North Africa had demonstrated the need for thousands of heavy trucks to tow big guns and to haul food, ammunition, and other supplies for fast-moving armies in the field. At the same time Ordnance understood that the War Production Board was planning a program to replace worn commercial trucks in the United States and that the Navy would require several thousand vehicles in 1944. It was a staggering, if not impossible, job. As General Christmas observed, “It’s going to be Subject No. 1, 24 hours a day.”91

Ordnance officers, not fully briefed by their superiors on the justification for the huge new requirements, were at first skeptical.92 They knew that manufacture

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of more than 67,000 heavy-heavy military trucks in 1944, plus thousands more for civilian needs, would require Herculean efforts by the heavy truck builders and their suppliers. In a lengthy memo on the matter, General Campbell estimated that the new 1944 schedule would cost about three quarters of a billion dollars and would require the labor of 200,000 men for one year. In terms of weight of finished material it was equivalent to manufacture of 14,000 medium tanks. General Campbell pointed out that in July 1943 only about 3,000 heavy-heavy trucks had been produced and that the average peacetime rate was only 600 per month. The new program would require approximately 6,000 per month all during 1944. “It is necessary that we be realistic ... ,” he observed. “It is my considered opinion that ... [only] 75 percent of the 1944 heavy truck program will be obtainable practically.”93

One of the worst fears of the Ordnance Department was that the truck program, in addition to all its other problems, would have to take a back seat because of its low priority. When there was a scarcity of labor, materials, or facilities, trucks “sit in the last place following the Navy, Maritime Commission, Air Corps, and combat vehicles.”94 These fears, first aroused by War Production Board approval of limited civilian truck production in May, were heightened early in August when WPB approved a large, high-priority farm implement program. District offices reported that in plant after plant farm implements were elbowing truck orders out of their regular places in the line.95 But when all these facts were presented to General Clay he merely advised General Campbell that the 1944 requirements were not based on “wishful thinking” and directed that every effort be made to meet them. He assured General Campbell that action would be taken promptly on Ordnance recommendations regarding specific bottleneck items.96 A few weeks later General Hayes expressed the following attitude toward the matter at a conference of district chiefs:

Our job is to meet the Army Supply Program. We are not responsible for the figures in the Program. We are responsible that production meets those requirements—not whether it is adequate or inadequate, whether too great or too little. ... Our job is just to meet the program.97

With the new requirements in hand, Ordnance turned at once to the established makers of heavy equipment. These were not the Big Three of the automotive industry but firms that normally built heavy specialized vehicles. Some, like International Harvester, were industrial giants while others were small firms that built only a few hundred vehicles a year. Among their numbers were Autocar, Brockway, Corbitt, Diamond T, Federal, Four Wheel Drive, Kenworth, Mack, Marmon-Herrington, Pacific Car and

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Foundry, Ward La France, and White.98 Most of these concerns were essentially assembly plants, not highly integrated like the Big Three,. With the exception of Mack, they did not make their own engines, axles, and transmissions but purchased them from other companies such as Timken-Detroit, Fuller, Clark, Spicer, Eaton, Continental, Waukesha, and Hercules. The key to expanding production lay in obtaining an increased flow of components, chiefly axles, engines, and transmissions, but producers of these items were already working at full capacity. Axles were the tightest item at the start, closely followed by transmissions and engines. The shortage of heavy-duty engines was so great that General Christmas actually suggested powering heavy trucks with two or three small engines hitched in tandem.99

As time was at a premium, Ordnance had to take shortcuts. Plants that had never before made working automotive parts were converted to meet the emergency. A notable example was Standard Steel Spring of Gary, Indiana, peacetime producer of springs and bumpers for passenger cars, which became a fabricator’ of driving axles. Under a subcontract with Timken-Detroit, it took over an idle armor plant, retooled it completely, lined up scores of sub-subcontractors, and, after many delays, finally got into production. National Slug Rejectors, Inc., of St. Louis switched from slot machines to nondriving axles for big trucks, and Kearney and Trecker, a machine-tool firm in Milwaukee, took on the unfamiliar job of making transmissions.100 Meanwhile the Ordnance Industry Integration Committee for Heavy Trucks, formed in March 1943, promoted cooperative effort among all producers.101 It was closely tied in with the WPB Production Consultants Committee for heavy trucks with which it held joint meetings every month.

In the fall of 1943 WPB appointed an Automotive Production Committee to coordinate military and civilian truck production, screen proposals for building new plants, and allocate scarce components.102 Truck production was officially labeled a “must program” and was placed near the top of the production urgency list for manpower. Recognizing that the production job assigned to Ordnance was a tremendous undertaking, Army and WPB representatives arranged for close working relations all around and assigned production follow-up to the Tank-Automotive

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Center and the Ordnance district offices.103 At the end of October General Campbell took the unusual step of writing a memo for General Somervell’s personal attention, pointing to the failure to meet required schedules of production and declaring that the reasons for the failure-shortage of manpower and components-were “beyond the power of the Ordnance Department and of the automotive industry to correct.”104 At the end of the year General Hayes again warned that the goals for 1944 would not be met unless ASF and WPB took vigorous efforts to relieve the shortage of manpower, increase the supply of critical components, and push completion of new plants. In fact, wrote General Hayes, “unless manpower and component shortages can be solved, vehicular production in 1944 may not equal the rate attained in the last quarter of 1943. ...”105

In spite of everything that could be done, the new year got off to a poor start. Only 2,788 heavy-heavy trucks were produced in January 1944, compared to 4,353 in December 1943. (Table 22) February and March were not much better than January, and in May the Automotive Production Committee (APC) reported: “The Heavy-Heavy Program continues to run materially behind. ... All companies in the Heavy-Heavy Program have fallen behind.”106 The reasons for this discouraging performance were traced back to shortages of forgings and castings for heavy duty axles, engines, and transmissions, and to the time required to bring new producers into the picture. The results were not good, and, what was even worse, there was no immediate relief in sight. Col. Emerson L. Cummings bluntly declared at a Detroit conference in April 1944: “The second quarter is going to be tough, and as for the third quarter we can see no way of meeting it at present.”107

In June 1944, as Allied invasion forces consolidated their Normandy beachheads, WPB took drastic action to speed heavy truck production. It authorized use of the “special directives treatment” that had been adopted earlier for landing craft and heavy artillery. This action was taken a few days after E. J. Bush, Chairman of

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Table 22: Production of Heavy-Heavy Trucks by Month, 1943–1944–1945

Month 1943 1944 1945 (to August)
Total 38,314 50,862 a 32,014
January 2,183 2,788 4,918
February 2,221 2,976 4,189
March 2,927 3,038 5,245
April 3,505 3,404 4,783
May 2,719 4,002 4,574
June 3,974 3,800 4,222
July 3,570 3,980 2,538
August 3,592 4,518 1,545
September 3,154 4,888 0
October 2,856 5,566 0
November 3,260 5,555 0
December 4,353 6,347 0

a Includes 1,460 that were remanufactured, converted, or modified.

Source. Summary Report. of Acceptances Tank-Automotive Matériel 1940-45, by OCO-D, pp. III-IV OHF. This source also gives acceptances by truck types from each manufacturer. The two models with highest volume were the 6-ton, 6x6, and the 10-ton 6x4.

the WPB Production Consultants Committee, wired WPB Chairman Donald M. Nelson that, since truck production was “sadly behind schedule,” someone in authority had to decide what was wanted most and then had to enforce that decision. “Someone must recognize bottlenecks which are choking our program,” Bush declared, “and issue directives that will insure preference and priority being given to castings.”108 Under the “special directives treatment,” manufacturers unable to obtain supplies needed to meet production schedules could appeal through channels for a special and immediate WPB directive to cope with the problem.109 This procedure, one of the most potent weapons in the WPB arsenal, had psychological as well as legal effect. It proclaimed to all industry that component parts for heavy trucks were to be

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given the right of way over all other traffic, except artillery and landing craft. But it was not widely used and did not work miracles. It had to be followed up by periodic conferences and visits to the plants by WPB and Ordnance representatives to deal with specific problems at the source.110

As June gave way to July, the Allied armies overcame initial enemy resistance and began to move inland. After winning the battle for Normandy they drove into Brittany and swung around to outflank Paris from the south. Hard-driving armored units led the advance that soon brought about the liberation of Paris and of all France. To keep pace, the supporting forces called for more and more trucks of all kinds. Because French railroads had been systematically bombed by Allied air forces to hamper German resistance, and had been further destroyed by retreating Germans, many supplies and reinforcements had to move forward during the early months of the campaign in truck convoys over ever-lengthening supply routes. To meet this emergency the famous Red Ball Express, employing 5,958 vehicles at one point, was organized in August to provide a fast and uninterrupted flow of supplies to the advancing front-line troops. It was for such long-distance hauling that heavy-heavy trucks were needed in large numbers. But there were never enough to meet the demand.111 Lighter trucks, forced to carry emergency overloads and run for long distances at high speeds, soon wore out.112 Theater transportation officers were convinced that the lack of heavy-duty trucks “contributed materially to the bogging down of [combat] operations in the first days of September.”113

The supply line to France was not the only one that called for heavy trucks. The Italian campaign also had its truck requirements, and in the Far East there was a constant demand for heavy trucks to haul supplies over the Stilwell Road to China. In the spring of 1945 there were actually more 4-ton 6x6’s in the Pacific Area than in the European Theater of Operations.114 Every theater had its own peculiar needs, and the supply had often to be spread dangerously thin.

Throughout the summer of 1944 heavy truck production slowly gained momentum. From 3,800 in June and 3,980 in July it rose to 4,518 in August and to 6,347 in December. (See Table 22.) The work of WPB and Ordnance committees, plus all the other measures taken to speed output, helped boost production totals,

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but the chief reason for increased output was simply the passage of time. No matter what else was done, it took time to bring in new producers of essential components. In the case of Standard Steel Spring, to cite one important example, it took twelve months—from November 1943 to November 1944—to convert an armor plate plant to production of truck axles.115 As Ordnance officers frequently remarked, “You can’t turn production on and off like a spigot.” Even with the rise in the production curve during the latter half of the year, the 1944 total fell short of requirements—only 50,862 against initial demand for 67,000.

Early in 1945 requirements for the year ahead were set at approximately 60,000 heavy-heavy trucks on the assumption that fighting would continue for some time in Europe and then the final attack on Japan would be launched. Somewhat less than the original 1944 requirement, the figure was nevertheless challenging, for it exceeded actual 1944 production. Ordnance drew up plans to expand capacity for major components such as Hercules engines and Clark transmissions and to keep Standard Steel Spring producing axles.116 But, with the surrender of Germany in early May, the pressure was relieved and schedules were cut back.

Special Vehicle Types

In addition to the standard types and sizes of trucks, Ordnance procured a bewildering array of special vehicles, ranging from light pickup and dump trucks to heavy wreckers and giant diesel-powered tank transporters. A mere cataloging of truck types in the fall of 1943 required 178 pages in TM9-2800. Among the better known types were ambulances, carryalls, panel delivery trucks, weapons carriers, bomb service trucks, buses, repair vehicles, fire trucks, huge tank trucks for hauling gasoline or water, and tractors for towing

big guns. Four broad categories —half-tracks, tractors, tank transporters and wreckers, and truck-trailer combinations—illustrate the procurement problems in this area.

Half-Track Cars and Personnel Carriers

These hybrid vehicles, standing midway between trucks and tanks, were closer to the former than to the latter. They consisted of lightly armored truck chassis with standard front wheels for steering and track-laying rear drives to give them greater cross-country mobility. When designed primarily as mobile mounts for machine gun or light artillery pieces they were known as gun motor carriages, but, when built primarily for transporting troops or cargo in combat zones, they were called either cars or carriers.117 The latter were normally armed with one or more machine guns and other small arms and, unlike gun motor carriages, were procured in comparatively large quantities. The Autocar Company and the White Motor

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Company turned out some 16,400 half-track cars of various models. These two concerns, along with the Diamond T Motor Company and the International Harvester Company, produced 22,837 half-track carriers of various models. Ordnance formed a Half-Track Integrating Committee in September 1942 to coordinate the efforts of the four producers. There were many design changes in half-track vehicles, and frequent changes in requirements, but otherwise half-track production posed no unusual problems for manufacturers or for Ordnance.118


Before the war, only trucks and commercial-type tractors were available for towing heavy artillery weapons, and it was widely believed that special tractors for this purpose were not needed. But experience soon showed that battlefield conditions demanded specially designed vehicles, and in 1941 Ordnance undertook development of full-tracked, high-speed prime movers for cross-country towing of big guns. Four high-speed types eventually went into production, the 7-ton for towing light equipment, the 13-ton for towing 155-mm. howitzers, the 18-ton for towing 155-mm. guns and 8-inch howitzers, and the powerful 38-ton that could pull 240-mm. and 8-inch guns over rough terrain and maneuver them into firing position.119 Caterpillar Tractor, International Harvester, Cleveland Tractor, and Allis-Chalmers started production in 1940 and 1941 on the 7-ton model but did not begin producing the 13-ton and 18-ton types until 1943, or the 38-ton until 1944. Roughly 21,000 of all four types combined were produced before V-J Day.120 As low-speed tractors for construction work were used chiefly by the Corps of Engineers, ASF directed Ordnance in 1943 to turn over to the Engineers full responsibility for their procurement and supply.121

Tank Transporters and Heavy Wreckers

During World War I, trucks were employed to save wear and tear on light tanks by hauling them up to the forward areas. But as tanks grew heavier and better able to travel long distances under their own power this practice was abandoned. The earliest tank transporters in World War II were designed for a different purpose—removing disabled tanks from points along lines of evacuation or supply. They were not standard cargo trucks but combinations of truck-tractors and low-bed trailers such as one occasionally sees on the highway loaded with heavy construction machinery. Because of the laws governing over-all dimensions of vehicles, maximum loads on axles, and tire sizes, the early models did not give good off-the-road performance and could not be used

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Half-track cars M2, built 
primarily to transport cargo and personnel in combat areas, nearing completion at the White Motor Company, June 1941

Half-track cars M2, built primarily to transport cargo and personnel in combat areas, nearing completion at the White Motor Company, June 1941.

for battlefield recovery. But, as the war progressed, new and improved types came into service along with tank retrievers, i.e., medium tanks fitted with winches, cranes, and other wrecking equipment. The huge 40-45-ton tank transporters had an armor-protected cab for their crews and mounted a .50-caliber machine gun on the roof. Equipped with three powerful winches, they could pull a mired tank out of the mud or haul a disabled tank behind the lines for repair. Fruehauf Trailer Company, holder of the prime contract for these vehicles, subcontracted the work first to Knuckey Truck and later to Pacific Car and Foundry, which had greater capacity.122

Along with tank transporters went other trouble-shooting vehicles known as heavy wreckers. These were big trucks that carried all sorts of equipment for administering first aid to disabled vehicles, including an oxyacetylene cutting and welding outfit. The best known heavy wrecker was the 10-ton M1 AI, an outgrowth of the M1’s built by Corbitt in 1939. Ward LaFrance made the first M1A1 version in 1942, and Kenworth was later brought into the picture to boost production. Basically a heavy-duty 6x6 truck, the M TAT carried a single-boom crane mounted behind the cab as well as winches front and rear and a small arsenal of wrecking tools. Of the smaller wreckers, the 6-ton model was

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built by Mack and the 4-ton by Diamond T.123

Truck-trailer Combinations

For hauling cargo long distances over improved roads the most efficient vehicle was the big truck-trailer combination. It consisted of a so-called truck tractor, ranging in size from a 1½-ton 4x2 up to an 8-ton 6x4, and a trailer of proportionate size. The standard van-type trailer or semitrailer for general cargo had a box-shaped body with either one or two axles.124 This type of trailer could be put to an infinite variety of uses other than hauling general cargo. It could be fitted to carry anything from pigeons to horses, and was suitable for use as a refrigerator car, map reproduction unit, or shop for repair of shoes, clothing, or delicate instruments. Some models served as mobile laundries, photographic laboratories, or bathing and sterilizing units. Still others were specially designed for hauling telephone poles, chemical containers, bombs, radio antennae, gasoline, or ponton bridge material.125

Production of the truck tractor portion of the combination was essentially the same as building standard trucks and was handled by established truck makers. In the manufacture of trailers and semitrailers, a comparatively simple process, a host of firms participated, some producing only a few hundred and others turning out tens of thousands. The biggest volume came in the smaller sizes, (up to one ton) with American Bantam, Ben Hur, Checker Cab, Gerstenslager, Nash-Kelvinator, and Willys-Overland among the leading producers. In the larger sizes, Fruehauf, Gramm, Highway, Trailmobile, and Winter-Weiss led the list.126

Total production of military transport vehicles from 1939 to 1945 amounted to more than 3 million vehicles, counting passenger cars, motorcycles, and bicycles. (Table 23) Ranging from ¼-ton jeeps to giant tank transporters, the list included about forty different vehicle types. Roughly one-third of the total was procured by the Quartermaster Corps before the transfer to Ordnance in August 1942. In terms of number of units delivered, peak procurement came in June 1942 when 62,258 trucks of all kinds were accepted. Total cost of World War II transport vehicles, including spare parts and tools, was something over $7 billion, with prices ranging from about $1,000 for a jeep to nearly $6,000 for a Dukw and $14,000 for a heavy wrecker.127

Although more than two dozen firms held major truck contracts, the bulk of the Army’s cars and trucks came from the Big Three of the industry. The number of trailer manufacturers ran into scores, and the number of subcontractors making parts and assemblies of all kinds ran into hundreds. As most contractors turned out

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Table 23: Production of Motor Transport Vehicles, 1939-1945

Item Total (1939-45) 1939-1940 1941 1942 1943 1944 1945
Total 3,200,436 46,384 232,545 791,432 983,359 738,643 408,073
Light (1-ton and under) 988,167 8,058 74,514 273,997 256,488 245,201 129,909
Medium (1½-ton) 428,196 14,153 37,139 140,375 133,523 80,888 22,118
Light-heavy (2½-ton) 812,262 9,589 62,123 182,049 193,177 220,012 145,312
Heavy-heavy (over 2½-tons) 153,686 804 9,838 23,314 38,314 50,862 30,554
Semitrailers 59,731 236 1,603 8,661 9,436 26,765 13,030
Trailers 499,827 6,494 33,311 81,881 241,450 79,188 57,503
Tractors* 34,295 993 1,675 7,433 12,674 8,106 3,414
Other vehicles (such as bicycles, motorcycles, and passenger cars) 224,272 6,057 12,342 73,722 98,297 27,621 6,233

* Excludes 82,099 commercial type tractors procured by the Corps of Engineers.

Source: Whiting, Statistics, and Summary Report of Acceptances Tank-Automotive Matériel 1940-45, by OCO-D, copy in OHF.

vehicles closely allied to their peacetime products they were able to use existing plants with little change and to turn out products that had already been tested and proved by years of experience. There was no Standard Fleet such as Motor Transport officers had fought for during the interwar years, but neither was there a repetition of World War I experience. Although the number of different types was high, there were only about thirty different makes in World War II, and of this number only five were high volume items.128

The jeep was the outstanding example of standardization, with Willys and Ford turning out more than six hundred thousand nearly identical models. The 2½-ton, 6x6, was another, with General Motors producing those issued to the U.S. Army, and Studebaker those needed for lend-lease. But not all the trucks produced by either firm were identical. Some GMC 2½-ton trucks used the Timken axle while others used the General Motors axle, and there were other variations. Even with the jeep there were a few non-interchangeable parts, and with the Dukw the variations were so numerous that, as noted above, engineers joked that no two Dukw’s were really identical. Yet the Dukw was built on the 2½-ton chassis, and between the two vehicles there were more than one thousand interchangeable parts. The greatest diversity of types came in the heavy-heavy category where nearly a score of producers took part and the

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number of non-interchangeable components quickly multiplied.

Many different models of engines were used but nearly all were of the liquid-cooled gasoline type. A few air-cooled models were tested during the 1930s but none saw service in the war. Diesel engines were produced only for some lend-lease trucks and for a limited number of heavy duty vehicles. The policy of procuring commercial vehicles for Army use precluded adoption of new devices such as automatic transmissions which had not yet been put into production for commercial vehicles.

It is sometimes asserted that truck production in World War II was unduly delayed by the Army’s search for perfection. Prolonged testing and retesting of vehicles by the technical services and by the combat arms have been blamed for loss of precious time in getting volume production under way. But the facts do not bear out this criticism. There was rigorous testing of pilot models, to be sure, followed by numerous design changes, but the testing and redesigning were not carried to extremes. In most cases standard commercial trucks were put into production with very few basic design changes. Minor modifications were always being made to meet specific military needs, but major modifications were rare. Two completely new vehicles —the jeep and the Dukw—were designed, tested, and adopted in record time. Both went into volume production quickly and both were highly successful in the field. The using arms were cool toward the idea of an amphibian truck at the start but they lost no time in adopting it after they saw the Dukw in action.

After production got under way the basic design of vehicles was frozen unless some really serious weakness developed. But minor changes were frequently approved under the title of Engineering Change Orders (ECO’s). This, it should be noted, is standard practice in private industry and is unavoidable when new models are introduced, whether one is producing trucks, washing machines, or airplanes. With the exception of the Dukw, the flow of ECO’s on military trucks was not out of line with commercial practice or with experience in other areas of war production. Perhaps the chief difficulty in this area was the lack of adequate liaison between the armies in the field and the Office Chief of Ordnance in Detroit. Engineering changes that originated with experienced automotive engineers, whether in Detroit or overseas, were usually based or sound principles, but in many instances. requests for modifications came from officers in the field with no explanation as to their purpose or necessity, and without review by competent automotive specialists. The Engineering Division in Detroit complained that, as a result, the Army was in the position of having its right hand ignorant of what its left hand was doing, and of making design modifications without adequate engineering study.129

One of the incredible features of World War II truck production was that it lagged behind schedule year after year. With all its vaunted capacity to lead the world in automotive production, the United States turned in a poorer score on trucks than on most other items of military equipment. Light and medium trucks, closely akin to normal production of the automotive industry, generally met their schedules, but

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light-heavy (2½-ton) models fell short of requirements both in 1942 and 1943. This was partly the Army’s fault. After underestimating its needs for heavy-heavy trucks early in the war the Army in mid-1943 set impossible goals for their production in 1944, and the goals were not met. A great deal of time and effort was devoted to studying the bottlenecks, but no really effective action was taken to deal with them. All things considered, the automotive industry did a magnificent job, but it could not work miracles.

Another discouraging facet of the situation was the inexcusable abuse meted out to military trucks by some of their drivers, young and irresponsible enlisted men not adequately trained or properly indoctrinated with the need for treating their vehicles with the same care that cavalrymen gave to their horses in years gone by. The average American soldier was regarded as possessing more mechanical aptitude and experience than the soldiers of any other army in the world, but he often gave a poor account of himself in handling military trucks. There were many exceptions, of course. Countless examples of mechanical ingenuity in keeping vehicles running might be cited, but the toll from neglect and abuse was terrific. Overloaded vehicles were driven recklessly at excessive speeds over good roads and bad with the result that tires, brakes, motors, clutches, and transmissions wore out at an alarming rate. In spite of efforts to enforce maintenance discipline, many soldier drivers appeared to consider their position behind the wheel as an opportunity to demonstrate both their courage and their powers of destruction. Bill Mauldin, the Army’s satirical cartoonist, once drew a soldier mechanic, possibly from Ordnance, standing atop a pile of wrecked vehicles and calling to his buddy, “I’ll be derned. Here’s one what wuz wrecked in combat.” Much of the hard usage meted out to trucks was, of course, unavoidable, but all of it, avoidable or not, added to the Ordnance problem of maintenance. The casualty rate among vehicles was so high, and the load on maintenance units so heavy, that a separate chapter is required to deal with the problem of spare parts.