WORLD WAR II JEEPS
“America’s Greatest Contribution to Modern Warfare”
- General George C. Marshall
” A Legend Born of War”
When rearmament began in 1940, the Army got serious about having what the Army, with its knack for nomenclature, called “Truck, 4×4, Light.”
In September 1940 a team headed by Karl Probst delivered to the U.S. Army a prototype for the World War II Jeep. This small, four wheel-drive vehicle was produced by the American Bantam Car Co. Bantam manufactured 2,675 Jeeps. Although larger companies ultimately received the chief wartime orders, it was Bantam-in cooperation with the Army-that originally created the Jeep.
The jeep as we know it was the result of a competition between Ford, Willys and American Bantam to design a light and versatile vehicle to meet the government’s requirements. Shortly after winning the contract, it became apparent that Willys was not able to keep up with the large demand needed to support the war effort. Ford was contracted to manufacture the additional units required to supply the troops. Ford’s original submission to the competition was the Ford GP. The “W” was added to GPW in reference to the original Willys design and engine. Willys and Ford built approximately 651,000 jeeps between 1941–1945. The jeep quickly proved indispensable to the war effort and accounted for over 18% of all the wheeled military vehicles built in the US during the war. Peak production at the Willys-Overland plant in Toledo, Ohio, was one Jeep every 80 seconds.
Jeeps, from whatever manufacturer, served with distinction in every combat zone and every “rear area” of the war. Field modifications were endless; from VIP limousines to garbage trucks, from litter carriers to artillery platforms, from the messenger service to heavily armed rapid strike assault vehicles. They drove over good roads, through deep mud, forded streams, sped over sand, and some even went to sea. In Naval service, besides being used around shore bases in the same ways as at any other military base, some were used aboard fleet carriers as aircraft “tugs.” In the ETO, (European Theater of Operation) many Jeeps were field-modified with a 3-ft vertical steel bar welded to the center of the front bumper to break decapitation wires strung across roads.
On every fighting front the jeep proved its versatility. Major General Courtney H. Hodges, chief of infantry, called it “the most useful motor vehicle we’ve ever had.” As a troop carrier it took three men easily, six in a pinch. As a reconnaissance car it could go anywhere a cycle could, and a lot more places besides. Fitted with a .30- or .50-caliber gun in the back seat, the jeep became a mobile ack-ack unit. Equipped with a two-way radio together with C-rations and some blankets, it became a mobile command post.
Through lend-lease, Jeeps of all configurations served prolifically with all Allied powers. Popular among the troops, Enzo Ferrari later described the Jeep as “America’s only real sports car.” Jeeps became so common in and around the European battle areas that German troops came to believe that each American soldier was issued his own Jeep.
So ubiquitous was the Jeep and diverse in its capabilities that Gen Dwight D. Eisenhower listed it among the three primary tools that won the war: the Jeep, the Dakota, and the Landing Craft. Interestingly, none of these were weapons.
The faithful Jeep earned a place in every GI’s heart, in every area of combat, in every conceivable role. As General Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “America could not have won World War II without it.”
War correspondent Ernie Pyle characterized the Jeep vehicle in this way. “It’s as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and agile as a goat.”
He also called the Jeep, along with the Coleman G.I. Pocket Stove, “the two most important pieces of noncombat equipment ever developed.”
Ernie Pyle was a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who became a war correspondent during World War II. He died of sniper fire on April 18, 1945 while reporting on the invasion of Okinawa. He was one of only a few civilians who were killed during World War II that were awarded a Purple Heart.
The jeep did have its share of shortcomings. The hand brake, for instance, was all but useless. Also, Ernie Pyle’s comment aside, no matter how one sat, it was impossible to stay comfortable for very long. Only two positions were at all feasible: either bolt upright or slouched down to the middle of one’s spine. Either way, the ride tended to encourage the development of hemorrhoids. Army medics referred to the malady as “jeep disease.”
USES OF THE JEEP:
Uses of the jeep were endless. Oftentimes the jeep’s hood served as a chaplain’s altar, or as a card table for the more secular-minded. Suitably equipped, it could become a portable power plant for aircraft searchlights, floodlights, shortwave radio sets, radar equipment, even welding apparatuses. It could be used as a field telephone exchange, a food supply unit for front-line fighters, or a medical unit for front-line first-aid.
Popular Mechanics reported in the November 1942 issue, “In Australia our soldiers were given the difficult task of laying an underground cable at an aerodrome without interrupting field operations. By pick and shovel it would have taken several days. But the jeep sped in, hitched to a plow, and the ditch was dug at ten miles an hour. Behind it came another jeep, towing a reel of cable, and next a third jeep pulling a roller that covered the cable and flattened the ground. The job was finished in two hours while Australians gaped.”
Lieutenant Colonel Manuel Conley summed up the record of the wartime jeep: “Versatile, reliable, and virtually indestructible, this magic motor vehicle bounced to glory as one of World War II’s most enduring legends.”
Jeep was often referred to as “the wartime limousine“. The Jeep transported everyone from Presidents and British Royalty to Privates and Celebrities and even newlyweds.
The origin of the name “Jeep” has been debated for many years. Some people believe “Jeep” is a phonetic pronunciation of the abbreviation GP, from “General Purpose”, that was used as part of the official Army nomenclature.
August, 1936 was the first documented use of the word “Jeep”. It was the name of a character Eugene the Jeep in the Popeye comic strip, known for his supernatural abilities. Eugene the Jeep was Popeye’s “jungle pet” and was “small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems.”
It was also the name of a small tractor made by Minneapolis-Moline before World War II.
Whatever the source, the name stuck and, after the war, Willys filed a successful trademark claim for the name.
DECORATED WAR HERO:
One Battered Jeep from WWII received a Purple Heart after successfully surviving two beach landings.
“We are not retreating — we are advancing in another direction.”
-General Douglas MacArthur
“There is no substitute for victory.”
-General Douglas MacArthur
“You cannot invade the mainland United States. There would be a rifle behind each blade of grass.”
-Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto
The Marauder inventory consists of four World War II era Jeeps. Click on the links below to learn more about each vehicle and interesting history.