The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII

Michael Walker - July 10, 2017

The Second World War involved more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. All of the major participants entered in a state of “total war”. Science, economy, industry, agriculture, in fact, everything was geared towards the war effort. The vast distances covered by the armies meant vehicles were vitally important for all combatants. This industrial war would be won not only on the battles fought but also in the much less glamorous area of transportation and supply lines. Getting the troops to the frontline was a vital part of the war effort. We will look at 10 military vehicles that became the unsung heroes of the Second World War.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The Bantam Jeep. Bantam Jeep Festivel

10. The Original Bantam BRC Jeep

“The Jeep, the Dakota, and the Landing Craft were the three tools that won the war.” — Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower

In 1940, as it became increasingly likely that the U.S.A would be drawn into the Second World War, the U.S Army approached 135 U.S. automotive manufacturers to submit designs to replace it’s light motor vehicles. The Army’s specifications were demanding, a 4 wheel drive, fold down windshield, 660-pound payload and the vehicle should weigh no more than 1300 pounds.

American Bantam Car Company, Willys-Overland Motors, and the Ford Motor Company entered, Bantam won but did not have the production capacity to mass produce the vehicle, Willy’s took over but, once again, they couldn’t keep up with the production demand and Ford was contracted to produce the vehicle. The Ford car was designated GPW, with the “W” referring to the “Willys” licensed design.

A staple of all classic Second World War movies, the Bantam Jeep was a lightweight, 4×4 vehicle which could be used in reconnaissance missions. The vehicle served with distinction in every combat zone and every “rear area” of the war. The beauty of the design meant that modifications were endless, the vehicles were used for; garbage trucks, artillery platforms, litter carriers, messenger service, VIP limousines, and even heavily armed rapid strike assault vehicles.

The jeep was able to travel over all terrain and was even used as aircraft tugs onboard fleet carriers. 13,000 amphibian jeeps were built by Ford, they were inspired by the larger DUKW, but the amphibious jeep was too heavy and most of the GPA’s were routed to the U.S.S.R. under the Land-Lease program. The Soviets were happy with the vehicles impressive ability to cross rivers and they developed their own version of it after the war, the GAZ-46. Jeeps became so popular in the European theatre that German troops came to believe that each American soldier was issued his own jeep.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
CCKW Truck. wwiivehicles.com

9. The GMC CCKW Truck

“Amateurs talk about tactics, but professionals study logistics.” – Gen. Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980.

The logistics of moving supplies and men hundreds of miles across bombed out landscapes was a constant problem for Allied commanders, one vehicle that solved the problem was the General Motors CCKW truck. Capable of hauling two and a half tons, all-wheel-drive truck and able to be modified, these trucks were operated mainly by African-American soldiers along the U.S. Army supply line.

As D-Day approached, the CCKW had already proven its worth in the war, but with the invasion of Europe the truck would take on a legendary status. Air raids had destroyed the railroads across Normandy, the only other form of transportation was by truck, this is when the CCKW came into its own. As the troops pushed further into France, supply lines became stretched, the trucks began to run further and further inland, congestion on the narrow French roads threatened to scupper the Allied plans.

The “Red Ball Express” was developed, using the idea of one-way streets, the Allies created two routes between Cherbourg on the coast and the forward supply base in Chartres 200 miles away. The northern route was for eastbound convoys full of supplies and the southern route for westbound returning traffic. Using this system, 6,000 vehicles transported 12,500 tons of supplies a day, by the time the Red Ball Express ended after three months a million tons of supplies had been transported and 50,000 CCKW truck tires had been worn out.

Due to a large number of CCKW trucks in circulation after the war, the army kept on using the trucks for decades, they performed in the Cold War and the Korean War, some armies were still using them in the 1990s.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel or LCVP. Wikipedia

8. The LCVP/Higgins Boat

“It is impossible to overstate the tactical advantages this craft gave U.S. amphibious commanders in World War II.” Historian and retired US Marine Corps Colonel Joseph H. Alexander.

The Landing Craft, Vehicle Personnel or LCVP, was one of the three vehicles General Dwight D. Eisenhower claimed won the war for the Allies. The LCVP was the brainchild of one man, Andrew J. Higgins. A native of New Orleans, Higgins designed the Eureka Boat in 1926, which was able to navigate the shallow waters where floating debris and submerged mangrove roots would damage boat propellers, the design of the Eureka allowed the boat to run in shallow water at high speed and easily turn without any negative consequences, all of these characteristics were needed in a military landing craft. With only a few modifications the Eureka was successful in military exercises.

The LCVP was 36 feet long, quite a compact size, but it could carry an entire 36-man platoon. It was also useful in transporting supplies, 8,000 pounds of cargo could be landed on the beach. It was also useful in transporting troops and vehicles, one jeep and a 12-man squad could fit in the craft.

Everything about the craft was designed for ease, the craft could run up onto the beach and then reverse back into deep water. Once on the beach, in the space of a few minutes, all of the soldiers could disembark and the craft would be back on the deep water.

The crafts were carried aboard Attack Transport Ships (APAs), the crafts were loaded with troops and supplies out of the range of enemy fire, the crafts would then form waves with the other crafts and make their way to the beach. Perhaps the Supreme Allied Commander in Western Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower, summed up the brilliance of the LCVP: “Andrew Higgins… is the man who won the war for us. … If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.”

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The C-47 during the Normandy Campaign. Pinterest

7. The Douglas C-47 Skytrain

“Air power may either end war or end civilization.” – Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 14 March 1933.

Aircraft technology had come a long way since the First World War, what was seen as a periphery arm of the armed forces became an important factor 21 years later. It wasn’t just the development of bombers and fighter planes that led to the Allied victory, just as much emphasis should be placed on the workhorse military transport aircraft, such as the Douglas C-47 Skytrain.

During the Second World War, the armed forces used the C-47 for the transport of troops, cargo, and wounded personnel. More than 10,000 aircraft were produced in factories in Long Beach and Santa Monica, California and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. During the period March 1943 and August 1945 the Oklahoma City plant produced 5,354 C-47s, that is an impressive 297 planes each calendar month,

The C-47 was vital to the success of many Allied campaigns, most notably at Guadalcanal and in the jungles of New Guinea and Burma. The C-47 allowed Allied troops to counter the mobility of the Japanese army who were experts at travelling light.C-47 aircraft were used to airlift supplies to the embattled American military personnal during the Battle of Bastogne, as part of the larger Battle of the Bulge in 1944. It was also used in flying “The Hump” route from India to China, this experience allowed the C-47 to play a major role in the Berlin Airlift after the war. C-47 aircraft were used to airlift supplies to the embattled American forces

The C-47 wasn’t just used in the conventional sense of transporting goods and troops. In the European theatre, it was also used to tow gliders and drop paratroopers. 4,381 paratroops were dropped from the aircraft during the invasion of Sicily, and 50,000 paratroops were dropped during the first few days of the invasion of Normandy in 1944. After the Second World War, the aircraft was used in major world events, including the Berlin Airlift, Korean War, and Vietnam War.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
HMS Ocean, a conversion of a light aircraft carrier. Wikipedia

6. The Aircraft Carrier

The advent of heavier-than-air fixed wing aircraft in 1903 was followed seven years later by the first experimental take-off of an aircraft from the deck of a United States Navy ship, these two inventions; the aircraft and the aircraft carrier would change the nature of war.

In a war which stretched across the globe and relied on airpower to win battles, the combination of air and naval forces was vital for success. Nowhere did the combination of air and sea play a more significant role than in the giant floating fortresses of the aircraft carrier.

At the beginning of the war, the Royal Navy had a numerical advantage over the German and Italian navies. Britain had seven aircraft carriers compared to none on the German and Italian side. These huge ships were vulnerable to attack, for example, the sinking of HMS Glorious during the Norwegian campaign in 1940. In November 1940, the versatility of the carrier was demonstrated when HMS Illustrious launched a long-range strike on the Italian fleet, this showed the effectiveness of mobile aircraft strikes by short-range aircrafts.

Perhaps the arena where the aircraft carrier truly showed its power was in the Pacific theatre. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour was a display of the power projection capability of a large force of modern carriers. The attack was a turning point in naval history, no other nation had used aircraft carriers so effectively.

As the Pacific War intensified and the U.S.A. made significant gains across the Pacific, the first naval battle was fought by aircraft and not warships at the Battle of Midway. Midway saw all four Japanese carriers sunk by planes from three American carriers. Midway was the turning point of the war in the Pacific, conducted only six months after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour. Military historian John Keegan called the Battle of Midway, “the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare.”

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The Liberty Ship. ww2ships

5. The Liberty Ship

“A real ugly duckling” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

The Liberty Ship was the workhorse of the high seas. What it lacked in beauty, it certainly made up for in work ethic. 2,840 jeeps, 440 tanks, or 230 million rounds of rifle ammunition could be carried onboard the Liberty. The class was developed to replace the British ships destroyed by German U-boat raids in the North Atlantic Ocean.

The ship had a simple design and could be produced at a low cost – all great factors for mass production. At first, it took about 230 days to build a Liberty ship, this construction time was reduced by an average of 42 days. Then, somebody had some coffee and the record was set; a Liberty ship was launched 4 days, 15 hours, and 30 minutes after the keel was laid. Liberty ships were built in 18 shipyards across the country, from Alabama to Washington. The Liberty ship was a perfect example of wartime American industrial power, and the practical application of transporting goods, soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic helped the Allied war effort.

Liberty ships were mass-produced on an unprecedented scale, built in 18 shipyards across the country, from Alabama to Washington. 2,710 Liberty ships were built between 1941 to 1945. The Liberty ship was a perfect example of wartime American industrial power, and the practical application of transporting goods, soldiers and supplies across the Atlantic helped the Allied war effort.

There are only three surviving Liberty ships, two of them are museums. The SS John W. Brown, based in Baltimore, Maryland and the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, docked at Pier 45, San Fransico, California, both of these ships are museums and open to the public.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
Sherman Tank. Wikipedia

4. The Sherman Tank

“If the tank succeeds, then victory follows.” Heinz Guderian.

The M4 Sherman, officially known as Medium Tank, was the most numerous battle tank used by the United States, the reason for this is due to the reliability and the fact that the tank was relatively cheap to produce. The vehicle was also distributed to the British Commonwealth and Soviet Union through the Lend-Lease program. At the outbreak of the war, there was one area in which the Germans had a significant advantage over the Allies, and that was the tank.

The tanks of the German Army were quick, efficient and contributed to the success of the Blitzkrieg. In 1940 the U.S. government submitted plans for the M4 (Sherman) tank which was hoped would be as successful as the German tanks. In February 1942, three months after the United States entered the war, the design entered full production.

At the outbreak of the war, there was one area in which the Germans had a significant advantage over the Allies, and that was the tank. The tanks of the German Army were quick, efficient and contributed to the success of the Blitzkrieg. In 1940 the U.S. government submitted plans for the M4 (Sherman) tank which was hoped would be as successful as the German tanks. In February 1942, three months after the United States entered the war, the design entered full production.

The tanks were used across all of the theatres of war, in the Desert War, they were effective due to their high top speed, improved armour, and weapons which were capable of penetrating German armour. By the end of the European War, half of the US Army tanks were M4 Sherman tanks. In the Pacific war, where there were fewer tank battles, the Shermans easily outclassed their Japanese counterparts. The Shermans were modified with high explosive rounds to help pierce the thinly-armoured Japanese tanks. Shermans in the Pacific were also equipped with flamethrowers.

The M4 Sherman design had an escape hatch underneath the hull, this was used as an alternative escape route but in the Pacific campaign, it was used to rescue wounded soldiers as Japanese snipers frequently targeted Americans dispatched to treat the wounded.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The Aviation History Online Museum

3. The P-51 Mustang fighter plane

“Go in close, and when you think you are too close, go in closer.” Major Thomas B. ‘Tommy’ McGuire, USAAF

Thousands of the long-range, single-seat fighter known as the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang were produced to aid the Allied war effort. Production began in 1940 and by 1945 each plane cost $50,985, North American Aviation decided on creating a new design rather than building from an old design. The vehicle was extremely adaptable and served across all the theatres of the war.

The first combat action the Mustang fighters participated in took place on 10th May 1942, when RAF pilots flew them against the Luftwaffe. By the end of the war, the 15,000 Mustangs that had been produced had claimed 4,950 enemy aircraft. The main role of the Mustang was to help escort bombers on raids into the Nazi-held territory, but they were also valuable in the China-Burma-India theatre as well, where they operated in both ground support and bomber escort.

By the end of 1944, 14 out of 15 groups of the U.S. Army 8th Air Force contained Mustang fighters. Chuck Yeager, later to become the first pilot to have exceeded the speed of sound, shot down a German Me 262 jet fighter in his Mustang fighter, making him the first American to shoot down a German jet fighter. The Mustang helped ensure Allied air superiority across Europe in 1944. With control of the air, the land forces could be protected as the Allied armies pushed deeper into the Nazi-controlled territory. Chief Naval Test Pilot Eric Brown had this to say about the Mustang, “The Mustang was a good fighter and the best escort due to its incredible range, make no mistake about it. It was also the best American dogfighter.”

After the Second World War, Mustangs continued to serve in the military, they were the main propeller-driven fighter of the U.S. Army Air Forces, remaining in service in 30 countries around the world and also serving in the Korean War.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
Encyclopedia Britannica

2. The DUKW

Which Second World War vehicle could start its life crossing beaches and rivers and end its life offering tourist cruises up and down the River Thames in London, UK? The DUKW of course. Before we look at the history of this fascinating vehicle let us clear up the name. DUKW is not an acronym, it is the nomenclature of the General Motors Corporation – D stands for 1942, U is for utility (amphibious), K stands for all-wheel drive, and W for 2 powered rear axles.

A six-wheel-drive amphibious vehicle which excelled at approaching and crossing beaches in amphibious warfare attacks. These amphibious warfare attacks became more popular as the Allied powers pushed further into the Nazi-held territory. The DUKW was supplied to the United States Army, the United States Marine Corps and Allied forces. 2,000 of the vehicles were supplied to the United Kingdom under the Lend-Lease program, 535 were also used by Australian forces, with 586 supplied to the Soviet Union.

The DUKW (popularly pronounced “duck”) is an example of what happens when you take an already amazing machine and modify it to produce a vehicle that solves numerous problems. The DUKW is basically a modification of the CCKW truck which was used on land, the DUKW’s unique feature was that it could be used as an amphibious vehicle, mobile on both land and water.

The DUKW would prove its seaworthiness by crossing the English Channel and take a major role in the Normandy campaign. The DUKW was used in landings in the Mediterranean, Pacific, Normandy, Operation Husky (Invasion of Sicily) and Operation Plunder (Crossing of the Rhine). One of the reasons why the DUKW was so effective on both land and water was due to the fact that the driver could control the tyre pressure. The tires could be fully inflated for hard surfaces and deflated for soft surfaces.

The Unsung Heroes: 10 Military Vehicles that Helped the Allies Win WWII
The Spitfire. Daily Mail

1. The Supermarine Spitfire Fighter Plane

“Never was so much owed by so many to so few” Winston Churchill

If one vehicle could be classed as winning the war for the Allies it would be the Submarine Spitfire. This fighter plane embedded itself into the consciousness of the British during the Battle of Britain, even though the more numerous Hurricane shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe. The Spitfire was almost as important for its propaganda worth as it was for its fighting prowess.

Other planes could be completed quicker, the German Bf 109 fighter took a third less time to build than a Spitfire aircraft, but the Spitfire was the only Allied fighter in production at the outbreak of the European War that was still in production at the end, the design was produced in greater numbers than any other Allied fighter design.

Together with the Hawker Hurricane fighter, these two types of fighters defended Britain from Germany’s aerial invasion during the Battle of Britain, a battle, which if it had been lost, would have been the end of the war and European democracy. The slower Hurricane was used to attack enemy bombers, whilst the quicker Spitfire was an effective offensive weapon in attacking enemy fighters. The speed of the Spitfire saved many lives, especially when chased by enemy fighters. As the author Stephen Bungay noted; “not until the advent of the first swept-wing jets in 1949 was there anything which could catch it”.

After the war, Spitfires were still being used in many air forces around the world and they remained in service until the 1960s. The last combat operations carried out by Spitfires was by the Burmese air force supporting Chinese and Burmese troops in operations against the CIA backed Kuomintang nationalists during 1960/61. The Spitfires served in operations off Norway, in the Mediterranean, in the Pacific, North Africa, and in Southeast Asia. George Unwin, who flew with No. 19 Squadron RAF during the Battle of Britain, had this to say about the Spitfire:

“It was a superior aircraft, it was absolutely. It was so sensitive on the controls. There was no heaving, or pulling and pushing and kicking. You just breathed on it and when you wanted, if you wanted to turn, you just moved your hands slowly and she went … She really was the perfect flying machine. I’ve never flown anything sweeter. I’ve flown jets right up to the Venom, but nothing like her. Nothing like a Spitfire.”

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