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Jeepstory Class

Jeep Detailed History

This Jeepstory class is perhaps best summed up in the words of famous war correspondent Ernie Pyle, "Jeep it's as faithful as a dog, as strong as a mule and as agile as a goat." - No wonder the GIs loved it.

(See Part 1,3,2,5 in suggested playlist)

Birth of the Jeep

In 1939, the army needed a replacement for the aging motorcycle and sidecar from World War l, not to mention the vehicles already in use, like the modified Model T Ford. A list of priorities was dispatched to American carmakers to design and build a prototype for an all-new fast, lightweight, all-terrain command and reconnaissance vehicle. The army requested a working prototype meeting the following guidelines be delivered in 49 days.

load capacity of 600 pounds
wheelbase under 75 inches
height under 36 inches
rectangular shaped body
three-bucket seats
blackout and driving lights
capable of running smoothly up to fifty miles per hour
two speed transfer case with four-wheel drive
fold down windshield
gross vehicle weight under 1200 pounds

Father of the Jeep

The army had laid out a demanding list of requirements and of the 135 companies contacted only two showed any interest. The American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania and Willys-Overland, but only Bantam met the deadline thanks to engineering skills and patriotism of Karl Probst.

The news of Europe falling to the Germans, of Dunkirk and of little England standing on its own, taking on the might of the Wehrmacht, U-boats and Luftwaffe, motivated Probst to action even though he had originally thought it couldn't be done. With only ten days left to design and build a vehicle to meet the army's deadline, Probst raced to join the Bantam team.

By lunchtime on Wednesday, June 22nd, Probst had arrived and began a marathon session at the drafting table. Two days later on Friday, June 24th, 1940 Probst had done what no one else, not even the big automotive companies were able to do. Not only had Probst designed a vehicle to meet the army's rigid requirements, he had created a vehicle that exceeded their expectations, a vehicle that would become legendary, a vehicle that would soon be called Jeep.

Two modern day pictures from Butler, Pennsylvania.
The historic Bantam car factory (left) and a sign celebrating the invention of the Jeep (right).

Brief History

The Jeep was revolutionary because its construction was simple yet extremely strong. Safety and comfort were primitive but that didn't stop it from becoming every soldier's favourite.

Rigours tests proved that it could take more punishment that any other vehicle. It was powered by a 60hp engine and weighed just 2400lbs. This combination of strength and power meant that it could get through practically anything.

The Jeep revolutionized the Army's mobility. Versatile and lightweight, it was the first general-purpose vehicle that could be airlifted into battle.

In the Second World War 700,000 of them were built for use in Europe and the Pacific.

On D-day the Jeep was one of the first vehicles to hit the French beaches. It was a machine that gave the Allies an edge in every battle zone across the world.

During the War it became so famous that even President Roosevelt rode in one but perhaps the most famous person ever to grace the seats of a Jeep, was Marilyn Monroe.

For over fourty years, through the wars in Korea and Vietnam the Jeep remained the standard Military transport vehicle.

Jeep Testing and Approval

Major Herbert Lawes, who had driven just about every army vehicle in existence, was the first driver to test the Jeep. After racing up a 60-degree slop in second gear with no problem, Major Lawes then set about on a 15 minute thrashing over some of the toughest terrain in the area. When he returned he stated, "I believe this unit will make history".

Over the next three weeks the Jeep was subjected to brutal testing. Some of the exercises included driving off a platform 4 feet in the air at 30 mph and repeatedly running full speed down logging trails with tree trunks set into the ground at regular intervals After 20 days of punishment the frame side-members cracked under the strain, but by then it was obvious to everyone that the Jeep had proved itself well up to the job.

One sore spot with the army was the Jeep had come in over the weight limit specified by the army guidelines. Although Bantam had written down 1273 lbs it was actually around 600 lbs heavier then that. However, practicality prevailed when a large cavalry officer managed to lift the rear end of the Jeep off the ground unaided.

It seemed a wonderful success story for the struggling Bantam. They had delivered the first Jeep prototype, which at that time was known as the Bantam BRC. It was exceptional and exceeded expectation, but the army had concerns that little Bantam could mass-produce the required number of Jeeps. Much to the dismay of Bantam, the army provided Willys and Ford with copies of the BRC blueprints and in short order both companies produce their own prototypes. In the end it was a conglomeration of the Bantam BRC, the Willys Quad and Ford Pygmy that came together to make the final production model Jeep.

Bantam BRC Prototype
Willys Quad Prototype
Ford GPW Prototype

Poor Bantam was relegated to making military trailers while Ford and Willys were enlisted to mass-produce the Jeep. Both companies produce almost identical Jeeps as required by the army for the ability to interchange parts. The Ford Jeep was referred to, as the GPW while the Willys Jeep was the MB.

Jeep Goes to War

Jeeps were coming out of the Willys and Ford Plants at rate of one jeep per one and a half minutes and by the end of WWII over 700,000 had been built.

The Army, Navy and Air Force all had their specific uses for the Jeep. They were shipped in large numbers to the Allied Forces of Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand. The Jeep was used in every theatre of war from the depths of the Russian winter to the rains of Europe, the heat of the Pacific and dust of North Africa. In the field Jeeps became a vital part of every land action.

The Jeeps performance in WWII was exceptional. It operated without strain from three to 60 miles per hour. It handled forty degree slopes, turned in a thirty foot circle, and tilted left or right on a fifty degree angle without tipping over. The Jeep seemed to be able to go anywhere as it climbed mountains in Switzerland, crossed scorching deserts in Northern Africa and trudged through the sandy beaches in the South Pacific.

Multi-Purpose Jeep

Not only were the Jeeps capable of going just about anywhere they were adapted and modified to do just about anything. As one army officer stated, "It can do everything except bake a cake".

They became mobile bases for religious services, and used their power take-offs (PTO's) to run searchlights, radar, welders, cookers and even a laundry. Their flat hoods served as altars for chaplains and as playing tables for infantry men's card games. They were used to lay telephone communications, to transport the wounded, as taxis to carry battle commanders, generals, prime ministers and presidents. They were used by the Air Force to deliver flight crews, tow bombers and act as "Follow Me" vehicles on airfields for traffic control. They were modified for pulling railway cars. The Navy converted them for Shore Patrol duties and British commandos used them for high-speed surprise raids on Rommel's forces in the North Africa desert. The Jeep did whatever was asked of it.

The Jeep Train

Perhaps one of the most startling transformations was to convert a Jeep into a train. All that had to be done was to change the wheels for flanged steel rims and add a suitable coupling off the rear panel and lock the steering.

In Europe Jeeps ran along main railway lines, pulling all sorts of goods behind them and checking the miles of unprotected communication wires that ran beside the tracks, while in Australia they were used as switch engines. In the Philippines, the quarter-ton little Jeep pulled a 52-ton supply train for 19 miles, averaging 22mph.

The Jeep Ambulance

Jeeps could get troops up to the front line better than any other vehicle, but they also proved best for getting the wounded back again. Field modifications were carried out all over the world so that injured soldier’s could be carried on stretchers mounted to the Jeeps. There were many and varied ideas used to carry stretcher patients in Jeeps. Some used two layers and carried up to seven patients.


An ambulance and communications Jeeps trek through the flooded streets of Cranenburg,
just inside Germany in February 1945.

This Willys carried three stretcher cases, one walking-wounded, a male nurse, an armed soldier and a driver to a field hospital in southern New Guinea in January 1943.
Australians with an ambulance Jeep in the Far East carrying the wounded above the driver.


Jeeps and Guns

The Jeep was a nimble beast and mounting guns on it made for a formidable weapon. Early versions had a .50-cal machine gun mounted on a monopod behind the front seats but soon multiple guns were being mounted to the Jeep in a wild variety of ways. The Jeeps tough suspension had no problem with the heavy guns and ammunition on board. One Jeep outfitted with a 37mm Gun destroyed 4 JAP Tanks but perhaps the most famous armed Jeeps were those of the SAS.

Rommel's tanks had been unstoppable as they stormed across the desert until the SAS and the Long Range Desert Group took to using Jeeps. With the nimble Jeep they raided runways and depots, causing enormous loss of materials and supplies, thus diverting enemy troops and bringing Rommel's tanks to a grinding halt.

Later on in the ware, in 1944, Jeeps were converted in both the Pacific theatre and Europe to carry rocket launchers. Given the speed and the instant firepower that could be brought to bear, the Jeep presented a formidable hard-hitting and fast-moving target. The Jeep could also easily tow a fair amount of firepower behind it. The favourite was the 37mm anti-tank gun. This again extended the operational capabilities of the Jeep way beyond a simple four-seater communication and transport vehicle.

Jeeps o the US 7th Army in fighting for Alsace were fitted with these 4.5in rocket launchers, taken from the landing craft used for D-Day. The dozen rockets could be fired every 2 seconds.

Serious firepower. An SAS Jeep in North Africa displays a formidable array of both single and twin Vickers K guns as well as a .50-cal machine gun liberated from an aircraft. To keep the crew in the field, there are 20 cans plus sufficient supplies.

Jeep Success

The Jeep persevered under extended, heavy use in every theatre of war, from desert to deep jungle, by troops who were tired, under fire and mechanically unsympathetic. In these kinds of conditions everything fails and yet the Jeep did not. Yes, there were minor changes to bolts, wheels, seats and spring rates, but there was not a single major failure in the design thorough out the entire war. No going back to the drawing board - the Jeep was a success.

The Jeep became a sign, the emblem, the alter ego of the American fighting machine and soldiers often grew attached to their Jeeps.

References:
Jeeptology.com
"Modern Marvels - History of the Jeep"
Essential Military Jeep by Graham Scott
Jeep Warhorse, Workhorse and Boulevard Cruiser by David Fetherston
Classic Jeeps by John Carroll
Crossor Jeep History

Table of Contents

Page title Most recent update Last edited by
Top 15 Jeep Products links to buy on ebay July 20, 2017 7:39 PM anonymous
CAMPING CHECK LIST (Long) March 18, 2016 1:19 PM anonymous
Where is the Jeep Night and Jeep meet up held? December 18, 2014 11:21 PM anonymous
A look back at the "Jeepstory" of the 1940's October 27, 2014 11:56 PM anonymous
New dictionary meaning of "Jeeptology" Copyrighted October 28, 2014 12:14 AM anonymous
What are Member Dues used for? May 2, 2016 12:01 AM anonymous
First Aid Kits, strongly suggested by EMS Lt. Gio December 26, 2012 9:43 PM anonymous
Why do you require an annual contribution? February 7, 2013 6:15 PM anonymous
Do's and Don'ts plus tips for Trail Riding November 25, 2012 2:25 PM anonymous
Table of Contents and Member Resources. September 14, 2012 7:04 PM anonymous
What J.O.C is about... September 14, 2012 7:12 PM anonymous
Don't have a Jeep? Click here "Jeeper Seekers" October 2, 2012 7:48 PM anonymous

Miami, FL

Founded Jun 12, 2012

Organizers:

MiG (The Jeeptologist), Rick J,O,C, sign-up process Mgr.
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