The Jeep was the result of a request by the Army in 1940 for a general purpose vehicle that was small, lightweight, had four-wheel drive for cross-country travel, and capable of carrying a light machine gun. Initially, only two companies provided vehicles to meet this requirement: American Bantam (the Bantam Reconnaissance Command or BRC) and Willys-Overland (the Quad or 4 x4). After the initial tests, the Army asked for changes and also opened the door to other manufacturers, notably Ford, for further testing and development in late 1940 and into 1941.
The Jeep that resulted was something of a mongrel: The Bantam’s Spicer-sourced four-wheel transmission and differential was mated with the Willy’s Go-Devil engine and fitted with the overall bodywork configuration of the Ford Model GP. From less than 100 Jeeps in 1940, almost 8,500 were built in 1941 in three different versions by Bantam (BRC-40), Willys (MA), and Ford (GP). Beginning in late 1941, the Jeep was standardized with the Spicer differential, the Go-Devil engine, and the Ford bodywork configuration. Production of the Jeep as the Willys Model MB and the Ford Model GPW resulted 639, 235 being produced during the war, with Willys producing over 360,000 of them. In addition, Ford also produced almost 13,000 of a special amphibious Jeep (Model GPA) called the “Seep.” In all, from 1940 to 1945, a total of 647,925 Jeeps were built.
The Jeep fulfilled many roles during the war, these ranging from being the mount for cavalry units conducting combat reconnaissance missions, the vehicle from which commanders led their units, hauling trailers full of vital supplies across the battlefield, carrying aircrew to their aircraft whether the airfield was in Brazil or Britain or Italy or Guadalcanal or Iwo Jima, carrying litters bearing wounded troops, transporting generals and admirals to work, pulling light artillery pieces into battle or simply allowing President Roosevelt review troops. The Jeep was also used by Special Air Service units to conduct raids behind enemy lines, on D-Day in France it rode into battle in gliders just as it did with the Chindits (Long Range Penetration Groups) in Burma, it landed with the assault waves in Italy, France, the Philippines, and Okinawa, as well as carrying the victorious Allies into Rome, Paris, Berlin, and Tokyo.
Along with the Douglas C-47 Dakota/Skytrain and landing craft such as the Higgins Boat and the Landing Ship, Tank (LST), the Jeep is often credited with being one of the important factors in helping the Allies achieve victory during World War 2.
About the Author
Don Capps is a member of the Society of Automotive Historians (SAH). currently serving on its Board of Directors and chair of the International Motor Sport History Section. He is also a member of and chair of the Council of Historians of the International Motor Racing Research Center in Watkins Glen, New York, where he is the co-chair of the annual Michael R. Argetsinger Symposium for International Motor Racing history, held each November. Don is also a member of a number of professional historical organizations as well as being a life member of both the U.S. Army Ranger Association and the 75th Rangers Regiment Association.
Image courtesy of Visit South Bend.