Never before had the human kind seen that level of destruction.
Dire times indeed when countless millions had to die so today we could live and walk under the sun of freedom.
Industrial prowess was one of the key elements of winning the Second World War and any war after it, since war operations became fully mechanized. Artillery, bombers, fighter planes, armored personnel carriers, tanks, and other machines of war were produced to a such extent that it was impossible to differentiate civilian from military industry.
Still, the basic principles of warfare remained the same. Infantry still represents the backbone of every army. And becoming more and more mobile by time, the need for light and fast reconnaissance vehicle became even more expressed.
Before the war broke out, every army with significant role in the upcoming events started its own research. The purpose was to come up with the solution for that need.
One of Those Things That Help Win a War
According to the Chief of General Staff George Marshall, a vehicle that is “the greatest American contribution to modern weapons”, known as Jeep, celebrates its 73rd birthday this year.
Actually, Jeep is not an official designation, but a nickname. One version why this vehicle is called Jeep says that the name came from a cartoon about Popeye in which Eugene the Jeep, a character who could crawl on walls and ceiling, become invisible and do other things, shows up. In second version of the story about Jeep’s name, it came up from the GP (where G stands for Government, or maybe General, and P stands for Purpose), although nobody knows for sure because initial term used by the Army planners was the light reconnaissance and command car. However, these versions were not the only one, just two most common so it’s difficult to find out which one is correct.
The emergence of the Jeep is very interesting. When it became clear that U.S. are going to engage in the war, the U.S. military command on June 26 1940 invited tenders for the light reconnaissance vehicle with the following specifications:
- The maximum weight of 1200 lb
- To be a four-wheeled drive
- To have a space for a driver and 3 more crew members
- To have a minimal speed of 3 mph
- A Maximum speed of minimum 50 mph
- A Windshield lowering option
- To have a mount for machine gun
- The minimum clearance of 6.5 inches
- Height 36 inches
- Maximum torque if 85 ft-lb
- To have a weight capacity of 600 lb
- To be able to deliver test vehicles in 49 days and
- To have a fully completed prototype in less than 75 days.
Only two of 135 companies which received an offer responded – American Bantam and Willys-Overland. After working day and night, Bantam’s engineers provided all the necessary plans and a prototype vehicle to the Army almost two days before the deadline. On the other side, Willys completed its “Quad” 2 months later, with the obligation of working under the supervision of Bantam and paying the “penalty” in the amount of $100 for each day over the time limit.
Military commanders were very pleased with Bantam’s vehicle, but Bantam’s weak production potential presented a problem, so the Army submitted all the drafts to Willys and Ford to further develop and manufacture the basic model. All three companies committed to perform all the necessary changes in terms of increased engine power and robustness of the vehicle as soon as possible. Willys had redesigned their vehicle and increased power to 60 hp, but exceeded maximum weight limits. Ford has managed to bring the exterior design and functionality to a satisfactory level, but their engine was too weak.
Each company produced the initial 1,500 vehicles that were sent to camps for training the troops or to the Soviets and the British as military aid. Further tests showed that Willys MA model was good enough to be selected as the base model. Ford’s GP offered a range of other improvements and Bantam fell out of game forever. In order to finally resolve the issue of choosing the vehicle, the Army decided that Willys’s refined MB model is going to be the main type, while Ford was ordered to further develop their GPW (revised GP) with the main requirement to be the interchangeability of parts and increased engine power. The final project took all the best features of the three companies.
Ford complied with all the requirements and even managed to increase the engine power to 54 hp, which was particularly difficult because Willys engineers have been able to make their own remarkable engine of very high quality. In order to receive the “green light”, the engine had to work for 100 hours at maximum RPM without any damage. In addition to these two basic models, other projects were elaborated such as: four-wheel drive Jeep which never left the prototype stage, a Ford GPA ‘Seep” (from Seagoing Jeep) – around 6000 units was produced, then jeep with 3 axles and the like. By the end of the war over 600,000 of these vehicles were manufactured – Willys 362,841 and Ford 281,448 units at a price of $738.74 per vehicle. Willys production speed was 1 Jeep for 1.5 minutes.
After United States joined the Allies against the Nazis, jeeps were immediately engaged in fighting on all fronts and proved to be a match for all conditions: from cold Russian steppes, through the relentless African desert to the tropical Pacific jungle. Jeep was a vehicle for common soldiers and generals. Roosevelt and Ike have been using it for troop mustering, paramedics for transport of the wounded, artillery units for reconnaissance missions etc. Even the new improved hit-and-run tactic that included the use of light and fast vehicles was introduced. Such actions were performed by members of the British SAS in Africa against German Afrika Korps, described in detail in the Arthur Swinson’s book Raiders: Desert Strike Force. Under the lend-lease program, even the Soviet Union received 51,000 of these ultra useful light vehicles. Jeep had such an iconic status back then, that even General Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Allied Commander mentioned it in one speech:
Jeep, Dakota airplane [Douglas C-47 Skytrain] and PT boat were three weapons that won the war.
Soviet Pride: GAZ-67
Athough the American Willys was already included and used by the Soviet/Russian units thanks to the above-mentioned lend-lease program, Red Army wanted their own, all-Soviet vehicle with similar (if not better) characteristics to be produced. Maybe you would think they were too proud to use some American machine, but the that was not the (only) reason. Covering the vast area and having the tremendously large army, Soviet Russia was kind of a black hole for this type of vehicle. Seeing the obvious advantages of American Jeep, it became apparent that serial production of similar vehicle should start as soon as possible with the intention to supplement the number of Jeeps that came to Russia as a military aid.
Scope Statement for production of exactly such car was issued to GAZ(Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod – Gorkovsky Automobile Plant) and to the Scientific Auto-Tractor Institute (NATI) in the end of January of ’41. Initial requirement was that future cars mustn’t differ in dimensions from the American Bantam, which was presented as a desired example. Though Bantam’s narrow track could create problems during use, nobody considered it to be the problem at the moment. Let’s just remember that it was a wartime, and the “better good now than excellent later” policy was common.
GAZ started working on the project right away on 3rd of February. The first experimental prototype was designed and built just in 51 days. It received a designation GAZ-64. Some parts that were well tested and had proven their value (from the previous model GAZ-61), were implemented in its construction.
On the other side, NATI had finished its two prototypes by the 2nd of April. Prototypes were designated AR-NATI, where AR was an abbreviation for Autocar-Reconnaissance. The Institute was known to produce machines on a high scientific level. This fact presented a problem to some extent since one of the demands from Scope Statement was the high level of unification with serial parts. In short, everything that could cut some cost was preferable. But NATI’s engineers were targeting maximum stability, durability and endurance. They didn’t want to make any compromise.
After high command was presented with new cars from both manufacturers on 22nd of April, vehicles were sent on a comparative field testing near Moscow. Despite both of them being fairly of the same design and features, GAZ was more adapted for serial production and somewhat easier to make. Finally, it emerged victorious.
Later in 1943 some improvements and simplifications on the basic design followed. The car was eventually named GAZ-67. It was the lightest of the army vehicles in use back then. It received a lot of praise from both the soldiers and commanders. It was used as HQ and commanders vehicle. Having strong enough engine, it could also tow a 45 mm anti-tank gun. Whatever the task ahead, it has proven to be capable, easy to maintain, cheap to produce and versatile. It even served as a platform for making an armored car BA-64 weaponized with a .30 caliber machine gun. More about technical characteristics can be found on this link.
The GAZ-67 and the subsequent GAZ-67B were general purpose four-wheel drive Soviet military vehicles through the WWII and later. After the war they remained operational for a long time, serving as a starting point for creation of iconic UAZ-469. Sturdy machine that served its time during the Second World War can be found in museums reminding us of darkest times in human history.
When the war ended, a new age began. Jeeps and GAZ cars were no longer needed for the large scale warfare. But their status among the people all over the world made them so popular that civilian market showed interest in such vehicles. It finally led to the development of SUV concept.