December 14, 1940

Original Source Documents:   September-October 1941 - Quartermaster Review - The Story of the Quarter-Ton - By Lt. E. P. Hogan, Q.M.C.

Contributor:    Robert A. Notman

Source:  U.S. Army Military History Institute

The Story of the Quarter-Ton

The Army's Smallest Car Known as a "Jeep"

By LT. E. P. HOGAN, Q. M. C.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  We have published information before on the Quartermaster Corps "Truck 1/4-ton 4x4", but so widespread is everybody's interest in the "jeep" that we thought you would want to know who thought of it and where it came from.  Well, here's the story.

In spite of the fact that America gave the world the original automobile, the small commercial car was not originally an American development.  The small commercial car was designed in Europe to fill a need in thickly populous areas covering a comparatively small ground range and because of the high cost of "petrol".  In America where distances are greater and gasoline is cheaper, there was not the same need for a little car.  It was, however, largely from the small commercial car that the small military car was developed.

In 1905 one Herbert Austin, later Lord Austin of Longbridge, organized the Austin Motor Car Company of Birmingham, England.  This firm achieved great success in England with a small car of only 45 cubic inches and 7 horsepower tax rating, known as the Baby Austin.  Licenses for the manufacturer of this car was issued to French and German firms, and in 1929 the American Austin Car Company was formed to manufacture the car in this country.  A plant at Butler, Pennsylvania was acquired for the Standard Steel Car Company, and production of the car was begun.  However, owing to various factors such as its small size and the generally great distances in America from one place to another, it did not prove very popular with buyers.  In 1936, the American Austin Car Company was taken over by the American Bantam Car Company.

During these years, although there was virtually no expansion whatever in the American Army, the constantly increasing warlike conditions in Europe gave rise to many suggestions for future military development in this country.  Certain Quartermaster Corps motor engineers, for at least 10 years before its actual development, felt a need for a motor vehicle that would take the place of the motorcycle with side-car.  Other Branches of the Service likewise recognized this need, the Infantry being particularly interested.

Accordingly, on March 22, 1933, the Army bought one Austin for test purposed.  This was the only Austin owned by the Army and was widely driven at Fort Benning.  For preliminary tests, it was a forerunner of the pilot models of the 1/4-ton truck.  An open two-seated commercial passenger car, this Austin was also driven outside the Benning reservation even as far away as Fort McPherson.  Observation of it under driving conditions proved of material assistance in determining what the Army might expect in the performance of a small car.  Upon terminations of its use, the vehicle was salvaged.

News of the tests made with the Austin aroused considerable interest within the Army in the small motor vehicle.  So much so that prior to 1937 there was a growing clamor from those desiring to speed up the Army, decrying the immobility of supporting weapons on the battlefield and advocating low silhouette motorized carriers as a cure.

Writing in the Infantry Journal of November-December 1937, Captain Wendell G. Johnson, Infantry, said "What is wanted is merely a gasoline propelled conveyance not much higher than a man crawling that will be able to carry a one- or two-man crew, a gun, and plenty of ammunition, and scoot from one firing position to another at 5 to 10 miles an hour".

In this connection, reference is made to the Howie Machine-gun Carrier.  Captain Johnson tells us that the building of this vehicle was initiated by Brigadier General Walter C. Short while he was Assistant Commandant of The Infantry School, Fort Benning.  General Short specified that a vehicle be constructed for the sole purpose of transporting two men, a caliber .30 machine gun, tripod, and ammunition.  Other requirements were:

1. That the gun not be mounted for firing from the carrier.

2. That the vehicle be light enough for four men to lift it into a 1-1/2-ton truck and across small obstacles.

3. That the vehicle present as low a silhouette as possible - sacrificing ground clearance thereof, if necessary.

4. That dimensions be such that it could be carried in the 1-1/2-ton truck issued to machine gun companies.

5. That speed was no object - as low as 10 m.p.h. maximum would be sufficient.

6. That units be commercially available as far as possible.

The job of designing and building a rest carrier was given to Captain Robert G. Howie, then an instructor in the Tank Section, The Infantry School.  Another long-time tanker and expert mechanic, Master Sergeant M. C. Wiley, was his partner in production.  Assisting in the final assembly of this vehicle made from salvaged units was Sergeant G. L. Rush, also of the Tank Section.  Work began late in 1936 and ended in April of '37.  The crew of two rode this vehicle in a prone position.  Many tests were made with this trial vehicle and much that was good was learned from it.  It was the first and only Army-built forerunner of the "truck 1/4-ton, 4x4"

Gradually, long before development of the first test model of the 1/4-ton truck, general Army requirements in a small vehicle came to be known.  Primary needs for this vehicle were for reconnaissance purposed over very tough terrain, for command purposes, as a carrier for small numbers of personnel, and as a light weapons carrier.  It was desired that the vehicle be small, tough, and high powered for driving over bad roads, or, if necessary, in marshy ground.  It had to be of the lowest possible silhouette in order to concealment as effective as possible under trees and in tall grass.  The vehicle was to be used, from the first, as a tactical truck.

In the latter part of 1937, the Army ordered from the American Bantam Car Company of Butler, Pennsylvania, a preliminary engineering model of a small motor vehicle designed for military purposed according to tentative military specifications.  Such a vehicle was built and, upon completion, delivered to Army at Holabird.  It aroused great interest at once.

The Bantam preliminary engineering model represented an assembled vehicle designed primarily by the engineers of the Holabird Quartermaster Depot, the unit manufacturers and the engineer of the Bantam Company.  The present body design was based almost entirely on drawings furnished by Holabird, and the axles and transfer case were designed by the Spicer Manufacturing Corporation of Toledo, Ohio.

Credit for the original design of the Army's truck 1/4-ton, 4x4. may not be claimed by any single individual or any single manufacturer.  This vehicle is the result of much research and many tests.  Army engineers, both military and civilian, at the Holabird Quartermaster Depot did the bulk of work in designing it.

The next step came in February, 1938, when three Bantam test model Chassis Assemblies 1/4-ton, 4x2, complete as specified, were purchased for shipment, one each to Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Riley, Kansas; and Holabird, Maryland, from the American Bantam Car Company.  The object desired of these vehicles was:

The development of a suitable self-propelled vehicle of the wheeled type consisting, insofar as practicable, of standard commercial units and parts and of the least weight and size for the purpose of transporting two men, a caliber .30 machine gun, tripod, and ammunition over cross country terrain such as may be expected to lie between opposed infantry and infantry machine gun positions.

In August, 1938, the problem of developing a small motor vehicle for military purposed reached the point where Quartermaster Corps recommendation was made that a new project be set up authorizing the construction of a three-passenger, light weight, open body for the chassis then under consideration so that this vehicle could be tested in a comparison with the three-passenger motor tricycle.  Accordingly in 1940, seventy (70) of these vehicles were order from Bantam as an experimental and service test project authorized by the A.G.O. on July 5, 1940.  There vehicles were 4-wheel drive, 2-wheel steer.

The cars were painted with the new olive drab lustreless enamel.  Dimensions were as follows:  Model "60", actual overall length of 120", actual shipping weight 900 pounds, gross 2,030 pounds, wheel base 75 inches, tire size 15x500 and usual standard tool equipment.

In order that no possibility might be overlooked, 8 of these vehicles were built with 4-wheel steering mechanism for test purpose.  The turning circle, and size of the vehicle, however, together with other factors, left the 2-wheel steering to be decided upon.

The service test of the 70 Bantam cars clearly indicated the suitability of a vehicle of this general type for military purposed.  Tentative specifications including results of the tests were drawn up and contracts were negotiated, invitations for bids issued in the latter part of 1940 from Holabird at different time for a total of 4,500 vehicles, 4-wheel drive, 2-wheel steer.  These vehicles were purchased in lots of 1,500 from the American Bantam Car Company, 15,00 from Willys-Overland Motors, Inc. and 1,500 from the Ford Motor Company.  Procurement of these vehicles was in the nature of an extended service teat with the vehicles actually in the hands of troops all over the country.  In addition to the Quartermaster Corps test, the Infantry, Field Artillery, and Cavalry have likewise made extended service tests.

The purchasing of the 4.500 truck-cars from more than one manufacturer was the result of a carefully considered plan initiated by the Office of the Quartermaster General to insure proper engineering of adequate productive facilities to turn out this type of car in the quantities that might be needed.  In other words, it was believed that greater advantage might result in the Army in having the combined facilities of several manufacturers set up and available for the greater output of these cars, if needed, in the event of a major emergency.

In this connection, however, the Army's complete awareness of the value of motor vehicle standardization and the innumerable disadvantages resulting from a lack or standardization has neither been forgotten nor side tracked.  The experience gained in World War I are well remembered.  The American forces overseas in the other war had a total of 218 made and models of motor vehicles including many foreign ones such as French, British, captured German and even Spanish and Italian motor vehicles to operate and attempt to maintain without an adequate source or system of supply for spare parts.  Nor at that time were our own vehicles standardized.  From that time to the present, however, great strides have been made in standardization.

The Quartermaster Corps Tentative Specification covering this vehicle provides that the truck fully equipped and loaded shall demonstrate the following abilities on smooth concrete roadway.

1. A level road maximum speed of not less that 55 miles per hour at an engine speed that does not exceed the peak horsepower speed.

2. A level road minim speed of not more that 3 miles per hour.

3. An ability to ford (hard bottom) water crossings of at least 18 inches water depth at a speed of at least 3 miles per hour without effect from the water.

Tire chains are required for use on driving wheel tires, and frequently will be used when traversing hazardous terrain.  The truck construction shall permit the satisfactory installation and use of the tire chains.

The weight of the truck, fully equipped (including lubricants and water), but less fuel tire chains and payload, shall not exceed twenty-one hundred (2,100) pounds for two (2) wheel steer trucks, and twenty-one hundred and seventy-five (2,175) pounds for four (4) wheel steer trucks, and every effort, consistent with nest recognized engineering practices, shall be made to minimize the weight.

The payload allowance shall be eight hundred (800) pounds, for operating personnel (including the driver) and military supplies.

The towed load may be one thousand (1,0000) pounds gross weight and will be mounted on two (2) pneumatic tire equipped wheels.

The angle of approach shall be at least forty-five (45) degrees; angle of departure of at least thirty-five (35) degrees, with the truck fully equipped, loading in a level position.

The Army's "truck 1/4-ton, 4x4" - its official designation - originally called a "light Command and Reconnaissance Car" is a combination of passenger vehicle and truck.  The mission of these cars is to do the fast hard-hitting job performed in the highly mechanized Nazi Panzer divisions by motorcycles and side-cars.  Their 4-wheel drive provides them with plenty of traction for the most rugged terrain and on good roads they are capable of traveling 60 miles per hour.  They have 4-cylinder engines.  These vehicles were adopted in 1940 by the Army.  So useful have they proved, that early in August, 1941, arrangements were completed for the purchase of 16,000 1/4-ton trucks from Willys-Overland Motors, Inc.

An outstanding feature of this car is the success with which 4-wheel drive had been adapted to it.  Its front axle can be used either as a driving axle or an idling axle.  In addition to the regular gear box, the 1/4-ton had an auxiliary transmission which provides 6 speeds forward and 2 in reverse.  These trucks have blackout lamps front and rear in addition to the regular lighting.  A brush guard protects the front of each car and its windshield folds flat over the hood.  Each also has a detachable folding top or canopy, which is carried in a tool compartment in the vehicle.  Under the spare tire rack on the rear of each car is its towing pintle.

This then is the story of the 1/-ton, the smallest and most spectacular motor truck the Army has ever used.  A constant flow of press and film publicity has quickly acquaint the public with it, and the public has affectionately labeled the "jeep", while at many camps it is called the jeep.  Troops in the field, at Army posts, and camps all over the country had has these vehicles in operation for months now and the cars have proved to be of great usefulness.  Orders are now being placed for large additional numbers of them. "jeep" or "peep", there can be no doubt that this car, which is on development rather than an invention, has a definite place in Army Motor Transport.

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