This Is The Role Jeep Played In World ധąɾ II
General George Marshall called the Jeep “America’s greatest contribution to modern ωαяƒαяє”. Dwight Eisenhower listed it as one of the four most important vehicles for the ωαя effort in Europe. It was one of the only military vehicles to find success on the civilian market. The front grill was so iconic that it literally became Jeep’s logo.
How come? The light truck wasn’t novel. Neither was four-wheel drive. Visibility is frequently confused with innovation. Just ask Elisha Gray or Nicola Tesla – or Persian king Darius, who started building his own trans-Sinai canal nearly 2,500 years before Suez. As tends to be the case with American tech, the Jeep wasn’t the first of its kind, but it was the first to be produced on such a scale at such quality.
The Jeep did anything and everything, and generally did it quite well – so well as to inspire military trends for decades hence.
Jeep Didn’t Make the Jeep
1940 saw the debut of the Jeep. It did not see the debut of Jeep as a company. They did not produce vehicles until after WW2. The actual production of the Jeep is a ludicrously complicated tale that we don’t have time to fully address here. Bottom line, the Jeep as we know it was the result of competition and eventually forced government cooperation between four different companies: Bantam, Ford, Spicer (who eventually became Dana), and Willys Overland.
Autoweek explains: “The Willys Quad had the most powerful engine… The Ford Pygmy had superior craftsmanship, and it featured a flat hood and flat fenders that the ωαя Department judged as useful improvements. The Bantam, now updated from its original design, was the lightest and most fuel-efficient.” Eventually, Bantam came up with the prototype with drivetrain parts from Spicer, Willys produced the first approved version (the Willys MB) and when they couldn’t make enough, the Army demanded the use of Ford’s mass production proficiency. Production began in roughly 1940-1942, predictably kicking up significantly after December 1941.
Practical, Not Powerful
Amusingly, while the Jeep is an American motoring icon, it could hardly be less American in its design philosophy. First of all, the engine. It’s not a V8. It’s a straight-four that made 60 horsepower and 105 lb-ft. Second, It’s small. The original Willys MB was 11 feet long and about 5 feet wide – shorter than a Miata. It weighed about as much too, at 2,160 lbs. That’s less than the Gordon Murray T.50. That said, the fuel economy was fairly American, at around 15 mpg.
Of course, soldiers will be less surprised by these dinky power figures since the Humvee has the horsepower of a Toyota Camry. We live in a nation singularly obsessed with absolutely enormous pickups that at this point make torque figures that would be impressive for supercars. The rest of the world generally uses smaller pickups, suited to a role at which the Florida Georgia Line enthusiast balks: utility. The unreliable modern Wrangler would be a poor descendant of the Willys in this arena.
Motor Trend actually reviewed a ’44 Willys, commenting on the pleasant docility of its clutch and engine idle. They said it was easy to drive, noting its almost frighteningly nimble handling. It wasn’t particularly comfortable, but the ride was better than they expected.
A Jeep For Every Occasion
Jeeps did everything, in part because they were the replacement for horses. They performed cargo hauling, communications work including laying telegraph cable, and recovery work, and were frequently used as transport vehicles for executive staff. They worked as frontline ambulances, with as many as four stretchers. Some were air-portable or even converted to run along railroad tracks.
The jeep would often be equipped with a five-foot sharpened steel bar on the front bumper. This was to cut through steel wire that the Wehrmacht strung between trees to decapitate unsuspecting drivers of the roofless vehicle. Toward the end of the ωαя, they could be equipped with recoilless rifles or multiple-rocket systems, giving them considerable anti-tank or artillery capabilities.
Their most iconic role was arguably armed reconnaissance, however, because it gave rise to an entire category of vehicle: the technical. Generally, a technical is a light truck with some kind of crew-served ωєαρσи – usually a machine ɢυи on a swivel mount in the bed. American WW2 Jeeps usually equipped a single indomitable .50 inch Browning M2 heavy machine ɢυи, enough to obliterate anything that wasn’t sufficiently armored. British Jeeps used by the SAS, Long-Range Desert Group (LDRG), and Popski’s Private Army (PPA) pushed it even further. They mounted as many as 5 machine ɢυиѕ, sometimes including an M2 .50 but usually .303 inch Vickers K ɢυиѕ instead, sometimes on double mounts.
A Global Legacy
One of the Jeep’s many important impacts came about as a direct result of its use in ധധ2. It arguably rejuvenated the inexpensive side of the Philippine public transport system, which had been wiped out by imperialist Japanese forces. Many Jeeps were left in the Philippines as surplus when the ωαя ended. These vehicles were then retooled with roofs and rear bench seating, as well as a deluge of cosmetic modifications. Many later got extended wheelbases and formed the basis for an entire kind of Philippine public transport vehicle called the Jeepney.
As much as 30% of production was sent off to the UK and USSR, so unsurprisingly those countries’ light utility vehicles were based on it. Britain’s beloved Land Rover, the short-wheelbase off-road wonder, was originally built on a Jeep chassis in 1948. Russia’s GAZ-67 was clearly Jeep-influenced, likely because GAZ’s plant in Novgorod was a cooperative venture with Ford and sold rebadged Fords like the Model A. Designer Karl Probst actually got a street named after him in Caen, France.
The Jeep’s role as a technical inspired that entire class of vehicles. Technicals became so prominent that they became the mainstay of certain military efforts, especially in the Middle East and North Africa where the terrain is ideal. We highly encourage you to read about the Toyota ധąɾ, a brief conflict wherein the Chadian army exploited the advantages of their machine gun and missile-equipped light trucks in a desert environment to take back territory from Libya. The Jeep arguably created the modern incarnation of light cavalry – a corps of gasoline hussars.