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FreightWaves Classics: Red Ball Express Truck Carries Important U.S. Army Supplies

To celebrate Black History Month, FreightWaves Classics introduces the Red Ball Express, which is primarily staffed by black soldiers.

FreightWaves is grateful to each man and woman of all races and beliefs who serve and serve in the United States military.

This article is the first in a series on the legendary Red Ball Express, supplied to US troops running through France to fight and capture retreating German troops.

According to the Army Transport Museum, “Transportation is the most frequently encountered limiting factor in logistics, the science of planning and executing military movement and support. It is the way national resources reach our combat forces. It provides a bridge and is the key to victory, which requires “we get there first”.

Since the days of Alexander the Great, large troops have traversed the world’s military landscape with great difficulty. A row of carts and wagons drawn by their animals is chasing the warriors. And while the military “lived away from the land” for centuries, the need for all sorts of preparations has become a major part of modern warfare.

From the American Revolutionary War to World War II, the U.S. military chain of command recognized the important role of wartime transport and formed a temporary governing body that later disbanded after the war. However, in 1950, a transport unit that proved to be very effective during World War II became a permanent branch of the US Army. For over 70 years since then, the corps has worked closely with the corresponding units of the private industry and other services in both war and peace, aiming to meet or exceed the performance of its predecessor. I did.

Heritage of the Convoy – “Pioneer of Logistics”

The US Army Transport Unit was founded in 1942 and is one of the latest services of the Army. However, its role dates back to the Revolutionary War. General George Washington ordered US and French troops to move to Yorktown, more than 450 miles from the Hudson Valley, using animal-powered carts and wagons. Transportation was so important during the American Revolutionary War that Washington advised the Continental Congress to establish General Wagonmaster’s position to provide the Army with the maneuverability it needed.

Valley Forge Washington, Lafayette, Continental Army soldiers. From the painting of Alonso Chapel.

Throughout the history of war, the military has developed new ways to move the military and supplies, or has used the latest technology. For example, during the Civil War, railroads were first widely used to move troops to nearby battlefields. The US Army Transport Department was rebuilt to support the Army during the Spanish-American War. A transportation service was created during World War I. It was responsible for moving 2 million men and their supplies across 3,000 miles of the sea to France.

When the United States was drawn into World War II, the important role of transport became apparent. The war was fought on two sides, the Pacific Front and the Codename Europa, both thousands of miles from the continental United States.

In March 1942, three months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, military transport functions were transferred from Quartermaster munitions and assigned to the newly created supply service transport service.

U.S. Army Transportation Department Insignia

On July 31, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt set up a convoy to support the largest mobilization in US history. Responsibility for the operation and maintenance of the railway was transferred from the Engineers to the Transport in November 1942.

Eventually, the convoy worked in the deserts of North Africa, the jungles of many Pacific islands, the mountains and valleys of Italy and Asia, and the beaches of Normandy. During the war, the Army Transportation Department moved more than 30 million soldiers in the United States. More importantly, it has moved 7 million soldiers and 126 million tonnes of supplies abroad. These logistical achievements played a decisive role in the Allied victory.

Due to the extraordinary work done by the transport forces during World War II, Congress recognized its importance by making it a permanent branch of the Army on June 28, 1950. Since then, transport units have provided support services during each conflict. From the Korean War to Afghanistan and Iraq. The achievements of the Transportation Corps are a testament to the professionalism, dedication and pride that made the Transportation Corps a “pioneer in logistics”.

Hand-painted map of the Red Ball Express route. (Image courtesy of The National WWII Museum)

Overview of Red Ball Express

The term “red ball”, which defines express cargo service, began in the late 19th century. The Santa Fe Railroad (now part of BNSF Railway) began using “red balls” in 1892 to refer to express delivery of priority cargo and fresh food. Such trains and railroad tracks authorized for use had red balls on them. The term became popular and was commonly used in the 1920s.

In World War II, in England to show the movement of men and supplies from bases around England, Scotland and Wales to the invasion staging area of ​​southeast England (the area closest to the English Channel and therefore the closest to France). First used.

Signs indicating use only on the Red Ball Express route and those trucks. (Photo courtesy of 53rd Regiment Archive)

The term red ball has been used again in a trucking convoy system that supplies the Allied forces moving quickly through France and Western Europe. Almost two months after D-Day (6 June 1944), the Allies fought German troops in Normandy hedges, often measuring progress in feet rather than miles. However, in late July, the German front burst and began to retreat rapidly. The Allies “escaped” from the hedges-and soon they were not simply marching from the Normandy bridgehead to occupied France-they were sprinting.

To facilitate forward freight transport, trucks decorated with red balls followed a similarly marked route that is banned from civilian traffic. Trucks were also prioritized on regular roads.

The Red Ball Express convoy system was devised at a 36-hour meeting of US Army field commanders and US Army convoy staff. After the Allies were in the more open countryside, they made rapid progress and soon began to overtake supply lines. Therefore, the need for Red Ball Express.

The convoy system went into operation on August 25, 1944. Mainly black soldiers (about 75% of the total number of drivers and mechanics) were stationed. At its peak, Red Ball Express drove 5,958 vehicles, carrying approximately 12,500 tonnes of supplies per day. The Red Ball Express operated 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, for 83 days until November 16, 1944.

A member of Red Ball Express. (Photo courtesy of Logistics Officers Association)

Red Ball Express has ended for several reasons. By mid-November, the port facilities in Antwerp, Belgium, were occupied, repaired and opened by the Allies. Supply vessels can berth at the Port of Antwerp and discharge gasoline to nearby depots via a portable petrol pipeline. In addition, the railway lines of the French railway system were well repaired and were able to transport large quantities of goods. The third reason for the end of the express is that the supply line has become too long because the US military is far away from the Normandy coastline. The law of diminishing returns has begun. RedBallExpress used large amounts of gasoline to move gasoline (and other important supplies) far farther than it was at the start.

But without the work of the people who commanded the Red Ball Express and drove the trucks, the fight against the German army would have taken much longer and the Allies would have suffered even more casualties.

FreightWaves Classics: Red Ball Express Truck Carries Important U.S. Army Supplies FreightWaves Classics: Red Ball Express Truck Carries Important U.S. Army Supplies

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