Military Vehicles Of World War 2

(Part 2)

 

It was developed due to prodding from Hitler on Ferdinand Porsche to develop a car that could be used for military purposes. Hitler initially suggested that Ferdinand use the iconic Beetle as the basis for the vehicle, but after close scrutiny by Porsche, it was deemed to be lacking in several areas to sustain military use.

The Beetle was too light weight and underpowered for military use. Additionally, its frame was too weak to support military loads such as pulling heavily laden trailers. Porsche then had to start from the ground up in creating an appropriate and worthy vehicle for the German military. Thus, the Kubelwagen was born. The Kubelwagen was initially developed in 1938.

This vehicle was comparable to the American Jeep and performed just as well, no matter what the conditions. The Kubelwagen also performed well off-road, despite lacking four-wheel drive. This drawback was overcome, however, through changing the gear ratios in the axles. This caused the axles to turn more for every turn of the engine, resulting in better traction, control, and top speed.

The Kubelwagen was used in all fronts of the war and was proven to be absolutely reliable no matter what the conditions. (Turner 62)The Americans had another vehicle that was greatly helpful in the war effort. The American cargo truck nicknamed the “Deuce and a Half” proved to be almost invaluable in winning the war on the Eastern front. These 2 ton trucks were made by many different companies and came in many different configurations, most of which were stake bed cargo trucks.

These trucks saw their most intense use directly after the storming of Normandy Beach. There was not an established supply line traveling into Normandy, so an impromptu line was formed. It was known as the Red Ball Express. This was a shipping line of convoys of GMC 6×6 trucks thousands of miles long, which supplied General Patton’s quick advance into France. Without this shipping line, General Patton would have had thousands of stranded vehicles without a drop of gasoline.

The trucks used in this massive convoy were trucks designed for heavy use, but not this heavy of use. The trucks generally had a top speed of 56 mph and had very large engines not meant to run at high RPMs. The Red Ball drivers soon found that removing the governors on the trucks allowed them to reach speeds as high as 70 mph. The lack of a governor though, causes an engine to run at full throttle constantly, even if you are not pressing the gas pedal. This burned out the motors in a large number of these trucks in a very short time.
Also, lack of maintenance was a massive problem. Drivers would neglect maintenance of their trucks, causing them to have all types of problems ranging from to lack of oil in the engine, wheels/fenders/bumpers falling off, driving on flat tires due to sharp metal litter on the roads, and blown engines. The mechanics were constantly called upon to repair these abused trucks. (Doyle, 145)The Russians, on the other side of the Atlantic, had quite a variety of vehicles in their garages.

The Russians’ most effective and widely known weapon in their arsenal was the T34, a tank, which is credited with being the most influential Russian tank of WWII. During WWII, the T34 was known as the most efficient, effective, and deadliest of any tank produced during this era. The T34 also achieved several other accomplishments. It was the most produced tank of the war, and the second most produced tank of all time, after its successor, the T54/55. By the end of WWII, the T34 had replaced most other Russian tanks as there was no longer a need for them.

This was due to the T34’s versatility and its ability to fill the roles of both a light reconnaissance tank and that of a heavy fire support unit. This tank proved to be especially formidable during the winter of 1941-42. The T34 was nearly unstoppable as it crossed mud and snow pits with ease due to its large tracks, while the German tanks the T34 primarily engaged in combat literally became stuck in the mud. Also, due to the T34’s superior armor, the German infantry were incapable of penetrating the T34’s hull. The Germans were armed with Pak 36 antitank guns.

Although the Pak 36 had been very effective against former Soviet tanks, it was ineffective against the T34. The shells fired at the T34 by a Pak 36 bounced off without leaving a mark. This earned the Pak 36 the nickname of “door knocker.” A lesser tank would have exploded into a raging fireball. The Russian T34 compares almost exactly to the United States M4 Sherman tank. Both tanks formed the backbone of support to their respective armored units in their companies. The T34’s production and service life continues unto this day. (Pitonak, “T-34”)Japan, on the other side of the continent, had many different weapons in their vast arsenal.

The Japanese generally used the naval and air branches of their military rather than their army forces. This was because their army forces were considered weaker. Japan was an oddity in that it had two separate branches of the air service, one for the army and one for the navy. These two branches acted as competitors similar to Ford and Chevrolet. Neither had a standardized production protocol and neither shared anything with the other. They never collaborated until the very end of WWII, but this was too little, too late. The navy, however, proved to have the superior planes and pilots.

The Japanese Navy produced a plane that has gone down in history as one of the best planes the Japanese ever built. This plane was the Mitsubishi A6M Zero, more commonly known as the “Zero.” The Zero was responsible for thousands of American casualties, until the United States captured a Zero that had been downed in a bog during a dogfight over Akutan Island in the Aleutian chain. This Zero had only minor damage from the impact, but otherwise was totally intact. The Zero was recovered by an American, William Thies, and was brought back stateside for military analysis. The American military promptly repaired the Zero and shortly had it in flying order.

Numerous test flights were then conducted to reveal the Zero’s strengths and weaknesses in order to aid in training American pilots for future dogfights against the Japanese. Up until that time, many American pilots (flying American planes) had been unable to shake off Japanese Zero pilots due to the Zero’s superior turning abilities. The tests showed that the Zero would stall during power dives (when you use the engine’s force to accelerate during a downward dive). Also, if the Zero’s rudder were disabled, the Zero would roll suddenly to the right and fall to the ground. These weaknesses were put to good use in American flight schools and the Japanese Zero became more easily defeatable.

(Dwyer, “Zero”)The Americans had one more card up their sleeve. The United States Air Force had developed a new plane, the Vought F4U Corsair, which greatly helped win the war. This plane, however, is one of those rare unsung heroes that often goes unaccredited. The Corsair was developed early in 1938, at the request of the U.S. Navy. The idea was to design an aircraft with the smallest body possible, but with the most powerful engine available. The Corsair easily outperformed the P51 Mustang when it came to firepower and performance. When it appeared over the Pacific Ocean in 1943, the Corsair was the most powerful naval aviation aircraft.

It was the first U.S. single engine fighter to exceed 400 M.P.H. and set various other records. It is remembered for its W-shaped wings. It was feared by the Japanese Zero pilots. In the Pacific Theatre alone, over the course of some 64,000 missions, the Corsair downed over 2,100 enemy planes, while only 189 Corsairs were lost. This ratio has remained unmatched in the history of air warfare. The Corsair replaced many obsolete aircraft almost as soon as it was introduced. The only drawback to this plane was that it was difficult to land on an aircraft carrier. Several stumbling blocks developed when carrier trials were held aboard the U.S.S. Sangamon and other carriers in late 1941.

The biggest problem was the plane’s long nose, which protruded 14-feet in front of the pilot. When the Corsair was poised in take-off position, the nose pointed up at an angle sufficient to block forward sight of the ship’s deck. In carrier landings, it was practically impossible to see the Landing Signals Officer once the plane was lined up for final approach. Adding to this problem were oil and hydraulic leaks from the engine compartment, which seeped past the cowl flaps and smeared the windshield, further restricting visibility. Landing on a carrier deck required the pilot to have the plane at stall speed just as the tail-hook snagged the deck wire, but this was made very difficult by the wicked stall characteristics of the Corsair.
Just as stall speed was reached, the left wing tended to drop like a rock. In a deck landing, this could cause the landing gear to collapse, resulting in injuries to the pilot and severe damage to the aircraft and the ship.

The tail hook itself sometimes did not succeed in trapping the plane by failing to engage the arrestor cable strung across the deck. If this happened, it usually meant the aircraft plowed into other planes parked on the bow. It was said on a straight deck carrier there were only two kinds of landings, a trap and a catastrophe.

The Japanese were posing a severe threat with the Zero at the time and most other carrier borne planes were incapable of out maneuvering the Zero. (Swihnart “Corsair”)All of these vehicles greatly contributed to the WWII effort. No matter what nation they were created for and used by, WWII brought out the best in the companies that manufactured these awesome vehicles. Whether the country that operated the vehicles was part of the winning or the losing side, they made great accomplishments through the development of these unique instruments of war. These vehicles and weapons have gone down in the books of history as some of the most technologically advanced pieces of machinery of their time. Some of these machines were so well designed, they remain technologically advanced even today. Only through the pressures of war were these technological marvels produced. Hopefully, never again will the need arise for the production of such vehicles. The United States Engineer Corps of WWII (the Seabees) coined this phrase in reference to the design and production of the vehicles of their day, “The difficult we do immediately; the impossible will take a week, ten days at the most.”?Common Road Conditions on the Red Ball ExpressHere is one very famous photo of General MacArthur riding in a jeep in the countryside of Corregidor in the Philippines during World War II.

 

 

Military Vehicles Of World War 2