A few weeks ago, we unveiled our very own 2018 calendars. They feature twelve blueprints of iconic military vehicles and weapons. We thought we’d devote one blog entry a month to each blueprint and look at the item it portrays in more depth. This month we look at the Willys Jeep.
The Willys Jeep began its life in July 1940, a year and a half before the US would enter the Second World War. The US Army desired a four-wheel drive, 1/4 ton cross-country reconnaissance vehicle, and submitted its requirements to automobile manufacturers. The vehicle would be four-wheel drive, have a crew of three on a wheelbase of no more than 80 inches (203 cm) and track no more than 47 inches (119 cm), feature a fold-down windshield, 660 lb (299 kg) payload and be powered by an engine capable of 85 lb⋅ft (115 N⋅m) of torque. The most daunting demand, however, was an empty weight of no more than 1,300 lb (590 kg).
Bantam were first to present a vehicle to the Army, but Bantam could not hope to meet the production scale desired. The Army gave the blueprints to Ford and Willys to encourage them to complete their prototypes. In November 1940, Ford and Willys had delivered their very similar vehicles. By now the US Army was desperate, so 1,500 units of each design were ordered for field testing. The original weight limit was deemed unrealistic and subsequently raised to 2,160 lb (980 kg).
In July 1941 the War Department selected Willys alone for its next order of 16,000 vehicles. Willys was favoured above the others for its more powerful engine, the “Go Devil”, silhouette and lower costs. Design features from the Bantam and Ford vehicles were incorporated to this final design. Most notably the wide flat hood from Ford. This final model was called the Willys MB. Several months later in October it was apparent that Willys could not meet production demands. Ford was contracted to produce them as well. The Ford car was identical but known as the Ford GPW.
During the Second World War, Willys produced 363,000 Jeeps and Ford another 280,000. Approximately 30% of all Jeeps were exported to Britain and Russia under the Lend-Lease program.
A further roughly 13,000 amphibious jeeps were built by Ford under the name GPA (nicknamed “Seep” for Sea Jeep). Inspired by the larger DUKW, the design was rushed and proved to be too heavy, too unwieldy, and of insufficient freeboard. In spite of participating successfully in the Sicily landings in July 1943, most Seeps were routed to the U.S.S.R. The Soviets were sufficiently pleased with its ability to cross rivers to develop their own version of it after the war, the GAZ-64.
There is currently no consensus among historians as to how the Willys MB became know as the ‘Jeep’. Let alone the origin of the word itself.
A popular theory is that it is named after Eugene the Jeep from the Popeye comics. Eugene was small, able to move between dimensions and could solve seemingly impossible problems. Qualities soldiers found befitting of the Willys MB. Although there is evidence to suggest that US soldiers had, since WW1, taken to calling any small utility vehicle ‘Jeep’.
During WW2 the word became synonymous with the Willys MB and in 1943 it was trademarked by Willys.
Use in WW2
Jeeps were heavily used by every division of the American military, with 144 Jeeps provided to every infantry regiment in the U.S. Army. The British used them to great effect for raiding in North Africa.
They were used for reconnaissance, as ambulances, as liaison vehicles, artillery tractors and a multitude of other uses. The Jeep could be armed with a plethora of weapons. Anything from a machine gun to a 37 mm anti-tank gun. During the cold war, even anti-tank guided missiles were fitted.
General Dwight D Eisenhower said “…four other pieces of equipment that most senior officers came to regard as among the most vital to our success in Africa and Europe were the bulldozer, the jeep, the 2-ton truck, and the C-47 airplane. Curiously, none of these is designed for combat.”
In 1945 Willys took the Jeep to the general pulic with the Civilian Jeep (CJ). Thus becoming the first mass produced civilian 4×4. The Jeep brand is still producing 4×4 vehicles to this day.
Military Jeeps continued to be produced for the US and foreign militaries up until the early 1980’s. The US military adopted the Humvee and Jeep moved to producing entirely civilian models.
When American troops began to leave the Philippines at the end of World War II, hundreds of surplus jeeps were sold or given to local Filipinos. The Filipinos stripped down the jeeps to accommodate several passengers, added metal roofs for shade, and decorated the vehicles with vibrant colours and bright chrome hood ornaments. These Jeepneys, as they came to be known, are a national icon of the Philippines and they continue to be made from more modern vehicles.
The original Willys MB and Ford GPW are still popular with enthusiasts and collectors to this day.