The men of the 148th Motor Vehicle Assembly Company put together the dependable ‘deuce and a halfs’ that carried the Allies to victory.
Whenever I watch movies about the Normandy invasion, I find that I am bothered by a detail that probably doesn’t cross the minds of most viewers. The films give the impression that the 21⁄2-ton trucks arrived at the front assembled and ready to roll, when in fact they were put together in Europe by units such as my own 148th Ordnance Motor Vehicle Assembly Company.
The company arrived in Europe in January 1944, and its new quarters were horse stables in Aintree, England. With the addition of stoves and wooden floors, they were quite comfortable. Once everything was set up and in order at Depot 0-629, we began spot assembly of 1-ton trailers and 21⁄2-ton GMC trucks, also known as “deuce and a halfs” or “Jimmys”—the most widely used trucks in the war.
Three months later, we were transferred to Depot 0-631 in Bromborough, just outside Liverpool, where we again began turning out 21⁄2-ton GMCs. That June we left for the Longbridge Deverill assembly area in Wiltshire, and after a brief rest we loaded onto LSTs (landing ship, tank) at Portland headed for France.
The LST I was on had two trucks aboard, one carrying all our assembly line tools and one carrying our machine shop. Another member of the company rode with me, as well as a sailor who operated the ship. We were about 200 feet from the beach when the tide went out and our craft struck a sunken LST. For nearly 24 hours we were stranded there. Then our vessel started to buckle in the middle. It looked as if the truck in the front might go overboard. To secure it, we locked up the wheels and ran a chain from it to the truck in the rear. As the tide came back in, men on shore fired a line out to us. We secured that line to the LST, and two Caterpillar D8 tractors pulled us onto Omaha Beach.
We next set out for Lacombe, which was to be the bivouac and operational area for the coming months. Our quarters were pup tents at first, but we later replaced them with wooden shacks built of lumber salvaged from the crates in which our trucks were shipped.
We worked seven days a week, from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m., taking time off only to eat. Eventually, the unit became so efficient that we could complete 50 vehicles every day.
On July 25 we witnessed the 2,500-plane raid on German positions beyond St. Lô, the beginning of Operation Cobra in which nearly 4,200 tons of bombs were dropped. Later that same day, an American fighter plane accidentally dropped a 250-pound fragmentation bomb right in the middle of our working area. Luckily, it failed to explode and buried itself 15 feet into the ground.
In November 1944, the company finished its work in France and moved its operations to Lake Hofstade, Belgium. At Lake Hofstade we were the first to occupy what was called Depot 0-654, formerly a beautiful summer resort. These were the best accommodations we’d had since leaving the States. The only discomfort was the never-ending stream of buzz bombs that passed overhead each night during the blitz of Antwerp. Although some fell short of their targets, there were no casualties in our unit.
Our first job was to unload a ship full of vehicles in Antwerp. The ship had been waiting 54 days in the Firth of Clyde for the port to be cleaned up and reopened. We saw many horrible sights as a result of rockets that had fallen on crowded streets. Several civilians had been blown to pieces. Once we unloaded the vehicles, we convoyed them to Depot 0-654. From there we conveyed them to where they were needed most.
A month after our arrival at Lake Hofstade—and a day before the start of the Ardennes offensive—we began unloading supplies and equipment headed for Antwerp, and we remained busy until the end of the Battle of the Bulge.
After the battle, between January 1945 and April 1945, the 148th spot-assembled buildings, trailers, trucks and weapon carriers. The armies were advancing more rapidly now and vehicles were in great demand. We started convoying around March 22, and eventually delivered vehicles to the First, Third, Seventh, Ninth and Fifteenth armies.
Originally published in the February 2007 issue of World War II Magazine. To subscribe, click here.