The Quartermaster Corps & Motor Transport for the Army

The history of the Quartermaster Corps goes back to 1775 and the appointment of a Quartermaster General by the Continental Congress during the Revolutionary War. Thereafter, the Quartermaster Corps' organization evolved during peacetime and wars as it sought to supply the U.S. Army's material needs. It was generally responsible for procurement, storage, and transportation of supplies. It was always responsible for food, clothing, and camp equipment, and during some early periods, it was also responsible for arms and ammunition. By the end the 1930s, when much of the rest of the world had gone to war, the Quartermaster Corps had an extensive infrastructure of supply depots throughout the nation. It also had the facilities for making certain items itself, such as the uniform factory at the Corps' Philadelphia Depot. In 1939, the Corps was staffed by about 12,000 military personnel and 37,000 civilian employees, who supplied a standing army of about 200,000.

With the fall of France in 1940, Congress authorized the U.S. Army to expand to 1,400,000. More than the Ordnance Department, however, the Quartermaster Corps was prepared to supply an expanded army on short notice. The increase in staffing and procurement by the Quartermaster Corps in the early 1940s, although marked, was not as dramatic as that of the Ordnance Department, and the effort to mobilize American industry to satisfy Quartermaster needs was not so remarkable. Because of the nature of the items needed by the Quartermaster Corps, in fact, the nature of the mobilization was quite different. Whereas the Ordnance Department, for example, needed to help facilitate the expansion and conversion of heavy industry in industrialized parts of the country, often in the face of severe equipment and labor shortages, the Quartermaster Corps relied on manufacturers and suppliers who could fairly easily make the transition to production in support of the military. The Navy and the Maritime Commission needed to focus their expansion of shipbuilding on coastal areas, whereas the Quartermaster Corps could make procurements anywhere in the interior of the country. Therefore, to help relieve the stresses placed on coastal and industrialized areas by war production, the Quartermaster Corps preferentially awarded contracts, when possible, to small manufacturers operating in parts of the country that still had labor surpluses. At the end of the war, the Quartermaster Corps had 500,000 military personnel and 75,000 civilian employees.

Until 1942, as previously mentioned, the Quartermaster Corps was the organization within the U.S. Army that was responsible for providing motorized transportation. The army had purchased its first motor vehicle, an Oldsmobile passenger car, in 1903. Four years later it bought a truck. Yet the Quartermaster General was not immediately impressed with those trial vehicles:
"Tests made of automobiles for military purposes and reports received as to their utility and cost of maintenance do not argue in favor of their substitution for any of the standard means of Army transportation. These vehicles can rapidly transport persons and supplies over city streets or well-kept roads, but at the very best the cost of such transportation for army work is excessive. The high initial cost of these machines, the liability of damage to their complicated mechanism, tires, etc., with consequent disabling of the cars and frequency with which breakage or disabling accidents occur, together with the great expense of repairs, high wages of the necessary skilled chauffeurs, and their impracticability of operation over any but the best of roads and the smoothest of terrain will, it is thought, prohibit use of the existing types as a substitute for any of the present means of army transportation."

The Quartermaster General's remarks indicated, however, a recognition that the capabilities of motor vehicles could change, as indeed they did, while the Quartermaster Corps continued to purchase cars and trucks and the army sought ways to integrate them into its operations. By 1911, the army was using commercial trucks to move supplies at several of its posts, and that year the Quartermaster General put Capt. A.E. Williams in charge of two important new programs. One was to develop a truck capable of working with troops, thereby replacing horse- and mule-drawn wagons. The other was to work with manufacturers in an effort to have them make standardized trucks for the army. Given the nascent character of the automobile industry, Williams had little success in the latter program. Undaunted, he continued to have army units use various truck models in experimental field maneuvers to try to find appropriate rolls for motor vehicles. By 1913, the Quartermaster Corps was ready to issue general specifications that manufacturers had to meet in supplying the army with trucks, and in 1915, some units of the Quartermaster Corps began to organize motor truck companies, motor car companies, and motor cycle companies.

With the U.S. entry into World War I, army purchases of motor vehicles increased tremendously, so the army decided to establish a new Motor Transport Corps. After the war, the army abolished the Motor Transport Corps and returned responsibility for motor vehicles to the Quartermaster Corps. Camp Holabird became the Quartermaster Corps' central spare parts depot for army cars and trucks and also housed the Quartermaster Transport School to train mechanics for keeping the army's fleet of vehicles in repair. Because of the huge surplus of vehicles left by the war, however, the Quartermaster Corps made few purchases during the 1920s. By the 1930s, most of the army's vehicles were obsolete. The army decided to eliminate horses and mules and to completely motorize its units, and the army also soon had responsibility to purchase trucks for the Civilian Conservation Corps. Limited testing for new kinds of trucks to meet those needs took place at Holabird.

Therefore, the Quartermaster Corps greatly expanded its purchasing program for motor vehicles, but not without a skirmish over the issue of standardization with the Ordnance Department, which held responsibility for purchase of combat vehicles. The Quartermaster General believed that standardization of transport vehicles throughout the army was essential to ensure effective maintenance in the field during wartime. The Chief of Ordnance advocated allowing each organization of the army to determine specifications for trucks it needed. The Quartermaster General prevailed initially, and in 1931 the army embarked on the purchase of a standardized fleet. Ordnance and the Corps of Engineers continued to resist the policy, and some manufacturers also balked at responding to bid requests, citing the new standardized specifications. The army's Comptroller General ruled in 1933 that the Quartermaster Corps' standardized specifications violated the War Department's procurement regulations, so truck manufacturers were allowed to submit competitive bids on vehicles, responding only to general specifications. By 1936, when the old fleet of vehicles had been largely replaced. Col. Brainerd Taylor, the commander at Holabird, reported to the Quartermaster General that the army owned and operated 360 distinct models of vehicles. Holabird could not maintain so many different types of spare parts, so the Quartermaster Corps' centralized system for spare parts at Holabird disintegrated.

Some truck manufacturers recognized the peril this situation placed upon the U.S. Army. The previous year, the Motor Transport Branch of the Quartermaster Corps convened a meeting with the Assistant Secretary of War, the Quartermaster General, several of his top assistants, and representatives of forty truck manufacturers. Several companies, including the White Motor Company, Moreland Truck Company, and the Marmon Herrington Motor Truck Company, agreed with the Quartermaster General's position that the army needed standardized trucks, but they were also cognizant of the pitfalls, articulated by a representative of the Four Wheel Drive Auto Company. He recognized that if the army conducted tests on a particular patented device and then decided to incorporate it in its standard specifications, competitors of the company that owned the patent would try to use political connections to have the specifications changed to remove the patented device. Nevertheless, some means of overcoming that competitive barrier had to be found for, as A.W. Herrington of Marmon Herrington observed,
"if the kind of motor transport recently purchased for the Army were used [in the next war], it would be necessary to abandon any thought of automotive repair in the field and to adopt a policy of abandoning unserviceable vehicles and replacing them with new vehicles.''

Colonel Taylor was in complete agreement with Herrington, telling the Quartermaster General that simplifying automotive repair was "one of the most important problems in modem war planning." Taylor continued to press his superiors in the hierarchy of the War Department on the need for standardization, and in 1938 Assistant Secretary of War Louis Johnson took up his cause. Over the next two years, Congress, at Johnson's urging, made important progress toward authorizing the army to purchase standardized trucks. Germany's invasion of Poland in September 1939 helped to stimulate that progress. By mid-1940, many components in a system of standardization were in place, leading the army to accept a couple of kinds of trucks that were to become well-known during America's participation in World War II: the Dodge 4x4 1-1/2-ton truck and the General Motors 6x6 2-1/2-ton truck. The Quartermaster Corps made all- wheel drive the norm and established five standard chassis types for 1/2-ton, 1-1/2-ton, 2-1/2-ton, 4-ton, and 7-1/2-ton trucks. There would be certain variation in body types to accommodate particular uses, but all would be designed to minimize variability in spare parts. In order not to discourage bidders, however, higher authorities in the War Department still allowed some minor variations in the trucks bidders could propose to build. Against this background, the determination of the Quartermaster Corps to insist that the jeep be completely standardized can be better understood.