Red Ball Express: Lifeline to Victory

Posted on April 25th, 2016 by:

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Red Ball Express: Lifeline to Victory:

The Red Ball Express was the name given to a fleet of nearly 6,000 trucks that hauled desperately needed supplies to American Armies in Western Europe from August 25 – November 16, 1944.

After nearly two months of bitter fighting, the Allies broke out of Normandy into the fields and towns of Northern France. The German Army was routed and put up only scattered resistance as its soldiers fled east towards the German border.

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Jerry cans filled with Gasoline wait to be loaded on trucks of the Red Ball Express

While fighting In Normandy, Allied gains were often measured in yards, but now the Allied armies were advancing dozens of miles each day.

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Military Policeman guiding drivers along the Red Ball Express

The logistics required to support the Allied drive was immense. The 3rd Army, under General George S. Patton consumed an average of 380,000 gallons of gasoline per day. On August 7, 1944, only one week after becoming operational, the 3rd Army had expended its entire gasoline reserve. By Late August, as the Americans rapidly pushed east, their demand for gasoline only increased. From August 20-August 27, the American 1st and 3rd Armies consumed an average of 800,000 gallons of gasoline per day. To keep fighting, American soldiers also required 21,000 tons of food, ammunition and clothing each day.

The advance was so quick, that combat units outran their supply lines, most of which originated in Normandy over 300 miles away. The supply problem hit the 3rd Army the hardest. On August 31, General Patton receiving only 31,000 gallons of gasoline instead of the 400,000 he required to continue his pursuit.  

To solve this critical supply problem, the American commanders organized 132 Truck Companies (5,958 trucks) to drive from the port city of Cherbourg in Normandy, to Chartres, located outside of Paris. The operation was designated the “Red Ball Express”, named after the “Red Ball” insignia used by civilian railway companies to mark their express cargo. The Army opened two routes for the Red Ball Express, a northern route to Chartres for trucks delivering supplies and a southern route for trucks returning to Cherbourg. The routes ran 24 hours a day and were closed to civilian traffic.

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Trucks line up for loading

To find enough drivers for the operation, Colonel Loren Albert Ayers (known as “Little Patton” to his men) of the Army Transportation Corps, gathered and trained men from Port Battalions and Quartermaster areas to drive short distance supply runs, freeing regular Truck Companies for long distances hauls. 75% of the drivers of the Red Ball Express were African American.

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WWII Ike jacket that belonged to a member of the Red Ball Express

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Insignia of the Red Ball Express

The truck drivers worked a brutal time schedule; assigned two drivers per truck, each team would work in shifts for 22 hours per day, leaving the remaining 2 hours for maintenance. Driver fatigue, overloading, worn out parts and improper maintenance made driving conditions hazardous.  

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Mud, one of the hazards faced by drivers on the Red Ball Express

The effectiveness of the Red Ball Express was seen immediately.  By September 7, Army gas consumption rates were back up to 800,000 gallons per day and by mid-September over 1,000,000 gallons was being allotted to the advancing armies per day. In all, the Red Ball Express transported 500,000 tons of supplies, more than enough to keep the American Army on the move.

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