World War I Logistics -- Transport Motorization


Figure 1.--The autmotive industry in Europe was a craft indudtry, producing high-qiality an expensive luxury vehicles for the weakthy. Thanks to Henry Ford and the productlion line, the American auttomotive industry produced basic, but inexpensive cars that even famers and workers could afford. This snapshot shows a Pige car in 1919. Paige was one of many American manufacturwes. Th compny was a luxury manufacturer, but a far cry from European standards. This enabled ordinary Americans to buy cars and trucks creating an enormous industry that did not exist in Europe. Thus while American indudtry had little impact in weaponry, it had a huge impact by provideding the Allies with thousands of trucks.

The World War I armies that went to war after the Germans crossed the Belgian border (August 1914) had a variety of modern arms, but unbelievably the modes of military transport were little changed since chatriot armies clashed at Qadesh (1274 BC). Weapons and supplies were carried on the backs of soldiers themselves or animals, either pack animals or on wagons drawn by them. Ot was the horse or mule that were what moved artillery, ammunition, and the vast quantity of supplies requird to wage modern. The only change of any importance was that early armies first depended on the donkey to move equipment and supplies. Motor vehicles had appeared early in he century, but none of the world's armies despite the vast sums expended in the European arms race had devoted any serious attention to the military potentional of these vehicles or tested them under field conditions. The typical reaction to a few brave voices was what the the reaction U.S. Army Captain Alexander E. Williams to an articlke he published (1911). His superiors informned him that the Army already had all they needed--12 trucks. This began to change, especially after Gen. Black Jack Pershing took an American Expeditionary Force into Mexico (1916). Pershing and many others began to see the utility of motor vehicles. None other than the future Gen. George S. Patton's got into a skirmish with some Villistas at a hacienda, chasing them down with his car and killing them, beining them back to camp for burial tied over the hood of his car. While the various armies gave only minimal attention to motor vehicles, American industry was booming. So cars and trucks were being made in large numbers. And American farmers and businessmen were finding many uses for the relatively low cost vehicles that rolled out of U.S. factories. And to the astonishment of German commanders, arguably the most important battle of the War was won by the French using motor vehickes--not French Army trucks, but of all things little Paris taxis. German General Alexander von Kluck's armies executing the Schlieffen Plan smashed into Belgium. His massive force was slowed, but not stopped by the gallant Belgian Army and highly professional, but small Britsh Expeditionary Force (BEF). After conquering most of Belgium, von Kluck directed much of his force at the ultimate target--Paris. Over confident after the success in Belgium, Von Kluck left his right flnk wide open. Here he was estimating the ability of the French Army to rspom based om the speed of foot soldiers and horse drawn artillery and wagons. French General Joseph S. Galliéni, military governor of Paris, without real authority, mobilized what he could pull together of the French Sixth Army and threw thm into battle aboard the small Renault taxis that populated Parisian streets. These cabs piled full of French soldiers moved the men so rapidly and unexpectedly that the French almost destroyed the German Army in the field at the resulting Battle of the Marne (September 1914). Only the competence of General Hans von Gronau, the German right flank commander, saved the Germans from military disaster. Von Kluck, his confidence badly shaken, on the Marne and Ourcq rivers, desengged and pulled back to defensible positions. This was the beginning of 4 terrible years of trench warfare on the Western Front. It meant that the Germans were denied an early victory and turned the War into one of attrition--a shift that left the Germans as a result of the Allied naval blockade at a critical disadvantage. Trucks would also become important in the ensuing War. European automobile manufacturrs were largely craft shops, incapable of mass producion. America did not have an important arms industry. And American soldiers had to fight with Allied, mostly French, arms, but America did have a huge automotive industry. And a huge influx of American trucks made an important contribution to the eventual Allied victory. Thius was primarily in the form of the Liberty Truck. This vehicle was designed by the Motor Transport section of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps working with the Society of Automotive Engineers, an industry group. The Liberty Tuck was a 3–5 ton truck, actually larger than the famed duce and half World War II truck. The Liberty had a four-speed transmission powered by a 52-hp engine. This gave the Libertty an at the time a top speed of nearly 15 miles per hour. Production began in 1917. Industry moved amazingly fast. The first models appeared only 10 weeks after the design was standardized. Some 15 manufacturers produced nearly 9,500 Liberties during the war. More than 7,500 of the production run were shipped to France for service on the Western Front.

Military Transport History

The armies that went to war after the Germans crossed the Belgian border (August 1914) had a variety of modern arms, but unbelievably the modes of military transport were little changed since abcient times. Weapons and supplies were carried on the backs of soldiers themselves or animals, either pack animals or on carts/wagons drawn by them. Fast chatriot armies clashed at Qadesh (1274 BC), but the chariot was a war weapon, not aode of military transport. An in modern times, it was the horse or mule that moved artillery, ammunition, and the vast quantity of supplies requird to wage modern war. The only change of any importance was that the first armies like early trade caravans first depended on the donkey to move equipment and supplies. Gradually larger, stronger animals were employed, but there still were very significant limitations imposed by logistics on military operations. Oxen could pull large loads, but only at painfully slowspeeds. Sea transport was a major advance and became very important, at least in the West. Notice how the Roman Empire developed around the Mediterranean Sea where Legions could be transported and supplied by sea. The only significant change since ancient times was the steam engine which did not appear until more than two millennia later (mid-19th century). Steam engines greatly improved the reliability and speed of maritime transport, but it revolutionized land trnsport with the railroads. Only a few decades after it appeared, the railroads began playing important roles in warfare (1860s). Railroads helped determine the outcome of both the American Civil War (1861-64) and the Austro-Prussian War (1864). As important as it was, there were serious limitations to rail transport. It was very useful behind front lines to move men and equipment to supply established front lines and to build up forces for an offensive. This could be done more rapidly than ever before. But what rail transport could not do was to supply an offensive as it move forward. Fot this supplies had to be moved forward beyond the established railhead. And important battle were not uncommonly fought where armies collied in unforsseen locations at considerable distance from railheads. This was paticularly the case during important offenses and armies advanced away from rail heads. Here World War I armies still depenended on animals. And this was particularky the case for artillery and supplies. The men moved forward primarily on foot. This significantly limited the speed at which an offense could move forward. A reader writes, "It is quite amazing to see World War I photographs and the number of animals carrying equipment or pulling wagons. Soldiers on the march were heavily burdened. It was partly the same in World War II, particularly during the German Barbarossa offensive into the Soviet Union. Not only were animals used in miltary situations but in civilian life too. Horses were used to move heavy engineered parts of ships from the factory to the railway. Ambulances and Fire engines were horse drawn up until the 1920s." The internal combustion engine changed the face of military transport on the modern battlfield, first on land and than in the air.

World War I Rail Systems

All the major World War combatants had well developed rail systems. People and goods throughout Europe moved by rail. City streets might be paved, often by cobbelstones, road connections in the countryside, however, even between cities were often rudimentary. Canals and rivers were of some importance, but the primary mode of transport througout Europe was rail. This was also the case of the United States, although the internal combustion engine and the Model-T was just beginning to ceate a demand for highways that had not yet taken place in Europe. Britain, France, and Germany had the largest rail systems. Belgium had a compatable system for its size. Russia had a less developed rail system, although the only way of traveling in that vast country. These rail systems had very significant potential consequences, including military potential. The Germans were more aware of this thn any other country. The German Government involved itself it railroad development more than any other country. The rail systems in oher countries were almost entirely the result of commercial development and with commercial matters in mind. Railroads made posible the rapid movement of men, equipment, and supplies--a vital matter in military operations. And Germany designed its rail system with this in mind. This was never before possible with such speed and effiency. The rail systems were vital in military preparations before war began, both offensive and defensive preparations and the same was true once the war began. Rail transit delivered men and supplies to the front. And railroads could be used to stockpile and pre-position supplies and equipment in preparation for an offensive. But here is where the utility of he railroads ended. The rail roads could not follow men into battle and deliver the supplies as they advanced. Men had to advance on foot. And the supplies had to follow them, delivered by horse drawn waggons. This had limited the speed of military opertions for millenia. Men moved forward on foot and supplies followed in horse- or oxen-draw wagons. The railroads had speed up many aspects of warfare, but actual battlefield operations and logistics away from the rail head were mot much different than centurues before.

Early Automotive Industry

The autmobile and the intenal combution engine began to appear at the turn of the 20th century. They were at first playthings for the rich. Henry Ford changed this with the Model-T, a car which the average man including industrial workers could aford, at least in America (1909). It was manufactured on an assembly line and was a rikity contraption compared to the finely crafted European cars. But it was rugged, easy to repair, and could be made in huge qunatities. Building trucks was a step above the standard Model T because a more powerful engine was needed for a heavy load. Fordand other manufacturers set about create a vehicle with a cab and work-duty frame capable of accommodating cargo beds. The first busses and trucks appeared in Europem but only in small numbers, it was in America that cars and trucks began to clog city streets. They were a relatively rare site in European cities where horse drawn waggons were the primary ways of moving goods. (Betweeb cuties, goods were moved by rail.) When the United States entered World War I, its massive industrial economy was not h=geared for war. The Anerican Expeitionary Forcewould fight the War with Allied weapons. America was producing trucks. An Americn tucks would be th primry American contribution to the war efort. Even in the early 1920s, goods in European cities were still being moved by draft animals nd horse drawn carriahes were still common, in sharp contrast to America. A good example is a scene in Britain during 1920. .

Early Trucks

Large numbers of trucks first appeared in Europe during World War I. The word 'truck' appeared long before modern trucks, commonly called lories in Europe, first appeared in numbers during WorldPart of America’s identity is associated with the truck. The word truck is first noted (1611). It mean the the wheeled carriages on heavy Royal Navy ship cannons. Etymologists dispute the usages of 'truck' but the word gradually became used with transporting heavy cargo (late-18th century). Which began to approch the modern usage. The first American fire engines were referred to as trucks. Actually they were somewhat related to ship cannon carriages. They were not self propelled. They were wssentially water pumpson rigs pulled to fires by men. As speed was critical, eventually horses were hooked up to do the pulling (mid-19th century). A self-proppelled steam powered fire truck appeared in New York (1841), but the firemen did not like it. It would not be until the modern motorized truck appeared that the fire truck became motorized. As much as the truck became associated with America, the first motorzed truck came from Germany. One Gottlieb Daimler designed and built a truck (1896). It was a mechanical marvel operated in two forward speeds and one reverse, all powered by a belt-driven four horsepower engine. The truck, however, did not catch on in Germany or anywhere else in Europe. The reason for this was that autmobiles in Europe were high-end luxury goods built in what were craft shops. They were thus expensive and not economical for hauling coal, potatoes, and other cargo around town. America was very different, thanks to large measure to Henry Ford who built his first truck (1900). He saw the need for a work vehicle from the very beginning. It was the third vehicle he built. And with the Model-T and assemby line, Ford created the kind of low-cost vehicle that could be used for hauling freight. And as a result there were large numbers of cars in America at a time that Europe was still mostly depedent on horse power. Not only did the car catch on in America as a result of Ford and the automobile, but a large number of companies began building trucks. And by the time World War I broke out, trucks were a common sight in American cities.

Oil

At the time World War I broke out, petroleum ws just beginning to remake the modern world. One important shift was just beginning. The world's navies were beginning to shift from coal to diesel. Diesel offered im[prtant advantages. Here the Royal Navy led the way. Britain did not at the time have oil resources, but cpmmand of the sea meamt thatg it could import what it needed. Britain at the time of the war did not produce a single drop of oil. The only imprtant source of oil within the Empire was India, but hardly enough to procide what was needed. Britain was beginning to develop other sources during the war, including Persia, Burma, Borneo and the Dutch Eas Indie. But it was America that produced or controlled something like 70 percent of world production. And Britain becaus of the Royal Navy had access to american oil and Germany once the war began did not. Germany on the other hand had neither oil or guaranteed access to world markets. Austria had oil fields in Galacia, but not nearly enough to supply German war needs. If war came, the Royal Navy could blockade German ports. Coal was the ome nstural resource Germany had in abudance. Thus the Kriegsmarine was reluctant to convert to oil--with one exception. The U-voats needed oil to operate. Coal was impractical for submarines. It was clearly the fuel of the fiture which is one reason why the Berlin-to Bagdad Railway was an important project for the Germans and could not be blocked by the Royal Navy. Historians debate the imprtance of the project in Gernan planning, but there is no doubt that it could have solvd Germany's oil problem. At the onset of the War the only important use of oil in Europe was for naval shipping. Petroleum and the internal combustion engine was remaking the American economy, but still was of only minor importance in Europe. War has a way of advancing technology, and very quickly. Motor bikes, trucks, airplanes, and tanks had become important by the end of the war. Trucks were not common in Europe at the time, but were already important in America. The United States did not have a major arms industry when it entered World War I. The american Expeitionary Force had to use British and French weapons. It's major industrial contribution to the war was the trucks provided the Allies. America provided all the oil the allies needed. The Germans on the other hand had great difficulties obtaining the increased quantities needed for the war effort.

Pre-War Military Assessments

Motor vehicles had appeared early in the 20th century, but none of the world's armies despite the vast sums expended in the European arms race had devoted any serious attention to the military potentional of these vehicles or tested them under field conditions. The typical reaction to a few brave voices was what the the reaction U.S. Army Captain Alexander E. Williams to an article he published (1911). His superiors informned him that the Army already had all they needed--12 trucks. Substantial cavalry units existed, but not one motorized units or efforts to convert military transport to trucks. The assessment was that motor vehicles were just not reliable or capable enough to hold up under battlefield conditions. As a result, the Germany Army that appeared on the Marne had spent a month slogging its way on foot through Belgium and when the battle began had outrun its supply lines (1914). The first motorized vehicles to appear on the World War I battlefield in large numbers were American supplied ambulances. And while the War raged in Europe, Gen. Pershing did take motor vehicles into Mexico in search of Pancho Villa (1916). There the first known motorized attack was conducted by a Lt. Patton who with three Dodge touring cars bagged three Villistas.

German Invasion of Belgium (August 1914)

The German Schlieffen Plan to counter the French-Russian alliace was prepared in the early 20th century. There were many subsequent modifications. The basic concept called for attacking and knocking France out of the War before the ponderous Russian Army could fully mobilize. Europe proceeded to go to war with jouous crouds of civilians and marching bands cheering their young men off to war without the slighest idea of what that meant. The German Army marched into Luxembourg (August 2) and soon crossed into neutral Belgium (August 4). The German invasion of Belgium was an effort to go around the strong French border defenses. The British Government voted for war and ordered an Expeditionary Force (BEF) immediately dispatched to France, following plans aprepared before the War with the French High Command. The Germans to their surprise were seriously delayed by the small Belgian Army led by King Albert. The Germans were shocked by the Russian Army's rapid advance into East Prussia and how swiftly the BEF reached France and Belgium. The BEF formed on the left flank of the French Army. The BEF while small was highly professional. The French had committed the bulk of its army to a disastrous offensive into Alsace-Lorraine and first clashed with the German army near Mons in southern Belgium. The German invasion force forced the Allies into a strategic retreat. The Germans were convinced they could take Paris before either the British or Russians could intervene in force. The valiant resistance of the hoplessly outgunned Belgian Army helped slow the advancing Germans. Some military analysts contend that the Germans weakened their right wing, in part because of the Russian offensive, but there is considerable debate among military historians concerning the German offensive.

Mirracle on the Marne (Septmber 6, 1914)

After conquering most of Belgium, von Kluck directed much of his force at the ultimate target--Paris. Over confident after the success in Belgium, Von Kluck left his right flnk wide open. Here he was estimating the ability of the French Army to rspom based om the speed of foot soldiers and horse drawn artillery and wagons. To the astonishment of German commanders who orided themselves in the Prussian tradition of mobility and fast striking manuevers, arguably the most important battle of the War was won by the French using motor vehicles and the French dis not French Army trucks, but of all things little Paris taxis. German General Alexander von Kluck's armies executing the Schlieffen Plan smashed into Belgium. His massive force was slowed, but not stopped by the gallant Belgian Army and highly professional, but small Britsh Expeditionary Force (BEF). Another limitation on the German advance was the speed foot soldiets could advance and horse-drawn supplies brought forward. French General Joseph S. Galliéni, military governor of Paris, without real authority, mobilized what he could pull together of the French Sixth Army and threw thm into battle aboard the small Renault taxis that populated Parisian streets. These cabs piled full of French soldiers moved the men so rapidly and unexpectedly that the French almost destroyed the German Army in the field at the resulting Battle of the Marne (September 1914). Only the competence of General Hans von Gronau, the German right flank commander, saved the Germans from military disaster. Von Kluck, his confidence badly shaken, on the Marne and Ourcq rivers, desengged and pulled back to defensible positions. This was the beginning of 4 terrible years of trench warfare on the Western Front.

American Mexican Expedition (1916-17)

While World war I was raging in Euope, a crisis appeared along the Mexican bordr. The Mexican Revolution begn (1910) and the violence spilled out along the border. Gen. Black Jack Pershing took an American Expeditionary Force into Mexico (1916). The Pershing Expedition included motor vehicles. This was the first American use of motor vehicles in a military campign. Pershing and many others began to see the utility of motor vehicles. None other than the future Gen. George S. Patton's got into a skirmish with some Villistas at a hacienda. Patton as a young officer, asked Pershing for the opportunity to actually command troops (mid-April 1916). Patton who would the most important American commander of armor and mobil warfare got his fiest taste of combat a month later (May 14). And fittingly led the first motorized U.S. army attack. Patton with a force of ten soldiers and two civilian guides (U.S. 6th Infantry Regiment) in three Dodge touring cars, surprised a group of Villistas during a foraging expedition. A real Wild West shootout insued. The Villistas took off on horseback. Patton and his men pursued them in their Dodges. They killed Julio Cárdenas and two of his guards. It is unknown if Patton personally killed any of the three men, but he appears to have wounded all three. Patton tied the bodies over the hood of his car and brought them bak to camp for burial. [D'Este, pp. 172-75.]

American Automotive Industry

While the various armies gave only minimal attention to motor vehicles, American industry was booming. The low cost of the Model-T briught the automobile within the purchasing power if the sversge American, both farmers and wiorkers. While Euriopean orjers were hrd-pressed to purchase a buicylcle, American workers were buying cars. So cars and trucks were being made in large numbers. And American farmers and businessmen were finding many uses for the relatively low cost vehicles that rolled out of U.S. factories. Trucks appeared first in the cities. Farmers could not afford them. But they ciould ford a Model-T and the Model-T trucks that Ford begsn producing (1917).

War of Attrition (1915-18)

The French victory on the Mane meant that the Germans were denied an early victory and turned the War into one of attrition--a shift that left the Germans as a result of the Allied naval blockade at a critical disadvantage. The German war plan, the Scliffen Plan, was designed to win the War quickly in a massive Western OIffensive before he Rusians could mobilize. The Russians mobilized fster than expected and thd French held on the Marne. Thus the war that the Germans launched turned into a deadly war of attrition. The professional armies of 1914 were devestated in the early fighting before commnders began to adjust tactics to the deadly new wepons. The professionals had to be replced with youthful conscripts. Even Britain had to eventually begin conscription. It was more of a controversy in the Dominions. The Germans having failed to win the War at th onset, decided to breal the French Army at Verdun knowing that the French would fight and not retreat. The Germans failed to break the French Army, but did destroy it as an offensive force. And the Germans also paid a terrible price. What began as a rapid war of movement soon settled down to static trench warfare and became a brutal war of attrition. While the Germans had the advantage at the beginning of the War, a long war of attrition was not to their advantage. The German Army was designed for aggressive, offensive campaigning. The German Empire was well suited to wage an exyended ar of attrition. Germany had the single largest industrial base in Europe, but lacked the access to raw materials and agricultural production available to the Allies. The Royal Navy's command of the seas was to proive a decisive advantage. This meant that the British and French with a larger combined industrial base nd who could obtain militry supplies, raw material, and food from the British overseas dominions and neutral countries like America had an advantage. German industrial and agricultural production fell as more and more men were drawn into the military. The drafting of agricultural workers would undermine the war economy of Germany and Austria as food shortage developed and becme increasingly severe. The neutral United States with its vast industrial capacity and agricultural production was especially important and gave the Allies with their command of the seas a virtually inexautible source of war materials and food. To redress this inbalance the Germans turned to their U-boats in an effort to cut Britain's sea lifelines. In the end, the Germans would not only fail to cut Allied supply lines, but disastrously bring America into the War on the Allied side. The Germans at enormous cost knocked Russia out of the War and crippled the French Army. The Kaiser then threw away these dearly won achievements and drew American into the War the only country with the manpower and resources capable of redressing the war of attrition that had stalematted the Western Front for 4 years. It was a action of stunning incomptence, only exceed by the next German war leader.

The Liberty Trucks (1917-18)

The United States did not have a significant arms industry. The American Expeitionsry Force (AEF) had to use British and French arms. The American automotive industry exuisted and could easily be retooled to build trucks in large numbers. Trucks would also become important in the ensuing War. European automobile manufacturrs were largely craft shops, incapable of mass producion. America did not have an important arms industry. And American soldiers had to fight with Allied, mostly French, arms, but America did have a large and growing automotive and truck industry. And a huge influx of American trucks made an important contribution to the eventual Allied victory, greatly increasing the Allied logistical capability. Thus was primarily in the form of the Class-B Standardized Military Truck or 'Liberty Truck'. This vehicle was designed by the Motor Transport section of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps working with the Society of Automotive Engineers, an industry group. The U.S. Army did not want to buy the trucks being produced by the many small manufaurers. It would have been a logistival nightmare to have to stock the spare parts bd train personnel nto service many different models. Si instead of buying mny differnt bmodels, they had the various manufactuerers build the sme truck with identical specifctions--the Liberty Truck. The Liberty Tuck was a 3–5 ton truck, actually larger than the famed duce and half World War II truck. The Liberty had a four-speed transmission powered by a 52-hp engine. This gave the Libertty an at the time a top speed of nearly 15 miles per hour. Production began in 1917. Industry moved amazingly fast. The first models appeared only 10 weeks after the design was standardized. Some 15 manufascturers produced ovr 10,000 Liberties during the war. More than 7,500 of the production run were shipped to France for service on the Western Front.

Sources

D'Este, Carlo. Patton: A Genius for War (New York City, New York: Harper Collins, 1995).

Scheck, William. "World War I: American Expeditionary forces get motorized transportation," Military History Magazine (June 1997).

Williams, Alexander E. Infantry Journal (1911).





CIH --WW I








Navigate the CIH World War I Pages:
[Return to the Main World War I weaponry page]
[Aftermath] [Alliances] [Animals] [Armistace] [Causes] [Campaigns] [Casualties] [Children] [Countries] [Declaration of war] [Deciding factors] -------[Diplomacy] [Economics] -------[Geo-political crisis] [Home front] [Intelligence]
[Military forces] [Neutrality] [Pacifism] [People] [Peace treaties] [Propaganda] [POWs] [Russian Revolution] [Signals and intelligence] [Terrorism] [Trench warfare] ------[Technology]
[Bibliographies] [Contributions] [FAQs] [Images] [Links] [Registration] [Tools]
[Return to Main World War I page]
[Return to Main war essay page]




Created: 5:50 PM 8/27/2014
Last updated: 6:36 PM 10/23/2018