As a nation headed to war: Fleet response after Pearl Harbor

Nov. 12, 2018
As Veterans Day 2018 is observed, a look back through history at the nation's and fleets' response as the United States joined World War II.

It was now nearly 77 years ago. The United States entered the fray in World War II as fires smoldered from the attack on Pearl Harbor, HI, Dec. 7, 1941. And already that next month, much of the content and ads in Fleet Owner's January 1942 edition had to do with the war effort and how life had suddenly changed.

Fleets operating smoothly with the fewest possible breakdowns was now much more than good business, it was a matter of national security. Americans and the nation's fleets were urged to get every mile they could out of their tires; the defense effort needed rubber for planes, trucks, and other uses in the machines of war.

Tractor-trailers, then still an emerging part of transportation, were also part of the war. Fleet Owner showed military trucks hauling pontoon bridges used to get soldiers and machinery across rivers and other water crossings, and an ad showed a truck pulling a Fruehauf trailer done up like a billboard calling for people to buy war certificates and stamps to help "stamp out Hitler!." The U.S. Office of Personnel Management reported that more than a million trucks were being used to haul defense goods and equipment across the country.

The U.S. War Dept. issued a national pamphlet preparing truck drivers to operate under blackout conditions if necessary, covering headlights with shields or operating with all lights shut off. If some light had to be improvised, the government suggested attaching a can below the vehicle to house a flashlight pointed forward to provide at least some illumination.

Auto and truck manufacturers were very much a part of the war effort. Fleet Owner documented how Ford Motor Co. was training U.S. Army officers on the Ford GPW "blitz buggy," the magazine called it, which was one of the vehicles that would become commonly known as a jeep.

In another example, Dodge noted it was sending more 4x4s to join the 75,000 trucks the company had already sent to the war front, and its "swift, comfortable and thoroughly dependable" ambulances were aiding medical personnel and wounded. Chevrolet had printed 170,000 special military service manuals supplied with trucks it built and sent to the army, and Plymouth sent a photo of staff cars it supplied to military officers.

And naturally, the war also affected regulation and day-to-day business. Numerous state legislatures that weren't meeting held special sessions, and the additional activity was expected to produce many additional trucking and transportation-related bills. 

Have a look through this time-capsule slideshow of some WWII highlights from Fleet Owner Vol. 28, No. 1.

About the Author

Aaron Marsh

Before computerization had fully taken hold and automotive work took someone who speaks engine, Aaron grew up in Upstate New York taking cars apart and fixing and rewiring them, keeping more than a few great jalopies (classics) on the road that probably didn't deserve to be. He spent a decade inside the Beltway covering Congress and the intricacies of the health care system before a stint in local New England news, picking up awards for both pen and camera.

He wrote about you-name-it, from transportation and law and the courts to events of all kinds and telecommunications, and landed in trucking when he joined FleetOwner in July 2015. Long an editorial leader, he was a keeper of knowledge at FleetOwner ready to dive in on the technical and the topical inside and all-around trucking—and still turned a wrench or two. Or three. 

Aaron previously wrote for FleetOwner. 

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