The Jeep the Legend of WW2 & Beyond

Jeep vehicle owners understand that “Go Anywhere. Do Anything.” represents more than just a marketing phrase. The Jeep is known and famous world wide and it goes back to 1940.

In 1940, the U.S. Army sought a versatile vehicle suitable for various terrains and tasks. It needed to be compact, lightweight, and equipped with four-wheel drive, capable of traversing rugged landscapes and carrying light weaponry.

Initially, only two companies, American Bantam and Willys-Overland, responded with prototypes: the Bantam Reconnaissance Command and the Willys Quad, respectively. Following initial trials, the Army requested modifications and extended the opportunity to other manufacturers, including Ford, for further development.

The resulting Jeep was a hybrid design, combining the best elements from its predecessors. It incorporated Bantam’s Spicer four-wheel transmission and differential, Willys’ powerful Go-Devil engine, and the body design of Ford’s Model GP.


Production escalated rapidly from under 100 units in 1940 to approximately 8,500 in 1941, with three different models: Bantam’s BRC-40, Willys’ MA, and Ford’s GP. By late 1941, a standardized design was adopted, featuring the Spicer differential, Go-Devil engine, and Ford bodywork.

During the war, over 639,000 Jeeps were manufactured, with Willys producing more than 360,000 and Ford nearly 13,000 of a unique amphibious version, the “Seep” (Model GPA). From 1940 to 1945, a total of 647,925 Jeeps were produced, marking a significant contribution to the war effort.

Design Call

The U.S. and British Armies used Ford Model T cars during World War I, but by the 1920s and early 1930s, the U.S. Army still relied heavily on horses. However, the Quartermaster Corps and the Ordnance Department increasingly recognized the urgent need for motorization and maintained a requirement for a small motor vehicle.

: The Howie (-Wiley) Machine-Gun carrier, a 1937 United States Army prototype for a very low-profile, nimble scout car and front-line mobile machine gun carrying platform. It was also nicknamed the "Belly-Flopper", because it was designed to be operated by a crew of two, lying prone, flat, facing forward.
The Howie (-Wiley) Machine-Gun carrier, a 1937 United States Army prototype for a very low-profile, nimble scout car and front-line mobile machine gun carrying platform. It was also nicknamed the “Belly-Flopper”, because it was designed to be operated by a crew of two, lying prone, flat, facing forward.

In 1932, the Infantry Board recommended the acquisition of British-made, two-seater Austin Seven roadsters with oversized tires for reconnaissance and messenger duties. These vehicles saw extensive use by four armies as radio and liaison vehicles. Meanwhile, the U.S. Army experimented with motorcycles in the early 1930s for similar roles, but found them too noisy for reconnaissance and prone to accidents in rough terrain.

Fort Benning

Seeking an efficient way to transport machine guns and light weapons across battlefields, the commandant of the Infantry School at Fort Benning, Georgia, ordered the construction of a motorized machine-gun carrier in 1936.

A massive 31 inch/800 mm shell from the German 'Dora' railway gun next to a Jeep.... shells weighing 7 tons and had a range of 29 miles/47 km…
A massive 31 inch/800 mm shell from the German ‘Dora’ railway gun next to a Jeep…. shells weighing 7 tons and had a range of 29 miles/47 km…

Major Robert G. Howie of the school’s tank section led the development of this carrier, known as the Howie machine-gun carrier, completed in April 1937. The crew had to lie prone in this low-slung vehicle, nicknamed the “Belly Flopper,” which, although impractical, later became known as the grandfather of the World War II jeep.

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By the late 1930s, the Army considered using one-and-a-half-ton cargo and pickup trucks for light battlefield roles. However, the Infantry Board desired a small, four-by-four, 1,000-pound vehicle to enhance the mobility of battalion heavy weapons companies and transport company and platoon leaders.

Quartermaster Corps

When the American Bantam Co. of Butler, Pennsylvania, loaned three Austin Sevens to the Pennsylvania National Guard for evaluation in 1938, Charles Payne, overseeing Bantam sales to the Army, saw significant potential for a special reconnaissance vehicle based on the British roadster.

Payne’s idea gained traction with technical experts in the Quartermaster Corps. In June 1940, they set the requirements for the project, which the Army General Staff then assigned to the Ordnance Technical Committee.

The Jeep has fantastic off-road capabilities – once you have driven one, you will be addicted

A subcommittee, including Major Howie and three Ordnance Department engineers—Bob Brown, Bill Burgan, and William Beasley—started the project on June 19 with a meeting at the Bantam factory. They advised the Technical Committee and potential manufacturers on the vehicle’s basic requirements: four-wheel drive, a three-person crew, and a mount for a .30-caliber Browning machine gun.

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Karl K. Probst, an engineer at the Bantam plant, led the development of the new reconnaissance car, with significant contributions from the Quartermaster Corps depot at Camp Holabird in Baltimore, Maryland. Probst, later known as the father of the jeep, worked on a joint effort to create the vehicle.

Bantam sought suitable components while Holabird engineers designed the vehicle’s basic configuration. In July 1940, the Army invited bids, but out of 135 manufacturers contacted, only American Bantam Co. and Willys-Overland Co. of Toledo, Ohio, submitted proposals. Willys-Overland had already been trying to get the Army interested in some of its light vehicles.

Bantam, Willys, and Ford Motor Co.

On July 25, 1940, Bantam received the first contract to build 70 quarter-ton reconnaissance cars, with the first model due at Camp Holabird within 49 days. The vehicle underwent rigorous testing that fall and showed promise, but it needed numerous improvements. The Quartermaster Corps then considered standardization and full-scale production, inviting competitive bids from Bantam, Willys, and Ford Motor Co.

Willys MA early production model
Willys MA early production model

The Quartermaster Corps was unsure about Bantam’s ability to fulfill a large Army contract due to its small workforce of fewer than 500 employees, especially compared to Ford’s 100,000 employees and multiple plants. Additionally, both Bantam and Willys were financially unstable after the Great Depression.

As war intensified in Europe, internal disputes and controversy slowed down the production of the Army’s reconnaissance car. Bantam officials protested to Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, claiming credit for the vehicle’s development and opposing the involvement of other firms.

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The Army, however, highlighted Camp Holabird’s role in its origins. In mid-October 1940, Army agencies convened to resolve these issues, agreeing to purchase 1,500 more vehicles for further trials. The Infantry Board and Army combat arms were content with Bantam’s work and preferred not to include other manufacturers.

Ramp up Production

However, the Quartermaster Corps wanted to divide the order for 1,500 vehicles among two or three manufacturers, foreseeing a need for 11,800 more vehicles through mid-1941. They doubted Bantam’s ability to ramp up production quickly enough for such a large contract, leading to a prolonged debate in Washington over future production.

Jeeps waiting to be delivered at the Willys-Overland plant in Toledo, Ohio, June 19 1942.
Jeeps waiting to be delivered at the Willys-Overland plant in Toledo, Ohio, June 19 1942.

The Army General Staff sided with the infantry and recommended giving Bantam an exclusive contract. Meanwhile, the Defense Commission (later the Office of Production Management) supported the Quartermaster Corps’s view that multiple manufacturers were necessary.

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In November 1941, they reached a compromise, awarding three contracts of 1,500 vehicles each to Bantam, Willys, and Ford. That same month, controversy escalated when several magazines accused the Army of favoring the much larger Ford over the smaller Bantam. This led to calls for a Congressional inquiry.

Full Stack Testing

Camp Holabird received pilot models of the reconnaissance car for trials, leading to a production run. Ford’s design, known as the Pygmy, and Willys’ original Quad model underwent extensive cross-country testing at Camp Holabird and Fort Benning.

The Willys vehicle, heavier than the Bantam and Ford models due to its four-cylinder, 55-horsepower “Go-Devil” engine and robust transmission, stood out. However, to maintain its contract, Willys redesigned the Quad to reduce its weight. Ford’s definitive model received the name Ford GP.

Here we were tracking down a crash site of a Bf-109
Here we were tracking down a crash site of a Bf-109

The Army prioritized having a single quarter-ton truck design over three different types, leading to continued disagreements. The Quartermaster Corps favored Ford, which, in late summer 1941, offered a significant compromise by agreeing to manufacture its quarter-ton truck based on the Willys design. Consequently, the Quartermaster Corps increased Ford’s production share.

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As early production models of the quarter-ton truck began rolling off the assembly lines, demand surged following the signing of the Lend-Lease Act.

This act allowed neutral America to support its allies at war. Many vehicles shipped to Great Britain and the Soviet Union, with interest in larger supplies growing. Ultimately, approximately 2,675 Bantams, 3,650 Fords, and 1,500 Willys jeeps transferred to Britain and Russia under the Lend-Lease program.

Jeep – the Swiss Army Knife of Vehicles

The standard jeep, the smallest of the U.S. Army’s trucks, boasted impressive power, stamina, and maneuverability. Measuring 11 feet in length and 4 feet in height, it reached a maximum highway speed of 50 miles per hour.

The jeep could transport five soldiers or 800 pounds of cargo and, when fully loaded, achieved 20 miles per gallon of gasoline. It frequently transported troops, ammunition, medical supplies, rations, and communications gear and was capable of towing small artillery pieces and certain small aircraft.

Low profile, brilliant off road. Here we were going cross country to visit a WW2 airstrip

The jeep served various roles, including a machine-gun platform, ambulance, firefighting vehicle, and radio patrol car. It towed supply trailers, 37mm antitank guns, and could mount machine guns, recoil-less rifles, Wasp flamethrowers, as well as bazookas and multitube rocket launchers. The vehicle also transported artillery observers and assisted in laying telephone cables.

Able to cross bridges that heavier vehicles couldn’t and easily transported by air in American Waco and British Horsa gliders, the jeep was also parachute-droppable.

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Willys Jeep Short-Sleeve Unisex T-Shirt

Modifications allowed it to operate on railways and traverse diverse terrains. Some jeeps received armor for “shoot-and-scoot” operations, and amphibious versions (seeps) saw service in the 1942-1943 North African campaign and with Soviet Army reconnaissance units on the Eastern Front.

The Jeep Went World Wide

The jeep saw action in every war theater, earning a reputation for mobility and reliability. Military personnel used it for a wide range of purposes, including messenger and light cargo duties, as a staff car, and for transporting military police and Navy shore patrol units in rear areas.

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The deployment of jeeps surged in 1942 as America and its allies launched offensives against German, Italian, and Japanese forces. In the Solomon Islands, U.S. 1st Marine Division and Army soldiers relied on jeeps during the six-month battle to secure Guadalcanal, while Australian troops used them in the challenging terrain of New Guinea.

The British Army in Normandy 1944 — U.S. made jeeps leading a column with carriers and a Sexton 25-pdr self-propelled gun, moving forward south of Caen, 1 August 1944.
The British Army in Normandy 1944 — U.S. made jeeps leading a column with carriers and a Sexton 25-pdr self-propelled gun, moving forward south of Caen, 1 August 1944.

In the Mediterranean theater, jeeps navigated the dusty landscapes of Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia following the Allied invasion of North Africa in November 1942. In the Western Desert, the British Long-Range Desert Group and the Special Air Service loaded jeeps with jerry cans, ammunition, rations, and machine guns for raids behind the lines of Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps.

SAS and French Resistance

Following Operation Husky’s launch in July 1943, jeeps worked across the ridges of mountainous Sicily with the British Eighth and U.S. Seventh Armies.

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They then traversed the muddy trails and crags of mainland Italy, supporting the Eighth and Fifth armies in their prolonged fight against Field Marshal Albert Kesselring’s forces. Lt. Gen. Mark W. Clark, commander of the Allied Fifth Army, rode in a jeep during the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944.

SAS Jeep armed with a pair of Vickers K machine guns fully loaded for a long range desert patrol
SAS Jeep armed with a pair of Vickers K machine guns fully loaded for a long range desert patrol

After the D-Day landings on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, jeeps served under various national flags. The Americans used them in the July breakout from the beachheads, while the British and Canadian Armies also used them as ambulances in the Caen area.

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SAS and French Resistance units also used jeeps for missions behind enemy lines in Normandy. Lt. Gen. Jacques Philippe Leclerc led his French 2nd Armored Division into Paris on August 25, 1944, riding in a jeep.

General Bernard L. Montgomery

The Ford and Willys-Overland jeeps became vital for Allied forces in all operation theaters. Correspondent Pyle, who accompanied GIs through North Africa, Sicily, Italy, France, and the Pacific, declared, “Good Lord, I don’t think we could continue the war without the jeep. It does everything.”

General Bernard L. Montgomery in a Jeep
General Bernard L. Montgomery

General Bernard L. Montgomery, leader of the British 21st Army Group, often opted for the jeep over a Humber staff car or his office trailer. Lt. Gen. George S. Patton Jr. sometimes traveled in a customized Willys-Overland jeep in North Africa, Sicily, and as his U.S. Third Army advanced toward the River Rhine. In Normandy, Brig. Gen.

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Theodore Roosevelt, Jr., assistant commander of the U.S. 4th Infantry Division, drove a battered jeep named Rough Rider, honoring his father’s Spanish-American War cavalry regiment, before his death.

Allied airborne divisions air-dropped jeeps during Operation Market-Garden on September 17, 1944. These vehicles transported 6-pounder antitank guns as the British 1st Airborne Division advanced into Arnhem, Holland, for their stand at the “bridge too far.”

Besieged Bastogne

In 1944, each infantry glider regiment received 24 jeeps, and parachute regiments had 17. On U.S. and British airfields in England, jeeps with radios were widely used for runway control, towing, and guard duties. Armored and lengthened jeeps, and some modified as snowplows, operated in besieged Bastogne and other Ardennes areas after the German breakthrough on December 16, 1944.

Jeeps served multiple purposes, including transporting wounded soldiers, as their back seats could be converted into stretchers. Additionally, they were used for laying communication lines and ferrying high-ranking officials.

Jeeps played a crucial role as Patton’s Third Army and British units stabilized the Bulge situation, and they crossed the Rhine with British, American, and Canadian armored, infantry, and artillery formations in early spring 1945.Thousands of miles to the east, jeeps led the way, performing multiple tasks as British Commonwealth and American forces expelled the Japanese from Burma, China, and various Pacific islands.

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From Guadalcanal’s humid jungles to the black sands of Iwo Jima and arid Okinawa, U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Army Air Forces, and Coast Guard personnel, ranging from privates to generals and admirals, relied on and valued jeeps highly.

Jeep Name Not as Simple as You Think

Several knowledgeable authors have noted that the term “jeep” predates World War II. Since World War I, career soldiers have casually used it in the U.S. Army as slang for new recruits or personnel who still needed to prove themselves.

Army motor pool mechanics also referred to any new, untested vehicles or prototypes as “jeeps.” Additionally, author Zaloga mentions its use as an adjective, “jeepy,” similar to “cooky” or “goofy,” to describe anything insignificant, silly, awkward, or foolish.

Rail Jeep conversion

In mid-March 1936, E. C. Segar created a character named Eugene the Jeep in his Popeye cartoons. Eugene, Popeye’s “jungle pet,” was small, capable of walking through walls and moving between dimensions, and could solve seemingly impossible problems.

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The cartoon character Eugene the Jeep added a new dimension to the Jeep name, shifting its connotation from a somewhat derogatory term to one indicating a capable person or thing. In August 1936, King Features Syndicate, publisher of the “Thimble Theater” comics featuring Popeye and Eugene the Jeep, trademarked the name “Jeep.”

Eugene the Jeep’s remarkable abilities led to the nickname “Jeep” being applied to various industrial and four-wheel-drive vehicles in the late 1930s. Around 1940, the U.S. Army called converted 4WD Minneapolis-Moline tractors “jeeps,” and Halliburton used the name for an electric logging device and a custom-built four-wheel-drive exploration/survey vehicle.

You have to share the lanes with others…..

The U.S. Navy in WWII referred to a small, anti-submarine escort aircraft carrier as a “jeep carrier.” The term was also applied to several aircraft, including prototypes for both Kellett autogyros and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, as well as the 1941 Curtiss-Wright AT-9. In 1936/1937, Canadian soldiers received a ½-ton Marmon-Herrington half-track and called it a “Jeep” (with a capital “J”).

Jeep Variants

During the war, developers created many jeep variants. In autumn 1942, the Canadian Army Proving Establishment in Ontario built a tracked jeep. The U.S. Army developed a six-wheel “Super Jeep” as a personnel carrier or field ambulance, but it never went into production.

Additionally, they tested a lengthened armored-car “Super Jeep” with six wheels in 1942 for the Army’s Tank Destroyer Command, but eventually terminated the program.

Many designs were experimented with – not all worked

The most unusual variant was the British “Rotabuggy,” a rotor-powered flying jeep. An Armstrong Whitworth twin-engine bomber towed the Rotabuggy, developed for British airborne forces.

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However, the increasing use of Horsa and Waco gliders rendered the program unnecessary. By the end of the war in 1945, manufacturers had produced an estimated total of 653,568 jeeps, both standard and modified, with the majority built by Willys-Overland.

The Jeep After the War

Willys-Overland applied for the “Jeep” trademark in 1943. Starting in 1945, Willys began marketing its four-wheel drive vehicle to the public with the CJ (Civilian Jeep) models, becoming the first mass-produced 4WD civilian cars in the world.

Before the production of civilian jeeps, the January 3, 1944, issue of Life magazine featured a story about a Kansas mayor who bought a Ford GP in Chicago in 1943 for indispensable work on his 2,000-acre farm.

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As early as 1942, industrial designer Brooks Stevens proposed a civilian car based on the jeep chassis, named the Victory Car. Although it never entered production, Willys appreciated the idea and hired Stevens for significant design projects, including the 1946 Willys Jeep Station Wagon, the 1947 Willys Jeep Truck, and the 1948 Willys-Overland Jeepster, as well as the 1963–1993 Jeep Wagoneer.

In 1959, the reconstruction of a 6V jeep required an average of 268 hours for an average cost of 5,157 Francs compared to around 10,000 Francs for a new M201.

In 1948, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission sided with American Bantam, acknowledging that American Bantam, in collaboration with the U.S. Army, Ford, and Spicer, originated and developed the idea of the Jeep.

“Jeep” trademark

The commission restricted Willys from claiming that it had created or designed the jeep, allowing it only to assert its contribution to the vehicle’s development. Despite winning the trademark lawsuit, American Bantam went bankrupt by 1950, and Willys received the “Jeep” trademark that same year.

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The first CJ models were similar to the MB, with changes like vacuum-powered windshield wipers, a tailgate (leading to a side-mounted spare tire), and civilian lighting. The civilian jeeps also featured amenities like naugahyde seats, chrome trim, and a variety of colors. To cater to the initial rural target market, a stronger T-90 transmission replaced the Willys MB’s T84.

Land Rover

In Britain, Rover was also motivated to create a vehicle similar to the jeep. Their first prototype, built on the chassis of a war-surplus jeep, was constructed on the Welsh farm of Rover’s chief engineer Maurice Wilks and his brother, managing director Spencer Wilks. Rover began producing their “Land Rover” after receiving a positive response at the 1948 Amsterdam International Auto show or “AutoRAI.”

Hotchkiss M201 Jeep

In France, the army operated Hotchkiss M201 jeeps, which were essentially licensed versions of the Willys MBs. The French army primarily used the Hotchkiss M201 as its standard light utility vehicle from shortly after World War II until its gradual retirement in the 1980s.

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This vehicle, initially a World War II jeep manufactured under license, remained largely unchanged for four decades. The French military continued to use the M201 until as late as the year 2000. In France, it is commonly referred to as “La Jeep.”

Engine of a Hotchkiss M201
Engine of a Hotchkiss M201

Immediately after World War II, the French government received 22,000 Willys Jeeps and Ford GPWs from the US Army to quickly re-equip its armed forces. However, only about half of these vehicles were in working condition.

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In 1946, the E.R.G.M. (Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile) started refurbishing the vehicles in Maltournée, a suburb of Paris located in what is now Seine-Saint-Denis, northeast of the city. The Jeeps in the worst condition were dismantled for spare parts.

The decision to rebuild a Jeep was not taken at La Maltournée upon receipt of the vehicle but in advance by an automobile inspector from the equipment establishment on which the vehicle assignment unit depended.

This process soon resulted in an excess of spare parts, leading to the construction of quasi-new Jeeps using these surplus parts from the least usable US-military Jeeps.


This production method, which lasted until 1978, increasingly combined old parts with newly acquired components, resulting in each vehicle being a unique mix of Willys, Ford, and Hotchkiss parts.

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Jeeps that were badly damaged or considered scrap faced a complete teardown to their component parts. These parts underwent reconditioning in specialized facilities within the factory, and then workers reassembled ‘like new’ jeeps on a production line, or ‘chaine’.

E.R.G.M. (Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile) began work to make the vehicles usable at a Paris suburb called Maltournée
E.R.G.M. (Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile) began work to make the vehicles usable at a Paris suburb called Maltournée

Unfortunately, these jeeps lost their original chassis numbers and received new ITM chassis numbers along with a new ‘date of birth’. ITM, standing for ‘Inspection Technique du Material’, signifies that these jeeps only received their new identity after the army had accepted them as meeting the required standard.

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Initially, the refurbishment process predominantly used World War II parts. However, in the early 1950s, Hotchkiss began manufacturing spare parts for Willys jeeps under license in France. As a result, some WOF (Willys Overland France) stamped parts inevitably became part of the pool of vehicle parts used in the construction of these ‘like new’ jeeps.

This one is our 1944 Willys

We have three Jeeps and one of these for sure has gone through the process E.R.G.M. (Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile) after the war. It has a great mix of Willys and Ford and a some elements of WOF (Willys Overland France). I like this, this particular Jeep has had an interesting life. We won’t be converting back to all WW2 specs – it deserves to live as it is.