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World War I

Army Transportation in World War I

The United States Army entered WWI in April, 1917; the European powers had already been at war for nearly three years. During that time they had made good use of the different varieties of transportation to include, animal, motorized and railway systems. The United States Army had just returned from the Punitive Expedition in Mexico that year where it had begun to experiment with motorized transport. When the war in Europe ended on November 11, 1918, the United States Army would have the best transportation network in the world.

Through the use of both American and European made equipment, the US Army moved over two-million men plus hundreds of thousands of tons of supplies. The Army expanded both port facilities and port operations, built warehouses and supply depots at railheads and regulating stations, laid or improved hundreds of miles of surface roads and railroads, built and repaired thousands of trucks, automobiles and rolling stock and moved men and supplies in unprecedented numbers. All of this was done in 18 months. During this time the Army established the Motor Transport Service, Motor Transport Corps and finally the Transportation Corps on November 12, 1918, the day after the Armistice. The Corps would not survive the 1920 reorganization of the Army however; and transportation would once again revert to Quartermaster Corps control until 1942.

The end of the war did not mean the transportation mission ended though. The same organization that brought men and material to France now had the task of returning them to the United States. This work would continue until the final withdrawal of the Army of Occupation in 1923.

Marine Transportation in World War I

When the United States entered World War I it had a total of 6 transports in its fleet. When the war ended on November 11, 1918, that fleet had increased to over 600 vessels. The increase was due to many factors including the construction of new vessels, the purchase or contracting of commercial vessels, the use of allied ships and the use of interned and confiscated German vessels. The transports originally sailed from the New York Port of Embarkation. However, it was soon realized that even that port couldn’t accommodate the flood of troops and material so a second port of embarkation for supplies and animals was established in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia.

Most of the vessels, including luxury steamships, required extensive conversion to accommodate the amount of space required for the troops. As an example, the German liner Vaterland, could carry up to 5,000 passengers. When it was converted to the troop transport Leviathan, it could carry 12,000 soldiers and when pressed, could transport up to 15,000 men.

Troops were given berths which were first stacked in tiers of three and later tiers of four with 18 inches between bunks. In this area the soldier had to sleep and keep all of his equipment, weapon and other essentials. At the height of troop movements in the spring and summer of 1918 soldiers were assigned three to a bunk with the men sleeping in shifts on many of the transports. Most vessels were dark, poorly ventilated and had insufficient sanitary facilities. Seasickness could be a problem, especially for the men in the lower bunks. These and other reasons caused many soldiers to spend as much time as possible on deck.

The Liberty Truck

Characteristics of the First Standard Truck

Standard B "Liberty" Truck

The Standard B truck was the most desirable and received highest praise during testing. Dubbed the "Liberty", it was a 4 x 2, 3-ton truck.

The truck on display is a Liberty Standard B of the Second Series, and is equipped with a Hinkley engine. The rear tires have also been modified on this piece--not the original 40 x 6 duals, but a single 40 x 16-inch tire.

Pictured right:
Top: 425 cu in (4-3/4 x 6") L-head engine 4 cycle 52 bhp

Bottom: Manufacturers- Continental Hinkley Waukesh, WILiberty Truck engine

Characteristics of the Standard B:

Length, Width, Height:
261 in x 84 in x 75 in
4 forward, 1 reverse
Wheel Base:different type liberty truck engine
160 1/2 inches
Front tires:
36 x 5
Rear tires: 4
0 x 6 duals

Libertys in Conflict

convoy with animal ddrawn and motorized vehiclesLess than half of the vehicles used by the American Expeditionary Forces were of U.S. manufacture; most were European manufacture.

More than 294 different makes and models were used in the A.E.F.'s vehicle fleets--213 U.S. and 81 European.

Right: Pershing's forces were still dependent on army wagons, as evidenced in this photo which combines mule-drawn wagons and motorized vehicles. France, 1918.


Designing a Standard Army Truck

prototype of standard army truckThe Army had experienced motorized trucks during the Mexican Punitive Expedition of 1916. There, it was obvious that the truck's mobility, endurance and speed far exceeded the ability of the conventional horse-drawn wagon.

But maintenance was a nightmare. The Quartermaster Corps realized that a truck of standard design and interchangeable parts was a requirement for the Army.

A design committee was formed of Quartermaster officers, Society of Automotive Engineers members, and volunteers from the truck manufacturing companies.
Design for a standard Army truck proceeded quickly.

Producing the Liberty Truck

trucks in motor parkProduction of the Standard B Liberty truck began in April 1918, and did not stop until the end of the war.

While American industry produced over 118,000 trucks of all types including Liberty's, only 51,554 were sent overseas.

Two other classes of vehicles were needed by the Quartermaster Corps--a Standard A, 2-ton and a Standard AA, 3/4 ton. these were designed at the same time as the Standard B, and were also using interchangeable parts. The Standard B 3-ton was the only truck to go into full scale production.

General Pershing's estimate of 50,000 trucks proved grossly inadequate. The American Expeditionary force never had more than 50% of the vehicles and 30% of the personnel required by prescribed tables of organization.

museum display of Liberty Truckmuseum display WWI transport uniform










museum exhibit Motor SGT receiving suppliesAbove Left: Liberty truck being loaded with supplies (from Transportation Museum display).

Left:  close up of Motor Sergeant receiving supplies in a Liberty truck.

Above Right: Uniform of Motor Sergeant George Bates on display.


line drawing of 1919 Liberty engineRequirements for a Standard Truck

The design committee agreed that a 3 to 5 ton large cargo hauler was the most critical need for the Army.

The truck needed a large engine, a large gasoline tank, a large radiator and maximum ground clearance.

Right: Line drawing of the cross section for the 1919 model Liberty truck engine.

Other Requirements: 4-speed transmission, Low gear reduction, Very low first gear, Demountable tires, standard size, 3-point engine suspension,
Extra quality alloy steel springs, Locking differential.

The Committee also agreed not to use existing commercial designs in order to avoid any delay in production by patent infringement.

Testing the Prototype

testing 5-ton prototypetesting 5-ton prototype

By October 1917, two prototype trucks were driven overland to the War Department in Washington D.C. for extensive trials. The results were so successful that by mid November, the government had signed contracts for all the interchangeable components.

Above, Left: Testing a Class C 5-ton truck on uneven ground and over railroad tracks.


Volunteer Members of the Society of Automotive Engineers


checking out the Liberty Truck -- museum display


Volunteers from commercial manufacturers assisted in the standard design of the Army truck, and included:

Kelley-Springfield Motor Truck Co, Springfield, Ohio
International Motor Co, New York
Gramm-Bernstein Motor Truck Co, Lima, Ohio
Dorris Motor Car Co, St Louis, Missouri
Republic Motor Truck Co, Alma, Michigan
Kissell Motor Car Co, Hartford, Wisconsin
Service Motor Truck Co, Wabash, Indiana
Velie Motors Corps, Moline, Illinois
United States Motor Truck Co, Cincinnati
Seldon Motor Vehicle Corp, Rochester, NY
Dart Motor Truck Co, Waterloo, Iowa
Denby Motor Truck Co, Detroit, Mich
Thomas & Thomas, Detroit, Mich
Winther Motor Truck Co, Kenosha, Wisc
Sterling Motor Truck Co, Milwaukee, Wisc
Packard Motor Car Co, Detroit, Mich
Pierce-Arrow Motor Car Co, Buffalo, NY
Westinghouse electric & Mfg Co, Pittsburg
Splitdorf Electrical Co, Newar, NJ
Dayton Engineering Labs Co, Dayton, Ohio
Bijur Motor Lighting Co, Hoboken, NJ
Wagner Electric Mfg Co, St. Louis, Missouri
Remy Electric Co, Anderson, Indiana
Timken Detroit Axle Co, Detroit, Mich
Sheldon Axle & Spring Co, Wilkes-Barre, Penn
Russell Axle Co, North Detroit, Mich
Columbia Axle Co, Cleveland, Ohio
Torbensen Axle Co, Cleveland Ohio
The Autocar Co, Ardmore, Penn
Waukesha Motor Co, Waukesha, Wisc
Wisconsin Motor Co, West Allis, Wisc
Hercules Motor Co, Canton, Ohio
Hinkley Motor Co, Detroit, Mich
Continental Motor Co, Detroit, Mich
Buda Motor Co, Harvey, Illinois
William & Harvey Rowland, Inc, Philadelphia
Bock Bearing Co, Toledo, Ohio
Muncie Gear Works, Muncie, Indiana
McCord Mfg Co, Detroit, Mich
Covert Gear, Detroit, Mich
Brown-Lipe Gear Co, Syracuse, NY
Detroit Gear & Machine Co, Detroit, Mich
Warner Gear Co, Muncie Indiana
International Motor Car Co, New York
Standard Parts Co, Cleveland, Ohio
Engineering Editor, The Automobile & Automotive Industries.


Letters Home...

The letters exhibited here are from Lewis M. Fackrell to his parents. Lewis was born in 1895 and grew up on a farm in Thomas, Idaho.

He enlisted in the Army Quartermaster Corps in 1917 at age 21. After basic training, he was assigned to Motor Truck Company 443, promoted to Corporal and sent to Camp Humphries, Virginia in March 1918.

He hauled building materials for the construction of Camp Humphries, and transported new Liberty Trucks from Baltimore for overseas delivery.

In September 1918, Lewis was sent overseas to St. Nazaire France, and hauled war supples to trains, carried building material for local projects, and transported troops.

Within 2 1/2 months, the Armistice was signed, but Motor Transport Company 443 remained to build a permanent infrastructure in the area.

His letters reflect his excitement over the new motorized Army vehicle, his experiences driving it, and some of its capabilities.

Corporal Lewis Fackrell returned home in May 1919, and pursued active farming until 78 years old. He died in 1995 and was buried with military honors.



Alexandria, Va.
May 1, 1918

I'm quite tired tonight for a soldier. We've made two trips to camp today loaded with lumber. My speedometer registers 52 miles for today. The roads are rough and we also get stuck 2 or 3 times. But it is fun to drive those big trucks. I like it fine.


Alexandria, Va.
May 8, 1918

Made two trips to camp each day hauling lumber, potatoes, prunes, beef, groceries, hay, oats most any thing.

Each Saturday we clean our motors, wash the wheels and body. Then the Lieutenant looks them over...


Washington, D.C.
May 12, 1918

The road from camp to Alexandria is just like a boulevard and arched over very nearly all the way with large oak trees.

Last night a lawn party was given in honor of M.T. Co. 443 by a wealthy family of Alexandria and it was sure a swell affair. Danced with beautiful Virginia bells, drank punch, ate ice cream and had a jolly good time until 12:00. They treated us fine.


Alexandria, Va.
May 19, 1918

Yesterday I made my two trips to camp and back by one o'clock covering a distance of about 56 miles. That's pretty good.

I wish I could bring my truck home after the war and have it there on the farm. It might break us in buying gasoline tho. Yesterday I used 17 gallons and 1 quart of oil. That's about an average days consumption.


Alexandria, Va.
June 15, 1918

The last few days there has been at least 400 3 1/2 ton Packard trucks pass thru here on their way for New Port News, the big shipping port for France.

They are being run from the factory as the railroad is so busy. The Packards go by in trains, usually about 50 in a train. Gee they look fine.


Camp Humphries
July 24, 1918

Twenty of us left here at six a.m. Monday in one of our Pierces. We got to Baltimore at noon.

This is the third time men from our co. has gone to Baltimore for Liberties and we are still doing work here in camp with the Pierces. The railroad is in camp now. That will do the hauling we've had to do.


Camp Humphries
July 27, 1918

Today 6 of us made the trip to Baltimore with Liberty trucks to get motor cycles. I like to drive the Liberty. There are some steep hills between here and Baltimore and I can come down some of these hills about 70 miles per hour - just put her in neutral and hang on. Their limit on level ground is 14 miles per hour. If the governor was taken off they'd make about 45.


Camp Humphries
July 31, 1918

This week twenty of us fellows are driving Liberty trucks, hauling cord wood, lumber, all material left over from building the barracks. I'll bet there has been 20,000 men working here today clearing off the ground, and trucks by the hundreds.


Camp Humphries
Aug 11, 1918

Got in at 2 o'clock this morning from another trip to Baltimore for trucks. Almost worn out, too. Thirty of us went this time and each brought a Liberty truck. We were over a mile long when we were traveling.


Camp Humphries
Aug 18, 1918

Went to Baltimore Thursday, our last trip with our old Pierce Arrow trucks and left them. They are all knocked out. They cost the government $600 each. We had thirty, so that was $18,000 and it has cost $600 a week for gasoline besides oil, grease and extra parts.


American Expeditionary Forces
Sept 29, 1918

It seems good to drive down to the docks and see our ships in the harbor with an American flag waving...and being unloaded with American derricks and cranes.

There is an assembly park located near the docks where hundreds of trucks and automobiles are unloaded off ships and assemble. The trucks and autos are then convoyed to the front..


St. Nazaire, France
Dec 14, 1918

I just wish we owned a good tractor and a Liberty truck. I think gasoline motor power is more efficient in every way than horses. I haul more in a day than you could haul in a week with Bell and Jenny.


American Expeditionary Forces
St. Nazaire, France
Dec 18, 1918

It's been raining all week. I drove a Packard truck which has no top and no lights. I sit in a puddle of water all the time. I had to haul men in from work for about an hour after dark. It was so dark I don't believe I could have been seen with a search light.


St. Nazaire, France
Jan 12, 1919

Another truck Co. came here for duty last night. That makes three truck Co's. Over 200 trucks are being used at this camp and thousands in the St. Nazaire District - all new trucks, mostly Liberties.


American Expeditionary Forces
Jan 26 1919

Yesterday I attached a 5-ton trailer to my truck, loaded the truck and trailer with portable barracks and hauled it up to a little village where some barracks are to be built, about 12 miles from here.

This afternoon a boxing contest is being pulled off between a French man of pugilistic fame and an American soldier who was a fighter in America before he enlisted. A 1000 franc bet is set up, and it promises to be a good fight.


American Expeditionary Forces
Mar 16 1919

Yesterday I changed the rear wheel on my truck. The tire was worn so it had to be re-tired. Quite a heavy job. Each rear wheel for a Liberty truck weighs 800 pounds, so I had to lift them on and off the axle with care for fear I might break one.


American Expeditionary Forces
St. Nazaire, France
Mar 29, 1919

This morning when I was hauling some lumber, it was raining and I wanted to get back to camp, so I was juicing old Liberty to her limit. One of the tires came loose from the rim. Half of the tire slipped off and flew in the air around the wheel and each turn it bit the mud guard.

You can imagine the noise, but I couldn't be bothered in a rain storm like that, so I drove on into camp. I'll get a new tire pressed on Monday as that is only a couple hours work. We have a tire press over at Motor Reception Park.


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