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1946-1986 Jeep CJ

Jeep CJ and World War II

Perhaps the most prodigious child of World War II, the Jeep -- forefather of the Jeep CJ -- served beyond the call of duty on eastern and western front alike. Whether at Anzio or on the Burma Road, from South Pacific jungles to the shifting sands of North Africa, it was sure to be there, doing whatever was required of it -- and more.

world war ii jeep
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The World War II Jeep could -- and did -- go anywhere, as a platoon demonstrates in a wartime photo.

Though conceived mainly for reconnaissance work, its service record was far more varied. Jeeps carried troops, both well and wounded, mounted guns, hauled supplies, guarded lines, delivered messages, and transported everyone from commanding generals and VIPs to rank-and-file GIs.

President Roosevelt, stricken by polio but far from handicapped, used one when reviewing the troops. Army chief-of-staff General George Marshall termed it "America's greatest contribution to modern warfare."

Few who knew the Jeep disagreed with that. In many ways it was the most important product yet seen from the industrial era -- and the most marvelous.

The Jeep's now-legendary war exploits moved author A. Wade Wells to capture some of them in a 1946 book, Hail to the Jeep. Its preface pays homage to "that gallant four-wheeled vehicle that meant so much to us in war and promises to mean so much in peace . . .

"In its bulldog tenacity to hold on come hell or high water, in its dogged determination to keep slogging even when the road ends, the Jeep typifies America . . . Through honest performance and sheer merit, the Jeep became the emblem of our armed forces, America's goodwill ambassador-at-large."

Even the Russians paid tribute by giving the Jeep a nickname that translates into "the passes-everywhere." It's difficult to imagine another vehicle that has inspired such devotion, unless it's the Ford Model T or the Volkswagen Beetle.

jeep in world war ii
©2007 Publications International, Ltd.
The wartime Jeep exploits were both numerous and legendary. Here, it leads the U.S. Fifth Army into the Italian town of Vergato in 1944.

Wells records one of the Jeep's most dramatic war stories in the battle for Egypt waged by British forces under the command of Field Marshal Montgomery:

"One night, a fleet of Jeeps moved silently out of British headquarters and disappeared into the desert. Traveling only by night and hiding by day, the ghostly caravan swung in a wide arc which finally brought it to a point far behind the German lines.

"Here, concealed on a strategic hilltop, the raiders strained their ears to pick up the sound for which they were waiting -- the throbbing engines of Nazi gasoline trucks pushing up to refuel the German Mark IV tanks still engaged at the front. Soon they heard the German motors breaking the silence.

"Down on the unsuspecting Nazis, now spread like clay pigeons over the sands, the invaders pounced in a crazy mile-a-minute attack. Spitting incendiaries from heavy machine guns, they wove their swift patterns of destruction in and out among the gasoline trucks.

"It was only a matter of seconds before the Jeeps slipped into the darkness again, leaving behind a blazing inferno of shattered trucks and high-test gasoline." With this raid, the Jeep defeated the Germans' ability to wage tank warfare in the desert.

Jeep heroics were told in countless other tales both during and after the war, of missions large and small, of battles won and lives saved. Naturally, it figured heavily in Willys' wartime advertising, typically with artwork that portrayed the Jeep in stirring battles.

Said one of those ads: "The Jeep has carried brave men into countless thrilling actions on every blazing front of the war." Of course, its civilian descendant, the Jeep CJ, would go on many adventures in peacetime. And that's why we're likely to be hearing Jeep "war stories" for a long time to come.

Continue reading to learn more about the Jeep's civilian offspring, the Jeep CJ.

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