Red Ball Express
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The Red Ball Express was an enormous truck convoy system created in 1944 to supply Allied forces moving quickly through Europe after breaking out from the D-Day beaches in Normandy. The route, marked with red balls, was closed to civilian traffic; the trucks were marked with the same red balls and also given priority on regular roads. The Red Ball Express supply plan originated in a 36-hour urgent committee meeting, and was co-designed by Lt. John Bridener Guthrie, Jr.citation needed.
The system operated from August 25 to November 16, 1944, when the port facilities at Antwerp, Belgium, were opened, some French rail lines were repaired, and portable gasoline pipelines were deployed.
The Red Ball Express was primarily operated and driven by African-American soldiers.
The use of a red ball for signaling was used as early as the 1800s, with a flag with a red ball on a white field indicating the important ship of a vice admiral.
The term "Red Ball" was later a railroad phrase referring to express shipping for priority and perishables (originated by the Santa Fe system ~ 1892, extensively used by 1920s), where the trains were marked with red balls and the cleared express use tracks were marked with red balls.1
Some trucking companies adopted the "red ball" name, and Patton in 1940 used the Texas "Red Ball Express" trucking company on contract to supply the Louisiana Maneuvers.
The French railway system had been destroyed by Allied air power before the D-Day invasion in order to deny their use to the German forces, thereby leaving trucks as the only way to move supplies. After the breakout and the race to the Seine River, there were 28 Allied divisions in the field. For offensive operations, each division would consume about 750 tons of supplies per day, a total of about 20,000 tons. At its peak the Red Ball Express operated 5,958 vehicles and carried about 12,500 tons of supplies per day.2 Colonel Loren Albert Ayers, known to his men as "Little Patton," was in charge of gathering two drivers for every truck, obtaining special equipment, and training port battalion personnel as drivers for long hauls. Almost 75% of Red Ball drivers were African Americans,3 able-bodied soldiers who had been previously attached to various units for other duties.citation needed
In order to keep the supplies flowing without delay, two routes were opened from Cherbourg to the forward logistics base at Chartres. The northern route was used for delivering supplies, the southern for returning trucks. Both roads were closed to civilian traffic.4
"The highways in France are usually good, but are ordinarily not excessively wide. The needs of the rapidly advancing armies, consequently, promptly put the greatest possible demands upon them. To ease this strain, main highways leading to the front were set aside very early in the advance as "one way" roads from which all civil and local military traffic were barred. Tens of thousands of truckloads of supplies were pushed forward over these one way roads in a constant stream of traffic. Reaching the supply dumps in the forward areas, the trucks unloaded and returned empty to Arromanches, Cherbourg and the lesser landing places by way of other one way highways. Even the French railroads were, to some degree, operated similarly, with loaded trains moving forward almost nose to tail."5— "For Want of a Nail: The Influence of Logistics on War" (1948) by Hawthorne Daniel
Convoys of no fewer than five trucks were allowed, to be escorted in front and behind by a jeep. In reality, it was not uncommon for individual trucks to depart Cherbourg as soon as they were loaded. It was also common to disable the engine governors to allow higher power for climbing hills.citation needed
The convoys were a primary target of the German Luftwaffe. By 1944, however, German air power was so reduced that even these tempting and typically easy targets were rarely attacked. The biggest problems facing the Express were maintenance, finding enough drivers, and lack of sleep for overworked truckers.citation needed
In the "Gilligan Goes Gung Ho" episode of Gilligan's Island (s3: e15), Gilligan famously utters the line, "Make way for the Red Ball Express!" while breaking out of his temporary jail cell.
- Railroad gazette. Railroad gazette. 1905. pp. 184–. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
-  The Real History of World War II: A New Look at the Past by Alan Axelrod, Sterling Publishing Company, Inc., 2008, ISBN 1-4027-4090-5, ISBN 978-1-4027-4090-9
- Williams, Rudi."African Americans Gain Fame as World War II Red Ball Express Drivers." American Armed Forces Press Service, Feb. 15, 2002. Retrieved 2012-09-09
- Roland G. Ruppenthal (1995). The European Theater of Operations: LOGISTICAL SUPPORT OF THE ARMIES Vol 1. WASHINGTON,D.C.: CENTER OF MILITARY HISTORY US ARMY. p. 560.
- Daniel, Hawthorne. 1948. For Want of a Nail: The Influence of Logistics on War. New York: Whittlesey House. Pages 270-271.
- David P. Colley (2000). The Road to Victory: The Untold Story of World War II's Red Ball Express. Potomac Books. ISBN 1-57488-173-6.
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