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The Red Ball Express was the name given to the massive convoy effort which supplied the Allied armies moving through Europe after D-Day. Its success was a major factor in the rapid defeat of the German army. Some 28 Divisions were advancing across France and Belgium. Each division ordinarily required 700-750 tons of supplies per day, a total daily consumption of about 20,000 tons. To achieve this the Red Ball Express was conceived. The name came from a US railway term, to Red Ball was to ship goods express. The operation lasted only three months, from 25 August to 16 November 1944, and was critical in ensuring that the Allied advance did not grind to a halt as a result of lack of supplies. At its peak, the Red Ball Express utilised some 6,000 vehicles and shipped in excess of 12,000 tons of supplies to forward depots daily. Initially, the Red Ball Express got bogged down amongst other traffic, but quickly two dedicated routes were designated from the beachhead to the city of Chartres. From these routes all other traffic was banned and, to ensure the smooth operation of the Red Ball Express, strict rules were laid down: trucks were to travel in convoy; each convoy was to comprise no fewer than five trucks; each truck had a designated number and position within the convoy; there were lead and follow-up jeeps to maintain progress; the trucks were to stay 60ft apart and travel at 35mph. But these rules were more often breached than observed, with drivers making unauthorized modifications to the engines of their trucks to increase speed, for example, and drivers hawking their loads around at the front rather than heading for the main depots. In his latest book for Ian Allan Publishing, a noted expert on the history of military transport and vehicles, Pat Ware, examines in detail the history and operation of the Red Ball Express during these critical months when, if the supply chain had been broken, there was every possibility that the powerful German forces defending Normandy could have driven the Allies back into the sea. Concentrating primarily on the 6,000 trucks utilised for the service, the book includes some 220 colour and black and white images to supplement the authors well-informed and detailed narrative.
- 1 – A Logistics Nightmare
- 2 – Necessity is the Mother of Invetion
- 3 – ‘They Drive by Night’
- 4 – ‘A Red Ball by Any Other Name’
- 5 – Trucks on the ‘Red Ball Express’
- 6 – Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics