Friday, November 16, 2012

The Airborne Jeeps of the British 1st Airborne Division at Operation Market-Garden - 1944

In Operation Market-Garden the primary, and most prolific, vehicle employed by the British 1st Airborne Division  was the Truck ¼ Ton, Utility, Willys MB or Ford GP (General Purpose), thus more commonly known as the ‘Jeep”. Also referred to as Car, 5-cwt. 4 X 4. A principal reason for this was the fact that not only did it conveniently fit (with modifications) within the cargo envelope of the Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Mk I Assault Glider, but could be loaded through the forward door of the glider (hinged nose of later Mk II configuration), and was well within the payload weight carrying capacity of the Horsa.

In order to further facilitate its glider carriage and use by airborne forces, the Jeep was extensively modified to an airborne configuration by further reducing the size profile and weight. This task was undertaken, and accomplished on an accelerated schedule, by the Airborne Forces Development Center. It included the following features:

                  • Cutting down the front bumper Footsteps and grab handles removed to allow fitting into the Horsa Glider.
                  • Stowage of the spare wheel in front of the radiator grill to prevent shrapnel damage in the Reconnaissance version. This, in turn, unfortunately caused over heating.
                  • Addition of a pintle mounted single or twin Vickers .303 cal. 'K' Machine Gun for the front passenger in the Reconnaissance Role.
                  • Stowage of the rear jerry can in between the front seats, with two more added behind the seats to enable loading in a Horsa Glider.
                  • Fitting of a No. 22 Wireless Set over the rear drivers side wheel arch and additional battery holders and reels for the Signals variant.
                  • Attachment points on the bonnet (hood) for stretchers for the Ambulance version.
                  • Attachment of a collapsible stretcher rack (accommodating two stretchers) on the rear for the Ambulance version.
                  • Attachment of a collapsible pannier rack on the rear of the Payload Recovery configuration.
                  • Removal of the windscreen
- Addition of a removable steering wheel with the horn being moved to the dashboard.
                  • Entrenching tools removed from the sides, to allow for easy loading and unloading, with the tools relocated to the bumper.
                  • Black-out driving light on the left front mudguard removed and the lights in the grill were replaced with smaller versions mounted on the mudguards. The two main headlights were generally replaced by a single British blackout headlight.

As inferred above, there were at least five configurations in the TO&E of the 1st Airborne Division, which nominally included 904 Jeeps.
                  • Armed (not armored) Reconnaissance configuration
                  • Ambulance configuration
                  • Signals (communications) configuration
                  • Payload Recovery configuration (facilitated the carriage of CLE containers and panniers) Very limited information available to the author on this variant. It is known to have had a collapsible pannier carrying rack on the rear. See drawing further below on this page.
                  • Basic Airborne configuration (10% being provided with the rear collapsible stretcher rack)

The following photograph is of one of the armed Jeeps of the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron.

Note both the Arm of Service (AoS) tactical marking and the 1st Airborne Division's Airborne Forces 'Pegasus'  formation sign still discernible on the vehicle's front bumper. Also the single Vickers .303 cal. 'K' Machine Gun still mounted on the passenger side pintle.

A frontal view of the armed Jeep, with single Vickers .303 cal. 'K' Gun as used by the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron.

As indicated the standard means of delivery of the Airborne Jeeps was by the Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Mk I Assault Glider. Probably most interested readers know that the 1st Airborne Reconnaissance Squadron had 39 armed Jeeps in their ‘coup-de-main’ force delivered in the 1st Lift. (Chalk No. 354-375). The 1st Airlanding Light Regiment, RA employed the Jeep to tow their batteries of the 75mm Pack Howitzer, M1A1 (M8 carriage). It was capable of being carried with a Jeep, trailer, and crew, as one payload in the Horsa Glider.  The 1st Lift also included 7 gliders (early Chalk No. 263, 286-290, 313) carrying major elements of the 181st Airlanding Field Ambulance.

The following drawing is of an official loading diagram for the 75mm Howitzer, M1A1 (M8 carriage), a 10-cwt trailer (loaded) and its Jeep towing vehicle. Not that the gun carriage is partially disassembled. All as a single load in an Airspeed AS 51 Horsa Mk I  Assault Glider. 

As an aside, and for those of us not fortunate enough to obtain the real thing, to say nothing of a discrete place to park it, the following is a good alternative. It is a highly detailed, and extremely accurate, 1:6 scale model of the 75mm Howitzer, M1A1 (M8 carriage) produced by Dragon Models. The aiming stakes are scratch built from brass tubing. Keen of eye might notice the base of a scale model complete round (real brass) for the howitzer on the shelf above, beside a No. 75 Anti-Tank Grenade, ( 'Hawkins Bomb'), and two No. 69 Grenades.

In order to afford a direct comparison, the following are a few photographs of the real thing, first in a museum, and then in actual use from the battery positions of the 1st Airlanding Light Regiment RA in Lower Oosterbeek within the final perimeter. In the last picture of the howitzers in action note the fuze assemblies of the stack of ready service rounds in the immediate foreground.

This drawing is of the collapsible pannier carrying rack in stowed position on the Payload Recovery configuration. An educated guess would be that Jeeps of this specific capability would have been within the TO&E of the following elements of the 1st AB Division; 250th Light Company RASC, 93rd Composite Company RASC and 253rd Composite Company RASC. The AoS Tactical Marking of 250 Lt. Coy. RASC is shown as an example below the drawing.

In further detailing the Ambulance Jeeps, the Order of Battle of the 1st Airborne Division contained three field ambulances. The 16th Parachute Field Ambulance was assigned to the 1st Parachute Brigade, the 133rd Parachute Field Ambulance to the 4th Parachute Brigade, and the  181st Airlanding Field Ambulance to the 1st Airlanding Brigade. According to original source documentation; 1 AIRBORNE DIVISION, Report of Operations “MARKET” ARNHEM 17 – 26 Sep 1944, Parts 1 - 3, SECRET, 10 January 1945) Appendix ‘C’ to Part II ORDER OF BATTLE – A/Q STAFF AND SERVICES (page 33) a table details the following;
                    16 Fd. Amb          5 jeeps 4 trailers 2 m/cs 1 Lt wt m/c
                  133 Fd. Amb         5 jeeps 4 trailers 2 m/cs 1 Lt wt m/c
                  181 Fd. Amb         10 jeeps 6 trailers 5 m/cs
These figures are in slight variance to another original source document; REPORTS BY MEDICAL OFFICERS OF 1 A/B DIVISION on OPERATION “MARKET” AND THEIR SUBSEQUENT EXPERIENCES 17 SEPT 1944 – 8 MAY 1945, which cites the following numbers;
                    16 (Para) Fd Amb   6 jeeps 6 trailers 4 m/cs
                  133 (Para) Fd. Amb  8 jeeps 6 trailers 2 m/cs
                  181 (A/L) Fd. Amb 8 jeeps 4 trailers (unk) m/cs

The following group of photographs show an excellent specimen of a fully restored Airborne Ambulance Jeep with the exception of the light blue WD numbers (correct for 6th AB Div), would be white in the case of 1st Airborne Division, and the yellow bridging disc, which was present on many of the known jeeps at Arnhem or Oosterbeek. The Jeep shows both the correct AoS marking, White '117' on Black 'Square', for the 181st Airlanding Field Ambulance, and the Airborne Forces 'Pegasus' formation badge on its front bumper.

 There are only limited contemporary photographs of ambulance jeeps present at either Arnhem or Oosterbeek. Am not certain about the first photograph as the windscreen (windshield) is still present.

Unfortunately because this jeep is burnt out no markings are discernible, other than the white star on the side. As a consequence it cannot be positively identified as an airborne ambulance jeep, or one of the airborne jeeps with the stretcher rack modification.

An example of a correctly restored Airborne Signals Jeep configuration is shown in the following photographs. Again restored in the colors of the 6th Airborne Division (light blue) the WD and AoS numbers would be white rather than light blue for the 1st Airborne Division. Also note collapsible stretcher on rear. See; on this blog page. (with full and  grateful acknowledgement to David Gordon's excellent Airborne Jeep web site; see Links).

Finally a photograph of an excellent restoration of the 'standard' Airborne Jeep, with exception of the side view mirror. Again the AoS tactical markings are for the 6th Airborne Division (with full and grateful acknowledgement to Brian Tegg).

Sources of information for this blog page included: 
1 AIRBORNE DIVISION, Report of Operations “MARKET” ARNHEM 17 – 26 Sep 1944, Parts 1 - 3, SECRET, 10 January 1945, Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Official Files, Aldershot
REPORTS BY MEDICAL OFFICERS OF 1 A/B DIVISION on OPERATION “MARKET” AND THEIR SUBSEQUENT EXPERIENCES 17 SEPT 1944 – 8 MAY 1945, Parachute Regiment and Airborne Forces Official Files, Aldershot
Margry, K., OPERATION MARKET-GARDEN Then and Now (Vol 1 and 2), After the Battle, London, 2002, ISBN 1 870067 45 2
Peters, M. & Buist, L., Glider Pilots at Arnhem, Pen & Sword, Barnsley South Yorkshire, 2009 ISBN184415763-6
181 Airlanding Field Ambulance RAMC Living History Group Website;
Middlebrook, M., ARNHEM 1944 The Airborne Battle, Viking, London, 1994 ISBN 0-670-83546-3
Piekalkiewicz, J., Arnhem 1944, Scribner’s, New York, 1976 ISBN 0-684-15479-X
Taylor, R., WARPAINT Volume II: Colours and Markings of British Army Vehicles 1903-2003, MMP Books, Poland ISBN 8389450925
Forty, G., BRITISH ARMY HANDBOOK 1939-1945, Sutton, Gloucestershire, 1998 ISBN 0-7509-1403-3
Airborne Jeep – Modifications;
Bouchery, J., THE BRITISH SOLDIER FROM D-DAY TO VE-DAY (Vol 1 and 2), Histoire & Collections, Paris, 1999 ISBN 2 908 182 742
Hodges,P. and Taylor, M., British Military Markings 1939-1945, Cannon Publications, 1994, ISBN 1-899695-00-1


David Gordon said...

You say that our jeeps are incorrect with blue markings and that the tac signs are incorrect. But these are all restored as British 6th Airborne for units in Normandy, not at Arnhem. British 1st Airborne had white markings and British 6th Airborne had blue markings. In the case of my jeep, the white 67 on an earth brown backing represents 2ndOBLI of the 6th Airlanding Brigade.

Arnhemjim said...

Apologies David, Stand corrected. Unfortunately most of my research at this level of detail has been limited to the 1st Airborne Division, consequently my error. Envy your collection, and have all of your books, truly a hurculean effort on your part.

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