D-Day was June 6th, 1944: 160,000 Allied Force troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in Northern France. More than 5,000 ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion. The cost in lives was high, but it worked. Allied Forces gained a foothold in France, began to push the Nazi army back, which finally brought WWII to an end in Europe.
In order to fight (and win) day after day, American armies needed supplies at the front. They needed fuel, food, medical supplies, and ammunition to keep up the fight against the Germans. They were burning through 800,000 gallons of gas per day. But, there was no logistical system in place to get the supplies to the front. Rail was not an option. Allied Forces had bombed the railroads to keep the Germans from using them, and there was nothing even remotely like the modern highways that exist today. General Patton’s tanks literally ran out of gas and ground to a halt. Times were desperate.
Trucks to the rescue! In late August of 1944, in a 36-hour brainstorming session with American commanders, the Red Ball Express was created. The term “Red Ball” came from the railroads. Back in 1892, the Santa Fe Railroad started using the term to refer to express shipping for priority goods and perishable freight. The term grew in popularity and became associated with any kind of expedited freight.
In the Summer and Fall of 1944, more than 6,000 Red Ball Express trucks and trailers transported over 412,000 tons of supplies to American armies as they pushed the Germans back across France. Driving only at night, under cover of darkness, hundreds of Red Ball Express drivers rumbled toward the war front. They used blackout running lights and constantly scanned the skies for enemy aircraft. Most Americans have probably never heard of the Red Ball Express, but without it, and the bravery of those drivers, Allied Forces would have been quite literally stuck in the mud, unable to continue the long slog that ultimately resulted in German defeat.
Even Americans who have heard of the Red Ball Express probably don’t know that 75% of the drivers were African-American soldiers. The U.S. Army was segregated back then. Even though African-American troops were relegated to support units – driving trucks, working as mechanics, and serving in port battalions loading and unloading ships – history shows that their bravery and unflinching devotion to the war effort is what made the difference in the critical months after D-Day.
These days, most Americans don’t know how the products they buy everyday get to the store. They just know it will be there when they need it – food to feed their families, diapers for their babies, everyday household items, and supplies to run their businesses. But, those of us in the trucking industry know how those products get to market. We see the hard work and sacrifice of millions of truck drivers across the country who, much like those soldiers who drove the Red Ball Express trucks, drive through the day and the night to get vital supplies to the front of the American economy.
This July 4th, as we celebrate Independence Day, let’s all take some time to remember the brave soldier drivers of the Red Ball Express. Without them, we might not be celebrating the 242nd Birthday of the United States of America this year. Let’s also take the time to show our appreciation to our C.R. England drivers and the contribution they make to the success of this country we are blessed to live in.
Happy 4th of July!