How the Allied military group was supplied in 1944 after the landing in Normandy
France, Belgium, Lorraine
The most important logistical element of providing the Allied Expeditionary Force in Western Europe during the Second World War was the Red Ball Express motor transport system, a one-way ring route laid from the port of Cherbourg to Chartres (in fact, the suburbs of Paris), where a large American base of material and logistics was created. technical supply.
As the front advanced deeper into the continent, the route grew into two branches – northern and eastern – to supply the Belgian and Lorraine fronts (respectively, Dre – Soissons – Chartres and Chartres – Sommes – Fontainebleau). The original length of the route – 500 km – increased to 1200 km. More than 25,000 road signs, information signs and billboards were installed on the highway.
The term Red Ball (“red ball”) was borrowed from the American railroad lexicon, in which it meant express transportation. At the same time, the name Red Ball Express in the military history literature is sometimes used in an expansive sense, calling all the allied military vehicles in Western Europe in 1944-1945.
The need for the Red Ball Express was due to the fact that the railway network in the north of France was destroyed by the bombing of allied aircraft, and therefore, after the Allied landings in Normandy on June 6, 1944, to meet the huge needs of the army in fuel, ammunition, military ammunition and food, alternatives to road transport are simply did not have. Note that each of the 28 Allied divisions required up to 750 tons of various cargoes per day to conduct offensive operations.
The route rings were not identical: the outgoing route went through Cherbourg, Valognes, Carentan, Saint-Lô, Vire (the only point where the road was two-way), Domfront, Alencon, Mortagne-aux-Perche and, as already mentioned, ended in a huge logistics center in Chartres. The return route was somewhat different: Chartres – Nogent-le-Rotrou – Mamer – Mayenne – Mortain – Vire – Tessy-sur-Vire – Saint-Lo – Perrier – Cherbourg. With the development of the offensive to the south-west, the southern part of the ring passed through the important strategic points of Fleur, Argentan and L’Aigle.
In the image and likeness of Red Ball Express, 4 more shorter logistics routes were organized – Green Diamond Highway (Cherbourg – Dol-de-Bretagne), Lions Express (Bayeux – Brussels), White Ball Express (Havre – Beauvais – Reims) and ABC ( Antwerp – Liege).
To make traffic uninterrupted and around the clock, reduce the number of accidents and minimize the impact of enemy air attacks, special rules were introduced on all routes:
- the movement of civilian vehicles is prohibited;
- formation of columns of at least 5 trucks;
- escort of armed teams in jeeps;
- maintaining a distance between trucks of 60 meters;
- prohibition of overtaking;
- speed limit to 40 km/h (25 mph);
- mandatory stop during the last 10 minutes of every hour.
Unauthorized stops were prohibited; all serious breakdowns were eliminated by special repair teams. Repair shops were located every 50 km. In the middle of the route, a recreation center for drivers and fuel stations was organized. In settlements, checkpoints were set up, which controlled, among other things, the number of passing cars, the volume of goods transported and the need for fuel. Security was provided by 3 battalions of American military police, a mechanized infantry regiment and several dozen French traffic police patrols. Engineer battalions were engaged in the maintenance and repair of roads. Note that three-quarters of the Red Ball Express drivers were African American.
In life and in cinema
The Red Ball Express transport system operated from August 25 to November 16, 1944, after which it was replaced by other logistics schemes – the PLUTO pipeline (for more details, see the material “Underwater” Pluto “), restored rail transport and air transportation (by the end of 1944, Allied aviation won complete air supremacy), and most importantly, the restored huge port in Antwerp, Belgium, which to this day is the second European port in terms of cargo turnover, and in terms of transshipment of general cargo – largest in the world (for more details – in the material “Pride of Flanders”).
During the 83 days of Red Ball Express operation, 6,000 vehicles (mainly a 5-ton General Motors CCKW “Jimmy” and a 2.5-ton International Harvester M-5-6), moving around the clock and non-stop, transported 410,000 tons of various military cargo.
This large-scale and highly effective military-logistic project left its mark on culture – in 1952, director Budd Boetticher made the popular movie Red Ball Express based on real events, starring Hollywood stars Sidney Poitier, Jeff Chandler, Alex Nichol, Hugh O’Brien, Charles Drake, Judith Brown, Jacqueline Duvall and Cindy Garner.