During the final year of World War II, the Red Ball Express proved to be a vital truck convoy system after the Allies broke out from the D-Day beaches in Normandy and steadily advanced towards Germany. The Red Ball Express was formally launched by the U.S. Army Transportation Corps on August 25, 1944, and over the next 82 days, the soldiers driving trucks for this effort delivered critically needed materials and manpower to the front-line Allied forces on a round-the-clock basis. Nearly 75 percent of all Red Ball Express truck drivers were African-Americans.
“Loaded with food, ammunition, gas, medicine, plane parts and fresh troops, these sturdy six-by-six trucks took off from Cherbourg and other ports in France, high-balled through France, Belgium, and Luxembourg, and dumped their loads at supply dumps in Germany,” recalled Ollie Stewart in a 1953 Baltimore Afro-American newspaper article discussing the lengthy round trips made by him and other Red Ball Express truck drivers. “Then, taking time out only to gas up, the trucks hit the road again, all the way back to Normandy.”
The Red Ball Express, which owed its name to the red circles on signs marking the route on which the truck convoys traveled, was a lifeline for the Allies during the last stage of the fight against Germany. During the course of this massive logistics operation, approximately 6,000 trucks transported more than 412,000 tons (373,760.1 metric tons) of supplies to Allied troops. The soldiers driving those trucks averaged 600-mile (966.7-kilometer) round trips with little if any rest and risked everything from rough roads to German snipers to get supplies to the front line.
The Red Ball Express demonstrated the important tactical role of motor vehicles during World War II; it also highlighted the courage and contributions of African-American servicemen throughout the military conflict. “There was one, and only one, Red Ball Express,” wrote Ollie Stewart in his article for the Baltimore Afro-American. “It will be a long time – if ever – before we see such a phenomenon again.”
For more information on the Red Ball Express, please check out https://www.truckinginfo.com/279793/remembering-the-red-ball-express.
A video featuring the Red Ball Express drivers in action is available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KjAjBJ51dCY.