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PARTS IS PARTS - a story by Series Land Rover owner Paul Donohue:

A favorite replacement parts story was told to me by an elderly German I met while traveling through his country in 1973. I was just out of the army and he was shocked to realize there were combat veterans so young. In Germany, the war veterans are all a generation older. This realization must have been what cracked his reserve. He asked me to join him, poured me a beer and, asked a million questions about my experience in Vietnam. Afterward, I asked what he had done during his war. Up to that time very few older Germans were willing to speak about their experiences during World War Two.

As it developed, my host had operated major motor transport repair facilities for the German Army on the eastern front. Their shops had to be located in railroad towns which contained foundries, mills and manufacturing machinery, as they needed to make their own replacement parts. They simply could not get spare parts for their trucks. This was in contrast to my experience in Vietnam where parts were readily available for our M151s, M37s and our 2.5-ton trucks. My Australian Army friends had no problem getting spares to keep their Land Rovers running.

Conditions were much different for the Wehrmacht. It was astounding to learn that the normally well organized German Army had neither standardized transport nor the means to supply spare parts to the field. Matters were further complicated by the fact that they used more than 50 different types of truck for motor transport. Some of their trucks were kept on the road by cannibalizing parts from broken ones awaiting repair.

My experience shows that it is usually the same parts that need to be replaced. Since spares were not available, this unit had to be make them. They were happy just to get drawings or specifications for the parts they needed to make.

Axles were a big failure item. German Army motor transport was intended to be used on paved roads. With few paved roads on the eastern front, axles were among the most frequently broken items. In the first years of the war, axle parts were fabricated from scratch in field repair shops. Later they found a good source of axles from a most unexpected place: South Bend, Indiana.

When American shipments of Lend-Lease material started to reach Russia, the Russians received thousands of Studebaker, 6x6, 2.5-ton trucks. Virtually the entire output of Studebaker 2.5 ton trucks was sent to Russia.

My acquaintance told me that when they captured the first of these trucks, one was sent back to Germany for technical analysis. The verdict was that it was a primitive design, crudely made, of inferior quality; nothing a German engineer would be proud of. Such a truck would never last. Specific criticisms included cast babbitt metal bearings instead of ball or roller bearings, the crude flat-head gasoline engine, leaf springs, etc.

As his later experience showed, the very items criticized in the ordinance report were the things that suited these trucks so well to the crude conditions on the eastern front. Babbitt bearings could be melted and re-poured. The crude and simple design made these trucks easy to repair. They were all built to a standard pattern which meant that parts were interchangeable. Huge numbers of Studebaker trucks were captured from Russian forces, found abandoned, or were salvaged from battlefields. These were repaired and put into service or were cannibalized to keep other trucks running.

With its dual wheels, dual rear axles, driven front axle and low range gearing the Studebaker could traverse muddy roads impassable to the vastly superior German trucks. By the end of the war, half the German built trucks on the eastern front had Studebaker axles under them. The Studebaker 6x6 was, my acquaintance concluded, the best truck the German Army had.

He told me that he learned a great deal from these Studebaker trucks and the other American transport they captured and used. Crude and simple, he said, are important qualities for tactical trucks. The standardization of American transport was a stroke of brilliance. He knew a great deal about this subject, explaining that the entire output of the different American companies was dedicated to standard pattern trucks. Willys and Ford built Jeeps, Dodge built 1/2 and 3/4-ton trucks and ambulances, GMC and Studebaker built 2.5-ton trucks, White Motor built half-tracks, etc. Standardized trucks meant it was possible for the Americans to supply spare parts to the field and less training was required for the mechanics to service and repair them.

This man's experience in making parts for and repairing trucks on the front had radically changed his opinion on the quality of design. This story comes to mind whenever I find myself looking for parts to repair my 1965 Land Rover. Paul Donohue

Copyright Dixon Kenner, 1995-2023. Last modified December 4, 2014.
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