Words: Mike Ryan
Photos: Worldwide Auctioneers
Dodge wasn’t the only supplier of vehicles to the US military, but they were arguably the most prodigious, especially before and during World War II.
While the Jeep, produced by Willys and Ford, gets all the attention when talk turns to allied military vehicles, most of the “heavy lifting” for the US Army was done by Studebaker and GM trucks, as well as Dodge’s ‘Weapons Carrier’.
Evolved to Serve
Dodge’s links to the US Army go back to 1916, just two years after the company was founded. Those early vehicles were very closely based on civilian trucks and light commercials, though. It wasn’t until the early-1930s that Dodge started to look at specific military applications, starting with a four-wheel drive system that would enable their existing 1 ½-ton trucks for the US Army to tackle off-highway conditions. The success of these 4x4 trucks saw Dodge account for up to half of the US Army’s wheeled vehicle fleet by the mid-1930s.
Four-wheel drive aside, these trucks were still only mildly modified civilian vehicles. It wasn’t until the late 1930s, when the threat of war in Europe was looming, that the US Army started to request more specific and ‘built for purpose’ military transport.
The roots of what would become the Weapons Carrier were established in 1938 with an Army contract for both a 2 ½-ton 6x6 and ½-ton 4x4 vehicle to complement the existing 1 ½-ton 4x4. To pitch for the latter, Dodge took their existing 1-ton truck chassis and re-rated it to ½-ton spec, fitting a cab and front end from the same model, but some bespoke sheetmetal aft of the cabin. The engine was out of their civilian one-tonner, too; specifically a 230ci six-cylinder petrol engine rated at 92hp and connected to a three-speed manual transmission. A single-speed transfer case added drive to the front axle and could be disengaged to reduce driveline wear in conditions where all-paw traction wasn’t required.
Carrying the Dodge ‘VC’ model designation – ‘V’ for the 1940 model year and ‘C’ for its’ ½-ton payload - these military vehicles were offered in an array of body styles, from ambulances and radio cars, to conventional tray backs, enclosed body trucks, troop carriers and an open-top ‘command car’, while a stripped-down ‘weapons carrier’ variant set the template for what as to come.
The weapons carrier used even less of the civilian truck’s sheetmetal, with no doors, an open, pickup-style back-end and a windscreen that folded flat onto the bonnet, like the Jeep. The truck’s name came from its specific purpose in carrying heavy machine guns or mortars into the battlefield, with the ability to even fire from the truck itself if need be. The “open plan” layout of the weapons carrier meant it could be repurposed to fit just about any other VC model's role, too, making it incredibly versatile.
Trials of these early models showed up flaws, mainly in the bodywork off the civilian trucks, which was replaced with sturdier panels, not just on the weapons carrier, but all the other body styles, too. Released in 1941, these updated ½-ton models carried the designation ‘WC’.
Early use in wartime situations, including on units loaned to the British Army, showed up new flaws, like a centre of gravity that was too high, a body that was too narrow and tyres that were easily stuck in boggy conditions.
Dodge responded with an improved WC that addressed all these concerns and offered an increased payload rating of ¾-ton, too. Following Dodge’s naming structure, this upgrade for 1942 should have carried an 'XD' designation or similar, but the WC coding was retained, and it was this ‘1942 spec’, released just before America entered hostilities, that would become the definitive Dodge WC 4x4 of World War II.
Between its introduction and the end of World War II in 1945, Dodge would manufacture almost 255,000 WCs. The weapons carrier bodies accounted for more than half of that total, but there were also ambulances, carryalls (with an enclosed metal body), emergency repair and telephone repair bodies, as well as the command car, also known as a reconnaissance car; all identified by numerical sub-coding after the WC identification. For example, a WC command car without a winch was coded as WC-56, while the same vehicle with a front-mounted winch carried WC-57 designation.
As the name suggested, the WC command car was for the transport of commanders and senior officers, particularly from HQ to forward positions. However, as it carried no armour, the WC wasn’t a vehicle for engaging the enemy on the front lines. That didn’t stop WCs from seeing combat - whether they intended to or not!
In recognition of this, the vehicle pictured had armour plating fitted to protect its high-profile passenger – General George S. Patton.
One of the most recognised Allied military commanders of WWII, Patton was a controversial figure, but in terms of his campaigning, he was arguably the Allies’ most successful commander. His victories in the North African campaign and Sicily with the US Seventh Army made his name feared amongst the Axis commanders, which the Allies exploited as part of a successful diversion campaign – Operation Fortitude - in the lead up to D-Day in 1944.
To perpetuate that diversion campaign, Patton’s US Third Army wasn’t part of the initial landings in Normandy, but when they joined the fray, they soon swept all before them and had penetrated deep into Nazi Germany when the war in Europe ended.
In the final few weeks of the European campaign, Patton was promoted to full general (ie. four-star general), after serving as a lieutenant general (three-star general) for much of his time on operations in France and Germany.
The WC-57 command car pictured is described as being used by Patton during the European campaign and had a number of modifications made at his behest.
To counter the WC-57’s “soft skin” (ie. unarmoured) status, this vehicle had armour plating added under the body to counteract mines, and over the radiator to prevent bullet and shrapnel damage to the engine’s cooling system. The body remained “open” though, which made these modifications largely redundant.
Knowing the value of image and publicity, Patton’s command car had bold three-star general identification front and rear, reinforced by flags on the front guards, while air horns and a siren served to part the way through traffic when the general was on the move. A grab rail to hold on to when standing and addressing troops was another addition, while a second tailgate at the rear could serve as a basic map table. A .50 calibre machine gun for air attacks and extra storage were other additions.
Real or Not?
The history of this WC-57 has been contentious. Ahead of its auction with Worldwide Auctioneers this past June, it was advertised as Patton’s command car, but that status has been questioned.
Described as a 1944 model, this particular command car was left in Europe after World War II and came into the possession of collector Guy Franz Arend sometime in the 1950s. Arend’s collection was turned into a museum in Belgium in 1975, the entire contents of which were acquired by American auctioneer Dean Kruse in 2000. Shipped from Belgium to Indiana in the US, the collection became the ‘Kruse Foundation WWII Victory Museum’, with the WC-57 as its centrepiece.
The WC-57 4x4 was described as Patton's command car across both its European and American museum tenures, but when it first went to auction through Auctions America in 2017, the vehicle was described as being “modified to appear like General Patton’s personal vehicle” which raised questions when Worldwide Auctioneers billed it as Patton’s actual command car for their Americana Festival Auction on 12-13 June.
In order to prove the Patton connection, Worldwide Auctioneers conducted extensive research, but it seems the lynchpin to them claiming the vehicle as Patton’s own came down to the word of a WWII veteran who was an Army mechanic and performed maintenance on Patton’s WC-57. On careful inspection of the vehicle in the WWII Victory Museum back in 2005, the veteran declared to the museum’s curator that it was the same Dodge 4x4 he had worked on more than 60 years earlier.
Provenance is everything with collectable vehicles and this one’s connection to Patton, as “proven” by Worldwide, remains debatable.
At that 2017 auction, a US$60,000 high bid against a US$100,000 low estimate saw the command car passed in. For the Worldwide auction, the vehicle carried no reserve, but the “proven” Patton connection seems to have done the trick this time around, as the command car sold for US$177,000 (AU$257,650 approx.), which would have to be a record for any Dodge from the World War II era.
The new owner is unknown, but proceeds from the sale went to the J. Kruse Education Center in the US that provides career path development for students and US military veterans.