Dodge 1/2 ton 4x4 T214 WC-series was an extremely competent and succesfull
vehicle and most would agree that it was also a good-looking truck. Sometimes
known as the "Beep" (meaning "big" or beefed-up jeep), the
Dodge served with all of the Allies during WW2 and remained in service with the
post-war armies of France, Norway, the Netherlands and Denmark.
was produced in a range of variants which included weaponcarrier/gunplatform,
telephone maintenance, emergency repair, commandcar, sedan and ambulance. On the
collectors market the commandcar (WC56/WC57) has probably become the most sought
after…and expensive, of the variants, while the weaponscarrier (WC51/WC52) is
the most numerous. However, with its fully-enclosed steel body the WC-54
ambulance is an attractive and practical vehicle that warrants further study.
wartime advertising described these vehicles as being " for medical rescue
on the battle fronts… theirs is always the urgent mission of rescue...singly
or in trains they move up towards the fronts and back to their bases with
dependability the only word to define them". And of course this sums it up
exactly. With its powerfull six-cylinder engine, big aggresive tyres, rugged
construction and all wheel drive, the go anywhere Dodge was able to pick-up
casualties from close to the frontline and carry them back to the clearing
stations and fieldhospitals almost regardless of ground conditions….and if the
Dodge couldn't make it there was always the little jeep-based fieldambulance
which could literally go anywhere.
Dodge 3/4 ton WC-series was introduced in 1942, to replace the earlier 1/2 ton
type which Dodge had been producing since 1939 and for which the US Army had
proposed various improvements following experience in service. Prototypes of the
new improved vehicle were produced by both Chrysler Cooperation and Ford but it
was Chryslers Dodge Division which got the contract producing the trucks at the
Mound Road plant of the former Fargo company. Although it was powered by the
same six cylinder side valve engine as the older cousin at 78 in. the new
vehicle was wider and at the same time also had a lower profile. It was fitted
with larger "high flotation" tyres on combat rims to enhance traction
on poor surfaces. And the opportunity was taken to provide a 50% increase in the
wheelbase was 121 in where other variants uses a shorter 98in or 114in
dimension, but like all of the 3/4 ton series the ambulance shared the same
chassis configuration and automotive components. However, unlike most of the
other 3/4 ton variants, the ambulance used what appeared to be essentially the
same body as the 1/2 ton vehicle. It was fitted with a raked scattle and bonnet
which was shared only with the carry-all and it also shared the radiator guard
and wide flat wings as the other variants. There was a four speed New Process
transmission with parttime 4x4 via a single speed transfercase. The live axles
were suspended on a long travel semi elliptical springs and the suspension was
designed to provide a comfortable ride on tough surfaces, although this often
took its toll on the service life of the springs and bump stops. The chassis was
very substantial with a huge flat front bumper and jeep style half bumperettes
at the rear.
two door cab was fully enclosed, with a high, curved roof, V-shaped opening
windscreen, and curiously recessed full lenght doors. Unlike most of the other
3/4 ton vehicles, the ambulance did
not carry its spare wheel across the driver's door opening!
the rear, the enclosed and ventilated steel-panelled body was constructed by the
Wayne Works of Richmond Indiana. The vehicles were delivered
to Wayne as a chassis/cab with the bonnet and radiator, front wings,
scuttle, windscreen and doors in place. Wayne constructed the entire body aft of
the fire wall, as well as supplying the ambulance interior fittings, and there
was a very promininent seam above the windscreen where the rear body roof was
joined to the cab. Entry to the body was via double doors at the rear and there
was a folding step to provide easier acces. Inside, the body was lined with
Masorite (hardboard) and was equipped with two thinly placed lengitudinal
folding benches providing seating for seven patients; there were also
roof-mounted slings and wall brackets for two strechers with space for two more
on the floor when the bench seats were folded out of the way. The rear
compartment was not seperated from the driver and when the lower strechers were
in use and the seats folded up, the only accomodation for the attendant was the
passengerseat. There was stowage place for basic medical equipment.
the vehicle, there was usually a swivelling spotlight fitted to the left-hand
windscreensupport, with a pistolgrip inside the cab to allow the driver to
direct the light. A jerrycanholder was fitted halfway up the right-hand front
wing, and a standard pioneer tool tray belted to the right hand side hard up
against the front edge of the body beyond the waist moulding. Some vehicles were
fitted with a large siren on the left hand front wing but, despite being much
coveted by collectors, this was certainly not a standard fitting.
of the ambulance, charminly dubbed "the meatwagon" by the US troops,
began in May 1942 and the design was "standardised" on 23 October
1942. A singel example was delivered to the British Wheeled Vehicle Experimental
Establishment (WVEE) for assesment in mid 1943, and not surprisingly it was
concluded that it offered a superiror performance to the Austin K2 4x2 field
ambulance. As a result of the assesment and the general lack of British
production capacity the WC54 ambulance was also adopted by the British Royal
Army Medical Corps (RAMC) and the Free French Forces.
vehicles were finished in standard US matt olive paint and were marked with the
usual registration number, national symbols, bridge classifaction and unit
numbers etc. In addition the word "ambulance" appeared over the
windscreen with a small Geneva Red Cross on a white panel at either end. Early
vehicles also carried a white panelled red cross centered on the body sides
above the waist moulding a 42x40 in panel on the roof and two panels on the rear
doors in overall. In October 1943 much larger red crosses were adopted 36x33in
on the bodyside 64x60in on the roof, also centred on the wheel arch and a single
panel 47x45in across both rear doors interrupted by the windows.
the four years 1942-1945, total production of
the 3/4 ton WC-series T214 was 255.173 of these the number of ambulances
was 22.857. The vehicles were supplied under the US government contracts
W398-QM-11420 (850 examples), W398-QM-11422 (9945 examples), DAW398-QM-448 (16
examples), W398-QM-13596 (410 examples) and W374-ORD-2864 (11.636 examples).
few changes were made to the vehicle during the production run, most being
purely technical; the most obvious was the adaption of the larger diameter
fuel-filler neck and matching recess in the body side in October 1943.
of the major criticisms of the vehicle was the space that it occupied during
shipping due to the one piece box-like body. There was some talk about
disassembling the body and delivering the vehicles in "two unit
packs", or replacing the rear body with a canvas enclosure on top bows.
These options were not pursued but in early 1943 the Ordnance Department and the
Medical Department Equipment Laboratory started work on what was to become the
WC64 "knockdown" (KD) ambulance. On this vehicle, the rear body really
was a box which could be easily dismantled into a series of flat panels to
reduce the required shipping place. In 1944, outstanding contracts for the WC54
were cancelled and production terminated
in April of that year. Deliveries of the WC64 KD design began soon after and the
design was declared as "standard" on 29 March 1944 with the WC54 being
downgraded to "limited standard".
the Korean war some WC54 US Army ambulances were converted to "open
cabs" by fitting the scuttle and bonnet from either a weaponscarrier or
command car. This necesitated the fitting of a partition across the front of the
patient's compartment with a small access door cut into it. It's also worth
pointing out that without its strectchers the vehicle was occasionally pressed
into service as a van.
article appeared in the September
2001 edition of Classic
Military Vehicle Magazine.