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1943 Dodge WC-51 Weapons Carrier, Power & Glory: Backward Glances

Posted in Features on December 7, 2016 Comment (0)
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Even before World War II broke out, Dodge was the primary supplier of light tactical vehicles to the United States military. The company’s military connection went back to the 1916 Punitive Expedition, the U.S. Army’s first motorized campaign organized to counter the border-raiding Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Dodge Brothers touring cars were used as staff and reconnaissance vehicles, and three of them have the historical distinction of being in America’s first motorized firefight on May 14, 1916, under the command of a young cavalry lieutenant named George S. Patton.

The WC-51 was originally designed to carry an infantry heavy weapons squad. The exact composition of that squad changed during the war years, but often, it was a .30 or .50 caliber machine gun team or a 60 mm mortar team. More often these trucks were used as utility vehicles. These were the most numerous variant in the 3/4-ton WC line, with more than 48,000 produced. This one was delivered in January 1943. The 5-gallon gas and water can were standard equipment.

Dodge cars and light trucks were bought in large numbers for World War I, though Dodge didn’t get into four-wheel drive until 1934. It developed a military 1 1/2 ton 4x4 and built 796 K-39-X-4USA (yes, that was the designation) trucks for the U.S. Army in several configurations. Timken supplied the front axles and transfer cases, which were added to a militarized civilian truck. Even with the tight purse strings of the ’30s, the ’34 truck was well-liked enough that a more modern 1 1/2 tonner was developed and some 1,700 RF-40-X-4USA trucks were delivered in 1938. In 1939, when the war in Europe exploded, it was clear the USA needed to update its military. Dodge was a natural “go-to” company, and, in 1939, it started work on a line of 1/2-ton 4x4s.

The 230ci Dodge T214 six was as good as it got in those days and as reliable as gravity. It cranked out 76 hp net (92 hp gross) and torque peaked at a mere 1,000 rpm, and the curve stayed flat to about 2,500. They could run on the worst gas known to man. Even without the waterproofing kit, these trucks could handle 3 feet of water.

The ’40 VC-series Dodge 1/2-ton 4x4s were well liked but considered a stopgap because they were essentially a modified civilian truck. By the end of 1940, a more military layout was designed and the production units became the WC Series 1/2-tons built in 1941 and 1942. These were the standard light truck of the U.S. Army when war was declared in December 1941, but an even more highly developed and uprated line of Dodge 4x4s was nearing the end of a development process and mass production would start early in 1942.

Seating for two in full GI “comfort.” Access for the driver was blocked by the spare tire (which swings away but is kind of a PITA to do quickly), but once seated, it’s a little better than the average GI bear. Because they had no low range, the T-case lever (farthest to the right) was just in or out. The 6.40:1 First gear on the New Process 420 combined with 5.83 gears was deemed low enough (37.3:1 crawl ratio). The military of the day liked to keep things simple for tactical rigs so getting into four-wheel drive was quick and simple.

Development of the WC series Dodge 1/2-tons was about to be frozen to reduce wartime production delays when Dodge asked to do another upgrade. Among other things, they wanted to increase the capacity to 3/4-ton and add lower profile, more military-friendly bodies. Government planners hesitated but responded positively when they were informed the new truck had 80 percent parts interchangeability with the old one and production delays would be negligible.

There was seating for eight troops in back and a driver and one passenger up front, plus roof for cargo or weapons as well. The WC-62 and 63 6x6s used a similar, but extended, body, and it carried 12. The 6x6s were often used in tank destroyer units to tow the 57mm anti-tank gun.

The 1/2-ton WC trucks had model designations from WC-1 to WC-50, indicating the many variants of that basic design. The 3/4-tons started with the WC-51 and ended with the WC-64. The WC-51 and 52 were weapons carriers on a short 98-inch wheelbase, the WC-52 mounting a Braden PTO winch. The WC-53 was a carryall with windows used for a variety of utility roles and sat on a 114-inch wheelbase. The WC-54 was an ambulance with no windows on a 121-inch wheelbase. The WC-55 was a short-lived motor gun carriage that mounted a 37mm anti-tank gun on a weapons carrier chassis that saw combat early in the war but was dropped due to the ineffective gun. The guns were later removed and the trucks were used as ordinary WC-52s. The WC-56, 57, and 58 were all command cars, the WC-57 having a winch and the WC-58 having both a winch and a special setup to carry radios. The WC-59, 60, and 61 had specialty utility bodies on 121-inch wheelbase chassis and set up for field maintenance or communications repair. The WC-62 and 63 were both 1 1/2-ton 6x6 adaptations that used most of the standard WC components but had an extra driving axle. The WC-64 was a late war addition, which converted the 98-inch weapons carrier to a field ambulance.

The drivetrain of the WC series used Dodge axles with 9.63-inch-diameter ring gears and big 1.375-inch-diameter, 16-spline axleshafts. The axles were made of a chrome steel alloy, and the F-375 front axle used the stout Tracta joints. The transfer case was a single-speed unit, but the one developed for the 6x6 Dodges was the core DNA for the legendary New Process 205. Here’s a little wheeling trivia for you: The WC-62 was one of the first vehicles to use the Detroit “No-Spin” locking differential, later to become legendary as the Detroit Locker. Heavily loaded 6x6 trucks were encountering traction problems in the muddy fields of Europe, so some 500 lockers were ordered from the Detroit Automotive Company and retrofitted to the rear axles of some trucks.

The 3/4-ton Dodges were nearly as revered by troops as the legendary jeep or GMC 6x6. With just under 200,000 produced from ’42-’45, including 43,000 WC 6x6s, they were everpresent in all theaters. They were so successful that the platform and general layout inspired the M-37 series military trucks of the ’50s and ’60s and a civilian the WDX (later called the WM-300), the Power Wagon, was sold here from ’46-’71.

This restored ’43 WC-51 belongs to Richard Kline, who is a member of the First Frontier Mechanized Cavalry, a group that specializes in recreating military history at public events with static and dynamic displays. It is painted to memorialize a legendary battle in WWII, when the 5,000 members of the 110th Regimental Combat Team, 28th Infantry Division, held the line against roughly 27,000 attacking German troops in the Battle of the Bulge. From December 15 to December 18, they literally fought to the point of death, capture or lack of ammunition and slowed the German advance enough that an effective counter force was assembled. By December 18, the 110th was left with only 532 effectives. The 110th fought just down the road from Bastogne, and had they not held, that remarkable story might have ended differently.

Kline’s vehicle represents one from Company I, which had three platoons that held Weiler-les-Putscheid against at least five German companies from the 27th Volksgrenadier Division. Surrounded, they fought until they were out of ammunition. Two groups then tried to escape and some actually made it and regrouped with other units.

When admiring vintage military vehicles, remember they represent people who often sacrificed everything in service. Ask the owner what unit it represents and you may get a story like the one above and maybe even hear a firsthand account of an inspiring event in history.

A couple of the big changes from the previous generation military Dodge are visible here. One is the very short wheelbase—only 98 inches. The other is the rear body, which added a great deal more cargo capacity versus the standard pickup box of the 1/2-ton. Even without a low-range transfer case, the 3/4-ton WC trucks were stellar performers in the dirt and very adaptable to all sorts of uses. The odd-looking wheels are combat rims and are designed so that tire changes in the field can be very quick and require only a wrench and a bar or two.

At A Glance

Vehicle: ’43 Dodge WC-51 Weapons Carrier
Owner: Richard Kline
Estimated value: $20,000
Engine: 230ci L-head six, Dodge T-214
Power (hp @ rpm): 76 net @ 3,200 ( 92 hp gross)
Torque (lb-ft @ rpm): 176 net @ 1,000 rpm (182 lb-ft gross)
Bore & stroke (in): 3.250 by 4.625
Comp. ratio (:1): 6.5
Transmission: New Process 420 4-spd
Transfer case: New Process 1-spd
Front axle: Dodge 9.63-in RG
Rear axle: Dodge 9.63-in RG
Axle ratio (:1): 5.83
Tires: 9.00-16, non-directional eight-ply
Wheelbase (in): 98
GVW (lb): 8,850
Curb weight (lb): 7,050
Fuel capacity (gal): 30
Min. grd. clearance (in): 10.625
Approach angle (deg): 53
Departure angle (deg): 31

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