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

Backward Glances

Jim AllenPhotographer, Writer

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.

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 ’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.

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.

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 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.

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