Second World War: General Patton Needed Fuel

Veteran of the Second World War tells the tale of the Red Ball Highway - a convoy sent to get gasoline for General Patton and his tanks.

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Let me take you for a ride on the Red Ball Highway in 1944. 

"Meyer, where the heck are you?" my first sergeant called.

He probably could have been heard in two countries. He was a large man with a mighty voice that carried lots of weight when we were in combat. In civilian life, he had been an auctioneer.

We were nearly through Belgium, low on ammunition and fuel. Gen. Patton was calling for more. We'd been told we probably wouldn't advance much farther for another two weeks.

Everything was real quiet.

We were told to stay armed, but we were allowed to wander a reasonable distance from our command post. My best friend was from upstate New York and he spoke French as well as the natives.

We were a couple of miles into the countryside and met a young couple who invited us to a steak supper at their home. It was hard to believe the Germans had missed their home, especially with steaks in it.

My friend and the couple visited in French, and I listened, but didn't understand much. Soon it was getting near the time we were supposed to report back to the company area. By the time we said goodbye, my friend Pat had gained a lot of information that would be useful when we advanced.

That same night, I was told I was to be a mechanic on the Red Ball Highway, which I'd not heard about until then. I was to be the mechanic for 52 GMC six-by-six trucks going back to the Normandy beaches for gasoline. I rode in the maintenance truck, which was a three-quarter ton Dodge four-by-four with a machine gun mounted between me and the officer who rode beside me.

We started for the beach at two in the morning, and none of us had had any sleep. We got lined up in a convoy, but nobody seemed to know much about what was going on. We were informed that the Red Ball was only to transport gasoline. Hardly any of us could believe what happened next.

We got about 15 miles behind the front lines and were ordered to turn on our headlights! Most of us hadn't seen a vehicle running at night with lights on for a year or more. We felt like sitting ducks for the German air force. Although no German planes appeared in the night sky, every driver on the Red Ball drove like a wild man. They were all great drivers, or we wouldn't have made it through the night. I don't know how fast we went, but I do remember that the maintenance truck was at the tail-end of the convoy, and we were just barely able to maintain contact.

Everything went well on the journey to the beach  - except when one driver took his eyes off the road in Paris to look at a pretty girl and ran into a steel light pole. We left his truck behind for the ordnance road patrol to take care of.

When we got to the beach, each truck was loaded with 250 five-gallon cans of gasoline. Navy Seabees loaded the trucks, and it didn't take them long. We all considered the fact that we were going to make one hot fire if the Germans spotted us from the air on the way back.

All the men and vehicles started back for Belgium and the front lines without getting any rest. We were hauling a lot of gasoline, and we all knew that in the blink of an eye, we could be in the next world instead of this one. Besides the threat of the German air force, the road was pitted with bomb craters, and there was always the danger of land mines.

I think the entire round trip was about 600 miles - and took us about 70 hours - but we made it without any serious problems. We all knew it was serious business.

We'd traveled all the way from Omaha, Utah and other beaches in the Normandy invasion in June to Belgium, and we had our sights set on Berlin by Christmas. Of course, we didn't make it by Christmas. But we did make it - and the Red Ball helped make it happen.

Henry J. Meyer
Hudson, Michigan

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then Capper’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from Capper’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.