In a radio broadcast to the people of occupied France during World War II, Winston Churchill reassured them that liberation would come. “Sleep well,” he said, “For morning will come”. On June 6, 1944 as the sun rose, morning had truly dawned. It was D Day. The largest seaborne invasion fleet ever assembled began to land Allied forces on the beaches of Normandy. Roughly 14,000 of them were Canadians. An impressive number for a country with a population of only 11 million at the outbreak of war.
This week marks the 75th anniversary of that event. The human cost of that day remains unimaginable to those of us who have lived through much more peaceful times. It’s good that the world is spending much of this week remembering that day and the sacrifices made.
This week also reminded me how wars have impacted the design of vehicles and equipment we now use everyday on farms. Designs intended for war use have transferred in part to ag equipment as well as on-road vehicles.
Of course anyone who knows me personally knows I’m a Jeep fanatic. Having owned about a dozen of them over my lifetime and rebuilt a few of them from the ground up. 1941 was the year that saw the Jeep enter production as a “scout car” developed specifically for military purposes. The U.S. army put out tenders with all the specs required for it, including maximum height and length. That’s why the windshield folds down on Jeeps, to meet that original height limitation.
The Jeep morphed partly into a farm vehicle after the war, with Willys marketing it as a replacement to the farm
tractor, a task it never really excelled at. It was even sent to the Nebraska Tractor Test Lab for horsepower evaluation, just like any other “tractor”.
Of course four-wheel drive originated as a need for military trucks to deal with the mud of World War I, with Mack being one of the first major brands to offer a truck with that capability.
The steel-track crawler design was also used in that conflict as gun towing tractors. They were modified versions of the farm crawlers of the day made by the Holt and C.L. Best companies, which eventually merged to form
Needless to say, the British Army, which developed the tank, decided to put tracks under them. Interestingly, the tank development project was top secret at the time, and because the tank bodies looked like giant water tanks. That was the cover story used to explain their manufacture at the factory in England. Apparently, the name stuck.
The half-track truck design was a further evolution of steel tracks in military vehicles. Both the Allies and Axis armies used trucks of that type in WWII. CNH’s brands New Holland and Case IH now have half-track style tractors in their T8 and Magnum lines. Claas, too, showed it’s first attempt at the half-track tractor design at Agritechnica in 2017.
So as you can see, the mobility demands of war have drawn on and contributed to the design of vehicles and machines farmers use every day. It’s sad to say, but we owe some of our current technology to wartime engineering.
There is one important thing we really need to remember this week, though. That is we owe much more than we can ever repay to those 14,000 Canadian soldiers, sailors and airmen who made the trip to Juno Beach 75 years ago–and the thousands of others who’ve defended this country for over a century.