On the ball — the Red Ball

red-ball-express-sign.jpgToday’s column is about a huge World War II convoy operation called the Red Ball Express. It was created to get gas and other vital supplies from Normandy to the Allies’ rapidly advancing front lines, which were up to 400 miles away.

Without the supplies — and, accordingly, without the express and the drivers who manned it — the Allied war effort would have stalled. Who can say what might have happened then?

The express operated ’round the clock for three months, using thousands of trucks — and men — to ferry tons of supplies to the front. It used specific routes, which were off-limits to all other traffic.  Routes were all one-way. Some took the express to the front. The others led back to Normandy.

red-ball-express-drivers.jpgMeanwhile, because the U.S. military generally restricted blacks to noncombat roles in those days, many black service members drove supply trucks. Nearly three-quarters of the drivers in the express were black.

The Red Ball Express was the subject of a 1952 movie and a 2001 book. You can also find more information about it at this U.S. Army Transportation Museum site, at this U.S. Army Quartermaster Museum site, as well as here and here.

Below is a circa WW2 news clip about the express.

And now here’s a clip from the 1952 movie about it. Hang on ’til the end for an appearance by the young Sidney Poitier.

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