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Willys Military Ambulances


 

World War II

1944Although ambulances were not built by Willys or Ford as a variation of their wartime jeeps, the versatile vehicles were frequently used in the field to carry stretchers, across the hood or behind the driver. Soon they were also adapted by medical units or in the field, with stretcher racks to increase capacity and perhaps comfort.

This GPW of the Royal Canadian Army Medical Corps (RCAMC) was photographed in Vaucelles, France on 20 July 1944. See another RCAMC ambulance (90K JPEG) on the Moro River front south of San Leonardo di Ortona, Italy on 10 December 1943.
 

1945By 1945 in Germany, the RCAMC had more elaborate conversions with folding canvas coverings. This Willys MB was photographed in Sonsbeck, Germany on 6 March 1945.
 

PostwarAnother Canadian conversion had a lower but longer rear extension allowing two stretchers behind the driver. This (apparently postwar) photo was taken at Canadian Forces Base Borden in Ontario.

A similar configuration (60K JPEG) was photographed south of Bad Zwischenahn, Germany on 29 April 1945, with Private F.J. Dunn on the hood.

Photos courtesy Department of National Defence / Library and Archives Canada.
 

Holden USMC Ambulance

USMC ambulancePerhaps the most famous WWII ambulance jeeps were those used by the U.S. Marines in the Pacific, beginning at Guadalcanal. Known as the "Holden" ambulances because the first 200 or so conversions were done by the General Motors-Holden factory in Melbourne, Australia, very few are known to survive.

This photo and a rear view (100K JPEG) of this partially restored Holden, are by Kevin Kronlund. Elsewhere on the web, see additional detail photos.
 

USMC ambulanceThis 1944 photo shows the framework supporting the canvas roof. See also a photo of Holdens ready in Australia, 1943 (230K JPEG).

For a thorough history of the Holdens, and another restored example, see Yank Reenactment in the Netherlands. There is also a detailed history in issue 127 of Army Motors, magazine of the Military Vehicle Preservation Association.
 

USMC ambulancesThe 5th Marine Division landed on Iwo Jima on 19 February 1945, and were in action there until 18 March, sustaining 1,098 killed and 2,974 wounded. This photo shows two Holdens on Iwo Jima, one clearly heading for the front line, well stocked with stretchers.

Additional Holden conversions were done in the U.S., and some were still in service in Korea. See a U.S. Navy photo of one being hoisted aboard ship (90K JPEG) during the evacuation of Hungnam, North Korea on 12 December 1950.
 

Postwar Prototypes

MC-A prototype?This lengthened M38 set up as an ambulance may be the prototype referred to in October 1950 by Willys Engineering Release 6396 as model MC-A. (See CJ-3B Development 1949-53 on CJ3B.info.) "MC-A" would imply an ambulance version of the M38, which was designated by Willys as the MC.

The factory photograph shows a Jeep equipped with fording snorkels, and probably in response to conditions encountered in Korea it also includes an M38 Personnel Heater Kit on the cowl.
 

CJ-4MA-01This long-wheelbase military model CJ-4MA with the distinctive CJ-4 front end, was released to the U.S. Army in 1951 for testing as an ambulance. (See also New Universal Jeep Designs, 1949-52 on CJ3B.info.)

What was apparently the same prototype Jeep, carrying serial number CJ-4MA-01, emerged in 2004 from a barn in Kentucky.
 

M170 Front Line Ambulance

Keating M170The Willys model MD, introduced in 1952 and known by the US Army as the M38A1, was larger, lighter and more powerful than earlier Jeep designs, and became a mainstay of the US military for the next two decades. The longer-wheelbase version known as the M170 was also adopted by all branches of the service for special applications, most notably as an ambulance. Sources differ as to total production, but it appears Willys built only about 4,000 of what they referred to as model MD-A.

See also a left side view (110K JPEG) of Gary Keating's restored 1954 example.
 

InteriorIn addition to the extra 20 inches of length, the spare tire is mounted inside the body on the passenger side, toallow stretchers to extend to the rear where the spare wouldnormally be on a military Jeep. As a result, the unusually large passenger-side door opening is partially blocked, particularly when a jerry can is mounted in front of the spare (50K JPEG). Other unique features include interior lighting and storage compartments, and a tailgate (with holes for stretcher handles.)

Thanks to Gary Keating for the photos. More owners' photos can be seen elsewhere on the web, at the M170 Willys Ambulance Jeep Registry.
 

U.S. Army Litter Carrier

Litter carrierThis Willys Station Wagon owned by Jim West represents a fleet apparently bought by the government and outfitted as "litter carriers," a pretty dry generic term for ambulances. Jim says, "I understand the Army bought 1,000 civilian models of the Willys-Overland Station Wagon and converted them to military use as a test. Mine served during the Korean War, hauling flown-in wounded from Atterbury Air Force Base, Columbus, Indiana to the U. S. Army Hospital at Camp Atterbury, Edinburgh, Indiana. A distance of about 25 miles."

A close view of the data plates on the glove compartment (140K JPEG) shows that the brass government plate does not match the 1951 serial number on the silver plate. The civilian light switch on the dashboard (70K JPEG) and the 3-bar front grille also indicate a later-50's model, so this nice restoration is probably not actually the original wagon.

Top viewSee also a close view of the lettering on the side (60K JPEG) applied by Jim. He comments, "The logo for Camp Atterbury is accurate. But although the Jeep served during the Korean War, I choose to add 'Wakeman General Hospital' as the hospital was named during WW2. I added the 388th unit, because I have a lot of information on that unit. It was a Korean War outfit at Camp Atterbury, so it is very possible they drove it or at least saw it."
 

Any additional information on Willys litter carriers used by the Army is welcome. U.S. Military Wheeled Vehicles by Fred Crismon has a photo showing the rear and interior (80K JPEG) of a litter carrier, identifying it as having been taken during testing at Ft. Knox, Indiana in 1951, but the wooden tailgate does not appear to be a Willys tailgate.

Post-Willys

M679The rarest of the Forward Control Jeeps is the1964 M679 ambulance. One estimate is that 60-100 M679's were built by Kaiser in 1964 for the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps. This photo by Bill Brennan shows an M679 at Willys America.
 

M718In the Vietnam era, the M170 began to be replaced by the M718 ambulance variant of the M151 MUTT ("Multipurpose Utility Tactical Transport"). It was built by AM General beginning in 1966.

The ambulance version is 10 inches longer and 5 inches higher than the base M151, and wider due to the spare tire being side-mounted.

This photo by Ev Harless shows Dorothy Reed's M718, selected as Best M151 at the Arkansas Military Vehicle Preservation Association's 2006 show.
 

M718The Japanese-built Mitsubishi CJ3B-J4C also showed up in Vietnam in an ambulance configuration. See more details in CJ3B-J4 Military Jeeps on CJ3B.info. Photo by Ian (Max) Maxwell taken in My Tho, from the collection of the Australian War Memorial.
 

Eric HansonThe military ambulance version of the Kaiser Jeep M715 1-1/4 ton truck, built during 1967-68, was designated the M725, and also saw service in Vietnam. This restored M725 is at the Minnesota Military Museum.

See more details on the Kaiser M725 Ambulance on CJ3B.info.
 

J20The U.S. Air Force used an ambulance based on the J20 Jeep truck. This 1976 J20 includes locking front hubs, winch, and brush bar on the front. There was also a U.S. Navy version (220K JPEG) of this configuration.
 

J8Although the HMMWV has become the US military's primary frontline ambulance, as of 2010 the Jeep military ambulance is not yet completely history. Chrysler offers an ambulance variant of its overseas-built Jeep J8, not available in North America.
 

MahindraMahindra & Mahindra in India introduced their Field Ambulance in 2010, with the distinctive front grille found on some of their Jeep variations. Built using modular construction on a tubular chassis, it includes 220V AC power supply and life support equipment. It accommodates two lying and two sitting casualties, or five sitting casualties, along with an attendant's seat. Photo courtesy of Team-BHP.com.
 

Thanks to all the photographers, and to Paul Barry. -- Derek Redmond


See also some civilian Willys Ambulances, and newer Jeep Ambulances.

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Last updated 9 March 2017 by Derek Redmond redmond@cj3b.info
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