The French army obtained most of its 1/4 ton jeep trailers, both Willys MB-T and Bantam T-3, as war surplus from the Americans. The fact that there is a relatively plentiful supply of WW2 trailers today for jeep owners that want them is due in no small measure to the French Army and the fact that they repaired and rebuilt them as they wore out and also modified and improved the overall design. Trailers, like jeeps, were maintained and modified in various workshops including a rebuilding programme by the Etablissement de Réserve Générale du Matériel Automobile (E.R.G.M) at La Maltournee.
Improvements to the trailers included a central ridge pole to allow the water to run off the cover, a larger Nato towing eye on a swan neck to allow towing by vehicles other than a jeep which in turn required a spare wheel carrier and wheel brace on a side bracket. Later modifications included the addition of a standard NATO plug lead, vinyl cover, use of radial tyres and improved lights on the back.
I purchased my trailer back in 1994 it had come from auction having been in reserve for some time but was in pretty good condition, particularly the floor which often gets very beaten about or rusty. It is a 1943 Bantam T-3 1/4 ton trailer and although the data plate had been painted over many times the serial number 10469 and date of manufacture 1-20-43 (month-day-year) were still visible. Only Bantam recorded the date in full, Willys stamped only the month and year. It had been rebuilt at some point, which would explain why it had a Willys axle, and was given a rebuild serial number on the chassis by which it was known judging by the fact that it was highlighted by a ring of paint. Before anyone contacts me to ask how come there are too many ribs in the back panel for a WW2 trailer, the additional ones have been hammered in by hand to strengthen the rear panel and a pretty good job was done too! The rear end had obviously suffered at some point including several bullet holes which had been subsequently hammered down and welded shut!
The above photos are pre-digital and getting rather tired now but they are the only record of how it looked after the restoration where I decided to mark it as it had been during service in the 1950s / 60s with the flaming grenade. It is worth mentioning that in the French army trailers have their own unique registration number, a cunning idea as they were towed behind various vehicles. The trailer had been converted to 24 volts complete with additional NATO hook-up cable but still had one of the two rear light units as a blackout marker / stop light in WW2 style which had to be replaced for road legality and safety.
The lighting system on French army trailers remained pretty much unchanged from the WW2 configuration until the mid 1980s when a specification was published to modify the rear lighting systems of both jeeps and trailers to conform with civilian requirements in France. Both jeeps and trailers regularly used on the road system were fitted with pretty much the same lighting clusters fitted to the Peugeot P4 jeep and trailers also had the standard trailer reflective triangles fitted to replace the WW2 reflector discs.
As part of this upgrade the original WW2 style lead with four-pole plug was finally removed leaving only the NATO style cable and multi-pin connector. When not in use the NATO plug was stored in a cylindrical bracket on the opposite side to the original L shaped WW2 bracket. It is worth mentioning that only trailers and jeeps that were in regular active use on the road were modified in this way; reserve stock was not upgraded.
The photos below (from JLM) show an unusual in-house modification made at the ETAMAT workshops at Metz for 1er RHP. The mounting rack fitted inside the trailer is to carry a generator for large High Frequency transmitters used by the transmissions section of 1 RHP. The hole in the side of the trailer is for the exhaust outlet. Instructions for carrying out the modification were given in the Fiche Technique bulletin FT12179 published in 1996.
A final 'upgrade' modification to what was by now a sixty year old trailer design took the form of lifting handles fitted to the front A frame. No doubt these resulted from health and safety 'manual handling' considerations and the specifications were given in the 'Fiche Technique' publication FT12485 dated August 2000.
I don't know exactly how many trailers the army had but it was certainly a lot and they were still being sold by Domaines at auction last year (2009). There can't be many left now but the fact that they remained in service until the end of the 20th century says something about the usefulness and practicality of a design dating back to 1942! They could be used, or adapted to be used, to carry all sorts of things from chocks to shells as the photos below taken by Jean-Louis Martin at 35e RA, Tarbes in 2007 show.
The same towing hitch was also used on a trailer converted as a 'chaudière de production d'eau chaude' (boiler to provide hot water). Photo sent by JLM.
A brief history of WW2 jeep trailers
In late 1941 Willys were commissioned to produce a dozen 'jeep' trailers for evaluation, nine conventional and three flat-bed design. They were delivered and tested in early 1942 and from these trials the standard welded steel amphibious trailer evolved. Orders for the standardised trailer were quickly placed with two companies, Willys - who's product was designated MB-T, and the American Bantam Car Company who had failed to secure a contract for producing the standard jeep. The Bantam made trailer was designated T3 and the contract basically kept the company in business. Jeep design was changed at this point to include the familiar electrical socket for the trailer.
The two makes of trailer were identical apart from the identification plates and a few basic details. Early Bantam trailers had three chassis cross-members whereas the Willys had four and the Bantam's Gabriel shock absorbers were secured by nuts unlike the Willys which used Munroe units secured with split pins as found on the jeep. Bearing in mind that during 1944-45 nearly 20,000 trailers were re-manufactured by two military facilities at Lima & Richmond and a further eight civilian companies, alterations occurred that mean that these differences cannot be taken as definitive in the case of all genuine WW2 trailers.
By the end of the war Bantam and Willys had produced over 133,000 T3 / MB-T trailers which, together with orders placed with 10 other companies in 1944 and delivered in 1945 produced a grand total of 143,357 WW2 style jeep trailers. The basic design was so good that after the war it evolved into the M-100 post-war US trailer for the M38-A1 and was also copied by other manufacturers for armies around the world.
Later trailers often mistaken for WW2 units include:
Bantam also produced a civilian trailer based on the WW2 design. The example opposite is of the model T3-C and has the serial no. 13853. It was restored by Mark Harpootlian, Southfield, Michigan USA and he would love to hear from you if you can offer any further information about Bantam trailers including when this one would have been built. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
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