514th Q.M. Truck Regimemt
WWII Re-Enactment Group
The Red Ball Express
A Brief History of the 514th QM TC
The men of the “514th Quartermaster Truck Regiment” were an all black regiment who learnt to drive trucks the 'Army way' at Fort Meade, Maryland. James Rookard (pictured below) who was then a trainee driver said “You could learn to drive the trucks in two or three days if you followed the instructors,”. The hardest part was learning to drive in convoy with no more than blackout lights, following on behind the truck in front of you. One of the drivers was killed at Fort Meade when his truck left the road and went down an embankment. Whilst at Fort Meade drivers were trained in the maintenance of their trucks and were given an understanding in carburetion, ignition and how to change tires plus most minor breakdown problems. The troops also went through the standard sixteen week basic infantry training that was given to all WWII soldiers. Training consisted of marksmanship, bayonet drills, night marches, and infiltration courses.
The 514th QM TC consisted of twelve Companies (Many trucking companies kept the QM designation even as they were being transferred to the Transportation Corps.) Each Company consisted of 150 men and 5 white officers and each Company had 3 platoons of 16 trucks each.
In the Winter of 1943 the 514th were shipped to Camp Kilmer, New Jersey. This was a transfer station to the ETO (European Theatre of Operations), and a few days later they boarded ships in New York for the nine day journey to Liverpool, England.
England was preparing for the invasion of France with more than a million American Gi’s camped at bases throughout Britain. To maintain this massive fighting force more than 5 million long tons of supplies had been landed and the men of the 514th immediately went to work as they hauled materiel from depots to ports and vice versa. Many of the Companies of the 514th were based on the South Coast in Somerset and Dorset. These were at Sandbanks near Poole, Stoke-sub-Hamdon, Dorchester, Maiden Newton, Rimpton, Piddletrenthide, Compton Valence, Westbury and Heytesbury. The drivers spent a lot of time delivering supplies along the South Coast to the units such as the famous 29th infantry along with others in preparation for D-Day.
In early July 1944 the truck Companies of the 514th started to make it across the English Channel and landed on Utah and Omaha beaches at night. When the ramp went down on one landing craft at Utah James Rookard's truck lurched forward across the deck and into the water. No headlights were permitted and soon the bumper of Rookard’s truck disappeared into the channel and seawater rose over the running boards and into the cab. It seemed like miles to the beach and he knew that if the truck stalled he would have to swim to shore and he had no idea how far that was, and who or what was out there. Dark images of American troops moving about on the beach suddenly appeared. He was startled by sudden flashes lighting the horizon. The bursts of light came from American and German artillery that fired at each other and Rookard knew that the front was not far away. The drivers were frightened and with good reason for the loads they were carrying contained ammunition and jerry cans filled with gasoline. The trucks were motorized bombs waiting for a spark and in some places the front was only 5 miles away.
On the 18th of July 1944, the 3rd Army set up a transport depot at Bricquebec entitled the 514th Quartermaster Group. One month later the trucks would start the gigantic supply train known as the Red Ball Express.
(Quotes by J Rookard taken from the book The Road to Victory by David Colley)