The "Red Ball Express," Black soldiers supplied troops

Mon, 1944-08-21

On this date in 1944, The American Army started the “Red Ball Express,” a huge trucking operation to supply World War II troops in Europe with provisions.

The Army Transportation Corps created this operation, and supply trucks started rolling August 25 and continued for 82 days. This operation played a major role in the Nazis' defeat by ensuring U.S. and Allied war fighters had what they needed to sweep across France into Germany. Nearly 75 percent of all Red Ball Express drivers were black Americans. That's because well before and during the war, most U.S. commanders believed blacks had no courage or bravery for combat. As a result, the Army relegated blacks primarily to "safe" service and supply outfits and the Navy assigned them as mess stewards.

All Marines are combat troops and the Corps refused to take blacks at all until 1942. The "Red Ball Express" truck convoy system stretched from Normandy to Paris and eventually to the front along France's northeastern borderland. The route was marked with red balls. On an average day, 900 fully loaded vehicles were on the Red Ball route round the clock with drivers officially ordered to observe 60-yard intervals and a top speed of 25 miles per hour.

At the Red Ball's peak, 140 truck companies were strung out with a round trip taking 54 hours as the route stretched nearly 400 miles to First Army and 350 to General Patton's Third. The convoys rolled all day, every day regardless of the weather.

The Road to Victory:
The Untold Story of World War II's Red Ball Express
by David P. Colley