Before America's involvement in World War 2 began in late 1941, the US Army sent out a requirement to interested American manufacturers that it was in need of a new transport vehicle to fulfill some direct specifications. The new vehicle would have to prove itself easy to manufacturer, itself capable of being transported on current Navy craft and could be constructed in the shortest amount of time possible. The GMC firm won the Army contract in 1941 and company facilities ramped up for production. By the end of the story, some 562,750 CCKW 353 trucks were ultimately produced, making the CCKW 353 a numerous component of the Allied cause. The vehicle proved itself reliable, powerful and portable along the many fronts involved in the global conflict. Production ended in 1945 to which the CCKW saw actions in Europe and the Pacific.
Design was utilitarian to the core, designed to utilize a minimum of moving parts and thus making it relatively easy to repair in the field. This also lent the vehicle well to configurations and versatility. The slab-sided cab sat behind the engine housing which was aspirated through a grille element along the front facing. The front wheels were steerable and covered over in high-mounted mud flaps. The rear was supported by a collection of four double-wheeled axles. The truck sat high to allow for navigation over uneven terrain, water and mud. The passenger area could be covered over in a tarp (this a cost-effective move over the use of expensive sheet metal) supported by spanning ribs or left open to the elements. Entry to the passenger space was typically from the rear of the vehicle. Foldable wooden racks were included along the cargo bed sides to serve as passenger seating. The driver and the gunner made use of conventional automobile-style doors along the cab sides. The front of the truck was characterized by a large-area bumper system as well as a protective cage fencing guarding the engine and integrated headlamps from debris and small arms fire. Gas tanks were mounted conventionally along the truck sides, just aft of each door step. While early CCKW 353s had their cabs covered over in sheet metal, later ones made use of tarp or canvas coverings instead beginning in July of 1943 as a further economical measure in its construction while also saving on weight.
Beyond passenger transportation, the cargo area could house a communications shelter for radio, a field medical facility, and engineering Treadway Bridge, up to 750 gallons of water or fuel as well as ordnance for the US Army Air Corps. Such was the versatility of this fine machine.
Power was supplied by a home-grown GMC 270-series, 6-cylinder, 4,417cc engine delivering up to 104 horsepower at 2,750rpm. Maximum road speed was listed at approximately 45 miles per hour with a range over even nearing 240 miles. As a 6-wheeled drive system, the CCKW theoretically operated on tires that maintained the same traction regardless of which direction they were headed in. Empty weight was 2,500 kilograms. The CCKW 353 sported an overall length of 6.5 meters, width of 2.24 meters and a height of 2.8 meters. Standard operating personnel included the driver and the assistance driver/machine gunner. Passenger space amounted to seating for up to 10 combat-ready personnel, though this could be augmented as the situation dictated. Self-defense was a single Browning .50 caliber machine gun in a ring amount above the crew cab, offset to the right - along with any weapons the passengers had aboard with them. The machine gun was accessed by the machine gunner simply standing up into the surrounding ring mount.
With so many CCKW 353s in circulation by the end of the war, the truck remained in service in the US Army and its European allies for decades after its peak use had passed. The vehicle remained a stellar performer throughout the Cold War, even into the Korean Conflict, with some armies still using the type well into the 1990s. The GMC CCKW 353 was withdrawn from US Army service in 1956.
The CCKW 353 proved vital in its participation of the US Army's "Red Ball Express", the convoy charged with flooding the French countryside with parts, fuel, supplies, troops and ammunition in support of ongoing military actions - in particular - keeping up with General George S. Patton's fast-moving Third Army. After the beachhead at Normandy had been established, nearly 6,000 vehicles delivered 12,442 tons of supplies to locations within France from August to November of 1944 - a majority of these drivers being young African-Americans whose initial roles were deemed as "non-critical" to the overall war effort - as such they could be recruited for the mundane job. The rest were "cast-off" soldiers, those perhaps in some kind of trouble with their commanding officers and faced with this sort of "punishment".
Red Ball Express drivers had explicit orders to follow: maintain a speed of 35 miles per hour, separate each truck in the convoy by 60 feet when traveling and travel only in convoys of no fewer than five trucks. Each truck would be marked in sequential numerical order - this number appearing visible along the truck sides - and would have to maintain their unique position in the convoy line.
The logistics route began at the Normandy beachhead and technically ended at the French city of Chartres. The "Red Ball Express" proved ever-so critical to ensuring a swift offensive against German-held territories. Drivers wore out some 50,000 tires in the operation.
The CCKW designation dictated the following: "C" designated the production year of 1941 while the second "C" designated a "standard cab". The "K" designated front-wheel drive whilst the "W" designated rear-wheel drive. The CCKW 353 would also come to be known as the "Jimmy" or the "Deuce and a Half". The "Deuce-and-a-half" reference is in how much the vehicle can carry (2.5 tons) and not representative of the vehicle's own weight. The name was coined by US infantrymen to mean simply "2.5".