Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Ford's Model T at War

One of Henry Ford's Ambulances at the USAF National Museum

During World War I, the Allies used thousands of Model T cars and trucks because of their low cost and ease of repair. The ambulance version's light weight made it well suited for use on the muddy and shell-torn roads in forward combat areas. If stuck in a hole, a group of soldiers could lift one without much difficulty. By 1 November 1918, 4,362 Model T ambulances had been shipped overseas. 

The light wooden body was mounted on a standard Model T auto chassis. The 4-cylinder engine produced about 20 hp. There was no self-starter; the engine had to be cranked by hand. This vehicle was equipped with an early form of automatic transmission and could carry three litters or four seated patients and two more could sit with the driver. Canvas "pockets" covered the litter handles that stuck out beyond the tailgate. Many American field service and Red Cross volunteer drivers, including writers Ernest Hemingway and Bret Harte and cartoonist Walt Disney, drove Model T ambulances. 

Another Adaption from the Model T Was the Light Delivery Vehicle
Over 5,000 Were Delivered to the AEF
On Display at the National World War I Museum

"Hunka Tin," a poem written as a parody on Rudyard Kipling's "Gunga Din," appeared in the American Field Service Bulletin and was used in Ford dealers' advertising throughout the United States. The final stanza read: 

Yes, Tin, Tin, Tin.
You exasperating puzzle, Hunka Tin.
I've abused you and I've flayed you,
But by Henry Ford who made you,
You are better than a Packard, Hunka Tin. 

In addition to the specimens shown here, which is at the U.S. Air Force National Museum, you can also see an example at the  Walt Disney Family Museum at the Presidio of San Francisco. Disney drove a Model T ambulance in France just after the war ended.


  1. So often we talk about the weapons and overlook the criticality of the ambulances, motor trucks and cars.

  2. Hemingway had his picture taken while sitting in an ambulance, but there is question whether he actually drove an ambulance in action. Can anyone cite proof either way?

  3. Another great Ford ambulance is on display at the National World War I Museum and Memorial in Kansas City MO.

    1. Yep seen it. Great Museum!!

    2. The Light Delivery Vehicle pictured is unlike anything, I think, that Ford produced. Because ships are volume limited, the army decided not to ship boxes of air to France. They sent only the chassis, what is painted black. (Remember Ford's famous statement that you can have any color you like as long as it is black.) The box of air body was built in France, and the french were happy to paint it army green.

  4. I have posted some World War 1 era transportation related photos from my grandfather's collection on my "Typical French Kiddies" Facebook page.

    Go to
    then select "See More", "Photos" and the "Transsportation" album.

    The only one I know for sure shows an ambulance is the first one, "Ambulance Driver". There are several with trucks and other modes of transport that may be of interest to someone.

  5. We could produce thousands of motor vehicles, and rubber for their tires. The Germans could not. One might argue that both the fast-moving assaults of 1914 and the offensives of 1918 failed for lack of logistical support. Infantrymen marching 20 miles day will outrun their horse drawn supply train. (I recommend a book, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army) And there were never enough horses, nor enough fodder for more horses. One might speculate that, if the resources put into building a battleship or two had been applied to making trucks, prewar, the war might have evolved differently.