A 1943 Willys MB jeep at the National World War II Museum has a 75mm recoilless rifle.

1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle

1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle. Edward Branley photo.

The Freedom Pavillion

On our recent trip to the National World War II Museum, we walked through The United States Freedom Pavillion. My firstborn, LT Branley, USN (Ret), wanted to see the various airplanes hanging above us. As we walked in, something else caught my eye, a jeep. Jeeps are pretty common, but this particular one caught my eye. It has a rocket launcher mounted in the back seat. The configuration reminded me of the old television show, “The Rat Patrol.” In the show, set during the North Africa campaign, the jeeps the “patrol” used had machine guns mounted in the back seats. I always thought this was a Hollywood thing. That’s why my eyes turned when I saw this rocket mounted on a jeep.

1943 Willys MB Jeep

1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle

1943 Willys MB with 75mm recoilless rifle. Edward Branley photo.

While “The Rat Patrol” was fiction (it was based on a British SAS unit in North Africa), the Willys MB is authentic. Here’s the Museum’s description of the jeep:

Finally, a 1943 Willys MB is on exhibit in The United States Freedom Pavilion, The Boeing Center. This jeep, like other vehicles in the pavilion, runs; and it is moved on a regular basis to accommodate Museum events. This jeep is marked to represent the 155th Airborne Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion with the 17th Airborne Division during Operation Varsity. This unit received two 75mm recoilless rifles for use in that operation. This type of weapon was just being deployed at the end of the war and proved very useful in anti-tank operations. In addition to the recoilless rifle, the jeep features a wire cutter commonly found in the European theater and a limited collection of other accessories. The jeep has appropriate unit markings. The W number is painted in white, as is typically observed after a vehicle has spent time with a unit.

(from the article, “Shop Talk: Three Jeeps” on the museum’s website)

So, the MB jeep sports a 75mm recoilless rifle. In addition to the memories of the television show, the tube-like gun on the back reminded me of the Cold War board wargames we played in the 1980s. A common weapons system of that time was the BGM-71 TOW (Tube-launched, Optically-tracked, Wire-guided) missile. It was interesting to see the evolution of vehicular weapons systems.

North Africa

1942 Ford GPW in the North Africa Exhibit. Courtesy of The National WWII Museum.

1942 Ford GPW in the North Africa Exhibit. Thomas Czekanski photo, Courtesy of The National WWII Museum.

In the North Africa exhibit of the Road to Berlin Gallery, another jeep caught my eye. The display contains a 1942 Ford GPW painted and weathered to look like it had been at Kasserine Pass. Back when I taught American History at Redeemer High School in Gentilly, I used to show the movie, “The Big Red One.” That movie features the battle at the pass. What impressed me about this jeep was the weathering. This jeep’s weathering includes mud spatters as if it traveled a lot of desert miles. No machine gun mounted in the back, just a hard-working vehicle. The National WWII Museum are masters in creating the “immersive experience.”

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