Military Tractor Manufacturers in World War I

A surprising role was played by three American manufacturers producing military tractors in World War I.

| November 2017

Okay, dear readers, how many of you believe that Buick ever made a tractor? How about Studebaker?

Or maybe Willys-Overland?

No? Well, I didn’t either, until I found an original operator’s manual, published in 1918 by Buick Motor Co., Flint, Michigan, for a “Buick Military Tractor, Type A.” I also have a photocopy of the “Overland Military Tractor, Model A,” but sadly, it contains no photos.

And since this year marks the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I, here’s the story, as far as I’ve been able to reconstruct it after much research and correspondence with Mr. D. Nichols at the Bovington Tank Museum near Dorchester, England.

New form of warfare requires new approach

World War I was a horrible ordeal for armies on both sides. The rapid-fire machine gun, massed artillery fire, barbed wire and mud all conspired to make the old tactics of massed infantry attacks bloody and almost totally ineffective. The opposing armies dug deep and well-fortified trench systems that neither side could penetrate, although the generals never wearied of trying.

The Battle of the Somme in 1916 is a good example of the horrific loss of life involved in “going over the top,” an infantry attack in which massed troops clambered from their trenches, crossed a muddy and shell-hole pocked no man’s land under heavy artillery fire, and attacked opposing enemy trenches that were protected by cruel barbed wire entanglements and that bristled with machine guns laying down a murderous fire. During the 138-day battle (which ended in victory for neither side), more than 300,000 British, French and German soldiers were killed, and twice that many were wounded. And all this on a battlefield that was only about 15 miles long by 6 miles deep.