AFTA Patton Van Page

For visitors coming to the Patton Museum, the General Patton mobile command van has always been one of the most popular exhibits in the Patton Gallery. It has given visitors a chance to see the actual vehicle from which Patton lived and worked as he commanded the Third Army during World War II and allowed them to see a more personal facet of Patton's life.

While the command van has been preserved and remained under cover for years, it has been repainted and altered so that it no longer resembles the original vehicle.

The Patton Museum volunteers began one of the most significant projects in the museum's history in October 2011; the complete restoration of the command van to its war-time configuration. Patton Museum volunteer Don Moriarty was the head of this project. He, along with other volunteers and museum staff, worked to rediscover the command van's history, repair the damages and alterations and preserve its original features. They removed layers of post-war paint in an attempt to uncover the original war-time markings, record them and repainted and marked the vehicle as it would have appeared in 1944.

In a colorized war-time photo, General Patton emerges from the rear of his command van (courtesy Denny Hair)

The CCKW series 353 two-and-a-half ton truck is a basic World War II-era truck designed as a small-arms ordnance repair shop. In 1944, a number of CCKWs were ordered to be converted as mobile command posts. Third Army headquarters retained three such mobile command post trucks which was the heart of the tactical headquarters of General Patton's Third Army. This particular mobile command post truck was used by General Patton for the duration of combat operations as Third Army commander. It acted as his personal field quarters as well as a command center.

The van was modified in workshops in England to suit the needs and requirements of General Patton. Since the rear wheel wells intruded into the floor of the rear compartment, it made it impossible to build the desk, map board and other built-in furniture. The workshops removed the rear compartment and built a wooden frame unit on the truck's chassis thus raising the rear compartment when it was attached to this frame. The wheel wells were removed and plated over giving a flat floor so that the furniture elements could be installed and still allowed clearance for the rear wheels to float over rough terrain.

CCKW ordnance shop vans in ETO purported to be taken by General Patton.

The rear compartment furnishings consisted of a bed with air mattress, a desk and chair, a large map cabinet, wardrobe, overhead cabinets, a sink with a gravity-fed water tank above it and a reclining Morris chair. A large canvas awning could be installed on the outside rear of the compartment to provide shade when the truck was set in bivouac and a canvas water tank could be installed on the rear so the general could have a field shower.

Immediately following the end of hostilities in May 1945, the tactical command post vehicles were "deactivated" and sent to an undetermined equipment depot for return to the United States. Information exists showing that the van was retained in Germany from May 1945 through December 1947. Archival information shows that in June 1947, efforts were ongoing to return it to the United States.

From a War Department memo, "Plans call for the van to be returned to Third Army Headquarters at Atlanta, Georgia, where it will be used for recruiting purposes. The famous equipage will probably find its final resting place in the Patton Museum at the Armored School, Fort Knox, Kentucky, where it will occupy an appropriate place among the memorabilia of one of America's greatest fighting men."

In both a December 24 and December 30, 1947 memo, the plan for the van to be shipped directly from Germany to Fort Knox is discussed regarding the time-line of shipment. Beforehand there was no information available as to a specific time-line. It seems that there was a definite interest at very high levels of command as to the disposition of the Patton van and its Fort Knox destination.

General Patton (l) and General Middleton with one of
the three Third Army HQ vans. (screen capture from DOD film)

In a memo from the Office of the Army Field Forces commander, General Devers, to the commanding general of the Armor Center, Fort Knox, dated June 9, 1948:
"The Patton Van has been located at Leterkinney Arsenal pending shipment direct to you for Patton Museum being requested of the Chief of Ordnance."

Digital records show that the van arrived at Fort Knox, Kentucky in June 1948. At the time of its arrival the van predates the official dedication of the museum, May 1949, by almost a year. The Patton mobile command HQ van would be one of the many collection vehicles displayed in the original Patton Museum from 1949 -1972.

From 1972-73, the vehicles and exhibits from the old museum were transferred to the new Patton Museum which included the Patton mobile command van where it was placed in the Patton Gallery. From 1973 until January 2011, the Patton mobile command van would remain basically untouched in the Patton Gallery. Because of the ceiling height in the first section of the new Patton Museum, it was discovered that the command van was too tall. Without regard to its historical significance, the wooden frame was removed and the rear compartment placed back on the chassis thereby lowering it so that it would fit in the Patton Gallery. Unfortunately the wooden frame and rear steps were discarded sometime in the past.

Soldiers loading equipment into CCKW ordnance shop vans.
(U.S. Army)

Before the Patton Museum volunteers started the restoration process, an evaluation of the vehicle's current status was started.

Since the vehicle sat in the Patton Gallery for decades, the tires showed signs of flat spotting and possibly dry rot, but the tires retained air to a certain degree. The vehicle had been basically untouched for decades and required a detailed cleaning. The crew cab, engine compartment, and under carriage showed signs of layered dust that was removed with the use of non-abrasive cleaner/solvent, water and hand brush.

The screens and windows on the cabin had been painted over during one of the post-war re-paintings and needed to be removed, soaked in solvent, repainted properly then remounted. While the screens were dismounted, the windows were scraped of paint.

Since the overall purpose of the restoration work was to make the truck appear as it would in 1944, it required the removal of a number of layers of post war paint. The process of green paint solvent and sanding was judged to be the best solution to properly remove the paint. During this process, a secondary objective was to expose the World War II-era original markings of the vehicle and properly document them for the historic record and to reapply the appropriate style, configuration and size of stenciling. Since there is very little evidence of complete markings of the Patton command van during World War II, the discovery effort insured an authentic reapplication of the markings for the restoration.

Click on the links below to see photos of the Patton Command Van restoration. Use your back button to return to this page to see each gallery. Hover your cursor over each photo to see captions.