This is the Kenworth version of the M1A1, it is almost indistinguishable from a Ward LaFrance M1A1.

This is the Kenworth version of the M1A1, it is almost indistinguishable from a Ward LaFrance M1A1. The whiffle tree was slightly different. Notice the KW whiffle tree lacks the flange across the back present on the Ward LaFrance. The tool lockers varied with manufacturer as well, although a few Ward LaFrances were built with the Kenworth tool lockers, to use excess inventory after Kenworth stopped building the trucks.

The origin of the Heavy Wrecking Truck can be traced back to three vehicles built by the Corbitt Truck Company prior to 1939. These vehicles in turn had been derived from a similar vehicle built by Marmon-Herrington. With these vehicles evaluated, in 1940 an invitation for bids was sent to the major American truck manufacturers. The Ward LaFrance Truck Company of Elmira, New York was the successful bidder, and in 1941 began deliveries of the Truck, Wrecking, Heavy, M1, known to Ward La France as the Model 1000.

This is one of the two test examples of the famed Ward LaFrance M1 wrecker. This photo of the earliest production was taken March 18, 1941.

This is one of the two test examples of the famed Ward LaFrance M1 wrecker. This photo of the earliest production was taken March 18, 1941. 

The M1 was designed to be capable of recovery and maintenance of Ordnance equipment. It was equipped with a pto-driven winch mounted behind the front bumper, and single-boom heavy duty crane mounted behind the cab. A plethora of tools, repair and recovery equipment was carried on each vehicle.

This side view of the Ward LaFrance M1 lets us see the relatively clean, uncluttered look of the trucks initial design.

This side view of the Ward LaFrance M1 lets us see the relatively clean, uncluttered look of the trucks initial design. Notice the siren mounted on the left front fender and the hand wheels for raising, lowering and rotating the boom mounted on the crane support. 

The boom of the M1 wreckers could be swung to the side for lifting and recovery operations.

The boom of the M1 wreckers could be swung to the side for lifting and recovery operations. The wooden sideboards of the bed are plainly visible here, as is the M1s lack of a rear drag winch. The two oxygen bottles, which along with a single acetylene bottle, were carried as part of the welding/ cutting outfit can also be seen, along with the pair of spare tires. The pulley in the socket in the bed rear could be positioned in a variety of ways. Note the absence of a rear drag winch. The lack of such a winch is a ready identifier of the Series One vehicles. 

To augment Ward LaFrance’s production capacity, an additional contract was awarded to Kenworth. The contract specified that the Kenworth vehicles were to use identical essential serviceable parts, although the sheet metal work of the cab was different, as were the tool boxes and other minor components. Through the course of the vehicles’ production, no less than eight major versions were built, resulting in a series of trucks with sometimes subtle, and sometimes dramatic, differences.

Beginning with the Series Two wreckers, the spare tires were relocated, with one behind the cab and the second on the crane tower. Ward LaFrance would retain this placement for the tires until the introduction of the Series Five wreckers.

Beginning with the Series Two wreckers, the spare tires were relocated, with one behind the cab and the second on the crane tower. Ward LaFrance would retain this placement for the tires until the introduction of the Series Five wreckers. The long passenger’s side toolbox can also be seen in this February 1942 view.

The Series Two wreckers incorporated a much-needed drag winch on the rear of the truck as can be seen in this April 1942 photo. National Archives and Records Administration

The Series Two wreckers incorporated a much-needed drag winch on the rear of the truck as can be seen in this April 1942 photo. In addition to the outriggers on the rear of the chassis to stabilize the truck, these wreckers had boom jacks, shown in place here, to support the outer end of the boom during heavy lifting operations. 

A Continental Model 22R engine powered the trucks by both builders, with the earliest production having the dual ignition system (two spark plugs per cylinder) characteristic of fire apparatus, Ward La France’s primary business. Kenworth delivered their first M1 wrecker mid 1942. The G-116 series were to be the standard Heavy Wrecker of the US military throughout WWII and into the 1950s.

The Series Three lacked the front and rear trailer connections found on the earlier models, and the entire run of 365 was supplied to the British as Lend-Lease items.

The Series Three lacked the front and rear trailer connections found on the earlier models, and the entire run of 365 was supplied to the British as Lend-Lease items. These trucks also had the British style lighting, including the spotlight illuminating the white-painted rear differential cover, creating a blackout tail light. 

Regardless of who built the chassis, the recovery equipment was built by Gar Wood Industries, and included a crane with 180 degree traverse. In their final form, the Series 5 Ward La France and the model 573 Kenworth, parts were completely interchangeable.

The Series Four Ward LaFrance Model 1000 is readily identifiable by the curved boom of the Gar Wood US5G crane, in place of the US5 straight boomed crane previously used. These trucks, built in 1943, also had the enlarged fuel filler to accommodate field refueling with jerry cans.

The Series Four Ward LaFrance Model 1000 is readily identifiable by the curved boom of the Gar Wood US5G crane, in place of the US5 straight-boomed crane previously used. These trucks, built in 1943, also had the enlarged fuel filler to accommodate field refueling with jerry cans. The front bumper was of a chisel shape design on these trucks. 

The Series Five Ward LaFrance (and the Model 573 Kenworth) were M1A1 heavy wreckers. In this photo we can see many of the improvements, including the military style open cab.

The Series Five Ward LaFrance (and the Model 573 Kenworth) were M1A1 heavy wreckers. In this photo, we can see many of the improvements, including the military style open cab. 

The Series Five trucks had a very business-like front end. A whiffle tree is affixed to the chisel-shaped front bumper, and the two spares, as well as the torch set are visible through the windshield. While this particular truck is equipped with a ring mount and .50 caliber machine gun, this was not always the case.

The Series Five trucks had a very business-like front end. A whiffle tree is affixed to the chisel-shaped front bumper, and the two spares, as well as the torch set are visible through the windshield. While this particular truck is equipped with a ring mount and .50 caliber machine gun, this was not always the case.

This June 1942 Aberdeen Proving Ground photo shows the very first Kenworth produced M1 wrecker. Known by Kenworth as the model 570, it was almost identical to the Ward LaFrance Series Two trucks, although there were some differences in control linkages. The large size of these vehicles is evidenced by the soldier standing near the fender.

This June 1942 Aberdeen Proving Ground photo shows the very first Kenworth produced M1 wrecker. Known by Kenworth as the model 570, it was almost identical to the Ward LaFrance Series Two trucks, although there were some differences in control linkages. The large size of these vehicles is evidenced by the soldier standing near the fender.

Taken in July 1942, this photo clearly shows the various bits of recovery gear stowed on the crane mast as well as in compartments on the wrecker bed. The subsequent Kenworth 572 had the unique combination of a closed cab and a power-operated crane, but only 100 of this variation were produced.

Taken in July 1942, this photo clearly shows the various bits of recovery gear stowed on the crane mast as well as in compartments on the wrecker bed. The subsequent Kenworth 572 had the unique combination of a closed cab and a power-operated crane, but only 100 of this variation were produced.

The M1 and M1A1 known at various points in their careers as 6 ton or ten ton wreckers, were the Army’s standard wrecker until the 1950s when the adoption of the M62 caused these to be reclassified as limited standard, before finally being phased out of service.

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