by Jarek Skonieczny
Legend has it that the widespread use of the Willys MB during the Second World War, led German soldiers to believe that American G.I.'s were issued jeeps with their dogtags. While this was obviously not the case, what every G.I. did get with his dogtags was recognition and tactical training, and as part of that training, recognition models were used to teach the soldiers what the vehicles that they would encounter looked like. For this purpose, models in scales varying from 1:1200 (ships) to 1:24 (land vehicles) were procured by the U.S. Army. See a photo by Sharlene Baker of a selection of models representing German, Russian and U.S. armor (50K JPEG).
Click any photo on this page to see a larger version (50K JPEG).
One of the companies that built Jeep recognition models (also known as ID or spotter models) was H.A. Framburg of Chicago. Framburg has been manufacturing hand crafted lamps and fixtures since 1905, and just like many other companies, found their main manufacturing materials deemed necessary for the war effort. A contract with the army for ID models kept them operational through the war. This hollow cast Jeep model has fixed wheels and only the steering wheel is not part of the main casting. As the war drew to a close, the dies for ID vehicles were no longer of much use to Framburg who was eager to get back to the business of making lamps, so they were sold off.
A Mr. Dale, who had worked for Framburg, bought the vehicle dies and set up his own business, Dale Model Company, also in Chicago. Dale found a new market for the ID model vehicles: war souvenirs and sandbox toys. To make the toys more appealing to the market, working wheels were added, and working turrets on the tanks. While this made the vehicle more playable, it also made the parts easier to lose. Most of the models which were used as toys are missing steering wheels as well as spare wheels which were attached with a screw.
Sold at toy stores, as well as at military post exchanges in boxes with shipping labels, many of these vehicles saw "active duty" amongst the young kids. The Dale Model Co. apparently closed its doors sometime in the 1950's.
While the large 1:24 vehicles were used for ID training, tactical training in such a large scale would require battlefield tables that would be much too large to be practical, so smaller scale vehicles were created for that purpose.
Comet Metal Products, created by two brothers who had emigrated to New York from Germany (where one had worked for Wiking Models), was awarded a military contract for the production of two sizes of ID models, 1:36 "Teacher Scale" and 1:108 "Student Scale". The smaller Student Scale included the Willys Jeep (#5160) and the Ford GPA amphibious jeep known as the "Seep" (#5163). These models were cast in lead and have very good detail. After the war, Comet released the little vehicles to the public under the Authenticast label.
In the photo, a recently re-produced GPA is shown beside the original MB.
According to the 1945 Comet catalog:
"Authenticast scale models were created from government-approved plans to fill the urgent needs of our armed forces for precise miniature reproductions of the actual planes, ships and tanks being used and encountered by our fighting men. Pre-combat training in the tactics of modern warfare, and in the recognition and identification of our own and enemy planes, ships and tanks, was given to the members of our armed forces with the very same Authenticast models that are now being offered to the public, with official sanction and approval."
Comet Metal Products remained under the control of the Sloman brothers until 1962. The dies were then purchased by a number of collectors who continued production as the Superior brand. Superior began to update and improve the castings. While the GPA escaped untouched, the Jeep was updated to a Vietnam era M38. Superior also began to manufacture some Framburg ship models, but in the late sixties, Superior restructured to concentrate on the War Gaming market and many dies were sold off, including the Jeeps.
In 1984 the Comet models fell into the hands of Quality Castings of Alexandria, Virginia, where they are now still produced in kit form. As mentioned earlier, the GPA (sold as kit #6013 "Quack") remained unaltered and the Comet name is still legible on its base.
The Jeep M38 is available in three kits; number 6078 with driver and .50 cal machine gun, number 6010 with driver and soft top, and number 6091 (40K JPEG) with driver, top, and radio equipment. These kits are cast in pewter and come unpainted.
While the Comet GPA casting is starting to show its age, the M38 models are very nicely done, once cleaned up, assembled and painted.
By the mid 1970s, the speed at which modern military vehicles could travel, and the range of missiles and tank guns, once again called for a smaller scale to keep tactical modelling at a reasonable size, and the U.S. Army officially adopted 1:285 as the new scale. By this point, the venerable jeep had been long retired, but GHQ of Shorewood, Minnesota included WWII vehicles in its "Micro Armour" lineup, allowing War Gamers and collectors the chance to purchase the tiny representations of Jeep vehicles.
The GHQ models, cast in pewter, include the Amphibious Jeep (set US67, seen here between England and Germany), and the Willys MB (set US11, with two variations of the casting and enough extras to keep any modeller happy).
Pictured in Poland is the unpainted Jeep with folded windshield. Mounted in its bed is the .50 machine gun. Driving through Russia is a windshield-upright version which has the soft top attached. Pulling a trailer through Yugoslavia is another windshield-down casting, this time with a recoilless rifle mounted.
With superb attention to detail, use of the current scale, and many true to life equipment choices, GHQ updates the tradition of Jeep Recognition Model manufacture.
The list of people whom I wish to thank for help with this page may be longer that the list of models involved. It seems like there are no books or reference materials available, and talking with long-time collectors and current manufacturers proved to be the most fruitful. Thanks to Ed Poole, Andy Laborde, Paul Jacobs, Chuck Cook, Walt Cunningham (eBay seller ID "wallysplanes"), Peter Wörthmüller, and Pete Pearson.
As an aside, Framburg is still in the business of manufacturing custom lamps, but the current staff has no further knowledge of the WWII models, only that they were commissioned by the US Army to manufacture some. I was not able to find any info on Teacher Scale Comet jeeps, or even whether they were produced. Some ID models of tanks and planes were also made of black rubber, but I have not seen or heard of a jeep model. Along with the models, troops were trained using recognition books, manuals, and picture cards. If anyone has further info on jeep ID models, an e-mail would be appreciated.
Thanks to Jarek Skonieczny for researching and writing this page. It's another significant step in assembling the definitive history of Jeep modelling. -- Derek Redmond
Also on The CJ3B Page, see Jarek's Restoration of a Dale.
Elsewhere on the web, see a detailed history of World War II Recognition Models.
Return to the Toy Jeeps Pages.
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