By Barry Faltesek (text in the sand-coloured areas)
sketches by David McMullen

Lone Star Chapter, Military Vehicle Preservation Association 
Texas Military Historical Society

The Rat Patrol reality
observations by Suncompass (text in the grey-coloured areas)

It is not really fair to compare a small, mostly autonomous fictional unit such as the Rat Patrol to the massive real armies of the war.  There are, however, some aspects of small and large fighting units that, in reality, would have been the same. This is an incomplete comparison.

    The Italian's declaration of war on June 10, 1940 was the beginning of a long campaign that would test almost every form of transport that could be made. The Italians began their push eastward from Libya into Egypt in August 1940 and the British counteroffensive began in December 1940. The Italians were driven back to Libya and they lost hundreds of vehicles. The British captured and used many and gave most of them to their Allies.

    The Rat Patrol didn't concern itself with the desert war prior to the arrival of the Germans in February 1941. When the Italian army was shown at all,  its soldiers were presented as honourable, war weary, and usually on foot.

Italian on foot (Never Say Die Raid)

Likewise (Take Me to Your Leader Raid)

     The Italian's declaration of war on June 10, 1940 was the beginning of a long campaign that would test almost every form of transport that could be made. The Italians began their push eastward from Libya into Egypt in August 1940 and the British counteroffensive began in December 1940. The Italians were driven back to Libya and they lost hundreds of vehicles. The British captured and used many and gave most of them to their Allies.

    Rommel's Deutsches Afrikakorps (DAK) arrived in Tripoli in February 1941 equipped with some of the most powerful vehicles of their time. They soon began a push that again drove the British and their Allies back into Egypt with the UK forces losing hundreds of vehicles. This see-saw action continued for some time, on both sides using every vehicle at hand, theirs and those they captured.

   In the Rat Patrol, the capture of enemy military vehicles was more on the individual level than on the army scale.  As needed, Dietrich would capture a vehicle from the Rat Patrol, and the Rat Patrol would capture one (or more) from Dietrich. [not fair! - SC]

Dietrich captured the rats' jeeps.
(Touch and Go Raid)

The rats captured Dietrich's armoured
vehicle . . .(Touch and Go Raid)

    The only evidence of real trading of equipment was that of the jerry can, 'liberated'  from the Axis forces. (see here for more)

.  .  a German staff car. . . (Kill or be Killed Raid)

. . . and a German tank. (Darers Go First Raid)

     The US jumped into the campaign in November 1942 and found out how poor many of their vehicles were, but they made up for it in numbers. They also supplied many of their Allies with thousands of everything. It wasn't just guns and ammo that the troops needed, and for every combat soldier, there were about 4 or 5 more guys in the rear with the gear. Beans, water, clothing, equipment, shelter, fuel, and medical supplies, over a 1,000 items for the combat troops - you name it, it had to get to the troops. ("Don't forget the beer"!) Toilet paper can be a very good item for morale! (Speaking of, try doing it in or from a moving track or truck.)

     The Rat Patrol rarely showed the guys in the rear who would have supplied  them with critical  gear - and beer.
     The only support staff Suncompass saw in the Rat Patrol was when one of the lads happened to be wounded or injured, and someone (the producer?) wanted a pretty (always) nurse in the show.  Just once did they show a motor pool mechanic.  

      TOILET PAPER !?!?

mechanic (Exhibit A Raid)

     You can be sure that no one ever saw THAT on the Rat Patrol  (As everyone knows, TV characters  of the 1960s did not belch, fart, sweat [unless in the script]. In other words, they had no bodily functions). Even if such a bodily function appeared in the series, you wouldn't see it pictured here.  Suncompass has standards (they may be low, but they aren't quite at the bottom, if you'll pardon the pun).  

     On wheels, if it could roll, it was used - car, truck, track, pushcart - it didn't matter, a soldier would use it. Cars were used for everything from ambulances to weapons carriers. Trucks from small to huge were as common as a cold. They would load them down with whatever could fit, sometimes carrying two times what it should. ("I told ya not to put her in the back, Joe!") They used their own and the other guy's stuff, too. Some trucks had tracks; some could pull more than they could carry. The prime movers moved guns, tanks and ammo; some vehicles were used for hauling up the fuel and some for transporting the dead.                       

click on the image for a larger view          copyright 2001 David McMullen

     Most all of the vehicles used in Africa had to have some kind of added air filter, then some had water condensers to trap over flowing water from the radiator. Often the front glass was removed or covered to stop sun glare from giving away your position to the enemy.

     Sunglare? The lads were good about keeping the windshield down and covered with someone's dusty bedroll.  No sunglare there.

     But they weren't  always so careful.  For some strange reason they once bolted mirrors to the jeeps.  Not smart, lads!

Windshield flat and covered but no special condenser evident anywhere.

Rear view mirrors for the open desert? Why?
(Wildest Raid)

    If you could put a gun on it, someone did it. Sometimes that wasn't enough, or more weapons could be too much also. They'd put in a radio, maybe two or more. If you couldn't buy it readily available, (like specialized equipment, gun mounts, vehicle parts, etc.) you just made it, maybe better than what could be bought. There were a lot of men with their own needs and wants. I'll bet almost all vehicles were customized somehow in combat. Troops would put on armor plating, sand bags, gun mounts, or lighten the vehicles and soup up the motors. When rounds come in you do what you can to survive. Fear can get you in or out of a bad spot.    

    The Rat Patrol jeeps didn't have specialized plating or alterations - other than the .50 mounted on the back.  They relied on speed, not armour. They did, however, find space for an amazing number of other things in those little jeeps of theirs.  It's a wonder they had room left for themselves.

(Wildest Raid)

      Each jeep had a .50 mounted on the back, and carried ammo, water, bedding, food, explosives.  And once  a fancy dust raiser.    

(Bring 'em Back Alive Raid)

     They always had at least one working radio - except for the many times when it had been shot up.

              (Wildest Raid)

And once a pair of honking big speakers to make the jeeps sound like tanks. Where did they find room to store them? 

    Many vehicles just couldn't stand up to the use and abuse out there, maybe a week was all you could get out of it. The desert is not just a sea of sand; the ground could be flat and hard. There were areas of rocks as big as a jeep, and water unfit for use – even in a vehicle radiator. ("Get out the jack, Jack"!)   During the day it could go up to 115 F, and at night to near freezing - this played hell on the lube. The heavy lubes would be too thick for the cold nights and the lighter weight too thin for the heat.

    The jeeps of the Rat Patrol had trouble with the terrain from time to time. Usually Tully sorted out the trouble with his head under the hood or under a tarp.

    No matter what maintenance he did, the way they treated those jeeps it is a wonder they lasted through each show let alone days or weeks.

(Two for One Raid)

(Chase of Fire Raid)

    In the west it would rain for days, the mud even stopped tanks. Sometimes all that could move a downed track or tank was on four wheels. Most vehicles had to carry add gear to deal with these types of needs. A lot of vehicles moved for days with only fuel and water stops, often leaving the motors running to save time or the effort of restarting them. When it was cold the troops would have to jump start them off a running vehicle, and some times they'd have to warm up the motor with a heater, or from the exhaust off of another one.

      The Italians and British liked big wheels, they handle well on sand. The Germans liked tracks. Whatever it was, it had to work hard.

    The Rat Patrol had nothing but sun, sun, sun-- day after day.  Never a drop of rain in the entire series, even when they were on the Mediterranean coast or in Rhodes.

     The series showed the night time cold of the desert rarely and they never showed the problems of starting cold engines.  Their jeeps always started effortlessly (except for those times when a nasty character had interfered with the mechanics such as this)

German tracks

    With so much death and filth around there would be hundreds of flies, and bugs, making carrying out any duties, sleeping, and eating real tough and they gummed up everything. There were all kinds of pest and most all of them would bite, stick, or sting, some even killing their victims. Try changing a tire with all those critters running around your hands, and face.

   The Rat Patrol conveniently ignored the real 'fly' issue  of the desert war. The studio saved themselves a bundle by not having to buy the many flies needed to show the real situation.

     See the only fly Suncompass spotted in the entire series.  Obviously not so much death and filth in the Rat Patrol war - except perhaps around the back of the lunch canteen?

THE  fly  (Deadly Double Raid)

    The Long Range Desert Group (LRDG) and the Special Air Service (SAS) together did more to the Afrika Korps than any unit twice their size. The LRDG used at least 13 types of trucks (the jeep being a one-quarter ton truck) that were rebuilt to fit their needs - new bodies, radiator condensers, tires and other gear. They would carry sand mats and channels (a long thin sheet of steel plate with holes) to aid traction to get out of the soft sand. There were more guns mounted on them than could be used at one time. They had the max in supplies, spare parts, added radios, food, water and fuel. The sun and sun-compasses - a device much like a sundial using the sun and the right time to tell a direction - were their true salvation. ("Oh, and some rum, too.") Because of the steel in the vehicles, regular hand-held compasses would not work. Boat compasses and other navigation devices were also useful, since without hills, rivers and other geological features, it was hard to determine a location in the desert.

  In the two years of the series, did these two jeeps and four men do as much damage to their enemies (usually Dietrich and his patrol) as the LRDG and the SAS did to theirs (the entire Afrika Korps and Italian armies)?  Suncompass doesn't know.  What is sure is that the Rat Patrol had an astounding record of success.  About 50 successful missions and not a single failure.  An enviable record if it had been reality. 

     Their successes came in spite of the fact that they did not use the specialised sort of equipment tested and adopted for good reason by the LRDG (see some of that real gear here


Digging (Chain of Death Raid) 

     They didn't carry sand mats, sand channels, or sand ladders so their jeeps got stuck fairly often. 

     And they didn't carry rum either, an item that might have been good for medicinal purposes after all that shovelling.

 They never once used a sun compass but occasionally used a hand-held magnetic one even though a nearby jeep would have made it of questionable reliability (more here).

Magnetic compass on jeep (Fatal Chase Raid)

     Most wheeled vehicles were civilians that were drafted just like the troops, only a handful of vehicles were "true soldiers". Remember, there wasn't to be another war, (rriigghhtt!). Even the jeep was first made up from car parts. 

     The tank was not always the best vehicle to be in or on, it became a target fast and some were so old or new, (not fully tested for battle) they would just give out in the field. Their design, or the armor, or the armament could mean whether or not you lived in the field.

      Remember, anything that had one or more wheels had a use by someone. ("I said get a wheelbarrow, Willie, you ass!") Be it panzer or a bicycle they could be used for a lot of different things, there were panzers for command, and even a bicycle built for the common troop.   

click on the image for a larger view                 copyright 2001 David McMullen

      The Rat Patrol showed both Allied and Axis using various civilian 'vehicles' as transport - most with wheels, but some with legs.  For the most part the civilian vehicles in the Rat Patrol were unaltered and moved only a few people, and even less equipment.   

Dietrich used a train (Trial by Fire Raid)

Dietrich used a car (The Decoy Raid)

The patrol used a hearse. . .
(Tug of War Raid)

 . . horses . . .
(Holy War Raid)

. . . and an electrician's van
(Two if By Sea Raid)

      Suncompass can't remember ever seeing a bicycle in the series. There were motorcycles, donkeys, marching chickens, derelict cars, trucks, vans, fishing boats, rubber rafts, horses, goats, trains, hearses, camels (in the pilot episode only.  Too expensive to rent later?), but not a single bicycle.

     Another class of vehicles was the support types, the ones you almost never hear about. Busses, wreckers, recovery tracks, armored recovery vehicles, VTR), were as much in use as a tank, maybe more. If a vehicle was hit it either had to be replaced or repaired, and someone had to keep track of every thing, (dad gum paper pushers), and they needed wheels too. You know they had to fix all those roads and other things blown up, too - so, you've got your common road equipment, cranes, tractors, crawlers, and other engineering vehicles. The ground crews also had to move and work on aircraft, boats, and ships and take care of the cleaning up the battle field as well. Oh, then ya have to add the tool shops, mess trucks, bread bakers, the tailors, and tire repair gear ("Ya get the idea.") .

     The Rat Patrol seemed never to have to deal with 'dad gum paper pushers' and the subsequent reams of paper they insisted upon - not in the half hour allotment of the program each week. Only once did Suncompass even hear reference to paper pushers.  Once on a mission where they had lost not one, but both jeeps (David and Goliath Raid), one of the lads was heard musing openly about how unpopular they would then be when they got back to HQ with no jeeps.  The others did not seem overly concerned. Their 'dad gum paper pushers' must not have been too scary after all.

     Some times they used dummy vehicles, or made up something for deceiving the enemy. A panzer may really be a kubelwagen, and a truck might be a tank. It was often best to hide whatever it was. Some tanks didn't really have a gun, but looked bad assed. I've got photos of what looks like empty trenches, which are really stock piles of supplies. Nets were use to cover the vehicle, and the tracks were removed so as to not give away what the site really was. 

   I remember that I had to have a license to use a push mower; I wonder if they did, too?

    Even though Dietrich was a tank commander he was rarely, if ever, seen in a tank.  He was usually seen instead standing or seated in a Kubelwagen or armoured vehicle.  Was that because he knew a kubel was a much smaller target, or was it because someone wouldn't buy him a tank?

      The Rat Patrol didn't often pretend they were something they weren't. Success was usually theirs just being what they were - two amazing jeeps and four astonishing men. But they did once deceive the enemy by pretending to be a whole slew of tanks on the move. (see their dust raisers and noisemakers, above)

Two jeeps trying to look like a bunch of tanks
(Wildest Raid of All)


     They hid their jeeps when they were on foot or in a stolen vehicle and camouflage tarps/nets were put to good and frequent use.

Pulling the camouflage off
(The One That Got Away Raid)

     Most vehicles had little or no crew comforts, they were cramped, dirty, and smelly, covered with oil or grease, and always full of gear. Most all of them rode rough and were hard to drive. Most often you had to double clutch them and the steering could wear you out fast. At night you had to use blackout lights or no lights at all whereby sometimes with the dust, and smoke, (the fogs of war) you couldn't see five feet, let alone 50 yards. The roads were always dusty or muddy meaning a very slow going and when it wasn't windy those nasty flying critters would eat you alive. You learn to cook or heat your food on the motor when you're on the move, and drink hot water. You learn how to clean your clothing with sand and gas. After a day's drive you often couldn't tell what color the paint was, if the sand hadn't worn it off. The drivers were not always well trained for the jobs at hand, but most did the best they could just to survive another day. They would drive for days without sleep, and often had few meals, and little drinking water. They'd have to overcome tires blowing out, brakes going out, motors locking up. Everything that could go wrong often did. ("Try getting shot at, too.")

    The jeeps of the Rat Patrol often had their headlights shielded -- and on occasion they travelled at night with no lights at all.

     Suncompass can only once remember seeing the lads eating dried things when in the desert - hardtack perhaps (what's Troy eating here?). The only 'cooking' heard about was a wee fire made with shaved TNT for heating water for tea. 

    No cooking on the motor for the Rat Patrol. With the way they drove, whatever it was would probably fall into the dirt and be covered with dust.


Shielded headlamps

    The lads of the Rat Patrol - Allied and German alike - were, even though deep in the desert, more clean and tidy than their counterparts in the real world could have been.

     Most of the time they didn't look like they lacked  water for shaving or washing clothes - certainly not like they had cleaned up using gasoline and sand. They sometimes looked as if they travelled with an iron. 

    Clean and pressed shirt 

No matter how the Rat Patrol reality differed from real reality, they got the 'getting shot at' part right.  Shooting and getting shot at were mostly what the Rat Patrol was all about. 


The author (Barry) gives special thanks to Judith W. for her editorial help and support.


ADDITIONAL RESOURCES recommended by Barry

Land Power a modern Illustrated Military History - by Exeter Books - Publisher Phoebus - 1979

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Military Vehicles - by Ian V. Hogg and John Weeks -  Publisher New Burlington Books - 1980

U.S. Military Tracked Vehicles - by Fred W. Crismon - Publisher Motor Books International - 1992

Standard Catalog of U.S. Military Vehicles 1940-1965 - by Thomas Berndt  - Publisher KP Krause - 1993

Standard Guide to U.S. World War II Tanks & Artillery - by Konrad F. Schreier Jr. - Publisher KP Krause - 1994

British Forces Motorcycles 1925-45 - by C. J. Orchard & S. J. Madden - Publisher Budding Books - 1995

Tanks of World War Two  - by B. Jean Restayn  - Publisher Histoire & Collections - 1996

Weapons of Patton's Armies - by Michael and Gladys Green - Publisher MBI Company - 2000

Squadron/Signal Publications, Inc. A series of books.

Osprey, Elite Series, Men-At-Arms Series, Vanguard Series - Osprey Publications







WW2 Useful Links (military vehicle specific):





German INFO (in German):




Suncompass thanks Barry and David for sharing their combined talents and knowledge in the above article on Military Vehicles.



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