1944 — France
It's the summer of 1944. The Allied invasion of Europe is well underway. In fact, operations are going significantly better than expected. The invasion, which began on June 6, had struggled with stiff resistance during the push inland.
The last week of July witnessed a dramatic development as the Americans finally broke through the German lines and rapidly surged 25 miles inland. Success followed success, and the advance progressed far more rapidly than planners could have predicted.
As the divisions moved ever forward, a serious challenge threatened to stall the advance. That challenge was not the enemy -- the new challenge was the depth of the advance itself.
Following the surge through enemy lines, the advance out-paced the supply chain's ability to provide the much-needed sustainment, chiefly ammunition and fuel. The French railroads were badly damaged by the pre-invasion bombardment. The portable pipeline system had not been able to keep pace with the advancing mechanized forces.
The Army's leadership faced the realization that the forces must be resupplied or the advance come to a standstill. A solution must be found. The proper solution would maximize the limited transportation assets available, overcome infrastructure damage, and minimize en route time.
The plan, hammered out in an intense 36-hour brainstorming session, involved dedicated roadways authorized for use only by the resupply convoys. The routes would be identified by a series of signs painted with a red circle, or "ball." The vehicles authorized to use these routes would likewise be identified by a similar logo. Thus was born the "Red Ball Express" (co-designed by Lt. John Bridener Guthrie, Jr.)
Although the system operated less than 90 days (Aug. 25 to Nov. 16, 1944), it transported more than 500,000 tons of supplies. More importantly, it kept the offensive moving forward.