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A much-needed upgrade - the use of the “Blitz Truck” by bushfire fighters

The “Blitz Truck" concept evolved in the mid-1930s from the desire of the British War Office to produce a standardised range of military vehicles for all British Commonwealth countries, except England itself, involved in war efforts. It was decided that these vehicles would be designed and built in Canada, due to the ready availability of materials, and expertise of American manufacturers. Both Ford and General Motors had plants in Canada at that time. Between 1939 and 1945 some 816,000 “Canadian Military Pattern” (also known in Australia as "Canadian War Office") vehicles were produced. They were supplied mainly to Canadian, Australian, New Zealand and South African forces, but saw service in many other areas. Although the chassis were produced in Canada, many were shipped to Australia in kit form for assembly and fitting of bodywork. Minor body differences could be found in the locally produced vehicles. Most of this work was carried out by Holden, which by that time was a General Motors subsidiary.

Offside view of a Chevrolet Blitz fire engine attached to Awaba Bushfire Brigade 21 November 1965 [Museum of Fire Collection]
Offside view of a Chevrolet Blitz Truck attached to Awaba Bushfire Brigade 21 November 1965 [Museum of Fire Collection]

After the war, the Australian Armed Forces began disposing of these trucks in the late 1940s. At that time there were very few commercially produced heavy 4-WD vehicles available, so rural fire brigades saw them as ideal for economically upgrading their then inadequate fleets. Their excellent off-road capabilities, cheap price, good reliability and ease of service made them ideal for the task, and hundreds went into service with brigades around the country. As these were usually acquired as basic trucks, it was up to local brigades to do their own fire-fighting conversions, and many novel designs or layouts were to appear over the years. Firefighting essentials such as water tanks, pumps, equipment lockers were often obtained from local sources under the "beg, borrow or steal" principle, so any two trucks rarely looked exactly the same.

Two Blitz trucks parked under a tree on the grass at Observatory Hill, Sydney. One is the Ford from Medlow Bath and the other is the Chevrolet from Heathcote [Museum of Fire Collection]
Two Blitz Trucks parked under a tree on the grass at Observatory Hill, Sydney. One is the Ford from Medlow Bath and the other is the Chevrolet from Heathcote [Museum of Fire Collection]

The Museum of Fire has two “Blitz” vehicles in its collection - a Ford F.60 ex-tanker and a Chevrolet C.60 ex-GS truck.


The Ford was one of a number of trucks acquired by the Blue Mountains City Council in the early 1960’s. originally a RAAF refueling tanker, it has retained most of its original features. The tank has a capacity of around 3600 litres. A few lockers and tool racks have been added, along with a new Norvent pump and hose reel at the rear. The truck was allocated to Medlow Bath Bush Fire Brigade, which had raised some $500 towards its purchase. It remained in front line service until 1976, when it was loaned to the Cessnock area. On its return to Medlow Bath in 1981, it was rejuvenated by brigade members before donating the vehicle to the Museum of Fire.

Medlow Bath Ford Blitz parked under a tree near Central Station [Museum of Fire Collection]
Medlow Bath Ford Blitz Truck parked under a tree near Central Station [Museum of Fire Collection]

The Chevrolet was built in Oshawa Canada in November 1942. Its military service history is not known, but it was acquired by the Sutherland Shire Council from the Commonwealth Disposals Commission in 1952. Previously a "general service truck", it was converted to firefighting use by the addition of a 2000 litre water tank, a Norvent pump unit powered by a Wisconsin THD 2-cylinder petrol engine, hose reels and lockers for various hoses and nozzles, and various brackets for larger items. Its original 16" wheels were replaced by 20" wheels to improve its off-road performance. It was allocated to the Heathcote Bush Fire Brigade and was soon involved in fighting many of the bush fires in "The Shire". After a "close call" during a fire near the station in November 1968, it was badly damaged during a subsequent fire in the station in 1969 but was quickly returned to service. It was taken out of front-line service in 1979 but was re-instated with the Shire's Headquarters Brigade following the tragic loss of five members of that Brigade during a fire at Waterfall in November 1980.

It was finally "retired" in October 1982 with council management deciding that the truck should be offered to the NSW Fire Service Museum (now known as the Museum of Fire). Heathcote Brigade members offered to refurbish the truck before presentation to the Museum. However, tragedy struck again just as restoration work was completed - three members of the Brigade (Captain Keith Campbell, Deputy Captain Tom Beilecke and Gregory Moon, who were the main driving force behind the project) died while fighting a bush fire at Grays Point in January 1983. Several other members of the team suffered injuries in this incident. The Chevrolet was handed over to the museum in March 1983 and remains in our collection in memorial of the brave men who made the ultimate sacrifice for the community.


-Story by the Museum of Fire Heritage Team

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