FLASHBACK: Wartime transportation

By Richard Harms, College Archivist, Heritage Hall

angeDuring World War II former president William Spoelhof joined the Office of Strategic Service, the first coordinated U.S. intelligence agency, created in 1942. Previously various departments (State, Treasury, Army and Navy) had their own intelligence operations. Because of his personal background and professional training, Spoelhof was part of the effort to gather intelligence from occupied Netherlands and prepare for re-establishing that nation’s civilian government dismantled during the occupation.

Eventually he was posted in London to work with the Dutch government in exile there. Working in the war zone required that he have military status, so he joined the U.S. Navy. After D-Day as the Allies advanced from Normandy, Spoelhof was part of a team that operated in recently liberated territory to gather data and report on infrastructure conditions and needs. This required the individual team members to travel extensively.

Transportation for such activity was difficult to obtain, as military vehicles were needed at or in support of the front lines. Spoelhof’s group had a sergeant, an accomplished scrounger, whose job was to find transportation. As the group moved from Belgium into the Netherlands, they headquartered near Doorn, between Utrecht and Arnhem. Doorn was where Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany had lived since abdicating the German throne in 1920. The Kaiser had died in 1940, but the sergeant found the Kaiser’s 1932 Mercedes-Benz hidden in a barn. With some cleaning the car could be roadworthy, and the sergeant offered the car to Spoelhof for his use.

old carSpoelhof admitted that he was tempted to accept the car. But due to its historic significance he agreed with Dutch authorities that the convertible should be preserved and not be used by the Allies thereby making it vulnerable to damage or destruction. Instead, Spoelhof used far less luxurious military staff cars and for a time a totally non-luxurious jeep, on whose windshield he painted his wife’s name, “Ange.” The Kaiser’s car is now in the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart, Germany.             

car— Richard Harms, Archives