A series following the story of my father in World War II 75 years ago. He was in Europe with the 10th Armored Division's 80th Armored Medical Battalion.This updates the series Following the 10th Armored that I did five years ago.

# 19- Performing a Miracle

Before we get to the next months and the 10th being sent overseas, it is good to take a quick review of the US Army before the war began and the miracle performed in a short period. To say the strength of the US military was low would be an understatement. Politics, including isolationism, had to some extent tied the hands of President Roosevelt. Many hoped that the other European nations would take care of Hitler and Mussolini without US intervention. Roosevelt and others managed to finagle different ways of building readiness for what they felt was inevitable. It may only be through the lens of history that we can see that FDR and Churchill were correct and that Hitler’s advances were certainly one of the greatest threats to world peace and democracy that had ever been seen. It was a tightrope that they walked with finesse.

Even with that, however, in the months after Pearl Harbor, the United States was in the war but without a large and broad-based military. It was only the pre-Pearl Harbor draft which gave the foundation for what would become a huge fighting force. New armies and divisions were being created as long-range plans were developed and implemented in Washington for a war across both oceans and very far from home.

The 10th Armored Division was officially activated on July 15, 1942, at Fort Benning, Georgia. My dad’s 80th Armored Medical Battalion was an organic unit the 10th Armored- where the 10th went, the 80th went. When the 10th was created the new commander, Major General Paul Newgarden held a competition to give the unit a nickname. They took the name “The Tiger Division”. For the next year, Lester Nichols, author of the 10th Armored’s history, Impact, writes that the
training was especially rugged. There was the Tiger Camp with its night problems, forced marches, endurance tests, 'dry runs' and firing problems.
10th Armored Division, December 1942-  Fort Benning, Georgia
A division is somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 soldiers. Fort Benning and the many training camps like it, became small cities providing more than just training. They also sought to provide entertainment, activities, sports, and more than enough “fun and games” to keep the troops occupied when they weren’t too tired from the training that Tiger Camp provided.

In late June 1943, the Division packed up and left Fort Benning for what has become known as the Tennessee Maneuvers. These maneuvers were at the heart and soul of turning the American Army into a world-class fighting force.
The Tennessee Maneuver Area was a training area in Middle Tennessee  selected because the terrain resembled France, Belgium and Germany. In June 1941, Major General George S. Patton conducted maneuvers with the 2nd Armored Division in the Manchester, Tennessee vicinity, where he soundly defeated the opposing forces, using large-scale armored fighting. These maneuvers led to the creation of the Tennessee Maneuver Area.

In June 1942, Governor Prentice Cooper, announced that nine counties would be used as a maneuver area by the Second Army, and was eventually expanded to twenty-one counties by the time of closure in 1944. Cumberland University, in Lebanon, Tennessee was the location of the Headquarters for the Army Ground Forces field problems, commonly known as the Tennessee Maneuvers. (Nashville was the principal trailhead.)

Between 1942 and 1944, in seven large scale training exercises, more than 850,000 soldiers were trained in the Tennessee Maneuver Area.

The 10 Armored was there with the 101st Airborne Division, the 80th Infantry Division and the 83rd Infantry Division through June, July, and August 1943. (--Link)
Between the wars, German officer Erwin Rommel, as a young military attache, had visited Nashville and Middle Tennessee to study and follow the cavalry campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest to help him develop a pattern for the use of tank units as cavalry. This is part of what led General Patton to choose the area for his training in 1941.

Over the hills and valleys of twenty-one counties “Blue” and “Red” armies engaged in weekly strategic “problems,” with troops moved in and out according to a calendar of “phases” that lasted about four weeks apiece. In the military’s scenario Nashville was Cherbourg, without the bombing.

Maneuvers paused at noon on Thursday or Friday, when a light plane would fly over the mock battle lines, sounding a siren. Then thousands of soldiers would seek recreation in Nashville and the county seat towns. Facilities were limited, despite the best efforts of the U.S.O. and the American Red Cross; movie theaters and cafes were packed; drug store soda fountains were forced to shut down twice a day for cleanup. Each army PX was strained to the limit. Churches opened their doors and set up lounges; schools opened their gyms for weekend dances. The Grand Ole Opry had never drawn such crowds than during these months when Middle Tennessee hosted the army’s preparations for the eventual invasion of Normandy in 1944. (--Link)
According to Nichols the maneuvers themselves were

the scene of combat with chiggers, choking dust, sleepless nights, sore backs and aching feet. As always, the ‘enemy’ was constantly pursued. The battle umpires, too, were on hand to declare tank, track and truck ‘knocked out’ by a hidden ‘enemy’ anti-tank crew. (Impact!)
Other personal reports from other units indicated that the maneuvers were tough and often see as the toughest thing they ever did in the Army. Bob Wells who trained with the 100th Division through Tennessee Maneuvers wrote
In Tennessee we were as ‘in the field’ as we could be. When we slept it was in our pup tents, but each week for, as I remember, six weeks, we had problems Monday through Thursday. It was cold and wet, and I for one learned a lot about keeping myself together with no roof or facilities. (--Link)
Wells then records a poem written by and for the 35th Division vets. It begins:
The Tennessee Maneuvers
The devil was given permission one day,
to select a good place for the soldiers to play.
He looked around for a month or more wanting a place that would make them sore.

And, at last was delighted a country view
where the black walnut and the hickory grew, and vowed that Tennessee could not be beat
as a place for maneuvers in rain, snow, and sleet.

He scattered the rocks so the men could not sleep
and brought weather so cold it froze the sheep.
He then sent some rain, the bed rolls to soak
and a few cards and dice, so the men could stay broke.
And the final stanza
Now we’re on the last problem we’ve all done our part,
and at the end of this week the furloughs will start.
Then the men will go home with tall tales to tell
of the things that they did through this six weeks of hell.
35th Divisionaire. March 2008 Association Newsletter
The first week of September 1943 the 10th left Tennessee and settled at its new home, Camp Gordon near Augusta, Georgia. Here they would continue to train, grow and develop into a highly effective unit for the battles that lay ahead. Tiger Camp and lots of training continued.

By mid-May 1944, 75 years ago, training and planning were coming to an end. The war was waiting, and it appears as if they were ready. The US Military was working miracles and more were to come.

No comments:

Post a Comment