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“Relax—It’s Only a Maneuver”

By Thaddeus Holt
Winter 1992 • MHQ Magazine

The first army-versus-army maneuvers in American history, “fought” in the fall of 1941, were an elaborate game—but they helped prepare American forces for World War II

 

HAVE YOU EVER HEARD OF THE Battle of the Red River? The Battle of Shreveport? The Battle of the Pee Dee? The Second Battle of Camden? They were history’s biggest battles in the Western Hemisphere, bigger than Gettysburg or Shiloh, Celaya or Tuyutí; yet not one bullet was fired in anger. They were the “battles” that were “fought” in Louisiana and the Carolinas in the great autumn maneuvers of 1941.

Through 1940 and 1941 General George C. Marshall, U.S. Army chief of staff, and Marshall’s own chief of staff, Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair, had been raising and training an army against the eventuality that the United States might be drawn into the Second World War. The design and building of this force were largely Whitey McNair’s work. From disparate materials—national guardsmen, reservists, draftees from the country’s first peacetime conscription—he had by the middle of 1941 created a force of 1.4 million men, and the great army-level maneuvers—following earlier division- and corps-level maneuvers—were its final test. They were the first army-versus-army maneuvers in U.S. history.

To some extent their purpose was to test the officers of the National Guard divisions. At least at the higher levels, very few of these passed; and Marshall weeded them out mercilessly. Heartlessly, too, in some eyes, for these were men whose weekends and vacations had been loyally sacrificed over two long dreary decades, and now that they had a chance to serve their country they were being shoved aside to make room for regular officers—or so it seemed to their supporters. Many victims were influential and well connected, and Marshall himself was far more politically attuned than is often realized; but he meant to have the best officer corps he could, and he let the chips fall where they might. To give just a few examples out of very many, Major General Ralph E. Truman of the Missouri National Guard was dropped from command of the 35th (“Santa Fe”) Division even though the influential senator Harry Truman was his cousin; Major General Edward Martin of the Pennsylvania National Guard was dropped from command of the 28th (“Keystone”) Division even though he was a political power and soon to be governor of his state; Major General Claude Birkenhead of the Texas National Guard was dropped from command of the 36th (“Texas”) Division even though he was a prominent San Antonio lawyer with significant political connections; and so on.

As for regular officers, the maneuvers probably did not tell Marshall much that he did not already know. He had spent a lifetime filling his famous “little black book” with notes about officers he had observed. He kept it in his desk drawer. When he learned or observed something about a man, favorable or unfavorable, out the book would come and a note would be made. He may not really have needed it, for he had an elephant’s memory for such matters. Once he formed an opinion about a man—which he might do on the basis of a single incident or personal trait—it was not easy to change it. (Injustices sometimes resulted. The best-known case is that of James A. Van Fleet, who was a corps commander by the end of the war and finished with four stars as the American commander in Korea, but who was still a colonel at D-Day because Marshall had him confused with an officer of similar name who was on his blacklist.)

So the 1941 maneuvers were primarily designed not to select people but to test training, organization, and technique. Dull stuff? Not at all; it is the stuff that wins or loses wars.

 

THE MOST INTERESTING TEST WOULD BE of the organizations and techniques McNair and his colleagues had designed for employing (and defending against) the weapon systems brought to the fore in the European campaigns of 1939—40—tanks, airplanes, paratroops.

Especially tanks. In July 1940, with the world bemused by the armored blitzkriegs in Poland and France after the fall of France, the U.S. Army created an Armored Force. This ended 20 years of dispute as to whether the tank was an independent weapon or merely infantry support, but it left open the key question whether tanks should be used in mass or integrated with other weapons. And was the tank as unstoppable as armor enthusiasts claimed? Or, as McNair suspected, would massed tanks be vulnerable to massed antitank guns—especially if they were rendered at least as mobile as the tanks themselves by being mounted on half-tracks or tank chassis? (Such “tank destroyers” were one of McNair’s pet concepts. Most armor officers, on the other hand, thought that the best tank destroyer was another tank.)

Closely related was the question of tactical aviation. The German armored warfare genius Heinz Guderian paced his panzer divisions to the speed of tanks rather than of foot soldiers, with his infantrymen riding trucks and half-tracks and the Luftwaffe’s dive-bombers substituting for slow-moving towed artillery. It was easy to motorize infantry, but could the Air Corps, legally part of the army but de facto a separate and cantankerous service, be induced to set aside its obsession with strategic bombing and tactical interdiction and emulate the brilliantly coordinated close-air-support tactics of Göring’s Luftwaffe?

And what about the traditional infantry divisions in this new mobile age? National Guard divisions still followed the old “square” design based on two infantry brigades of two regiments each—huge divisions, ponderous but immensely powerful. Should at least some divisions retain this structure? Or should they all be reorganized into the lighter but more flexible “triangular” three-regiment structure first introduced in the regular divisions in 1937?

Was there any future for horse cavalry? Though in the Great War it had taken a negligible part on the stalemated Western Front, it had played a major one on the Eastern Front and in the Middle East. Did it still have a role in the gasoline age, as the horse soldiers desperately insisted?

Finally, airborne troops. Did the German conquest of Crete portend whole airborne armies? Less extreme, did airborne forces now make true “vertical envelopment” possible, as if at Second Manassas Jackson had descended on Pope’s rear from the sky? Or were airborne forces suited only for seizing initial lodgments in enemy territory—or perhaps only for commando-style raids?

For some of these questions McNair’s 1941-model army offered at least provisional solutions; others remained open. On the most important question, the role of the tank, the Armored Force’s initial structure reflected a fairly rigid concept of massed tank attacks. The armored division was built around an armored brigade of one medium and two light tank regiments; divisional infantry, artillery, and engineers were strictly auxiliaries. There would also be “motorized divisions,” essentially regular infantry divisions whose men would ride rather than march, and “armored corps” made up entirely of armored and motorized divisions. All four of the autumn maneuvers would feature a fun armored corps, testing whether this approach was sound, or whether the new American units should follow the design of Guderian’s panzer divisions, composed of flexible all-arms Kampfgruppen (battle groups) that could be tailored to specific missions. And in Louisiana there would be three, in the Carolinas six, independent regiment-size antitank groups to test McNair’s concept of mobile antitank guns controlled at corps or army level.

The maneuvers would test air-ground coordination, too. At the last minute the Air Corps—the Army Air Forces, rather, for in June 1941 it was renamed and granted even more autonomy—agreed to participate with substantial forces, forming an Air Task Force to operate with each of the armies. The AAF was so short of dive-bombers, though, that it had to ask the navy to help. Help the navy did, and generously, lending not only four squadrons of dive-bombers but three of fighters and one of torpedo planes. (This inspired Marshall to invite the 1st Marine Division to join the maneuvers, but Admiral Harold R. Stark, chief of naval operations, declined; the marines needed to spend their time on small-unit and amphibious training, he said.)

As for the other issues: Square and triangular divisions would be fighting side by side, enabling direct comparison of the two structures. Cavalry would get a full and fair trial, with at least a cavalry regiment, sometimes even a division, in every corps and at army level, and some of these would be “mechanized” with supplemental motor transport. Only the infant airborne arm would have less than a fair test, for only a single parachute battalion—in Louisiana, only one company—was yet available.

 

McNAIR AND HIS OPERATIONS DEPUTY, Brigadier General Mark W. Clark, planned four big maneuvers in the eastern United States for the fall of 1941 (plus a separate, smaller maneuver for Fourth Army on the West Coast). The first two, in Louisiana in September, would pit Lieutenant General Ben Lear’s “Red” Second Army against Lieutenant General Walter Krueger’s “Blue” Third Army. The second two, in the Carolinas in November, would pit Lieutenant General Hugh A. Drum’s “Blue” First Army against Major General Oscar W. Griswold’s “Red” IV Corps—smaller, but armored and motorized.

Prominently featured in all four would be the 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions, commanded respectively by Major General Bruce Magruder and Major General George S. Patton, Jr. Magruder was an infantryman, not a particularly colorful character, whom the press hardly noticed at the time and whom history has largely forgotten. By contrast, the flamboyant Patton— “squeak-voiced Major-General George S. Patton, Jr.,” said Time, “who hides much military culture behind the Army’s best smoke screen of profanity” was already a media favorite. Reporters had not yet thought up “Old Blood and Guts”; instead, in honor of his odd-looking green tank coveralls with matching helmet, they called him “The Green Hornet,” after the hero of a popular radio program. Patton was a cavalryman, independently wealthy. (When assigned to Hawaii he had sailed there in his own yacht, shipping his string of polo ponies separately; his house in Washington is now the Australian embassy.) He had competed in the modern pentathlon in the 1912 Olympics, served as Pershing’s aide in the pursuit of Pancho Villa, and been wounded in France. Patton was a tank enthusiast and one of the founders of the old Tank Corps in 1918, and his assignment to command one of the original armored divisions was a near-miraculous reprieve from the stagnation of the dreary interwar years. Many of his fellow officers wondered whether the ebullient “Georgie” was suited to high command. In a confidential memorandum to Marshall after the Louisiana maneuvers, McNair’s dry comment about Patton was “Good; division possibly his ceiling.”

Since people could not really be killed, shells really fired, bridges really blown up, tanks really burned, an elaborate set of umpires’ rules was worked out. Firepower points were assigned (one point for a rifle, six for a .30-caliber machine gun, and so on), and when hostile units met, the umpires would decide who advanced and who fell back based on comparative firepower scores. Human “casualties” would not drop out; a unit’s firepower would simply be reduced in proportion to them, while a “destroyed” tank was deemed “resurrected” and returned to its unit at midnight after its “destruction.” The impact area of artillery fire would be marked with flags, and casualties would be assessed against a unit caught in the area. Engineers would simulate the laying of demolition charges and roadblocks, and if properly done the umpires would rule the bridge or road out of commission and units would have to work around the obstruction. (At least once, naturally, a commander reproved for marching his force across a theoretically destroyed bridge told the umpire his men were theoretically swimming.) There were casualty percentages for troops attacked by airplanes, and loss percentages for air units exposed to antiaircraft fire.

Most controversial—reflecting McNair’s bias—were the tank and antitank rules. An antitank gun was scored as knocking out up to one tank a minute and was given an unrealistically long range; the .50-caliber machine gun was allowed as an antitank weapon; tanks could knock out antitank guns only by “overrunning” them; for the Carolina maneuvers GHQ added the rule that a tank could be knocked out by an infantryman hitting it with a flour-bag “hand grenade.” (“If hand grenades could destroy tanks we would quit building them,” groused Major General Charles L. Scott of I Armored Corps.) Inconsistently, infantry within 100 yards of an enemy tank was deemed immobilized.

 

JOURNALISTS SWARMED TO COVER THE SHOWS and found they had to hustle. They were assigned to one side or the other and were subject to capture by the opponent, so they had to be careful; and they got few briefings, so they had to scramble around the countryside looking for stories in taxis rented for them by the government at ten dollars a day, or in the newfangled sassy little vehicle that the Armored Force called a “peep” (the infantry called it a “jeep,” and that was the name that eventually stuck). Eric Sevareid, who covered the maneuvers for CBS as a 28-year-old reporter fresh from the European war, told a Time colleague: “War in Louisiana is rougher than war in Europe. Over there you sit around waiting for communiqués. Over here you go to the front or you don’t find much to report.” (Half a century later, Sevareid recalled that many of his colleagues were at least as interested in personal strategies as in military ones, notably how to get a drink amid the patchwork of wet, dry, and in-between counties that made up the 1941 South.)

For the average soldier the maneuvers, like real war, meant hard work and misery with little idea of the big picture. In Louisiana they meant mud and dust and bugs and sudden downpours; in the Carolinas they meant ice on the water buckets in the morning, and a scramble to find kerosene heaters. (Guns without bullets could still hurt, as Private Bill Mauldin of the 45th (“Thunderbird”) Division recalled: “Blank cartridges use wads to hold their powder charges; at very close range the wads emerge as projectiles and hurt like hell.” The chow, as always, was a prime complaint. It was mostly the primitive early version of the C ration, or prepared lunches consisting of “1 sandwich, ham; 1 sandwich, jam; 1 apple, eating.” The chicory-laden coffee of Louisiana was startling to outlanders. (“You don’t stir this stuff, you crank it,” somebody said to Hanson W. Baldwin of the New York Times.) Thanksgiving fell during the first phase in the Carolina maneuvers, but there was to be no turkey till after the “battle”; a soldier who got a piece of fried chicken from a rolling field kitchen counted himself lucky.

 At least the soldiers’ physical condition was good, and they had some real equipment—a sharp improvement over the first maneuvers in the summer of 1940, when National Guard units armed with wooden artillery and trucks with TANK painted on their sides lumbered about the countryside, lawyers and bankers in colonel’s and general’s uniforms puffing to keep up. By 1941 the men were in shape, and while wooden guns and stovepipe mortars were still abundant, there was far more equipment than there had been a year before.

There was yet no talk of “GIs” or “dogfaces.” The infantrymen were “doughboys” or “doughs” like their fathers in 1917. And they looked like their fathers. They still wore the doughboys trademark, the flat British-style tin hat; the familiar pot-shaped M1 helmet had only been approved in June 1941, and in the maneuvers early production models were worn by only a handful of officers. (To distinguish friend from foe, only one side in each maneuver wore helmets.) And many of the doughs still carried the old reliable bolt-action Springfield, though the War Department promised in late September that all frontline troops would have the new semiautomatic Garand by the end of October.

They got into the swing of things, and the adrenalin flowed as if the battle were real—sometimes tragically so, as when two soldiers drowned after they volunteered to swim a flooded river, and another was blinded when an overenthusiastic opponent hurled a smoke bomb into his tank. There were any number of fistfights between members of opposing armies and plenty of rage at umpires’ alleged bad calls. And there were some imaginative efforts to lend a touch of realism. Signal Corps sound trucks roved about playing loud records of bullets, artillery, airplanes, and tank sirens. As Red columns fell back toward Shreveport in the second Louisiana maneuver, Blue planes showered them with leaflets: “Your commanders are withholding from you the terrible fact of your impending defeat…Your food stores have been captured. No one is going to bring up any of the steaks that the men of the Third Army are going to have tonight. Rout, disaster, hunger, sleepless nights in the forest are ahead of you. Surrender while there is still time.” Civilians joined in the enthusiasm: The citizens of Shreveport, sporting red armbands to show their solidarity with their Red “defenders,” rang church bells to celebrate deliverance from Krueger’s invaders and cheered, “We’re for Lear.”

Still, you could not get entirely away from normal life. The umpires stopped the Battle of Shreveport partly because street fighting would disrupt rush hour. At a lull in the savage struggle for Mount Carmel, Louisiana, newsboys and soda-pop vendors promptly appeared as if by magic. Lieutenant F.I. Fox, the Sergeant York of the Louisiana maneuvers, put 20 Blue officers and 35 enlisted men out of action in a daring foray behind enemy lines but was captured when held up by a red light. And when in his swing around Shreveport Patton was cut off from supplies, he cheated a bit by buying gasoline for his tanks from civilian filling stations.

The horse soldiers knew what they had at stake; Lieutenant Guy Chipman of the 1st Armored Division recalls running into an old pal, Lieutenant Booth Thomas of the cavalry, somewhere in Louisiana, who reported that he and his friends were “working their tails off trying to prove that horse cavalry was still OK.”

 

LIEUTENANT GENERAL WALTER KRUEGER, the Blue commander in Louisiana, was known as a friend to enlisted men and to the National Guard—reflecting his own career, for he had started as a private and worked his way up to three stars the hard way. German-born, he had translated a number of German military texts and was a recognized expert on the German army. In his later wartime command Krueger would be famous for his slowness, but his Louisiana performance was notable for speed and flexibility. (The credit for this is doubtless due in great measure to his chief of staff, Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower. Ike Eisenhower was universally recognized as a comer. Though his academic career at West Point had been undistinguished and he had missed going to France in 1918, he had graduated at the head of his class in all the army schools thereafter; MacArthur, with whom he had worked closely, had thought him the best officer in the army; and Pershing had specifically recommended him to Marshall.)

By contrast, the Red commander, Lieutenant General Ben Lear, was a by-the-book soldier who got off to a bad start in the public eye when he disciplined soldiers for whistling at shorts-clad female golfers, and he was derided as “Yoo-Hoo Lear” by the press.

The theater of operations was a substantial chunk of the middle of Louisiana and a sliver of adjoining Texas. Its dominant terrain features were the Red River, slicing diagonally northwest to southeast from Shreveport to Alexandria, thence east to the Mississippi, and Peason Ridge, an east—west range of high ground in Kisatchie National Forest. American soldiers had long known this region well and unfavorably. A century before, Lieutenant U.S. Grant, stationed in the area when it was the U.S. borderland with the independent Republic of Texas, had recorded that “the troublesome insects of creation… abound here. The swamps are hill of alligators and the woods full of redbugs and ticks.” It was the scene of Banks’s disastrous Red River campaign in 1864. Colonel Eisenhower wrote to a friend that “All the old-timers say we are going into a God-awful spot, to live with mud, malaria, mosquitoes and misery.” (He might have added “monsoons”: It was hurricane season, and the maneuvers opened in a subtropical downpour.)

The first Louisiana maneuver was designed to test whether numbers—Krueger’s Blue army of 270,000, concentrated north of Lake Charles—could be offset by mobility—Lear’s 130,000-man Red army, concentrated north of the Red River. The centerpiece of the Red army was I Armored Corps, built around Magruder’s and Patton’s two armored divisions. The two sides’ orders were in effect simply to have at one another. D-Day was September 15.

Lear planned to cross the Red River and launch an armored attack from the west end of Peason Ridge into Krueger’s left flank and rear. Patton’s tanks got a toehold on Peason Ridge by nightfall the first day, September 15, but Lear’s infantry moved more clumsily. Krueger swept forward, reorienting overnight his axis of advance toward the northwest, and by nightfall on the 16th had almost pushed Patton off Peason Ridge. Lear wasted the 17th while Krueger pressed on. Lear’s attack on the 18th met with disaster. Magruder’s main force bogged down in swamps and densely wooded hills; the Blues hit it hard, surrounded it, and captured its gasoline train. Meanwhile, Patton, in the bitterest fighting of the maneuver, failed to break through at Mount Carmel. (Mount Carmel was a tiny clearing in the woods with three frame buildings and a cemetery, but five roads met there, and even though three of these were impassable to civilian automobiles, it was to the Kisatchie National Forest what Bastogne would be to the Ardennes three years later.)

Sure that Lear’s armor was pinned down, Krueger released his reserves. The Reds nearly panicked as cavalry and armor were entangled in a traffic jam while Blue cavalrymen infiltrated among them and Blue aircraft pounded them. The Red armor stabilized the front, though with heavy losses, but Lear’s left wing continued to crumble. By the afternoon of the 19th Krueger’s men had fought their way to the eastern and southern approaches to Natchitoches when headquarters halted the maneuver, and the Battle of the Red River was over.

 

THERE WAS ONLY A FIVE DAYS’ PAUSE for logistical regrouping, and then began the second Louisiana maneuver. This one was designed to test the defensive ability of a smaller army, Lear’s Reds, against a greatly superior attacker, Krueger’s Blues. Headquarters, I Armored Corps, and Patton’s 2nd Armored Division were transferred to Krueger. His orders were to capture Shreveport and destroy the Red forces; Lear’s were to defend Shreveport till the arrival of imaginary reinforcements. Krueger planned an advance straight for Shreveport, with his armor to be unleashed once the Red forces were engaged and fixed. Lear’s strategy was delay, falling back to a succession of defensive lines while destroying every bridge and culvert left behind. D-Day was September 24.

Lear’s strategy worked, slowing Krueger to a crawl. So Colonel Eisenhower devised a drastic plan to bring Lear to battle through a sweeping armored and motorized envelopment of the Red western flank. Patton himself took a small force on a wide outer sweep while the bulk of his forces swung around on an inner arc. Swinging wide through Texas, Patton covered nearly 200 miles in 24 hours. Lear took no aggressive counter measures, and on the 27th Patton veered around behind Shreveport and closed in on the town. Meanwhile, on the main front Krueger continued struggling through the demolitions the Reds had left behind. By the 28th Red and Blue main forces were at last locked in battle at Mansfield. Patton split his already small command, driving into the western edge of Shreveport with one column while the other ferried the Red River north of town, swung around to the east, and captured the airport. Lear finally reacted to Patton’s drives by sending elements of Magruder’s 1st Armored Division to oppose him north of Shreveport—when GHQ terminated the Battle of Shreveport.

 

THE SCENE SHIFTED NOW TO THE MORE HOSPITABLE terrain of the Carolinas, where Lieutenant General Hugh Drum’s 195,000-man Blue First Army would face the 100,000-man Red IV Corps (augmented by I Armored Corps), under Major General Oscar W. Griswold. The object was to explore an offensive contest between Drum’s big force, largely infantry, and Griswold’s smaller, highly mechanized force.

Griswold was new to corps command but knowledgeable in mobile warfare. Drum was a self-important stuffed shirt who had expected to be made chief of staff instead of Marshall; except for a surprising airmindedness, his thinking had not advanced much beyond 1918, when he had headed the staff that planned the Saint-Mihiel offensive. He detested Patton: At a polo match in Hawaii a few years before, when Drum had rebuked Patton for his strong language, the civilian players—drawn from Honolulu’s moneyed elite, with whom the wealthy Colonel and Mrs. Patton (but not General and Mrs. Drum) hobnobbed on terms of easy equality—had humiliated Drum by standing up for Patton. This had not prevented his asking Patton to intercede with Patton’s old mentor Pershing on Drum’s behalf when Drum was campaigning to be appointed chief of staff. Indeed, during the maneuvers Drum seems not to have been inhibited by any very punctilious sense of honor; at least three times he blatantly cheated on the rules, twice by stationing troops in advance of the restraining line before H hour, and once by moving men in trucks that, under the rules, were to be used only for carrying rations and were thus immune from capture.

The theater of war was an area some 90 miles by 150 miles, lying south and east of Charlotte and extending to the Columbia—Camden—Cheraw— Fort Bragg line. Its dominant terrain features were the big southerly-flowing river systems that cut it roughly into thirds: in the west the Catawba-Wateree River running from near Charlotte down past Camden, and in the east the Pee Dee flowing down past Cheraw. The key to the middle ground between the rivers was the town of Monroe, from which paved roads radiated in six directions.

For the first maneuver the “international boundary” was the Pee Dee, though Griswold was directed to stay behind the Catawba till H hour. The two sides’ orders were mirror images of each other: Drum was to cross the Pee Dee into Red country and keep the Reds from crossing the Catawba in force; Griswold was to cross the Catawba and drive to the Pee Dee to prevent the Blue invasion. Drum’s plan was methodical and conventional, crossing the Pee Dee on a 75-mile front. Griswold planned to race his three mobile divisions to the Pee Dee to contain the Blue bridgeheads while his infantry divisions secured Monroe; these would then take over the job of bridgehead containment, freeing the armor for a concentrated stroke.

The maneuver had a gratifying curtain raiser for George Patton. At 6:30 A.M. on D-Day, November 16, the Reds began crossing the Catawba, reconnaissance units racing for the Pee Dee; some of Patton’s men actually crossed it—and captured General Drum. He was soon released, and the maneuver went on. Red air and armor slowed Drum’s buildup in the center and south, but the Red mobile force lost coherence as the day wore on. By sunrise on the 17th, Drum had six divisions across and opened his attack, bending the north of Griswold’s line back at right angles and seizing Cheraw in the south until an end run by Patton drove the Blues out of the town. On the 18th Drum returned to the attack, recaptured Cheraw, and thrust on to Chesterfield in the south, while pushing forward against stubborn resistance in the center and pounding away in the north with a threatened envelopment of Griswold’s whole command. On the 19th and 20th Magruder’s 1st Armored, seeking to make a flank and rear attack, was battered into hopeless shape by Blue antitank units. Drum closed in for the kill, while Griswold ordered a general retreat to a new V-shaped line with its point at Monroe and its flank refused toward the Catawba. At dawn on the 21st Drum assaulted this line across the whole front. By 8:30 A.M. Monroe had fallen. Patton opened a counterattack, but at 8:40 A.M. headquarters terminated the maneuver, and the Battle of the Pee Dee was ended.

 

FOR THE SECOND CAROLINA MANEUVER the “international boundary” ran east-west, along the Monroe-Wadesboro highway. Griswold’s orders were to organize and defend a bridgehead covering the crossing of the Wateree at Camden. Drum was not told Griswold’s mission; he was informed only that stron Red forces advacing from the southeast were reporting crossing the Wateree near Camden and was ordered to destroy hostile forces east of the Catawba-Wateree line.

On D-Day, November 25, Drum advanced cautiously while his aviation bombed the Pee Dee bridges from Cheraw south. Griswold readied two concentric defensive lines covering Camden, while combined-arms columns from his three mechanized divisions conducted spoiling attacks. These were successful: Patton found and turned the Blue line west of Monroe, while the Red 4th Motorized Division struck Monroe itself. Thinking that the Reds planned to make the Monroe front their main defensive line, Drum ordered Monroe held while his left struck westward from Cheraw against the Red rear, ejecting the Reds from Monroe and Cheraw on the 26th.

Then Drum had a stroke of McClellan’s luck: A Blue reconnaissance detachment captured a full set of Red plans. Drum quickly issued new orders focused on Camden. Aided by a snafu that left the Red front between Monroe and the Catawba thinly held, he had victory in his grasp by the 27th. But the Reds mounted an armored attack toward Pageland south of Monroe, and, though Patton had to fend off counterattacks, Magruder’s tanks pierced deep into Blue territory. Instead of driving home his own attack, Drum threw away his victory by sending forces to contain Magruder and diverting others to attack the Reds in the rear. But Griswold had no intention of overextending his breakthrough; in the afternoon he ordered his whole force back into the Camden perimeter. Drum issued a triumphant end-of-the-day message to his troops announcing that the Reds east of the Catawba were encircled.

He learned differently on the morning of the 28th, when he found himself defending against vigorous armored attacks. He ordered a reinforced attack toward Camden, but it accomplished little against Red mechanized forces. Griswold had ordered his armored divisions back into the Camden perimeter for more counterattacks the next day, when GHQ ended the Second Battle of Camden.

And the big shows were over.

 

IN ONE RESPECT THE MANEUVERS WERE AN unqualified success: They gave American officers priceless hands-on experience in moving large units. Until the Battle of the Red River, no American since Grant and Sherman had maneuvered as many as 100,000 men in the open field, for the handful of officers with large-scale experience had gained it in the positional warfare of 1918. Years later, Mark Clark recalled how in the scramble of activity after Pearl Harbor he had thought to himself: “‘How lucky we are that we just had maneuvers.’ We’d moved a corps. Two or three months before that you would say, ‘How do you move a corps?'”

The maneuvers were only partially successful in their second major purpose, to test organization and doctrine. The conclusions Marshall and McNair drew from them defined many aspects of the U.S. Army of World War II. Events proved some of these right, and some wrong.

As to the preeminent issue, the tank, they were partly right and partly wrong. Still fixed on the notion of mass tank attacks (and disregarding the view of the chief of the Armored Force that “We were licked by a set of umpires’ rules”), McNair pointed to the success of more than 700 antitank guns in holding back an equal number of tanks in the Carolinas as showing that “the tank could be stopped.” This meant full speed ahead on McNair’s “tank-destroyer” program—scores of battalions of specially designed antitank vehicles, to be controlled at division and higher levels. This program— unique to the U.S. Army—never worked out as expected and was quietly abandoned soon after the Second World War was over.

In a parallel (and infinitely more successful) development, experiences like Magruder’s disaster in the Battle of the Pee Dee and his and Patton’s troubles in the Kisatchie National Forest confirmed the view that the massed-tanks approach was misguided and that tanks must have support from the traditional arms. In 1942 the armored division received more infantry and artillery and fewer tanks, and a version of Guderian’s Kampfgruppen design was adopted: The division was built around “combat commands”—brigade-level commanders and their headquarters staffs, to which the division commander would assign the mix of tanks, infantry, and artillery needed to perform a specific task. Thereafter, the idea of entire armored corps was dropped (as well as the “motorized-division” concept); instead, the prototypical American corps was to consist of one armored and two infantry divisions. In a parallel recognition that ordinary infantry often needed tank support, independent tank battalions were formed for attachment to infantry divisions. These were happy changes, for thus were born the formations that raced across France in August 1944, punched through to Bastogne that Christmas, and swanned over the Reich in the spring of 1945.

As for the infantry, the maneuvers convinced many officers that there was, as General Griswold said, “a distinct need for both the triangular and the square division.” But during 1942 all infantry divisions were “triangularized.” This defiance of the maneuver experience was a less happy decision than was the armored division reorganization. It broke up many effective and experienced formations, and there would be times—in the Normandy hedgerows, in the Hürtgen Forest, at the Gustav and Gothic lines—when American generals would yearn for the brute might and staying power of the square division.

The maneuvers provided but half a loaf with respect to air-ground cooperation; the whole loaf was not to come for three years. The aviators finally accepted ground support. But they insisted that the maneuvers had shown that it could effectively be controlled by army-level air-support groups subordinate to the theater air commander. This meant that a frontline ground unit might or might not get the air support it requested, depending on the views of an air officer in a faraway air headquarters. (The air task force supporting Kruege’s Third Army had far outperformed its opposition. Its commander, Major General Herbert A. Dargue, had allowed air liaison officers attached to particular corps or divisions to deal directly with operations officers at the air bases supporting their units. But Dargue died in the opening days of the war.) Not till France in 1944 would permanent air-support groups attached to individual armies be fielded, and air officers be found who wholeheartedly accepted the ground-support role—officers like the legendary Major General Elwood (“Pete”) Quesada of IX Tactical Air Command, who permanently assigned a flight of fighter-bombers to each combat command of the armored divisions he supported, together with an aircraft radio and air liaison officer in each combat command headquarters.

The 1941 maneuvers saw one lasting innovation in the air. The Piper, Taylor, and Aeronca firms had lent the army 11 light “cub” planes. These proved so useful for both spotting and general liaison that such “grasshoppers” became established in the army’s inventory—the forebears of modern army aviation.

For the horse cavalry the Carolina maneuvers were the last ride. They had made every effort, and they simply had not measured up. All-horse units had been tried. “Horse-portee” units, in which the horses were loaded onto trailer trucks for long-distance movements, and then unloaded and ridden into action, had been tried. The results were uniformly unsatisfactory in comparison with the performance of motorized units. McNair concluded that horse cavalry was no longer viable, and by the end of 1942 all its steeds were gone. The 1st Cavalry Division kept the name for sentimental reasons, but fought in the Southwest Pacific as an infantry division.

Airborne doctrine might have suffered a comparable setback. The tiny airborne units available had been used only for small-scale commando-type operations, and the maneuvers suggested to some officers that the airborne role should be limited to these—and, for good measure, that drops should be made at a distance from the target. Fortunately—perhaps because he was so intently focused on the tank-versus-antitank problem—McNair did not draw this conclusion, and five full-size airborne divisions would see action in Europe and the Philippines.

Finally, the maneuvers served well their third and major purpose: They tested the quality of essential training—and found it wanting. Many small-unit commanders had failed to show a grasp of basic tactics. Communications, liaison, and reconnaissance had often been poor. Too many orders had been slow in preparation and vague or ambiguous. Colonel J. Lawton Collins, chief of staff of VII Corps in Lear’s army, thought that at the lowest level the maneuvers might have done more harm than good, by developing bad habits. “It is almost impossible to get American soldiers to take seriously attacks from planes that simply fly overhead,” he wrote in later years. “Troops tend to stick to the roads instead of moving in deployed formations across country, and they fail to take cover from theoretical bombardment, artillery or machine-gun fire.” Worst, perhaps, was this lack of air discipline. Troops had stood in the open to gawk at hostile aircraft, and McNair had growled, “There can be no excuse for another Guadalajara,” referring to the savaging of Italian troops by Soviet aircraft in Spain in March 1937. (But there were to be near-Guadalajaras in North Africa nevertheless.)

 

ON DECEMBER 3 THE TOPMOST BRASS—Secretary of War Stimson and his under and assistant secretaries, Generals Marshall, McNair, and Clark, and Marshall’s three deputy chiefs of staff—assembled in Washington for a postmortem. They were not wholly happy with what they had learned. Though McNair opined that the maneuvers had settled the “outstanding question” about whether the tank could be stopped, nobody was pleased with the results of a year’s training at the individual and small-unit levels. And there were other questions. The future size of the army was itself an unknown. President Roosevelt had decided to augment the navy and the army air forces at the ground forces’ expense. The national guardsmen would begin going home in February. A program of remedial small-unit training for the remaining regulars and draftees had already been decreed for 1942. But to what end?

On the other side of the world, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo’s carrier task force was plodding through the harsh gray seas of the North Pacific. In four days it would be off the coast of Oahu. MHQ

 

THADDEUS HOLT is a former deputy undersecretary of the army, a lawyer, and a writer on military subjects. He is a member of the MHQ advisory board. 

This article originally appeared in the Winter 1992 issue (Vol. 4, No. 2) of MHQ—The Quarterly Journal of Military History with the headline: The Final Scrimmage

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