Monday, September 23, 2019

Tennessee Maneuvers

By Andrew McMahan

Figure 1: Mary Ward, 9, and Raymond Ingram, 12, of the Second Army on maneuvers in Middle Tennessee, April 28, 1943. Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA).

By the autumn of 1942 the United States had been at war for several months. The first few months had not gone well for U.S. forces. The military suffered several setbacks including the surprise attack on the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, the capture of Wake Island, and the fall of the Philippines. However, the American military was beginning to gain traction. The U.S. Navy dealt a major blow to the Imperial Japanese Navy at the Battle of Midway in June, American forces joined the fighting against the Axis powers in North Africa, and the First Marine Division landed on Guadalcanal in August, effectively beginning Allied offensive operations in the Pacific. The U.S. Army, in preparation for combat in Europe and other theaters of the war, needed to conduct large-scale maneuvers in order to train soldiers for the coming campaigns.

Figure 2: The maneuver area as shown on the cover of With Second Army Somewhere in Tennessee by Gene H. Sloan, 1956.

The Army chose Middle Tennessee to stage these maneuvers because the area’s topography resembled that of Western Europe. These were not the first military training exercises held in the region. During the summer of 1941, General George S. Patton conducted maneuvers in the area around Camp Forrest in Tullahoma. However, the maneuvers beginning in September 1942 were to take place over a much larger area comprised of twenty-one counties. The Second Army, a unit tasked with training soldiers for combat, established their headquarters in Lebanon for the duration of the maneuvers. Soldiers began pouring into the region that September by the tens of thousands. Each unit was assigned to either the Red or Blue army and participated in mock battles across the region. Lieutenant General Ben Lear, commander of the Second Army, stated that the maneuvers would simulate the battlefields of Russia, China, Africa, and the Philippines. The purpose of these exercises was to train troops to prosecute the modern warfare raging on multiple battlefields around the world. The army particularly stressed the importance of coordination between infantry, armor, artillery, and air support.

Figure 3: An M4 Sherman Tank of the 20th Armored Division during a live fire exercise in December 1944. With Second Army Somewhere in Tennessee.

Several new and specialized units honed their skills while on maneuvers. Several of these later became famous because of their accomplishments during the coming campaigns. Among these was the Second Ranger Battalion. This unit was formed at Camp Forrest on April 1, 1943, and received more specialized training than standard infantry. This battalion, along with several others, received further training from British commandos while in England in preparation for the invasion of Normandy. The Second Ranger Battalion earned its fame on June 6, 1944, when it captured Pointe Du Hoc, a stretch of high ground that overlooked both Utah and Omaha beaches. In order to take this position, the rangers had to scale a high cliff under covering fire from naval artillery. After reaching the summit, the rangers captured the German positions, destroyed several artillery pieces, and held the area against repeated counterattacks.

During the maneuvers in Middle Tennessee, Gene H. Sloan of the Nashville Banner accompanied a “Red Ranger” patrol from the Second Battalion in August of 1943. The patrol’s original mission was to observe Blue troop movements along Highway 10 (U.S. 231). The rangers worked their way deep behind the Blue lines. However, Red headquarters soon radioed the small force and ordered them to disrupt Blue supply columns. Second Lieutenant Remo Cagna led his ranger force, equipped with two armored scout cars and six jeeps, just south of the Fall Creek Bridge near the Wilson County line. He set up a command post 220 yards from the highway and sent riflemen accompanied by bazooka teams down the road in each direction. The rangers remained concealed on the side of the highway and ambushed lone Blue vehicles. In just a few hours, they captured two supply trucks, six jeeps, and a gasoline truck. However, one vehicle escaped capture and the driver alerted Blue forces. Lt. Cagna “destroyed” the captured vehicles and ordered his men to retreat. Blue armor and infantry scoured every road around Lebanon in search of the rangers. Cagna broke his force into small teams and ordered them to make their own way back to friendly lines.

The 101st Airborne Division also took part in the maneuvers, effectively demonstrating the value of airborne troops delivered via parachutes and gliders. Major General William C. Lee commanded the 101st during this time. The paratroopers of this division later distinguished themselves through their exemplary performance in Normandy (Operation Overlord), Holland (Operation Market Garden), and the defense of Bastogne, Belgium (the Battle of the Bulge). During the wargames, Lee needed to have an urgent conference with his staff. However, several of his officers, including Colonel Robert Sink of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, were 150 miles away in Sturgis, Kentucky. After receiving word that Lee needed him and the officers under his command, Col. Sink and his staff boarded an Army plane and parachuted thirty minutes later, landing in front of Gen. Lee’s headquarters.

Figure 4: Troopers of the 502nd PIR, 101st Airborne Division, parachute over Gallatin. With Second Army Somewhere in Tennessee.

Figure 5: Photograph of a glider landing in a field in Middle Tennessee, June 16, 1943. With Second Army Somewhere in Tennessee.

Several Middle Tennesseans participated in the maneuvers as soldiers. In some instances, soldiers found themselves engaged in wargames in their own communities. Staff Sergeant James Marshall Donnell, a resident of Middle Tennessee, was with his unit on a tactical problem near Auburntown. Evidently, Donnell knew he was in the vicinity of his hometown, but was unsure of his unit’s exact location. He eventually saw his own pickup truck pull into a field. Upon further inspection, he found that he was on his family’s property. His unit bivouacked in the area, allowing him to walk over to his house and spend the night in the comfort of his own home. U.S. Army units participating in wargames disrupted daily life in the maneuver area. As the preparation of soldiers for combat was critical to the war effort, officials asked that civilians in Middle Tennessee be as accommodating as possible during the exercises. For example, an army officer provided the citizens of Woodbury with a list of several ways to ensure the maneuvers in their area ran smoothly. He requested that residents park their vehicles in their yards, not on the street, in order to keep roadways clear. People were asked to walk to work if possible, or to park their vehicles behind their places of business in order to ease congestion downtown. He asked that residents in Woodbury not sweep trash into the streets. Additionally, he said that people should stay off the road at night when troops were in the area driving vehicles with the headlights out and to avoid shining lights in the soldiers’ eyes. The officer also stressed that motorists should not attempt to pass a military convoy and that the speed limit in the maneuver area was 35 miles per hour, which was strictly enforced by local police and military officials.

Figure 6: U.S. Army vehicles, including two M3 Medium Tanks, on an unidentified road in Wilson County. Looking Back at Tennessee, TSLA.

Several towns in the maneuver area provided entertainment for the troops whenever possible. For example, the citizens of Woodbury served lemonade and cookies and provided musical entertainment for soldiers after the town was “captured” on August 19, 1943. Local citizens opened lounges in several towns, providing soldiers with places to relax, have a cup of coffee, and write letters home. Several churches in Murfreesboro opened lounges for the troops. Not only did these lounges provide services such as checking equipment and mailing letters, they also often furnished entertainment such as ping pong tables, shuffle boards, and records. Additionally, it was not uncommon for locals to invite troops to their houses for a meal or to get a good night’s sleep. In fact, the army actually encouraged civilians to invite soldiers into their homes on weekends, though they asked that locals refrain from feeding troops currently working on field problems.

Figure 7: American Legion Post No. 5 members standing outside a bath house which served soldiers during the Tennessee Maneuvers, June 1944. Library Photograph Collection, TSLA.

The influx of soldiers and equipment into Middle Tennessee had a substantial impact on the region. Thousands of men descended on small towns, often taxing facilities to their absolute limits. Restaurants were among the businesses frequented most by soldiers. The Nashville Tennessean reported that large numbers of soldier-patrons were straining the food supply in Lebanon. The Second Army instructed officers to always keep the conservation of the local food supply in mind, and asked them to work with the local civilian authorities in any way possible if said authorities expressed concern over food shortages. Soldiers were prohibited from purchasing rationed food. No more than 25% of a unit could be authorized leave at any given time, and all units had designated areas allotted to them for leave. A Second Army report cited by Murfreesboro’s Daily News Journal stated, “If the civilian authorities become concerned over possible shortage of food due to presence of soldiers within the maneuver area, we will cooperate with them in any regulations they may promulgate in the matter, even to the extent of requiring soldiers to carry food when visiting or on pass away from their units.” Army officials eventually restricted furlough hours, which lessened the week day rushes of enlisted men to local food vendors.

Housing was also in short supply during the maneuvers. Army officers and other officials from the War Department required places to stay for the duration. Additionally, many wives accompanied their husbands to the maneuver area. These women also required places to live, and sought accommodations in the form of hotels, apartments, and even rooms in private residences. The Second Army attempted to discourage women from following their sons or husbands to the maneuver area, claiming that it distracted the men from the war games and hampered their training. Officials also sought to more closely replicate actual combat conditions and ease overcrowding in the region by barring dependents from accompanying the soldiers.

The maneuvers also brought a boon to businesses in the region. Soldiers with pay in their pockets looking for leisure patronized many local businesses. The establishments that saw large increases in revenue during this time were restaurants, hotels, jewelry stores, and theaters. In fact, the Second Army encouraged businesses to provide discounts for soldiers. The army asked theaters, for example, to provide Sunday movies for soldiers at half-price. The Nashville Tennessean reported in 1944 that the city and the region would likely experience a reduction in retail revenue after the maneuvers concluded, citing the departure of officers and men who were payed an estimated $36,000,000 during the exercises. However, business leaders in Nashville concluded that the maneuvers were “wonderful advertising” for Middle Tennessee and expected many soldiers to return with their families after the war.

Army units operating in and around local farms often caused some property damage. The 2nd Army waged its mock battles in cities, towns, and active farms. Troops often had to tear down fences in order maneuver, and tanks frequently deployed in the fields destroyed crops beneath their unforgiving treads. On November 10, 1942, the Fourth Service Command Rents Board requested that farmers and landowners report any damage caused by military units during the war games. The Army instructed their engineers to repair property damage after maneuvers ended.

Figure 8: An M7 in a wheat field outside of Lebanon prepares to fire its 105mm howitzer. Sloan noted that “Crops took a beating when action became hot.” With Second Army Somewhere in Tennessee.

The Second Army maneuvers also had a drastic impact on Middle Tennessee’s roads. Convoys regularly traveled up and down the highways. Opposing Red and Blue armies used the roadways to maneuver into position. Even much of the “fighting” took place on the roads. The high traffic along with the use of heavy machinery, especially tanks, severely damaged many roadways in the region. Congress appropriated $5,000,000 to be dispersed to the twenty-one counties of the maneuver area for road repair. Government agents were sent to each county in order to provide assistance and oversee the repairs.

Figure 9: U.S. soldiers and a vehicle at Doak's Crossroads in 1943. Note the well-worn state of the road. Looking Back at Tennessee, TSLA.

Figure 10: Soldiers, tents, and trucks near Camp Forrest. Looking Back at Tennessee, TSLA.

The Second Army maneuvers were only part of the contribution made by Tennessee to the war effort, but they were among the most crucial. The long days of marching, camping in harsh conditions, and complex military exercises prepared U.S. soldiers for the coming campaigns. Most of the units that participated in the wargames in Middle Tennessee went to Europe, though a small number also deployed in the Pacific. Lessons learned during the maneuvers here saved lives and helped the Allies push on to the final victory over the Axis powers. Army officers, understanding the great importance of these maneuvers in preparation for future battles, remarked favorably on the conduct of Tennessee civilians. Major Gen. W. A. Burress spoke to Gene Sloan of his and his fellow officers feelings towards Tennesseans, stating, “I can imagine what some city dweller would say if you so much as drove a jeep on his lawn. And if you were to step on his flower bed! Here these folks are as courteous and friendly as if you were doing them a favor instead of them catching hell. You ought to write a book to tell the world what real Americans these Middle Tennessee farm people are. The marvel to each one of us is, ‘How do they do it after three years’?”

The Tennessee State Library and Archives is a division of the Office of Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett

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