Army War Games - The Carolina Maneuvers
by Louise Pettus
Lancaster County was one of 16 counties in the two Carolinas in which the U. S. Army staged maneuvers from Oct. 6 to Nov. 30, 1941. More than a half-million troops were involved, nearly one-third of the entire U. S. Army.
The Carolinas were chosen for the exercises in mock warfare for a number of reasons.
The rolling terrain and numerous streams were considered ideal. There were adequate highways, yet the population was not so concentrated as to interfere with the soldiers training of the civilian routines.
Besides Lancaster, other S. C. counties involved were Chester, Chesterfield, Fairfield, Kershaw, Marlboro, Richland and York. The soldiers fought over an area that formed a rough triangle anchored by Fort Bragg in North Carolina, Fort Jackson in South Carolina and Fort Benning in Georgia.
At one point, a line of more than 2,500 military vehicles stretched from Fort Benning to Rock Hill, a distance of 425 miles. On Nov. 16, two divisions that numbered 40,000 men moved through Fort Mill. It took 36 hours for the column of trucks, light tanks, artillery and 500 mounted cavalrymen to pass through the town. Army Air Corps airplanes droned constantly with as many as 20 in one formation.
An engineering unit built a pontoon bridge across the Catawba River just north of SC 5 where it enters Lancaster County. The Red Army and the Blue Army fought over control of the bridge on the Lancaster County side of the river.
The high school students of Van Wyck were fascinated by the soldiers (not much older than the students) who raced through the school's classrooms, spilling out of open windows and doorways.
Further north the Spratt Bridge over the Catawba river (U. S. 21) was captured and Rock Hill "fell to the enemy."
Headquarters for the maneuvers was at Camden's fine old resort hotel, the Kirkwood, which was also used as a press center.
The Blue Army was designated the defender. The numerically superior Red Army was the invader. Umpires determined casualties, who made up about 20% of all participants.
The umpires also decided on prisoners of war, who were handled as they would under wartime conditions. The prisoners were taken 50 or 60 miles behind enemy lines and were held until they could be exchanged between the army headquarters.
Tested for the first time was the tank destroyer battalion equipped with the latest model tanks, half-tracks with guns, jeeps and swamp buggies.
The army had on hand 12 field guns that wer produced too late to be used in World War I. The guns fired a projectile that weighed 345 pounds. The guns were extremely accurate and in one test missed a target automobile that was parked nine miles away by only 25 feet.
The maneuvers were a Monday through Friday war. Weekends were for rest and recreation. Homes, churches, and civic organizations opened their doors to soldiers. After roughing it for five days, the soldiers were delighted to take showers, sleep on mattresses and share home-cooked meals. The USO and the YMCA offered recreation along with reading and writing rooms.
Local businesses thrived. Perishables such as milk, eggs, produce and ice were in high demand.
Gen. Lesley McNair held a press conference in which he said that the troops "can fight effectively, but warned that losses would be "unduly heavy" at the present level of training. He warned that the army was especially vulnerable to attacks from the air.
Four days after the general's press conference, which signaled the end of the Carolina maneuvers, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor.