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Posted on Aug 25, 2008 in Carlo D'Este, War College

1941 – The Year Eisenhower Became a General Part 2

By Carlo D'Este

Tanks of the 68th Armored Regiment, 2nd Armored Division, participate in the Louisiana Maneuvers in 1941. National Archives.

During the maneuvers Eisenhower discovered a previously unknown talent for public relations.

With the high gas prices of 2008, some of you may be staying a bit closer to home this year. Nevertheless, summer is traditionally a time of vacations and leisure. Yet, the summer of 1941 was no picnic for tens of thousands of U. S. Army personnel involved in the largest peacetime maneuvers ever held.

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By 1941 it was clear to American leadership that war was inevitable. Hitler’s armies had invaded and captured France, Belgium, Holland, and Luxembourg in May 1940, and the British Expeditionary Force had barely escaped annihilation at Dunkirk. Britain was under aerial siege and possible invasion and with Japan also flexing its military muscle in the Far East the future was indeed grim.

The U.S. Army of the early 1940s ranked a mere seventeenth in the world and was undermanned, badly armed and in many instances badly led. In short, if America was to go to war, it was clear to Army chief of staff, Gen. George Marshall that the army must be prepared to meet the challenge of war. The result was a series of large-scale maneuvers held in 1941 in the Carolinas, Tennessee, and in Louisiana.

One of those who would play an important role in the events of the summer of 1941 was Col. Dwight Eisenhower who, not long before, thought his military career was all but over and that he would more than likely retire into obscurity as a colonel of infantry. Instead it became the turning point of his career. In this, the second of a two-parts, the story of Ike’s rise from obscurity to a place in history began in the summer of 1941.

* * *

The largest of the three maneuvers took place in September in Louisiana with a heightened sense of urgency. Marshall’s aim was unequivocal. “I want the mistakes made down in Louisiana, not over in Europe.” Marshall also wanted to draw the nation’s and Congress’s attention to the army’s deplorable state of preparedness. The Louisiana maneuvers would be the first where two armies battled one another and were under the overall control of the commanding general of U.S. Army ground forces, Lt. Gen Lesley J. McNair. Using a scenario written by another up and coming officer named Mark Clark, the exercise pitted the 160,000 troops of Lt. Gen. Ben Lear’s Second Army (Red Forces), whose mission was to invade Louisiana, against the 240,000 troops of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s Third Army (Blue Forces). Twenty-seven divisions participated and virtually the entire state of Louisiana became a gigantic maneuver area.

The Louisiana war games became one of the most watched and reported events of 1941. The first phase of the “war” between the Red and Blue forces kicked-off on September 15 with Lear’s Red Army attacking Krueger’s Blue Army. Lear was a tough, spit and polish disciplinarian who was known more for his abrasive manner and his unpopularity with his troops than for his tactical brilliance. In short order the tactics orchestrated by Krueger and Eisenhower routed Lear’s Red force. George S. Patton’s 2d Armored Division was on the losing side, and he expressed mock disappointment as being unable to pay the fifty dollar reward he had offered his men for the capture of his longtime friend, “a certain s.o.b. called Eisenhower.”

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3 Comments

  1. Very interesting. I am currently reading Arkansas papers from 1941 regarding the build-up of troops in Arkansas for the maneuvers which began in southern Arkansas and crossed the border over to Louisiana.
    It is fascinating to read how important these war games were for the preparation for WWII … and to talk with local people who remember the summer the troops came to town.

    While Eisenhower may have joked about the prostitutes in New Orleans, in Arkansas 60-75 prostitutes were rounded up and detained until after the troops left. Known prostitutes were also tested for venereal diseases according to the newspapers reports I am reading.
    The irony is that the local girls, from mid-teens and up, were encouraged to go to chaperoned dances held for the soldiers at community designated Soldiers Center.
    Thanks for the informative, site.

  2. Ms. Joan, my grandpa recently passed away and was a WW2 vet as well as my elderly neighbor (he has his picture taken with General Patton) and i am just getting into reading war history. Do you have a list of books you could recommend, including the papers on Arkansas during war time. (as i am now living in Arkansas and am interested in knowing more).

    Thank you

  3. I guess i was a military brat as protrayed in Chris Kristaffesons movie on CD titled BRATS(found in libraries) having been born in the Ft. Benning hospital Jan 1941. My father was a Dentist in Patton’s unit all across France and first rembered seeing him when he safely returned home in Louisville KY some time in 1944-45. We had lived in Ft. Polk, Ft. Benning, Lompok, Ca., Ft. Smith, Ark. and who knows where else. Strange occurance, I was flying a light twin over Ft. Polk the day the shuttle crashed( some 60 yrs later) and was asked by Polk approach to report any smoke since nobody knew just where it had gone down. 30 minutes earlier and we would been right under it and the only plane in the area. Dad retired as a Full Bird Colonel with 36 years of service to his country. I spent 3 years in the Army as an E-5 helicopter chief so could relate ever so slightly as to what he went through. Mom and Dad passed away several years ago and I’m 71 now so at least some of us have not forgotten what the men and the families gave up so long ago. God bless all the troops that came before us and all the one that will follow and their families that have protected this great Nation for so long. Clay N.

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