Training was key to the success of the 14th Armored Division
The US Army’s 14th Armored Division was activated on November 15, 1942 at Camp Chaffee. The division entered the war in October 1944 when it landed in Marseilles in the south of France. The 14th was assigned to the 7th Army and fought in the Ardennes-Alsace, Rhineland and Central European campaigns. Although not given a nickname during the war, the 14th became known as the “Liberators” due to their wartime accomplishments.
The 14th is recognized as a liberating unit by the United States Army Center of Military History and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. In southern Germany, they discovered subcamps of the Dachau concentration camp. Later, the division discovered three large forced labor camps housing thousands of Polish and Soviet civilians. They also freed some 200,000 Allied POWs by capturing several German POW camps.
In his farewell address to the troops of the 14th Armored Division, Major-General AC Smith said, “Your success as a division in combat was largely tied to the soundness of your basic training. I have watched you grow from a group of untrained picks into a highly skilled fighting machine…I can honestly say that you have never let me or your commanders down.
It should be noted that Smith emphasized unit training, as only two and a half years earlier the division was raw, green and brand new.
The 14th Armored Division was activated at Camp Chaffee on November 15, 1942, in an official ceremony. With new recruits not arriving, the formations were filled with officers and enlisted men transferred from other units. During activation ceremonies, the 86th Infantry Division Band was bussed from Camp Gruber in Braggs, Oklahoma, as the 14th Band had not yet been formed.
The commanding general addressed the troops. “We are gathered today to officially create a new armored division. It is proof of American determination that America will do its part in the fight against the forces of oppression and hatred that threaten it and other peace-loving peoples.
Division historian Captain Joseph Carter said, “It was a beautiful day, sparkling, bright and exciting.”
The division was ready for the war training activity. Major General Prichard wanted all personnel to arrange for field training. “There is no better training than going out on the pitch,” he said.
New recruits arrive throughout the month of December 1942. Fifteen thousand men must be trained. They also had to be fed, housed and supplied. At the welcome stations, they received their first haircuts, shots, and army uniforms. They took aptitude tests to determine where their skills would be best used. Most were assigned to combat positions, but there were also a myriad of service and support roles to fill.
Each received all of their basic and specialized training at Camp Chaffee. They learned basic soldier skills: how to make a bed to Army standards, drill and ceremony, basic marksmanship, and radio protocol. They learned how to throw hand grenades, quickly put on a protective mask in case of a gas attack and military courtesy.
After basic training, specialized schools began. The new soldiers became tankers, infantrymen, combat engineers, tracked vehicle mechanics, supply clerks, cooks, and finance specialists. “Through the thousands of things that have been done, the division has taken shape,” Carter said. “To fight, a man must know a variety of things”
Advanced training included road marches with soldiers carrying everything he needed to live and fight on his back. Troops learned map reading, aircraft identification and field sanitation. They learned to drive tanks, half-tracks, jeeps and army trucks. They learned how to maintain their vehicles, weapons, and dozens of other types of military equipment. Maintenance was a never-ending chore.
Live fire ranges operated for tanks, artillery, machine guns, mortars and hand grenades; training fields for river crossings and chemical attacks. A lot of time was spent in the field with the heat, the cold, the rain and the bugs.
The Army had a theory about how much time each soldier needed in each area of training. Each troop had 22 hours of map reading. During this time, he would learn how to find his position on a map, get where he wanted to go, different terrain features, find good roads, and navigate difficult terrain.
Thirty-six hours of training were provided on the maintenance of a submachine gun. Three hours of military courtesy, four hours of pitching shelter tents and bivouac procedures, 50 hours of weapons training, etc. Infantrymen were trained in bayonet fighting and medics were trained in stopping bleeding; signallers were trained in splicing and communications center operations.
Upon completion of their training, they were assigned to the Seventh Army as a follow-up force to Allied amphibious landings in southern France. They fought in well-known campaigns across Europe, earning their nickname “The Liberators”.
According to their commanding general, it was training that turned them into a hard-fought unit that earned their honorary title. It is a momentous tribute to Camp Chaffee’s contribution and legacy to the war effort and the liberation of Europe.
Lance Sumpter is a local writer, veteran and Great Recession refugee. He can be contacted at [email protected].