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Posted on Jul 24, 2007 in Carlo D'Este, Front Page Features

Training for war in the summer of 1941…and the making of a future Supreme Commander

By Carlo D'Este

The year 1941 was thus monopolized by large-scale division, corps and army level war games held in Tennessee, Louisiana and in the autumn, the mountains of the Carolinas. Marshall billed the Louisiana Maneuvers to be held in the late summer of 1941 as “a combat college for troop leading” and a field laboratory “for the new armored, anti-tank, and air forces that had come of age since 1918.”

The Tennessee maneuvers were corps level exercises. With more of Europe and the Middle East falling to Nazi aggression, the forthcoming Louisiana maneuvers took on added importance and a heightened sense of urgency. Marshall’s aim was unequivocal. “I want the mistakes [made] down in Louisiana, not over in Europe, and the only way to do this thing is to try it out, and if it doesn’t work, find out what we need to make it work.”[vi] Marshall also wanted to draw the nation’s and Congress’s attention its army’s deplorable state of preparedness. The autumn exercise in Louisiana and eastern Texas would be the first where two armies battled one another. Under the overall control of McNair, using a scenario written by Mark Clark, the exercise pitted the 160,000 troops of Lt. Gen. Ben Lear’s Second (Red) Army, whose mission was to invade Louisiana, against the 240,000 troops of Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s Third (Blue) Army. Twenty-seven divisions participated and virtually the entire state of Louisiana became a gigantic maneuver area.  In all, 472,000 troops participated in various roles.

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Krueger’s newly assigned chief of staff was a newly minted colonel named Dwight Eisenhower and it was during these war games that Ike’s reputation soared. Eisenhower and his new boss made an ideal pair. Ike brought the vast staff experience Krueger needed and was undaunted by the challenge the forthcoming maneuvers presented. Experience and foresight were the traits Krueger sought and in his new chief of staff he gained both. With little time left until the maneuvers, Eisenhower and Krueger began planning an orthodox but nevertheless aggressive strategy for Third Army. “Luckily I’ve spent most of my life in large headquarters, so am not overpowered by the mass of details,” said Eisenhower. He clearly had his hands full given that Third Army was not only preparing for the Louisiana Maneuvers but also for Third Army exercises to be held in eastern Texas and Louisiana beforehand. Eisenhower’s self-assurance and background drew a never-ending stream of appeals for guidance from subordinates. “Everyone comes in here to discuss his troubles, and I’m often astonished how much better they seem to work after they have had a chance to recite their woes.”[vii]

Eisenhower dismissed warnings by “all the old-timers here,” that we are going to a god-awful spot, to live with mud, malaria, mosquitoes and misery,” which was made even more miserable by the remnants of a Gulf hurricane.

* * *

The Louisiana war games became one of the most watched and reported events of 1941. “War” between the Red and Blue forces kicked-off at noon on September 15 with Lear’s Red Army attacking across the Red River and driving toward Shreveport with two corps, one of which was the I Armored Corps. 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. His plan was to use the mobility of his armored forces to outflank the Blue Army, which was defending southern Louisiana. However, in Krueger and Eisenhower, Lear was up against a worthy, imaginative opponent with clear ideas of how to defeat the invader. Despite heavy rains, Krueger’s airmen soon located the Red Force armor (including Patton’s 2d Armored Division) crossing the Red River. The Blue forces were able to bottle up Lear’s tanks and within a short time the Red forces were in desperate trouble. Patton’s tanks attempted to pry open the flank for a break-out but Krueger and Eisenhower were too quick and the 2d Armored suffered heavy losses in what soon became a rout. A disappointed Patton was unable to pay the fifty-dollar reward he had offered his men for the capture of “a certain s.o.b. called Eisenhower.”[viii] By the fourth day, Lear’s force was nearly surrounded and facing annihilation when McNair mercifully ended the first phase.[ix]

Although Third Army had “won” the first battle, Eisenhower was deeply troubled by the many failures of leadership that had emerged. The closer the United States came to war, the more passionate Eisenhower became on the subject of preparedness. Convinced a war could not be won with inferior leadership, he continued to champion weeding out unfit officers who “have not the iron in their souls to perform the job . . . it is a hard thing to do, and in many cases it is too hard for some of the people in charge. But it is a job that must be done.”[x]

During the maneuvers Eisenhower indulged his passion for inspecting mess facilities. In one Third Army maneuver unit a young mess cook named Marty Snyder had devised a means of cooking on stoves mounted on the bed of the truck, thus enabling meals to be prepared in a timely fashion as the unit sped from place to place. Before long he received a visitor in the person of Eisenhower who demanded to examine Snyder’s makeshift mobile kitchen. Fully expecting a white glove inspection, Snyder was surprised that. “He was the first inspecting officer I had met who was interested in the food. And obviously he knew food.” After he departed Snyder opined, “Now, there’s the kind of man I’d like to work for.” Before the war ended Snyder would get his wish.[xi]

Among the horde of correspondents covering the maneuvers were Hanson Baldwin of The New York Times and Eric Sevareid, who was urged to look up a certain Colonel Eisenhower who “makes more sense than any of the rest of them.” The correspondents began converging on Eisenhower’s tent for informal bull sessions and as a gathering place where they could obtain straight talk, but just as importantly, relax and possibly even obtain a drink in an otherwise largely dry South. Sevareid would later recall “that many of his colleagues were at least as interested in personal strategies as in military ones . . . and in the case of at least one prominent analyst, how to obtain feminine solace.”[xii]

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Eisenhower and an unnamed colonel – the 1941 Louisiana Maneuvers.

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1 Comment

  1. I have documented in my writings Eisenhower’s comments about his life in his book “Things I Tell My Friends’ about his early career.
    He gave credit to his meteoric rise to a newspaper reporter, Drew Pearson. Eisenhower wrote that Pearson gave him credit that belonged to General Krueger.

    One may note that Eisenhower received 6 promotions from Colonel to 5-star General in 2 years and 4 months. The usual promotion in those years was once in 4 years. But, wars need heroes.

    It is not noticed that both Eisenhower and Kennedy knew that the 1960 election hinged on the lie of the booster gap. (I worked on Minuteman from the start.) This threw the election to Kennedy.

    Did Nixon’s later knowledge of the truth lead to Watergate?
    We will never know.

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