What Were Tennessee Maneuvers?

The US Army was in bad shape in 1939. Its Regular Army strength ranked 17th in the world with just over 200K and just under 200K in the National Guard. Equipment was obsolete and left over from World War I. One military official called the United States “defenseless”.

On September 1, 1939, Germany invaded Poland marking the beginning of WWII in Europe. Germany’s coordinated use of tanks and planes to quickly invade and occupy Poland showed a new kind of mobile warfare that could not go unnoticed.

That’s when the United States decided it was time to build and train an Army – just in case the US had to enter another war. The Tennessee Maneuvers were a part of that process.

The maneuvers were seven large-scale simulated combat training exercises conducted by the US Army between 1941 and 1944. They took place in 21 Middle Tennessee counties. More than 850,000 soldiers came here to prepare for World War II.

25 of the Army’s 91 divisions participated in the Tennessee Maneuvers: 17 infantry, 6 armor and 2 airborne. 24 divisions fought in Europe; the other was sent to occupy Japan.

The Army chose Cumberland University, in Lebanon, to be their Field Headquarters. Camp Forrest, near Tullahoma, was expanded for the maneuvers and served as its base. The facility became one of the Army’s largest training, induction and prisoner of war camps.

Most of the training took place on private land. Property owners were asked to sign a paper allowing soldiers to trespass. The heavy equipment and vehicles caused damage to farmland, crops, roads, creeks and riverbanks. After submitting a claim, the Army paid the property owners for their losses.

The soldiers were divided into the Blue Army and the Red Army.

Each was assigned what was called a “problem”. Taking a town, a river crossing, river defense, attack on a farm and movement along a highway were among the problems they practiced.

Umpires watched the maneuvers and decided things like, who was killed or injured, and if a road or bridge was damaged or destroyed.

During the training, the Army instructed the soldiers not to ask civilians for directions or food, still, they did! 

The Army asked civic organizations, churches and other groups to do what they could for the soldiers on the weekends.

This included inviting the troops to a religious service, organizing entertainment like concerts and dances, and cooking or sharing their meals.

The maneuvers boosted the mid-state’s economy. When they had a break, soldiers spent their money at movie theatres, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels and gift shops.

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