By mid-1941, the U.S. Army’s ranks had more than doubled, from 620,000 in December 1940, to 1,460,998 men. In the hands of these men were new weapons and in their heads new doctrines. Well before his army was blooded, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George C. Marshall wanted it to be tested. Lt. Gen. Lesley J. McNair was responsible for training, and he and his staff designed three war games to be staged: in Tennessee, Louisiana, and the Carolinas. The Louisiana Maneuvers, an army-level exercise, was the largest of the three, involving 472,000 troops who “fought” across the entire state of Louisiana and parts of east Texas.
“I want the mistake [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.”
Taking into account the German army’s blitzkrieg armored success, McNair said the Louisiana maneuvers would be “. . . a test of tank warfare and antitank defense . . . we are definitely out to see . . . if and how we can crush a modern tank offensive.”
Recognizing the broad sweep of training inadequacies among the troops, McNair instructed his deputy Brig. Gen. Mark Clark that when he prepared the exercise he was to “keep the directive as simple as possible.” Using a gasoline station roadmap for reference, Clark worked out his scenario, the attack/defense of Louisiana. In Phase I, Lt. Gen. Ben Lear’s Second Army would be the “Red” force attacking Lt. Gen. Walter Krueger’s Third Army, the “Blue” force.
“War” was declared at noon on Sept. 15, 1941. Lear, a hard-nosed and hot-tempered disciplinarian with an abrasive manner that made him unpopular with his troops, was not known for his tactical brilliance. Krueger, a stern, demanding, but fair commander described as “one of the Army’s best educated and most perceptive officers, was 62 years old, in superb physical shape, and among the first to exploit the possibilities of armored warfare. He proved so adept in its tactics that his armored forces nicknamed themselves “Blitzkruegers.”
He proved so adept in its tactics that his armored forces nicknamed themselves “Blitzkruegers.”
Lear’s assault plan was pedestrian, and even though his armored forces included Maj. Gen. George Patton’s 2nd Armored Division, his army was soon defeated by an imaginative defense orchestrated by Krueger and his chief of staff, Lt. Col. Dwight D. Eisenhower.
In Phase II, the roles were reversed. With the attacking armor force under Krueger, Patton fared better, conducting a 400-mile end run flanking maneuver that resulted in the defeat of Lear’s army.
Post-maneuver assessments identified successes and failures and corrective recommendations were made. McNair, an antitank advocate, believed the maneuvers confirmed the superiority of tank destroyers over tanks. Actual combat later revealed otherwise.
Command deficiencies were dealt with ruthlessly. Of the 42 corps and division commanders, 31 were relieved outright or reassigned to career-ending duties. Omar Bradley, Matthew Ridgway, James Van Fleet, and J. Lawton Collins were among the new generation of commanders put on the fast track. Eisenhower found himself skipping a grade, promoted to brigadier general.
Eisenhower found himself skipping a grade, promoted to brigadier general.
Krueger went on to command the 6th Army under Gen. Douglas MacArthur, retiring with the rank of general, the first soldier in the U.S. Army to rise to that rank from private. Shortly after the maneuvers, Lear suffered the ignominy of having his career derailed and receiving the humiliating nickname “Yoo Hoo” Lear as a result of an incident involving himself, a group of women golfers, and truckloads of National Guard troops. Though he never commanded troops in battle, Lear eventually became a deputy theater commander under Eisenhower in Europe and was later promoted to general on the retirement list.
Officers were not the only ones to display imagination and ingenuity during the maneuvers. Eisenhower witnessed an example in the enlisted ranks. He later wrote, “An umpire decided that a bridge had been destroyed by an enemy attack and flagged it accordingly. From then on, it was not to be used by men or vehicles. Shortly, a corporal brought his squad up to the bridge, looked at the flag, and hesitated for a moment; then resolutely marched his men across it.
“The umpire yelled at him, ‘Hey, don’t you see that that bridge is destroyed?’
“The corporal answered, ‘Of course I can see it’s destroyed. Can’t you see we’re swimming?’”