• U.S.

Army & Navy – Lessons of the Cumberland

6 minute read

Along Tennessee’s Cumberland River, Army maneuvers reached their climax. Foot soldiers and jeepers, tankers, airmen and artillerymen tried every trick, threw everything they had except real ammunition, tramping out a problem. The problem: can a tank blitz be slowed and even halted. Answer: by well-organized opposition, yes. The engineers with tank traps did the job of slowing, but the star of the action last week—as in the whole two previous months of maneuvers—was the Second Army’s tank destroyer battalion. The Cumberland’s will-o’-the-wisp struck, destroyed, disappeared and struck again.

What the IDs Did. One sunny afternoon two battalions of 28-ton General Grants crunched along through the rolling hills. Heavy hitters of the northbound, attacking Blue corps, they were headed for the last roundup of the outnumbered defending Red Army. Triumphantly, the two battalions split to do a pincers on the Red’s last redoubt. Then came disaster. From hidden positions in the dense cedar groves and yellow-brown hickory and maple woods flags waved, signifying heavy-caliber anti-tank fire. Grinning umpires scurried out in jeeps to rule that tank after tank was blown to hell & gone.

“It’s them damned TDs again,” growled a sweating sergeant. “I don’t see how they git all over the whole damned countryside.” The tank side finally won according to plan in this action through

“superior masses of other arms, including air.”

The TD battalion is commanded by a red-faced, rednecked, reddish-mustached, beetle-browed Irishman, Lieut. Colonel James Joseph Deery, 40, who talked himself (age 17) into the Army in World War I, graduated from West Point in 1925. The battalion, first Army anti-tank outfit, was organized only two weeks before last year’s Louisiana maneuvers where it raised hob with Major General George Patton’s famed tanks.

After Pearl Harbor the Colonel went to General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth for a refresher course. When he rejoined his men, they were at Major General Andrew D. Bruce’s new tank destroyer school at Camp Hood, Tex. (TIME, July 13), proud of setting records in the school’s tough commando obstacle course. Not to be outdone, the Colonel then set the record for battalion commanders.

When the destroyermen hit Tennessee, they had had three months of experience fighting tanks, began to bewitch and bewilder their opponents, almost swept them into the Cumberland time after time. They never seemed to sleep during a maneuver. They figured out where the tanks were likely to come (and usually they guessed right), then lay in wait to enfilade them, fleeing during the confusion, firing again from another angle. They reconnoitered all night, all day, maintained constant. radio communication with all units.

Pacesetter was the thick-chested Commander (see cut), bellowing orders over the radio in his command car, biting into apples between orders. For him a permanent command post was his car under a tree, camouflaged to be invisible 50 yards away, fixed so that by knocking down two branches it could move out straight ahead.

What the Generals Said. At each critique, the tired, dirty men of Lieut. General Ben Lear’s Second Army waited to hear whether the generals thought they were ready for combat (TIME, Oct. 19). Last week the generals said yes, with qualifications:

Said small, keen Lieut. General Lesley

J. (“Whitey”) McNair, ground forces chief who came down from Washington to see part of the finale in a jeep: “Yes, I have seen combat-worthy units on these maneuvers. Not all of them are combat worthy, of course.”

After last year’s Louisiana maneuvers he criticized leadership and discipline (TIME, Sept. 29, 1941). This year he gave a pat on the back. Lear’s forces have lost many officers to new units in formation (U.S. division increase in one year: 27 to 72). But leadership, said McNair, is excellent among the higher officers. As for discipline: “Last year, the maneuvers stopped when men gathered around a pop vendor. They filled themselves full of pop, then they couldn’t march or fight. I haven’t seen any of that this year.”

The men were harder than last year, but “what they need is whatever it takes to keep them going when they are cold, wet, tired and hungry.” He recommended marching five miles an hour (which requires some running) with full pack. One outfit showed General McNair results; on a problem lasting three nights and four days without letup, hungry, cold and tired, the unit marched 35 miles with full pack in one day.

Last week General Lear urged his commanders to “kill the academic and unimaginative outlook … so to train their subordinates that they are physically and emotionally prepared for the realities of war. . . . We will not find any Japanese in the southwestern Pacific who will permit us to go along with our eyes closed, our guns unloaded and our weapons buried beneath a mass of bedding rolls.” He illustrated :

^ He found a captain and a soldier in a jeep taking breakfast to an outpost of four soldiers five miles away. “I think,” said the General, “he should have been inspecting his command and had that task accomplished by one of the cooks. . . .”

> In Hartsville one morning General Lear found a sergeant and twelve men, unaware of an enemy battalion near by. The sergeant was lost and was doing nothing about it. “I emphatically told him to go and look for a fight.”

> In a tent at the command post, the general found the whole staff having an animated conversation while the radio, unheeded, gave essential information.

>But the standout virtue of troops throughout the maneuvers was the initiative of small, isolated units (see cut, p. 68). One OCS graduate with only eight men captured 18 vehicles and a tank in one morning. Another small unit raided the Blues through an entire problem, was never captured.

All hands praised the men for “doing their damndest,” for their serious attention to camouflage, their slit trenches. There was praise for the improvement in supply, for the way the generals profited from mistakes, for the way the men kept themselves and their machines off the roads. Lay observers, remembering Bataan, thought the first burst of real fire would cure lots of minor troubles.

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