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World War II in Camden

Posted: February 16, 2017 3:46 p.m.
Updated: February 17, 2017 1:00 a.m.

of another world war.  The First Army held their second 1941 field maneuvers in Camden.  Their first attempt to prepare the Army for the possibility of war was a dismal failure in the summer of 1940.  The Army and the National Guard held those maneuvers with outdated equipment and troops who had outdated training.  The world had changed since the days of World War I and the Army had been downsized during the 1920s and 1930s.  Correspondents who covered the first maneuvers reported to a shocked American nation that the National Guard and the Army were woefully unprepared to defend this country in case of war.

The world watched with suspense and growing alarm as German and Japanese aggressions in Europe and the Pacific escalated.  After Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, we Americans realized that our country could not remain neutral.  It was time to prepare for another worldwide conflict. After the disaster of the 1940 maneuvers, the Army embarked on a new training schedule.  As part of the training program, the Army conducted two of the largest field maneuvers ever held in the United States in 1941. The first took place in Louisiana in September.  The second took place in sixteen counties in North and South Carolina in October and November.

For two months, 400,000 soldiers of the First Army “fought” across the Carolinas.  Landowners gave the military permission to crisscross their property and bivouac in their fields.  Camden residents showered the First Army with hospitality.  They invited the soldiers into their homes, socialized with them at parties and clubs and marveled at the tons of equipment rumbling through their quiet streets.

These maneuvers allowed the Army to evaluate their officers and to experiment with new tactics based on the European war, especially the importance of tanks, air power and coordination between artillery, infantry and aircraft.  Army leaders uncovered training weaknesses while learning hard lessons in the large scale movement of personnel and supplies over long distances.  For the public, the success of this training exercise boosted civilian moral and confidence in the Army. Less than one week after the end of the Carolina maneuvers, on Sunday, December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States entered into a global war. 

This war was fought by all Americans both on the home front and overseas.  It would change our country forever.  One change in Camden was the sound of many aircraft flying over the city, as the Southern Aviation School, a private corporation under contract with the federal government, geared up to train Army Air Corp pilots. Located at Woodward Field, the school trained more than 6,000 pilots between 1941 and 1944.  On the civilian home front, we conducted scrap metal drives, bought war bonds and stamps and volunteered with the Red Cross.  We planted Victory Gardens and canned fruits and vegetables so there would be more commercially produced goods available for the troops.  Everyone was “mobilized” – everyone had friends and family fighting overseas – everyone did their part to achieve victory.

The Camden Archives and Museum presents its newest changing exhibit, “Camden at War:1941 to 1945,” in the Whiteley Room at the Archives.  The exhibit will run through August.  

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