Double Victory: Minorities and Women During World War II
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Louisiana Maneuvers (1941)

U.S. Army training exercises conducted in Louisiana during September 1941. Lieutenant General Lesley J. McNair was tasked with preparing a large and inexperienced force for war. In 1939, the U.S. Army consisted of only 190,000 men, but in less than two years, it had expanded to nearly 1.6 million through the activation of reserve components and a peacetime draft. Also, the army had added tanks and tactical aircraft, requiring extensive training to overcome two decades of stagnation.

McNair was a master organizer who greatly influenced how the U.S. Army would fight during World War II. Faced with a cadre of leaders previously experienced with leading small units but now leading divisions and corps, McNair organized a series of large-scale maneuvers as a laboratory to test the commanders as well as new doctrines, procedures, and equipment. These maneuvers were the largest training exercises in U.S. Army history and would pit field armies against each other in mock battle.

A 30,000-square-mile area of northwest Louisiana was chosen for the exercise, to be followed by further maneuvers in North and South Carolina. The Second Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Ben Lear, fought against Third Army, commanded by Lieutenant General Walter Krueger. McNair served as the exercise's director to give each army their objectives for the two-week war. With journalists recording the event for the American public, over 400,000 soldiers engaged in mock warfare, overseen by umpires who adjudicated the outcome of each action. Over 300 aircraft conducted mock bombardments of ground units and fought other air units in simulated dogfights high above the battlefield. Supporting arms such as engineer, signal, and medical corps attended to simulated and real tasks, which provided valuable knowledge about what equipment or procedures worked or failed.

In the first engagement, Third Army was judged the winner after forcing Second Army to retreat or face envelopment from the flanks. A few days later, Second Army defended Shreveport against Third Army. As Second Army skillfully avoided contact, a frustrated Krueger ordered the 2nd Armored Division, commanded by Major General George S. Patton Jr., to attack through east Texas and cut off Second Army from Shreveport. This successful attack ended the Louisiana Maneuvers, and the exercise shifted to the Carolinas. Only nine days after completion of that exercise, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor.

During the course of both maneuvers, more than 740,000 men underwent training. The largest U.S. Army training maneuvers ever conducted, they cost more than $20 million and claimed 61 men killed in accidents. Although only 11 of its 42 commanders would go on to command in combat, the Louisiana Maneuvers provided a new generation of soldiers some experience in moving, sustaining, and fighting large units, with real tanks and aircraft. The maneuvers also helped prepare the American public psychologically for the coming demands of World War II.

Steven J. Rauch


Further Reading
Gabel, Christopher R. The U.S. Army GHQ Maneuvers of 1941. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, 1991.; Perret, Geoffrey. There's a War to Be Won: The United States Army in World War II. New York: Random House, 1991.
 

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