Posts Tagged ‘2nd Armored Division’

The following are excerpts from Chapter 4, “Old and New Kentucky Homes,” of  A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham

During the early months of 1942, the Philippines, a country Howard Peckham had gotten to like and know very well as a young lieutenant, suffered from one capitulation after another.

      After General MacArthur left the Philippines and found safety in Australia, President Roosevelt ordered Jonathan Wainwright to succeed him as the commander of the American and Filipino forces. Then-Lieutenant General Wainwright took on this task with courage and hoped that fate would treat him well. Success was impossible to achieve, however. Only a few weeks later, he wrote these words to Douglas MacArthur from Corregidor, “We have done our best, both here and on Bataan.”

The next day, May 6, 1942, he surrendered to the Japanese.

      He was then held in prison camps for three years, during which he lived in squalor and a state of near-starvation. Those years were agonizing for his wife, Adele Wainwright, who worried about him unceasingly. I knew a little bit about the Philippines already then, primarily because of the two brass containers that went with us from home to home.“They’re called chow pots,” my father explained to me one day. “After meats, fish, and other foods were cooked, Filipino people could sit in a circle, reach into the pot, and help themselves.”

In the spring of 1942 Dad received new orders. So, at the end of May, our chow pots and other household goods were packed and placed in a large van.

      We then left Fort Benning. In our four-door sedan, Dad drove us on scenic narrow roads adjacent to the budding fruit trees of Georgia, the hills and dales of Tennessee, and finally the lovely blue-green pastures of Kentucky. Our destination was Fort Knox, named after George Washington’s chief of artillery.

At Fort Knox, my father had an important role to play in an expanding and highly mechanized force known simply as the American Armored Force. At that time, then-Major General Jacob L. Devers commanded the Force. At his Fort Knox headquarters, he was responsible for expanding the Force, which he had commanded at that post since August 1941. Sixteen armored divisions were eventually created under the Armored Force.

Howard Peckham was assigned as Chief of Staff of the 8th Armored Division, which been activated at Fort Knox in April 1942, only a month before our arrival. Here the division trained officers and enlisted men from other divisions, as well as its own troops.

My father’s experience as Assistant Chief of Staff of the 2nd Armored Division  prepared him well for this new assignment. His goal was to help bring the 8th Armored Division  to a prominent standing among the divisions.

During the early weeks of its formation, it was jointly commanded by two men—Thomas J. Camp and Robert W. Grow—who were both brigadier generals at the time. “”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””

The second edition of A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham, published in May 2011. Click this link to look inside the book:


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(above) The staff of Gen. Crittenberger (middle):  Maurice Rose, Chief of Staff (far left); Howard L. Peckham, Assistant Chief of Staff (far right); Henry Cabot Lodge Jr. (second from the right, standing) (below) Generals Patton and Crittenberger at Ft. Benning, 1942

Photo: Gen. Crittenberger and staff: Maurice Rose, far left; Howard Peckham, far right; Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., second from right standing, Ft. Benning, 1942:

Excerpts from Chapter 3, “Clouds Over Leavenworth and Benning,” of my dad’s biography:

 During the early weeks of 1941, Irwin Rommel’s successes against the British in North Africa caused concern among 2nd Armored Division officers at Ft. Benning, especially after the British started dubbing the sly German commander “the desert fox.”  After the attack on Pearl Harbor, armored warfare became more and more a topic of discussion among my father and other officers of the division.  Would the U.S. Army’s Sherman tanks perform well when matched against the Germans’ heavy Panzers? Only time would tell.”

In January 1942, General Patton, who had risen to the rank of two-star general, left Fort Benning for a new assignment.

 The general’s leadership expertise had impressed the army’s Chief of Staff George Marshall, who ordered him to command the Desert Training Center in California.  There, in thousands of sand-covered acres about thirty miles east of Indio, he was placed in charge of troops from several armored divisions, who would be trained to perform tactical maneuvers in a hot and arid desert environment. The harsh exercises, such as being forced to run for several miles in the sun while carrying rifles and wearing full backpacks, were needed to prepare the troops to face the hot desert of North Africa—and the Germans.  Willis Crittenberger, then a brigadier general, replaced Patton as commander of the 2nd Armored Division.”

As Assistant Chief of Staff, then-Lieutenant Colonel Howard Peckham worked closely with Willis Crittenberger and his Chief of Staff, then-Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Rose. Maurice Rose had risen to the rank of major general during World War II when he was  killed  by German gunfire. He is buried at the American cemetery in the Netherlands.

General Ctittenberger, who had the chiseled features of his Teutonic forebears, lost two sons in battle: Townsend, a corporal, during WWII in Europe; Dale, a colonel, during the Vietnam War. They are buried at Arlington Cemetery near their parents.





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My father (third from left, second row) and some classmates at Command and General Staff School: Ft. Leavenworth, 1940

Howard L. Peckham spent his pre-World War II days serving his country in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, the branch into which he was commissioned upon graduation from West Point in 1918. His work took him to various locations, including the Philippines, West Point (where he was an engineering instructor), Cleveland, Puerto Rico, Florida, and New York.

Excerpts from Chapter 3, “Clouds Over Leavenworth and Benning” of A Salute to Patriotism: The Life and Work of Major General Howard L. Peckham:

In 1939, when my father’s work as Deputy Administrator of the WPA (under Brehon B. Somervell) in New York City ended, we moved to Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, where he attended the prestigious Command & General Staff School.  In February 1940, he graduated from the school and would soon be a part of an expanding U.S. Army. Under the guidance of Chief of Staff General George C. Marshall, the army was increasing its membership, modernizing its equipment, and starting to prepare its troops for combat.

More and more officers would be needed to fill leadership roles. This caused a rumor to spread in officers’ clubs throughout the United States that Camp Beauregard, Louisiana, would soon become the location of massive war maneuvers.

That rumor turned out to be true. One of the participants in those realistic games of war was my dad. His three months in Louisiana serving with the 21st Engineers involved intensive training for a leadership position in a combat environment, precipitated by the storm of events in Europe and Asia. The War Department ordered more than sixty-five thousand troops from various divisions and regiments of the U.S. Army to join this massive training operation. Tanks and other equipment lined the wide highways, and soldiers marched through busy towns and open fields. Occasionally, soldiers rode atop mule packs, which was a sight the residents of Rapides County, Louisiana, would never forget.

In Europe, meanwhile, German troops were not able to land in Britain—much to Hitler’s disappointment and Churchill’s relief. Its shores were highly fortified, and the use of radar there helped the military spot potential invaders who attempted to arrive by ship.

Churchill’s relief was short lived, however. Starting in July 1940, frustrated Germany sent its Luftwaffe bombers roaring through the sky to Britain, causing its terrified citizens to run repeatedly, week after week, into the safety of bomb shelters. Like crystal vases shattered by rocks, Britain’s factories, airports, homes, ports, and buildings were broken apart by German blitz bombs.

Significant events were also happening in Howard Peckham’s army career. In July, he received news that he had been promoted to major and would soon participate in a growing armored force.

This force, which moved on treads, had historic roots in the United States Cavalry, a force of mounted horsemen who galloped their way through America’s wars—starting with the Revolutionary War and ending during World War I. The Louisiana maneuvers, in which tanks had played an important role, had shown the need for a strong armored force within the army. Also, World War I had shown a horse cavalry to be impractical.

The War Department thus created sixteen armored divisions during World War II. It selected Fort Benning, Georgia, as the home base for the 2nd Armored Division, which was activated there on July 15, 1940.

Among the core units attached to the 2nd Armored Division was the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion, whose job was, among other tasks, to design and construct the pontoon bridges across which heavy armor would be driven. The officer appointed to command the 17th Armored Battalion at Fort Benning was Howard Peckham, and Fort Benning was the destination to which we drove in August 1940. In October 1941, about four weeks after his promotion to lieutenant colonel, Howard Peckham was detailed to the General Staff Corps as Assistant Chief of Staff, G-3, of the 2ndArmored Division. As G-3, he was concerned with the dual functions of planning and operations.

In the following month, the last peacetime maneuvers for the division were held in the Carolinas. In Patton: A Study in Command, H. Essame writes that in an exercise in North Carolina, “Patton and the 2nd Armored Division completely outshone all others.”

In spite of the preparedness of the 2nd Armored Division, no one at Fort Benning was prepared for the startling events that occurred on the otherwise peaceful Sunday of December 7, 1941—especially not the wives and children.My mother was the first member of our family to hear the news. She had been listening to the radio when an announcer interrupted her program with a shocking report—the Japanese had made a sneak attack on America at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Soon after the attack, the post commander (Omar Bradley) ordered troops from Benning to guard the bridges and electrical generating plants throughout Georgia.

Fears of sabotage or enemy attacks also resulted in the enforcement of air raid drills. When we heard sirens at night indicating that a drill was about to begin, Dad would often call out to my brother and me. “Turn off the lights!” he would shout. Like busy squirrels hunting for acorns, we would rush from room to room to check that they were all off. Then we would sit quietly in the bleak darkness of our home, as though sitting in a cave, until the signal came on again to indicate that the drill had ended.

[It’s interesting to note that George Patton served under Omar Bradley at Ft. Benning. As the war progressed, it would be the other way around.]

 Patch of the 2nd Armored Division worn by my father and the other men of the division.