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Armor history at Fort Knox.

IN 1903 the Army conducted military maneuvers near the towns of West and Stithton, Ky. These activities fueled interest in building a military installation in the area, since existing railroads and roads provided easy access.

No action occurred until the United States entered World War I, and the Army began expanding its training base and infrastructure.

Camp Knox was established in January 1918 as a field artillery training center. The post was named after Revolutionary War artillery commander MG Henry Knox, and supported the expanding war effort. It quickly grew to include 40,000 acres and an airfield. Further development ceased with the end of World War I.

Postwar downsizing and demobilization resulted in the installation's closing, though it remained a training center for National Guard and Reserve forces. In 1925 it was redesignated Camp Henry Knox National Forest, and reopened as an Army post in 1928 after the permanent assignment of two infantry companies.

In the late 1920s British mechanized development encouraged the Army to study the use of tanks in a variety of roles, and in 1931 Camp Knox began its association with armored warfare. At that time a new Army mechanization policy permitted the creation of the mechanized cavalry.

Its initial purpose lay in determining the optimum organization, doctrine, tactics and materiel for a cavalry unit built around vehicles rather than horses.

The post's first commander, COL Daniel Van Voorhis, identified Camp Knox as well-suited for the training of a mechanized unit because of the available maneuver space, varied terrain and easy access. Congress designated Camp Knox as a permanent installation in January 1932, and its name changed to Fort Knox.

The following year the 1st Cavalry Regiment became the 1st Cav. Regt. (Mechanized), trading its horses for vehicles and relocating from Texas to Fort Knox. In 1936 the 13th Cav. Regt. followed suit. Those two regiments comprised the 7th Cav. Brigade (Mech.).

The 7th Cav. Bde. grew to include two cavalry regiments and attached artillery and engineers.

Through field maneuvers and analysis, the brigade leadership of the mechanized cavalry--which included Van Voorhis and later MG Adna Romanza Chaffee Jr.--pioneered an operational method characterized by rapid action, organizational flexibility, innovative communications, tactical aggressiveness, and a revolutionary command-and-control style.

The mechanized cavalry's employment of multiple combined-arms combat teams--relying upon the radio and fragmentary orders for coordination --provided the Army with the basic tenets of mounted-maneuver warfare.

Mechanized cavalry development occurred against the backdrop of the Great Depression. Post personnel supported a host of Civilian Conservation Corps youth work groups, and in February 1937 the 7th Cav. Bde. helped victims of the great flood that devastated areas in and around Louisville, Ky. Soldiers patrolled the city and nearby communities, providing humanitarian relief and preventing looting.

That same year the U.S. Treasury Department opened the Bullion Depository at Fort Knox. The mechanized cavalry became responsible for guarding gold shipments that arrived on post until the shipments were transferred into the depository.

During World War II the Bullion Depository received increasingly large shipments of the country's gold reserves and safeguarded the British Crown Jewels and the Magna Carta, together with the gold reserves of several other countries in German-occupied Europe.

In 1941 the depository became the temporary home for the U.S. Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. Not until 1944 did these documents return to Washington, D.C., for public display.

The success of German armored divisions and corps at the start of World War II encouraged the Army to build similar formations. On July 10, 1940, the Army officially established an armored force. This organization bore responsibility for organizing and training armored divisions and corps, and for developing the supporting doctrine and tactics.

Mechanized-cavalry concepts influenced the new organization and were embodied by Chaffee's appointment as the first chief of the armored force. The linkage was further symbolized by the location of the force headquarters at Fort Knox.

The Armored Force School and the Armored Force Replacement Center were established at Fort Knox on Oct. 1, 1940. The school trained armor Soldiers in military fundamentals and in specific areas such as tank gunnery, armor tactics, communications and maintenance. Realism increased when combat personnel were rotated from combat assignments to Fort Knox.

American armored forces grew to 16 armored divisions and more than 100 separate tank battalions and mechanized cavalry squadrons by war's end. Armored troops played a key role in defeating the Axis powers.

American tanks supported the invasions of Sicily, Italy and France, spearheaded the breakout from the beachheads at Anzio and Normandy, and thwarted German counterattacks at Arracourt.

When the Germans launched their Ardennes counteroffensive, it was American armor that relieved the besieged defenders of Bastogne, Belgium. Armor also supported the seizure of the Ludendorff Bridge at Remagen, Germany, the first Rhine River bridge captured intact.

Following World War II, the training organization at Fort Knox received the designation "Armor Center."

In 1950 cavalry and armor merged to become the Armor Branch, headquartered at Fort Knox. The onset of the Cold War and the threat posed by Soviet mechanized forces ensured that armor remained an important part of America's deterrence policy.

Despite the Army's general orientation upon defeating the Soviet threat in Europe, the Cold War years witnessed actual combat operations in Korea and Vietnam. The Korean War proved to be a different type of conflict than that waged against Germany in World War II.

The war focused upon restoring and sustaining South Korea's sovereignty and independence in the face of North Korean and Chinese aggression. Armor played a large supporting role to the more traditional infantry-artillery team.

In Vietnam, however, armor performed counterinsurgency operations and fought in conditions fundamentally different from those present in Europe or Korea. The role played by tank and cavalry organizations demonstrated the utility of aggressively led mounted maneuver forces, even against a guerrilla movement.

Following the Vietnam War, armor returned its focus to Central Europe. It also updated and improved its training programs. In the 1970s, realism, readiness, and definable measurements of effectiveness guided all armor training.

In the 1980s the establishment of the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., provided an ideal installation in which heavy brigades could conduct regular maneuvers against a trained opponent, modeled upon Soviet military organizations.

The 1990s marked the opening of the Combat Maneuver Training Center in Germany and the Joint Readiness Training Center at Fort Polk, La. Both sites featured realistic combined-arms training that included urban operations.

The Armor Center trained Soldiers and units, and developed the doctrine and materiel necessary to ensure armor's battlefield superiority. During the Korean and Vietnam wars, large numbers of Soldiers trained at Fort Knox before deploying overseas.

In the 1980s the Armor Center embraced simulators as a way to expand the range of training activities conducted at Fort Knox. The SIMNET building resulted, enabling virtual training from the individual crew through battalion task forces. Today the Force XXI Training Program, the CCTT building, the Mounted Warfare Testbed and Skidgel Hall's computerized classrooms symbolize the continuing efforts to use Information Age technology for more effective training to supplement live exercises.

The First Gulf War demonstrated armor's utility on the modern battlefield. Armored vehicles played a prominent role in the envelopment and destruction of Iraqi forces.

After the First Gulf War the Armor Center embraced technology in its efforts to prepare armor and cavalry Soldiers for operations in the 21st century. Part of this preparation included participation in the Army's Advanced Warfighting Experiments.

The Armor Center continuously studies what future Soldiers will need. Determining what type of equipment will be required, how it should be used, and training Soldiers to use it remain critical activities on Fort Knox. While preparation for tomorrow's conflicts continues, active and reserve-component Soldiers arrive daily to train and sharpen their combat skills.

Emphasis upon Soldier preparation is a hallmark of the Armor Center and Fort Knox.
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Publication:Soldiers Magazine
Geographic Code:1U6KY
Date:Apr 1, 2007
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