Constructing a New Training Camp
By 1940, war was imminent. Several federal bills were passed which included money specifically for the new construction of military camps to house and train troops. By June 1941, 50 new camps throughout the United States were already completed. In July of that year, the construction was approved on what was initially called the Kentucky-Tennessee Armor Camp.
This mobilization camp was originally designed as a temporary Army training base for Armored Divisions during WWII. Until 1940, the US Army was woefully behind Germany and other nations in the strength of its armored troops. The Kentucky-Tennessee Armor Camp was an ideal training area because the landscape mimicked that of the European theater and the mild weather allowed for year-round training.
Construction began on February 6, 1942 and was renamed Camp Campbell. It was named for William Bowen Campbell, a distinguished soldier who had served in the Seminole War, Mexican-American War, and in the Union Army during the Civil War. Campbell also served as a member of the Tennessee state legislature, a three-time member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and governor of Tennessee.
Because of building material shortages, the War Department issued a directive requiring that "all construction should be of the cheapest temporary character". All troop housing buildings, warehouses, administration, and service buildings were of the mobilization type. An exception to this was chapels and hospitals. Fourteen chapels dedicated to different denominations were constructed on post. The large, multi-wing hospital built in the housing area was among the largest buildings constructed on post during the war and could house over a thousand patients. Unlike the other newly constructed structures, the hospital was built of brick.
Five months after construction had begun, 70% of the camp was already complete. This rapid pace was because of the readily available labor force due to the war-related collapse of the tobacco market abroad. The use of prefabricated building materials also contributed to the building materials also contributed to the buildings being constructed within a few days. Additionally, the concept of total building was used. This meant all structures within an area were built at once instead of building one type of structure at a time and having to go back and full in other structures.
Naming roads was an important task to avoid confusion during the swift construction. All streets running east/west were to be numbered; starting with First Street on the south end of the housing area. Streets running north/south would be named after various states. However, the original main access roads were named after prominent military and political figures.
Some road names have since changed but others remain the same; for example, the roads in the vicinity of the original hospital, now Barkley Elementary School, were named after Walter Reed and William Crawford Gorgas, famous Army medical officers. President James Polk is remembered by Polk Road which is now the access road from Gate 6. Other roads in the rear training areas retained their original names prior to the land acquisition.
Camp Campbell officially opened on July 1, 1942 with one officer and a training staff of 19 men. The troop strength quickly grew and on September 15, 1942, following the activation of the 12th Armored Division at Camp Campbell, the base was operational. According to the Completion Report, the construction involved providing "housing for 33,011 enlisted men, 1,736 officers, a 1,254 bed hospital, 116 company motor repair shops with arms rooms, 288,000 square feet of closed storage space in a warehouse area, 349,692 square feet of vehicle storage space, and approximately 397,000 square feet of hard standing."
Recreation and Training
The Field House, the largest single structure on post, was specifically constructed for recreation and housed three basketball courts and room for other games. The design was to be flexible enough so that it could also become a theater. Additionally, five movie theaters, a service club that included a library, a dance hall, a cafeteria, a lounge, a writing room for soldiers, and three guest houses for short-term visitors, were also constructed. Each battalion also had its own recreation hall.
The post featured shopping facilities that included 14 Public Exchanges or stores. Each Public Exchange would stock and sell ready-to-eat food such as hot dogs, soft drinks and popcorn. They would also sell radios, sporting goods, records, and "kindred goods." Each of the Public Exchanges employed 22 civilians as clerks. Each store had barber shop. Six stores had photography studios, and ten included tailor shops. The profits made by these stores would be turned back to the soldiers in the form of company funds.
Several training areas were located throughout Camp Campbell. To the south of the Airfield was an anti-air training area. To the west of the housing area were bayonet course and an obstacle course. Further west were ranges for sub-machine guns and to the north were other ranges for machine guns, pistols, and rifles. There were three tank ranges for the training of armored divisions.
Home to Many Different Units
Camp Campbell was among the 29 installations where WAC (Women's Army Corps) members were stationed. The WAC received its first personnel in March 1943, when two officers and 17 enlisted women reported for duty. They formed an administrative unit with the mission of establishing a motor pool and motor corps. The WAC troops were also assigned specialist duties in the hospital, administrative positions in Post Headquarters, Post Finance, and Post Range Quarters.
German POWs arrived at Camp Campbell in 1943. Three POW stockades, each with a capacity of 1,000 people were built specifically for this purpose. During their confinement at Camp Campbell, the German POWs were engaged in a number of different tasks, primarily labor details. Some worked on beautification projects throughout post while others were contracted to help local farmers harvest their crops. The last of the prisoners were transferred from the post in April 1946.
During WWII, Camp Campbell was used to train and deploy troops to battlefields in Europe and elsewhere. The first combat troops arrived at Camp Campbell in September 1942 and joined the 12th Armored Division. It remained at Camp Campbell until September 1943, after which it departed for Camp Barkley, Texas. The division was deployed overseas in the spring of 1944 where they battled German forces in France, Germany and Austria until the end of the war. Following the departure of the 12th Armored Division, the 26th Yankee (Infantry) Division moved into Camp Campbell for a short period. In March 1943, a second armored unit, the 20th Armored Division, was activated at Camp Campbell. Other units stationed and deployed from here included the 1580th Service Command Unit, a WAC unit and the 4th Armored Corps.
Becoming a Permanent Post
After WWII, Camp Campbell's mission shifted from training and mobilization of soldiers to temporary redeployment for returning troops. The post was deemed "satisfactory for postwar use" by the Army's Office of the Chief of Engineers due to the available highways and transportation facilities, as well as its central geographical location within the United States. It wasn't until 1950 that Camp Campbell was designated as a permanent installation and re-named as Fort Campbell Military Installation.
Fort Campbell's Historic Context of World War II is available here for download.