History of Fort Knox

WAR DEPARTMENT ESTABLISHES KENTUCKY SITE FOR WORLD WAR I ARTILLERY TRAINING

The United States entry into the First World War in 1917 necessitated the establishment of new military installations. Camp Zachary Taylor, in Louisville, Kentucky, was the first of sixteen new Army cantonments completed to mobilize and train soldiers. In December, the old 1903 military maneuver grounds at nearby West Point became the site for a new artillery range for troops stationed at Camp Taylor. The following spring a tented cantonment was established at that site and the first field artillery unit from the 84th Division moved there on April 1, 1918. Additional field artillery units followed to utilize the expanding ranges. According to the Louisville Courier, "The West Point range would become the artillery training center of the Army." That summer the War Department selected Stithton, a small farming community south of West Point, to establishment a Field Artillery Brigade Firing Center Cantonment for six brigades (45,000 men). Construction of buildings was organized under Constructing Quartermaster Major W. H. Radcliffe.

The land at Stithton was soon acquisitioned by the Army and more land was acquired from Bullitt and Meade Counties. Many of the houses in the town of Stithton were utilized for the Army’s purposes. Modest Victorian architecture once occupied by Stithton residents became homes used by Army officers and their families. St. Patrick's Catholic Church was utilized as a church and other purposes. (Today, it is the Main Post Chapel and the oldest building on post). Barracks and warehouses were built to accommodate and support the growing population of Soldiers arriving by train. Standardized plans were used to build most of these World War I mobilization buildings and identical buildings could be found on most other installations around the country.  In this era and locality of the country, horse drawn equipment was still regularly used along with automobiles. Chief of Artillery, Major General William J. Snow established the Field Artillery Central Officers Training School (FACOTS) at Camp Knox. In August Snow announced that the official name of the cantonment at Stithton would be known as Camp Knox, in honor of General Henry Knox who served as the Continental Army’s Chief of Artillery during the Revolutionary War and first Secretary of War.

It was decided to permanently move the artillery camp in West Point to Stithton in September 1918. The following month the Camp Knox News was founded as the post’s first newspaper. That October, Camp Knox’s Godman Field became the first airfield in Kentucky when it was built for the 29th Aero Squadron. On November 11, 1918, America celebrated the armistice that ended fighting in World War I and construction at Stithton slowed down dramatically. Later that month the first troops were transferred from West Point.  Near the end of December, most of the troops there had been moved to the permanent camp at Stithton and the maximum number of troops on post reached a high of 9,000. Troops mobilized for the war and many returning from overseas were brought to Camp Knox to be discharged from the service over the next year.

Camp Knox continued to be used as the tactical training site for the FACOTS in 1919. In addition, units demobilize at the camp following their service during the First World War. That August, the Knights of Columbus open their Visitor’s House. Today this historic building, Building 4248, contains offices for Morale, Welfare and Recreation (MWR).

In 1921 it was announced that Camp Knox would be used as an active training center for the Reserve Officer Training Camp (ROTC) for artillery and infantry students in the Fourth and Fifth Corps Areas, the Citizens’ Military Training Camp (CMTC), and by the National Guard. Among those who attended the Field Artillery Summer Camp of the ROTC at Camp Knox that summer was a young University of Wisconsin student named Charles Lindbergh, who would become world famous for his solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.

Camp Knox had reportedly become the second largest Army training center in the United States by 1922. That summer, however, the artillery officers’ “basic school” at Camp Knox moved to Fort Sill, Oklahoma and it was deemed necessary to close the post as a permanent installation that year. Although closed as a permanent installation, Camp Knox remained an active training center by the 5th Corps Area for the Army. For a brief time, during 1925 to 1928, the area was designated as “Camp Henry Knox National Forest” until the executive order for the establishment of the forest was rescinded and the designation came to a close.

MECHANIZED CAVALRY HEADQUARTERED AT CAMP KNOX IN 1931

The War Department created the Mechanized Force in 1930. Upon the recommendation of Lieutenant Colonel Adna R. Chaffee Jr. and Colonel Daniel Van Voorhis, Camp Knox was chosen to be the new headquarters for the Mechanized Cavalry in 1931. The size and terrain of Camp Knox made this a suitable area for such training.

On January 1, 1932, Camp Knox was made a permanent installation once again and since then has been known as Fort Knox. In February Brigadier General Julian R. Lindsey succeeded Van Voorhis as post commander. In 1933 the 1st Cavalry Regiment arrived at Fort Knox in their armored combat cars. In May Anti-Aircraft Artillery and Air Corps (AA-AC) Exercises occurred. Testing an air defense warning system proposed by Captain Claire Lee Chennault, the AA-AC Exercises pitted new modern bombers against older and much slower biplanes.

To support the newly Mechanized Cavalry, Fort Knox was required to construct housing and support facilities. Designed by the Quartermaster Corps, most of these buildings comprise today’s Fort Knox Historic District. The constructing quartermaster at Fort Knox during the first phase of permanent construction in the early 1930s was Captain John A. Gilman. Gilman previously supervised other notable construction projects, including: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and its approach at Arlington Cemetery and the Kitty Hawk Memorial in North Carolina.

As Fort Knox was constructed, Mechanized Cavalry established the early doctrine of armored warfare. Maneuvers were also carried out. In early 1937 the 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mechanized) was called upon to guard gold moving into the Treasury Department’s new depository and assisted during the Ohio River flood that ravaged the area.

During the 1930s, Fort Knox was an induction center for the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) enrollees.  Train loads of young men were sent to Fort Knox from West Virginia, Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.  They spent about two weeks at Fort Knox where they received their shots, clothing and were trained.  After this induction period was completed, the men were put on trains and sent to camps at various locations around the country. A number of camps remained at Fort Knox. These camps were assigned such tasks as improving forests, constructing fire breaks, building roads, working in the stone quarry, soil conservation, pest control, cooking, cleaning, and working in the motor pool as mechanics.  As Fort Knox grew as an installation, additional infrastructure was required to accommodate all the new personnel and equipment.  Both the CCC and the WPA (Works Progress Administration), another work relief program, assisted Fort Knox in this development. 

ARMORED FORCE HEADQUARTERED AT FORT KNOX FOR WW II, RESPONSIBLE FOR ARMORED FORMATIONS, DOCTRINE, TRAINING

With the outbreak of World War II in Europe, the American Army prepared with the creation of the Armored Force and headquartered it at Fort Knox in the summer of 1940. It was responsible for establishing armored formations, doctrine, and training in the use of armored vehicles. Selective Service was implemented and thousands of citizen soldiers were ordered to Fort Knox and introduced to the tank. The post was required to undergo a massive building boom and acquisition of land to support these troops.

In October 1940, the Armored Force School and Armored Force Replacement Center were established, training Soldiers in specific areas such as armor tactics, tank gunnery, communications, and maintenance. The United States was thrown into World War II on December 7, 1941 and the Armored Force experienced their first battle fatality the following day. Private Robert Brooks, a Kentucky native and African-American serving in the 192nd Tank Battalion, would be honored with having the main parade ground named for him.

Fort Knox served as the location of an important testing location for the Navy during the spring and summer of 1942. At that time an all-wood mock-up of the Landing Ship Tank (LST) well deck was duplicated to allow naval architects to track airflow and test ventilation systems capable of removing poisonous gases created by running tanks and vehicles enclosed in the well deck. A solution was found and the go-ahead was given for contractors to complete construction on actual LSTs. In all, more than 1,050 such vessels were built during the war. Today the building, located at 1538 Eisenhower Ave., is one of the few World War II wooden structures remaining on Fort Knox and is eligible for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

During World War II, armor made great advancements through the development of new tanks, organization, and training. Equipment and Soldiers benefitted from findings made by the Armored Board and Armored Medical Research Laboratory. In 1943 the Armored Force was re-designated the “Armored Command” and within a year was changed to the “Armored Center.” 

On April 28, 1943 President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited Fort Knox during his second wartime inspection tour. Another renaming occurred that year; the Armored Force Replacement Training Center officially became the Armored Replacement Training Center (ARTC). Here Soldiers received a 17-week course which included instruction in various arms, big tank guns, tank driving and maintenance, chemical warfare and many other subjects. They were introduced to hills named “Misery,” “Agony” and ”Heartbreak” before graduating and then sent to divisions, additional schooling, or straight into the various theaters of war.

WW II PRISONER OF WAR CAMP ESTABLISHED AT FORT KNOX

Fort Knox was site of a main Prisoner of War (POW) camp between February 1944 and June 1946. The first POWs to arrive were Italian. In May 1944 they received an opportunity to volunteer for special service units to aid the American Army. While still classified as POWs, they were on an honor system and given more opportunities. German POWs arrived that same month and had a routine camp life which included work, rules, and recreation. Outdoor and indoor work details were assigned, on and off-post and many times alongside civilian employees. Many civilians and prisoners got along well with one another and some became friends. The German POW camp at Fort Knox has since been demolished.  It was located in the vicinity of Scott Intermediate School. The former camp soccer field is the only remaining feature of that camp and is now used for American football by students. One Italian and 17 German prisoners are buried in the post cemetery.

TUSKEGEE AIRMEN AT GODMAN FIELD

The 477th Bombardment Group, a black Army Air Force unit, was stationed at Godman Army Airfield at various times during World War II. During their service, airmen serving in the unit were regularly subjected to racial discrimination. Colonel Benjamin O. Davis, Jr. took command of the 477th at Godman Army Airfield on June 21, 1945, implementing a positive change in command and a moral boost for the unit. Soon after, on July 1, Colonel Davis took command of Godman Field and all the tenant units there. Davis was one out of five black officers to earn their wings from the first training class at Tuskegee Army Air Field and led successful missions with the 99th Pursuit Squadron before commanding the 332d Fighter Group in Italy in 1943.  Davis returned to the U.S. to take command of the 477th Bombardment Group, redesignated the 477th Composite Group the following day. The war ended before they could be deployed. Other units stationed at Godman Field during World War II included the 387th and 391st Bombardment Groups.

At the close of the war there were 16 combat tested armored divisions and approximately sixty-five tank battalions. Armored units had participated in every major theater of operations that Americans had participated in. The Armored Center was inactivated in October 1945, but reestablished over a year later.

Fort Knox Commanding General, Major General Hugh J. Gaffey was killed in a B-25 crash as it attempted to land at Godman Airfield in June 1946. He is the highest ranking officer buried in the post cemetery.

In 1947 Army recruits from the Universal Military Training Experimental Unit arrived at Fort Knox to participate in a short-lived experimental program (UMT) that offered extended basic training combined with civilian supervision and discipline. Also that year the 3rd Armored Division was reactivated at Fort Knox and assumed command of the ARTC, which was placed on an inactive status.  They would train more than 300,000 Soldiers during their time at Fort Knox.

The Patton Museum first opened its doors on May 30, 1949, showcasing armored vehicles and items associated with General George S. Patton, Jr. Under the Army Organization Act of 1950 armor and cavalry were combined to form the Armor Branch. When the Korean War starts that year, armored trainers formed the 72nd Tank Battalion and fought with distinction in Korea. Other armored units serve in the war until its end in 1953. An audience of nearly 10,000 people was on hand to welcome President Dwight D. Eisenhower to Fort Knox on April 23, 1954.

In 1955 the ARTC was activated to resume training and the following year the 3rd Armored Division was shipped to Europe. The ARTC was given the new name U.S. Army Training Center (USATCA), Armor, and comprised approximately half of the population at Fort Knox. Soon after the Armored Center and Armored School were officially designated the “Armor Center” and “Armor School.” In 1957 it became the US Army Armor Center.

ONE MILLIONTH GRADUATE AT USATCA

U.S. involvement in Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, gradually increased over a period of years that began with non-combatant military advisors for the South Vietnamese army and phased into the introduction of regular combat troops in 1965. That year ROTC Basic Camp opened at Fort Knox. In 1968, more than one million trainees had completed one or more training programs in the Fort Knox Training Center since its inception in 1940. The Cold War helped secure the Armor Branch’s role in the Army and the Armor Center continued to fulfill the role of producing capable and highly trained armor personnel.

In 1980 the M1 "Abrams" tank was fielded. Later that year Columbia Pictures arrived at Fort Knox to film the hit military comedy, "Stripes." In 1981 the Armor Center contributed to the development of the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine, which took advantage of new weaponry to assume an offensive role in Central Europe.

Operation Desert Shield commenced after Iraq’s hostile invasion of Kuwait in 1990. The Continental United States (CONUS) Replacement Center was activated at Fort Knox to support Operation Desert Shield; designed to send replacements to warfighting commanders in the theater of operations.  In 1991, Operation Desert Storm began after coalition forces initiate the AirLand Battle doctrine in an offensive against the Iraqi Army to liberate Kuwait. The M1 Abrams and M2/M3 Bradley prove themselves to be effective armored vehicles in combat. During this conflict, Fort Knox served as a mobilization center and provided combat ready Soldiers.

In 1992 the U.S. Army Recruiting Command Headquarters relocated to Fort Knox, a mission responsible for worldwide recruiting and provides the command, control and staff to support the recruiting force as the Army now recruits over 75,000 new Soldiers annually.

The last original M1 Abrams tank retired from active Army and a ceremony at Fort Knox marked the occasion in 1996. In 1999, Platform Performance Demonstration began at Fort Knox. This event explored suitability of tactical vehicles for possible use in the medium weight brigades intended by the Army Chief of Staff as part of the Army’s on-going transformation efforts.

In July 2000 the Armor Center Commander was directed to create a Blue Ribbon Panel to develop organizational and operational concepts and a related transformation strategy for the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. The Army announced selection of an Interim Armored Vehicle, known as the Stryker, intended to equip the interim brigade combat teams desired by the Army Chief of Staff. When the Stryker is later fielded, the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment became the 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment.

On September 11, America was attacked by terrorists, killing 2, 996 people. On October 7, the United States assaulted militants in Afghanistan, beginning Operation Enduring Freedom.

Digital technology dictated another transformation in how armor would conduct itself on the battlefield and a Future Combat System was developed. To assist in this endeavor, the Unit of Action Maneuver Battle Lab was established in 2002. Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq prompted changes and termination of the program at Fort Knox. However, to support Armor activities, a battle lab was retained.

In 2003 the United States began Operation Iraqi Freedom on March 19, capturing Baghdad on April 9. The Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle went through extensive testing at Fort Knox during this time. Fort Knox continued to provide the United States Army with trained Soldiers in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom and the Global War on Terror.

2005 BRAC ANNOUNCEMENT SETS STAGE FOR FORT KNOX TRANSITION

The most recent era of transformation began in 2005 with the recommendations of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission.  The Armor Center and School relocated to Fort Benning to merge with the Infantry Center and form the Maneuver Center of Excellence.  Relocating to Fort Knox was Human Resources Command, Army Accessions Command and Cadet Command to join Recruiting Command in formation of the Human Resource Command Center of Excellence.  An Infantry Brigade Combat Team also was established at Fort Knox with the relocation of the 3rd Brigade of the 1st Infantry Division. Additional units relocating to Fort Knox included the 84th Army Reserve Readiness Training Center and the 100th Division Institutional Training headquarters. 

In 2012 Accessions Command inactivated and turned over command of Fort Knox to the U.S. Army Cadet Command. In 2013 All ROTC Cadet Summer Training was consolidated at Fort Knox.  Approximately 10,000 cadets train each summer in the Army’s largest annual training event.

After its beginnings as an artillery training center to nearly eighty years as the “Home of Cavalry and Armor” to now embracing its new array of missions brought about by the BRAC transformations and other recent changes. Fort Knox uniquely boasts the sole responsibility for all Soldier career management, from swearing in to departing service. Its senior-most units include U.S. Army Cadet Command, U.S. Army Recruiting Command, U.S. Army Human Resources Command, 1st Theater Sustainment Command, First U.S. Army Division East and 84th Training Command, U.S. Army Reserve Aviation Command and 100th Division. Combined with other mission partners ranging from U.S. Army Medical Department Activity organization to U.S. Army Forces Command units to Reserve component training units, Fort Knox is one of the most multifunctional installations in the United States Army.