Armor History at Fort Knox

Soldiers Magazine, April 2007 | Go to article overview

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.

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