Second Army (Tennessee) Maneuvers
In the autumn of 1942, the War Department decided to resume field maneuvers in Middle Tennessee. Large-scale war games had been conducted in an area around Camp Forrest, near Tullahoma, the previous summer, and General George S. Patton had perfected the armored tactics that were to bring him fame and his divisions victory in Europe. Between the wars Erwin Rommel, as a young military attache, had visited Nashville and Middle Tennessee to study and follow the cavalry campaigns of Confederate General Nathan Bedford Forrest to help him develop a pattern for the use of tank units as cavalry. The army, perceiving in the Cumberland River and the hilly country to the south and north a similarity to the Rhine and Western Europe, decided to send divisions into the state for their last preparation before actual combat. Between September 1942 and March 1944 nearly one million soldiers passed through the Tennessee Maneuvers area.
Lebanon was chosen as headquarters and Nashville as the principal railhead. Over the hills and valleys of twenty-one counties “Blue” and “Red” armies engaged in weekly strategic “problems,” with troops moved in and out according to a calendar of “phases” that lasted about four weeks apiece. In the military’s scenario Nashville was Cherbourg, without the bombing. The first and second problems usually took place east of Davidson County, but the third in each phase would poise attacking Blue troops against Red troops in defense around Donelson in Davidson County and Couchville in Wilson County. This force would advance to the east toward hilly terrain. In one instance at least a problem involved the defense of Berry Field in Nashville against Blue airborne troops.
Maneuvers paused at noon on Thursday or Friday, when a light plane would fly over the mock battle lines, sounding a siren. Then thousands of soldiers would seek recreation in Nashville and the county seat towns. Facilities were limited, despite the best efforts of the U.S.O. and the American Red Cross; movie theaters and cafes were packed; drug store soda fountains were forced to shut down twice a day for cleanup. Each army PX was strained to the limit. Churches opened their doors and set up lounges; schools opened their gyms for weekend dances. The Grand Ole Opry had never drawn such crowds than during these months when Middle Tennessee hosted the army’s preparations for the eventual invasion of Normandy in 1944.