The long summer camp of the Berlin Crisis

By John Trowbridge, Kentucky National Guard

Kentucky Guardsmen with 1st Platoon, 2nd Medium Tank Battalion pose for a group photo at Fort, Stewart, Ga., in May of 1962. The Soldiers were among the first 664 Kentuckians called into Federal Duty during the Berlin Crisis of 1961-1962. (Photo courtesy of the Kentucky National Guard eMuseum)

In mid-1961, relations between the United States and the Soviet Union reached a crisis over the status of the city of Berlin, Germany.  The divided city, under the joint control of the four allied powers of World War II — France, the United States, Britain, and the Soviet Union — symbolized opposing Cold War ideologies.  Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev was alarmed by the flight to freedom of nearly 300,000 East Germans per year to West Berlin.  His threat to unilaterally alter the status of Berlin was rejected by President John F. Kennedy at the Vienna Summit in June, 1961.

In July, the United States began a rapid build-up of its military strength in anticipation of a possible confrontation.

As of July 13, 1961, most Kentucky Guard officials felt that the Kentucky National Guard would not be called to federal active duty over the situation.  They believed any mobilization would primarily affect division-sized units, and Kentucky had no complete division.  However, on August 18, 1961, 664 officers and men of the Kentucky Guard were among the first 76,500 Reservists and Guardsmen selected to strengthen the Army’s strategic reserve forces.

Kentuckians were called to duty at two different times.  The 3rd Medium Tank Battalion, 123rd Armor, and the 413th Ordnance Company were the first to be called Aug. 25.  The 522-man 3rd Medium Tank Battalion commanded by Lt. Col. Nelson Meredith composed of five companies located at Bowling Green, Russellville, Hopkinsville, Madisonville, and Marion.  The 413th Ordnance Company, commanded by Capt. Calvin Knoop, was located at Frankfort and numbered 142 men.  Active duty for both companies was scheduled to begin on the first of October.

On September 7, 1961, Adjutant General Arthur Lloyd received orders placing twelve additional units on “stand-by” status.  Headquarters and Headquarters Battery, XXIII Corps Artillery, the five companies of the 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, 123rd Armor, the 5th Target Acquisition Battalion, the 113th Ordnance Company, the 103rd Signal Company, and the 207th Engineer Company were ordered by the Department of Defense to intensify their training programs from four to six drills per month and to recruit prior service personnel to reach their authorized strength.

The second alert, came Sept. 19, notifying Lt. Col. William E. Hall’s 2nd Medium Tank Battalion to report for duty at Fort Stewart, Georgia, beginning Oct. 15. The battalion’s five companies, totaling 484 men, were located in Livermore, Paducah (two companies), Henderson and Owensboro.

Together, the units called to active duty amounted to twenty percent of Kentucky’s 55 National Guard units.  With the national average being only twelve percent per state. Lloyd commented, “In one way [the high percentage] is a compliment, for they are only calling the best qualified units.”

413th and 2nd Tank assigned to Fort Stewart, Georgia.

Frankfort’s 413th Ordnance Co. departed for Fort Stewart, Oct. 4.  It arrived Oct. 7, the first of the activated reserve component units to arrive at the post.

The men of the 413th began a phase of modified basic training from Oct. 23 to Nov. 18. They then entered the basic unit-training phase, undergoing 144 hours of field exercises in support of the 2nd Medium Tank Battalion, among others.  After completion of these exercises in January, 1962, advanced individual and advanced unit training began. Eighty-seven percent of all personnel qualified on the “Trainfire Range.”

The Army Training Test, a test for determining the combat readiness of men and equipment, was conducted with the 418th Ordnance Battalion, Feb. 28-30.  The unit received an overall rating of “satisfactory,” but scored “unsatisfactory” on the tactical phase of the tests.  Upon being retested, however, they passed with a score of 91.5.

During the period of April 5-20, the 413th joined the 2nd Infantry Division for 16 days of mandatory field exercises emphasizing counter-insurgency and counter-guerilla warfare.  Known as exercise “Seneca Spear,” the two-week operation provided valuable training and served as a practical demonstration of cooperation between armor and infantry units.

While at Fort Stewart the men of the 413th participated in many sports activities.  They also formed a string band called “The Kentuckians,” made up of Spc. James Brown, Spc.4 Carl Hoover, Pfc. Edward M. Pollett, Spc.4 Jackie Nelson, and Spc.5 Carlos Almodover.  “The Kentuckians” participated in a number of shows and provided entertainment on downtime during the exercise.  The 413th won the “Troop Self-Help Award” twice during their stay at Fort Stewart and were recognized for having the best motor pool and mess hall.

The five companies of the 2nd Medium Tank Battalion arrived at Fort Stewart Oct. 28.  On hand to greet them were Lloyd, Assistant Adjutant General William R. Buster, and Col. Arthur Bonnycastle of the 149th Armor Group.

The tankers spent many days on the tank gunnery tables becoming familiar with weapons and equipment.  They fired light weapons mounted on their M-48 Patton tanks on the first three tables, then fired their 90mm main guns on the next three tables.  In the final two stages, the tankers participated in day and night crew exercises with the tanks, testing their coordination and knowledge of tactics ranging from the crew and platoon levels up to those involving the entire battalion.  Thirteen weeks later, the tankers passed their first Army Training Test.

The second big test for the battalion was exercise “Seneca Spear.”  This turned out to be the most realistic training the 2nd Medium Tank Battalion had ever received, involving exposure to chemical, nuclear and counter-guerilla warfare tactics.

The tankers used their extra time at Fort Stewart to attend Army schools, take college extension courses, and obtain high school diplomas through the Army’s Educational Development Program.  An added highlight to their stay at Fort Stewart was a visit in May of 1962 by Kentucky Governor Bert Combs.

3rd Tank assigned to Fort Knox, Kentucky.

The 3rd Medium Tank Battalion arrived at Fort Knox Oct. 10, 1961.  The processing of the men was slow and uncoordinated; almost every major question had to go to the Department of the Army for an answer, resulting in considerable delays.

Their stay at Knox was also plagued by a shortage of vehicles.  The quality of the vehicles they did receive from ordnance was very poor and many were inoperable.  In addition, it was more than four months after their arrival before the battalion finally received its full allocation of vehicles.  Various changes in logistics and maintenance procedures seemed especially detrimental due to the “intensified” status of the training program.

The battalion also suffered from a lack of experience and knowledge among key personnel.  The battalion staff had in the past merely supervised training at the individual and platoon level and had not acted as players in tactical exercises.

Cold weather presented another problem for the battalion.  Having previously trained during the summer months, men were unprepared for the numerous problems associated with operations conducted in the winter.  The clothing they were issued was ill fitting and unsuitable for training, as evidenced by the dry-rotted boots issued to some members.  Yet the tankers managed to find positive results even under these conditions: in his after-action report, one officer stated that the unit learned “the importance of maintenance properly applied” and recommended that, in the future, maintenance be emphasized in training “as much as gunnery.”

The 3rd Medium Tank Battalion underwent both field and classroom training and played a part in demonstrations of mobile firepower for Army Undersecretary Stephen Ailes and Gen. Herbert B. Powell, Commander of the Continental Army Command.

While stationed at Fort Knox financial contributions by members of the 3rd Tank made possible for a stained glass window that was installed in the “F’ Avenue Chapel.  The chapel was eventually demolished, however, the window was saved and returned to the Kentucky National Guard in 2007, and was installed in the classroom building at the Wendell H. Ford Regional Training Center in Greenville, Kentucky July 15, 2012.

Tensions ease, release from Active Duty.

Gradually, as tensions eased on the world stage, troops were released from active duty.  On August 11, 1962, their year of active duty finished, the 1,148 Kentucky Guardsmen returned to their homes in the commonwealth.  All units were honored at ceremonies conducted at Fort Knox.  Army Commendation Medals and certificates were awarded to forty men, and citations were presented to 16 units.  All Guardsmen who had served on active duty were presented Kentucky “Berlin Crisis” ribbon along with commendation certificates signed by Gov. Combs and Adjutant General Lloyd.

In his welcoming speech, General Lloyd observed that “Never in history have so many men, both Active and Reserve, combined efforts to effectively prevent, rather than engage in, armed conflict…We owe these returning Guardsmen a debt of gratitude.”

The units were returned to National Guard status at 0001 hours Aug. 12, 1962.

Read more in the 2011 book, The 50th Anniversary of the Long Summer Camp.