In two years Nazi Germany had occupied Poland, Holland, Norway, Denmark, Luxembourg, France and Belgium, Eastern Europe, the Balkans and Greece. The Axis Powers were pushing into North Africa, White Russia, the Ukraine, and the heart of the Soviet Union. In Europe, Britain stood alone, saved only by a channel of water that Germany’s tanks could not roll over.
In those two years, the United States had lain dormant, save lend lease and troops sent to Iceland, it remained in a state of self imposed hibernation from European affairs. In 1939 America’s Military ranked the seventeenth largest in the world with a standing army of 187,000 men and about 200,000 National Guardsmen . In October 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the first peace time draft in United States history raising the number to 1.6 million men in 1941. As the Axis conquered Europe, America trained its soldiers with World War I rifles, broomsticks labeled “machine guns”, and cars with “tank” written on them.
In 1941 General George Marshall decided to try the new Army in real combat conditions. Marshall wanted to see how his commanders adapted to modern warfare and how the soldiers performed through hardship. In September 1941, almost 500,000 troops battled on 3,400 square miles of Louisiana. The Louisiana Maneuvers of 1941 were the biggest war games ever seen on American soil. The men were split into two forces, the Blue Army was the invader, with blue armbands and fatigue caps; the Red Army, the defender with Red Armbands and steel helmets. Marshall knew his army would make mistakes. He wanted the mistakes to happen in Louisiana, not in Europe.
Massive battles took place around towns like Shreveport, Nachitoches, and Winnfield. The Maneuvers saw the US Army’s last use of mounted cavalry and its first use of paratroopers. Twenty six men died in the games, most in car accidents or drowning in river crossings. The Blue Army won in both defensive and offensive operations thanks in large part to plans from Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower and the tanks of George S. Patton.
Three months after the maneuvers finished, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and Germany declared war on America. The Army of Louisiana took the lessons it learned in the summer of 1941 and prepared to do what it had trained for. Units that had performed well in the games were already in the Philippines or were embarking overseas to prepare to fight in North Africa and New Guinea. When they would enter combat, only gained territory and body counts would tell the score. After Louisiana there would be no more umpires to watch the rules and any mistakes would be fatal.