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Signal Corps meets training demand
by Carol Stokes
World War II created unique challenges for the Signal Corps. Among them was the need to turn more than 60,000 soldiers into communicators in little more than 30 months' time.
When President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed a state of "limited emergency" Sept. 8, 1939, following the outbreak of war in Europe, the Army immediately reacted by increasing its personnel strength from 210,000 to 227,000 officers and men. This created tremendous demands for signal training.
This was only the beginning. One year after the "limited emergency" proclamation, Congress passed the Selective Training and Service Act, wherein everyone drafted had to undergo one year of compulsory military training. Roosevelt simultaneously called the National Guard into federal service, and the Army burgeoned to a strength of 1,400,000.
After the U.S. declared war following the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, the Signal Corps faced a tremendous task. By the end of that year, every tactical unit had left Fort Monmouth, N.J. The replacement center had turned out 13,000 enlisted specialists. Capacity had increased, but war required much more.
Efforts to meet the challenge included creating the Eastern Signal Corps Training Center in October 1942. Located at Fort Monmouth and commanded by BG George Van Deusen, the amalgamation comprised the officer candidate school, eastern Signal Corps school, replacement training center, Signal Corps board and the signal and photographic labs.
Construction on Fort Monmouth reflected its phenomenal growth. More land was purchased. Buildings sprung up like mushrooms. For example, in 1942 alone, 60 barracks, eight mess halls, 19 school buildings, 10 administration buildings, a recreation hall, post exchange, infirmary and chapel were completed within 90 days.
By the middle of that year, replacement training centers operated at three locations: Fort Monmouth and nearby Camps Charles Wood and Edison.
In spring 1943, the typical Signal Corps recruit underwent three weeks of basic training, four days of field operations, and lastly, an overnight march to a location for final specialist training.
The school's enlisted cadre at its peak was 1,157, with 250 officers and civilians also assigned. When the unit training center was deactivated in November 1943, after 30 months of operation, it could count more than 60,000 specialists among its graduates.
Creating a signal officer
Rapid activation of new signal units in an Army of unprecedented size triggered a need for more qualified and well-trained officers. To that end, the Signal Corps established an officer candidate department. Activated in old hangers June 2, 1941, the first class of 490 graduated as second lieutenants after three months' training. Subsequent classes averaged about 250, but at its peak there were as many as 1,000 per class.
By Dec. 31, 1941, 434 candidates were in training. Quotas were extended to a record high when 1,100 men reported for Class 7 in August 1942.
Curricula was revised and extended. The typical officer candidate, in addition to classroom instruction, participated in field exercises to gain practical experience. A 16-hour exercise simulating signal-company support of an infantry division was initiated and offered training in message center and messenger procedures, wire construction and radio and wire communication.
Command posts were established for the forward and rear echelons of a division headquarters and three combat teams. The officer candidates moved from one to another, alternating duties among the four phases of communications.
Following the Signal Corps School's redesignation as the Eastern Signal Corps Training Center, the department was renamed as the officer candidate school. The OCS until June 1943 had enrolled 21,754 students, 70 percent of whom had graduated. With the Army's build-up reaching its zenith in mid-1943, enrollment fluctuated.
After the end of the war in Europe May 8, 1945, to receive, assemble and train redeployed units, a redeployment program was worked out at the Eastern Signal Training Center to train men for their new enemy in the Pacific.
As the war concluded, most of the school's enlisted department was transferred to Camp Crowder, Mo. Fort Monmouth observed the end of the war against Japan Aug. 17, 1945, watching Signal Corps training there shrink almost as rapidly as it had expanded a few years earlier.
By the time the Army began training soldiers for World War II, Fort Monmouth had been the home of signal training and all other major branch activities for 20 years. While signal was concentrated at Fort Monmouth, it also occurred at other Army posts around the country.
The combined efforts of all signal training for the war effort were impressive. In the course of the war, 34,000 officers graduated from 50 different courses. A total of 432,000 officers and men were trained under Signal Corps supervision at various installations throughout the United States to support the war effort.
Dr. Stokes is U.S. Army Signal Center and Fort Gordon's command historian.
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