To all who for years have been bedeviled by arbitrary restrictions on maneuvers, the situation at the Desert Training Center is truly as inspiring as it is unusual. In the whole 12,000,000 odd acres the only restrictions as to movement are those imposed by nature. Even so, these are more accurately deterrents rather than restrictions, for, with time and perspiration, you can go anywhere.
Another point about desert training that is alluring, particularly to artillery men, is the fact that one can open fire with live ammunition or drop bombs at any time and in any direction without endangering anyone. The mountains form the backstops and the parapets. As illustrative of this, seven target ranges, two moving target ranges, two mechanized combat ranges, and a normal infantry combat range have been constructed at a total cost to the government of less than one thousand dollars.
Those people who visualize the desert as a flat expanse of glistening sand, are in for a rude awakening, for while there are ample pieces of perfectly flat desert, there are other places with rocks, mountains, and trees. In fact, while in some places one is as visible as a fly on a kitchen table, in other places there is sufficient vegetation to conceal an armored corps. There is, however, one striking difference between the cover provided in Louisiana or the Carolinas and the cover provided by the desert -- the desert does not include mosquitoes.
Another point of interest is the fact that even in open places where the sparse vegetation does not exceed two and a half feet in height, a whole combat team of armored vehicles and trucks can be so arranged as to be practically invisible from the air at possible altitudes.. By this is meant that at 2,000 feet or over, as many as three or four hundred vehicles cannot be picked up from the air if they are not moving. On the other hand, it has been found possible to pick up as small a unit as six trucks at thirty miles from 6,000 feet, when the trucks were moving.
The tactical mission of the force at the Desert Training Center has been to devise formations for marching and fighting which, while affording control and concentrated firepower, at the same time do not present lucrative air targets. It is felt that these ends have been accomplished. Formations now in use can move across country, followed by the combat train, and without halting can deploy into the attack formation and execute an attack, and at no time present any target worthy of bombardment.
There has been developed, also, a method of going into bivouac which is believed to insure protection from night attacks and from air bombardment, yet, at the same time permit a rapid formation for combat or for march. From a tactical standpoint, in addition to attempting to avoid damage from the air, the corps has specialized in combat suitable for attack on other armored units. In doing so, it has not been found necessary to deviate in any degree from the manual provided by the War Department and the Armored Force. Special cases of the general situations envisioned by those manuals have simply existed. If the platoon commanders know their duty and carry it out, and if the higher commanders maintain discipline and supply and have a rugged determination to close with the enemy and kill him, the answer to successful combat against armored units has been found.
In all operations in the desert, the water is reduced to one gallon per man per day for all purposes. In addition, the vehicles have one to three gallons of water to place in the radiators. However, there have been strangely few occasions necessitating the addition of water to the radiators of the vehicles.
The one gallon per man has so far been more than adequate, even when we have operated for three days in succession at temperatures reaching 130 degrees in the sun. The temperature in the shade is not mentioned because here there is no shade.
In desert operations it has been insisted that all cooking be individual or by vehicle. For this purpose "C" ration, or sometimes "B" ration is used. Experience has shown that the answer to producing fire quickly and effectively in the desert is to fill an empty tin can with desert sand, gravel, or soil, up to within about an inch of the top. Soak the contents with gasoline and light it. This gives ample heat and is a fire easily controlled and easily put out.
It has been found that the liner for the new infantry helmet makes an ideal tropical headpiece. It is worn by all members of the command. An investigation of some four hundred selected individuals has demonstrated the fact that while the wearing of colored glasses is comfort-inducing, it is not necessary. Competent medical officers have observed that those who have not worn them have shown no detrimental effects.
If constant first echelon and preventative maintenance is carried on, the vehicles do not deteriorate unduly. This is surprising when it is recognized that the vehicles have been used at least three times as much as in any other station known to the writer. It is felt that this lack of mechanical deterioration is due somewhat to the fact that owing to the nature of the ground excessive speeds are impossible.
The general health of the command is remarkably good. The tendency to obesity is distinctly lacking. For instance, Sergeant "Man Mountain" Dean has, it is said, lost sixty pounds but is still quite a figure of a man!
People are apt to think of the desert as a hot, horrid place. Actually, the heat is much less oppressive than the heat at similar times of the year in Georgia or Louisiana.
As for training, the situation is ideal. It should be remembered that from October to the end of May the weather in the desert is what babies cry for and old, rich people pay large sums of money to obtain.