History of Fort Knox

Post's history is closely linked to surrounding communities.

Hardin County is one of the oldest counties in the Commonwealth of Kentucky, dating from the establishment of Kentucky as a state in 1792. In the Mill Creek area at the south end of post, Abraham Lincoln's father, Thomas Lincoln, once owned a small farm, and the 16th President was born in Hodgenville, south of Fort Knox. The Louisville and Nashville Turnpike, one of the only major roads through Kentucky, followed the trace of what is the post's Wilson Road today.

American soldiers occupied the Fort Knox area as early as the Civil War. In 1861 the 9th Michigan Infantry constructed fortifications and bridges north of the present reservation boundaries. Fort Duffield, overlooking the town of West Point, was the site of one of these positions. Both the Union and Confederate armies operated in this area during the war. Union troops from the commands of Gen. Don Carlos Buell and Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman occupied Louisville and the hills overlooking the Ohio River. The brilliant Confederate cavalry leader from Lexington, John Hunt Morgan, raided the area with the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry in 1862, capturing several hundred federal troops. At present day Brandenburg in Meade County, west of Fort Knox, Morgan and his troops crossed river for his famous raid into Indiana and Ohio.

 

Main Post Chapel

The government had considered this area as a site for a military post as early as 1903. The Army, that same year, held large-scale maneuvers in the area, particularly in and around the small agricultural village on Stithton. What was once the center of Stithton is today the area around the traffic circle on Chaffee Ave. The Main Post Chapel, the oldest building on post, was built as the village's St. Patrick's Catholic Church.

Despite this early interest in the area, it was not until the United States entered World War I that the government acted. Congress initially leased 10,000 acres in the vicinity of Stithton and, in January 1918, established a field artillery training center. The camp was named for Maj. Gen. Henry Knox, chief of Artillery for the Continental Army during the American Revolution and later the nation's first Secretary of War. On June 25, 1918, Congress allocated $1.6 million to purchase 40,000 acres. Construction of the camp facilities began in July 1918, but was subsequently curtailed first by the Armistice in November 1918, then by Army strength reductions in 1921-1922. The post was closed as a permanent installation in 1922, but continued to serve until 1932 as a training center for the V Corps area, for reserve officer training, Citizens Military Training Camps, and for the National Guard.

GEN George S. Patton
General Patton

In 1925, the post received the designation "Camp Henry Knox National Forest," which it kept until 1928, when two infantry companies were assigned to the post. As Camp Knox was opening its gates, the American Expeditionary Force, in the midst of its vast buildup in France, established a Tank Corps to support it in battle against the German trench lines. In the beginning, the American tankers used British and French armored vehicles and took their tactics from the British, the pioneers of tank warfare. One of the first American soldiers to distinguish himself in this revolutionary form of warfare was a 33-year old cavalry captain named George S. Patton.

Patton commanded the first American armored forces to see combat. Following the Armistice, however, Congress reviewed Tank Corps operations during the war, and it concluded that the tank was an infantry weapon. Consequently, the National Defense Act of 1920 abolished the Tank Corps as an independent organization and subordinated tank development to the infantry.

The British Army, which had introduced tank warfare to the world at the Battle of Cambrai in 1916, continued to develop and employ mechanized forces following WWI. The British commitment to armored warfare spurred the Americans to develop and build their own mechanized forces. In the late 1920s, the U.S. Army's "mechanized forces" consisted of several battalions of infantry support tanks and some separate armored car companies.

In response to the widely publicized experiments of British tanks during the 1920s, the War department established the Experimental Mechanized Force in 1928 to test the viability of employing tanks in missions beyond that of infantry support. Although their Experimental Mechanized Force was disbanded after less than three months, analysis of its activities provided sufficient justification for Congress to authorize the creation of the Mechanized Force in 1930.

This organization combined elements from nine combat and service arms and served as a tactical laboratory, testing new ideas governing the integrated operation of different combat units. Although not intended to be dominated by cavalry ideas, cavalry concepts heavily influenced the Mechanized Force, and they were embodied in the appointment of Col. Daniel Van Voorhis as commander and Lt. Col. Adna R. Chaffee Jr., as his executive officer. These officers ensured that Cavalry operations became a primary focus of the new organization.

The Mechanized Force was first assembled at Fort Eustis, Va., in the fall of 1930. It was organized as a combined arms force which included armored cars, truck-drawn artillery, engineers, anti-aircraft artillery, and infantry tanks. The tank company assigned to the force - Company A, 1st Tank Regiment is today Company A, 1st Battalion, 66th Armored Regiment. It is the oldest tank unit in the U.S. Army. The Mechanized Force; however, became too closely associated with cavalry operations, and in 1931, the War Department disbanded it. No reason seemed to exist to maintain an organization whose mission appeared similar to that of an existing combat arm. Instead, in a new policy regarding mechanization, all combat arms were directed to develop their own mechanized programs. This policy permitted the creation of the Mechanized Cavalry, based upon a cadre from the Mechanized Force.

To permit effective development of the Mechanized Cavalry, Chaffee and Van Voorhis sought a larger post with more varied terrain than available at Fort Eustis. Both felt that Camp Knox's larger size and varied terrain were more suited for the development of armored tactics. Consequently, a small remnant of the now defunct Mechanized Force relocated to Camp Knox in November 1931 to begin organizing the Mechanized Cavalry.

Congress designated Camp Knox as a permanent garrison on Jan 1, 1932, and changed the name to Fort Knox. On Jan 16, 1932 the 1st Cavalry Regiment -- the Army's oldest mounted unit -- arrived at Fort Knox and traded its horses for combat cars.

The new 1st Cavalry Regiment (Mechanized) was joined in 1936 by the 13th Cavalry Regiment, which in turn traded its horses for tanks and, together with the 1st, comprised the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized).

The pace of activity at Fort Knox picked up quickly in the late 1930s. The post served as the center for cavalry mechanization and developed much of the tactics and doctrine which the Armored Force would use upon establishment.

Fort Knox, and Mechanized Cavalry personnel in particular, also provided support and leadership for the youth work groups of the Civilian Conservation Crops throughout the V Corps area.

Gold Depository

In 1936 the U.S. Treasury Department began construction of the U.S. Bullion Depository. The Gold Vault opened in January 1937, and was just receiving its first shipments of the nation's gold reserves when the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) rode to the aid of the beleaguered city of Louisville, struck by a major flood from the Ohio River. Fort Knox troops patrolled the city and established several refugee centers for residents of Louisville and several other flooded communities along the Ohio River between the city and the post.

The emerging threat of Hitler's Germany in the late 1930s caused the Army to re-evaluate the status of its mechanized warfare capability. When the German army overran Poland in 1939 and forced France's surrender in June 1940 after only a six-week campaign, its Panzer Divisions played a decisive role. Each comprised a mixture of tanks, mechanized infantry, and artillery capable of mobile combined-arms operations on a large scale. The success of these new formations shocked the War Department into a frenzied effort to create an American counterpart to the Panzer Division. The Third Army maneuvers of 1940 that included the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) and Infantry tank units further demonstrated that combined-arms formations could not be created on an ad hoc basis. They required time to train and develop unit cohesion. Consequently, at the end of the maneuvers infantry and mechanized cavalry officers, including Chaffee and Van Voorhis, met to discuss future mechanized development in the Army. These meetings generated a consensus that American armor must develop together and not be subordinated to the infantry or cavalry.

The Armored Force was born on July 10, 1940, with the Headquarters, Armor Force and the Headquarters, I Armored Crops established at Fort Knox. On July 15, 1940, the 7th Cavalry Brigade (Mechanized) became the 1st Armored Division; the 7th Provisional Tank Brigade, an infantry tank unit at Fort Benning, became the 2nd Armored Division. The Tank Battalion was established at Fort Meade, Md., and a small Armored Force School was also established here.

The Armored Force School and the Armored Force Replacement Center were officially established at Fort Knox Oct 1, 1940. The school trained armored force soldiers in military fundamentals and in specific areas such as tank gunnery, armor tactics, communications, and maintenance. As the armored force grew and the U.S. entered WWII, the school expanded proportionately. From an initial cadre of 155 officers and 1,458 enlisted men in October 1940, the school grew to more than 700 officers and 3,500 enlisted men by May 1943. The school alone used more than 500 buildings, many of them "temporary" wooden structures built to meet the expansion of the post. Many of those temporary buildings are still in use today.

The Armored Force School, at the peak of its operation during the war, operated on two daily shifts to satisfy the demand for qualified armor soldiers. The training reflected the rapid evolution of armored warfare doctrines, which changed constantly in the face of battle experience and in the alterations to the force structure and its tables of organization and equipment. Some of the buildings used by the school reflected these new doctrines and techniques. The building at 1538 Eisenhower Ave. was built in the shape of a Landing Ship Tank (LST) to train soldiers how to load and unload armored vehicles for transport at sea. The building still stands today and is used by the Patton Museum for storing historic armored vehicles. By 1943, Fort Knox had expanded to 106,861 acres and had 3,820 buildings, compared to 864 buildings in 1940.

By the end of World War II the Armored Force grew to include 16 armored divisions and more than 100 separate tank battalions and mechanized cavalry squadrons.

The I Armored Corps, under Patton, led the American invasion of French Morocco in November 1942. The 1st and 2nd Armored Divisions also fought in North Africa - the 1st in Algeria and Tunisia and the 2nd in Morocco. The 1st Armored Division went on to win fame with the 5th Army in Italy, participating in the battles around Cassion, Anzio, and in the Po Valley. It led the liberation of Rome on June 4, 1944.

The 2nd Armored Division fought in Sicily in 1943, then on June 9, 1944, was the first American armored division to land in /France, The division fought in all of the campaigns in northwestern Europe, becoming the first U.S. unit to reach the Elbe River and enter Berlin.

During the war the U.S. Bullion Depository continued to operate at Fort Knox, receiving more and more shipments of the country's gold reserves. The Gold Vault was also used to store and to safeguard the English crown jewels and the Magna Carta, along with the gold reserves of several of the countries of occupied Europe. On DEC 26, 1941, the Gold Vault also received the original documents of the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Declaration of Independence for safekeeping. These historic documents left Fort Knox on Oct 1, 1944, and were returned to Washington DC for public display.

Fort Knox - the Home of Mounted Warfare - has served as a US military reservation since 1918. During this time it has played a key role in the development of military tactics, doctrine, and equipment, and has been an integral part of the training establishment for the active Army and Army Reserve.

Every soldier in the armor force has served here at least once during his term of service, whether in the permanent garrison or in the initial entry training, in one of the noncommissioned officer courses or in one of the armor officer training courses. The post also hosts nearly 400,000 visitors annually at the showcase of the armor force and Fort Knox history - the Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor.

Patton Museum

The museum, established in 1949 and named for the famous Armor leader, displays equipment, vehicles and artifacts chronicling the history of armor and cavalry, including equipment from America's allies and foes over the years, and an original section of the Berlin Wall on permanent display. The museum also preserves historical documents, books and other materials relating to armor and cavalry.

The Army Regimental System, in which the lineages of the Army's historical units are now perpetuated, has brought the colors of several of the Army's famous armor and cavalry regiments home to Fort Knox. The flags of the 13th Armored, 15th Cavalry, 16th Cavalry and the 81st Armored now wave proudly above the heads of the soldiers in the 1st Armored Training Brigade (Soldiers of Steel).

Fort Knox, with its newest buildings rising alongside its historic structures continues to move forward to take its place in the heartland of Kentucky and in the front rank of military posts in the United States. With continuous range upgrade, receipt of new missions such as the U.S. Army Recruiting Command in 1992, and outstanding simulation facilities, Fort Knox will continue to be a leader in the Army of the future.