Working for two Civil War battlefields, I had had several people in the community ask me if I considered writing some articles about Fort Ritchie during World War Two. Since then over the past few years, many people have told me stories about Camp Ritchie during World War Two. These are just a few of the stories as told to me by local citizens. By no standard is this a complete history of Camp Ritchie nor is this Civil War related, but it does deserve to have its place on the blog to a certain degree. This article was one that I wrote for the Emmitsburg Historical Society a few years ago and I hope that you the reader enjoys reading the rich history that South Mountain has to offer.
Situated between Frederick City and Hagerstown, Maryland is South Mountain. Many people think of the Civil War when they hear South Mountain mentioned. Quirauk Mountain is part of South Mountain and holds a secret that is not often known or spoken of. The mountain peak is located in the northeastern portion of Washington County and stands at 2,145 feet above sea level. The Appalachian Trail runs about a half mile west from the summit where the South Mountain Recreation Area and the Mason & Dixon Line meet and it is also close to High Rock. This area can easily be seen from Waynesboro, Pennsylvania and Smithsburg, Maryland due to a broadcast tower that is situated on top of the mountain and it is also home to a communication outpost that is owned by the Federal Government and borders the remains of Fort Ritchie.
The Maryland National Guard built Camp Ritchie in 1926 when they purchased 638 acres for the development of a camp. In honor of the governor of Maryland in office at the time, the camp was called Camp Albert C. Ritchie. The Corps of Engineers’ insignia, a life-size version of the Corps’ miniature castle façade, inspired the design of the Fort. With weather conditions similar to that of Germany’s climate, South Mountain was used as part of the American training ground. On June 19th, 1942, Camp Ritchie was taken over by the War Department and used as a Military Training Center. Colonel Charles Y. Banfill became the first commander of the U.S. Military Post of Camp Ritchie. Over 19,600 students passed through Camp Ritchie during the course of World War Two. Soldiers were trained to become order of battle specialists, photo interpreters and general intelligence personnel.
By 1944, the Army spent more than five million dollars to build 165 buildings and Camp Ritchie became home to more than 3,000 men and women. By August, Camp Ritchie began training counter intelligence personnel. Intelligence officers and interpreters were trained there before being sent overseas. Office of Strategic Services agents, interpreters and others would be stationed at Camp Ritchie to gain skills used by spies behind Japanese and German enemy lines. Although the training center at Camp Ritchie offered counter intelligence programs, its main focus was on combat intelligence.
In November of 1944, many Japanese Nisei women, after basic training of the Japanese Military language entered Camp Ritchie. This strategy was adopted because of their understanding of the Japanese language. Once inside Camp Ritchie they were assigned to the Pacific Military Intelligence Research Section. This is where they worked with captured Japanese documents, translating military plans and political and economic information that could damage Japan’s war effort. This section of Camp Ritchie later moved to Washington D.C.
Upon entering Camp Ritchie many students heard foreign languages being spoken in what appeared to be an almost “Hillbilly County”. Some recruits thought that Camp Ritchie was a bit of a circus because of the fact that one could not learn to be fluent in a foreign language in a six-month period. Camp Ritchie also housed German prisoners of war that were captured during the African Campaign. Many of the prisoners were taken to Camp Ritchie to be used as instruments of the American War effort.
Many area residents have stories that were passed down from their grandparents or parents. With Camp Ritchie being the focal point of the community, many worked or lived near by. Many Fountain Dale residents remembered soldiers and convoys of vehicles traveling down the old Waynesboro Road. On several occasions soldiers were sent on a forced march down through Emmitsburg. Howard Kline, as a youngster remembered the tanks the most. He remembered how they tore up the road with the tracks. Military vehicles such as Army Jeeps, motorcycles and men on foot traveled on the Old Waynesboro Road carrying out operations of various sorts, often traveling to Emmitsburg, Maryland.
Once in Emmitsburg, the men from Camp Ritchie were trained to communicate for when they were deployed overseas. The soldiers from Camp Ritchie would travel in convoys to local towns in the area. One such convoy came to Emmitsburg, Maryland. The citizens of Emmitsburg were very excited to see the large masses of men in uniform that were learning how to read and translate maps.
Did you ever hear the stories about the Native Americans at Camp Ritchie? The U.S. Military used Native Americans as Japanese soldiers in their training efforts. One night a group of the Native Americans got drunk in Hagerstown and were too late to catch a bus back to Camp Ritchie. Desperately trying to get back to camp, they stole a Hagerstown City bus and drove it back up the Mountain. They spent the rest of the war confined to the base. While they were confined to the base, the women were not allowed to serve liquor to the Native Americans.
Many neighbors would be startled by seeing German soldiers in their backyard. Farmers in the area thought the German invasion had already begun. Camp Ritchie had American soldiers dressed as German soldiers as part of P.O.W. training. This was done so Americans could learn how to communicate with German soldiers upon their capture. Another reason for American soldiers disguising as the German soldiers was to train the Americans on the types of equipment Germany had as well as to familiarize themselves with the sounds of the German weaponry. The American Government acquired several German uniforms and equipment through the captured German stores and German soldiers, however many of German uniforms did not fit the American soldiers properly. Camp Ritchie even had German Panzer tanks; the German tanks looked real, but were made out of cardboard.
Camp Ritchie had built a mock-up of a German Village. They would have mock battles to train the soldier how to conduct a street battle or practice raiding techniques. They would also learn how to set booby-traps. Throughout the area, in the middle of the night, Camp Ritchie would send American soldiers as well as Americans dressed as German soldiers out to conduct a variety of military exercises. Sometimes the mock battles became quite real and very angry at times. Soldiers would interrogate one another and they would start screaming at each other.
Located near Cascade was a village built and occupied by German immigrants. American soldiers would find their way past this little village trying to communicate with the inhabits. Asking them for directions and how to study their surroundings. The American soldiers were trying to find their way back to Fort Ritchie.
As part of their training, many American Soldiers were required to conduct a 48-hour bushwhack over the summit of South Mountain. They would be confined to the basement of a combat firing range. They were to fight their way through this course only armed with a pistol, one ammunition clip, a knife and a piece of piano wire. If they went through the training course and had three rounds of ammunition left, then they passed the exercise. The last three shots were for Adolph Hitler, Mussolini and Japan’s Emperor Hirohito. Some students cheated by taking the Appalachian Trail as a shortcut to their main objective. The training course was closed after V-J Day in 1945. Many Americans referred to Camp Ritchie’s training as the “Mythical Institute of Total Confusion”.
However Camp Ritchie is most remembered by the Ritchie Boys. Several thousand German Jews were forced out of Germany during the beginning of Nazi controlled Germany. Many came to the U.S. and joined the U.S. Army and were trained at Camp Ritchie. Since these men were fluent in the German language, they were trained in the methods of psychological warfare. The role of these soldiers was therefore to study the enemy, and demoralize him in order to achieve an unconditional surrender.
The Ritchie Boys took part in the D-Day operations and once inside German territory, they interrogated POWs gaining as much information as they could in order to help the Allied Forces. After the end of World War Two, the Ritchie Boys had one more task at hand as some of them served as translators during the Nuremberg Trials.
During the Cold War, Camp Ritchie became a Fort under the Federal Government. As part of the military cutbacks President Bill Clinton had Camp Ritchie shut down in 1998.