Camp Ritchie: Americans Soldiers Learn About the German Army during the Second World War

A few years ago, I wrote a small piece about Camp Ritchie that was just a brief history during the Second World War and I would like to expand on that with this posting. Recently I came across a few items at the Waynesboro Library about Camp Ritchie during the Second World War in the Pennsylvania Reference Room. The first was a scrapbook based upon the fort’s formal history. The book had no author with the exception of a note indicating that it was produced by the War Department. This yearbook style of reading had several photographs of Camp Ritchie during the Second World War that interested me.

The second was a notebook that contained write ups from local newspapers, and thesis’s written by unknown individuals. After reading them, I soon realized that only individuals that served at Camp Ritchie contributed to or had written this on their own. It had a break down of what it was that the American soldier was learning, from class to class, with regard to his training. The break down was truly an interesting find.

In the early part of 1942, General George Marshall, US Army Chief of Staff took several steps to improving intelligence training for the US Army. Observationalists were sent to England to gain firsthand experience of how Great Britain handled intelligence. Two groups of four officers spent six weeks in England and came back with recommendations on building a Military Intelligence Training program. A curriculum was soon established by the War Department for purposes of Combat Military Intelligence Training. The location of Camp Ritchie to establish this training center was picked for two main reasons, the close proximity to Washington D.C., and the layout of the terrain where several field problems and maneuvers could be simulated.

The curriculum that was established for training purposes dealt with a wide variety of studies that focused on the German, Japanese and Italian armies. The course was divided up between three different phases. The first was general or basic, the second was specialized and finally the field exercises. Additional special courses were also given, and if need be, changes were also implemented.

Once classes began many refugees, such as those who made up the Ritchie Boys, gladly came in and offered their services. This was firsthand knowledge that was being offered, as many of the refugees were familiar with the armed forces of the Axis powers. Classes of 300-500 students were divided into sections of about 40 men. It was again divided for a final ratio of one officer and six enlisted men. New classes started each month that would last upwards to eight weeks.

Captured equipment from the Axis armies were on hand, ranging from uniforms to weapons such as machine guns, artillery, and vehicles, all lined up to teach the student. These were used for combat simulations, identification, and interrogation purposes. Mock up simulations and drills were also held to prepare students for their deployment in Europe or Japan. The demonstration troops were known as the Composite School Unit or CSU.

The courses were broken down to several sections and subsections. The German Army course had four basic sections and they included the following:

Section I: Prisoners of War. Mock simulations in German military uniform of prisoner interrogations were taught to the students. This was done so they knew how to properly interrogate a prisoner and how to handle problems if they occurred in the field.

Section II, No. 1: Organization and Minor Tactics. This section was divided up into ten components. The first was Infantry Point, Combat Patrol, Squad in the Attack and Rifle Platoon in the Attack. This was to aide the students to visualize the German units and how they operated. The end result was that the student would know what the enemy’s capabilities were on the battlefield.

Section II, No. 2: German Strongpoint. Here students would experience how the Germans dug-in for a defensive position. Students would see wire entanglements, riveted emplacements, and crew served weapons and how those tactics were being used by the German Army.

Section II, No. 3: Light Weapons Identification. They learned about ammunition, rate of fire, weight, range, and penetration. They also learned the tactical employment and usage of the K-98 rifle, pistols, and machine guns such as the M-34 and M-42. Some of the other weapons included the mortar and smaller caliber anti-tank guns. Each weapon was manned by complete crews to show students how they were deployed and how the crews worked.

Section II, No. 4: Medium Weapons and Vehicle Demonstrations. Students learned about ammunition, rate of fire, weight, range, and penetration of some of the larger weapons such as the different caliber of howitzers. Students also saw how troops and supplies were transported. Some of the vehicles were half track trucks and motorcycles. Students learned how these vehicles were deployed in combat.

Section II, No. 5: German Mounted Infantry Platoon. Showed the tactics of how mounted infantry was deployed, with emphasis on how reconnaissance worked.

Section II, No. 6: German Machine Gun Platoon. Here, students saw firsthand the organization and deployment of the platoon.

Section II, No. 7: German Anti-tank Platoon. Students learned about deployments and characteristics of weapons and how motorcycle messenger communication systems worked.

Section II, No. 8: German Light Howitzer Platoon. Students learned about tactical deployment, organization and characteristics of weapons.

Section II, No. 9: German Motorcycle Platoon. Taught students tactics and deployments of these two wheel platoons demonstrated by the usage of bicycles. It also showed students how reconnaissance worked.

The next section or Section III focused solely on German Uniform Identification. Here, students learned about the German Army Ranking system, from the private to the officer. He learned what the colors on the German shoulder straps represented with regard to the branch of service. For example white for infantry, yellow for signals, and red for artillery. The students also learned the different models of uniforms and the insignia they represent. This was done to segregate the prisoners. In many American POW camps, the men of the SS were segregated from the regular soldiers in the army. One reason for doing so was to protect the conscript from the harassment of the SS soldier.

The last section, or Section IV focused on the German Battalion Defensive Position. Here, demonstrations were held to show what a front line German Battalion looked like in a defensive position. Everything from platoon, squad, outposts, reserves, and observation posts were demonstrated.

The above strictly represents the training in regards to the German Army. The Japanese sections focused on the basically the same thing as that of the German training with some minor changes, such as the usage of cavalry with a focus on the Rifle-Saber company.

These demonstrations occurred all over Camp Ritchie. It was not unusual to see American soldiers demonstrating marching, and maneuvers, whether it was on land or by boat using the lakes. Each student learned how to operate each weapon as it applied to his specialty. Displays were often used to show different mines, different grenades and projectiles.

One of the pictures shows an old farmhouse located off of the grounds of Camp Ritchie. The military cut one of the exterior walls from the house to open it up while students sat on bleachers outside and observed how interrogations worked. This was done to resemble a house that had been demolished by the ravages of war.

From what these American soldiers were taught, they would have firsthand, working experience of the equipment that the German and Japanese soldiers used. This would have been an extreme advantage on the battlefields of Europe and Asia. From the day of its activation to it’s deactivation, Camp Ritchie had a total of twenty-four eight week courses of instruction, plus an additional fifteen four week European Theater Order of Battle classes, and seven four week Pacific Theater Order of Battle classes. Refresher courses were also given for specialists lasting eight weeks.

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One thought on “Camp Ritchie: Americans Soldiers Learn About the German Army during the Second World War

  1. reklessen May 23, 2017 / 3:35 pm

    FYI: I am just starting to post content of general interest taken from my father’s letters to his fianceé in South Dakota (mom), written during his time in the CSU. When mom died, I inherited “the stuff” — including boxes of correspondence. #thingsmomsaved.com

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