World War II Prisoner of War Camp Established at Fort Knox
Fort Knox was the site of a main POW camp between February 1944 and June 1946. The first prisoners of war to arrive were Italian. In May 1944, they received an opportunity to volunteer for special service units to aid the American Army. While still classified as POWs, they were on an honor system and given more opportunities.
German POWs arrived in June 1944 and had a routine camp life, which included work, rules and recreation. Outdoor and indoor work details were assigned, many times alongside civilian employees. Many civilians and prisoners got along well with one another and some became friends. The German POW camp at Fort Knox has since been demolished. It was located in the vicinity of Scott Middle School. The former camp soccer field is the only remaining feature of that camp and is now used for American football by students.
A number of Axis prisoners died while at Fort Knox and 18 are buried in the post cemetery. One tragic incident involved the accidental shooting of a number of prisoners in which two died, Ernst Schlotter and Frederich Wolf.
At the close of World War II, there were 16 combat-tested armored divisions and approximately 65 tank battalions. Armored units had participated in every major theater of operations that Americans had participated in. The Armored Center was deactivated in October 1945 but re-established over a year later.
In June 1946, Fort Knox Commanding General Maj. Gen. Hugh J. Gaffey was killed in a B-25 crash as it attempted to land at Godman Airfield. He is the highest ranking officer buried in the post cemetery.
In 1947, Army recruits from the Universal Military Training Experimental Unit arrived at Fort Knox to participate in a short-lived experimental program that offered extended basic training combined with civilian supervision and discipline. Also that year, the 3rd Armored Division was reactivated at Fort Knox and assumed command of the Armored Replacement Training Center, which was placed on an inactive status. They would train more than 300,000 Soldiers during their time at Fort Knox.
Under the Army Organization Act of 1950, armor and cavalry were combined to form the Armor Branch. In 1956, the 3rd Armored Division was shipped to Europe, and the Armored Replacement Training Center was activated to resume training. It was given the new name U.S. Army Training Center, Armor, and comprised approximately half of the population at Fort Knox. Soon after the armored center and armored school were officially designated the “Armor Center” and “Armor School.” In 1957, it became the U.S. Army Armor Center.
The Cold War helped secure the Armor Branch’s role in the Army, and the Armor Center continued to fulfill the role of producing capable and highly trained armor personnel. By the late 1960s, more than 1 million trainees had completed one or more training programs in the Fort Knox Training Center since its inception in 1940.
Combat operations in Korea and Vietnam presented new challenges for the branch that differed from those learned during World War II.
Thus, the Armor Center continued its role in the development and evolution of tactics and vehicles for armor and cavalry.
In 1981, the Armor Center contributed to the development of the Army’s AirLand Battle doctrine, which took advantage of new weaponry to assume an offensive role in central Europe. Guidelines set forth in this doctrine were applied successfully during the Gulf War in the early 1990s. During this conflict, Fort Knox served as a mobilization center and provided combat-ready Soldiers.
With the approaching 21st century, digital technology dictated another transformation in how armor would conduct itself on the battlefield and the Future Combat System was developed. To assist in this endeavor, the Unit of Action Maneuver Battle Lab was established in 2002. It was during this time that the Stryker Interim Armored Vehicle went through extensive testing. Military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq prompted changes and termination of the program at Fort Knox. However, to support armor activities, a battle lab was retained.