War Games in the Pines, 1941

Menantico

Scout
Feb 17, 2013
90
110
33
39
Smithville via Vineland, southern pines
Yesterday I found myself engaged in some late-night online readings of historical events. I live a crazy life, I know. Regardless, I eventually detoured to the official history of Penn State Forest that was published by the NJDEP. As I read further, there was a section that very briefly discussed the war games that were being prepared for an impending “invasion” of the south-eastern coast of NJ by a faux enemy in the months before US entrance in WWII. (Penn State Forest History, NJDEP, pg. 4).


I had remembered hearing about this on the NJPB forum and when I did some searching, “Rooftree” did in fact mention it in passing on an August 3rd, 2017 post on “Pine Barren Flora”. Unless I missed it, that was all I could find on the event in the forums.

The article that the official Penn State Forest history from the NJDEP cited was from the New York Times, dated Sunday, May 18th, 1941, titled "Aid Pledged 44th By Civil Officials." There were some interesting things I read and I’m not sure on the publication rules for this site, so I will summarize some points I thought were neat. The New York Times was kind enough to give educators, like myself, about four months of free access, including their archived files.

The Times stated that a group of State officials convened to discuss the upcoming war game plans between the “Blue Land,” composed of NJ, DE, and PA east of the Susquehanna and the “Red Land,” made up of MD and Western PA. Present at this discussion were State Defense Council Chairman Aubrey Stephan of Trenton; William G. McKinley of Jersey City (no relation to the president that I could find), National Executive Commander for the NJ American Legion; Carl Voelker of Ventnor (trying saying that three times fast), past-Vice State Commander, also served with McKinley in the NJ 57th Infantry Brigade; as well as Major General Clifford R. Powell, division commander of the NJ 44th Infantry Brigade (the “Jersey Blues”).

Major Gen. Powell was an interesting character, graduating from Mount Holly High School before entering WWI, working with the Aviation branch. He was wounded in the War, but also shot down two German planes and was awarded the Croix de Guerre twice. (Who’s Who in American Aeronautics, 1922. pg. 84).

I found it noteworthy the amount of influence and advice that was given by members of the American Legion. I am a past-commander of the Sons of the American Legion, Post 4 in Vineland (now defunct), and can attest to the amount of history, intelligence, gruff, and beer that permeated through those wood-paneled halls. Despite their military credentials, I find it hard to believe that today we would find members of the American Legion giving their feedback on present-day war games. Of course, I could be very wrong.

Another important point to remember is that this war game occurred before the US was officially in WWII. We were supplying the British through the Lend Lease Act, but there were seven more months until Pearl Harbor. That being said, U-boats were patrolling the Atlantic Ocean and around this same time the construction of the Cape May Bunker was beginning to combat this very threat. A sense of impending war must have permeated throughout the United States, with people getting prepared for not just war, but invasion.

Moving forward in our story, some of the things discussed by the junta with regards to the five-day long operation was how civilians could help in the case of invasion; whether that was by thwarting saboteurs or preventing the “invaders” from getting their hands on motor vehicles or boats (New York Times, 5/18/1941, pg. 37).

Maj. Gen. Powell was in charge of 700 officers and had to present them with the following scenario: a surprise landing of enemy troops on the south-eastern coast of NJ. The enemy would seek control of the Delaware Bay before eventually declaring war on the United States. This scenario harkens to a common theme attached to military preparedness at this time period: sabotage and surprise attack. The latter culminating in the Pearl Harbor attack and the former leading to the sad chapter of Japanese American internment.

To prevent the invasion by the “Red Land,” the sixteen thousand strong “Blue Land” troops would leave their bivouacs in Penn State Forest and New Gretna at 0730 on Monday, May 19th and proceed to Atlantic and Cape May counties. According to official pronouncements, the men were to “respect private property, prevent any fires, and conduct themselves in a manner to uphold the good name of the division and the army.” (Ibid.)

There are a number of reasons why I thought more about this event than some others that I have read and mostly for the questions that they posed. What was it like for the actual soldiers involved in the war exercise? Where was the "Red Land" supposed to make their amphibious assault ? What did the Pinelands look like? What was the bivouac situation like in Penn State Forest and maybe more interestingly, in New Gretna? What paths or roads did they take? Why were the soldiers reminded to respect private property and to conduct themselves? Was it because they knew some ornery people lived in these woods? What would the Pineys have done if a real invasion had occurred? What was the psyche of the average south jersey citizen dealing with the potential for a real enemy invasion? Who are these people with the American Legion that conferred with the military? Did State Defense Council’s have that much power during that time?

I want to mention some other officials who were present at these discussions, mostly for the purpose of potentially finding more information on this event. Also attending the war meeting were Lowell Hipple of Haddonfield, National Defense Chairman of the Camden County American Legion; Charles Bacon of Mahwah, Defense Chairman of Bergen County; and Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Matthews of Riverton, retired judge advocate of the 44th division, WWI veteran, and past-state commander of the American Legion.

I should also first apologize for the length of this post and the lack of information I have about the finality of the war game and ancillary aspects of the “invasion.” As a teacher, I have not been able to teach, and even if this goes off into the ether, it was cathartic for sure. Secondly, I apologize for the citation. I’m not sure if I broke any rules but I can always edit. If you made it this far, thank you and maybe you can help find more information about this extraordinary event!
 
Last edited:

46er

Piney
Mar 24, 2004
8,828
2,113
1,093
Coastal NJ
Good post. You might want to call, or visit when things get a bit normal, the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in Sea Girt. They have a lot of records dating back to colonial times. It is worth the trip just to visit.

 

old jersey girl

Explorer
Jul 26, 2017
406
172
43
south nj near Delaware bayshore
Yesterday I found myself engaged in some late-night online readings of historical events. I live a crazy life, I know. Regardless, I eventually detoured to the official history of Penn State Forest that was published by the NJDEP. As I read further, there was a section that very briefly discussed the war games that were being prepared for an impending “invasion” of the south-eastern coast of NJ by a faux enemy in the months before US entrance in WWII. (Penn State Forest History, NJDEP, pg. 4).


I had remembered hearing about this on the NJPB forum and when I did some searching, “Rooftree” did in fact mention it in passing on an August 3rd, 2017 post on “Pine Barren Flora”. Unless I missed it, that was all I could find on the event in the forums.

The article that the official Penn State Forest history from the NJDEP cited was from the New York Times, dated Sunday, May 18th, 1941, titled "Aid Pledged 44th By Civil Officials." There were some interesting things I read and I’m not sure on the publication rules for this site, so I will summarize some points I thought were neat. The New York Times was kind enough to give educators, like myself, about four months of free access, including their archived files.

The Times stated that a group of State officials convened to discuss the upcoming war game plans between the “Blue Land,” composed of NJ, DE, and PA east of the Susquehanna and the “Red Land,” made up of MD and Western PA. Present at this discussion were State Defense Council Chairman Aubrey Stephan of Trenton; William G. McKinley of Jersey City (no relation to the president that I could find), National Executive Commander for the NJ American Legion; Carl Voelker of Ventnor (trying saying that three times fast), past-Vice State Commander, also served with McKinley in the NJ 57th Infantry Brigade; as well as Major General Clifford R. Powell, division commander of the NJ 44th Infantry Brigade (the “Jersey Blues”).

Major Gen. Powell was an interesting character, graduating from Mount Holly High School before entering WWI, working with the Aviation branch. He was wounded in the War, but also shot down two German planes and was awarded the Croix de Guerre twice. (Who’s Who in American Aeronautics, 1922. pg. 84).

I found it noteworthy the amount of influence and advice that was given by members of the American Legion. I am a past-commander of the Sons of the American Legion, Post 4 in Vineland (now defunct), and can attest to the amount of history, intelligence, gruff, and beer that permeated through those wood-paneled halls. Despite their military credentials, I find it hard to believe that today we would find members of the American Legion giving their feedback on present-day war games. Of course, I could be very wrong.

Another important point to remember is that this war game occurred before the US was officially in WWII. We were supplying the British through the Lend Lease Act, but there were seven more months until Pearl Harbor. That being said, U-boats were patrolling the Atlantic Ocean and around this same time the construction of the Cape May Bunker was beginning to combat this very threat. A sense of impending war must have permeated throughout the United States, with people getting prepared for not just war, but invasion.

Moving forward in our story, some of the things discussed by the junta with regards to the five-day long operation was how civilians could help in the case of invasion; whether that was by thwarting saboteurs or preventing the “invaders” from getting their hands on motor vehicles or boats (New York Times, 5/18/1941, pg. 37).

Maj. Gen. Powell was in charge of 700 officers and had to present them with the following scenario: a surprise landing of enemy troops on the south-eastern coast of NJ. The enemy would seek control of the Delaware Bay before eventually declaring war on the United States. This scenario harkens to a common theme attached to military preparedness at this time period: sabotage and surprise attack. The latter culminating in the Pearl Harbor attack and the former leading to the sad chapter of Japanese American internment.

To prevent the invasion by the “Red Land,” the sixteen thousand strong “Blue Land” troops would leave their bivouacs in Penn State Forest and New Gretna at 0730 on Monday, May 19th and proceed to Atlantic and Cape May counties. According to official pronouncements, the men were to “respect private property, prevent any fires, and conduct themselves in a manner to uphold the good name of the division and the army.” (Ibid.)

There are a number of reasons why I thought more about this event than some others that I have read and mostly for the questions that they posed. What was it like for the actual soldiers involved in the war exercise? Where was the "Red Land" supposed to make their amphibious assault ? What did the Pinelands look like? What was the bivouac situation like in Penn State Forest and maybe more interestingly, in New Gretna? What paths or roads did they take? Why were the soldiers reminded to respect private property and to conduct themselves? Was it because they knew some ornery people lived in these woods? What would the Pineys have done if a real invasion had occurred? What was the psyche of the average south jersey citizen dealing with the potential for a real enemy invasion? Who are these people with the American Legion that conferred with the military? Did State Defense Council’s have that much power during that time?

I want to mention some other officials who were present at these discussions, mostly for the purpose of potentially finding more information on this event. Also attending the war meeting were Lowell Hipple of Haddonfield, National Defense Chairman of the Camden County American Legion; Charles Bacon of Mahwah, Defense Chairman of Bergen County; and Lieutenant Colonel Frank A. Matthews of Riverton, retired judge advocate of the 44th division, WWI veteran, and past-state commander of the American Legion.

I should also first apologize for the length of this post and the lack of information I have about the finality of the war game and ancillary aspects of the “invasion.” As a teacher, I have not been able to teach, and even if this goes off into the ether, it was cathartic for sure. Secondly, I apologize for the citation. I’m not sure if I broke any rules but I can always edit. If you made it this far, thank you and maybe you can help find more information about this extraordinary event!
Don't apologize, keep posting. Local history fascinates.