Texas Military Forces Historical Sketch

An Introduction to the history of the 49th (Lone Star) Armored Division (1947 -1963)

— Brian Schenk


49th Armored Division patchWhen the National Guard of the United States was reorganized after World War II, the United States Army included two armored divisions in the National Guard troop list. The 50th Division was organized in New Jersey, with additional units in surrounding northeastern states. Texas was authorized to form the 49th Armored Division.   Texans willingly joined, bringing the unit strength to 9,000 by 1950. With the 36th Infantry Division also reforming and recruiting, the movement of the 49th toward full strength was remarkable.

Why did Texas get the assignment to build one of the two National Guard armored divisions? Here in Texas were veteran members of World War II, experienced in every theater of the war. There were a large number of armored-trained veterans in the State, and there was the benefit of the proximity of Camp Hood (later Fort Hood) near Killeen, as a training center for armored formations.   And finally, there was the Texas record of mounted service in the 112th and 124th Cavalry Regiments.  The Department of the Army and the National Guard Bureau thought an armored division was a "good match" for Texas.

The National Guard Bureau looked at the two armored divisions as "experiments' rather than "commitments'.  At the time, the Army was uncertain as to whether armored divisions of National Guardsmen could be effective.  Time proved that the Texans could meet the standards of the Army. 

Units of the 49th Armored Division were at first located in north and northeast Texas where pre-war units of the 112th Cavalry and the 144th Infantry Regiment had been stationed.   Prior to mobilization in 1940, the 56th Cavalry Brigade functioned as the command and control headquarters for the 112th and 124th Cavalry Regiments.    Both regiments were horse-mounted, although both began to receive White Scout cars for the cavalry units and trucks for the artillery beginning in 1938.    But, essentially, the two units "rode to battle and fought on foot". 

The 144th had been one of the four regiments of the 36th (Texas) Division until just after mobilization in 1940.   During the " triangularization " of the 36th, the 144th became excess and became a separate regiment.  The 144th became a training unit and did not accompany the 36th into foreign service in Europe.  Replacements for more than 48 of the 89 active army divisions were trained by the 144th during the war.

Formation of the 49th Armored Division, 1947

A number of the original units of the 49th received federal recognition from the National Guard Bureau on 27 February, 1947, a date used thereafter as the "birthday" of the unit.   Beginning in the northern and northeastern areas of the State, there were 111 units in 56 Texas cities by 1952.

The first Commanding General of the 49th Armored Division was Major General Richard Dunbar, a veteran of both World Wars.   As a Colonel, General Dunbar had commanded the pre-war 111th Engineer Regiment of the 36th Division, and had commanded an Engineer Regiment during World War II.

During the early years of the 49th Armored Division, the new Division used some unique designations, including the 145th, 146th, 147th and 148th Armored Rifle Battalions, and the 145th, 146th, 147th and 249th Tank Battalions.   Field Artillery units, designated as "Armored Field Artillery Battalions" were designated as the 646th, 647th, and 648th Armored Field Artillery Battalions.

The field artillery firing batteries were equipped with M7 “Priest” self-propelled 105 mm howitzers.   Armored rifle battalions were equipped with M3 half tracks.  M4 Sherman tanks were the principal armor in the tank battalions until the 1950s.  Later, M-46, then M-48 and then M-60 families of tanks became the principal armor of the Division.

The men of the 49th Armored Division came from every part of the State, every theater of World War II and every military service.  World War II veterans worked side by side with young teenage recruits, all learning new skills.   Although many veterans were enlisted in their previous military specialties, many would then retrain in new skill areas.

Intensive field training periods lasting 15 days were held annually in the summer, when the entire division moved to a designated military training area.   The first summer camp was 15-29 August, 1948, at Camp Hood, Texas, even though the Division's organization was not complete and new units were being formed.   Fort Hood, as it was re-designated in 1949, was the site for two additional field training periods in 1949 and 1950.

In the early years, the division not only trained veterans to tackle new types of equipment, but also gave basic training to its own recruits.  In 1949, the first tank gunners fired for final qualification and the organization of the Division was completed.

The original organization of the division followed the World War II structure of an armored division. The unit was divided into two (2) Combat Commands - CCA and CCB. These were two separate and powerful combined arms formations each with its own armor, infantry and artillery battalions supported by division and corps units. Each Combat Command would be assigned additional battalions according to the mission requirements. This provided a higher degree of flexibility as the Division accomplished its mission.

The Army's mobilization for the Korean War of 1950 convulsed the division with rumors of a call to active duty. Active duty never materialized, but increased active army training at Fort Hood required the division to hold the 1951 summer field training at Fort Polk, Louisiana. That was a long road march. The division found the facilities at Fort Polk less pleasant than they had encountered at Fort Hood, and were happy that the summer training periods of the 1950s were focused on the Central Texas location until - ironically - the Division was mobilized in 1961 - and was sent to Fort Polk.

Soon after being designated as a "combat-ready" unit in 1955, the 49th was assigned as one of the six National Guard divisions making up the Ready Reserve Strategic Army Force, a first-priority reserve component. The designation gave the division higher priority for newer equipment and advanced training.

During the 1950s, the division engaged in peacetime activities. The implementation of the Army's "Six Month Active Duty" training program for all non-veteran recruits solved the problem of recurring basic training cycles.  The "Six Month Active Duty" program tended to bring into the division young men of exceptional intelligence, ability and educational background". By the late 1950s, as these "Six Month Trainees" returned to the home unit, the division was conducting continuing progressive unit training.

Command Post Exercises (CPX) called "Cloverleaf" became a part of the command staff's training beginning in 1957. Conducted by Headquarters, 4th U. S. Army, the Cloverleaf exercises were based at Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio, Texas.

The Division Served Texas During Troubled Times

In addition to the federal mission as a reserve of the U. S. Army , the 49th Armored Division also served the State of Texas as part of the organized State militia. Texas Military Forces are under the Governor's command when not on federal active duty. The Governor can call out National Guard personnel to provided disaster relief or to maintain public peace, order and safety. 49th Armored Division members were called to state active duty many times after tornados and hurricanes have hit Texas towns.

A sampling of the state duty activities of the 49th during the 1950s can illustrate the scope and complexity of the work assigned to the Guardsmen.  When disaster struck and civil authorities requested aid from the state, often there would be a decision to "Call Out the National Guard."

Battery C and Service Battery of the 645th Armored Field Artillery served in December 1954 after a tornado in northwest Texas.   Headquarters Battery and Battery A of the 649th Anti-Aircraft Artillery Battalion went to Waco in May 1955 for a "tornadic wind".  They provided roadblocks, moved damaged trees, provided sentries and used organic vehicles to assist in rescue efforts.

In February, 1956, Headquarters and Service Company of the 386th Engineers aided in local recovery from the Bryan tornado, which caused over $1,000,000 in damage. Troops of the 147th Armored Infantry Battalion provided assistance to civil authorities on May 7, 1956 after a plane crash near Greenville. A tornado in Dallas, 1957, caused 49th Armored Division Headquarters and all Dallas-area units to be called to spend several days on state duty.

Floods after a hurricane brought about mobilization of units from Tyler, Houston, Mineral Wells, Weatherford, Longview, Kilgore and Orange in 1957.  Floods near Henderson were so severe that the Governor called Company C of the 148th Armored Infantry Battalion to state active duty in September, 1957. Similar calls to duty - averaging a half dozen per year - are scattered throughout the history of the Division. These are but a small sample.

General Johnson's Service as Division Commander: 6 June 1947 - 31 October 1958

Major General Albert Sidney Johnson commanded the division for more than 11 years during its formation. This is by far the longest period of service of any commanding general in its history. General Johnson is widely credited with having given the division a sense of purpose and an esprit de corps. Training during the 1950s, as has been mentioned, speedily moved the division to the forefront of the National Guard Divisions.

General Johnson was promoted to Brevet Lieutenant General at his retirement. LT General Guy S. Meloy , Jr., Commanding General of the U. S. Fourth Army, offered this tribute to General Johnson at his retirement.

"He is an outstanding leader who is admired throughout the nation. Despite your retirement, General, we ask that you continue to advise and help us. We need men like you." 

Generals Kerr, Thompson, and West lead the Division into Federal Service, 1958-1961

When MG Johnson retired in 1958, MG Clayton P. Kerr was selected to serve as the next commander of the 49th. He was introduced as the Division Commander in an article in the October-November 1958 Texas 49er newsletter. In that article, General Kerr was welcomed with these words:

"Men of the combat arms can claim General Kerr as one of their own.  Infantrymen recognize him as a fellow foot soldier.  Tankers can hail him as an expert in armor warfare.  Artillerymen can claim him as the number one supporter."

General Kerr had service with all three combat arms. After joining the 6th Texas Cavalry in 1918, he was commissioned in 1921 and later commanded Headquarters Company, 2d Battalion of the 144th Infantry. Kerr served in World War II with the 36th Infantry Division, and after service with the Allied Mission to the Italian Army after the war, he was appointed a Brigadier General in the Texas National Guard. He then served as commander of Combat Command A for four years.

"I was born into a National Guard family," he said.  "It's been a part of my life.” General Kerr left the 49th Armored Division on 13 October 1959 to become Assistant Chief of the National Guard Bureau after serving as 49th Armored Division Commander for a year.

The two Texas National Guard Divisions - the 36th Infantry and 49th Armored - were reorganized in 1959. At the direction of the Department of the Army, the 49th got a new format under the ROCAD ("Reorganized Concept Armored Division"). Units were exchanged between the 36th and 49th Divisions at this time.

Some unit training was sacrificed in the year following the reorganization, and some troublesome military occupational specialty (MOS) conversion problems were created as units from one military arm to another.  Artillerymen became Infantrymen, Tankers became Artillerymen and so on.

Actual lineages and traditions of earlier Texas units were returned to the 49th as units of the 112th Armor, 131st and 132d Artillery and the 144th Infantry were added to the force structure. Unit designations created at the formation of the Division - such as the 647 Armored Field Artillery Battalion and the 145th Armored Infantry Battalion - were retired.

Major General John L. Thompson, Jr. served as the 49th AD commander from 14 October 1959 to 30 June 1961, replacing MG Kerr. The Texas 49er newsletter noted some of the Division's achievements during his service.  Included were successful recruiting; a reorganization under the ROCAD concept provided by the U. S. Army; a successful "Cloverleaf" CPX; the creation of a Division Library; 654 new recruits added in a whirlwind campaign; new armories opened across the state. The list concluded with "many superior ratings at summer camp".

Brigadier General Harley B. West, Assistant Division Commander, received his second star and was assigned as Commander of the Division after General Thompson left that post. General West had served as Assistant Division Commander for the preceding six years.

General West entered military service in 1928 as a private, was commissioned as a second lieutenant of the Missouri National Guard in 1929 and rose to the grade of Captain. In 1940 he served with the Oklahoma National Guard and later went on active World War II duty with the 90th Division. He rose to the rank of Colonel and did a tour of overseas duty on the staff of General Walter Krueger in the Southwest Pacific. His final assignment in World War II was as the G-3 of Sixth Army. When the 49th Division was formed in 1947, he was assigned as G-3 (Operations Officer) and later as the Chief of Staff. He became Assistant Division Commander in 1955.

Hurricane Carla struck the state in the summer of 1961. Units from Brownsville to Huntsville to Victoria were called up by the Governor to maintain order and restore public services. The hurricane caused serious damage to National Guard Armories in Pasadena and Victoria. 49ers evacuated citizens from flooded areas, operated safe water points, performed tasks under the direction of local Civil Defense authorities, operated emergency shelters, provided transportation, and distributed relief supplies. Nationally it was one of the largest National Guard civil actions of the Post-War period.

Mobilization for the Berlin Crisis, October, 1961

An uneasy world situation kept the 49th Armored Division at a high state of readiness in 1960 and 1961. The actual mobilization of the Division in 1961 was preceded by the crisis atmosphere of the events around Berlin in the months of July and August 1961. The Soviet-dominated government of East Germany began to build a wall along the western borders of that county - and around the American, British and French 'zones' of Berlin, entirely surrounded by East Germany .

The fear was that all sources of supply to the city of Berlin would be interrupted in an attempt to impose East German - and thus, Russian - rule over the city.   Tensions ran very high and there was a real fear that an "incident" would lead to war with the Warsaw Pact Nations.

On September 6, 1961, the Division was authorized by Department of the Army to "recruit to full strength" and to add two extra armory drills per month. And then, on September 19, 1961, announcement was made to the civilian news media that the 49th Armored Division was being alerted for an order to active federal duty effective 15 October.

Because of "communications lag" - as it was referred to in the Division's "After Action" report for the mobilization - no responsible commander or other person in the Division was able to officially confirm, deny or intelligently comment on the flood of radio, television and newspaper information which soon swamped the home, shop, and office of every Guardsman in the Division. But soon, Division leaders including General West provided clear media guidance and the mobilization raced onward.

On October 15, 1962, the Division entered federal service at armories scattered across the state. On the 18th, a substantial advanced party proceeded to Fort Polk, Louisiana, moving entirely by organic (unit) transportation, carrying the unit equipment needed at Fort Polk. Then on the 24th, by chartered bus and motor convoy, thousands of Texas Guardsmen went on "extended active duty" at the pine-covered Fort Polk training center in western Louisiana. This was as close to "war" as the Division would move in its fifty-seven year history.

At this time the organization of the division was quite different from the earlier World War II organization.    The infantry battalions were now units of the 144th Infantry, one of the 36th Infantry Division regiments in World War I and during the 1920s and 1930s. Armored units were now part of the 112th Cavalry, which had previously been a Separate Armored Cavalry Regiment. A third Combat Command - CCC - was added, giving the Division an authorized strength of 10,372 personnel.

Although the Division and on-post personnel struggled valiantly, the fact remains that Fort Polk was not fully operational as a military installation when the Division arrived. Housekeeping and facility matters kept the Division Engineer, Quartermaster, Signal and other support units very busy during the early weeks of the mobilization.

The main battle tank for the Division at that time was the M48 with 90 mm. gun. Armored infantry used the M-75 personnel carrier, although the M113 family of carriers was being introduced. Armored Field Artillery units were being supplied with modern weapons including the M-108 self propelled gun, replacing World War II era M-7 self-propelled 105 mm. guns.

The first five weeks of training at Fort Polk included orientation and refresher training to prepare for the eight-week ICTP (Intensified Combat Training Program) which would follow. The benefit of the first five weeks was that it permitted the Division to absorb 4600 "filler personnel" assigned from the U. S. Army Reserves to augment the manpower of the Division. Of these 4600 persons, 680 were subsequently separated from the military because of disability, hardship or "unsuitability for active duty service".

The Division trained for ten months in Louisiana, but never deployed overseas. During this time of training, however, the 49th made National Guard history. In May, 1962, the Texans staged a massive 15-day, division-wide field maneuver - code named "Iron Dragoon" - which is still remembered as a classic National Guard armor exercise. During that time, the 3d Battalion, 132d Field Artillery - a component unit of the 49th - was the first National Guard unit to fire the "Honest John" ballistic battlefield missile.

Hundreds of billboards greeted the 49th AD convoys as troops returned to home stations in August, 1962.   "Welcome home, 49th, Thanks for a job well done! ", they read.

Mustering-out ceremonies on August 9th and 10th in more than 100 Texas cities formally ended the service of the troops.

The commander, MG Harley West, complimented the soldiers of the 49th as they returned to civilian life:

"There were many firsts:

1.  The calling of civilian component troops in the absence of a shooting war.

2. The reopening of a closed Class One Army post and its operation entirely by civilian component personnel.

3.  An armored division deployable overseas at the end of 13 weeks.

4. Designation as a STRAC Division (Strategic Army Corps) after 4 months.

5.  Support of other major combat units of the 4th Army area during their two weeks summer training."

"And now you come home - MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! You helped win a war it was not necessary to fight!  You come home with pride in a job well done; confidence as a result of a professional military performance;  gratification at a reception such as that we have received by our home folks; sharpness both mentally and physically; and satisfaction - the real satisfaction the hearts of each of you because you did respond to your country's call . . . I have been proud to be your commander."   ("Texas 49er", August, 1962.)

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