During the spring and summer of 1940, the Japanese Navy menaced Southeast Asia and Hitler’s armies blitzed their way across France. While Pearl Harbor was still far in the future, it was obvious to most Americans that the cause of freedom was in grave danger. President Roosevelt ordered most of the National Guard into federal service and signed legislation which authorized the first peace-time draft in American history. As General of the Army, Omar Bradley, later said: “a gigantic mess ensued.” All existing military facilities were swamped by various units trying to mobilize and bring their readiness up to Army standards. Without a major new building program, there would be no place to teach the draftees how to be soldiers and get them ready to join their units.
On November 8, 1940, the War Department announced that one of these new training centers would be located in Spartanburg County, SC. The climate and terrain were perfect for year-round training. The community had supported nearby Camp Wadsworth with enthusiasm during World War I, and had fought unsuccessfully to make it a permanent installation.
The military reservation was named “Camp Croft” in honor of Major General Edward Croft (1874-1938), a South Carolinian who had served with distinction as an officer in World War I and retired as Chief of Infantry. It was located on the Southern Railroad about five miles southeast of Spartanburg.
The Camp Croft Infantry Replacement Training Center (IRTC) was officially activated on January 10, 1941, as a part of the Fourth Service Command, with housing for some 20,000 trainees and support personnel. It served the War Department for the next four years-plus as one of the Army’s principal IRTCs and as a prisoner of war (POW) camp. The young men who came to Spartanburg and Camp Croft were, for the most part. from New York, Pennsylvania, and New England. They arrived in groups of 16,000, were introduced to Army discipline, food and drill sergeants, and began the standard 13-week cycle of basic training. They fired M-1 rifles, Browning Automatic Rifles, anti-tank rockets, and infantry mortars on numerous training ranges located to the south of the cantonment area. They ran obstacle and fit-to-fight courses, trained to fight in a chemical environment using the camp’s gas chambers and gas obstacle course and even conducted amphibious warfare training using real explosives/explosions to best simulate war. Once they left Camp Croft, they joined units to fight battles all around the world, e.g. North Africa and Italy; Normandy and the Rhine; and New Guinea and the Philippines. (US Army Corps of Engineers, Rock Island District. Sept 1993. Archives Search Report Findings for the former Camp Croft Army Training Facility).
The timeline outlines USAESCH activities occurring at Camp Croft since 1993. Project information is also maintained in the Information Repository at the Spartanburg County Public Library, 151 S. Church Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina.