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Eisenhower and (Tank) Driver’s Ed

Today’s post comes from Christopher Abraham at the Eisenhower Presidential Library. He answers a question each week on Facebook. This week’s Ask an Archivist query comes from Pennsylvania.

“Did Eisenhower teach Patton how to drive a tank at Camp Colt in Gettysburg?” Anonymous

Captain George S. Patton knew how to drive a tank by the time Captain Dwight D. Eisenhower was in command of Camp Colt. In November 1917, Patton visited a French light tank training session in the forest of Compiegne where he drove a Renault tank and fired its gun. He was so interested in the machine that his instructors had to find a mechanic to answer his questions.

After the closure of Camp Colt in late 1918, Lieutenant Colonel Dwight D. Eisenhower (shown here standing in front of the tank) continued serving with the Tank Corps until 1922 when he left Camp Meade, Maryland (where this photograph was taken) to serve as executive officer for the 20th Infantry Brigade in the Panama Canal Zone. (Eisenhower Presidential Library, ARC 876971)

After taking a course at the army’s first tank school at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Eisenhower was ordered in November 1918 to report to Camp Meade, Maryland. There he joined the 65th Engineers and organized what would become the 301st Tank Battalion. In March he was told that the battalion would go to France and that he would be in command. To his disappointment, he was sent to Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, where he was placed in command of the Tank Corps. He was temporarily promoted to lieutenant colonel in October and was told he would leave for France in November to command an armored unit. The armistice was signed before he could embark.

Eisenhower traveled with First Transcontinental Motor Convoy as a Tank Corps observer in 1919 after closing Camp Colt. Eisenhower would meet Patton for the first time back at Camp Meade (later Fort Meade) that fall. He and Patton were responsible for creating the Infantry Tank School where they would serve as both students and instructors.

Library staff answer every reference question we receive, but not all questions will be posted to Ask an Archivist. Questions will be edited for length and privacy. If you would like to ask a question, please contact us!

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Comments

Comment from Patrick Osborn
Time February 28, 2013 at 8:58 am

Christopher, for some time now I’ve been working on a history of the Tank Corps, and I’ve never seen any reference to an armored school at Ft. Leavenworth. So far as I know, prior to Eisenhower’s arrival at Gettysburg, the only truly American tank school was the one established by Patton at Bourg in early 1918. (301st Battalion set up at Wareham/Wool next to the British tank school at Bovington, Dorset.) I’d be interested to find out where that information came from. Technically, Eisenhower wasn’t “in command of the Tank Corps” while at Colt. The Chief of the Tank Corps in the US was Colonel Ira Welborn, who was appointed over the strenuous objections of General Pershing. This was the first bone of contention between Pershing and newly-appointed Army Chief of Staff Peyton March.

Comment from Patrick Osborn
Time February 28, 2013 at 9:02 am

Christopher, I see now that I misinterpreted your comment about Fort Leavenworth. I read it as being before Eisenhower went to Gettysburg, not afterward. From an archival standpoint, documentation relating to the Tank Corps is actually rather thin, since the records of the Office of the Chief of the Tank Corps seem to have disappeared sometime after 1943. At that time, according to an inventory prepared by the National Archives, those records were in the custody of Army Ground Forces. Where they went after that remains a mystery…

Comment from john
Time March 4, 2013 at 1:17 pm

What a great photo! I wonder if his service at Camp Colt led him to eventually settle in Gettysburg. Thanks for sharing.