CAMP DIX AND DEMOBILIZATION
“The collapse of the Central Powers came more quickly than even the best-informed military experts believed possible.” 1 (U.S. Secretary of War 1tr. To U.S. Senator James A. Reed, 3 April 1919.)
Thus, wrote Secretary of War Newton D. Baker in a letter to Senator James A. Reed about the suddenness of the armistice on 11 November 1918. The abrupt end of the war found the United States even less prepared for demobilization than it had been for mobilization in April 1917.
When the war ended, there was only one officer, Colonel C. H. Conrad, Jr. in the entire United States Army actively working on plans for personnel demobilization, and he had received the assignment only one month previously.
General Peyton C. March, chief of staff, US Army, in speaking of the planning for demobilization said, “…There were no precedents afforded by the experience of our former wars which were of value in determining policy.” 2 (Peyton C. March, The Nation at War, p. 312)
Except the Civil War, no war in which the United States previously participated had involved the mass of personnel comparable to the millions who served in World War I. Then, too, the opportunities of economic and territorial expansion in the nation that existed after the Civil War were not available to the men released in 1918-19.
The War Department planners considered the welfare of the nation as well as the Army and concluded that demobilizing the emergency troops could be best accomplished in one of four ways: soldiers could be separated by length of service, by industrial needs or occupation, by locality (through the use of local draft boards), or by military units.
The decision favoring the military unit method of demobilization was made on 16 November 1918 and immediately announced to the press. The secretary of war, describing the plan in his report for 1919, said, ‘…the policy adopted was to demobilize by complete organizations as their services could be spared, thus insuring the maximum efficiency of those organizations remaining, instead of demobilizing by special classes with the resulting discontent among those not given preferential treatment and retained in the service, thus lowering their morale and efficiency and disrupting all organizations with the attendant general discontent,’ 3 (U.S. Secretary of War, War Department Annual Report 1919, vol. I, pt. I, p. 14)
Demobilization Centers, such as Camp Dix became on 3 December 1918, performed the task of discharging the troops. At these centers camp personnel conducted physical examinations, made up the necessary papers to close all records, checked property, adjusted financial and other accounts, and generally completed the processing. Many units in the United States were not immediately released. They manned ports of embarkation, convalescent and demobilization centers, supply depots, base and general hospitals, garrisons along the Mexican border, and bases outside the United States.
Camp Dix personnel had a taste of the inactivation process even before it was designated a Demobilization Center. This occurred on 30 November 1918 with the official inactivation of the 102nd Infantry Division, the new division scheduled for formation at Camp Dix that never got beyond assignment of cadre. In December 1918 demobilization got underway in earnest with the inactivation of the 333rd, 334th, 338th, 339th, and 346th Light Tank Battalions; the 351st 382nd, 383rd Heavy Training and Replacement Companies; and the 319th,,320th,321st Tank Repair and Salvage Companies. These tank units were elements of the 309th and 310th Tank Centers, which only had been transferred to Camp Dix in November 1918. They were part of the final war plan to augment tank participation of the A.E.F. in France during the scheduled 1919 buildup of United States forces. Although these organizations had received cadres of some trainees, systematic training barely began before the units were inactivated. The two Tank Center Headquarters remained at Camp Dix for a time, but they, too, were inactivated in June 1919.
Demobilization really got underway at Camp Dix beginning in January 1919. In quick succession, seven entire infantry divisions or their major elements were inactivated in the next six months. They were the 87th Infantry Division, January to March; 41st Infantry Division, February to March; 28th Infantry Division, April to May; 42nd Infantry Division, May; 29th Infantry Division, May; 78th Infantry Division, the first occupants of Camp Dix, May to June; and the 79th Infantry Division, May to June.
During the same period, inactivation of the following smaller units was accomplished at Camp Dix; 10 engineer regiments, two engineer trains, 26 transportation corps companies, three pioneer infantry regiments, one infantry brigade headquarters, six machine gun battalions, 30 base hospitals, four military police companies, two butchery companies, eight sales commissary units, and 14 U.S. guards battalions.
More than 300,000 men were discharged at Camp Dix by 31 July 1919. Of this number 16,485 were officers and 39 field clerks (similar to today’s warrant officer). In addition, 76,124 officers and men were transferred to other stations for reassignment or further processing prior to discharge. The largest number of discharges for a day was 5, 231 and transfers 4, 617.
Although the size and number of units inactivated during the period 1 July to 31 December 1919 began to fall off, the scale of inactivations continued to be significant. They included: nine engineer regiments, 63 transportation corps companies, two pioneer infantry regimens, six base hospitals, five ambulance service sections, 25 military police companies, 13 butchery companies, and eight sales commissary units. By October 1919, the demobilization requirements at Camp Dix had slowed to a point where no more than 500 men were handled per day. The War Department already had acquiesced in the requirement that a man be discharged within 48 hours of his arrival at the center.
It was in October that Camp Dix was chosen by the Treasury Department to be the site for filming of movies in support of the “Fifth Liberty Loan Drive.” More than $100,000 was invested in filming simulated battles with doughboys dressed in German battle dress.
Scenes took place in the mock trench area near the filtration plant at New Jersey Avenue beyond 8th Street. The trench area, which circled eastward toward Pointville and included heavily wooded terrain, afforded an ideal setting for producing battle scenes reminiscent of those fought on the Western Front.
By the end of January 1920, demobilization at Camp Dix had come to an end.