Historic Knollwood Maneuver training honored, remembered

 The large-scale maneuver involved more units coming in from Richmond, Hoke, and Scotland counties, a 2,500 square mile area, while the complete armada involved airplanes taking off from five separate airfields: Pope Army Airfield, Mackall Army Airfield, Florence, S.C. Army Airfield, Lumberton Army Auxiliary Airfield and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Airfield. 

* View full PDF of display

A World War II game-changer that ensured the survival of the U.S. Airborne divisions is commemorated with a permanent historical display on public view at the Moore County Airport Terminal.

The Moore County Historical Association sponsored the display that was installed Tuesday, Aug. 5. A dedication ceremony will be scheduled to coincide with the 71st anniversary of the historic Knollwood Maneuver in December.   The Knollwood Maneuver was a dress rehearsal for the successful D-Day invasion of Europe six months later in June 1944. This summer marks the 70th anniversary of that world-changing event.                         .

The 3-x-7-foot text and photo exhibit is encased in Plexi-glas and mounted on the wall in a niche adjacent to the baggage claim area, easily viewed –and read–by visitors arriving from the parking lot at the rear of the terminal building. Vicki Stone, of the Village Design Group of Southern Pines, prepared the poster-formatted display and had it mounted with a donation from the MCHA.

“This is a very welcome display that shows the significant role this facility played in December, 1943 when the Army was using the Knollwood Army Auxiliary Airfield, as it was named then, to test how well the airborne divisions would perform in the later D-Day invasion,” said Airport Manager Steve Borden.

The little-known Knollwood Maneuver as it is called was a combat test done on Dec. 7, 1943 extending over the next several days, centered at the tiny, obscure facility, now the Moore County Airport.

Photo by Sue Pockmire Airport Manager Steve Borden points out significant area on historic Knollwood Maneuver display recently mounted at the Moore County Airport, while Sara Lindau, MCHA member and member of Knollwood Maneuver Display Committee, MCHA Presdident Greg Zywocinski, and Committee member Norris Hodgkins look on.

Photo by Sue Pockmire
Airport Manager Steve Borden points out significant area on historic Knollwood Maneuver display recently mounted at the Moore County Airport, while Sara Lindau, MCHA member and member of Knollwood Maneuver Display Committee, MCHA Presdident Greg Zywocinski, and Committee member Norris Hodgkins look on.

The Maneuver consisted of war games involving a large “Blue Army” U.S. Airborne armada that “assaulted” the “Red Army” opposing forces in control of the Knollwood Army Auxiliary Airfield in the Pinehurst/Southern Pines area. All told, 10,282 men took part, with 48 minor injuries and two fatalities. It was a rehearsal for the D-Day invasion of Europe using Airborne division paratroopers among other units. The display tells the story in text and with historic photographs easily readable by viewers.

Retired journalist Tom MacCallum, of Rockingham, researched and contributed to the information and selection of photographs used in the display. He is a member of the Moore County Historical Association and Richmond County Historical Society. MacCallum also is author of “The History of Camp Mackall.”

“The significance of what took place here in 1943 is worthy of recognition with this display,” MacCallum said. “ It is a proud part of the cooperation of Moore County citizens with U.S. Army Airborne and Army Air Corps training here during World War II.”

Sue Pockmire, a dedicated volunteer with the Moore County Historical Association, coordinated with Stone in production of the historical display. “We are so pleased at the excellent work that went into this historical display,” Pockmire said.

“This is a quality resource for visitors to learn about the heretofore little known historic pedigree here at the Moore County Airport. It goes a long way toward fulfilling one of the Association’s objectives: To erect historical markers and monuments, open for public viewing.”

The display tells the tale: The large-scale maneuver involved more units coming in from Richmond, Hoke, and Scotland counties, a 2,500 square mile area, while the complete armada involved airplanes taking off from five separate airfields: Pope Army Airfield, Mackall Army Airfield, Florence, S.C. Army Airfield, Lumberton Army Auxiliary Airfield and Laurinburg-Maxton Army Airfield. These planes met near the Atlantic Ocean to then approach the target over a 200-mile route after their rendezvous. Nearby golf courses and open fields west and north of Knollwood were used as drop zones and landing zones for the armada approaching the target: The Airfield.

The initial assault was by 200 transport aircraft towing 234 gliders and paratroopers from the 11th Airborne Division reinforced by the 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment trained at nearby Camp Mackall. The defenders included units of the 17th Airborne Division and 541st Parachute Infantry Regiment, also training at Camp Mackall. The initial assault was successful but ensuing struggles between both parties extended over several days to complete the games.

In short order the assault begun at 2:30 a.m. was punctuated by bad weather with rain and sleet. The Pilot newspaper of Southern Pines later reported that “More than 1,900 paratroopers were dropped, and they overpowered the 700 defenders of Knollwood shortly after they hit the ground.”

At risk was the future of the five Airborne Division-size units planned to be used during World War II. Due to the successful performance in the next few days at this little-known airport in the Sandhills of North Carolina, the high command in Washington, including Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander and Gen. George Marshall, then U .S. Army Chief of Staff, determined the division-size airborne units were proven in this test of readiness. The test was particularly significant because the 82nd Airborne Division’s performance during the Allies’ earlier invasion of Sicily was considered poor.

Six months after the Knollwood Maneuver — almost 71 years ago —was proclaimed a success by the “judges,” ranking generals and cabinet members, the successful Allied invasion of Europe on D-Day, June 6, 1944 began.

The exercises taking place over several days during the Knollwood Maneuver were replicated and the use of Airborne divisions from Camp Mackall proved successful again in Europe. Gliders, paratroopers, jeeps, quarter-ton trailers, supplies and equipment some of it air landed, were used again for the “real” thing resulting in Allied and U.S. victory eventually over the Nazis and their allies. Without the Knollwood Maneuver it is possible the invasion of Europe might have had a very different outcome.

The Moore County Historical Association is a nonprofit organization headquartered at the historic Shaw House in Southern Pines, NC. It is supported by memberships, donations, sales of books and gift shop merchandise, and proceeds from fundraisers. Through this support, the Association focuses on community enrichment through the presentation of exhibits at their five house-museums dating from the 18th and 19th centuries, an educational outreach program including speakers and programs for all ages; the offering of a research library and photo archives, and hosting of special events. For more information about the Moore County Historical Association visit: www.moorehistory.com or call 910-692-2051.

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