The 1st Armored Division—nicknamed "Old Ironsides"—is the standing armored division of the United States Army, with its base of operations in Fort Bliss, Texas. It was the first armored division of the U.S. Army to see battle in World War II.
The success of the Russian made T-34 tank at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950 brought renewed enthusiasm for armor. As part of the Korean War buildup of American forces, the 1st Armored Division was reactivated at Fort Hood, Texas on March 7, 1951.
Old Ironsides became one of the first divisions in the Army to integrate black soldiers throughout the ranks. It was also the only combat-ready armored division in the continental United States and the first to receive the M48 Patton Tank. Training for nuclear war became a major theme in the mid-1950s. Accordingly, the 1st Armored Division participated in tests of the "Atomic Field Army" at Fort Hood and in Operation Sagebrush, the largest joint maneuver conducted since World War II. Upon completion of the exercise in February 1956, the 1st Armored Division moved to its new home at Fork Polk, Louisiana.
The division was nicknamed "Old Ironsides", by its first commander, Major General Bruce R. Magruder, after he saw a picture of the frigate USS Constitution, which is also nicknamed "Old Ironsides". The large "1" at the top represents the numerical designation of the division, and the insignia is used as a basis for most other sub-unit insignias. The cannon represents fire power, the track represents mobility, and the lighting bolt represents speed and shock force.
The three colors, red, yellow, and blue represent the Artillery, Cavalry, and Infantry Branches respectively, which are the colors of the three original combat arms which, when forged into one, created the field of Armor. This "pyramid of power" was devised by the order of then-Lieutenant Col. George S. Patton, Jr. in Bourg, France in early 1918 during Patton's formation and training of the Tank Corps in support of the American Expeditionary Force under General John J. Pershing.
Col. Daniel Van Voorhis took a cadre of 175 officers and enlisted men from Fort Eustis to Fort Knox in February 1932, and established a Provisional Armored Car Platoon. This was based on an earlier effort, but was predicated on a new Cavalry Regiment TO&E (Table of Organization and Equipment) which was published that year. Also published, but never implemented, was a Cavalry Division TO&E which reflected the then unnatural assimilation of machines into the Horse Cavalry.
Van Voorhis's cadre and platoon became the kernel for the 7th Cavalry Brigade, which went active on 1 March 1932 at Fort Knox. At first, it was nothing more than a headquarters detachment and the Armored Car Platoon.
On 3 January 1933, the 1st Cavalry Regiment was relieved from assignment to the 1st Cavalry Division, and was moved from Fort D.A. Russell (now Francis E. Warren Air Force Base) to Fort Knox. The earlier Mechanized Platoon was incorporated into the new Regimental TO&E, and the result was the 1st Cavalry Regiment [Mechanized], which went active on 16 January 1933.
The new regimental commander was Colonel Van Voorhis, late of the experimental Mechanized Force, while the executive officer was Adna Chaffee. The Post Commander of Fort Knox was Brigadier General Julian R. Lindsey, another cavalryman. To round out the cavalry nature of the unit, Major Robert W. Grow was on the Regimental Staff.
Van Voorhis added the 13th Cavalry Regiment, the 68th Field Artillery Battalion, the 7th Reconnaissance Squadron, the 7th Signal Troop, the 4th Medical Troop, the 47th Engineer Troop and the 17th Quartermaster Battalion. The 7th Cavalry Brigade was fully formed.
Van Voorhis remained in command until September 1938, when he was promoted to command the V Corps (United States) at Indianapolis, Indiana. Chaffee took over from Van Voorhis.
On 7 May 1940, the 7th Cavalry Brigade took part in the Louisiana Maneuvers at Monroe, Louisiana that were instrumental in developing the armored division concept. The maneuvers concluded on 27 May 1940, and the brigade returned to Fort Knox on 31 May 1940, and preparations began to expand the brigade into the 1st Armored Division.
On 15 July 1940, 7th Cavalry Brigade was expanded, reorganized, and redesignated as 1st Armored Division. 1st Cavalry Regiment was redesignated as 1st Armored Regiment and 13th Cavalry Regiment was redesignated as 13th Armored Regiment.
The first order of battle for the 1st Armored Division was as follows:
On 15 April 1941 the 1st AD sent a cadre to form the U.S. 4th Armored Division ("Name Enough") at Pine Camp, New York.
After completing its organization and equipping, 1st Armored Division trained at Fort Knox, where it participated in the Technicolor short movie The Tanks Are Coming (as the "First Armored Force"). It deployed to participate in the VII Corps Maneuvers on 18 August 1941. Once the maneuvers concluded, 1st Armored Division then moved on 28 August 1941, and arrived at Camp Polk for the Second Army Louisiana Maneuvers on 1 September 1941. They then moved to Fort Jackson on 30 October 1941 to participate in the First Army Carolina Maneuvers. 1st AD then returned to Fort Knox on 7 December 1941, but started to prepare for deployment overseas instead of returning to garrison.
The 1st Armored Division was ordered to Fort Dix on 11 April 1942 to await their deployment overseas. The division's port call required them to board the RMS Queen Mary at the New York Port of Embarkation at the Brooklyn Army Terminal on 11 May 1942. They arrived at Northern Ireland on 16 May 1942, and trained on the moors until they moved on to England on 29 October 1942.
The unit's first contact with an enemy was as part of the Allied invasion of Northwest Africa, Operation Torch, on 8 November 1942. Elements of the division were part of the Northern Task Force and became the first American armored division to see combat in World War II. Combat Command B (CCB) of the division landed east and west of Oran under the command of Brigadier general Lunsford E. Oliver, and entered the city on 10 November 1942. On 24 November 1942, CCB moved from Tafaroui, Algeria to Bedja, Tunisia, and raided Djedeida airfield the next day. Djedeida was finally conquered on 28 November 1942. CCB moved southwest of Tebourba on 1 December 1942, engaged German forces on El Guessa Heights on 3 December 1942, but its lines were pierced on 6 December 1942. CCB withdrew to Bedja with heavy equipment losses between 10 and 11 December 1942, and was placed in reserve. CCB next attacked in the Ousseltia Valley on 21 January 1943, and cleared that area until 29 January 1943 when sent to Bou Chebka, and arrived at Maktar on 14 February 1943. Combat Command A (CCA) fought at Faid Pass commencing on 30 January 1943, and advanced to Sidi Bou Zid, where it was pushed back with heavy tank losses on 14 February 1943, and had elements isolated on Djebel Lessouda, Djebel Kasaira, and Garet Hadid. Combat Command C (CCC), which had been constituted on 23 January 1943 to raid Sened Station on 24 January, advanced towards Sbeita, and counterattacked to support CCA in the Sidi Bou Zid area on 15 February 1943, but was repulsed with heavy losses. The division withdrew from Sbeita on 16 February 1943, but – by 21 February 1943 CCB contained the German attack toward Tebessa. The German withdrawal allowed the division to recover Kasserine Pass on 26 February 1943 and assemble in reserve. The division moved northeast of Gafsa on 13 March 1943 and attacked in heavy rains on 17 March 1943 as CCA took Zannouch, but became immobilized by rain the next day. The division drove on Maknassy on 20 March 1943, and fought the Battle of Djebel Naemia on 22–25 March 1943, and then fought to break through positions baring the road to Gabčs between 29 March and 1 April 1943. It began to follow up the withdrawing German forces on 6 April 1943, and attacked towards Mateur with CCA on 27 April 1943, which fell after hard fighting on Hill 315 and Hill 299 on 3 May 1943. The division fought the Battle for Djebel Achtel between 5 and 11 May 1943, and entered Ferryville on 7 May 1943. The German forces in Tunisia surrendered between 9 and 13 May 1943. The division was reorganized in French Morocco, and began arriving in Naples, Italy on 28 October 1943.
After the fall of Sicily, the unit, part of the US Fifth Army, invaded mainland Italy. It took part in the attack on the infamous Winter Line in November 1943. It then flanked the Axis armies in the landings at Anzio, and participated in the liberation of Rome on 4 June 1944. The division continued in combat to the Po Valley until the German forces in Italy surrendered on 2 May 1945. In June, the Division moved to Germany as part of the occupation forces.
1st Armored Division returned to the New York Port of Embarkation on 24 April 1946, and was inactivated at Camp Kilmer, New Jersey on 25 April 1946.
The Korean War saw a buildup in U.S. forces after World War II. As part of that buildup, the 1st Armored Division was reactivated on 7 March 1951 at Fort Hood. It was the first Army unit to receive the new M48 Patton tank. After a number of years in Texas, the division was moved to Fort Polk, Louisiana, in 1956.