Camp Bouse, Arizona

General George Patton was a native of California and knew the deserts of southern California and Arizona from his youth. He had trained in the Mojave Desert as early as 1930 and later scouted the area and set up 11 tent camps in order to train his troops prior to sending them off to battle. The training area stretched from Pomona, California, east to within 50 miles of Phoenix, south to Yuma, Arizona, and north, to the southern tip of Nevada. He chose Desert Center, California, population 19, as his headquarters. The area consisted of approximately 18,000 square miles and was originally called the Desert Training Center (DTC) and later changed to the California-Arizona Maneuver Area.

The camps were situated so that they would not interfere with the training of the other camps. The plan was that each unit would train by itself, then later come together to train as a Corps. The camps included Camp Young, Coxcomb, Iron Mountain, Granite, Ibis, Essex, Hyder, Horn, Laguna, Pilot Knob and Bouse, plus several artillery and bombing ranges. Camp Bouse was the only one that became a top-secret installation.

General Patton, who was independently wealthy, purchased commercial broadcasting equipment and broadcast news and music to the camps. He kept a microphone next to his bed and in his headquarters and would occasionally, when the mood hit him, broadcast messages to his troops.

All of these camps were temporary and, with few exceptions, the only structures were tents. A few had airfields.

Units from the DTC were deployed for the invasion of North Africa in November 1942.

Making camp

In August 1943, in the small desert town of Bouse, under cover of night, heavy equipment began arriving by train. It was offloaded and disappeared north into the desert. Signs stating “U.S. Government — No Trespassing,” were erected and locals were barred from the road. Earthmovers, bulldozers and road graders went to work 19 miles from town building roads, berms and moving dirt. The location was specially selected to keep it out of the sight of prying eyes. One month later it was ready for occupancy.

Moving in were the Tank Battalions — the 701st, 736th, 738th, 739th, 740th and 748th — plus the 150th Station Hospital, 554th Ordnance Company, 526th Armored Infantry Bn. and the 166th Quartermaster Bn., making up the 9th Tank Group. The tanks, top secret at the time and codenamed “Leaflet,” assigned to this camp were equipped with the Canal Defense Light (CDL), a turret-mounted, 13-million-candlepower arc light that directed a beam of light through a tall, narrow slit.

The concept

In 1915, a British navy commander came up with the idea of lighting up the nighttime battlefield with a powerful light. He took it a step further by devising a method to open and close a shutter on this light at a rate of two to six times per second. The concept was to confuse the enemy. The British War office eventually developed the idea, and ordered 300 CDLs in June 1941, codenamed Matilda II.

During one test at Lulworth firing range at Dorset, England, a volunteer agreed to drive one of the tanks at night with the arc-light turret in full operation while under fire from a 25-pound British field gun. The gunnery crew was told they should try to stop this tank with gunfire to the best of their ability. The gunners fired repeatedly at the tank but they could not find its range so the shells fell short or way beyond it. At the end of the test, tank tracks showed that it had been maneuvering from side to side but the gunners thought it had been coming straight at them.

The British named the light system the Canal Defense Light or CDL, which had nothing to do with the canal or defense, but was so named to confuse anyone who overheard the name mentioned.

General Eisenhower and his staff were invited to watch a demonstration of the light and one colonel was so impressed that he commented that his men “would soon have a weapon that will change the course of WWII.”

It was decided to equip 355 U.S. Grant tanks to the configuration, and, subsequently Camp Bouse was created and declared top secret.

U.S. development

The Grant tank was hastily conceived and built in 1941 to fill a gap between WWI and WWII, before the Sherman came on line. At ten feet high, and even more with the CDL attached, it was deemed too high. It had a crew of six, later reduced to five with the consolidation of the radio operator. Its main weapon was a limited traverse 75mm gun with a .30 caliber machine gun in the turret; it was limited because there was no rotating turret. It had a top speed off road of 16 mph with a range of 120 miles. The U.S. Army codenamed the light “Gizmo.”

Gizmo

The Grant did see action in North Africa where it stood up fairly well to German tanks and did even better against the lightly armored Japanese tanks in the Pacific theater. Most were given to England and Russia in the lend/lease program. Grant tanks were used in the D-Day landing, but were quickly replaced by the Sherman.

Camp conditions

Life at Camp Bouse was hard. The 9,000 to 12,000 men stationed there lived in wood framed, six-man tents with small heaters for cold nights. During winter months they crawled into their sleeping bags fully dressed with coats in order to stay warm. Summer temperatures reached upwards of 120°F and the men slept during the day, practicing when night came.

A special tank firing range was built using 11 lanes running abreast, ending at a berm upon which sat targets. The tankers would practice traveling down these roads toward the targets, staying abreast of one another with 90 feet between, while flashing Gizmo and firing their guns.

The people in the town of Bouse recounted that it appeared that lightning was flashing low against the mountains 20 miles away.

The men worked long hours keeping their tanks in good repair, and there were also mortar and artillery ranges. Several nights a week artillery was fired over the camp to prepare the soldiers for the sounds of battle. Encounters with rattlesnakes, tarantulas and scorpions were not uncommon.

Camp Bouse had one of the finest hospitals of all the camps with eight officers, 12 nurses and 45 enlisted medical personnel. The hospital had a complete surgical ward so any sick or injured soldier would not have to be sent to a civilian hospital and possibly compromise the secrecy of Camp Bouse.

An arena bowl was dug with bleachers circling around it and boxing matches between the unit champions was a favorite entertainment. In addition, a tented theater was nearby.

A 500,000-gallon concrete reservoir, supplied by a nearby well, held the camp’s water supply. Fuel was shipped to Bouse by rail and stored in tanks next to the railway; tanker trucks from the camp would travel to town to fill up many 5-gallon jerry cans.

The remains of the 500,000-gallon concrete reservoir.

Action

The 701st Tank Battalion left Camp Bouse in March 1944 and shipped to Wales, where they continued their training. After landing at Utah Beach on D-Day, their Grants were replaced by Shermans and the battalion went on to cross the Rhine and Elbe, stopping their advance 50 miles from Berlin.

The 526th Armored Infantry Bn. was separated from the 9th Tank Group in France and reassigned to General Omar Bradley. They took part in the Battle of the Bulge and Belgium.

The 738th Tank Bn. saw action in the Ardennes, Alsace, Rhineland and Central Europe.

Surprisingly, Gizmo was never used. One of the main reasons given was that, having been kept so secret, commanders planning field actions were not aware that such an instrument existed.

Camp Bouse today

With the abandonment of the camp in 1944, it fell mostly to ruin. An army unit using Italian POWs visited the camp and defused any ammunition found, and tore down all the wooden structures and burned the lumber.

Today, roads still exist although many are overgrown with brush. The imprint of tank treads can still be seen crisscrossing the desert floor. Floor slabs and foundation blocks are scattered along with the occasional tin can and metal debris.

Like any former military camp, unit logos can be found where rocks were piled to spell out the unit’s designation. There are also rock piles for the hospital, and, at the location of the chapel, stone crosses are laid on the ground. Mesquite trees and salt cedar grow through cracks at the bottom of the reservoir.

If visitors look closely at the berm on the firing range, they can see evidence of the wooden posts that held the targets.

Honoring Old Glory

And, above it all, flies the American flag. The flag had been flying for at least five years and was in a sad state due to the harsh desert winds and age, so 23 members of American Legion Post 81, in Lake Havasu City, AZ, traveled to the site in January 2013 and retired, with honors, that old flag, putting up a new “typhoon” U.S. flag.

Due to the condition of the road going to the camp, those who arrived by motorcycle left their steeds in Bouse, loading into others’ vehicles to travel the distance to the camp.

Once there, members formed ranks and saluted as the old flag was taken down for the final time to the sounds of a bugle playing Retreat. The old flag was ceremoniously burned to ashes, then buried at the base of the flagpole — a fitting final end to a flag that had flown so proudly over one of the nations’ WWII camps.

A new rope and snaps were assembled on the flagpole and the new flag was hoisted into place. In the years to come when it starts to show its age, the Post 81 riders have vowed to return and repeat the ceremony.