Army War Show - 1942

By Susan Thompson, CECOM Command HistorianAugust 2, 2023

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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. – In the summer of 1942, an ambitious special project was launched by the Army to educate the American public about its ongoing efforts as it recognized its six-month anniversary entrance into World War II.

The United States Army War Show, under the direction of a provisional task force, had a stated purpose so, “…that our people may see their Army and be inspired to greater effort in supporting it, with full confidence in its leadership and purposes…”

As described in the yearbook, “United States Army War Show: Provisional Task Force, 1942,” World War II had impacted most Americans, and they wanted to be informed.

“Our Army had grown until it numbered millions. Parents, wives and relatives had watched America’s young men march off to distant training camps without being able to visit them and learn from personal observation how those men were being prepared for modern warfare,” the yearbook explained. “America was financing a war effort. It wanted to know how its money was being expended. The Bureau of Public Relations of the War Department wanted an answer. It was discovered in the Army War Show.”

With under a month’s planning, the task force kicked off the 18-city, 6-month tour in Baltimore, Maryland on June 12,1942 and ended in Atlanta, Georgia, on Dec. 20, 1942. Revenue from the show was dedicated to the Army Emergency Relief Fund. It was estimated that over 4 million people saw the show, which netted over $1 million for AER.

Supported not only by the Army, but also by a National Advisory Committee and local committees, the War Show was one of the earliest and largest community relations efforts undertaken by the Army and involved the volunteer efforts of the biggest names in entertainment and media at the time. The task force was comprised of 2,300 men and officers supporting their fellow Soldiers assigned to combat duty. Units from the Signal Corps at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, were part of the initial planning group of 700, which first met on May 20, 1942.

The Army War Show provided the audience with a view of their Army in action, using the latest weapons, systems, and equipment. Along with the scheduled show, a Battle Depot was set up outside the stadium under six giant circus tents, highlighting nine separate branches of the of the Army: Quartermaster Corps, Signal Corps, Air Forces, Chaplain Corps, Army Nurse Corps, Corps of Engineers, Medical Corps, Chemical Warfare Service and Ordnance Department.

The August 1942 Signal Corps Technical Information Letter explains the draw of the Signal Corps exhibit.

“Modern communications equipment used by the United States Army Signal Corps in successfully fulfilling its vital assignment of ‘getting the message through’ comprises one of the most interesting exhibits of the Army War Show that is now touring the United States.”

Divided into sections, each booth highlighted a single activity – telephones, teletype, radio, training and photography. Equipment used by each activity was on display, manned and demonstrated by Signal Corps soldiers. Outside the tent, large construction equipment used by the Signal Corps was exhibited, including a pole carrier and a power-driven generator. This equipment was used for the Signal Corp’s portion of the War Show each night, setting up a three-pole, four-line telephone circuit and tying it into switchboards in 10 minutes.

The show ran for two hours, kicking off with a Signal Corps “Handy Talkie” demonstration, moving on to Airplanes Handkerchief Stunt, Infantry Close Order Drill, Artillery, Medical Detachment, Horse Cavalry, Automatic Weapons, Jeep Comedy, Jeep Jamboree, Motorcycles, Flame Thrower, Match Trick (highlighting the importance of black-out procedures), Salute to Industry Living Flag, Signal Corps Obstacles, Tanks, Tank Destroyers, Anti-aircraft, Chaplains, Battle Action, Fireworks, and ending with the Star-Spangled Banner. Each demonstration was short, running from less than five to a maximum of 15 minutes.

The reviews from the press were enthusiastic, and encouraged citizens to attend the shows, which stopped at each location for up to a week. Along with providing a glimpse into the new lives of combat Soldiers, the show raised morale, confidence and understanding among the viewers, and created a new sense of the scale of modern warfare and the support needed by the country to move forward with the war effort.