Above: Fort Devens in 1933

Fort Devens is a military installation in Massachusetts. Its primary role is to train units for their respective tasks in the military. Because of its emphasis in training, the installation is able to focus on its goal without any of the distractions that bigger military bases face on a day-to-day basis. The fort is named after Charles Devens, the Civil War general who would later become the Attorney General during Rutherford B. Hayes’s presidency, and who also hailed from Massachussets.

Map of Fort Devens

Mission and vision of Fort Devens

Fort Devens has a two-fold mission:

  1. To prepare reserve component units by providing them with the training they will need in order to support the military forces; and
  2. To provide base operations for any activities done in or outside of the installation.

The vision of Fort Devens is to become the training area of choice for units in New England.

History of Fort Devens

Fort Devens was built on September 5, 1917 because of the demand for trained soldiers during World War I. Originally, it was only a temporary cantonment area where troops were activated and trained, of which two divisions that were deployed in the war were from.

At the end of World War I, the camp transformed from an activation and training center into a demobilization center. Camp Devens was responsible for the processing of over 100,000 selectees into the Army and 150,000 soldiers out of the army. This role, however, was not sufficient for the camp to be retained. As such, it was declared an excess to the needs of the US Army on September 1, 1921 and was put on caretaker status.

Despite its caretaker status, Camp Devens was by no means abandoned. Originally a temporary cantonment area, it was soon used by several groups, including the National Guard troops based in New England, Reserve units, Citizens Military Training Camp (CMTC) candidates, and ROTC cadets, as a training camp. Ironically enough, it was during this period of having a caretaker status did the construction of permanent buildings begin in Camp Devens on 1928. One was used as a battalion barracks while the other was used as a regimental barracks. Camp Devens was also utilized by Robert Goddard as a testing area for his rockets in 1929.

Troops were eventually assigned to Fort Devens, the first of which was the 13th Infantry Regiment and three companies from the 1st Tank Regiment on September 1931.  On October 1931, Fort Devens was declared as a permanent installation. In 1932, it was redesignated as Fort Devens. By then, the three companies from the 1st Tank Regiment were inactivated but also immediately reactivated as the 3rd Battalion, 66th Infantry, otherwise known as the Light Tanks. Buildings continued to be constructed in the installation during this period. At the same time, a post beautification program was held in Fort Devens throughout the 1930s, with most of the funds for the project provided by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).

The redesignation of Fort Devens as a permanent installation came just in time, as the country experienced an increasing need for more military personnel following the outbreak of World War II. There were three divisions that were sent to Fort Devens for training for the war: the 1st, 32nd, and the 45th. The Fourth Womens Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) Training Center was also built on the installation, and it became officially open on April 1943 (WAAC would later become known as the Womens Army Corps just three months later). Fort Devens was also used to hold prisoners-of-war, with over 5,000 German and Italian soldiers held in a temporary camp in the installation. The POW camp remained in operation until May 1946. The installation also hosted the Cook and Baker School and the Chaplain School. The main mission of Fort Devens, however, remained in training soldiers for the war. It also provided training for Army nurses.

Even after the war, Fort Devens was tapped as providing training for reserves. The first peace-time draft in the United States was made on the 1940, and it designated the military base as a reception center for New England males to go to in order for them to serve one year as draftees.

Fort Devens saw a massive building program on 1940, with over 1,200 wooden buildings built on the installation, including two 1,200-bed hospitals. By 1941, the airfield on the base was also finished. Called the Fort Devens Airfield or the Moore Army Airfield, the construction of this property cost over $680,000, a hefty sum at the time. This was followed by the construction of the Whittemore Service Command Base Shop, which was built between 1941 and 1942.  The base shop was given the task of repairing the damaged military vehicles of the US that are part of the First Service Command. Because of this responsibility, Whittemore Service Command Base Shop became known as the largest repair facility in the world.

Fort Devens became redesignated as a demobilization center following the end of the war. Eventually, it was put on caretaker status on June 30, 1946. Fort Devens would eventually serve as an extension of the University of Massachusetts in order for the army veterans to continue their education.

The Korean War once again saw Fort Devens serving as a reception center. While there were no divisions assigned to the installation, two regimental combat teams and two signal battalions were placed there. The Vietnam War also saw soldiers being sent to Fort Devens from Asia. Fort Devens also played an active role during Operation Desert Storm, where it prepared units for deployment to the Middle East.

Fort Devens was deactivated as an active installation on March 31, 1996.

Facts and Figures about Fort Devens

  •   Fort Devens can support over 40,000 units on the base, including soldiers, cadets, and other military personnel.
  •   The property covered by the military installation is about 4,800 acres.
  •   Fort Devens has 26 ranges, 15 facilities, 25 training areas, and 8 maneuver areas.
  •   There are a total of 134 buildings and facilities on Fort Devens, which include 15 classrooms.
  •   Fort Devens does not have in-house housing facilities. Instead, the Operations Divisions is tasked with maintaining training billets that the troops can use while training at the installation.

Video – Fort Devens Museum