Camp Rice

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Camp Rice

A short-lived divisional camp was constructed in early 1942 three miles east of the community of Rice, California, immediately adjacent to Rice Army Air Field (AAF).  The camp was occupied by the 5th Armored Division from August to October 1942, when the division was moved elsewhere.  Men of the 6th Armored Division resided there from November 1942 to March 1943.  Little other information could be obtained regarding Camp Rice.  Historical-period photographs of the camp indicate the presence of a relief map like the one at Camp Iron Mountain, except on a much smaller scale.  Camp Rice's relief map was approximately 50 by 40 feet originally but has not been relocated. 

Current Condition
The camp's roads can be seen in several locations.  Rock-lined walkways can also be found.  Several of the walkways were lined with quartzite rocks, creating a vivid contrast to the drab sand of the surrounding desert.  Many of these walkways still exist.  Many of the camp's roads are lined with large pieces of basalt, as are many of the walkways.  Lying immediately south of California Highway 62, the camp is easily accessible.  The best-preserved portions of the camp are located approximately 1.5 miles east of the bend in Highway 62 and 0.5 miles south along a road extending south from the highway, marked with an E Clampus Vitus sign. 

In 1985, the Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management prepared a report on the Rice Valley Wilderness Study Area. [1]
Microwave Tower
  Camp Rice May 10, 1999
Microwave Tower  

[1] The Desert Training Center/California-Arizona Maneuver Area,1942-1944 HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL CONTEXTS; Matt C. Bischoff

Camp Rice
Parts of Camp Rice are located within the RSEP project parcel (though not within the fenced project area). This area represents only a small portion of the entirety of Camp Rice, which is 3 miles long and just under a mile wide. The portion recorded for the RSEP survey, is an area at the west-southwest portion of Camp Rice, measuring at the widest, about 1,500 feet east to west and about 4,500 feet north to south. As can be seen on aerial photos, Camp Rice was a long, narrow, orderly layout of 20 foot-wide streets, in the peculiar pattern characteristic of most, if not all of the DTC/CAMA camps, of pairs of streets 100 feet apart, separated by larger gaps of about 800 feet (at Camp Rice). Based on historical photos, the larger open areas between the streets were spaces for rows of tents cities occupied by the troops. At Camp Rice, like the other camps (including nearby camps Granite and Iron Mountain), there is a central roadway that forms a semi-circle around a headquarters flagpole circle.

All but two of the features are pits filled with debris, either burned or buried. The largest is 30 by 5 meters. The smallest is 0.2 by 0.5 meters. These pits have varying amounts of debris in them, mostly cans (hole-in-top, paint, milk, Army ration) and glass (ketchup, mason jars, Coca Cola bottles, amber, green, and clear fragments), with little other debris. The two features that are not pits include a capped well and an excavation interpreted as an emplacement about 30 feet in diameter, with a 50-centimeter (cm) high berm surrounding it (and 200 or so Army ration cans inside of it).

Some of the concentrations contain burned debris that has been dumped; however, most are simply locations where ration containers were dumped, often just off the side of roads. These vary in quantity from a few cans to more than 200, with many moderate-sized dumps of 10 to 50 cans, and contain the following:

  • Cans: Types include square or rectangular meat (including cans marked “roast beef”), C-ration, paint bucket cans, hole-in-top condensed milk, tobacco tin, coffee, and fruit and vegetable cans.

  • Glass: Debris includes clear glass jars and jar fragments, melted glass, amber-colored and green-colored bottles and fragments, and Coca-Cola bottles and fragments.

  • Metal (other than cans): Debris includes vehicle parts, metal strapping, steel cable, nails, wire, .50-caliber shell casings and their ammunition links, metal fragments, hacksaw blade, and hardware cloth rolls.

  • Other debris: Includes batteries, fuse, shoe heel, yellow ceramic plate fragments, and charcoal.

Rice AAF is significant to our military history because it played an important role in training U.S. Army troops for World War II in North Africa. The combined training of air and land forces was a valuable tool for the men that would help win World War II. It would be eligible for the NRHP and the CRHR under Criterion A for its association with CAMA and Criterion B for its association with a significant historical figure, General Patton.

RIce AAF and Camp Rice are important components to the NRHP-eligible DTC/CAMA cultural landscape district. A draft multiple property submission for this district was previously prepared and submitted, and is awaiting edits for final approval. Rice AAF and Camp Rice are likely to be designated as contributing elements to this overall submission for the DTC/CAMA district. Integrity considerations for these types of sites are very different from traditional sites. As stated above, construction of permanent facilities for the DTC/CAMA was very limited, which reflects war time urgency as well as the commander’s desire for Spartan conditions. Further, when viewed as an important component of the whole, Rice AAF and Camp Rice both help to convey the significance of this broader DTC/CAMA district. The integrity of location, design, and setting are generally still able to convey the significance of both Camp Rice and Rice AAF. As a result, Rice AAF and Camp Rice should be considered eligible for listing on the NRHP (and the CRHR) under Criteria A and B.

Camp Rice
This short-lived divisional camp was constructed adjacent to Rice AAF in early 1942. The camp was occupied by the 5th Armored Division between August and October of that year, followed by the 6th Armored Division. The 6th detrained at Freda, and made their home at Camp Rice for the next five months. The 6th Armored Division’s training began with field exercises, including training in night movement, and the use of maps and compasses. Firing ranges were constructed soon after the division’s arrival, and soldiers were trained in anti aircraft firing, and first learned to use their anti-tank weapons. Division field problems gave excellent training to the 146th Armored Signal Company, which used radio, wire, and messenger communications. Charles Barbour, who was with the 86th Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron, described the arrival of his unit:

Open space was quickly transformed into the usual orderly, military array of canvas. Sand, of course, was everywhere. After some weeks truckload after truckload of plasterboard materialized from a gypsum processing plant some miles away; laid on smooth-out sand, it floored the tents after a fashion. Troops got into the habit of shaking out their boots in the evening to evict possible desert denizens, and to secure small belongings from larcenous desert rats (Barbour, n.d.).

Barbour went on provided a description of some of Camp Rice’s facilities:

It was hot when we arrived, and for a few weeks thereafter, and the burlap-screened Quartermaster-serviced open air shower facility a few miles from camp enjoyed great patronage — but only for a few weeks. October, we found, brought its own brand of dry but freezing weather. A No. 10 can of water set on top of a stove sufficed for washcloth bath. Canvas water bags hung on a peg outside the tent became solid ice overnight. It was a wise practice to start the day in multiple layers of clothing and shed gradually as the sun climbed higher. The knit, tiny-visored skull caps designed to be worn under the helmet liner were cozy, with the ear flaps turned down.

Hissing gasoline lanterns provided light for friendly card games or private reading during the night hours. Or, beer bottles in hand, one could squat on the hard sand and watch a movie shown on a fabric screen that billowed in the wind, producing a funhouse mirror-like image of the heroes and heroines, villains and villainesses.
We learned to punch nail holes in empty cartridge cans, set them in holes scooped in the desert’s surface, pour a little gasoline into the hole and light a flickering fire that would warm a can of C-ration (the K was yet to come) or brew a canteen full of instant coffee on the home-made stove (Barbour, n.d.).  []

From Camp Rice, the reconnaissance squadron traveled across the desert perfecting its movement, extending as far south as Yuma, across the river into Arizona. The 6th Armored then took part in maneuvers against the 4th Armored Division in early 1943. Following the maneuvers, the division moved to Camp Coxcomb, which had more amenities, including closed showers and latrines.

Photographs of the camp indicate the presence of a relief map, approximately 50 by 40 feet. Like other, larger relief maps found in other camps, the one at Rice was used to plan out maneuvers and other large-scale exercises. Its location was re-discovered in 1996 (Blake), though little of it remained.

The 836th Engineer Aviation Battalion was stationed at Camp Rice (or at Rice AAF) in December 1942, presumably to assist in the construction (or improvement) of Rice AAF. In February 1943, the unit was transferred to Camp Young, which was considered a vast improvement over Camp Rice. The tents at the camp had floors and half walls, and were equipped with stoves. In addition, showers were available and the battalion had its own PX furnished with beer (Merz, n.d.).

Both air and ground units used the surrounding desert to train. Several areas have been identified as known maneuver or training areas, with substantial ordnance found.

The Big Maria Mountains, south of Rice, were used extensively for live-fire activities (USACE, 1998). These activities likely relate to the training activities of the two divisions at Camp Rice. An aerial gunnery range was established in the mountains immediately north of RAAF, as depicted on a map of the CAMA from 1943. Approximately 5,000 acres of the Rice Valley Sand Dunes were set aside as bombing and strafing ranges for the RAAF. It also appears that troops from Camp Rice also used the area for live-fire exercises. Several clearance efforts have been conducted in the area following the closure of the CAMA, with 105-millimeter (mm) and 75-mm projectiles recovered, along with one 37-mm round (USACE, 1996).

Daily Activities
Camp Rice was a short-lived divisional camp occupied by the 5th Armored Division between August and October of 1942, followed by the 6th Armored Division who occupied Camp Rice for the next five months. Training included field exercises in night movement, orienteering, anti-aircraft firing, and anti-tank weapons training. Some detailed descriptions of daily life are described by Charles Barbour but additional archaeological data can confirm and compliment the historic information.

[Draft Historic Properties Treatment Plan Rice Solar Energy Project November 2011]


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