Camp Phillips: A Forgotten Saline County Fort


By Larry Billinger

Residents near Salina, Kansas, are accustomed to the sounds of the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range. Yet, beneath the range’s expansive stretch lies the rich history of Camp Phillips. Spanning a brief but impactful period from 1942 to 1944, this camp reshaped the community of Smolan, Kansas, and its surroundings.

Government Land Grab

On June 4, 1942, the U.S. Army set its sights on 45,000 acres of farmland in Saline County, earmarking it for the establishment of a “Triangular Division” training area. This decision had life-changing consequences for the area’s residents. Over 300 local inhabitants, many with deep-rooted connections to the land through generations of farming, were suddenly asked to leave their homes. They had to sell their cherished lands at reduced government rates, bid farewell to livestock, and part ways with farm equipment, often at prices far below their worth. This era was not just a transformation of the land but a testament to the immense sacrifices made by the families who once called it home.

Construction Chronicles

As soon as the land was secured, the formidable task of constructing Camp Phillips began. An army of 7,000 workers descended upon the area, working tirelessly to erect what would soon become a bustling military hub. These workers, over the course of only a few months, built over 3,500 structures including chapels, theaters, and warehouses. By September 24, 1942, the camp was operational, ready to host 45,000 troops and an additional 5,000 civilian personnel.

Training and Transformation

Camp Phillips was not just a collection of buildings; it was a crucible for molding military talent. During its two-year span, it trained over 150,000 troops. These included four prominent Infantry Divisions: the 94th, 80th, 79th, and the 44th. Camp Phillips also trained numerous non-Divisional units, among which was the notable 275th Artillery Group. Beyond human resources, the camp housed significant projects, such as the massive tank repair and rebuilding depot, essential to the U.S. military’s wartime operations.

Prisoner of War and Dismantling

The end of 1944 saw Camp Phillips repurposed as a holding facility for German prisoners of war. Around seven thousand of these POWs were housed here, and they played a crucial role in dismantling the very camp structures they were held in.

Though now dominated by the sounds of the Smoky Hill Air National Guard Range, the land holds stories of sacrifice, resilience, and wartime efforts. Camp Phillips, in its brief existence, became a symbol of Central Kansas’ unwavering commitment to the broader cause of the nation during World War II.

Photo Credit: 00642058.jpg (500×326) ( Camp Phillips, Salina, Kansas – Kansas Memory – Kansas Historical Society (

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