WWII Records in the Cartographic Research Room

Maps and charts have always played an important role in the planning and execution of military operations, and military maps, nautical charts, and fortification plans form a significant part of the holdings in the Section. These documents are found in records of the Offices of the Chief of Engineers (RG 77), the Adjutant General (RG 94), and the Quartermaster General (RG 92); the Office of Strategic Services (RG 226); the Army Map Service (RG 77); and the Hydrographic Office (RG 37). Although they vary in style, composition, and technique, all of the documents reflect the time and purpose for which they were created. Major battles and minor skirmishes are depicted in time frames that range from minutes to daily order of battle to historical summaries of entire campaigns. Subjects are as disparate as German espionage activities in Mexico during World War I to analysis of soil and rock composition on the Normandy beaches during World War II.

Social and economic maps for the World War II period exist among the records of several diplomatic and wartime agencies. The largest series of maps covering foreign areas consists of topographic maps of various scales published by the Army Map Service beginning in 1942. These maps cover many areas of the world, and the mapping continues today under the successor, the Defense Mapping Agency (RG 456).  World War II mapping is worldwide for military operations on land, at sea, and in the air, and covers various aspects of the military campaigns from intelligence gathering and planning to execution and historical analysis. 

Among military records the most heavily researched architectural drawings consist of plans of Army forts, hospitals, coastal defense batteries, and other military reservations. Created primarily by the Army Corps of Engineers and the Quartermaster General's Office, these fortification plans date from the earliest years of the country to the World War II period and constitute the largest such file in existence in the United States. The Corps of Engineers records also include large-scale engineering drawings of structures such as bridges, dams, and locks as well as plans of dredge boats used in river navigation projects. Numerous plans document U.S. Navy and Marine bases and facilities throughout the United States, the Carribean, and the Pacific from the mid-nineteenth to mid-twentieth century (RG 71). There are also thousands of U.S. Navy ship plans dating from the early-nineteenth century to the 1950's (RG 19) and U.S. Navy aircraft and airship plans from about 1916 to 1962 (RG 72).

World War II brought a rapid acceleration in the use of aerial photography of foreign areas for both military operations and mapping purposes. The Section holds World War II aerial images covering parts of the European, Mediterranean, and Pacific Theaters of Operation, taken by units of the U.S. and Allied Air Forces. Included are both vertical mapping photography and oblique reconnaissance photography. The Section also holds approximately 1.2 million prints of aerial photographs taken by the Germany military. Coverages are widespread--Europe (from the British Isles to the Ural Mountains), the Middle East, and North Africa are included in this collection. Many of the prints are annotated to indicate military installations and defenses; other prints are marked to show potential bombing targets. While the scale and quality of the photographs in this collection vary considerably, the imagery provides unique wartime coverages of many of the contested areas. A smaller collection (about 37,000 images), taken by the Japanese military between about 1933 and 1945, consists of aerial photography of parts of China, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.