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The Bob Crozier Collection: Aerial Reconnaissance in World War II

Today’s post is from Ryan Moore, a Cartographic Specialist in the Geography and Map Division.

Bob Crozier served as a Technical Sergeant in the 654th Topographic Engineers from 1943 to 1946. Crozier was part of the American First Army under General Omar Bradley. He donated a collection of photos and maps created during World War II to the Geography and Map Division. The collection consists of a 36-page booklet that describes the process of aerial reconnaissance and mapping, 15 aerial photographs, and 20 maps. Perhaps the most unique items are a captured German map that depicts the city of Caen in the Normandy region of France and a rare commemorative map of the U.S. and Russian contact at the Elbe River in 1945.

In 1944, Crozier’s unit published a guide booklet that explained to staff and field officers how to make use of aerial reconnaissance and mapping. A fictitious character named “Snoop” walks the reader through each step of the process. Snoop boasts that missions are accomplished with “a 40 inch camera, a 400 mph plain, 150 feet of fast film, a streamlined photo lab, a lot of navigation and no guns!” The unit produced photographs for a wide range of functions, including planning for future operations, assessing bomb damage, performing road reconnaissance, pinpointing defense strong points, and accompanying briefings.

Snoop on an aerial reconnaissance mission. 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, 1944. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Snoop on an aerial reconnaissance mission. 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, 1944. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

An example of a "Routine Coverage" aerial reconnaissance product. This photograph, scaled at 1:10,000, was employed to assess bomb damage. Note the craters on either side of the river bank and around the bridge. 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, 1944. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

An example of a “Routine Coverage” aerial reconnaissance product. This photograph, scaled at 1:10,000, was employed to assess bomb damage. Note the craters on either side of the river bank and around the bridge. 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, 1944. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

 

 

By 1945, the Allies had liberated France and were pushing towards Germany. The Rhine was the next greatest geographical obstacle, and Hitler’s armies hunkered down behind it with the goal of staving off invasion into Germany. Crossing the river would be a complicated and dangerous affair. Planners accumulated photographs and maps to conceive of ways of crossing the Rhine. The photograph below is one such example of aerial reconnaissance taken near Cologne. Railroad yards are visible in the middle and upper-right portions, while bomb damage is visible in the lower center portions of the photograph.

"Rhine River Photomap, Germany, Section 'X' Sheet B-5." 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, 1944. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

“Rhine River Photomap, Germany, Section ‘X’ Sheet B-5.” 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, 1945. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

By the end of March, all four US armies fighting in Western Europe had crossed the Rhine. The Allies in the West and the Soviet armies in the East steadily defeated German forces and closed the ring around Hitler’s remaining troops. On April 25, elements of the American First Army linked up with elements of the Soviet Fifth Army at Torgau, Germany, which was situated on the Elbe River. The famous meeting is depicted in this rare commemorative map from Crozier’s collection. Caught between the American and Soviet forces was the German Twelfth Army. This formation was under the command of Walther Wenck, one of Germany’s youngest generals. Hitler was counting on Wenck’s troops to help break the Soviet encirclement of Berlin. Although Wenck’s troops made an effort, they lacked sufficient heavy weapons to reach the beleaguered city. Wenck instead directed his troops to hold off Soviet troops so that German civilians and soldiers could flee west into areas of American control. The meeting of American and Soviet forces at the Elbe River was a major Allied accomplishment and helped set the stage for the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany and the end of World War II in Europe less than two weeks later.

"Special Map Showing Contact Between Gen. Hodges' First U.S. Army and Gen. Jadov's Fifth U.S.S.R. Army, 25 April 1945." 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, April 1945. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

“Special Map Showing Contact Between Gen. Hodges’ First U.S. Army and Gen. Jadov’s FIfth U.S.S.R. Army, 25 April 1945.” 654th Engineer Topographic Battalion, April 1945. Bob Crozier World War II military intelligence map and aerial photograph collection, Geography and Map Division, Library of Congress.

Bob Crozier’s collection offers fascinating insights into not only the methods and applications of aerial photographs for reconnaissance during World War II, but also the use of maps more broadly to plan for (and even celebrate) military achievements.

3 Comments

  1. Duane Marble
    February 9, 2017 at 3:22 pm

    Many years ago Ed Espenshade (a noted cartographer of his time) told me that the OSS had units that closely followed our troops into Germany. One of their major goals was to capture the German aerial photo archives with a major emphasis of their photography of the USSR.

    I wonder what became of these photographs. Does the LoC have any of them?

  2. Carlyn Osborn
    March 1, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    Response from author:

    “Hello Duane,

    Your question is interesting and requires a bit of lengthy response.

    Most WWII documents captured by the U.S. armed forces were microfilmed by the National Archives.
    https://www.archives.gov/research/guide-fed-records/groups/242.html

    Primarily such photographs are associated with records group 242.9.4 Other air force records (the air force being the German WWII Luftwaffe).

    Aerial Photographs (8,000 items): Target dossiers of sites in Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, with each dossier consisting of a map, an overprinted aerial photograph, and a site description, 1938-44; aerial photograph studies relating to specific types of targets in the United Kingdom, France, and the USSR, 1940-44; aerial mosaics of coastal areas in the United Kingdom and France, 1942-43; aerial prints and anaglyphs of central Italy, 1943-44; and aerial photographs of North African and Mediterranean sites, compiled for the German X Air Corps war diary, 1941-44. See ALSO 242.25.

    Finding Aids: Daryl Bottoms, comp., World War II Records in the Cartographic and Architectural Branch of the National Archives, RIP 79 (1992).

    However, this is not the be all, end all. In fact, The Library of Congress has various collections that contain German WWII aerial photography.

    For example, a recently processed collection known as the Karl Bender German World War II military intelligence map collection contains maps used by the German army and air force during World War II to plan military operations in Russia, Norway, and other locations. It includes aerial photography.

    Link to the catalog record:
    //lccn.loc.gov/2016430891

    Link to the finding aid:
    //hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/eadgmd.gm017001

    A larger collection in the Geography and Map Division is the World War II military intelligence map collection: declassified maps from the American, British, and German militaries.

    It contains maps and textual documents used by the Americans, British, and Germans during World War II to plan military operations between 1931 and 1945. All material is declassified.

    Link to the record:
    //lccn.loc.gov/2014591000
    Link to the finding aid:
    //hdl.loc.gov/loc.gmd/eadgmd.gm015009

    Lastly, I am presently working on a small collection of WWII materials donated by a member of an American bomb group that took part in inserting agents, presumably OSS, behind enemy lines in France. It has a single map showing locations, even giving precise coordinates, of the drops. The collection was donated by Robert Clift and is scheduled to have a record and finding in the next few months.

    Ryan Moore
    Cartographic Specialist”

  3. Richard Kehrberg
    May 25, 2017 at 10:18 am

    At the end of the Second World War the U.S. Army about twenty tons of German photo-reconnaissance and ground photography. This material passed through the U.S. Air Force’s Aeronautical Chart and Information Center in St. Louis, Mo, before landing at the Defense Intelligence Agency in the early 1960s. In the mid- to late-1970s, when the General Services Administration was pressuring the DIA to reduce the amount of material it had stored at the GSA’s Federal Record Center at Suitland, MD, the DIA destroyed some of the photographs and passed the rest to the National Archives and Records Administration’s Modern Military Branch. They are now part of Record Group 373: Records of the Defense Intelligence Agency, 1920 – 2006; Series: German Flown Aerial Photography, 1939 – 1945 (https://research.archives.gov/id/306065).

    The introduction in Roy M. Stanley’s Intelligence Images from the Eastern Front (Pen and Sword, 2017) describes how the U.S. handled and used the captured German material. Stanley worked at the DIA in the 1970s and was instrumental in getting the photos transferred to the NARA rather than destroyed.

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