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.
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.
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.
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.