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.
As the month of March came to a close, 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.
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?
Response from author:
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.
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:
Link to the finding aid:
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:
Link to the finding aid:
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.
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.
I am searching for oblique aerial photos taken from the waists of 3 different B-24s on a low-altitude supply mission on 18 September 1944. The planes were in the 491st Bomb Group, carrying supplies to airborne troops north of Eindhoven. I have incomplete sequences of photographs, with several frames missing between the photographs I have. I know which three planes carried the cameras, their pilots, and the names of the waist gunners. Can anyone help with this search?
Great article! I was wondering if you ever heard of the Somme Missions, that were flown after VE-Day in East and Central Germany?
Dear Patrick Brion,
I am not familiar with the “Somme Missions” but I am interested in hearing more about what you may know.
Geography and Map Division
Library of Congress
I am looking for more photos of ariel shots of German destruction of airfields, crops etc like one I have of a plowed airfield at Grindel, Libya from 1942.
Would so appreciate any suggestions on where to find these.
I am looking for information on the unit(s) that flew in WWII and took the photos for reconnaissance missions. Names of their units, dates, names of the planes, how many were in a unit, etc. I am an author and I need this information for a character in a new book. Thank you.
This is fascinating. My grandfather made maps during WWII from aerial photographs for the US Army. I’m trying to find out more about the process they used. What I know is that they took two photographs a second or so apart and then layered them together to create a 3D image. Do you know what this process or technology was called or have any resources on that? Thanks.
I am looking for the same type of information as Anna Rotty. My father served in the Pacific during WW2. He was involved with the creation of maps from aerial reconnaissance photographs. After the war, he worked as a cartographer for the USGS. I would love to know more about this work.
With some delay. The Sonne missions are still very unknown to most people. I did discover at AFHRA and NARA some documents, that I would gladly share as to the Sonne. My hope is that at NARA those aerial photos (color, high res) are stored.
Happy New Year!