World War II Sources

The volumes produced in the United States Army in World War II series represent one of the most ambitious historical writing projects ever conducted. Popularly known as the "Green Books," the series itself constitutes but a fraction of the historical material available on World War II. A broad foundation of records and recollections, carefully documented and annotated in the footnotes of each volume, supports the entire series, but even the vast amount of documents referenced cover only the activities of the U.S. Army in rather broad terms. For any detailed study of a particular aspect of the Army in World War II a researcher has more than 17,000 tons of Army records produced during the war years with which to contend, as well as a huge volume of prewar records which provide essential background to events taking place during the war.

Beyond Army records there are Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps records which document their participation in the war, as well as those of other government agencies. Obviously a historian can eliminate large segments of official records simply based on the topic of inquiry. If the focus is strategy, then only the records of the highest levels will be of interest; if, however, the focus is on particular military operations, then the records of the participating units will be the primary sources of information. Additional primary documentation can be found in personal diaries and memoirs of the leading participants in the war, which often go beyond the official records in presenting details of how and why decisions on the conduct of the war were made. Whether one has been a student of the war for some time or is simply interested in a specific aspect of the war, the following information is thus no more than a limited introduction to the wealth of source material available.


The records and documents collected and used by the historians who researched and wrote the individual volumes in the series are located in a variety of collections. Each of the volumes has a brief bibliographic note which outlines the sources used in the preparation of that volume and where they may be found. After each volume was written and published the notes, working drafts, and documents retained by the author(s) were gathered together and retired to the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. Sources noted in a volume as being at the U.S. Army Center of Military History (CMH) in Washington, D.C., have generally been transferred to the collections at NARA.

Unpublished historical manuscripts prepared by Headquarters, War Department agencies; Army Service Forces; Technical Services; Army Ground Forces; and

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Army commands located in the continental United States and in the theaters of operations are on file at CMH. Microfilm copies of these documents are also on file in the library of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Documents with the War Department decimal prefaced by Misc., HRC, or GEOG are part of the Historical Records Collection at CMH. Transcripts of interviews conducted by the author(s) while researching are located both at the U.S. Army Military History Institute (MHI) at Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, and in the Military Reference Branch, Textual Reference Division, of NARA. Diaries cited in the volumes may be in a variety of places. Some are at MHI, others at CMH, and still others were returned to private owners.

Official records created by Headquarters, War Department agencies; the Supreme Headquarters, American Expeditionary Forces; the Army Service Forces; and the Army Ground Forces will be found in the Military Reference Branch, Textual Reference Division, of NARA. Official records created by Army commands within the continental United States and the Army Technical Services and World War II operational reports are in the Suitland Reference Branch, Textual Reference Division, of NARA.

Official photographs and posters from all the services including the Army are on file in the Still Picture Branch, Special Archives Division, of NARA. Official Army motion picture films and sound records are in the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Branch, Special Archives Division, of NARA. NARA also has reproduced some of the motion pictures in video tape format and maintains special collections of many of the commercial motion pictures which deal with World War II.

Army maps, charts, blueprints, aerial photographs, posters, and architectural drawings of fortifications, U.S. government buildings in and around Washington, D.C., and some buildings on Army installations are filed with the Cartographic Architectural Branch, Special Archives Division, of NARA in Washington, D.C.

Official personnel records for all members of the Army are at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Unfortunately, about 85 percent of the records were destroyed in a fire at the center in 1973. Alternative sources of information on individuals who served in the Army in World War II include the General Accounting Office pay vouchers filed in the National Personnel Records Center; Selective Service records in the Regional Archives Division of the Federal Records Centers; the courts-marshal records from the Clerk of the Court, Army Judiciary, in Falls Church, Virginia; the Veterans Administration in Washington, D.C.; and in the records of state adjutants general and county and municipal governments.

Personal papers and related material of senior leaders not found in the institutions may be found at MHI. In addition special collections, such as the Eisenhower or MacArthur libraries, contain extensive archives on the participation of the more notable American leaders in World War II.

There are also large collections of unit histories, of widely varying lengths, at MHI, CMH, and other military libraries. CMH also holds a number of collections of historical material prepared or gathered by CMH historians in the course of preparing the Green Books.

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The Green Books of the United States Army in World War II constitute the official history of the U.S. Army. The series was published by the Government Printing Office, and individual volumes are still available from that agency. While the other services do not have anything directly comparable to the Green Books, each has produced or sponsored a service history which covers World War II.

The Navy's semiofficial history of the war was written under an arrangement with Samuel Eliot Morison, at the time professor of history at Harvard University. His History of Naval Operations in World War II, published by Boston's Little, Brown and Company in fifteen volumes, is based primarily on official records. The activities of the Air Force are covered in The Army Air Forces in World War II, edited by Wesley Frank Craven and James Lea Cate. The multivolume series was originally published by the University of Chicago Press and is now available through the Government Printing Office. A five-volume History of U.S. Marine Corps Operations in World War II has also been published by the Government Printing Office.

A number of other Allied participants in World War II have also produced multivolume official histories of their own that are widely available in the United States. The British History of the Second World War series was edited by J. R. M. Butler and published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office. Australian participation in the war is covered in Australia in the War of 1939-1945; the Official History of the Canadian Army was published by the Queen's Printer and Controller of Stationary; and Bisheshwar Prarad edited the Official History of the Indian Armed Forces in the Second World War 1939-45, which was prepared under the auspices of the Combined Inter-Services Historical Section (India and Pakistan). The Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939-1945 was published by the Government Printer of New Zealand. Multivolume official histories of the war are either under way or have been published in France (Service Historique de l'Armee); the Federal Republic of Germany (Militaergeschichtliches Forschungsamt); and in the former SovietUnion, although its historians have not yet been able to produce an agreed-upon version.


Official German war records held by the United States after World War II have been returned to Germany, but microfilm copies are still held at NARA and are available to researchers. NARA also holds over two thousand manuscripts written by German authors under the auspices of the U.S. Army. These are cataloged and indexed in the Guide to Foreign Military Studies 1945-54, a collection maintained by the Military Reference Branch, Textual Reference Division, of NARA.

Information on German operations in World War II is also available in a series of monographs prepared by CMH German-language qualified historians. These authors based their studies on official German records captured or seized during the war and on the postwar manuscripts cited above. These manuscripts are available at CMH and MHI.

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French records available on microfilm from NARA's Military Reference Branch include a nearly complete collection of daily journals, situation reports, and operations orders for all French divisions, corps, and higher headquarters. These documents are supplemented with large numbers of French Army plans, reports, special studies, and other records and information provided by the Service Historique de l'Armee.

The Japanese record of World War II is not as complete as the German, but there are still considerable sources of material. One series of monographs was prepared after the war by former Japanese Army and Navy officers under the supervision of the Historical Section of the Far East Command in Tokyo. These studies, covering a wide variety of war-related topics, are available at CMH. The Far East Command also assembled a collection of Imperial General Headquarters directives and orders for the wartime period. NARA also holds a microfilm collection of records of the Japanese Army and Navy Ministries dating from the turn of the century which were seized by U.S. authorities after the war. The original records have been returned to the government of Japan. The largest number of foreign military records are, of course, to be found in the country of origin.


Many articles have appeared in military professional journals both during and after World War II which cover a wide variety of topics. Prominent among the American periodicals are the United States Naval Institute Proceedings, Army (and its predecessors, Combat Forces Journal and the Infantry Journal), Military Review, and Marine Corps Gazette; these are supplemented by such publications as the British Journal of the Royal Service Institute and the French Revue Historique de la Deuxieme Guerre Mondiale. Unfortunately these periodicals are not usually indexed in the Reader's Guide to Periodical Literature, although some use can be made of the National Defense Review issued from 1947 to 1955 by the Army Library at the Pentagon and the Air University Periodical Index of the Air University Library, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Almost all public, academic, and military libraries have large sections of secondary works devoted to the history of the Second World War. The most comprehensive guides to these works are World War II: Books in English, 1945-65, compiled by Janet Ziegler and published in 1971 by the Hoover Institution Press in Stanford, California, and a supplement published by the American Committee on the History of the Second World War in pamphlet form entitled A Select Bibliography of Books on the Second World War in English Published in the United States, 1966-1975. Yet interest in World War II remains intense, and the continued outpouring of articles, books, dissertations, and even memoirs on the conflict makes the creation of even semidefinitive bibliographical guides exceedingly difficult.

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